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


Rue Saint Jacques San Francisco

Rue Saint Jacques, a San Francisco dining experience.

From Video Juice: Jazzy. Gustatory. Sensational. Destination.

At ‘Maverick’ (San Francisco) get 40% off the Wine List on Monday Nights

They could have been featured in ‘Mavericks at work’ (the book, not Marc Cuban’s team).
Creative cooking, a nice place and 40% off the Wine List on Monday nights. Who can ask for more?

read moredigg story

Why I love redwood trees

Sequoia sempervirens. May it embrace many skies.

Sequoia sempervirens. May it embrace many skies.

Whether cool and breezy in mid-Autumn or hot and sticky in late Spring to mid-Summer, the heavy shade of The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park is often welcome to hiker and mountain biker alike. That shade is largely due to the untold populations of redwood trees that dominate the area, though Bigleaf Maples also do their share to offer mercy from the sun.

While beautiful and stately, the redwoods in this forest are often no more than 100 years old. As one walks steadily up the former railroad grade that is Aptos Creek Trail, one can only imagine what this forest may have looked like in the mid-19th century. That was before these trees’ massive forebears were harvested for the burgeoning lumber needs of San Francisco, Santa Clara Valley, and other local coastal hamlets.

Fortunately there are still first-growth redwoods nearby at Henry Cowell and Big Basin Redwoods state parks. These are Nature’s living cathedrals, and they are destinations in which I lead hikes a few times every year.


Because those old matriarchs are worth seeing. Because everyone owes themselves a moment of Nature’s living grandeur. Because they’re there.

Because I love knowing that they’re there.

Though I might have the disposition for it, I don’t, however, hug redwood trees. That is, not unless I’ve got a set of fine tweezers and a lot of time to kill.

See related trip report: Nisene Marks State Park & Burrell School Vineyards.


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.


To Fall, With Grace

The weather here in the San Francisco Bay Area has been uncharacteristically warm and dry lately, making for an Autumn season that has been incredibly enticing to an outdoors junkie like myself.

The other day at Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve, I captured a California buckeye against a backdrop of azure sky and cloud wisps.

A California Buckeye proudly displays its ornaments.

A California Buckeye proudly displays its ornaments.

Saturday, while at Fort Mason in San Francisco, I took a moment to record the following scene of the San Francisco Marina Yacht Harbor. Note the Golden Gate Bridge and Marin County’s Mt. Tamalpais in the background.

A late Fall afternoon at San Francisco's Marina Yacht Harbor near Fort Mason. Note the Golden Gate Bridge and Marin County's Mt. Tamalpais in the background.

A late Fall afternoon at San Francisco’s Marina Yacht Harbor near Fort Mason. Note the Golden Gate Bridge and Marin County’s Mt. Tamalpais in the background.

The beauty that is Fall 2006 is not lost on other outdoor bloggers, either. I must admit, though, that I’m not nearly the shutterbugger that other hikers are, so I’ll dutifully share their perspectives with you as well.

Tom Chandler of the Trout Underground Fly Fish Blog suggests:

With the days sunny and warm and the nights right around freezing, the fall colors just keep hanging in there. Soon we’ll get a cold snap and the hard frosts that follow, dropping the leaves and killing off the October Caddis in droves.

Fall on the Upper Sacramento River.

Fall on the Upper Sacramento River.
Photo courtesy of Trout Underground

Heather over at Backcountry Blog posts a trip report, Fall in the High Sierra, from her Autumn experience at Yosemite’s Saddlebags Lake, which is at 10,000 feet near Tioga Pass. Says Heather:

Fall colors – yellow and gold aspen trees, red tundra – are on full display in late September and October, and with colder temperatures and less predictable weather scaring off many would-be hikers, you can enjoy your favorite trails in relative solitude.

From the Cynical Traveler comes a nice photoessay about hiking in Japan in Autumn. It’s not clear why the Cynical Traveler is so cynical, since a cynic might believe people would greet his blog with consummate disinterest. You just might be interested, though, so here’s a tease:

Hiking Japan in Autumn, from a photoessay by the Cynical Traveler.

