2012 Best Microwinery, Other – Rancho de Philo

Rancho de Philo Winery,
10050 Wilson Avenue, Alta Loma, California
(909) 987-4208.

Generally when one thinks of microwineries in California, the image is often that of a small retirement business, producing a small amount of wine from a few acres of grapes, usually planted on the home property. Rancho de Philo, which won a gold medal and “Best Microwinery-Other” award for their non-vintage California Triple Cream Sherry this year, is a bit of that and a lot more.

“My grandmother’s family, the Vachés, arrived from France and settled in San Juan Bautista in 1832, where they planted grapes and built a winery,” said Janine Tibbitts, winemaker and co-owner of Rancho de Philo with her husband, Alan. “It was Mexican California then, and that was six generations ago.

“The grapes and the winery were in the Gavilan Valley, but their wine store, along with a bakery, were in San Juan Bautista. Later the family moved to Hollister and then Santa Monica.

“They had a winery in downtown Los Angeles called Vaché et Cie. The grapes came from Anaheim until phylloxera got to them.

“In the late 1800s they decided to plant a vineyard and open a winery near Redlands in the San Timoteo Valley. There was a brook adjacent to the winery so they called it Brookside Winery.

“My great grandfather Biane came from France and, since he was an engineer, went to work for the City of Redlands building storm drains and streets. His son, Marius joined him, and went to work at Brookside Winery. When his contract with Redlands ended, my great grandfather returned to France, but his son stayed.

“The Vaché family would come up from Santa Monica to spend time at the winery and that is where my grandparents met. My father, Philo Biane, was born on the winery property.

“Before selling Brookside to Beatrice Foods in the 1970s, he and my mother were involved in a program put on by the Wine Institute and the U.S. State Department. Over a period of five or six years in the 1960s they were sent to other countries to meet with other winemakers. In Spain he discovered the Spanish solera system for making sherry. He thought that would be a good retirement for him and in 1963 started the process of making sherry.

“In 1974 he retired and in 1975 released his first sherry. I went to work for him in 1977 and continued learning at his side until his death in 1999.”

The solera system involves a stack of 15 barrels with five on the bottom row, four above, three above those, then two and then one.

Rancho de Philo has 15 separate soleras and once a year they take 15 gallons out of each of the bottom barrels. The bottom barrels are then refilled from the barrels above, which are then refilled from the next higher row until the top barrel is emptied. Since they only bottle a portion of what they take from the bottom barrels, they refill the top barrels with a mix of that and sherry that has been separately aging in their cellar for seven years. Therefore their sherries do not have a vintage date as they are really a blend of many vintages, all 12 years or older, including some, albeit only a small amount, of all their vintages back to 1963. For the consumer’s convenience, they put an estimated average age on each yearly release.

“The barrels in our soleras are neutral American oak from whisky distilleries,” commented Alan. “They are more porous than many other oak barrels, and since it is a continuous oxidation process, they work well.”

“Many of the 140 gallon hogsheads in which the sherry ages for its first seven years were used by the Spanish and Portugese to carry wine to the ‘New World’ over 150 years ago,” added Janine. “There is a lot of history there.”

All of their sherry is made from Mission grapes that grow in their own six acre vineyard. Mission is the grape the Spanish brought to their colonies and it got its name from being the grape most commonly planted around the missions in California.

Some Spanish scholars believe it was originally exported to the Canary Islands and then to the Mexican colonies and is the listan prieto or palomino negro grape, from Spain.

“We had 1450 vines that were about 60 years old until 1998 and 1999, when the Glassy-Winged Sharpshooter infected them and we lost all but 30 vines,” said Alan. “With help from Dr. Raymond Hix, who had been hired by U. C. Riverside to work on the problem, especially in the Temecula area, we were able to replant the vineyard using our own vines as stock.

