Frank Morgan sporting the saying that started it all…
It all started with a phone call from Steve Havill, Wine Club Manager for Bella Grace Vineyards. Steve saw a few posts I had done after other conferences and wanted to make sure that the Amador County pre-conference tour was going to be an amazing experience for the wine bloggers. I immediately went out to my network of #goingrogue bloggers to get their opinions. I have to say what we proposed was a success as the tour was sold out before any of us could register.
But Steve was bound and determined that he was going to do something special for the group. So the day the conference ended, we boarded a bus and began our journey to discover what makes Bella Grace special. The answer? The family… the wines … the hospitality … the experience … and my very own Frank Morgan “Get in the Car” customized shirt…
Charlie and Steve Havill
But first about Amador County. The region is self-billed as “The Heart of the Mother Lode” and became the destination for those looking to strike gold. The region fell upon hard times after the California Gold Rush became saturated and Prohibition hurt the wineries established during that time. Today this area is thriving and there are over 50 different wineries with very different microclimates. Steve told us that surprisingly, 60 percent of the grapes leave Amador Country. It is known for Zinfandel, but also a number of other varieties due to the number of Italians who brought vines from Italy during that time.
Bella Grace, which was named for two great grandmothers, was founded in 2006 by Charlie and Michael Havill who followed their dream of owning a vineyard. The winery and vineyards are located in the Sierra Foothills, which is known for a variety of grapes from Zinfandel to Primitivo to Rhone varietals. The focus has always been on quality and sustainability. Steve told us that the goal was “to continue the experience of being at our home to every guest in our winery.” Bella Grace makes 8,000 cases annually as well as organic olive oils, imported balsamic and fruit flavored vinegars.
We met most of the family that day and their very talented son, Chef Robert, who recently moved back from Colorado after cooking at Taste. He provided a gourmet dinner that paired beautifully with the wines. In fact, this is part of the hospitality – as they do more than 250 dinners a year at no cost to their wine club members. I loved every wine that I tried.
You can’t do one of these #goingrogue experiences without the side stories. From Jeff Kralik’s ongoing quest to saber sparkling (with varying levels of success) to the surprise Frank Morgan “Get in the Car” T-shirts to Michelle Williams and I rapping The Beastie Boys’ Paul Revere on the bus ride back, it was absolutely a great end to a very fun trip.
This year it seems that #goingrogue was the overall trend, as the conference was so spread out from the host hotels. Walking was not an option for most of us. I felt like I didn’t get to spend the usual quality time with so many of the people I wanted to see, but there were some constants.
The Unconference hosted by Craig Camp, now with Troon Winery continued. This has become one of my favorite events every year because it brings an intimate group together to laugh, eat, talk and in my case, try Troon Wines for the first time. Color me impressed, Craig. I’m excited for your new venture and I know you will do a great job putting them on the map.
Thea Dwelle scheduled a pre-trip this year that allowed me to discover Anderson Valley wines. I discovered Foursight Wines, a winery with five generations of family involved that just celebrated its tenth vintage. I enjoyed being part of the “pinot people” and loved the diversity of these wines. We also experienced the hospitality of Phillips Hill and Gary Krimont at Yorkville Cellars who poured great wine and kept us in stitches. I loved discovering the history and great boutique wines of this region.