Calistoga’s Tuscan medieval castle lures Napa visitors (VIDEOS)

Since the completion of the winery in 2007, a trip to the northern end of Napa Valley is not complete without a tour of the Tuscan medieval-inspired Castello di Amorosa castle.

With three trips to Napa already behind me, it was time to tour some of the winery and castle’s 107 rooms, caves, ramparts, battlements, apartments, prison and dungeon. Besides, I heard owner Dario Sattui’s small lot wines and winemakers have scored well in competitions and U.S. News & Travel writes that visiting Castello is the “No. 4 out of 9 Best Things To Do” while in the Napa Valley.

Determined to make the medieval Tuscan castle authentic, owner Dario Sattui only used old, handmade materials or employing old world techniqus to build Castello di Amorosa in Calistoga, Calif.
Determined to make the medieval Tuscan castle authentic, owner Dario Sattui only used old, handmade materials or employing old world techniqus to build Castello di Amorosa in Calistoga, Calif.

After a lunch visit with owner Mark Young of Calistoga’s Brannan’s Grill (an upcoming post), Geena and I hooked up with long-time local resident, Peter Stetson, and made our way to Castello di Amorosa down Highway 29 to visit the time-warped 13th century castle.

While I was unable to meet owner Dario Sattui, the fourth-generation winemaker’s imprint is everywhere. After nearly a 30-year labor of love, including 15 years of research and 14 years of building his old world castle (VIDEO by ThumbsUpWine), the guided tour of the winery, castle and wines still amaze me two weeks later.

The inspiration behind the 121,000 square foot castle and three acres of rooms resulted from Dario’s fascination with Italian medieval architecture. It began with a passion for Italian ancient properties and grew to an obsession.

The Castello di Amorosa is not just the Disneyland of wineries.

While I foolishly avoided the castle on previous trips, too many outstanding reviews piqued my interest on Castello di Amorosa’s accomplishments since opening. While the $40 million castle on 171 acres, 30 of which are grapes, is all Dario’s vision, the V. Sattui Winery in St. Helena was his first responsibility as he has rebuilt its reputation after his great-grandfather, Vittorio Sattui, one of California’s first vintners, let it fall into disrepair during Prohibition.

Dario Suttui collected and built in all the elements a medieval castle would have possessed, including a moat, drawbridge, high towers and ramparts, torture equipment and ancient armor.
Sattui collected and built all the elements a medieval castle would have possessed, including a moat, drawbridge, high towers and ramparts, torture equipment and ancient armor.

However, as a child, Dario would play among the barrels and tanks in the underground cellars while dreaming of reviving V. Sattui Winery when he grew up. Following college graduation, Dario traveled around Europe for two years in an old VW van. It was during this period his fascination for medieval architecture began to take shape.

Living out of his van, he would visit medieval castles, monasteries, palaces, farmhouses and wineries studying their designs, taking photographs and completing detailed sketches and renderings. And after he rebuilt the V. Sattui Winery, its very success became the impetus for Dario to further expand his dream to create a medieval castle and winery.

After driving up the cyprus-lined drive, Peter escorted us up the grand stone-chiseled stairwell into the castle. The inside main Courtyard was just as impressive, maybe even more, than the outside. The estate has a wooded forest behind the castle and vineyards in the front.

I marveled, smiled and had to think back on my many trips to European castles. I loved how Dario placed his Tuscan-inspired vision on a hill overlooking the Napa Valley. The castle’s “ruined” tower (5 defensive towers in all), high ramparts, courtyards, well, functioning church, stables, vaulted and arched wine cellars ushered me back in time.

After numerous trips to Italy and specifically Tuscany, Dario knew his Napa Valley dream needed skilled old world men and women to create an authentic context for his wine. He hired Italian artisans who crafted all the leaded glass windows by hand and hand-carved all the ceiling beams. In fact, Italian artists made all lamps, iron gates and decorative iron pieces by hand over an open forge. He hired craftsman from Denmark, Austria and France as well. Each room was hand built and original. No room is the same, including the gorgeous antique brick cellars.

