A field report by Dana Eastland: Capay Valley in Yolo County is well known for its produce and organic farms, but it’s also home to a wine region, the Capay Valley AVA. It was established in 2002, and remains a bit of a secret, especially compared with Napa, just to the west. The valley floor is quite hot, but high above it in the Vaca Mountains is Casey Flat Ranch, a former cattle ranch and retreat owned by the Morey family. At about 2,000 feet, this new winery is able to make wines with the balance that comes from elevation and rocky mountain soils. It was only planted in 2004, and winemaker Laura Barrett has been working with the Morey family and viticulturalist Tom Prentice since to make wines using both Bordeaux and Rhône varieties.
I had a chance to visit the ranch in May to taste some of the wines. It’s definitely a trek up the mountain, and feels way more remote than just an hour and a half from downtown San Francisco. The ranch itself is home to several vineyards, and Barrett is making some lovely estate wines. I particularly enjoyed the whites, including the 2012 viognier, which is herbaceous and fresh, with apricot and a touch of nuttiness, and the 2013 sauvignon blanc, with a hint of tropical fruit and balanced acidity. They’re also making a rosé, which has a nice fullness and fruit to it, without veering into overly sweet territory.
They also have their “Open Range” series, which is made with fruit from various regions in California, depending on the year. The 2011 Open Range Red Wine we tried was pretty much ideal for barbecue. At $18, it’s a perfect bottle to bring to a party. Bottles are available for retail purchase at Andronico’s in San Francisco and select Whole Foods markets in the Bay Area, or you can purchase them directly through their website.
Because Casey Flat is still, in many ways, an experiment for everyone involved in the project, they are still trying out new ways of planting and harvesting their grapes, and Barrett is still finding ways to create balanced wines in their specific climate. If you’re into wine and learning how winemakers work with their property to make the best possible bottles, this is an excellent opportunity to watch a winery in an unusual location develop. Plus, it’s still a bit of a hidden gem, and who doesn’t love that?
They’ve recently started offering ranch tours and tastings, if you want to visit the property (you do, believe me). “Level One” tastings are available seven days a week by appointment, March-November, and are $85 per person (two person minimum), including wine tastings and bites. “Level Two” tastings are available two Thursdays a month, and include a full ranch tour, along with lunch and wine pairings, for $135 per person (four person minimum). More details and contact information can be found here. Casey Flat Ranch, Capay Valley, 415-435-2225.