Hiking Japan in Autumn, from a photoessay by the Cynical Traveler.
Photo courtesy of the Cynical Traveler.

If you haven’t checked out Dan’s Outside, you should. South Bay resident and outdoor photographer Dan Mitchell has been logging a lot of miles wandering the high hills and snapping some breathtaking photos of California’s fall colors.

And, if you’ve been watching a lot of football this Fall season – especially if you’ve got kids – I recommend that you find a day soon to get your family together, grab your picnic basket and a camera, and get yourselves out of the house to enjoy this sensational Autumn weather in the parks before it gets wet out there.


The 2006 California Wine Harvest is under way

Crushpad: San Francisco-based citizen winemaking.

Crushpad: San Francisco-based citizen winemaking.

The Cellar Rat dwells among the tanks and barrels at San Francisco’s CrushPad, where wine retailers, restaurateurs, and wine enthusiasts alike can crush and ferment their own wine.  It’s a great concept, and apparently business for CrushPad has taken off. Imagine seeing your own bottles of “Chateau [insert your name here].”

California’s 2005 bumper crop yielded a record harvest in terms of grape tonnage and dollar value. Because of that, expectations are that this year’s crop will be smaller.  The Cellar Rat thinks that’s the case so far.

Says the Cellar Rat:

“The grapes are ripening, and wineries all over California are getting the first grapes of the year coming in. Harvest for 2006 has begun with Pinot Noir for Sparkling wine in Napa and Sonoma counties, and Sauvignon Blanc in other regions. This first small stream of Pinot Noir for sparkling wine will be followed by a torrent of white grapes, which typically ripen first, followed by the red grape varieties. And it’ll all wrap up mid-November.

There were two defining events for this year’s growing season so far. The first was that the spring was cold and wet, which delayed bud break by a good two weeks in most California vineyards. The second was the record-setting heat spell we had in July. Temperatures as high as 114 deg. F were reported from vineyard managers. You’d almost think this should help get things caught up after that late start but the reality of the situation is that the vines shut down at temps between 95 and 100 deg F. So in reality, this slowed things up even more.”

If the mild weather we’re now experiencing is any indication, then the 2006 harvest appears promising.  We’ve got ideal ripening conditions, which promote desirable sugar levels and perhaps yet another fine season of quality California wines.  Yippee!!


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.


Winehiking, pure and simple

Did you know that the San Francisco Bay Area has more miles of hiking trails per capita than nearly any other region in North America?

Yup, it does.

Don’t ask me how I know that – it’s a conclusion I’ve reached over the last few years, having scoured many hundreds of websites, blogs, forums, and newsletters, and having shared trail chatter with untold numbers of folks who love to hike.

When you add that to the amazing supply of California wineries in the Bay Area – and the great wines that they produce – you can see the potential for winehiking as the next big thing to appeal to active vacationers near and far.

Just think about it for a moment. There’s an incredible number of people who simply love to get outdoors for fresh air and exercise. Whether it’s to provide balance to stressful lives, whether it’s discovering new places, or whether it’s being with friends doing fun things, pursuing outdoor activities is very much a California pastime, if not also a favorite activity the world over. Of the percentage of the population that is active outdoors, I’ve seen evidence which indicates that the greater bulk are fond of hiking.

By the same token, a very large percentage of the world population reveres fine wine. And that population is growing. It doesn’t hurt that medical experts are expounding wine consumption – in moderation, of course – as a very healthy way to combat Nature’s ills. Add that to the notion that in recent years, not only are more people worldwide drinking wine, but they are drinking higher-quality wine for a relatively reasonable price – especially in California – and you have the makings of a true winehiking revolution.

I wish I could give you hard numbers. But I’ll leave that to the industry analysts. All I can say is that I believe I’ve got something good here with this notion of winehiking.

I hope you agree. And if you do, let me know your thoughts. Please, whether I’ve met you personally or not. Because I’d really like to know what you think. Just click the leave a comment link to share your feedback, your rebuttal, your experience – even your passion.

Do you think there’s a future in winehiking? Because you read this blog, chances are that you do.