From “on the air” to “in the vineyard”: the story of Bangor Ranch Vineyard & Winery

If you’ve ever traveled Highway 70 north out of Sacramento and Marysville in the Spring, chances are you’ve seen carpets of wildflowers serenading you as you drive past the Sutter Buttes and into the hills east of Oroville. But did you know that the area is home to one of California’s newest wine regions?  Formed in just the last year, the North Sierra Wine Trail association spans Butte and Yuba counties in the northern Sierra Foothills, and the nine area wineries that are tucked into the rolling hillsides here are getting ready to serenade you this month with a variety of locally-produced wines and olive oils.

Bangor Ranch Vineyard & Winery, Bangor, California. Gary Paul Fox, proprietor.Among these nine wineries is Bangor Ranch Vineyard & Winery, an 11-acre hillside parcel of Mourvèdre and Nebbiolo grapevines and century-old Mission olive trees. Situated on decomposed granite soils and set amidst bucolic Appaloosa ranches and Mennonite farms lies the little hamlet of Bangor, California, where Gary Fox, owner and winemaker, specializes in small lots of hand-crafted wines. I’ve known Gary for eight years or so, having eaten, hiked, and camped with him. We’ve also drunk many a good wine together – most of these wines made by Gary himself.

Gary’s story is nothing if not an interesting one. For over 20 years, he’s been making his own vins de garage, but not without completing a certificate program in Viticulture and Winery Technology at Napa Valley College and a 2011 stint as a harvest intern at Oakland’s Dashe Cellars. Though he spent 25 years as a writer and creative director in advertising, folks who have lived in and around Oakland for a few years know Gary from his days at Zza’s Trattoria near the eastern tip of Lake Merritt, where he was owner and manager from May 1998 through December 2005. However, long before the winemaking, the advertising and the pizza-slinging, Gary attended UC Berkeley during the Free Speech Movement, a heyday of activity that spawned People’s Park and landed Gary on the radio at KALX-FM, where he came to serve as program director and “on-air talent”.

John and Yoko's second "Bed-In for Peace", pictured here with Dr. Timothy Leary.As Gary recalls, he was working at the radio station late one evening when Berkeley protesters were restive. A man got shot on the roof of one of the stores on nearby Telegraph Avenue, and the phone at the station soon rang. When Gary answered, he found himself speaking with John and Yoko Lennon, calling from their famous “bed-in” at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal. The live, on-air call lasted half an hour.

Gary later lost his house in the great fire that swept through the Oakland hills in the fall of 1991. He’s long since rebuilt on the same property, where he enjoys dramatic sunset views of San Francisco and the Bay Bridge from his porch – when he’s not working the vineyard 2½ hours away at Bangor Ranch.

A young Mourvèdre vine greets the sun in Block 3.And it’s at Bangor Ranch where Gary is looking forward to pouring his latest releases, which include a 2012 Bianco, a blend of Chenin Blanc, Symphony and Sauvignon Blanc grapes grown in the Marchini Vineyard in the San Francisco Bay delta. Also on the bill are two Bangor Ranch Selections, a 2010 North Coast Cabernet Sauvignon and a 2005 Reserve Syrah from Santa Barbara. Gary will also be offering samples of his Bangor Ranch Extra Virgin Olive Oil, made exclusively from the century-old Mission olives grown on the property.

Where the @#$%! is Bangor, California anyway?Bangor Ranch is open for tasting each 1st and 3rd  Saturday from noon to 5 p.m. beginning April 27th. All nine wineries that comprise the North Sierra Wine Trail will be pouring during the association’s Springtime in the Vineyards weekend, April 27-28.

————————— ♦ —————————

If you’d like to assist Gary in his tasting room during the Springtime in the Vineyards event, give him a shout,
and let him know that the winehiker sent you.

————————— ♦ —————————

Bangor Ranch Vineyard & Winery
5768 La Porte Road
Bangor, CA 95914
(510) 658-2056


Also see these related posts:
When in Chalone…
Morning pain, afternoon comfort
North Sierra Wine Trail Day 2 – Lucero, Grant Eddie, Renaissance, Clos Saron, and Bangor Ranch


Sunday, February 24th: Meteor Trail Loop Hike at Big Basin State Park


Remnants of logging activity linger many decades in Big Basin.

