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


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


RESCHEDULED for January 19th: Russian Ridge Loop Hike

The first few yards up the Bay Area Ridge Trail from the Russian Ridge trailhead are a nice, easy amble.

[Editor’s note:  it was apparently my turn to wear a big mitt and catch the flu on the 11th, and boy, did I catch it!  So, I rescheduled this hiking event for next Saturday, January 19th. I hope you’ll join me!]

Easy 4.4-mile loop with 550 feet of elevation gain.

Saturday, January 19, 2013
Meet: 10:00 a.m.
Hike: 10:15 a.m. sharp
Approximate hike duration: 2-3 hours
How to attend: Click the Join button on this Facebook event* or reply in the Comments section of this post.

Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve
Alpine Road at Skyline Blvd. above Palo Alto, California
(650) 691-1200

Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve is more than 1500 acres of windswept ridgetop paradise. The weather may be foggy along the coast, but the sun is usually shining brightly on Russian Ridge. From the Preserve’s 2300’ elevation atop Borel Hill, you’ll admire the view west above the layer of fog blanketing the ocean. And, when you turn to face east, a commanding view of San Francisco Bay stretches out before you.

From Interstate 280 in Palo Alto, take the Page Mill Road exit west. Drive 8.9 winding miles into the hills to Skyline Boulevard (Highway 35), taking care to share the road with cyclists. Cross Skyline Boulevard, where Page Mill Road becomes Alpine Road. Drive 200 feet on Alpine Road and turn right into the Russian Ridge entrance.

Let’s meet at 9:00 a.m. at the Page Mill Park n’ Ride, located at the intersection of Highway 280 and Page Mill Road in Palo Alto. We’ll leave at 9:15 sharp!

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

If you are interested in attending this event, please be courteous! Simply click the Join button to let myself and other attendees know you’re coming.  This event is limited to the first 15 people who RSVP in this manner; crashers, regretfully, will be turned away.

Parking and trail maps are free at Russian Ridge OSP; maps can also be downloaded at Drive time from San Jose may take 45-60 minutes; from SF, perhaps 30 minutes longer. Please allow adequate drive time so that you arrive at the trailhead by 10:00; our hike will begin promptly at 10:15.

Though parking is often adequate at Russian Ridge, it may not be by mid-morning, so I always urge hikers to please carpool if possible (see below). Dogs are not allowed on this hike. A pit toilet is available at the trailhead. Be sure to bring plenty of water and snacks and/or lunch for the trail. I highly recommend bringing an extra pair of shoes – even clothing – to change into after the hike. I also recommend leaving a small cooler in your car containing Gatorade or other life-affirming cool post-hike beverage.

The phone number listed above is for the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District. You can indicate attendance in the Comments section of this post, but I will only share my cell phone number with all people who properly RSVP by clicking the Join button on this Facebook event.

*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

Thank you! See you on the trail.


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

A group of happy hikers on the summit of 2,572-ft. Borel Hill.

Perambulating the Perfect Perimeter

One of the big reasons that the San Francisco Peninsula and the East Bay Hills are such fine destinations for hiking is due to the efforts of the Bay Area Ridge Trail Council. Since 1989, their volunteer efforts have fueled grant programs to spur the development of much of the planned 300-mile trail system that is someday destined to circumnavigate the San Francisco Bay and connect all counties that are contiguous to it. These grant programs are intended to encourage government agencies and qualifying nonprofit organizations to plan, acquire, and construct new segments of the Bay Area Ridge Trail (BART).

It’s nice to know that their good work is continuing. The Council, in coordination with the Coastal Conservancy’s San Francisco Bay Area Program, has just this week announced the availability of up to $450,000 in funds that will accelerate the development of The Trail. The funding will come from Proposition 40, which is the California Clean Water, Clean Air, Safe Neighborhood Parks, and Coastal Protection Act of 2002. It appears that in 2007, the BART Council will be developing trail systems in the counties of Marin, Sonoma, Napa, and Solano – areas that this winehiker feels desperately have needed additional trails, if only to respond to the demands of local Nature lovers (like me) if not to also complement the recreational activities of the wine-touring public.

In fact, a future Ridge Trail corridor is expected to be built from the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District-owned Jacobs Ranch on the northern flank of Sonoma Mountain (located close by to many Sonoma Valley and Bennett Valley wineries) to the top of the former Skiles Ranch property (now part of Annadel State Park); one proposed trail in that new network will offer 6 miles of moderate to steep hiking and, if I’m correct, connect to Jack London State Historic Park.

Now if only they’ll connect all the wineries along the ridges! Why, this winehiker would be a happy man. Heck, I’d even be willing to gather some talent, grab a shovel, and help to build THOSE trails.


A fully-monstered two-carrot hike

I’ve been meaning to follow up on last Sunday’s monster hike at Ohlone Regional Wilderness (see the earlier post below). Somehow, sandwiched in between a series of wet and windy storms, we managed to find a most exquisitely bright and sunny Spring day that made for tremendously clear views of an immense spread of green hills, the Livermore Valley, San Francisco Bay, and Mt. Tamalpais. We even saw, albeit dimly, a range of snow-capped Sierra Peaks nearly 80 miles away to the east.

The upper part of Murietta Falls, flowing better than we've seen it previously.

The upper part of Murietta Falls, flowing better than we’ve seen it previously.

I was delightfully surprised by the sprightliness of our group of 9 intrepid hikers. Considering that this out-and-back hike to Murietta Falls is over 12 miles in length, and with 4300 feet of elevation gain, it can be one of the toughest hikes around. But we found ourselves back at the trailhead at 3:00 that afternoon, having taken only 5 hours to complete the hike, including time for lunch at the Falls.

Oh, the Falls! — the first carrot on the stick. This was my third time visiting the Falls, yet I previously had witnessed merely a trickle from tiny Murietta Creek. Not so this time! It was rushing fast and well, actually inhibiting conversation in the small cove at its bottom where we settled for lunch. With the sun gently radiating off the rocks below the Falls, and the sound of the Falls roaring in our ears, we were content to linger awhile and just soak it in.

The lower part of Murietta Falls. At the vernal pool below the falls, I couldn't fit all 100 feet of it in my viewfinder.

The lower part of Murietta Falls. At the vernal pool below the falls, I couldn’t fit all 100 feet of it in my viewfinder.

But with six tough miles to go, we knew we had to hitch up our courage despite protesting legs, shoulder our packs, and continue on. Easy enough to do, of course, when sudden talk of cold beer — Carrot #2 — quickens your step. That, and the fact that I spotted fresh cougar tracks in the mud, suggesting that the big cat was not far ahead of us.

A few steps back: the entirety of Murietta Falls.

A few steps back: the entirety of Murietta Falls.

If you haven’t yet seen Murietta Falls, and you have the stones to do this monstrous hike, the time is now, while the Falls are flowing so well. In the meantime, you might enjoy a few photos.