Sunday, August 11, 2013

Clarksburg: Wine Country Minutes from California's Capital

If it grows and the average American consumes it, odds are it grows in California’s Central Valley. The massive swaths of agricultural land around Sacramento produce fruits, vegetables and grains that feed large portions of the country. As I drove around Woodland, Sacramento and Clarksburg, I saw dozens of trucks hauling freshly-picked tomatoes. Beside the roads, fields of spinach, soybeans and flooded rice patties stretch for miles.

Of course, this area of California is also home to many a vineyard. On a recent visit with family in the Sacramento area, we took an afternoon trip to Clarksburg to taste some local wine. While it’s situated just 20 minutes south of the capital on the Sacramento River, Clarksburg has a rustic, rural, Americana feel. There must be a bait and tackle shop for every ten people — the Sacramento River Delta is apparently a spot to cast a line.

Clarksburg snagged an American Viticultural Area (AVA) designation in 1987. If you know of the region at all, you probably associate Clarksburg with Petite Sirah and Chenin Blanc grapes. The Bogle family (yes, that Bogle, whose wines you’ve seen in almost every wine shop) deserves much credit for Clarksburg’s evolution from agriculture country to wine country. They settled in this area in the 1860s and planted their first Petite Sirah and Chenin Blanc vines in the late 1960s. But despite the AVA status, many wines from Clarksburg (including Bogle’s) carry only the generic California appellation on their labels.

You could call this a tourist trap, but something about restoring an historic
sugar mill and filling it with winery tasting rooms is just plain awesome.
My family and I decided to visit the Old Sugar Mill in Clarksburg, a newly-renovated space that houses ten or so wineries. Located just a stone’s throw from the Sacramento River, the Old Sugar Mill is a fun place, albeit kind of touristy. I was a tourist, however, so I took full advantage of it and tasted a bunch of wines.

On a Wedensday afternoon, only the Clarksburg Wine Company and Rendez-Vous were open. I was not very impressed with Rendez-Vous, so I’m focusing ony Clarksburg Wine Company, which kicked off in 2011. Consulting winemaker Stacy Clark, former winemaker at Pine Ridge Vineyards in Napa, makes wine from a medley of grape varieties at the company’s custom crush facility. I visited in July, and itt was hot as hell out, so I chose to taste through their whites. Overall, the Clarksburg Wine Company seems to tailor their wines for a wider audience of casual wine drinkers. This is by no means a negative thing, but based on the approachable wines and their attractive price points,  that’s how I see their approach. Still, Clarksburg Wine Co. makes enjoyable wines at very reasonable prices, and I had a great time visiting.

Here are my tasting notes…

2010 Clarksburg Wine Company Sauvignon Blanc - California, Central Valley, Clarksburg ($16)
Lemon and white tea aromas. Tangy and zippy on the palate. The lemon and grapefruit flavors are fresh and clean, touched with green grass. (85 points)

2010 Clarksburg Wine Company Chenin Blanc VS - California, Central Valley, Clarksburg ($24)
Aromas of lanolin, apricot and cinnamon-spiced apple juice. Tangy acid and a creamy mouthfeel. Waxy notes add a bit to the apple juicy theme of this wine. Simple, juicy and pleasant. (84 points)

2011 Clarksburg Wine Company Chenin Blanc - California, Central Valley, Clarksburg ($16)
I liked this better than the “VS” bottling. It shows lemon zest, white peach and grassy notes on the nose. Creamy palate with flavors of honey, green melon and lime. Some nice crispness to this wine, with notes of quinine and minerals. Good stuff that maintains some of the freshness and verve I seek in Chenin Blanc. (87 points)

2010 Clarksburg Wine Company Chenin Blanc/Viognier - California, Central Valley, Clarksburg ($16)
Aromas of lemon zest, lime, white peach and a hint of herbs. Full-bodied and creamy on the palate, with soft acid. Lots of white peach and green melon combines with some waxy, honeyed tones. A quality blend. I like these Clarksburg Chenin Blanc-Viognier blends, and this one’s pretty good. (86 points)

2010 Clarksburg Wine Company Viognier - California, Central Valley, Clarksburg ($18)
Tropical city on the nose, with white peach, mango and pineapple. Full and honeyed on the palate, with fleshy tangerine and melon fruit. Honeycomb notes as well. Rich, lush and full-bodied in style, but the fruit tastes pure and the finish is long and creamy. (87 points)

2010 Clarksburg Wine Company Chardonnay Un-Oaked - California, Central Valley, Clarksburg ($24)
Light and clean on the nose, with pineapple, soap and white flowers. A creamy but crisp approach. Honey and wax nearly dominate the white peach fruit, but the combination is still quite nice. (84 points)

2010 Clarksburg Wine Company Chardonnay - California, Central Valley, Clarksburg ($24)
Much different than the unoaked version, this wine doesn't hide its oak influences. Really nutty on the nose, with bruised apple, pear and lemon fruit underneath. On the palate, chunky pineapple and apricot combines with honey. Fleshy and ripe, but the oak dominates. Too nutty and caramelized and not enough complexity. (80 points)

2011 Clarksburg Wine Company Riesling Vinedo Sofia - California, Central Valley, Clarksburg ($14)
Clearly a warm climate Riesling, but also clearly decent. Aromas of guava and gushing white peach. Flavors of whipped honey, bruised apple and honey-cinnamon notes. Just enough acid, and even though this is almost dry it’s a richer, hotter-climate style of Riesling. (85 points)

If you’re in the Sacramento area, a trip to the Old Sugar Mill could be a lot of fun. I recommend going on the weekend, however, when all the wineries are open for tastings.



  1. Were there really one two wineries open that day? I work in that area and can't recall a Wednesday where there weren't at least 3-4 open on a Wednesday.

    1. Kayla, I sure wish there were 3-4 wineries open when I was there on a Wednesday in July, but only Clarksburg Wine Co. and Rendezvous were open, all the rest were closed. The barrel room was open, so I came and took a few pictures. My family and I enjoyed wine from the two wineries and had a lunch out back, and it was a great time. I'll have to come back another time and visit some other wineries. Cheers!

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