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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The western ridge above St. Supery Winery’s Dollarhide Ranch

Big Lake at Dollarhide Ranch. Click to view a video on viddler.com.

Robert Skalli, co-owner of St. Supery Winery, loves this spot atop the western ridge above Big Lake at Dollarhide Ranch, where I scouted a few routes for potential future winehiking on a bright and clear mid-November day. With just a little effort, reaching the top of this ridge affords supreme vineyard views.

Flickr Photo Download: Heart’s Fire 2006 Petite Sirah

You're not ready for the trail until you're ready for the trail.

The husband-and-wife teams of Kristin & Brian Link and Julie & Dan Scheve of tiny Heart’s Fire Winery of Campbell, California will be bottling their 2008 wines during tasting hours this coming Sunday. If they’re lucky, their labors will be complete by Labor Day!

You can consider yourself lucky, however, because Heart’s Fire Winery invites the public to stop by and enjoy their 2006 and 2007 wines and see what’s involved in getting all their 2008 wine ready for consumption.

Heart’s Fire is open on the first Sunday of each month for tasting and purchases. This Sunday, September 6th, they’ll be open from 1:00pm – 4:00pm. They’re also available for private tastings by appointment by calling (408) 858-1155 or sending an email to info@heartsfirewine.com.

For more information and directions, please see the Heart’s Fire Winery website at http://www.heartsfirewine.com.

Heart’s Fire Winery
165 Cristich Lane, Unit K
Campbell , CA 95008

If you love Zinfandel and Petite Sirah and you’re sticking around town this weekend, I recommend visiting!

~winehiker

Flickr Photo Download: The 2006 Township 7 Cabernet Sauvignon

The 2006 Township 7 Cabernet Sauvignon by winemaker Bradley Cooper.

Winemaker Bradley Cooper of Penticton, British Columbia, produces exquisite wines from the south Okanagan Valley, including this delicious handcrafted small-lot Cabernet, of which he made 752 cases.

I simply adore this wine’s cherry, coffee and cola overtones, especially when enriched by a broad silkiness on the palate and an enduring finish that will cause you to delay brushing your teeth too soon. Lovely with red meats or on its own, here’s a special, affordable Township 7 Cabernet that you should be drinking.

Price: $25.99 per bottle / $311.88 for case of 12
Heat: 13.9% ABV
Where to purchase: contact the winery.

Disclaimer: this bottle was a sample, stolen fair and square from the winemaker when he wasn’t looking. ;^)

Legendary Football Coach Mike Ditka to Release New Wine: “Kick A$$ Red”

So here’s the deal: Da Coach of Da Super Bowl Bears, Mike Ditka, is releasing a new wine called “Kick Ass Red.” It’s a premium blend of Zinfandel and Syrah from the Parducci Winery in Mendocino, California and it will retail for about $49.

read moredigg story

Wino Wednesday Links

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.

Brrrr!

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.

~winehiker

All Saint’s Day Links

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