Soon as you unwrap your calendar for the new year, flip to October and jot down a note to remind your- self to buy tickets for Roots to Wine.
A tasting to promote wineries in and around Winters, it's generally the second weekend of the month. There aren't many wineries in the area only about a dozen. They tend to be so small and remotely scattered that several have their tasting rooms right in the middle of Winters.
Winters has its allure boutiques, a cheese company, the Buckhorn Steakhouse and the Putah Creek Cafe, among others.
But before we get there, if we get there at all, our standard practice during Roots to Wine is to amble about the northern Yolo County settlements of Esparto, Capay and Brooks. Not many tasting rooms are up there, but that's where some substantial vineyards have been developed, giving the impression that this is where the county's wine action is apt to be concentrated in another decade or so. It's a land of varied soils, diverse topography and benevolent climate.
Wine grapes have been grown in the area for more than a century, but perhaps not as extensively as they are today. The husband-and-wife team of Tom Frederick and Pam Welch started to raise the area's profile for fine wines in 1998, when they began to plant vines for their subsequent winery, Capay Valley Vineyards. She was a flight attendant; he built and restored race cars.
When we stopped by Capay Valley Vineyards during Roots to Wine this fall, he'd parked next to the tasting room a bright yellow 1969 McLaren 8B high-wing racer he'd restored. It originally was built in England.
Today, Frederick and Welch, and their winemaker, Terri Strain, devote much of their time to tending about 25 acres of grapes and producing nearly 4,000 cases of wine yearly. Their principal grape and wine is viognier, a relative newcomer to California, though long cultivated in France's northern Rhône Valley, where it is celebrated for producing white wines suggestive of honeysuckle in smell and peachy on the palate.
Frederick and Welch planted viognier at the outset because their original winemaker wanted some to blend with syrah, a common practice in the Rhône Valley. Frederick and Welch, however, grew increasingly keen on viognier as a stand-alone varietal wine. Early on, their viognier began to develop a following for its pronounced suggestions of nectarine and apricot in smell and flavor, and for its deft balance of viscous texture and zesty acidity.
Frederick and Welch long had been fans of the Italian sparkling wine prosecco, and three years ago agreed to use some of their viognier to produce a sparkling version of the varietal, a step that if not unprecedented is at least rare. In the prosecco style, the viognier isn't so much a showcase of vibrant beads of bubbles as it is a softly and pleasantly effervescent take on the varietal. Its murmuring and quick-to-vanish mousse lets consumers know at the outset that this is a laid-back bubbly, intended more to refresh than to wow with complexity and power. It's delicately floral and fruity honeysuckle in smell, peach in flavor, with a fleeting suggestion of brioche that says France more than either California or Italy. It's more conservatively than cloyingly sweet.
"We wanted the crisp, clean taste you get from some proseccos, along with the citric fruit you get from viognier," Frederick said. The first version was sweeter than the current release, but Frederick, pointing to the increasing popularity of sweet wines, doubts that the sparkler ever will be completely dry.
As it is, the sparkling viognier is gaining momentum among consumers, to judge by rising sales, he added. Demand is steady all year, but accelerates during the summer and at year-end holidays. The first three releases of the wine didn't carry a vintage date, but that is likely to change with the 2012 version to be released early in the new year.
In addition to the sparkling viognier, the current Capay Valley Vineyards lineup includes a forward and rich still viognier from the 2011 harvest, a 2008 tempranillo that tasted of juicy blackberries and cherries perked up with a dash of peppery spice, a disappointingly tight and fragile 2009 syrah, and a wonderfully authoritative, layered and lively non-vintage cabernet sauvignon, all concentrated cherries enlivened with a pronounced vein of eucalyptus.
Whether any of them still will be around by next year's Roots to Wine is questionable, but a whole new lineup should be. To keep tabs on Roots to Wine itself, visit the event's website, www.rootstowine.com.
Wine critic and competition judge Mike Dunne's selections are based solely on open and blind tastings, judging at competitions, and visits to wine regions. Read his blog at www.ayearinwine.com and reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Capay Valley Vineyards
By the numbers: 11 percent alcohol, 1,100 cases, $14.
Context: In contrast to the common practice of serving sparkling wine as the welcoming beverage at the outset of a soiree, Tom Frederick prefers a well-chilled glass after a meal. Pam Welch could go along with that, but she also enjoys starting the evening with a glass and then continuing with the sparkler through dinner, regardless of the kind of food on the table. She's found it a splendid companion for poultry, seafood and the varied sorts of foods that often form a family meal during the year-end holidays.
Availability: The Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op, Nugget Markets and some Raley's, and some Costcos.
More information: The tasting room at Capay Valley Vineyards, 13757 Highway 16, Brooks, is open noon-5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.