Exploring Calaveras county on the road from Angels camp to Murphys one could sneeze while driving along Hwy 4 and bypass the historical town of Vallecito California. That would be a mistake because it might cause you to miss visiting the Twisted Oak winery on Red Hill Road.
|A sign on this building guides you up Red Hill Road to Twisted Oak|
A few weeks ago we traveled to Vallecito to meet with Twisted Oak Winery owner Jeff Stai, see his vineyards and taste his wine. The private road that led us up to the tasting room wound through the property taking us ever higher and afforded us a bird’s eye view of the surrounding countryside. As our car rounded the first turn up the hillside we found ourselves in what Jeff Stai refers to as the “Rubber Chicken” national forest and we knew immediately that we would be very fond of Jeff. At each bend in the road clever whimsical road signs marked our journey making us laugh and giving us some insight as to the unique wine tasting experience we were about to encounter.
The Twisted oak tasting room is like no other I have seen. It is not the sterile, modern, minimalist, yearning to be chic style and it is not the cottage, homespun but elegant grape logo encrusted style either. It’s the comfortable, barn like, rustic, rubber chicken, pirate style and proud of it. There are rubber chickens everywhere, for sale, as décor and as a catalyst for conversation and laughter. I believe Jeff got it right; wine, conversation and laughter are a natural pairing. While it is impossible miss the rubber chickens that grace the tasting room, it is also impossible to miss the wall displaying the ribbons, awards and accolades bestowed on Twisted Oak wines. Jeff seems to place a high value on the whimsical lighthearted joy of not taking life too seriously but make no mistake; he takes the art of producing top quality fine wines very seriously. He is true to his values and I respect that he honors all of who he is in making his business a success.
|Rubber chicken and award winning wines find a home at Twisted Oak|
The tasting began, as all tastings should, with head pats, ear scratches and belly rubs. Before the first sip of viognier touched our lips we paused to visit with the beautiful and charming wine dog, Garnacha Blanca (Nacha for short). Nacha took to us right away, as we looked to be the type of people who rub dog bellies and might accidentally drop a cracker on the floor.
The relaxed atmosphere of the tasting room encouraged us to take time with each pouring. Discussing the agricultural aspects of the wines with Jeff helped us to appreciate the subtleties of the terroir that make these wines their own. A few of my favorite selections were the crisp dry Grenache Blanc with fruit and citrus notes that I knew would be a perfect summer wine. I also enjoyed the potty Mouth Red a beautiful Rhône style blend of Grenache syrah and mourvedre. I thought it had a nice spiciness combined with rich plum and berry flavors. I found the Tempernillo bold and rich with elements of cherry, tobacco and a bit of spice. I remember thinking how good this wine would be with John’s pork tenderloin recipe.
Our first introduction to the wines of Calaveras County was a smashing success. We found beautifully crafted wines offered at what we considered to be extremely reasonable prices. If you ever find yourself driving through Vallecito California stop in to Twisted Oak Winery, pet the dog, check out the rubber chickens, taste the excellent wine and say hello to Jeff (El Jefe) Stai.