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

Blind Wine Tasting Notes: Côtes Du Rhône

Six of us wine-loving folk got together last Thursday evening to taste wines from France’s fabled Côtes du Rhône region.

I’ve always enjoyed a bottle of Côtes du Rhône when I’ve had one around, but I had not explored them very deeply. In my experience, they are light and refreshing – often too light for cool evenings, but perfect for warm summer nights.

A bottle of Côtes du Rhône red is most often produced from a combination of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvédre and even Cinsault grapes, with Grenache typically being the greatest component at 60-70% of the blend. I’m happiest when this blend is about 70/30 Grenache to Syrah, without too much Mourvédre-induced tannin. The result is typically fruity with a slight to moderate finish, possibly with a little spice on the palate; it is best when chilled lightly for warm weather tasting, and often meant to be drunk young.

We tasted our wines slightly chilled on a comfortable August evening lightly fanned by cooling and welcome breezes from the San Francisco Bay. We also enjoyed sourdough bread and slices of Emmenthaler and Morbier Au Lait Cru cheeses, as well as a divine fig chutney prepared by one of my guests, Chef Tanya, who also brought a fine truffle paté.

Of the six wines we compared, five were true Côtes Du Rhône reds, having been grown and produced in the great Rhône Valley. While none of us could boast a palate able to parcel out the proportions of Grenache, Syrah, etc., that existed in these wines, I detected tannic notes in some that suggested more than a hint of Mourvédre – something I didn’t expect to overpower the Grenache as much as it did. The result influenced the group toward two clear favorites.

A sixth wine immediately turned out to be a rosé from the Rhône Valley. Sure, one early clue was the clear bottle it was presented in – despite bottle coverings – as opposed to the green tapered shoulders of the other five bottles. While it may have been an oversight on the part of the particular attendee who brought this wine, we all thought it was exceptional, having provided good contrast to the five Côtes du Rhône reds, and a great one to savor after scoring the other five. We did our best to score this one, too; however it didn’t make sense to compare it in the group ranking. While I have never been much of a rosé fan, I found myself exclaiming over the full-bodied strawberry/cherry flavors and consummate finish in this slightly-sweet 2005 Chateau Grande Cassagne Rosé from Costiere de Nimes, Saint-Gilles (13.5%).

The wines listed below are ranked top-down, most favorite to least favorite; each is followed by the wine’s heat, or alcohol content. In the left column is the actual group score for each wine using my handy-dandy Wine Scoring Sheet, which is based on the 20-point Davis scale. My personal ranking of each wine follows.

Group Ranking
+4 2004 Domaines du Gour de Chaulé, Gigondas; 14.5%
+3 2003 Le Clos du Caillou, Domaine Vacheron-Pouizin; 14.5%
-2 2003 La Pialade, Châteauneuf du Pape; 13.5%
-2 2004 Domaines des Relagnes, Châteauneuf du Pape; 13%
-3 2003 Louis Bernard, Côtes du Rhône-Villages, Orange; 13.5%

Winehiker’s Ranking
17 pts. 2003 Le Clos du Caillou, Domaine Vacheron-Pouizin
15 pts. 2004 Domaines du Gour de Chaulé, Gigondas
12.5 pts. 2003 Louis Bernard, Côtes du Rhône-Villages, Orange
12 pts. 2004 Domaines des Relagnes, Châteauneuf du Pape
11 pts. 2003 La Pialade, Châteauneuf du Pape
17 pts. 2005 Chateau Grande Cassagne Rosé, Costiere de Nimes, Saint-Gilles

My picks were nominally consistent with the group’s. I like my Côtes du Rhônes fruity, non-tannic, and simple. Considering that my favorite, the Clos du Caillou, is rated elsewhere at 88 points on a 100-point scale – typical of the Wine Spectator scale and others, and translating to 17.5 on the Davis scale – well heck, I guess my interpretation ain’t so far off. I tried each of these wines the following day, too, right out of the icebox without benefit of warming to room temperature, and I still ranked them the same.

~winehiker

More Screwy Stuff

With just 4 days to go until californiawinehikes.com 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.

~winehiker