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Revolution Wines flies flag for Sacramento terroir

Craig Haarmeyer, head winemaker at Revolution Wines, shown in 2010, says wines from the area’s vineyards have their own distinctive quality.
Craig Haarmeyer, head winemaker at Revolution Wines, shown in 2010, says wines from the area’s vineyards have their own distinctive quality. Sacramento Bee file

Craig Haarmeyer has heard the doubters when he talks of Sacramento terroir, that holistic sense of place that can be tasted in a glass of wine. Like the cool-climate chardonnay of Sonoma County, or the plush and jammy cabernet from the Napa Valley hillsides, Haarmeyer insists that Sacramento wines are also blessed with their own regional character.

Haarmeyer is the head winemaker at Revolution Wines, a boutique urban winery in midtown, and proudly flies the “made in Sacramento” flag. He takes to social media with the #sacterroir hashtag to show his local pride in cyberspace. Sometimes he feels like an army of one.

“It’s an uphill battle,” Haarmeyer said. “Most folks think ‘real’ wine couldn’t come from Sacramento, but it could come from Napa or the foothills.”

Part of that prejudice might be due to the local scenery. The flatlands near I-5 or Highway 99 in southern Sacramento County don’t exactly resemble France’s wine country, but they still qualify as wine country.

“They’re expecting that pastoral, agrarian kind of thing,” said Haarmeyer. “I’m still convincing people.”

But now, some vindication. Revolution Wines earned three mentions in the San Francisco Chronicle’s recent roundup of the year’s best wines.

Its 2013 Revolution St. Rey Sutter Ranch Vineyard Clarksburg Chenin Blanc ($25) was listed among the “Top 100 Wines: The Best of the West Coast in 2014.” And its 2012 Revolution Wines St. Rey Celeste Red Sacramento County ($30), as well as its 2013 Revolution Wines Sauvignon Blanc ($20), with grapes sourced from the Dunnigan Hills in Yolo County, made the Chronicle’s accompanying “60 More Under $40: Top Values From Top Wineries.”

It’s enough for the pro-Sacramento wine crowd to have a Stuart Smalley moment: “We’re good enough, we’re smart enough, and doggone it, people like our wine.”

But Haarmeyer has preached about the uniqueness of Sacramento’s wine for years. The River City, after all, historically was home to large vineyards and winemaking operations, including Frasinetti’s Winery in south Sacramento, which was founded in 1897. The former Natomas Vineyard near Rancho Cordova was considered the world’s largest vineyard in the late 19th century, with 2,000 acres of vines.

Haarmeyer previously worked with Charles Myers, 85, founder of Harbor Winery in West Sacramento, which has sourced grapes from the greater Sacramento region since the early 1970s. While Harbor Winery is currently in the process of shutting down, Haarmeyer says it was a model for the 916-centric approach at Revolution Wines.

“I’m carrying on the same traditions as Charlie,” Haarmeyer said. “There’s all these great vineyards around and sometimes (they’re) in Sacramento. Let’s put Sacramento on the label as much as possible, and show people you can make quality wines (from grapes) that are grown in our backyard.”

But really, do Sacramento wines have the same pronounced terroir character as the earthy, gravelly wines found in Graves on the left bank of Bordeaux?

Haarmeyer points to the various microclimates around the Sacramento region and the influence of the Delta. In Clarksburg, 15 miles south of downtown, the influence from the Sacramento River provides a cooling effect that grapes depend on following a hot day. The signature Delta breeze helps keep the vines free of mildew and can provide a natural pruning effect that gives grapes proper sun exposure. Combined with rich soil, these environmental factors, as well as meticulous farming, have turned Clarksburg into one of the world’s great locales for chenin blanc.

“You get a great natural acidity that provides a great mineral-ly basis for this wine,” Haarmeyer said. “Chenin blanc is one of my favorite things to drink and make.”

That’s to say Sacramento is too hot overall to grow pinot noir and other delicate grapes, but the Valley climate is still conducive to growing other varieties, especially petite sirah. And it doesn’t take much of a drive beyond Sacramento County to find plenty more wine. Haarmeyer includes the Sierra foothills, Yolo County and even Wilton – where Revolution Wines sources the grapes for its St. Rey Celeste blend – as falling under the domain of #sacterroir.

He wants locals to understand that in terms of wine, the Sacramento area has a taste of its own.

“I’m a fifth-generation Sacramentan,” Haarmeyer said. “I’m not going anywhere. I love this thing called ‘Sacramento terroir.’”

Call The Bee’s Chris Macias, (916) 321-1253. Follow him on Twitter @chris_macias.

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