The sun came up blazing the day I’d arranged to take a friend on her first-ever wine-tasting excursion. Our destination: Clarksburg, the quaint Delta farming town just a few miles south of downtown Sacramento.
Premium wine grapes from the Clarksburg area used to go to large corporate wineries in Napa and the Central Valley. The exception was small lots of the region’s signature varietals, white Chenin Blanc and inky-purple Petite Sirah, which were sometimes labeled under the Clarksburg appellation by local pioneer Bogle Vineyards and Dry Creek Vineyard in Sonoma, among others.
Now, small Clarksburg wineries crush locally and lay out the welcome mat for Sacramento wine lovers. The Clarksburg AVA (American Viticultural Area), formally recognized in 1984, is a small region, just 16 miles long and eight miles wide. Its scenic landscapes, weighted drawbridges and boutique wineries (not to mention the promise of lunch from my family’s favorite taco truck) were plenty to lure my neophyte buddy out for an easy day trip.
Our first winery, just a few minutes from the town of Freeport: Scribner Bend Vineyards. Mark and Lorraine Scribner have earned a reputation for their hospitality, on display at the 1918 barn they renovated into a tasting room. We saw Lorraine in her gardening duds, alternately doing last-minute landscaping before a wedding and chatting with wine club members at the tasting bar. Our first sips of the day fed our taste for adventure: We liked the unusual Fiano white wine and the Tempranillo.
From Scribner, we retraced our route on Highway 160 and, just before the town of Freeport, took a left onto Freeport Bridge. On the other side of the river, signs instructed us to turn left on South River Road. More signs led us to the Old Sugar Mill, Clarksburg’s iconic brick sugar beet factory, now home to a clutch of tasting rooms called Galeria do Vinho.
Five wineries—French Hill, Todd Taylor, Solomon Wine Company, Heringer Estates and Carvalho Family Wines—run their own tasting rooms here. We found that Heringer represented the Clarksburg region best, given that the grapes it uses come from its own or neighboring vineyards. Like the Scribners and several other Clarksburg vintners, the Heringers have farmed in the area for five generations. We made off with the 2004 Petite Sirah, made from the family’s Heringer Holland Vineyards.
Also notable was the Todd Taylor brand, both for its assertive single-vineyard varietals and the fact that this was the only winery with a real live winemaker on hand the day we visited. Todd Taylor himself worked the bar solo, keeping his cool even when roughly 200 bikers flooded the building. More than a few gray-bearded leather pants asked for sweet whites, and he good-naturedly poured what he had: Central Coast Cabernets, Syrah from Contra Costa County and Amador County Zinfandel.
Next, we headed down South River Road into Clarksburg proper (don’t blink), where another historic building beckoned. Husick Hardware sells not duct tape but wine, gourmet goods and gifts in a smartly refurbished general store. Its wine tasting bar offers a revolving list from Ehrhardt Estates, Dancing Coyote, Wilson Vineyards, Bogle, Six Hands, River Grove, Putah Creek, Heringer and Scribner Bend wineries.
Getting there: From downtown Sacramento, take Interstate 5 south to Pocket Road exit heading toward Highway 160/Freeport/Meadowview Road. Turn left on Pocket Road, then right onto Freeport Boulevard, which turns into Highway 160/River Road.
Elaine’s Picks of the Month
2004 Ehrhardt Estates Chenin Blanc Clarksburg ($12)—Chenin Blanc is Clarksburg’s claim to white-wine fame. Ehrhardt’s unusually late release has a creamy texture, a sweet core of pear and melon flavors, and a balanced, mineral finish. Love the low alcohol of 13 percent.
2005 Todd Taylor Syrah Lehrer Vineyard ($25)—A yummy ol’ California Syrah, nicely balanced, big berry fruit throughout. Judicious use of oak.
2005 Scribner Bend Vineyards Tempranillo “Black Hat” ($15)—Friendly flavors of cherry, plum and spice carry through to the finish.
Dining on the Delta
For the best eats on wheels, try these:
Tony’s Tacos—Just south of Courtland on Highway 160, you’ll find 2 tons of stainless steel Mexican food nirvana: Tony’s taco truck. There’s a card table and two folding chairs, but skip the ambiance and take your lunch to the next winery picnic table on your list. Best bet: Carnitas taco ($1)
Dinky Diner—A wood-shingled trailer, perched at the river’s edge on South River Road in Clarksburg, pumps out burgers, cheese steaks, fries, shakes and malts. Best bet: Turkey cheeseburger ($5.95)