Last weekend I got a bug in my bonnet and decided to take a road trip in order to soak up some beautiful California scenery. If along the way I got to taste some new and delicious wines, even better!
Inspired by this sudden fit of wanderlust, I surveyed No. Cal wine country and decided to head for the hills. My final destination was a small community called Oregon House, located in the Sierra foothills approximately 70 minutes northeast of Sacramento.
Here at 1500+ ft. elevation and at the northern limit of the Sierra Foothills AVA, a mixture of largely decomposed red volcanic and loamy soils (a.k.a Dobbins Loam) provide ideal density/drainage for the cultivation of the vine.
Does the gilded statue above look like I landed somewhere in old Europe? In fact, up in this remote pocket of California gold/wine country is where I discovered Renaissance Vineyard & Winery. This “new world estate” with “old world” sensibilities is one that I had read about and and tasted on several occasions. I was eager to finally learn more about this idiosyncratic domaine.
I arrived in the mid-afternoon this past Sunday and was greeted by Svetlana Sladkova, who is in charge of sales, marketing and events for the winery. Svetlana had planned a tour of the vineyards, winery grounds and a tasting to follow. Let’s go!
Our first stop was a tour of the vineyards. Although the estate is comprised of approximately 1800 acres, in fact, only 30 acres are currently planted to vines. On predominantly north-east facing terraced slopes at 1700-2300 ft. the following varietals are planted: cabernet sauvignon, syrah, grenache, mourvedre, merlot, roussanne, semillon, chardonnay sauvignon blanc, viognier.
Some of these vines are 30+ years old, having been planted as far back as 1975. Amazingly, all of the vines are planted on their own rootstocks. Yields are low, ranging between .8-1.5 tons per acre (11-20 hectolitres/hectare).
Just down the hill from the vineyards, I spotted this guy and several of his double humped friends soaking up some rays. All of the grapes at Renaissance are grown organically, and without the use of any chemical fertilizers, pesticides or fungicides. In fact, many of the biodynamic principles of Rudolph Steiner are also practiced in the vineyards.
The double hump camels, along with these llamas earn their keep by helping to fertilize the vineyards. Why not grab some cow dung from the neighbor up the street to fertilize the vines? First, llama and camel dung are considered to be less harsh and more nutritive to the soils and vines than horse or cow dung. Second, biodynamic viticulture treats the whole domaine/farm as self sustained inclusive units which should be generated and utilized by the farm itself.
After leaving our four legged furry fertilizer friends, we continued on with a tour of the estates various gardens. Next to the estate’s potager or vegetable garden, we were treated to a view of this imposing olive tree..estimated age 200+ years. Along with Rhone and Bordeaux style wines, Renaissance also produces a modest amount of olive oil from the trees planted on the grounds.
Just around the corner from the grand olivier, lay the rose gardens. Svetlana and I followed this gravel path, passing rose bushes galore, a banana tree and even a peacock or two! Our tour of the gardens ended at one of the central couryards where a small community fair and lunch were being held that afternoon.
psst..Can you spot the peacock in the photo above?
Next stop, the Renaissance lakeside tasting room, where I was treated to a comprehensive tasting of red, white and late harvest wines.