Home winemakers uncork best vintages for competition

Hobbyist competition is July 10 at Geiger Woods
By: Joyia Emard, Loomis News Staff Writer
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Homemade wine has come a long way in Placer County. The Fifth Annual Home Winemakers Competition and Barbecue, presented by the Placer County Wine and Grape Association, will judge just how far with a contest at 2 p.m. Saturday, July 10, at Geiger Woods in Loomis. According to Doug Geiger, who will host the event at his Auburn Folsom Road property, last year almost 100 people attended the judging and catered barbecue. Winemakers entered 65 wines into the competition. “Most of the wines entered were reds – cabs, zinfandels, syrahs. The judges were very thorough and tough,” Geiger said. Don Koehler and his wife, Gayle, of Loomis, are wine enthusiasts and grow eight different varietals of wine grape on their 4.6-acre property. Those vines produce one to two tons of grapes annually. Koehler said the Barbera is a favorite. They also grow syrah, Grenache, mourvedre, zinfandel, petite syrah, souzao and touriga. Gayle said they moved to Loomis in 2003 after finding property where they could grow grapes. She said her husband designed their vineyard. “We put the vineyards in before the house was built,” Gayle said. According to Koehler, home winemakers are allowed to produce up to 200 gallons of wine per household. Wine hobbyists are not allowed to sell their creations. Koehler and four of his friends create award-winning wines under the name of Fat Cat. At the 2009 Placer County competition, their Cabernet Sauvignon won double gold and best of show. The group also took home two silvers and a bronze. Koehler estimates that Fat Cat produces 200 cases of six to eight different wines each year. A retired plant biochemist and Texas A & M University teacher, Koehler uses his technical skills to create perfect blendings of wines that have garnered his team numerous awards. According to Koehler, barrel-tasting is a favorite activity of the Fat Cats. To collect wine from the casks, a large dropper, called a wine thief, is used. The group then samples, blends varieties together and tastes some more. “It’s very interesting to add a little of one wine to another and see how the wine changes in flavor and impression. It brings out the best in the wine,” he said. Koehler said copious notes are taken during the tastings to help determine the final blends. “We only make reds and go for a big, bold style with lots of structure, acid and fruit,” Koehler explained. Gayle said she only drank white wine before she met Don. With dozens of awards won over the last few year, the amateur winemaker group of Fat Cats is now going “Our latest venture is the establishment of the Wreckless Blenders, a bonded winery located in Carmichael,” Koehler said. With the establishment of their winery, Koehler said he can no longer enter amateur competitions, which leaves the door wide open for other wine hobbyists at the Placer County competition. Entry categories are white, red, blush/rose, sparkling, fruit/exotic and dessert wines. The wines are judged on color, clarity, acidity, aroma, taste and flavor, and overall quality. Gold, silver and bronze ribbons will be awarded, along with a best of class. Only award-winning wines will be served to attendees. According to the Placer County Wine and Grape Association, sponsors of the contest, “The topography, soil, and climate of Placer County are perfect for wine grapes” because of the similarity in temperature and soil content to Southern France and Italy. The association is a non-profit organization established to promote the making of wine and the growing of wine grapes on both a commercial basis and as a hobby. The association will hold Placer County winery tours on Aug. 7 and 8 and Dec. 11 and 12. They’ll also participate in Art, Verse & Vines, an art studio and winery tour, that will be held Nov. 13 and 14. For more information, visit their website at