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Refreshing Wine Straight From the “California Alps”

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Refreshing Wine Straight From the "California Alps"

It seems like something out of a Western when you visit the valley where Chad Hinds is creating wine. Mount Shasta, the second-highest peak in the Cascade Range, is located to the northwest of the Scott Valley, which is surrounded by mountains and covered in woods and agriculture. The Scott Valley is located just south of the boundaries between California and Oregon. Hinds and his wife, Michelle, are responsible for the establishment of an alpine wine region in the state of California. This region is located in a lonely and rocky area that has the impression that it may summon a cowboy at any moment. The duo is investigating the potential for trousseau, savagnin, mondeuse, and poulsard in what is mainly new region for winemaking. They are doing this under the label Iruai, which is named after the earliest word they could discover for the Scott Valley.

Hinds adds, “We see similarities between the French Alps and what we call the California Alps, and when we realised we could grow grapes here, we saw an opportunity to tell a different story.” The French Alps are located in the same region as the California Alps.

Although Hinds was residing in Berkeley at the time, he began producing wine under the label Methode Sauvage in the year 2013. In the same way that many other new winemakers do, he operated out of an urban winemaking cooperative and obtained grapes from all around the state. His fondness for alpine types, and more especially trousseau from the Jura region, was something he couldn’t shake, despite the fact that he like the wine he was producing, which included Cabernet Franc, Chenin Blanc, and Syrah, all of which were created with little intervention.

The other wine that solidified Hinds’ devotion and that pushed him down the unusual path of making wine around Mount Shasta was Domaine Belluard’s Les Perles du Mont Blanc. This sparkling wine was made using the Champagne method and was made from gringet, a rare grape variety that is native to the Savoie, which is an alpine region in eastern France near the border with Switzerland.

My friend said, “This is a silly thing to care about,” and I could not agree more. This is something that Hinds remembers, because the grape was so exotic and difficult to get. If you wanted to obtain it, you would have to grow it, and Mount Shasta would be the only spot in California where you could plant it.

Wine from Iruai

According to the course of events, Mount Shasta was the only location in California where Hinds had a chance of being able to grow anything or anything at all. The couple would frequently travel from the Bay Area to Etna, which is located five hours away, in order to pay a visit to their relatives and friends. Michelle was originally from Etna. More crucially, however, it is one of the few regions in the state where property is relatively inexpensive, which means that it is possible for someone to experiment with obscure alpine varietals and create their own winery without making a significant financial commitment.

It was discovered by Hinds that there was a small appellation de appellation (AVA) in Siskiyou County named Trinity Lakes. Within this AVA was an organic vineyard and winery known as Alpen Cellars. During his visit, he sampled, toured, and inquired about the many white wines available, and he discovered that his favourite was the bargain-priced white wine. The shopkeeper responded to his inquiry about the nature of the beverage by stating that it was a type of gewurztraminer that did not acquire any colour. Hinds was intrigued by this development due to the fact that traminer, a nonaromatic ancestor of gewurztraminer, is identical to savagnin blanc, a white grape that is most typically found in the Jura region. Savagnin was one of the alpine kinds that he had wanted to locate in California, but he had not anticipated finding it there. Here it was waiting for him.

After the grower disclosed that he intended to remove it, Hinds made an offer to purchase everything he had available in his inventory. In 2018, he transported the fruit to the Bay Area, where it was transformed into wine. He was happy with the outcome; he had succeeded in producing a wine that was influenced by and reminiscent of the Alps, but also one that was evocative of California. The wine, which Hinds initially referred to as “Arcana” but later changed its name to “Elphame,” was characterised by Hinds as a “Margarita doused with snow from the top of Mont Blanc.” It possessed a rich white floral character in addition to savoury umami notes within its composition. The wine served as evidence of the notion.

Located at a greater elevation and experiencing a continental climate, the region surrounding Mount Shasta is similar to wine districts near the Alps. Hinds attributes the wines’ distinctive California character, along with the strong acidity and ripe fruit flavours seen in many alpine white wines, to the short and intensive growing season.

Hinds leased more vineyards in the Rogue Valley and Trinity Lakes as the Iruai enterprise expanded. He also bought fruit from Trinity Lakes. The couple hadn’t intended to make the Scott Valley their permanent home, but things began to fall into place. They discovered a charming home with a mountainous backyard, perfect for growing 1.5 acres of trousseau, in 2018 when a friend of the family offered them a structure on their lucerne farm to use as a winery. The Hinds finally made the move in December 2019. Michelle is in charge of the vineyards and the financial and business processes, while Chad is in charge of the winemaking and cellar activities.

A long-vacant blue and brown steel structure now houses the winery. Hills and farms, scattered with sheep, horses, and cows, extend out into a vast horizon on a clear day, and expansive mountain panoramas are also within sight. The winery process was swiftly brought up to speed by Hinds, who had to repair the insulation to guarantee temperature control and make a few minor modifications.

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