What’s new at Wise Villa Winery?
Tucked away in the Sierra foothills, not far from the busy thoroughfares of Interstate 80 and Highway 65, sits a small winery that is looking to make a big impact on the local wine scene.
Wise Villa Winery celebrated its grand opening in 2011, offering such familiar domestic varietals as cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay as well as lesser-known varietals such as torrontes, tempranillo, torriga and others.
Now, the boutique winery, located on Wise Road just a few miles northwest of Lincoln, has recently completed construction on a state-of-the-art tasting room and will soon offer food from a gourmet kitchen.
Plans for the new tasting room and kitchen were drawn about a year ago, according to owner and winemaker Grover Lee, and took several months to complete.
“I think it was something that I probably thought about from day one,” Lee said. “We interviewed three or four chefs from as far away as Boston and Philadelphia. They are all high-end chefs that are used to doing quality, gourmet food.”
Lee said the winery has made a decision and offered the job to a professional chef, but would not divulge who it is just yet.
The new Tuscan-style tasting room, made of dark stone and warm wood, features two spacious rooms, a long bar and tables for tableside tasting, a fireplace and large bay windows looking out over the vineyards on to the Sacramento valley.
It is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday.
Just outside the new tasting room is an outdoor courtyard with tables, planter boxes and an outdoor fireplace.
Wise Villa Winery grows 11 different grape varietals on 16 acres of vineyards, many of which are used for specific blends, and some varietals such as pinot noir and chardonnay, which typically don’t thrive in the Sierra foothills.
“With grapes like pinot noir, I was told, ‘You can’t do that here,’” Lee said. “In the last three years, our pinot noir has gotten a gold, gold and double gold. So I guess we can grow pinot.”
The winery is ideally located in the “banana belt,” about 500 feet above sea level, set just above the Sacramento valley floor in a zone that almost never gets frost, Lee said.
“All the mandarin and oranges and so forth that are famous for this area are going to make grapes famous for this area for the same reason,” Lee said. “Our quality wine is all because of our grapes. It’s just impossible to make great wine from not-so-great grapes.”
Lee has been making wine for more than 14 years and first took an interest in it when he was a biology and chemistry major at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
His wines, which are about 95 percent estate grown and bottled, have won 54 medals in the last two years from the San Francisco Chronicle and the State and Orange County fairs, he said.
Regarding style, Lee takes the pairing of wine with food very seriously and says his goal is to produce quality wine that characterizes the best of both worlds.
“It’s taking a wine that is enjoyable to drink by itself, but still very enjoyable to have with dinner, and enjoy the dinner with it,” he said. “And not overly high in alcohol.”
Wise Villa Winery regularly hosts wine-pairing parties as well as special events for its wine club members, Lee said.
Lee also said the winery will soon be holding educational seminars, including a cooking class that emphasizes how food and wine go together.
“If you like wine, and you like food, then you ought to know a little bit about why you would want a certain wine with certain food,” Lee said. “There are absolute reasons why you would want certain wines with certain foods. Pairing is really important as far as enhancing the food and enhancing the wine.”
Wise Villa Winery is one of the first stopping points along the Placer County Wine trail, a series of boutique wineries set among the foothills surrounding Auburn, Lincoln, Newcastle and Granite Bay.
Established in 2010 by the Placer County Vintners Association, the trail is dedicated to preserving the history of wine making in the region as well as promote the local, family-owned wineries and reestablishing the region.
Lee is the president of the Placer County Vintners Association and said working with other wineries and promoting the Wine Trail is essential in putting the region “back on the map.”
“I know that while this area is one of the oldest wine regions in California and the United States, it’s probably one of the newest now also,” he said. “There’s a long history of some really great grapes coming out of this area, and good wine, especially in the 49er days.”