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08.08.2014  
 

Manton Valley AVA: Get to Know Us

New remote California wine district wants to get on the map

 
by Jane Firstenfeld
 
 
Manton Valley
 
Dobson Vineyards at the base of Mt. Lassen is among the grapegrowers in the new Manton Valley AVA.
Manton, Calif.—In the shadow of Mt. Lassen in the far northern reach of California, Manton boasts a population of 347, a diner, a bar, no gas station and a handful of wineries and tiny vineyards that thrive in its volcanic soils.

When the TTB announced its approval of the Manton Valley American Viticultural Area on Aug. 1, it was a cause for celebration in this close-knit winemaking community, which includes adjoining sections of Tehama and Shasta counties, some 40 miles east of Redding.

Mark Livingston, whose family owns 750-case Cedar Crest Vineyards, spearheaded a campaign that resulted in quick approval of the 11,178-acre AVA, which includes 11 vineyards and (now) six bonded wineries at elevations between 2,100 and 3,500 feet. Traditional agriculture included logging and cattle ranching, but wine grapes were first planted here in the 1970s.

Livingston started the application process in early 2012. “I took it on myself, because no one else wanted to.” Although the process was challenging, he said, hundreds of hours of sweat equity-homework and maybe $100 out of pocket earned success.

While some AVA proposals take years and consume thousands of dollars, Livingston worked with the tools at hand: neighbors, local, state and federal agencies provided the required maps and soil surveys demanded by TTB.

For soil survey maps, he went to the Tehama County agriculture department, which coordinated with its Shasta County counterpart. “They printed out full color maps,” Livingston reported.

Manton is off the beaten track, he said, but there is a population of about 1 million between Redding, Calif., and the university town of Chico to the south. “We actually get fairly good weekend traffic as well as visitors to Mt. Lassen National Park.”  The Park Service hosts a wine tasting every year at the park’s south entrance.

So far, though, “Our reach is fairly regional—Oregon to Sacramento.”
Local lodging is limited to a few B&Bs and sparse winery cabin rentals.

 

 

Manton Valley
 
The Tehama Trail map includes most Manton Valley wineries.

Meet the locals
The Livingston family’s Cedar Crest sells almost all of its wine exclusively direct to consumers through its on-site tasting room and a satellite location in Red Bluff. The wine also is served in restaurants in Red Bluff, Redding and Chico.

To promote the AVA brand, “We’re working with Tehama County. We hope that long-term, we can show the merits of this new appellation through our high-quality wines,” Livingston said.

With annual production of 1,500 cases, Indian Peak Vineyards is one of the largest wineries in the appellation. Owners Fred and Donna Boots farm 7 acres of vineyards, planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.

Like Cedar Crest, it has two tasting rooms open every day, including a satellite in Graeagle (pronounced Gray Eagle), Calif., near Truckee, on a well-traveled route to Lake Tahoe. “Everything we have we bottle and sell on our own,” said wine representative Kristy Coffee.

With the new AVA, “We are hoping for more foot traffic. Our wineries are humble, informal, fun and casual. You can meet all the vintners, and that makes a difference.”

Coffee has forged connections with local media providers, including TV and radio. “We’re starting there” to garner more publicity, she said. “We are all sister vineyards here, working together.” The wineries are in the process of starting a nonprofit organization.

Shasta Daisy Winery sells 100% consumer-direct through its on-site tasting room and a small wine club, said Lorna Knedler, who owns the 600-case winery with her husband Carroll Knedler. At 3,500 feet, their 5-acre vineyard is the loftiest in Manton Valley. They specialize in Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling wines.

The 900-acre property has been in Lorna Knedler’s family for six generations, previously dedicated to cattle and logging. The couple wanted to keep the land in the family; their oldest son moved back when they founded the winery in 2002 to tend the vineyard. Colorful Shasta daisies grow wild on the property, Lorna’s mother was named Daisy, so the winery name is poignantly appropriate.

Shasta Daisy processes and bottles its white wines at Cedar Crest and the reds at Indian Peak. Typically, it crushes 2.5-3 tons of Pinot Noir, and sells another 4-5 tons every year on the open market. A nearby wildfire burned 500 acres of the ranch in 2012, and smoke damage cost the entire vintage. In 2013, rare frost damage took some of the crop. So far this year, all looks well, Knedler reported.

