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.
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.