Dunne on Wine

Dunne on Wine: Berryessa Gap ups its game

Nicole Salengo, winemaker for Berryessa Gap Vineyards of Winters, stands at the counter of the tasting room at the winery (the winery has another tasting room in downtown Winters).
Nicole Salengo, winemaker for Berryessa Gap Vineyards of Winters, stands at the counter of the tasting room at the winery (the winery has another tasting room in downtown Winters).

For almost half a century, members of the Martinez family in Winters have been selling farmers and vintners benchgrafts, rootstocks and vines – the foundational materials to develop a vineyard.

They began to make their own commercial wine only a little more than a decade ago, but that side of the business appears to agree with them, so they are upping their game.

Their vineyard, the Coble Ranch, spills across 45 hilly acres just northwest of their winery, Berryessa Gap Vineyards, along the north side of Highway 128 on the west edge of Winters.

They established the winery in 2002 in a former meat market in downtown Winters. Three years later they moved production to an old fruit-packing shed, retaining the original site as a tasting room.

As a measure of the family’s new ambitions, earlier this summer it staged a picnic under a massive oak tree overlooking the Coble Ranch, where sheep once grazed. Just to the west is Berryessa Gap, a notch in the coastal range that lets maritime breezes cool the zinfandel, petite sirah, tempranillo and other grapes ambling across the hills.

The occasion was to launch the second vintage of a proprietary blended red wine from the site, fittingly named The Coble Ranch ($35). From the 2012 harvest, it’s a densely colored, richly aromatic, medium-bodied and elegantly fruity mix of several grape varieties, mostly petite sirah.

“We wanted to make a blend to highlight the vineyard,” said Corrine Martinez, who with her brother Dan Martinez Jr. and their longtime business partner, Santiago Moreno, own the winery.

The three also are extending the winery’s selection of varietals and styles, increasingly focusing on Iberian-inspired wines, and boosting production from the current 2,000 cases annually to 3,000 cases.

They also have a relatively new winemaker, Nicole Salengo, a Vermont native with a degree in political science and a minor in geology from State University of New York at Albany. The first wines to bear her signature both metaphorically and literally are just being released.

“My ultimate goal is to make balanced wine, emphasizing fruit and acid; I’m not overoaking anything,” she says while providing a tour of the winery, newly equipped with a massive grape press from Spain.

“My wines have to have aroma up front and a long finish. They have to have that or I won’t bottle them,” she adds, flanked by a bottling line turning out her aromatic and lingering 2013 tempranillo ($24), to be released Sept. 19.

After completing the UC Davis Extension’s Winemaking Certificate program, she signed on at Berryessa Gap two years ago, succeeding the original winemaker, Michael Anderson, a UC Davis viticulture researcher who now manages the university’s Oakville Station, an experimental vineyard in Napa Valley.

Salengo’s first wines under the winery’s expanding Iberian program include a seamless, pointed and lean 2014 albariño ($18) and a lithe and crisp 2014 verdelho ($18).

Her other white wines are an unusually rich yet buoyant 2014 sauvignon blanc ($20) and a full-bodied but spirited 2014 chardonnay ($23).

In addition to The Coble Ranch blend and the tempranillo, her other red wines include a 2013 “reserve” zinfandel vibrant with blackberries and cloves ($40) and a 2013 barbera, bright and sinewy, the prettiness of its red-fruit flavor graced with notes of flowers and spice ($24).

The Martinez family and Moreno look to be content with leaving the winery largely in Salengo’s hands, in part because their hands are full with their thriving Martinez Orchards Inc., which sells about 2 million rootstocks, vines and the like yearly to aspiring and expanding grape growers.

Ironically, Dan Martinez Sr., who established the family’s local roots along Putah Creek in 1956, was more involved in farming apricots and prunes than grapes. In 1969, however, he teamed up with highly regarded California wine historian Ernest Peninou to found the Yolo Hills Viticultural Society to propagate vineyard stock; in 1995 Martinez Orchards Inc. absorbed the Yolo Hills Viticultural Society.

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. He can be reached at dmichaeldunne@gmail.com

Berressa Gap

Berryessa Gap Vineyards has two tasting rooms in Winters:

The counter at the winery, 27260 Highway 128, is open 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; noon-6 p.m. Friday to Sunday.

The tasting room in downtown Winters, 15 Main St., is open 1-8:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 11:30 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 11 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Sundays.

Berryessa Gap wines are widely available in the Sacramento region, including Nugget Markets, Whole Foods in Roseville and Davis, and the Davis Co-op, and such restaurants as Buckhorn Steak & Roadhouse in Winters, Village Pizza and Grill in Davis, and Red Rabbit Kitchen & Bar and The Rind in Sacramento.

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