“We don’t make the wine here, since we have become a residential area and people don’t like the fruit flies and the aroma,” added Janine. “My father made it at Brookside, until he sold it, and now it is made by Galleano Winery, which is about 12 miles away. They do the fermentation for us, and we take it from there.”

“Our annual production is only about 325 cases of the triple cream sherry,” continued Alan. “We open for sales on the second Saturday in November, and stay open for nine days, unless we sell out earlier. Rain or shine, it doesn’t matter. Our customers are there to buy, and they buy not only wine to drink, but wine to put away since it continues to age. Because of that I guess you could call us a ‘cult winery.’

“It took us quite a while to expand our production to reach the 15 soleras we now have,”
continued Alan. “It is an involved process since when we build a new solera we have to move wine from the bottom row of the existing soleras into the bottom row of the new one, and so on, so that all of the soleras have the same wine in each row. We can’t just double our capacity overnight.

“We are very proud of our sherry and often receive high medals and even best of show awards when we enter it in competitions,” added Alan. “I had just come out of the shower when I received a call telling me about this outstanding award. Janine was out pruning roses, so rather than tell her I just told ther she had a call so she could be surprised. After 47 years of marriage, I guess I can get away with that.”

This 2011 release of the Rancho de Philo California Triple Cream Sherry has an alcohol content of 18.5 percent and 13.5 percent residual sugar.


California Golden Winery 2012 – Chacewater Wine Co. & Olive Mill

Chacewater Wine Co. & Olive Mill
5625 Gaddy Lane, Kelseyville, California
(707) 279-2995

Ten for ten plus: ten wines entered in the 2012 California State Fair Commercial Wine Competition and ten medals received, along with four Best of Class awards and one Best of California award. Not a bad record for any winery and a spectacular record for a young winery that had its first bottling just last year.

Chacewater Wine Co. & Olive Mill, located in Kelseyville, a town tucked away in Lake County, California, is that winery, and they received the 2012 Golden State Winery award for their hard work.

“Mark Burch is our winemaker and deserves the credit,” said Paul Manuel, General Manager and owner. “He graduated from Fresno State and worked for Gallo, Sebastani,  Kendall Jackson and Wildhurst before coming to work for us. He is a wonderful winemaker, highly experienced and, I believe, underappreciated in Lake County.”

“I was quite surprised and elated to get the results of this year’s judging,” said Burch. “It was a phenomenal opportunity for me to get to work at a new facility with some great people. Paul is a great guy to work for and together all of us are proving to be a good team.

“David Weiss owns a nearby vineyard and has been here for around 14 years. He knows where the best grapes are grown and helped us get our foot in the door. We rely on him, since in addition to the grapes we get from Paul’s vineyard in Nevada County, we purchase all our white, and some red grapes from Lake County vineyards.

“I like to make clean, solid wines with true varietal character, that are not overdone or over oaked. To do this I have to stay up on the wine, from fermentation to bottling. When people ask me about my wines I don’t give them the usual talk, I tell them that if it feels and tastes right to them, they will enjoy it. Later they can work on identifying all the aromas and tastes that many winemakers talk about.

“We are permitted for 15,000 cases, but right now we are producing about 6,000,” Burch added.

The story of Chacewater began many years ago when Manuel’s father moved their family from Sacramento to 80 acres outside Nevada City.

“In 1988 the ‘49er Fire’ burned all the trees and brush on the land,” remarked Manuel, “and were left with a mess. I had a construction company at the time and fortunately had the equipment to clear it.

“Several of our neighbors and friends had vineyards, so I studied what they did and, when my company wasn’t busy, I put my men to work preparing the land for a vineyard.

“My wife, Kellye, knows each of those vines intimately, since she was two weeks overdue when we planted the first 10 acres. She and the eldest of our three sons, Matt, who recently graduated from Purdue University with a degree in Agricultural Management, manage the vineyard, which is now 31 acres in size. Matt also helps me here at the winery.

