Alan and Jana Leard, an effervescent couple with a passion for wine, wine making and wine traditions, relocated from Southern CA with plans to bring the Vintner’s Cellar Custom Winery franchise to the north state.
They did, and in early 2006, they jumped at the chance to rehabilitate the former Redding Book Store location on California and Placer streets in downtown Redding (where Jana once worked) and transform it into a full-scale winery, complete with comfortable tasting room.
That’s just the beginning of the story. Alan and Jana have been a major force in shaping Redding’s historic downtown core, and are now helping redefine the north state as a wine-making territory. Alan and Jana are at the forefront of a movement to group Northern California wineries into an American Viticulture Area (AVA), creating a new, distinct, wine-producing region.
To help promote a spirit of unity among the Northern California wine makers and promote the north state as the up-and-coming wine region, Alan and Jana launched a local winery tour series, taking their unique blend of wine expertise and hospitality on the road. The goal is to get local wine lovers out and about to experience some of the region’s unique varietals from artisan winemakers, many within one hour of Redding.
“The owners are the growers and wine tasting hosts,” Alan says. He praises the welcoming, relaxed vibe of our local wineries, the same vibe that he and Jana cultivate at Vintner’s and have created on their inclusive wine tours.
Last month, our effortless tour of New Clairvaux winery in Vina started with a hearty champagne brunch at Vintner’s Cellar. “Brunch is my favorite part of the tour,” claims Jana, a gracious host who relishes the opportunity to greet guests and mix and mingle with fellow wine lovers. Plumped up and happy with morning comfort food and sparkling wine, we boarded a comfortable, air-conditioned, 47-passenger bus. Our first stop: Orland’s Portugese Plaza.
The tour made it clear that wineries can’t exist in a vacuum. A viticulture region is only worth its weight in grapes if it embraces its farms, dairies and other passionate gastronomical artisans, like Pedrozo Dairy and Cheese Company.
The Pedrozo’s, third generation dairy farmers with roots in Portugal’s Azore islands treated us to a cheese and wine pairing that included a selection of their grass-fed, farmstead, melt-in-your-mouth cheeses coupled with Portugese wines. The cheese-a-thon was a perfect complement to a traditional Portugese lunch of fish croquettes, linguisa, kale soup, pork sandwiches and rice pudding.
After lunch, like a group of happy Weeble-Wobbles, we boarded the bus for the main event, the Abby of New Clairvaux. Nestled in Vina, on Hwy 99 between Red Bluff and Chico, the Abby and the surrounding region have a rich history of wine-making, dating to 1846, when the first vineyard was planted by Peter Lassen.
The property changed hands a few times and was eventually vine-less, until the monks of New Clairvaux revitalized the area’s viticulture tradition. In 2000, they planted the monestary’s first vineyard. Aimee Sunseri, a fifth generation winemaker, has guided New Clairvaux’s operations and Vina’s winemaking legacy since 2003.
The advantage of touring with Alan and Jana, besides feeling like an honored guest and having a built-in designated driver, was an up-close and personal tasting with Aimee. She treated us to a detailed explanation of each varietal, an in-depth description of the winery’s 100-year old brick wine cellar, and an optional excursion to the property’s Ovila Chapter House.
Those who opted for wine over history had the first generous pours from New Clairvaux’s selection of reds: Syrah, Petite Sirah, Barbera, Tempranillo and Graciano, and whites: Viognier, Albariño and Trebbiano. Each varietal was paired with an amazing local cheese.
Our return ride to Vintner’s Cellar was more subdued than our slightly raucous, post-champagne morning commute. I was grateful for the time on the return trip to digest, enjoy my wine-induced euphoria and just watch the fields and farms of the State of Jefferson go by.
Join Alan and Jana on one of their wine tours. You’ll laugh (a lot), meet some new friends, and be a part of the growth of Northern California’s wine region. The Leards are extending their reach on July 25, with an all-day adventure to southern Oregon’s wine country. In April 2011, Alan and Jana go global and set sail for the Vintner’s Cellar Winemakers and Culinary Arts Cruise to the Caribbean. Cheers!
What: Vintner’s Cellar Applegate Valley Winery Tour
When: Sunday, July 25 – 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Cost: $165 per person (regular price), $150 per person (Vintner’s wine club members). Includes breakfast, winemakers’ lunch and dinner, bottled water, wine tastings and round-trip transportation.
To join them, call Vintner’s Cellar at (530) 222-WINE. For more information about Vintner’s, winery events and wine tours, visit 222.wine.com. For more information about the Culinary Arts Cruise to the Caribbean, call Cruise Holidays of Redding at (530) 244-7447.
Adam Mankoski is a recent North State transplant who feels completely at home here. He enjoys experiencing and writing about the people, places and things that embody the free spirit of the State of Jefferson. He and his partner own HawkMan Studios and are the creators of Redding’s 2nd Saturday ArtHop. Email your NorthState weekend events to firstname.lastname@example.org.