Sunday, February 24th: a moderate 6-mile loop w/ 400+ feet elev. gain

Meet: 10:30 a.m.
Hike: 10:45 a.m.
Approximate hike duration: 3-4 hours
How to attend: Click the Join button on this Facebook event* or reply in the Comments section of this post.

Big Basin Redwoods State Park Visitors Center
21600 Big Basin Way
Boulder Creek, CA
(831) 338-8860

Walking the Meteor Trail Loop is a fine way to wander among the giants at Big Basin Redwoods State Park without the crowds on the more popular trails. In Winter and early Spring, the surrounding creeks burble to life, making the Meteor Trail one of the best riparian hikes at Big Basin. And on clear days, Ocean View Summit from Middle Ridge Road offers an expansive view from over 1800 feet above the Pacific Ocean.

We’ll probably arrive at the spur trail to Ocean View Summit before we know it. After many a lingering gaze, we’ll then head south, returning via the Dool, Creeping Forest, and Skyline-to-the-Sea Trails to where we started at Park Headquarters.

After the hike, we have the option of tasting the wines of Cinnabar Winery at their tasting room in downtown Saratoga, back along our return route to Highway 280.

From the SF peninsula, take Hwy 280 to Sunnyvale/Saratoga Road. Turn south toward the hills and drive 5 miles to Saratoga and Hwy 9. Turn right at Hwy 9 and drive up the hill for 7 miles to Skyline Boulevard (Highway 35). Continue over the other side of Skyline along Highway 9 about 7 more miles to Highway 236. Turn right and drive about 10 miles to Big Basin Redwoods State Park. We’ll start our hike at the Visitors Center.

From Cupertino: Let’s meet at 8:15 a.m. at Coffee Society, located at 21265 Stevens Creek Blvd, opposite De Anza College. We’ll leave at 8:30 sharp. The merchants have posted a number of signs warning “non-customers” not to park their cars in the plaza parking lot. So, please park on N. Mary Avenue behind Oaks Plaza. If you plan to meet at this carpool, please share a note with your R.S.V.P.

For those of you arriving from The City or elsewhere, please contact others near you to arrange carpooling. Thanks!

A $10 day-use fee is charged per vehicle at Big Basin; trails maps are $3 at the Visitors Center. Drive time from San Jose may take 75-90 minutes; from SF, perhaps 30 minutes longer. Please allow adequate time to arrive by 10:30; our hike will begin promptly at 10:45.

Parking is usually adequate at the park’s main parking lot adjacent to the Big Basin Visitor Center. Nevertheless, I urge hikers to please carpool if possible (see above). Dogs are not allowed on this hike.

Be sure to bring plenty of snacks/lunch items and water for the trail. I highly recommend bringing an extra pair of shoes – even clothing – to change into after the hike. Please allow plenty of time to arrive, and watch for cyclists during your drive.

Also, wear sturdy boots for this hike – we may be hiking over rough terrain in places, and sections of muddy trail will likely present themselves.

The phone number above is for Big Basin State Park.

*A few days prior to this hike, I will share my cell phone number with all people who RSVP either by clicking the Join button on the Facebook page for this event or have commented on this post.  (If you and I are not Facebook friends, hit me up at

Meet 10:30 a.m., hike 10:45 sharp.

See you at the Visitor Center!


P.S. This event is listed on my 2013 Schedule of Hikes.

Flickr Photo Download: Heart’s Fire 2006 Petite Sirah

You're not ready for the trail until you're ready for the trail.

The husband-and-wife teams of Kristin & Brian Link and Julie & Dan Scheve of tiny Heart’s Fire Winery of Campbell, California will be bottling their 2008 wines during tasting hours this coming Sunday. If they’re lucky, their labors will be complete by Labor Day!

You can consider yourself lucky, however, because Heart’s Fire Winery invites the public to stop by and enjoy their 2006 and 2007 wines and see what’s involved in getting all their 2008 wine ready for consumption.

Heart’s Fire is open on the first Sunday of each month for tasting and purchases. This Sunday, September 6th, they’ll be open from 1:00pm – 4:00pm. They’re also available for private tastings by appointment by calling (408) 858-1155 or sending an email to

For more information and directions, please see the Heart’s Fire Winery website at

Heart’s Fire Winery
165 Cristich Lane, Unit K
Campbell , CA 95008

If you love Zinfandel and Petite Sirah and you’re sticking around town this weekend, I recommend visiting!