“Our middle son, Luke, is a graduate student at the American University in Washington, D.C. He is our east coast sales representative for Maryland and the D. C. area. Our youngest son, Alex is a CPA for Ernst & Young in Phoenix, Arizona. They are all doing well and are very supportive.

“We simply sold our grapes for a while and after I retired from construction in 2004, we decided to take the grapes to Lake county for custom crush. Later we decided to go looking for a location for a winery and Lake County seemed to be the place to start.

“In 2001 St. Gregory of Sinai Monastery began building an olive mill there and planted about 10 acres of olive trees. The building and facility manager, and later the mill operator, was one of their Novices, Emilio De La Cruz.

“In 2008 they found it was interfering with their other work, so they decided to sell the land, orchard and mill. It was perfect for us, so we bought it and built a 10,000 square foot winery building next to the mill. Emilio stayed on to train our staff and a few years later he joined us full time so we can continue to produce the finest extra virgin olive oil in our mill.

“Our family is Cornish, with roots in the Cornwall area of Great Britain. We didn’t realized it at the time we moved to the Nevada City area, but my great grandfather, like many of the Cornish, had been a hard-rock miner there in the 1880s.

“On a visit to Cornwall we fell in love with Chacewater, a small village on the southern tip of England, that was the origin of the Manuel family tree. That seemed perfect for our winery name, and we included in our logo the unique Mark of a Chacewater church craftsman.

“Our vineyard, the olive mill and the winery facilities are all certified organic and audited once a year by the CCOF (California Certified Organic Farmers). Since we get grapes from other sources than our own vineyards, our wines are not necessarily organic. However, the facilities are, which means they are very clean and well maintained.

“Our wine is not the only thing receiving great awards, our Robust Tuscan Extra Virgin Olive Oil received Best of Class and Best of Show awards at the Los Angeles International Olive Oil Competition last March.”

The wines entered by Chacewater Wine Co. & Olive Mill in this year’s California State Fair Commercial Wine Competition were:

  • 2010 Lake County Chardonnay (Double Gold, 98 points, Best of Class (Tie) North Coast Appellations and Best of California)
  • 2009 Red Hills Petite Sirah (Gold, 95 points)
  • 2008 Red Hills Petite Sirah, Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon blend (Gold, 94 points, Best of Class North Coast Appellations)
  • 2010 Sierra Foothills Estate Merlot (Silver, 92 points)
  • 2010 Sierra Foothills Estate Cabernet Sauvignon (Silver, 91 points)
  • 2011 Lake County Sauvignon Blanc (Silver, 90 points)
  • 2009 Red Hills Malbec (Silver, 90 points, Best of Class North Coast Appellations)
  • 2011 Sierra Foothills Estate Generic Rose (Silver, 89 points, Best of Class Sierra Foothills Appellations)
  • 2011 Sierra Foothills Estate Zinfandel (Bronze, 86 points)
  • 2010 Sierra Foothills Estate Syrah (Bronze, 86 points)


Wine For Thanksgiving and Other Holidays

holly-hill-grenancheWhen looking for a wine to be served with Thanksgiving dinner, first decide if you want to use one of the many lists prepared by various newspapers and magazines, seek help from people who you believe are knowledgeable in that area, use your own experience, ask some friends you trust or use a combination of all of the above.

Looking at wine paring scientifically, you have to explore the components of wine, including weight or body, acidity, residual sugar, tannin, and alcohol, and how those characteristics are used to complement or contrast the sweet, sour, bitter, savory and salty components found in foods.

This is what winemakers and chefs do, it is part of their daily routine.

On the other hand, Karen MacNeil, creator and chairman of the Rudd Center for Professional Wine Studies at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone, said, “There are no set rules by which wine and food pairing happen. I say it’s wine, food and mood! It’s how you feel, the environment, all conspiring to create something that is delicious to all your senses.”

The truth is probably somewhere in between.

