If you’re looking for a tasty but unusual wine that’ll impress your friends and family without breaking the bank, you don’t to look beyond Sacramento’s backyard.
Rendez-vous Winery in Clarksburg’s Old Sugar Mill won the State Fair’s 2017 best of show white wine award for its 2016 viognier.
The winery, a small operation with only seven staff members, sources all its grapes within two miles of Clarksburg. Bottles are between $18 and $24 for white wines and $24 and $30 for red wines.
Rendez-vous owner Larry Dizmang, who spent 20 years as the chief psychiatrist for the Napa County Department of Corrections, always wanted to make wine. And when he was told his viognier won the State Fair’s top honor for white wines, he said he wasn’t surprised.
“I didn’t expect it was going to win any big medals,” he said, “but I knew it was a great wine.”
Dizmang said making a good wine takes plenty of practice, and he and his staff spent two years learning from their mistakes. The grapes can’t be too overripe because that makes the wine too bland, he said, and they must be handpicked because machines damage the skin of the grape, altering the flavor. For his 2016 viognier, all the conditions came together for a perfect wine, Dizmang said.
Though no stranger to success, Dizmang’s recognition in this year’s State Fair competition raised his and Rendez-vous’ profiles.
Dizmang has been making wine since 1981, when he bought 21 acres in St. Helena after returning from the East Coast. He called the winery Folie à Deux, which means “madness of two.” It’s a reference to a psychiatric disorder in which two people with a close emotional tie share a delusion.
“When we wanted to make wine, my wife and I decided that would be crazy so we put that diagnosis on the label,” Dizmang said.
At Folie à Deux, Dizmang produced a chardonnay that won the sweepstakes – the equivalent of a best of show award – at the 1985 State Fair. He continued to gain notoriety with his chenin blanc, which Wine Spectator ranked in the top three in California for three years in a row.
Dizmang sold Folie à Deux in 2004 to the Trinchero Family Estates, but he didn’t stay out of the business very long, launching Rendez-vous in 2011.
He selected the Rendez-vous’ location because the vineyard across the street is brimming with chenin blanc grapes used in his flagship wine. The winery’s 2014 chenin blanc earned a double gold in the 2016 State Fair competition.
Rendez-vous produces 23 wines, many suited for hot nights and summer barbecues.
Its Grenache Rosé is light, easy to drink and pairs well with many foods, said Lindsay Tucker, director of Rendez-vous’s tasting room and wine club. The Grenache is a red wine that goes well with red meat and spicy food. Tucker said she recommends popping it in the fridge for just 20 minutes to give it a slight chill prior to drinking. And the Late Harvest Petite Sirah is a dessert wine that was made to be enjoyed with s’mores, Tucker said.
Rendez-vous also isn’t too snobby to serve wine slushies. Visitors can choose between a blend of the Rendez Rouge and blood oranges or Grenache Rosé with strawberries.
Only a 20-minute drive from downtown Sacramento and featuring a picturesque patio with views of greenery and nearby vineyards, the tasting room is often packed on the weekends, Tucker said. Rendez-vous regularly hosts live music and pop-up kitchens for people looking for an escape.
Despite Rendez-vous’ success, Dizmang says he plans to keep his winery small and local.
“It puts me on the map,” he said. “People know the name, but it doesn’t change my plans. I plan to stay the same size; I plan to stay here and make as good a wine as I can make.”