Newcastle vines producing heavenly wines

By: Loryll Nicolaisen, Journal staff writer
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NEWCASTLE — The McGillivrays have their own little piece of heaven in Newcastle. Sitting at the “bottom of the teacup,” as Karen McGillivray describes it, with a 360-degree view of the foothills, is the Dono dal Cielo Vineyard. “It’s a phenomenon,” McGillivray said. “It’s just a big, growing garden.” Dono dal Cielo translates to “gift from heaven” in Italian. “We’re not Italian — it just happened — but I guess, like everybody, we would like to be,” McGillivray said on a recent Tuesday. Dono dal Cielo has kind of an interesting dynamic — while William McGillivray is the one to be credited for having the vision to start the Wise Road vineyard, his wife Karen is head honcho of the day-to-day work, as William owns an electromechanical components distribution company and is on the road for work quite a bit. “Right now it’s just me,” Karen said. “When the vineyard was young, I used to do it all myself. In the middle of the night I’d get up and check the water. That’s the odd thing about our situation — it was Bill’s vision, it was Bill’s desire, but he’s not here so in his absence it just fell on my shoulders, but it turned out well for me. Dono dal Cielo, sometimes I feel like it’s my vineyard. It’s just a serendipitous situation Bill and I have gotten into.” William said the vineyard dynamic works because Karen’s passion is the farm aspect, and his is the business and finances. The couple’s adult children Thea and Hunter, both in their 20s, also help in the decision-making process. “Usually, when it comes to the marketing, we like to have their opinion, because they’re younger,” Karen said of her children. Plenty of help along the way doesn’t hurt either, William said. “We’ve been very lucky to have great folks come along to take this thing from A to Z, even if we’re only at B,” he said. William said his love for wine goes back more than three decades, when he started collecting ports and Cabernets. “I’ve always had a fondness for wines and the wine industry,” he said. “I have had a deep passion for Zinfandel for years and years and years, and our area is one of the best for growing Zinfandel.” The McGillivrays grow mostly Zinfandel but also Petite Sirah and Chardonnay — they planted about 6,000 vines in 2002 and another 5,300 in 2007. Dono dal Cielo’s current offerings are 2005 and 2006 Zinfandels, along with a 2007 Rosé. William said he knew they had a good thing when bottling the 2005 Zinfandel. “In that first tasting moment, I was absolutely floored,” he said. “It was dead-on perfect.” A couple months later that 2005 Zinfandel earned a silver medal from the San Francisco Chronicle. “How much prouder can you be of that baby?” he said. William also has confidence in the 2006 Zinfandel. “It has some complexities that are a little different than the ’05,” he said. Drew Moffat, manager of Carpe Vino in Old Town Auburn, said Dono dal Cielo does well at the wine bar. “It’s been one of our best-selling Placer County wines and one of our best-selling Zins,” Moffat said. “We’re really lucky because we have a lot of great (local) wineries. What’s great about them is they have their own vineyard. They have all their Zin there. They have their own control over it from spring time to bottle time.” Karen McGillivray said Dono dal Cielo’s Zinfandels have a special flavor that’s hard to describe. “I’m not really sure what that taste is,” she said. “It’s a medium body wine, it’s got a long finish, but as far as flavor goes? I don’t know how to describe it. The flavor of the wine is definitely out there in the vineyard.” The McGillivrays both say operating Dono dal Cielo is a constant learning experience, and one they cherish. Without getting too spiritual, Karen said she does believe Dono dal Cielo lives up to its name. “We feel that this is such a gift, and I treat it as a gift,” she said. “I’m always thinking about how this will be a place for Newcastle to be proud of. I treat it as if it was a gift, and I do what I need for the land.” The Journal’s Loryll Nicolaisen can be reached at lorylln@goldcountrymedia. com, or comment online at