The choice

After many questions wine aficionados came up with pinot noir as the choice, a wine well-suited to pair with poultry, beef, fish, ham, lamb and pork.

Pinot noir will also work well with creamy sauces, spicy seasonings and may just be one of the world’s most versatile food wines.

Not stopping there, and with that in mind, a random group of local winemakers and several local chefs were asked first a tough question, their opinion on a single wine that would work with three entrées — turkey, prime rib (beef) and ham.

Secondly, they were asked for their wine choice for each of the three entrées.

In the case of the winemakers, the wine did not have to be something they made. That, of course, it was pointed out, was tantamount to asking someone if they liked the neighbor’s children better than their own.


No one was told the answers the others gave until after their opinions were received. The answers were very interesting and somewhat unexpected.

John MacCready, winemaker and co-owner of Sierra Vista Winery said, “I would take a medium bodied Rhone blend because it goes well with the meats you mentioned as well as all the trimmings such as baked onions, mashed potatoes and turkey gravy, cauliflower with a cheese sauce and of course stuffing with turkey gravy. The 2007 Fleur de Montagne (a Rhône varietal blend of grenache, syrah, mourvedre and cinsault) will be the main attraction at our dinner.

“The ham is the hardest pairing so I would sneak a grenache rose in especially for the ham, but if I got caught the Fleur would be OK.

“If I can have only one wine it would be the Fleur because of the condiments. If only ham is served it might differ because the gravy would be different and there is no turkey gravy and no stuffing. Grenache rosé is great with ham and many other things as well.”

More answers

Josh Bendick, co-winemaker at Holly’s Hill Vineyards took a different, but somewhat similar look at the meal.

“The sides of a Thanksgiving dinner are more of a challenge for wine pairing than the main course. Over the past few years I’ve realized that white wines tend to do best amongst the wide range of flavors, so, I would bring our white blend Patriarche Blanc (a Rhône varietal blend of roussane, grenache blanc and viognier),” Bendick said.

“It’s crisp acidity cuts through the rich turkey gravy and any ham or prime rib you might throw at it while also pairing nicely with oddities like cranberry relish with the acidity matching. However, I know that many people must have red with the holiday so I would also bring our red Patriarche blend (a Rhône varietal blend of mourvedre, syrah, grenache and counoise) for them. It brings the best of four varieties in balance and tends to pair well with many foods because it’s not too big or too light and doesn’t have a bunch of oak or too much alcohol to make the food taste odd or bitter,” Bendick said.

He continued, “But add cranberry relish and you are going to wish you had a white wine. So I would bring two not one … can I do that?”

To the second part of the question Bendick simply commented, “Ditto.”


John Smith, founding winemaker and co-owner of Oakstone Winery and Obscurity Cellars replied, “I would bring a light-bodied red wine like a mourvedre, grenache or our new favorite, dolcetto (originally an Italian varietal from the Piedmont region, but now growing in El Dorado County vineyards). They would go well enough with any of those.”

For the separate meats he added, “Prime rib calls for petite sirah, turkey to me is zinfandel food, and ham is best with a rosé (ours is tempranillo this year) to my taste.”

Mari Wells Coyle, winemaker at David Girard Vineyards, was very straight forward in her answer.

“I would bring a Châteauneuf-du-Pape blend. (Châteauneuf-du-Pape permits 13 different varieties of Rhône grapes; the blend is usually predominantly grenache). This is because it can stand up to a prime rib and show off the succulence of the ham. Turkey is a no brainer. It screams anything Rhône,” she said.

“If I did know what was being served: Ham: grenache; Turkey: grenache; Prime Rib: syrah (one of the heavier Rhône wines),” Wells Coyle said.

More thoughts

Justin Boeger, winemaker at Boeger Winery also got right to the point.

“Simply, and without hesitation: barbera (a red grape from northwestern Italy now growing widely in the Sierra foothills),” Boeger said.

