Every year we take a “Fall Harvest” tour.
We visit with winemakers, taste wines and find out about the current crop. We skip Napa and Sonoma, and go to our favorite places that are slightly off the beaten path. Great wines come from many places.
One of our favorite places in the world of wine is the Fitzpatrick Winery and Lodge in the town of Fair Play in the Sierra Foothills. The Winery and Lodge is a massive log structure that sits atop a hill with panoramic views of the surrounding countryside. The setting is very tranquil and refreshing. This is the one place we come to every year.
What really makes the place special is the founders, Brian and Diana Fitzpatrick. They make sure everyone who stays there is made to feel welcome. The Lodge features five B&B rooms, two of which are suites.
Brian and Diana have long been proponents of organic farming. In addition to their vineyards, they raise their own organic fruits and vegetables. Diana is a gourmet chief, and all the meals she serves are wonderful, with pronounced levels of flavors. The Lodge features a large wraparound deck with an outdoor wood-burning fireplace. If you’re there on a Friday night, you’ll want to take advantage of “Pizza Night.” Locals from throughout the area gather to dine on Brian’s handmade pizza and listen to the live entertainment. These evenings are popular and afford the opportunity to meet many of the local winemakers and growers. Be sure you let them know you want to attend when you make your room reservations. “Pizza night” is always a sellout.
This year when we arrived, we had a surprise. The rooms and grounds had undergone a makeover. All the rooms have been redone with new bathrooms and décor. For additional picture and information about the winery, the lodge, or Brian and Diana visit: Fitzpatrickwinery.com.
They make great wines in the Sierra Foothills. The high altitudes feature warm days and cool nights. These conditions generate a long growing season allowing the grapes to develop intense flavors. Red grapes do well here with Zinfandel, Syrah, Barbara, Tempranillo, Cabernet Franc and Petite Syrah doing especially well. White wine varieties that thrive here are Viognier, Rosanne and Marsanne. Land is less expensive in this area than in Napa or Sonoma. As a result, the wines are more affordable. Many fine wine producers are located here. There are about two dozen wineries in the Fair Play area with perhaps another hundred within a short drive. Some are large, some small. It’s easy to find extremely good, well-made local wines for less than $30.
By the way, all the winemakers we spoke with on our tour said the crop from this year should be excellent.
Another stop on our tour was the town of Murphys in Calaveras County (of jumping frog fame) also in the Sierra Foothills. This historical town features about 50 wineries. We got this recipe from the Bodega del Sur Winery.
1 lb. ground round
1 small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp. dried oregano
4 oz. chopped green chiles
2 Tbs. distilled white vinegar
1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
Fresh tomato, chopped
6 corn tortillas, 7-inch size
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Brown the ground beef, onion, taco seasoning, and oregano in a skillet over medium heat mixing the meat into crumbles as it cooks, about 8 minutes. Drain off the excess fat.
Stir in the sour cream, chilies, and vinegar until well mixed. Remove from heat and mix in the cheese.
Melt butter in a small skillet over low heat. When melted dip each tortilla into the butter for about 30 seconds, or until soft.
Place the softened tortilla onto a baking sheet and fill with about
Bake in preheated oven until the tortilla is crisp, about 15 minutes. Garnish with tomato and cilantro.
Regardless of what Credence Clearwater might say, Lodi isn’t the worst place to be stuck in if you’re looking for good wines. While not as well known as some other California wine growing areas, Lodi produces excellent wines. We visited with several winemakers in the area, one of which was David Phillips, who, along with his brother Michael, own the Michael David Winery. We toured their facilities and discussed their winemaking approach with David over lunch. Their wines are fruit forward and concentrated You might be familiar with their 7 Deadly Zins, Petite Petit, or Freakshow wines and their colorful labels. You should enjoy these wines, as well.
• Highly recommended: Michael David Winery – Earthquake Petite Sirah 2009, Lodi, Calif., about $26. Like the name implies, this is a huge, full-bodied wine with great depth and intensity. It’s a deep dark inky color, almost opaque. It has flavors of dark berries, smoky chocolate and bacon.
Highly recommended: Michael David Winery – 6th Sense Syrah 2010, Lodi, Calif., about $19. The name is a homage to this being the sixth generation of grape growers within the family. This wine has strong, dark red fruit flavors with notes of vanilla and spice on the finish. The acidity is well balanced with the firm tannins giving the wine a nice mouth feel.
Jim and Marie Oskins live on Lake Wylie in Fort Mill. If you’re interested in visiting these areas and would like more information, or have questions about wine or wine and food pairings, email firstname.lastname@example.org.