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


Blind Wine Tasting Notes: Barolo

Considered to be one of the most noble wines of Italy, Barolo lays claim to the title “Wine of kings, and king of wines.” The wine, named after the Barolo commune from which it originates, is made from the region’s heavily-grown Nebbiolo grape, a dark blue, highly tannic variety that can yield an incredibly powerful wine to the senses.

Barolo can be a hard wine to make, and that can account for its relatively steep price and slim availability. Perhaps it is the latter two factors that influenced our evening of tasting this noble grape when five of us got together on a recent Thursday.

There’s something noble about Barolos, alright, and you often notice it right away in this wine when it’s aged five years. All sorts of color gradations appear, from deep violet to inky blue-black to orange around the rim. Aromas of leather and pine tar permeate the senses, with a hint of roses. I had advised my guests, in preparing for our tasting, to uncork their wines 24 hours ahead and let them breathe overnight, then stopper them in the morning. Two of my guests, I believe, had let them breathe the entire 24 hours. Despite this, some bottles expressed a little funkiness that largely dissipated upon swirling our glasses for 15-20 minutes.

Yes, one must be extraordinarily patient with Barolos, whether winemaker or wine drinker. Because we had been patient with the wines’ oxygenation process, all bottles were very drinkable, with a high degree of collective satisfaction in their taste and body profiles; overall quality was scored moderately, and we feel that aging would only improve all five wines.

Our group also enjoyed pairing our Barolos with two cow’s milk cheeses, namely a mature Fontina, a hard cheese with a mild, somewhat nutty flavor while at the same time rich, herbaceous, and fruity, and a fresh Piave, which exhibits a dense texture and imparts an intense, full-bodied flavor.

About the wines
The wines listed below are ranked top-down, most favorite to least favorite; each is followed by the wine’s heat (alcohol content) and the price per 750ml bottle. 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. If no link is present, purchase information is not available online.

Below the group ranking, I’ve employed the scoring sheet to tabulate my opinions about each individual wine.

Group Ranking

+3 2001 Damilano “Albeisa”, Piemonte, Italy 14.0% $36
+3 1999 Prunotto “Bussia”, Piemonte, Italy 14.0% $60
-1 2001 Rivetto “Giulin”, Piemonte, Italy 14.0% $38
-2 2001 Rivetto “Giulin”, Piemonte, Italy 14.0% $38
-3 2001 Damilano “Albeisa”, Piemonte, Italy 14.0% $36

Winehiker’s Ranking

17 pts. 2001 Rivetto “Giulin”, Piemonte, Italy 14.0% $38
14.5 pts. 2001 Damilano “Albeisa”, Piemonte, Italy 14.0% $36
14 pts. 2001 Damilano “Albeisa”, Piemonte, Italy 14.0% $36
14 pts. 2001 Rivetto “Giulin”, Piemonte, Italy 14.0% $38
13 pts. 1999 Prunotto “Bussia”, Piemonte, Italy 14.0% $60

Note that of the five wines, there were two pairs of two that were of the same label; I alluded to this aspect earlier as being a major factor in the night’s tasting. Yet while the scoring of these five wines exists in a fairly tight range, there’s quite a fractious disparity in each of the above rankings when you take the similar labels into account.

While I can sometimes forgive the group for a disparity in scoring two of the same wine, I find it difficult to allow myself the same courtesy. The funny part (“funny peculiar” that is, not “funny ha-ha”) is that while the Rivettos scored similarly in the group rankings, I scored them moderately differently on aroma, balance, and finish, but just enough to gap them by 3 points. The group, on the other hand, scored the Damilanos quite broadly; these took both first and last in the group scores.

Why such puzzling differences?

We decided to perform a “taste-off” of the two Damilanos to more assiduously determine the differences. My own score sheet had suggested from the first pass that aroma, acid, and finish were the main issues, and that’s what they turned out to be. The Damilano that we had favored scored well on second pass, with aromas, acidity, and finish characteristic of a fine wine; the wine from the other Damilano bottle had not quite let go of its off-putting “dirty socks” smell, and seemed much more acidic on the finish.

Not surprisingly, then, we began to examine where we bought our wines. Both had been purchased at Beverages & More, one in Redwood City and the other in San Jose. We speculated that these wines had either arrived in two separate international shipments, or one bottle had been filled from near the top of the barrel while the other had come from near the bottom. Quite possibly storage and transportation issues allowing prolonged exposure to heat were the cause.

I invite my readers to comment on possible additional factors that may have influenced these two inconsistent Damilano bottles.

These circumstances, though they make for interesting discussion, can certainly offer quite an education to all who would learn more about wine. Certainly you could truly enjoy the products of one winemaker for years only to taste a bad bottle that you had already promised your friends would garner high praise.

Conclusions and Recommendations
So, if I were to offer conclusions here, it would be: don’t go to a large chain store to buy imported wine if you can avoid doing so; don’t discontinue your wine club membership because of one bad bottle.

And my recommendations? Keep right on enjoying glass after glass of Barolo. But shop around first for imported wine at a reputable wine merchant that offers a wider selection than the BevMo chain.