Berryessa Gap: A Family of Immigrants, Pioneers, Farmers and Entrepreneurs – Not About to Forget Their Wine Country Roots

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The Berryessa Gap website starts out with a strong statement — we are immigrants, pioneers, farmers and entrepreneurs.  What better way to stay true to one’s heritage and farming roots than to proudly lead with that statement in a time where it is anything but vogue to remember that no one actually started in the place that we now live. Sorry, but I digress.

I was invited to Twitter tasting by my friend Robert Larsen of the Larsen Projekt, PR pro and winemaker, to meet with Nicole Salengo, the winemaker for Berryessa Gap.  First, I had to learn about Winters, CA and Yolo County.  Winters County is located just 30 miles from Sacramento and 60 miles from San Francisco.  The region is in the process of establishing its own AVA and is located on the eastern edge of the California Coastal Range and has cool temperatures in the morning and late evening and warm day temperatures.  Moderate rainfall combined with rolling terraces and excessively to well-drained soils provide ideal conditions for growing wine and yet somehow this region hasn’t been on my radar in the past.

First let’s talk about the winery and how it came about. Berryessa Gap’s roots go back to both Spanish and German farmers who first planted and farmed fruit.  The site literally refers to a gap in the hills, east of Lake Berryessa.

In 1969, Dan Martinez, Sr., first planted apricots, almonds, prunes and walnuts and then partnered with Ernest Peninou, a San Francisco winemaker and wine historian to develop Yolo Hills Viticulture Society, a grapevine rootstock nursery business that supplied UC Davis-sourced grapevine rootstock.  This was the business for 30 years until Dan Martinez Jr. and his business partner Santiago Moreno purchased the Coble Ranch at the crest of rolling hills overlooking Berryessa Gap in 2000.   To date, the Berryessa Gap’s grapes are sourced here over 60 acres of rolling hills of coastal range.

Nicole talked about the rootstock to bottle heritage and how important it was to showcase the uniqueness and potential of the terroir.

We sampled four wines during our tasting:

  • 2016 Berryessa Gap Zinfandel – this was full of black cherry, blackberry compote, red fruit, cocoa, spice, earth and coffee bean.  This was an intense wine with a 600 case production, SRP $22.
  • 2016 Berryessa Gap Tempranillo – I tasted currant, dark fruit, dried rose petals, earth, blood orange, cigar box and leather.  This easy to drink wine was the highest in production with 800 cases, SRP $26.
  • 2016 Berryessa Gap Malbec – this wine was a blend of three Malbec clones and had lots of dark black and blue fruit, flowers, violets, toast, spice and herbal notes.  The winery made 750 cases and the SRP is $25.
  • 2015 Berryessa Gap Durif – a Durif is 100 percent Petite Sirah and this was delicious.  I tasted savory notes of blackberry, cocoa, spice, espresso, herbs and a nice minerality, SRP $32.
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