Prior to the new AVA, “We had to label our wines ‘California’ or ‘Tehama County,’” she said. “We had a hard time getting rid of some grapes without an AVA, and without an AVA, we couldn’t label it ‘estate wine.’”

Although there is not yet a formal wine trail or winery association, most of the Manton Valley wineries are on the map with the Tehama Trail, which directs visitors to local enterprises. They jointly host a passport weekend and a Valentine’s Day promotion. The Shasta Daisy tasting room has recently expanded to seven-day a week service.

Founded in 2006, Mount Tehama Winery does not have a tasting room, and it sells only 5% of its product direct to consumer, according to owner Alain Teutschmann. “This is the last frontier,” proclaimed the Swiss native, who has lived in the area for 35 years and previously grew pumpkins and Christmas trees.

He now produces 1,200 cases of wine annually, grown on his 8-acre vineyard. These are sold in Raley’s supermarkets in Chico, Redding, Red Bluff and Eureka, as well as Murphy’s co-op markets on the California coast.

Teutschmann said he will adopt the new AVA for his label, and is regrafting his vineyard to reflect his focus on Rhône varieties, including Grenache, Cunoise and Mourvèdre for a blended rosé.

“Everything is grown on this property and made here. I will change labels, but we will need to prove what our AVA expresses. We’re very young.”

“Commercializing this remote area will be challenging,” he acknowledged. “Manton is really out of the way.”

In addition to the area’s mineral-rich volcanic soils, he praised the water situation. Although he has wells that are 600-700 feet deep, most of the water comes from a water association owned by the Boole Ditch Water Association, drawing water from Digger Creek. Formerly fed by a ditch, the association anted-up some $750,000 to pipe the water, which is gravity fed and supplies the vineyards with flows of 80-90 psi.

Nels Larson and Christine O'Neill bought their Manton property in 2000 and founded Albireo Vineyards in 2005. They now produce about 200 cases of organically grown and made Bordeaux varieties and Barbera from their 5 acres of vines. Albireo Vineyards is appropriately named for an obscure star: The couple were formerly space science professionals who later worked in Sonoma Valley wineries while earning vineyard management certificates at Santa Rosa Junior College.

Without a tasting room, Albireo sells directly from the cellar and online. It’s intentionally a non-industrial operation, making unfined and unfiltered wines without chemical manipulation. Since 2012, Nels Larson said, “We have not even used sulfites. It’s difficult to execute, and requires good sanitation practices.”

Albireo is a true hands-on operation. Everything is done in the cellar, including bottling with a 4-spout bottle filler. Its labels include an ingredient statement: For the 2012 vintage, it’s just “organic grapes and yeast.”

The sole current winery operating within the new AVA in Shasta County, Albireo will change its labels to “Manton Valley.”

“Our biggest challenge will be name recognition,” Larson said.

The tasting room of Alger Vineyards & Winery is open only weekends or by appointment. The bonded winery is located in Woodland, Yuba County. Owner John Alger founded the winery in 2002 but moved the operation after five major wildfires. He produces 1,700 cases per year and grows 33 acres of grapes—some sold as bulk wine to Redwood Valley Cellars in Mendocino County.

Grapes have been grown on the property since 1971, Alger said, and both grapes and wine are certified organic by CCOF.

Going, going…gone?
Manton’s population dwindled from 372 to 347 between 2000 and 2010, according census data; the tally of wineries has also been reduced with the closure of Ringtail Vineyards this year.

Founded in 2004, Ringtail was owned by Robert Carrillo. A bonded winery with annual production of 1,000 cases, 3 acres of vineyards and a tasting room, it was auctioned Aug. 7 as a bank foreclosure, with a final bid in the mid-$200,000s online at auction.com. A previous appraised value was $799,000.

It’s not necessarily a done deal, though. According to Louise Vitellaro at the listing agent, Sheldon Largent Realty in Redding, it had been listed as a single family home. The bank, she said, had been unable adequately to evaluate the wine business.

The day before the auction closed, Vitellaro expressed hope that a knowledgeable buyer would see the commercial opportunities in the property. “We’d like to see another winery come in,” she said. She explained that in the online auction process, the deal is not always done when the auction closes, so there may still be an opportunity for an educated and motivated buyer looking for a new frontier.

The winery owners in Manton Valley echoed that hope, and suggested that Ringtail’s failure was the result of personal issues between owners and possible vineyard mismanagement.

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