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California’s new wine country: Sacramento

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Sacramento’s wine industry received a boost last month with the approval of an ordinance that promotes agricultural tourism, a move local wineries said they are excited to see.

The Sacramento County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously in December to adopt new zoning code amendments that will potentially foster growth of Sacramento’s wine industry. The changes will take effect in just a few days.

Among other things, the ordinance provides the grape growers of a certain size the right to produce and bottle their own wine; gives wineries the ability to open small tasting rooms in agricultural zones; and eliminates the requirement for conditional use permits for private events, with restrictions based on the size of the property.

“It promotes people growing local and buying local,” said Don Nottoli, supervisor for district 5.

The presence of wineries in Amador, El Dorado and Yolo counties increased dramatically in recent years, but Sacramento county’s growth has been minimal, a fact the Board of Supervisors addressed with the ordinance.

According to the Sacramento Bee’s SacWineRegion.com, there are 43 wineries in Amador County, 54 in El Dorado County and 16 in Yolo County, including industry giant Bogle Vineyards. Sacramento County has just 13.

“We feel this is an important step to encourage economic growth, job creation and keep tourism dollars in our county,” said Nottoli in a press release on Dec. 14. “By reducing regulatory obstacles, we can help Sacramento County become an important part of the wine tourism industry.”

According to the Sacramento County 2010 Crop and Livestock Report, more than $92 million in wine grapes were produced in the region that year, the most valuable agricultural commodity in the county.

These amendments allow for a more streamlined process and will save businesses thousands of dollars and as much as two years in permitting time, Nottoli said. The money, previously spent on permits, can be invested into growing the businesses.

“One of the things we’ve seen is that Sacramento’s culinary tourism has increased dramatically,” said Mike Testa, senior vice president at the Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau. “If we put the same attention into our wine industry, the tourism package is something we can certainly sell.”

Testa added that groups attending conferences in Sacramento often make day trips to wine country, and Sacramento should be making every effort to keep them here.

Revolution Wines, at S and 29th streets in Midtown, is an urban winery, said owner Gina Genshlea. In addition to the tasting room and bistro that serves snacks and small plates, the grapes are crushed, pressed and fermented on-site.

Genshlea said she thinks it would be great to have more wineries in Sacramento because it would give visitors to the area a reason to stay in Sacramento rather than travel to Napa or Sonoma counties to taste wine.

“One of the reasons we expanded is there isn’t a wine trail in Sacramento,” said Craig Haarmeyer, winemaker and co-owner of Revolution Wines.

The winery will mark its second year on S Street this spring. Several varietals are produced at the facility, including an award-winning port and a zinfandel, with grapes sourced from Amador County.

“It’s part of our model to highlight local fruit,” said Genshlea, adding that they produce approximately 2,500 cases of wine annually, along with another 2,500 that they bottle for clients.

Frasinetti Winery in south Sacramento, established in 1897, once had its own vineyards, but grapes are now sourced from the Central Valley, Monterey, Napa and Sonoma counties, said Gary Frasinetti, winemaker.

Frasinetti said he would welcome the increase of local wineries because it would make Sacramento more of a destination.

In the mid 1980s, the family converted the old winemaking facility into a restaurant and banquet venue, a process that took several years.

Today, Frasinetti Restaurant has the capacity to host events for up to 200 guests, and many of the restaurant’s dining tables are located in some of the 12 converted square, concrete fermentation tanks of the original winery.

“The restaurant is a vehicle to get people out here,” Frasinetti said. “If they come out here to eat, they can taste our wines.”

The tasting room offers free wine tasting and a large gift shop. The winery produces 10,000 cases annually, and Frasinetti said the chianti, cabernet sauvignon and merlot are the winery’s most popular varietals. Wines are only available for sale at the winery.

Scribner Bend Vineyards, located in the Sacramento Delta, has been open for eight years.

Owner Mark Scribner said the ordinance will give the region’s wine producers the opportunity to sell their appellation to the public.

Scribner Bend’s best-selling varietal is the tempranillo.

Scribner added that the ordinance will help to create a coalition of vintners and growers who can better represent the industry.

“If you look at all the other wine-growing regions, they have multiple wineries,” Scribner said. “That’s what creates the magic.”

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