Vino Locale’s local blend of the Silicon Valley good life

If I was to combine the best of the European sense of community with Silicon Valley sensibilities, I would present healthy, well-prepared foods and fine locally-made wines in an atmosphere that promotes easy relaxation and stimulation of the senses, and have it all be very affordable. And to top that off, I’d want passion and education to be a part of the mix.

Thank goodness I don’t have to do that now, because it’s just what Randy Robinson has done with Vino Locale of Palo Alto, California.

Randy Robinson's Vino Locale, in downtown Palo Alto.On the surface, Vino Locale is what its Italian name implies – a purveyor of local wine. But it’s so much more than just a cozy little nook off a major Palo Alto thoroughfare. What it’s not is a typical wine bar, restaurant, or bottle shop. With artisanal cheeses, breads, and meats, a fine selection of wines lining the shelves – all produced within a 100-mile radius – plus local artists’ crafts on the walls and a Victorian house to show it all off in, Randy’s got something worth waxing passionate about.

A buddy of mine, Mike Grey of Blue Yuki Photography, joined me last evening for what promised to be a fun affair at Vino Locale; we had been intrigued by a posting on for an event that offered a tasting of five wines for $5. But the price of this tasting was not the intriguing part. What was intriguing was that for those five bucks, we’d get to taste three components of a Bordeaux-style blended wine, next taste the blend of those three components, and lastly contrast that blend with an actual wine from Bordeaux.

It turned out to be the next best thing to blending the wine ourselves.

For me, it would be an exercise not only in tasting wines made within mere miles of my front door, but also an opportunity to guess the proportions by which Randy concocted his blend. So, after a nice repast of Westphalian Ham, Buendnerfleisch, Danish Salami, Dijon mustard, sliced baguette, a cheese plate nicely strewn with a fine mix of blue and dried cheeses and fruits, all of it liberally dosed by Vino Locale’s friendly and generous wait staff*, Mike and I visited Randy’s tasting table and held out our glasses.

We first tried a Cabernet Sauvignon from Solis Winery of Morgan Hill, which was laden with blackberry flavors and a toasty oakiness that I found quite favorable. Randy then poured one of my local favorites, a Cabernet Franc from Burrell School Vineyards of Los Gatos (see my recent post about a Burrell School winehike). I love the lush cherry fruit in this wine, which is distinctly different and much less acidic/tannic than any other locally-made Cab Franc that I’ve tried. And though they’re no longer pouring this particular Cab Franc at Burrell School’s tasting bar, I was glad to see plenty of it on Randy’s shelves.

Next came a Merlot pour, also hailing from Burrell School, its sensuous cherry flavors and mouthwatering textures making a fine stand-alone Merlot (I came home with a bottle of this one, my palate – but not my budget – having been won over at Burrell School earlier by their Zins and Syrahs.)

Now it was time to taste Randy’s hand-decanted Bordeaux blend. And right away, I appreciated his touch. While very smooth and round with texture, flavor, and finish, this blend eschewed pretense and instead seemed entirely distinct from each of its components. A well-rounded balance of acid and fruit suggested complexity and an expert integration of berry and slight earth flavors not entirely obscuring the Burrell School cherriness. I savored its finish, and made a mental note: “Do try this at home.”

A follow-up taste of a $10 Bordeaux purchased at a local Trader Joe’s was an anticlimactic contrast lacking in all but earthy aromas and flavors. Obviously the focus was the local blend.

I sensed Randy was about to divulge the formula for his tincturing, and I politely interrupted, wanting instead to hazard my own guess. I estimated 40-45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30-35% Merlot, and the remainder Cab Franc. Apparently my palate guessed pretty close to the actual blend proportionality, which Randy pronounced as being 2 parts Cab. Sauv., 2 parts Merlot, and 1 part Cab Franc.

I instantly was no longer intrigued. Instead, I was hooked on the idea of attending more of Randy’s fun approaches to local wine, art, and produce. And you can bet I’ll be blending a few upcoming winehiking tours with visits to Vino Locale in the year ahead.


*If you should visit Vino Locale, please tell Randy I sent you to try the Fleming-Jenkins Rosé of Syrah.


