Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Happiness (in a a glass,) just around the bend!

A quick right just beyond the bridge
"I took the road less traveled, and that made all the difference."

Driving along the lower end of South River Road just after one of Sacramento's hottest heat waves of 2017...thus far, I was reminded of the days of fishing on a once somewhat secluded, private beach just off the main channel of the Sacramento River. Steamboat Bend had been a favorite location of mine to fish and just hang out whenever the need arose. The beach was quiet except for the occasional tractor or big rig carrying tomatoes and sugar beats across the old rickety drawbridge that separated the slough from the main channel of the Sacramento River. I remember the feral cats that would amble by and beg or in some instances threaten me by show of fangs, for chunks of bait and the boats that somehow managed to navigate through what appeared to be water so shallow that walking across to the opposing bank seemed effortless. 

Bridge view from the vineyard
From the beach I would cast my line under the bridge into the deeper waters of the river, and lazily wait for something, anything to bite. The quiet was therapeutic and the scenery calming. Until this day, I had never witnessed the bridge coming to life to allow a vessel to pass underneath. Had I known then that one day, as if on cue, the old bridge, heaving, creaking and struggling against time to lift would reveal the culmination of efforts to achieve my goal to be a photojournalist, and provide the opportunity to reignite my passion for writing about wine and agri-tourism. My education in leisure studies was finally coming full circle.

Fast forward.
For those like myself who crave nature, solitude and a peaceful existence...albeit while enjoying good wine, Grand Island Vineyard, is a must visit destination.  Located just a few hundred feet beyond the bridge, the vineyard and winery offer a good selection of wine, top notch hospitality, (they passed my 30 second "notice that I'm in the room!" test) and the need for tranquility, that fishing once...and still provides.

 The Facility:
Having visited more than 300 wineries within the last five years, and completing coursework in risk management, I was instantly impressed with the design and care put into the ADA compliant access to the winery. Having worked with persons with disabilities, the welcoming and easy to maneuver ramp and walkways provide access to those with mobility challenges. The attention to detail that was placed in the design complemented the large tasting room and winery which took nearly five years to complete. Angular and modern, the building retains a "barn-like"character that does not clash with it's surroundings. Newly planted grapevines will soon provide an added touch of seclusion but definitely not exclusion from the now well traveled river road.

The experience:

Live music and wine!
Entering the spacious. well lit, arch shaped tasting room, I was greeted by Melanie, who understands the holy grail of hospitality quite well. Eye contact, warm genuine greeting and a smile...all within seconds of my entrance. Kudos! It really is the small stuff that matters most when folks visit a tasting room. Many a winery may boast the number of gold medals their wines may win, but this means nothing if the service is bad. Melanie was humble. Coming from this Vino Diva, humility goes a long way in an industry wrought with pretentiousness. There was none in this tasting room. Melanie cheerfully and enthusiastically shared her knowledge and history of the area. As a local, her authenticity and transparency were refreshing. It was obvious that she valued the dirt under her fingernails and took pride in her profession. I loved how she allowed the wine to speak without over complicating the dialogue. As she poured each complimentary offering...six currently, her detailed descriptions were clear and concise. This allowed me time to become more familiar with varietals that are relatively common, but not always grown and produced in the Sacramento Delta.

The tasting room

The Red wine:

According to Melanie, the Salman family has been growing grapes for more than 45 years. Click here for the whole family story. http://grandislandvineyards.com/people.html
From vineyards stretching nearly 20 miles south in Walnut Grove, CA to just north of Clarksburg, CA the Salman family currently produce 10 varietals with a newly released Cabernet Sauvignon. As mentioned previously, six wines are offered in the complimentary tasting of which a rich, robust Cabernet Franc is among the line-up as well as a...wait for it...

