We recently had the pleasure of visiting the Grace family at their winery — Grace Patriot Wines — in El Dorado County, California. Their property lies just a few miles east of Placerville, the county seat, in an area known as “Apple Hill” for the abundant apple orchards scattered across the landscape. The winery and adjacent vineyards sit at an elevation of 3,000 feet, with a fetching eastward view over the undulating Sierra Foothills and onwards toward the Crystal Range of the High Sierras on the far horizon. This is where the Pony Express passed through Gold Country in the mid-1800s, and where today the local wine industry is emerging as the new Mother Lode.
Owners/vintners Steve and Bea Grace, along with son and winemaker Tyler, established 16 acres of estate vineyards (Grace Vineyard) in 2001, on the site of an old apple and fruit farm known as Irving Ranch. The ranch, which encompassed an old farmhouse and barn as well as farmland, had long fallen into disrepair until the Graces purchased, restored, and replanted the property. They harvested their first vintage in 2004, and Tyler, who at that time was working as an assistant winemaker in Napa Valley, crafted Grace Patriot’s wines offsite until the winery and tasting room opened in 2011. The Graces named the winery — and fashion their labels, designed by youngest son, Trevor — in honor of ancestor Lewis Grace, who served in the 4th Virginia Regiment of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War and died in battle in 1780.
Our visit with the Graces at the winery was memorable, as we had the opportunity to get to know the family, gather some first-hand impressions of Tyler’s approach to winemaking, and taste through their portfolio of wines. Unlike some wineries in emerging wine regions, Grace Patriot does not take an all-encompassing approach to viticulture and winemaking; in other words, you’re not going to find an unruly variety of sorts and styles on their tasting menu. Nor, though, do they confine themselves — like some others — to rigid varietal, stylistic, or geographical themes. They focus, rather, on working with the varieties that best harmonize with their soils, climate, and location. In our estimation, this approach is succeeding: we found all of their wines to be finely crafted, deftly balanced, and boldly expressive.
“Grace Patriot ranks as one of our top winery discoveries of 2013″
We managed to take three of our favorite Grace Patriot wines in our luggage back home with us to the D.C. area, and tasted those wines again with our tasting panel. We highly recommend all three, and offer our tasting notes, below.
Five PM is Grace Patriot’s proprietary red blend, an intriguing mix of Tempranillo (50%), Syrah (30%), Cabernet Sauvignon (15%), and Pinot Noir (5% – a variety rarely blended with others). It’s an outgoing and generous wine, offering ample aromas and flavors that suggest ripe black cherries and berries, black pepper, tobacco, and cola — all wrapped up in supple, relaxing notes of dark chocolate and baking spice. The wine is medium- to full-bodied and velvety on the palate, with friendly tannins, lively acids, and soft oak. It would pair nicely with a cheese and charcuterie platter, barbeque, or just about anything on the grill. As its name suggests, Five PM is an easy going, “kick-back” kind of wine that is guaranteed to please a crowd.
Tempranillo, a variety native to Europe’s Iberian Peninsula and best known as the signature variety of Spain’s Rioja appellation, can be temperamental and temperature sensitive. Balancing fruit and acid with this grape requires just the right mix of daytime heat and nighttime cooling, which is exactly what Grace Vineyard provides. This rendition is Tempranillo-driven (85%), but also contains a generous 10% dollop of Graciano — another Rioja variety — and a 5% splash of Cabernet Sauvignon. It is bold and lush, with aromas and flavors that suggest ripe black fruit, leather, and earth complemented by savory notes of dried herbs and bitters that waft through the lasting finish. Tannins are moderate, and acids are forward but not jarring. This is a fruit-driven, New World rendition of Tempranillo, for sure, but is unabashed in being so. Serve it with sharp cheeses, braised meats, tomato-based dishes, Tex-Mex, and other spicy fare.
As delicious as the Five PM and Tempranillo were, the all around favorite of our panel tasting was the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon. This full-on, 100% Cabernet is a sophisticated expression of the variety as grown at a high elevation, where sunlight is more intense and the growing season is shorter than on the valley floor. It is an engaging, multidimensional wine — at once fruit-, pepper-, and earth-driven — with aromas and flavors that are interwoven at several levels: brambly notes of black currant and blackberry; spicy flares of fresh green pepper and mixed peppercorn; earthy shades of pencil lead, tobacco, and leather; and savory nuances of tea leaf, dried herbs, and clove. Oak is more prevalent here than in the Five PM and Tempranillo, but is well integrated, while tannins are firm and acidity is moderate. This is a Cabernet of appreciable elegance and finesse, and one that would pair well with fine sharp cheeses, filet mignon, roasted pork, and grilled meats and vegetables.
“Grace Patriot’s 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon is among our top rated wines of 2013″
Availability: The Graces hand craft their wines in small batches, typically yielding just a few hundred cases of each of their wines in any given vintage. Distribution outside of California is therefore limited. The best way to obtain Grace Patriot wines is to contact them directly, either through their website at www.gracepatriotwines.com, or by telephone at 530-642-8424. If the vintages we have reviewed here are no longer available, we encourage you to ask for the current releases. And if you find yourself en route to or from Lake Tahoe from within California or are otherwise in the vicinity, pay them a visit at the winery and tasting room. The ambience is warm, the views are striking, and the folks are friendly. They’re located just off Route 50 at 2701 Carson Road, Placerville, CA, 95667.
PostScript: Even after a long, satisfying visit and tasting with the Grace family, Wine on the Barrelhead’s Scott Hendley (right) still didn’t want to leave the winery. But it was closing time, alas, late on a Saturday afternoon. Steve Grace (left) did what he could to offer Scott (tasting notes in hand) some words of comfort on their way out to the parking lot.