My wife Geena and I stopped for a moment to admire The Courtyard, complete with a well, before we moved upstairs to the Il Passito Room to relax and wine taste.
My wife, Geena, and I stopped for a moment to admire The Courtyard, complete with a well, before we moved upstairs to the Il Passito Room to relax and wine taste.

The drawbridge spanning the moat and the gargoyles perched atop the entrance column earn the respect of the visitor. The hand-painted Italian-style frescos and maze of underground rooms, including the 12,000-square-foot Grand Barrel Room, create a sense of awe and appreciation for the varied building styles of a castle created to emulate centuries of building techniques.

As we toured, I saw an authentic stone fireplace from the 14th century, ancient wine press, a wrought iron dragon from the times of Napoleon and an Iron Maiden from the late Renaissance, which dominates the torture chamber. The dry moat, chicken, ducks and sheep and goats farm all add to a wonderful experience.

As the tour guide walked us though the eight levels of rooms, my wife kept telling me to hurry up; I kept getting left behind. At one point I was annoyed. I wanted to wander amongst the 107 rooms at my leisure taking in each niche and nuance. I was definitely transported back to the Italian castles I visited a few years earlier. I didn’t want to reenter the 21st century.

Dario either brought over the building materials from Europe or instructed the craftsmen to create the building out of local materials as old world counterparts did centuries ago. I loved the Great Hall’s 500 year-old fireplace. It is flanked by hand-painted Italian frescoes which took two artists nearly a year and a half to complete.

The 22-foot high coffered ceiling rivals many of the great ceilings in Tuscany. Celebrities like Arnold Schwarzenegger, former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani Jon Bon Jovi, Joe Montana, Clint Black, Gordon Getty, Jr., Robert Redford, and others have been hosted in the Great Hall.

The Grand Barrel Room uses 40 ribbed Roman cross-vaults all constructed from ancient brick shipped from Europe and includes a 40-foot, hand crafted travertine tasting bar.
The Grand Barrel Room uses 40 ribbed Roman cross-vaults all constructed from ancient brick shipped from Europe and includes a 40-foot, hand crafted travertine tasting bar.

Near the end of the hour tour, we ended up in the 12,000 square foot Grand Barrel Room with its 40 ribbed, Roman cross-vaults containing hundreds of wine barrels and a 40-foot, hand crafted travertine tasting bar. We also viewed other small lot cellars containing wine bottles and large formats from the original V. Salluti collection.

I chose not to spend time in the gift shop or La Fattoria (Italian Farm Store) for olive oil, teas, flour, etc., so we headed up to the Il Passito Club Room to continue our Wine Aficionado Tour.

Just outside of the Il Passito Room is the hidden gem of the Castle. The Il Passito patio secluded terrace has views of our hilltop watchtower as well as our crushpad below. It is also only a few steps from Castello’s Lake Mario. Open to the hillside, but unknown to most patrons of the castle, it boasts some of the best sunset views in the Diamond Mountain region.

Enjoy a guided tour through the castle and winery followed by a private tasting of six of Castello di Amorosa wines, including low production, high end reserve wines. Reservations are highly suggested.
Enjoy a guided tour through the castle and winery followed by a private tasting of six of Castello di Amorosa wines, including low production, high end reserve wines. Reservations are highly suggested.

The three of us finally settled into the Il Passito Room to relax and wine taste perched high above the Courtyard. We were a world away not only from Napa but from the crowds and bustle of Castello’s daily grind. The Il Passito Room normally functions as the Wine Club Member’s room.

However, the millions of dollars spent on the castle and grounds has not prevented Dario from establishing a world class array of wines.

While his vision created Castello di Amorosa, Dario has a team of winemakers and staff to ensure his mostly Tuscan-influenced Italian-style and growing Bordeaux red wine programs continues to produce world-class results. Sebastiano Rosa of Bolgheri, Italy, winemaker at Tenuta San Guido – producer of Sassicaia- one of Italy’s leading Bordeaux-style red wines joined the San Francisco International Wine Competition’s 2012 Winemaker of the Year, Brooks Painter, Peter Velleno and Laura Orozco in March 2012 to form a strong group under the Castello label.

