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.

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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.

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

~winehiker

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

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When it pops, it’s really gonna pop!

The continual March rains have hit the west coast and made a firm down payment on April. But sooner or later, Spring is finally going to arrive, and when it does, I have a feeling that California’s many species of wildflowers will unleash themselves in a colorful eye-popping frenzy much like last year’s record show.

In the meantime, the weather hasn’t kept me off the trail, no sir. In fact, I must consider myself lucky, in that I’ve somehow managed to schedule my winehiking days when there’s been a brief lull in the storm pattern.

Last Saturday was one of those days. I met a group of winehikers in Santa Clara down by the university and drove them to Henry Coe State Park, the humongous 87,000-acre natural area so close to us here in the Silicon Valley, and yet seemingly so far away when you walk its trails.

A view to the southeast from Henry Coe State Park's Flat Frog Trail.

A view to the southeast from Henry Coe State Park’s Flat Frog Trail.

Our group was happy to enjoy the path that leads northward from the Visitor Center up toward Eric’s Bench for a nice blend of oak, yellow pine, bay, and manzanita forest along with a scant few wildflowers in filaree, hound’s tongue, buttercups, and a scattering of shooting stars. Returning from the Little Fork of the Coyote River via Flat Frog Trail, a single-track trail that can often showcase the park’s best wildflowers, we realized that Spring had not yet descended upon the area, but that some of the flowers just can’t wait!

In the sparse forests and grassy meadows of Flat Frog Trail, crossing over many small seasonal streams, we saw many more shooting stars, lupines, and milkmaids, and out on the grasslands approaching the Manzanita Point Road, we saw violets, popcorn flower, many more buttercups, as well as one of my all-time favorites, the fleeting red maids.

I think it’s a simple bet that when we get a string of a few good days of warm sunshine, we’ll start seeing the likes of checker lily, chinese houses, larkspur, blue-eyed grass, and Ithuriel’s spear. I’m almost counting on it. But I’m monitoring the weather reports too.

Meanwhile, Coe Park had borne a foot of snow only 8 days before our tour, and it had left its mark along the contours of Flat Frog Trail. We must have stepped over or circumvented no less than 10 downed trees – pines, manzanita, madrone – there was almost no steep hillside that didn’t show Nature’s depradations. The trees just weren’t used to holding all that snow in their branches.

If I can have moments like this one, I'll want to have a million more.

If I can have moments like this one, I’ll want to have a million more.

Not yet satisfied after our stroll, my intrepid winehikers and I drove back down to Morgan Hill for a catered lunch at Pedrizzetti Winery, where tasting manager Stacie poured us her wares. It was warm and sunny enough to eat outside and be comfortable, so we enjoyed our feast of fruits, cheeses, salad, bruschetta, pasta marinara, and my personal favorite of the meal, charbroiled chicken with a nice garlicky sun-dried tomato cream sauce. I doff my Aussie hat to Darlene at Golden Oak Restaurant of Morgan Hill, who put on the spread. Of course, Stacie took care of us by pouring cabernet, chenin blanc, and a very light and delectable sparkling wine.

Ah, this winehikin’ stuff is fun. And the season is still young!

~winehiker