Bender on Wine: Foothills producers show off their best

With more than 300 entries, the 29th Sierra foothill wine competition last week was the largest yet and left judges saying it was the best representation they have seen from the region.

Drawing wines from more than 40 producers, the judging is open to any bonded winery in the six foothill counties, stretching from Mariposa north to Yuba.

The grapes can come from outside the region, and this year saw several entries from Lodi. The bulk of the entries, though, came from Calaveras, El Dorado and Amador counties.

The Sierra foothills are predominately a red-wine- producing region; whites such as chardonnay can be a challenge to grow. But there was a good showing by a number of sauvignon blancs.

The 2008 entries that stood out, receiving gold medals, included Hatcher Winery from Calaveras County, Deaver Winery from Amador and Sierra Vista from El Dorado, which got a gold and best-of-show white.

Showing success with little-known varieties were Calaveras' Bodega del Sur, which received a gold for its 2008 verdelho, a grape that has its origin in Portugal. Indian Rock of Murphys picked up a gold for its 2007 entry featuring the Italian variety vermentino. Frogs Tooth Vineyards of Calaveras picked up a gold for its 2008 torrontes, a grape type that has had success in Argentina.

I consider the more recognizable pinot grigio to be a tough grape to grow in the foothills because of the warm weather, but a handful of Calaveras wineries are having success, producing pleasant, crisp styles. Hatcher won gold and best white of Calaveras for its pinot grigio entry.

In the rosé department, Calaveras wineries once again showed well. Ironstone picked up a gold for its Xpression, while Lavender Ridge, a grenache specialist, won a gold for its 2008 grenache rosé.

The winning wines will be on display, with a limited selection available for tasting, at the Calaveras County Fair & Jumping Frog Jubilee on May 13-17 at the county fairgrounds in Angels Camp.

Wine picks are from Tom Bender, wine instructor at Columbia College and wine steward for O'Brien's Market, 4120 Dale Road, Modesto, 545-8100. E-mail him at or