“I’ve always said that barbera is perhaps the most versatile food wine available, and because of that is always the wine I bring with me when I don’t know what’s going to be served. If you were to imagine all the various foods/food groups as one of those diagrams where each one is represented by a circle, and a tiny portion of each circle overlaps, the barbera hits that one overlapping spot of all the circles. The same characteristics that make barbera uniquely “pairable” with so many foods, are the same ones that make the wine so pleasing and approachable to wine consumers of all levels, rookie to connoisseur,” Boeger said.

“Barbera has decent tannin structure, when made properly, combined with sturdy but not overbearing acidity. It is approachable enough for novices to enjoy but has all the elements necessary for the ‘experts,’” Boeger added.

To the second part of the question, he replied, “I would still bring barbera to pair with any of those dishes.”

Greg Boeger, owner of Boeger Winery, its former winemaker and Justin’s father, had a different opinion.

“It may just be a generational difference, but I would pick a nice pinot noir if I didn’t know what was being served. And, if I did, I would pick a cabernet sauvignon or a Bordeaux style blend for the beef dish. For the other two, the nice pinot would do well,” Greg said.

Multiple choices

Paul Bush, winemaker at Madroña Vineyards, putting a lot of thought and some of his usual humor into his answer, replied, “As to your question, here’s how I would put it.

“First of all, if you are serving all three of those dishes, you have enough food for a bunch of people. Thus one bottle of wine won’t cover it. But if you live in some alternate universe and you can only pick one wine, I would first of all serve riesling because that is truly the best with ham and turkey. And if you put an orange zest on the prime rib or seasoned it with cinnamon, it might actually go with riesling, too. But I would rather have two great pairings and one not so great pairing than three mediocre pairings,” Bush said.

“But if I had to choose one wine for all three, grenache might be a good companion for all three. Or you might get away with a dry rosé, too, He offered.

“If I had to choose one wine for each, then it would be as follows (of course assuming traditional recipes for the dishes): turkey: Gewürztraminer, ham: riesling and prime rib: merlot, and only merlot (it actually brings flavors out in the meat that the other varieties seem to mask),” Bush responded.

Winemaker and president of Lava Cap Winery, Tom Jones, replied: “Your question is a bit like asking which leg would you rather have us remove? I would probably go with grenache – fruit intensity, moderate tannin, flavor density would probably pair with the turkey and ham, and have enough stuffing to not be lost with the prime rib. That is a toughie though.

“If I knew prime rib was being served, it would be petit sirah or a cabernet. For turkey, petit sirah would work if there was gravy. Ham, that is a hard one, maybe a grenache,” Jones said.

Food thoughts

Chef John Evans co-owner and executive chef at Zachary Jacques Country French Cuisine and the new Zac Jack Bistro in Cameron Park replied, “A Beaujolais (usually made from gamay grapes grown just north of the Rhône Valley and south of the Burgundy region) from a 2009 vintage (reported as the best vintage since 2005) will go with all three; the fruit is ripe with berry flavors with light tannins and will not overpower the ham, turkey or prime rib. These items are salty and Beaujolais work well with salt. The year 2009 has been highly rated for Beaujolais and I have tasted many of them. I have two on the wine list now. Second choice would be a local grenache, which again works well with salt and has light tannins.”

Executive chef and general manager at Sequoia at the Bee-Bennett House, David Bagley, replied with just one word for both answers, “Brunello di Montalcino.”

Brunellos, which are by law made from a clone of the sangiovese grape, are often compared with the pinot noir wines of Burgundy with their smooth tannins and ripe, fruit driven character. The high acidity of the wine allows it to pair well with food, especially grilled meat and game.

Michelle Schanel, owner and executive chef at the Snooty Frog in Cameron Park, brought an interesting light to the question.

“When my family has turkey or ham we always drink sparkling apple cider. I actually have never had wine with either. My pick for prime rib is Silver Oak Napa Valley Cabernet,” Schanel said.


