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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Wine Review: 2005 Twisted Oak Viognier

18 winehiker points*

I’ve had a bit of a commitment lately. What a pain in the neck it has been. Shoot, if it hadn’t been for a nearly two-week-long bout of pinched nerves in the cervical spine – the recurring detritus of an old diving board injury – I would have helped myself to this lovely and complex Viognier from Twisted Oak a little sooner. After all, it’s been chilling in my fridge all this time just waiting for me to pop its Twisted cork.

But I wanted to wait until I could actually tilt my head back far enough to gargle it.

The winehiker rates the 2005 Viognier offering from Twisted Oak Winery of Vallecito, California. Note the handy rubber chicken.

The winehiker rates the 2005 Viognier offering from Twisted Oak Winery of Vallecito, California.
Note the handy rubber chicken.

You may recall a recent post in which I reviewed the 2004 Twisted Oak Tempranillo. Jeff Stai, owner of Twisted Oak Winery, had sent me the Tempranillo as well as this Viognier.** I admit that I am more a fan of reds (which good native Californian isn’t?), so I had tried the Tempranillo first, and liked it. But my coexisting notion at the time was that the Viognier would be even better.

I’m glad I waited. After a number of missed days at the office, the hot showers, the ice packs, the constant stretching, and the multiple chiropractic visits, finally, a relatively relaxing day at work and a night with no commitments — other than making a date to contemplate the sound of one cork popping.

So I opened, and I poured.

I am no longer tense. I live, now, in the present. Cool, clear, and golden it is. Even chilled, the scent of this Viognier bears promise, with a characteristic floral note. As it warms over the course of a few minutes’ hand-swirling, I detect layers of apples, pears, apricots, nutmeg.

I am pretty sure I have a winner on my hands. But at this point, I haven’t yet engaged my tongue.

I sip. And I savor. My eyeballs rush involuntarily, sanguinely, up into my head.

A lingering moment on the palate yields a near-perfect blend of sweetness and acidity that I find most refreshing. With a balanced astringency and a super-silky, almost chewy mouthfeel, plus a taste of allspice and white raisins, this wine breathes, tastes, and feels like a wine that my friends (and yours) will find memorable, whether on a Summer day or a Fall evening. As for the finish, I say “hello” to only an acquaintance of acidity and tannin.

I like Viognier this way – tapered layers of sweetness, structure, and finish. And I’m not typically a white wine drinker.

Nevertheless, I’ve grown to love Viognier, and nearly all of them from the Sierra Foothills of California, in my experience, have been top-notch concoctions. It’s no less so for this fruit of the proud and merry folk at Twisted Oak up in Calaveras County. Just ask El Jefe and Fermento – they know what they’re doing.

$22.00 at Twisted Oak Winery.
Disclosure: This wine was sent to me for review courtesy of Twisted Oak Winery.

*Rated on the 20-point Davis scale with this wine scoring sheet.
**Jeff also sent me a rubber chicken.

~winehiker

Wine Review: 2004 Twisted Oak Tempranillo

16½ winehiker points*

Here’s that post I promised y’all way back on September 20th. After the novelty of the rubber chicken came the novelty of opening the wine and instantly smelling the herbal muskiness of cat pee.

Cat pee is good, mind you, as long as you’re smelling it in something you’re about to drink and not hosing it off your patio. Fortunately, this aromatic aspect of the 2004 Tempranillo from Twisted Oak Winery of Calaveras County, California, is fleeting, and the wine that follows is worthy of tasting.

Upon my first swirl, sniff and resultantly halting sip, I chose to decant the entire bottle into my glass duck, the most pungent fragrance of this wine plus the tannic notes characteristic of the Tempranillo grape dictating my decision. I returned in a little over an hour to a fruity sweetness on the nose and a balanced acidity on the palate.

2004 Twisted Oak Tempranillo

The tannins are not low in this wine, but are not so high as to be a turn-off; astringency is lower than I expected. With a moderate mouthfeel (medium body), moderately powerful cherry flavors and a medium-long finish — about a minute — I feel this wine is a well-balanced accompaniment to food.

In fact, after my initial sips, I savored this wine with a hot plate of liver and onions with potatoes and gravy, and found the combination fabulous. But even without food, quite possibly this wine is light enough on body and heat (13.9%) for warm-weather slurping.

“OK fine,” you lament, “but what about the rubber chicken?”

Oh yes — the rubber chicken. Suffice to say that a rubber chicken actually did arrive inside my shipment of wine from the twisted folks at Twisted Oak. I won’t tell you what I’m doing with mine, but you can read about what Dr. Fermento is doing with his up in Vallecito.

But even if you consider yourself to be twisted, too, don’t order this wine for the rubber chicken — order it for what’s waiting for you inside the bottle.

$24.00 at Twisted Oak Winery.
Disclosure: This wine was sent to me for review courtesy of Twisted Oak Winery.

*Rated on the 20-point Davis scale.

~winehiker

To Live, Perchance To Zin

Kevin and I accomplished a lot yesterday. After I’d furnished him my files for the site’s about us, FAQs, and resources pages, Kevin had diligently pursued formatting them to style and uploading them to his webserver. We’ve got a little ways to go with the resources page, the look and feel of this blog page, and some other minor cleanup, but overall I’m pretty satisfied with our progress this week.

So, last night I felt like celebrating and poured myself a glass of 2002 “Rezerve” Zinfandel from Sobon Estate in the Shenandoah Valley, one of California’s Sierra Foothills appellations. This was a wine I had purchased at the winery, having taken a sojourn to the Fiddletown, Shenandoah, and Fairplay subappellations of Amador County in early October.

I had opened the Sobon 3 nights earlier, and it had been quite fine then, but last night it was oh-so-much-more tasty, with the tannins having softened but the berry and cherry notes still lively. You know, this wine is 15.9% alcohol! That’s a pretty dang high heat factor, to be sure. But you can always tell exemplary winemaking when you taste the fruit and texture but don’t feel all that alcohol on your palate. Could be why this particular Rezerve Zin took a Gold Medal at the Amador County Fair Wine Competition. Yum! Wish I had more of it.

But tonight, still in a Zin mood, I dug into my Picchetti stash and poured myself another 2002 vintage from Picchetti’s Bellicitti Vineyard in Saratoga, an upscale district tucked into the southwestern corner of Santa Clara Valley. This Zinfandel is a little softer than the Sobon powerhouse, but slightly spicier, with a hint of plum that I didn’t perceive in the Sobon. I don’t feel heat from this wine, either, but then it’s (only) 14.5% alcohol.

As I write this post, I’ve been out of the room on occasion, but I’ve noticed that the finish from this Picchetti Zin has lingered on my palate. Gosh, I love everything that’s come from that Bellicitti vineyard, I really do. I believe this wine’ll go well with that tangy meatloaf I made the other day.

Speakin’ o’ which, it’s about time I ate, too.

Heck, I would pour either of these delectable Zins for good friends.

~winehiker