North Yuba County's burgeoning wine trade began with a 1984 cabernet sauvignon grown and developed at Renaissance Vineyard and Winery in Oregon House.
Its '84 "cab" has been followed by a string of award-winning wines served in fine restaurants and sold in upscale markets. A 1985 Renaissance late-harvest Riesling won top honors in Paris and a dessert wine produced at the facility has been served at the White House.
But Greg Holman, president of both Renaissance and winery owner Fellowship of Friends, said the actual goal is to "be a really nice regional winery" that can serve as the hub for area agri-tourism.
"We just want to be part of the community," said Holman. "We want to be part of that. We are part of the history."
Renaissance has been described as the patriarch of more than a dozen regional small, intimate wineries that have been getting more attention from wine-lovers throughout the state.
Two of the newer Yuba County wineries — Clos Saron, which operates near the Fellowship grounds, and Grant-Eddy, which occupies space in the Renaissance facility — were started by former Renaissance wine-makers. But if Renaissance is the hub, it may be those smaller wineries from Butte County to Wheatland to the Sutter Buttes that make the region go as a growing attraction.
From the cabernet-merlot Paulina blend produced at Lucero Vineyards and Winery to the signature Primitivo at the Cordi Winery in the Buttes, these homespun businesses are making inroads of their own into the market.
Yuba County not Napa Valley
The vines tucked into the landscape of the rolling, wooded hills and the makeshift tasting rooms provide an intimacy that isn't always found in the tourist-oriented Napa Valley.
"We will not ever be the Napa Valley," said Steven Dambeck, who operates the Yuba Harvest wine-tasting room in the foothills. "It is not in our character."
But that doesn't mean the local wineries don't want recognition.
"What I read from the people is they want controlled access," said Dambeck, who is part-time director of visitor services for the Yuba-Sutter Chamber of Commerce. "They want to have experiences with people who are respectful. They don't want people to come and take over our lives."
Most of the wineries have weekend tasting hours and websites outlining available varieties. Just don't expect elaborate tasting rooms or high fees just to sample the fare.
"I think we will always be smaller," said Dan Lucero of Lucero Vineyards. "We don't charge for tasting. I find if they like it they will buy some. If they don't, that's OK, too."
Lucero, who first planted four acres of vineyards along Texas Hill Road in 1993, started producing his own wine after the bottom fell out of grape selling. He took classes at UC Davis to learn the art of wine making.
He said he had a wine-making friend who was hired by a Napa Valley operation and became frustrated with the formulaic approach. Their goal, the friend told him, was to have each variety of wine taste the same each year.
"There was no creativity," said Lucero, who said his family operation lets each crop of grapes dictate the taste.
"People are surprised that every year has a different taste," Marian Lucero said.
Cordi Winery by itself
Cordi Winery is nestled amid almond orchards on the north side of the Sutter Buttes, the only commercial wine operation in Sutter County.
Geographically away from the North Yuba wine region, it hasn't been included on the annual North Sierra Wine Trail event credited with bringing more public awareness to local wineries. It also doesn't belong to the North Sierra Vintners Association.
That means Reece and Teresa Cordi rely on word-of-mouth and being involved in community events to make themselves known.
"The hardest part for us is that we have to be your destination," Teresa Cordi said.
Finding similarities be-tween the soils of the Buttes and Italy's Mt. Entna, Cordi features Italian wines such as Primitivo, Malbec and Negro Amaro.
"He (Reece Cordi) is very old school," Teresa Cordi said. "When soil testing showed the similarities, he decided that is the way we are going."
Reece Cordi said the local wine industry is what the Napa Valley was "40 or 50 years ago."
But like the foothills wineries, the Cordis have no desire to reach that level.
"We don't really want to be any larger," Teresa Cordi said. "We are happy with this."
Holman said one of the obstacles that regional wineries face is the local attitude that local wines can't be in the same class as those produced in more known regions.
"The attitude has been that if it's local, it's not real good," he said. "But we want to stay local and grow local.
"And we want to buy local because it's better."
Winemaking in area goes back to 1800s
Recent wine production in Yuba County started when Renaissance Vineyard and Winery planted grapes on Fellowship of Friends property in the 1970s.
But, according to Steven Dambeck, director of tourism for the Yuba-Sutter Chamber of Commerce, and a Fellowship member, it was only the latest incarnation of wine-making in the region.
Butte County was the biggest wine-producing area in the state in the 1870s and the Marysville Winery opened in 1872, creating a local market for grape growers. Before closing in the late 1890s, it produced 250,000 gallons a year of wine and brandy, according to Appeal-Democrat records.
What is now Collins Lake was home to vineyards, Dambeck said.
As in the late 1800s, Butte and Yuba counties are connected by wine once again, this time in the form of vineyards in a growing, small-winery industry.
"These two areas are coming together, helping each other and learning from each other," Dambeck said. "It's one region.
"What we are trying to do is to deepen the area's wine-making as an individual region and get appropriate recognition. As a region, we are more interesting than some of the other regions."
Writers from wine publications and nationally-known tasters have been in the region tasting and writing about local wines, Dambeck said.
Greg Holman, president of Renaissance and the Fellowship, said there is no rush to attract large numbers of wine-lovers to the region. A slow, regional approach is best, he said.
"When people come you want it to be right," he said. "But Renaissance can be the hub and we will help by sending people everywhere else."
Wineries in the area
• Renaissance Vineyard & Winery, 12585 Rice Crossing Road, Oregon House, renaissancewinery.com
• Clos Saron, 9269 Collins House Drive, Oregon House, clossaron.com
• Grant-Eddie, 12585 Rices Crossing Road, Oregon House, grantedwinery.com
• Lucero Vineyards and Winery, 10654 Texas Hill Road, Dobbins, lucerovineyards.com
• Cante Ao Vino, 3056 Wintun Way, Wheatland, canteaovinho.com
• Bangor Ranch Vineyard & Winery, 5768 La Porte Road, Bangor, bangor-ranch.com
• Grey Fox Vineyards, 90 Grey Fox Lane, Oroville, greyfox.net
• Hickman Family Vineyards, 77 Orange Ave., Bangor, hickmanfamilyvineyards.com
• Long Creek Winery, 233 Ward Blvd., Oroville, longcreekwinery.com
• Quilici Vineyards, 72 Quail Hill Place, Oroville, quilicivineyards.com
• Cordi Winery, 10401 Ingram Lane, Live Oak, cordiwinery.com
CONTACT Eric Vodden at 749-4769.