Pinot Noir in the Delta???
 Yep! Not an apparition folks, they make a Pinot Noir with fruit grown in "Hot as Hell" Clarksburg! I would mos def like to sit at the winemakers feet with a glass and learn how they or more accurately, Mother Nature manages to harness the delta breeze to allow a Burgundian  to produce a rich, fruit forward, not overly pomegranate influenced smooth wine! If you read my previous blogs, Pinot is NOT my favorite grape of choice. However, this particular vino is quite easy on the palate.
Moving forward with more surprises...the Cab Franc would also peak my interest.
Velvet and fruit!
With more than a general knowledge of the grape growing and wine making processes,  I was not surprised that the Cab Franc presented as an atomic fruit bomb. There was nothing linear about this wine. A medley of dark fruit followed by a delicate earthiness flowed easily over my palate. Because I prefer to drink wine without food, the easy approach would pair well with the Delta breeze and make this a perfect wine to sip while listening to music at one of their Friday evening events.
As if I wasn't intrigued enough, the $17.00 per bottle price tag for this gem put a whole new spin on my holiday shopping list! Moving on.

The easy drinker!
Technically, unless a wine is made with a single varietal, wine produced using a varietal name must derive at least 75 percent of their volume from the grape. The aptly named "Bridgehead Red" is according to Melanie, made from vertical vintages of Petit Syrah and one other grape. I am so loving the winemaker about now! Petit Syrah is grown quite well and abundantly throughout this AVA, and GIV does a great job with this offering. A bit of detectable RS (residual sugar) was evident making this not the wine for me. However, for those who are beginning to explore red wines, this would be a great intro wine...just my opinion.
GIV offers a "Wine Club Only" tasting of a Rose' of Cabernet which unfortunately I did not explore. Rose's are beginning to make a huge re-appearance as a "cool" wine to consume. I'm sure this one does not disappoint.
The White Wine:
Butter? Nada!

 Interestingly enough, Chardonnay produced by several wineries within the Clarksburg AVA present in a multitude of flavors and styles based on exponential winemaking style. Wow, that was a mouthful! In short, this Chardonnay was not a butter bomb, twig spitting Puligny Montrachet! Straight fruit forward, refreshing, evenly dry, and would pair well with cheese or fresh fruit. The perfect wedding wine for guests who want to socialize before or drink with dinner.
The apex of this visit was coming near and I still had two more wines to go. I rarely if ever drink varietals that are synonymous with dessert. However, the Riesling and the Gewurtztraminer were initially offered in the beginning. I declined opting to wait until the end assuming they would be sweeter.

We have a winner!!
OMG! Let me not spew too much here. In the words of my ethnic vernacular, this wine was "Da Bomb!" Sweet? Hell naw! Dis right here was the shizzle! Down to da bone dry with an "off the hook" mineral quality that rocked this sistah girls weave! Hit this with some fried fish, greens, mac and cheese, corn bread and black eyed peas...can you say, Sunday dinner??  Better yet, serve this at the next family BBQ and watch how them church folks in the family who don't "drink wine" get their drink on! Okay, I'm back. Had to go rogue ghetto for a minute! Seriously, I was amazed at how well this Riesling presented. Again, I do not regularly drink white wine...until now!
Sweet and Sassy!
The Gewurtztraminer was too sweet for me, but not as sweet as many that I have tried. Again, a perfect wine for sipping in the evening. I couldn't say what to pair it with, but a glass comes to mind. Just sayin'.

Although commercialization is slowly encroaching the agricultural landscape, the beach is still under the bridge and a soon to be open small cafe is in the works to provide travelers sustenance and refreshment which is sorely needed whenever alcoholic beverages are being consumed. Folks can now get their wine tasting on after a day of fishing or chilling on the river.

My research has allowed me to visit wineries throughout California, and I am always amazed at what I find...especially in my own back yard. It is exciting to be able to watch a developing destination winery come into its' own as the Delta continues to provide new and emerging wineries a place to call home. I give Grand Island Vineyards three slaps upside the head...and this is a good thing, as they really know how to make a visitor feel at home. The history, wine, location...in close proximity to some of the best bass fishing in the Delta...don't tell anyone, and the people are truly a welcome addition to the wine industry.
Check them out at:
Be sure to ask about their wine club and current specials. Thank you Melanie for A+ hospitality and thank you GIV for rekindling the memories of my fishing trips in the Delta!

Until next time.


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