Here’s a fun twist on Zinfandel adventures: why not go off script and head for Sacramento? California’s capital is home to state lawmaking, of course, but is also home to some excellent Zin-making. Small scale labors of love and family-run wineries…this what California Zinfandel is all about!
Vast agriculture, Sacramento River ports and the gateway to gold fields all combined to make Sacramento the state capital and booming epicenter of north central California. Sacramento sometimes gets short shrift as San Francisco’s less-glamorous sib, but pull back the curtain and you will be pleasantly surprised to discover a thriving wine, arts, cultural, sports, and historic district that is under-appreciated and easy to overlook. The impressive neoclassical capitol dome set among the parks and old neighborhoods is a sight to behold. And, the gleaming new Golden 1 Arena district has brought big time sports and entertainment to downtown.
Located north of the San Francisco Bay Area, Sacramento is easily reached via Interstates 80: a 60 minute drive from Napa and about 100 minutes from San Francisco. SMF – Sacramento International Airport, is easy-in and easy-out as far as airports are concerned, is close to the city, and a viable flights alternative if you are also heading to the vineyards of Napa and Sonoma.
For your Sacramento area Zinfandel discovery day, we are suggesting a three stop hop from the Clarksburg wine and river country, to locals-haven West Sacramento, then to downtown Sacramento which is walking distance to the Capitol, Golden 1 Arena, The Hardin, lodging, entertainment venues, and the Old Sacramento Waterfront.
Since it’s a river-themed day along the Sacramento, why not just keep it going with an overnight stay ON the Sacramento aboard the Delta King? Sacramento’s paddle wheeler floating hotel complete with restaurant and theater is moored at the historic Old Sacramento Waterfront. From there it’s only a short walk to Sacramento’s famed Firehouse Restaurant with its classic ambience and menu, legendary wine list, and stories of the characters and celebrities who have dined there over the decades.
Three Wine Company
If you’re approaching Sacramento from the south on Interstate 80 merge right onto Interstate 5 South (Los Angeles) then exit at Cosumnes River Boulevard. Turn left onto Freeport Boulevard then turn right across the Freeport Bridge. Turn left onto South River Road and in three miles look for the signs to the Old Sugar Mill and Willow Point Road. Huge and hard to miss, the sugar mill, which was built in 1934 to process sugar beets, has been repurposed into a center for artisanal wineries, events, food trucks, picnicking, and a live entertainment and concert venue. Inside, you will encounter an enormous grand hall lined with tasting rooms and wine lounges featuring regional wineries.
Way down the hall on the left you’ll find the star of the show – the actual winery, cellars and tasting room of Three Wine Company. Mom and Pop all the way, Three is owned and operated personally by Matt and Erin Cline: Matt sourcing prime vineyards, running the cellar and blending the wines – and Erin running the business side of things. Matt is a winemaker’s winemaker from dirt, to vines, to barrel to bottle to glass. Three produces an impressive repertoire of wines but Zinfandel is a specialty comprising nearly half of the winery’s production. It’s likely you will get to be hosted by career hospitality and wine pro Erin at the tasting room where Cline offers tastings either seated at the bar or even at tables in the cellar. A Matt Cline classic is a Zinfandel crafted from the ancient vines at Live Oak Vineyard in Contra Costa County originally planted in 1885 – a Zin which is always in the discussion of California’s great Zinfandels. Also be sure to ask Erin as to the availability of Three’s Evangelho Vineyard Zinfandel, a true old vines field blend also from Contra Costa.
While you’re in Zinfandel-search mode at the Old Sugar Mill, you might also take time to stop by and taste at the acclaimed Sierra Foothills Zinfandel practitioner Scott Harvey Wines, Matt Powell’s beautifully-crafted wines at Draconis Vineyards, or for music fans – Bump City Wine Company which is a partnership of Roger Smith (keyboardist of Tower of Power) and operations director, Mike Smolich.
Baker Family Winery
For fans of the national pastime, yes, that Baker, as in Dusty Baker, baseball legend as a player, coach, manager, philanthropist, and currently manager of the Houston Astros.
West Sacramento is the people’s Sacramento, neighborhoods, warehouses, shipping ports, and small businesses. And where do the locals like to hang out after work, connect with the community, sip on good value wines, hit the food trucks, and listen to live music? Baker Family offers it all. There’s even a brewery in the shared space. In fact, Baker Family is the wine venue in a beer-centric district boasting three new breweries. From the Old Sugar Mill head back out to Willow Point Road, turn left, then after 2.6 miles make a right onto Jefferson Blvd. In 9.4 miles turn left onto Lake Washington Blvd. In about one mile turn right then look on the left for Baker Family Wines and Bike Dog Brewing. The winery opens at 3 p.m. most days but at noon on Saturdays and Sundays.
In addition to his illustrious baseball career, Dusty Baker is a wine and jazz aficionado who has a small vineyard on his home property. He turned to a friend and professor of wine (now happily retired) at nearby U.C. Davis, Charles “Chik” Brenneman, in order to have a wine made from the vineyard for Dusty’s personal enjoyment. Before you know it, they together decide to go legit and make a few hundred cases in a winery on Treasure Island in the middle of San Francisco Bay. In 2019 they decided to move to an easier-to-access site to their present space on the edge of the Sacramento River.
Together, Chik, his wife Polly, and Dusty produce a line of small quantity wines, including Zinfandel from the nearby Sierra Foothills in their micro winery space, selling most of the production out the door to happy friends, locals- and music and baseball fans.
For the third stop on your Sacramento Zinfandel day it’s less than a ten minute drive to downtown Sacramento and Bailarin Cellars. If you’re a Zin fan, the small lot wines here which are crafted by winemaker Will Weese are not tobe missed!
Take a right onto Industrial Blvd., turn right onto Harbor and follow the signs to I80 East. In two miles exit onto I5 North, keep right on Q Street, then turn left onto 8th Street. Park in a public lot or on the street close to K Street – acars-free, tree-lined walking boulevard on the capitol side of the Golden 1 Arena. Walk over to the other side of the arena and you run smack dab into the Old Sacramento Waterfront district.
Just off 8th, Bailarin Cellars is located in an historic building that has been recently converted into a mixed use,residential/work complex known as The Hardin. If you’re ready for a coffee at this point, Bailaran actually shares space with a roasting company.
Bailarin is the dream of a collective of families and friends who each have brought their respective talents to bear on a project that opened in 2018. For them, the lovely hand-drawn image of a ballerina captures the same artistic spirit,effort, and commitment that is necessary to making great wines.
The tasting venue itself is fresh, upscale, bright, comfortable and roomy with, plenty of room outside, at the bar or at tables for singles, couples or groups. Reservations are strongly recommended, however. Tablets are available for searching the details of every Bailarin wine. Sommelier Rhys Tappero and the staff are enthusiastic, friendly and very well versed in all things wine and Sacramento. As for Zinfandel there are two stars: Rockpile and AlegriaVineyards. The Rockpile is a 100% Zinfandel from the AVA above Dry Creek Valley and the Alegria is a historic, field-blended vineyard in Russian River Valley that is known for being planted to literally dozens of grape varieties – but mainly Zinfandel. Each superb Zinfandel is very small in production and available mainly right there in thetasting room.