Wise Villa Winery - A Good Stop Near Sacramento
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I entered Wise Villa Winery with slight curiosity and a somewhat cynical attitude. To me, wine had always been like that charming and popular guy in high school whom I couldn't bring myself to appreciate, despite seeing a whole horde of girls helplessly lusting over him. If a friend served wine to me at a party, I would gratefully drink it. But if it was totally my call, wine wouldn't be my first choice. The main reason I accompanied my friend, Danny, to Wise Villa Winery the other day was because he would like to reunite with his old buddy who happened to work there. And also, I had never been wine tasting before; why not give it a try? My afternoon at the winery turned out to be much more worthwhile than I had expected. I can't say this experience has converted me into a big wine lover, but I do have a bigger appetite for wine now. It didn't equip me with a brand new set of wine-craving tastebuds, yet it gave me a new perspective about the wine industry. I really enjoyed some of their unique wines and even successfully convinced Danny to buy me a bottle of Nocturnal Light, a crisp white wine with a peachy aroma. In fact, I'm sipping it right now as I'm writing. Oh, don't worry; I can responsibly drink and write at the same time. There won't be any mispellings or senselessly rambling paragraphs.
Wise Villa Winery is located in the Sierra Foothills, just about a 30-minute drive from Sacramento. Family owned and managed, it is nestled among 14 acres of vineyards that bear a total of 11 grape varieties. It was amazing to learn how much calculating and planning winemakers need to do before they plant their grapes. This hilly piece of land has as many microclimates as Sybil has personalities, and vines are a very finicky plant. If not cultivated in the right soil and perfect microclimate, they won't yield flavorful grapes. And without good grapes, there won't be good wines. This whole thing is like "wine feng shui" in a way; it's all about locations and being meticulous.
The Winery and the Tasting Room
Once we arrived at the winery, we were warmly greeted by Kevin, Danny's old friend who is the Associate Winemaker & General Manager. As I understand, his main responsibilities are to oversee the day-to-day winemaking operation, manage the wine club and supervise the tasting room staff. He doesn't normally present the wines himself, but that day we were fortunate enough to have him pour the wines for us.
Kevin told us he had been cultivating his viticultural knowledge from many wineries, including ones in New Zealand and Argentina. Then he modestly added, "Oh, I know it probably doesn't sound very good to have worked in too many places within just a few years." Yeah right, I thought. No one would ever accuse him of being a "winery slut!" He had traveled across the globe, learned from some of the best winemakers and made friends in various continents. I can't believe he found an excuse to humble that down. Nobody I know can brag so unpretentiously the way he did.
Having helped make all the wines, he gave us lots of interesting details about each wine's production process. It actually involved much more craftsmanship than I had imagined. At Wise Villa Winery, they harvest only about 3 tons of grapes per acre in contrast to many other places that crop up to 20 tons on the same scale. They'd rather produce fewer crops with intense flavors than a huge bunch of mediocre grapes. Although the stories of winemaking didn't fully register in my little brain, the look on Kevin's face when he described his wines was quite familiar to me. It was the same look I had seen on many writers, chefs and artists when they talked about their beloved novels, signature recipes and precious creations.
We also had a chance to briefly speak to Dr. Grover Lee, the owner and chief winemaker. Well, I guess it was more like a quick self-introduction, followed by a short episode of eavesdropping. Dr. Lee handed Kevin a glass of new wine, and they exchanged some serious thoughts about it. I was just listening to their conversation and quietly admiring their expertise. These guys are like mad scientists. They're very creative and passionate about their wines, and not afraid to try something a little unorthodox. Obviously, they treat winemaking a bit more like an art project than a business. I could taste passion in the wines and smell venturesomeness in the aromas.
My Favorite Wines at Wise Villa Winery
Nocturnal Light (Torrontes) - This white wine is made from Torrontes grapes, which are rare in the U.S. Its flavor is pretty light and also quite acidic, but not overwhelmingly so. Plus, I love its warm citrusy aroma a lot.
Syrah - The Wise Villa's Syrah has won a gold medal at the last State Fair. Very spicy. Very dynamic. And intriguingly complex. If it was a person, it would be an emotional genius with a twisted personality that people can't easily comprehend. Luckily, it's just a wine, and we don't need to try to make sense of it. Just drink it and enjoy.
Wisdom of Wise (WOW) - The WOW is a Bordeaux-style blend with a mellow and sophisticated taste. It's probably about as complex as the Syrah, but tastes much "cleaner" and smells slightly sweeter.
What Else Do They Have?
Food - Well, there was actually no food when we were there, BUT as I heard, they're going to add a dining area to the wine tasting room very soon. I'm sure it will be great and go perfectly with the wines.
Wine Club - For locals who are looking for fun activities to participate in and learn, I suggest you join the Wise Villa's Wine Club. (I'm contemplating it myself!) You can be a part of the picking parties, harvest celebrations, bottling parties and many exclusive barrel tastings. It's a great way to support California wines, not with your money but your labor.
Special Events - The winery either hosts or joins in local special events basically every month. This coming weekend, for example, they're having an event called "I Love Lucy Grape Stomp." There will be lots of wines, food, music and of course, barefooted ladies stomping grapes. I wonder whether they would do the Lucy's "WAAAAAAAAH" also.