Placer County wineries: Mt. Vernon

My freshman year in college, I met a fellow dorm-dweller named Ryan. He was from a little California town named Auburn and said that his family owned a vineyard. After graduation, he was going into the wine business with his dad… he said I thought he had to be crazy, or maybe exaggerating — there’s no wine in Auburn!

Oh, how little I knew! Ryan graduated and indeed worked the family winery with his dad. My husband’s family lives in Auburn, so over the years I’ve seen the little winery grow into a regional wine leader. Auburn now has many wineries, and one might argue that Mt. Vernon Winery was the catalyst in putting the region on the map.

Mt. Vernon Winery tasting room

A few weeks ago I went wine tasting in Auburn with a friend, and we finally tried Mt. Vernon’s — Ryan’s — wine. The tasting room is small but on gorgeous grounds in the lush Sierra Nevada foothills. We tried several wines, and I took home a bottle of Mountain Red, a blend of five grapes from the 2000 to 2002 vintages.

I opened that bottle tonight and now know why the winery has received much acclaim since its inception in the 1990s. The aroma is true-to-taste: chocolatey, oaky, a nice dose of cigar and a bright burst of fruit. The smoky, oaky taste would be overpowering if it were just a touch stronger, but Ryan and his dad worked their magic to keep the flavors in balance and present a well-crafted red that is begging to be paired with a hearty barbecued steak and mashed potatoes. I wouldn’t pair anything too spicy with this — spice would sour the smoke of the wine — but a brown-sugar barbecue sauce and a side of grilled asparagus would be Heaven with this wine.

Auburn — and Placer County — was actually one of the first wine-producing regions in California, established during the Gold Rush but abandoned during Prohibition. When Mt. Vernon burst onto the scene, it reestablished Placer County as a notable wine region. A well-mapped route links the dozen or so wineries in the region, and it’s now a viable competitor to the famous — and packed — Napa, 95 miles to the southwest.

I’ll never turn my nose up at Napa, but I might not make it that far when I can stop in Auburn along the way.

p.s. a great resource for all things Placer County wine is Carpe Vino, a delightful wine shop in downtown Auburn.

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