The Subaru winds its way through the oak trees. It’s spring, and Hoodoo Creek weaves through the bright green grass. A vineyard suddenly appears in front of us, filled with thick, gnarled grape vines. We step out of the car to look at them. Each vine curls around itself like a twisted fist, shooting off new leaves.
“This is our Hoodoo vineyard,” Dave Rosenthal tells us in his easygoing manner. He’s dressed in a casual sweater and baseball cap. “These Zinfandel vines were planted in 1937.”
As he tells us the history of the vines, I snap a few pictures.
“My mom, up ‘till two years ago, would come out and work this vineyard,” he continues. “She’d work for a bit, then nap for a bit, like this.” He puts his head on his chest and slumps. “She was enjoying herself, but we got a few calls from the neighbors telling us that Mom had collapsed in the vineyard.” He smiles.
“We sell the grapes from this vineyard to Mondavi, who bottles it as a private label for chef Tyler Florence. He fell in love with the wine, and when he saw that the vineyard was named Hoodoo Vineyard, he decided to buy all the grapes.”
We walk down the rows of vines, moving on to look at the Sauvignon Blanc before we hop back into the Subaru and begin winding through the oaks once again toward another of the Rosenthal’s vineyards. It’s not like the massive 10,000-acre vineyards that cover entire hillsides; it winds and edges the woods.
“We didn’t take out any trees when we planted the grapes,” Monica says. “It’s much easier on the environment, but there are times I wish I didn’t have to drive the tractor around them.” She laughs. “It’s easier to go straight.”
Dave and Monica have been farming for years. Dave first came up to Lake County in the 1970s, working with his parents to cultivate a vineyard on their weekends. “The real estate agent told us managing a vineyard was easy,” Dave smiles, “He said all you have to do is prune them, disc them and pick them.”
“That sounds like a good sell,” I tell him. “But vineyards aren’t quite that easy, are they?”
Dave’s eyes widen in mirth. “No,” he smiles. “Not at all.” Then he begins to describe just a small part of the work involved to grow grapes. Dave knows his stuff, having worked with Lake County grape growers since he graduated from UC Davis in the ’70s. He served a full term with the Lake County Winegrape Commission. Today, in his role as California Farm Bureau District Rep, Dave continues to serve as an ag supporter and watchdog for reasonable and sound sustainable practices.
Dave’s also a patient teacher, taking time to show Trudy and me many details we’ve never seen before, such as the difference between cane pruning and Smart Dyson pruning, when to use each, and with which vines.
After we finish the tour of the vineyards, Monica and Dave take us back to their unofficial tasting room for some wine. We chat about the impact the fires have had on the county. Monica’s been involved in the county for years. She organized the first Economic Outlook event in December of 2015, which eventually led to the adoption of the Economic Strategic Plan by the County of Lake Board of Supervisors.
While we talk with Dave about how he fought off the Valley Fire by creating fire lines with a tractor and running sprinklers, Monica uncorks a bottle of their Viognier and pours us a taste. It’s full of the aroma of tropical beaches, with a strong hint of pear. I feel it run across the top of my palate, crisp and clean, leaving a long, lingering bouquet. I’m taken away to blue water and white beaches.
As we move on to the reds, she pours us their Reba Red, a Syrah/Petite Sirah blend. It’s cherry in the bouquet, followed by the pucker of tannins across the palate. It’s a definite, unmistakable wine, and one that comes alive with cheeses.
There’s one great way to enjoy these wines: on a blanket outdoors. This is the perfect time of year for a picnic. It’s warm, and the summer heat hasn’t set in yet; find one of the many stunning parts of our county and enjoy. Trudy and I spent a late morning sitting with these two bottles open and surrounded by good picnic food. But there’s a trick to this picnic. Instead of beginning with the Viognier, start with the red. I know, starting with red might be stressful for some, but it’s worth it. Take a sip of the Reba Red, then take a bite of good parmesan, bleu, or a real (non-processed) gouda. Watch the wine cut the fats of the cheese and draw out depths you may have missed. Munch on a cracker or two, add some prosciutto, and you’re set. Then, as you begin to fill, switch over to the Viognier and fruits for a light dessert. Watermelon, cucumber, apples all work well with this wine. Of course, be sure to save a little bit of the Reba Red for a chocolate caramel at the end of the picnic. It’s a beautiful way to spend an afternoon.
Our time ends too soon, just as we begin to move into relaxed conversation. But as Trudy and I leave, the memory of our time lingers, like the brush of a deep, rich red wine on the tongue.
While R Vineyards doesn’t yet have a tasting room, it may happen sometime in the near future. Until that time comes, you can get their wines at Hardester’s, Bruno’s, and the Lake County Wine Studio. If you’re wanting to enjoy a glass at a restaurant, you can get their wines at the Blue Wing Saloon, The Saw Shop, the Greenview room, and Si Senor. You can also take a look at their website: https://rvineyards.com/
This post first appeared in The Bloom on May 5, 2019.