Trip report: Nisene Marks State Park & Burrell School Vineyards

It just wasn’t our Fault today.
‘Twas a bit early and a bit chilly Sunday morning when I related my intentions to y’all about the day’s planned excursion through the Forest of Nisene Marks State Park. It was 45 degrees at 9:30 a.m.; not typical for early November in the San Francisco Bay Area. But even so I thought an uphill walk would warm me sufficiently. Golly, I might have been wrong about that. Already, it was going to be my fault not to don the silk longies.


It was good to see the park again; I hadn’t spent much time at Nisene Marks since my mountain biking days. I’ve always enjoyed the heavy canopy of the park’s redwoods, regardless of the weather. Combined with the low sun of the Fall season, the forest shade was to keep our group cool for a large part of the day. Though ours was a friendly group, ready to brave the forest chill for a long romp through glorious redwood enchantment, we were a shivering group. But we planned to soon be warm: we faced 10 miles of steady hills.

A good day to be in the woods.

A good day to be in the woods.

We started out at the Porter parking area and walked steadily up the former railroad grade that is Aptos Creek Trail, covering nearly six miles before turning off on Big Slide Trail. That’s when the fun began: the trail wound down along a narrow redwood- and fern-lined canyon, alternating between moments of deep, mossy, forested darkness and fleeting glimpses of sunlight. Curving, twisting, and rolling downstream, the trail showed hardly a sign of human passage. The challenge of keeping to the dim path while reveling in the glow of this elfin paradise bore the seven of us, seemingly, to a sidereal separation from earthbound worry.

The group always wins
Alas, the reverie broke too abruptly. Another hiker, one who’d passed ahead earlier, was now returning, informing us that the trail ahead was signed as being impassable. Darn.

Double darn!

I can be ambivalent about such matters. Because if I’d been alone, I would have attempted to pass through the impassable, defying the faceless functionary who placed the sign, to determine the trail’s supposed impassability for myself. A guy’s gotta try, right? You’ve heard the standard phrase: Always Question Authority, Absolutely.

But the group always wins, of course, and for an obvious good reason: doing the right thing usually means nobody gets hurt.

So, after a moment of wistful wishes to continue mixed with negotiations for good citizenship, safety, and compliance, we turned back uphill instead of continuing into areas grey with unforeseen shadows.

Because we were good citizens, however, we never got to see our intended target for the day: the epicenter of the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake. We did, however, get to hike about 4 more miles. But that was probably a good thing, since it kept us a little warmer a little longer.

We didn’t make it, but anyone else can
I figure we hiked about 14 miles Sunday. But the good news is: anyone who wants to can get themselves easily to the epicenter without hiking even one-fourth that long. That’s because there’s a much shorter trail that leads to it from a trail junction we had passed early on. But if you should take the long way and try to find the epicenter from the uphill side like we did, and if you find the trail impassable, not getting there won’t be your Fault, either. Unless you read this first and go anyway.

State park budgets being what they are these days, I don’t expect this trail to be repaired very soon. Like “in the next five years” soon.

The group always wines, too
Nevertheless, undaunted and not to be outdone, the seven of us actually did arrive at Burrell School Vineyards about 4:00 in the afternoon for a well-deserved wine tasting in their enchanting little ridgetop schoolhouse. And while only two of us, my buddy Vindu and myself, were keen to tongue-wag about the wines’ characteristics, all of us were keen to their beneficial effects.

Ah, liquid anesthesia!

Vindu and I even found three out of the five bottles poured to be quite worth taking home. I sprung for a 2002 Zinfandel from Ryan Oaks Vineyard, Amador County ($30), which I found quite jammy and well-finished. Vindu, flush with endorphins and polyphenols, let his MasterCard speak for Burrell’s 2002 Estate Chardonnay from their schoolhouse estate in the Santa Cruz Mountains, a fine combination of butter and spice, on sale for $16. Plus, though they weren’t pouring it,* Vindu also picked up 3 bottles of 2003 Cabernet Franc from the Santa Cruz Mountains, a young (but highly drinkable now) estate-grown pure varietal that is very much worth cellaring; it’s priced at $40 a bottle.

Wait! There’s more.
I’d mentioned in my last post that fellow outdoor blogger Tom Mangan would be along for this hike. You might enjoy Tom’s account of this day, a darn-fine photoessay.

*A side note on the Cab Franc: we had thought we would taste this wine at the winery. However, Burrell School is currently down to less than 20 cases and is therefore no longer pouring it at their tasting bar. You can still buy it, though, if you hurry. Vindu and I enjoyed one of these solid Cab Francs for dinner that evening, the upshot being that we both purred like satisfied cats and finished the bottle. And that was nobody’s fault.