So, there you go. Opinions from the people in the trenches, the people who work with wine and/or food day in and day out. Be sure to remember, the best wine is the one you like.

Most of the wines mentioned can be found at one of the producing wineries, and a few in the wine section of your local supermarket, including Beaujolais. Local riesling and barbera are also found in limited amounts at the supermarket, but wines such as the Rhône blends and grenache might be difficult to find except at the producing winery.

A selection of these two are also available at the WineSmith in Placerville and other wine speciality stores. You might also ask them about the Brunello.

If you have time, you should take a drive to one or more of El Dorado County’s premium wineries and taste for yourself. And, while there thank them for taking the time during this late picking and crush to share their expertise with us.

Some local wineries to contact regarding grenache: Boeger, Busby, Crystal Basin Cellars, Fitzpatrick, David Girard Vineyards, Holly’s Hill, Lava Cap, Madroña, Narrow Gate and Sierra Vista.

Red or white Rhônes and/or blends: Boeger, Charles Mitchell, Colibri Ridge, Fitzpatrick, David Girard Vineyards, Gold Hill, Granite Springs, Holly’s Hill, Lava Cap, Madroña, Narrow Gate, Oakstone, Perry Creek, Sierra Vista and Windwalker.

Bon appetit and Happy Thanksgiving.

Review – French Picnic at Miraflores Winery

Last Sunday I had the extreme pleasure of attending the French Picnic, a cooking class and picnic, put on by Chef Christian Masse of ALLEZ! – Good Food on the Go, a small restaurant in the town of El Dorado.

Watching a talented French chef like Christian Masse is inspiring as he makes everything so easy to follow, showing you that you too can easily prepare outstanding French dishes.

The event was held on the beautiful shaded patio at Miraflores Winery, off Sly Park Road in Pleasant Valley, and it was fantastic. Like his previous French Picnics, this one was sold out way in advance and for good reason.

While we were sitting and enjoying a plate of appetizers and sipping glasses of chilled Miraflores viognier, Chef Masse started the class by preparing one our outstanding dishes, Coulibiac, Salmon en Croute with Basil Mayonnaise.

It is fresh salmon sealed in a puff pastry crust with fennel root, baby spinach, hard boiled egg and parsley. It can be served either hot or cold with the basil mayonnaise, which he made fresh, with a whip, not a blender.

The second dish Chef Masse prepared for us was Tomate Farçle avec Salade de Poulet Citroné, which is a tomato stuffed with lemon chicken salad.

The salad included potatoes, onion, heavy whipping cream, onion and more, and it was stuffed into hollowed out tomatoes. He used the Roma variety, since they are more solid and with a small cut to the end can be made to stand up.

Finally, Chef Masse, with help from his wife, Jennifer, showed the class how to prepare our dessert, Parfait Aux Pêches or Peach Parfait, starting with the making of the Craquants, the delicious decorative cookies.

The peaches were layered with Sauce Sabayon, a mixture of egg yolks, sugar, white wine and Miraflores Botricelli, a dessert wine, and then topped with a Craquant.

Following the class, those attending were treated to a buffet of these dishes, along with others, including a cold lentil salad and potato salad, both in the French style, sliced baguette and a variety of cheeses. The wine selection for the buffet was a Miraflores zinfandel and, with the dessert, Miraflores Botricelli.

The classes and Pairings (through the first two weeks of October) at Miraflores are wonderful events, far beyond my expectation (although I am beginning to expect more, each time I attend one).

Everyone should get a copy of their quarterly newsletter (downloadable at and make it a point to attend one or more of them. All food is exquisitely prepared by top class chefs and often a guest sommelier is there to explain the wines, while you enjoy the delightful dishes.

For more information visit or call 530 647-8505.

Christian and Jennifer Masse

ALLEZ! – Good Food on the Go, is located at 6180 Pleasant Valley Road in the historic town of El Dorado and can be reached at 530-621-1160, You can also visit their website at