See a related story, Why I love redwood trees.


Noe Valley’s homage to France

I ventured up to The City last night to a little French bistro for an evening of wine tasting with friends. Tucked away on a busy boulevard in Noe Valley, Le Zinc appears inconspicuous from the street, yet is quite inviting once inside, with an unpretentious but comfortable eating area that gives way to a garden courtyard out back. Vintage jazz sung by Dinah Washington was playing softly overhead as I sat down to study the menu.

Le Zinc Bistro, 4063 24th St., San Francisco

Le Zinc Bistro, 4063 24th St., San Francisco

Le Zinc prepares an assortment of French wines by the glass and offers one 3-glass flight each of French whites and reds. They also boast a large selection of appetizers to accompany the wine. At six o’clock on a Thursday evening, dinner was a delightfully different cold-smoked cedar-plank cinnamon-crusted salmon with cous-cous and served with a lemon bieurre-blanc sauce. The perfect accompaniments? Fine baked breads and a glass of Alsatian Gewurztraminer!

As my friends joined me and more diners strolled in, we ordered our flights, which represented France quite well. A Loire Valley Pouilly-Fume was immediately likable, and a Montagna Saint-Emilion Bordeaux required an hour of swirling and sniffing before its vapors of dill and other herbs gave way to a more luscious full-bodied vanilla.

If you enjoy lingering over breakfast, lunch, or dinner, or just want to have a divine tapas-style snack and a glass of wine with a little French style, I believe you’ll enjoy the moments you spend at Le Zinc. It’s a taste of France and one of San Francisco’s many sparkling gems.


More Screwy Stuff

With just 4 days to go until becomes public, I’m pretty excited. So excited, in fact, that only one cup of espresso in the morning is all I need lately. So excited that I can’t seem to sit still long enough to post another blog. Or, is that “blog another post?”

But it occurred to me that those of you who have read my previous post could be anxiously awaiting the outcome of my recent day tour to Bonny Doon Vineyards. Sooner or later, I’ll be fully engaged in more regular blogging, I promise! Certainly I should tell you, after hiking 8 miles that morning at Fall Creek with two other good souls, Pam and Paul, and enjoying Pam’s hearty homemade lunch at Bonny Doon’s quaint picnic grounds, that we were more than ready, on a rare and warm blue day in December, to sip some wines — screwcap or otherwise.

Bonny Doon has a lot of wines at their tasting bar, ready to pour. If you’re not a member of their wine club, no matter — you still get to taste quite a few of the good ones, including their burly flagship wine, Le Cigare Volant, of which their 2002 vintage is an interesting blend of 39% Grenache, 32% Mourvedre, 28% Syrah, and 1% Viognier. ‘Twas mm-mm-good, and redolent of cherries and peppered smoked meats, if you can imagine that in a wine. And, it had a screwcap, too, though the 2001 vintage did not! But that was mainly due to the 2002 vintages being the first crops to end up in screwcapped bottles.

Tasters at Bonny Doon also get to enjoy another consummate amalgam, their 2003 Big House Red, a blend of syrah, petite syrah, and carignane. Never before had I tasted this particular combination of grapes, molded, as they say in their literature, as “a breakout hit for the recidivist partisans of the eclectic pan-Mediterranean blend.” In other words, methinks the French could like it, too. But I could be wrong. Though it tasted so right!

I walked out of the Little B.D. House with a bottle of Big House, having tasted perhaps 8 different screwcapped wines, all very fresh, all very delightful, all worth trying again. And already, sipping and comparing the Big House here at home, my palate is noting the distinct absence of tree bark. I’m beginning to think there’s something tangible to this screwy screwcap stuff. I’m beginning to think that screwcapped wines aren’t just for bottom-shelf winos any more.

(Incidentally, guys, for a real romantic treat, here’s a heads-up: open a bottle of B.D.’s Framboise “Infusion of Raspberry” for your lady. It’s easy! You don’t need to embarrass yourself with any cork-pulling appliances! Now see if the fireworks don’t begin. And, if you happen to be the kind of guy who is into presentation, serve it in thimble-sized chocolate cups like they do at Bonny Doon.)

Folks, I’m gonna be a convert someday. But I’ll be performing future comparisons, just to be sure.