Our host, John, was superb in his knowledge of Castello di Amorosa’s wines and was willing to chat about background, vineyards, soils and technique. I began the tasting with a 2012 California Vermentino. It was so refreshing on a warm Napa afternoon. The traditional Mediterranean white grape is grown in Northern Italy and Southern France. It was very aromatic with plenty of citrus (I’m a grapefruit fan) and a subtle minerality to finish. I loved it! At home I paired a bottle of Vermentino with grilled, chilled salmon salad (dill, capers, celery, onions, raspberry vinegar, red onion).

While not on the wine list, the 2012 California Vermentino is excellent; the dry crisp citrus aroma and flavor is wonderful.
While not on the wine list, the 2012 California Vermentino is excellent; the dry crisp citrus aroma and flavor is wonderful.

For more on my Castello di Amorosa wine tasting experience, return to TalesoftheCork for my July 4 post: Tuscan tasting: Castello di Amorosa 2012 Rosato. Castello di Amorosa wines are only available at the castle or by mail order. They are not available in restaurants. To order Castello wine, visit their web site at or call 1.707.942.8200.

Castle and wine tasting tours
General admission ranges from $18-$43 per person depending on the level of wine and/or castle interest. No reservations necessary for groups under 12 for general admission. However a guided tour through the castle and winery followed by a tasting of five premium wines in one of the castle’s private tasting bars requires reservations.

For more videos on Castello di Amorosa, visit their Video Gallery.

Castello di Amorosa is open seven days a week from 9:30 a.m.- 6 p.m., March-October and 9:30 a.m.- 5 p.m., November-February. The castle/winery is located 5 1/2 miles north of St. Helena and 2 miles south of Calistoga at 4045 N. St. Helena Highway, Calistoga, CA 94515. Phone numbers: Office (707) 967-6278; Reservations: (707) 967-6272.

For another view on Dario Sattui and Castello di Amorosa, read the Sacramento Bee’s article, Sattui’s castle awaits Napa Valley visitors .

If you missed my first post on my Calistoga visit, read Tuscany trip takes Calistoga detour: First stop Fanny’s B&B.

Tuscany trip takes Calistoga detour: First stop Fanny’s B&B

The first of a number of posts on my recent long weekend in Calistoga, California.

Pioneer Samuel Brannan touted Calistoga as a health and wellness destination, including the healing powers of the natural spring and mud baths by the mid 1860s.
Pioneer Samuel Brannan touted Calistoga as a health and wellness destination, including the healing powers of the natural spring and mud baths by the mid 1860s.

My daughter’s wedding almost two years ago derailed this year’s European travel schedule. Geena and I hoped our 50-something years would earn us trips across the pond but post high school education for three daughters has challenged our pocketbooks. So a trip to Tuscany will have to wait for another year.

Instead the north end of the Napa Valley seemed a good alternative. Calistoga, California, a town of world-class wines, artisan shops and fine restaurants proved to be a perfect surrogate vacation spot.

Calistoga is precisely what two overworked professionals needed. So we decided to put a dream of Tuscany on hold and spend a long weekend pampered by small-town hospitality.

We checked into Fanny’s Bed and Breakfast instead of a local hotel. While this end of Napa Valley has fabulous inns, we wanted, no needed, some personal attention and innkeeper Deanna Higgins provided the human touch that helped make our stay memorable. Situated in a peaceful neighborhood only two blocks from Lincoln Avenue, the two-story is a short walk to a creek, park and old town.

Tucked away in a quiet neighborhood, Fanny's B&B is a wonderful alternative to the inns of Calistoga, California.
Tucked away in a quiet neighborhood, Fanny’s B&B is a wonderful alternative to the inns of Calistoga, California.

Fanny’s, named after novelist Robert Louis Stevenson’s bride, is a quiet 1915 Craftsman-style cottage featuring a great front porch, rockers, and an old-fashioned swing–a true wine country retreat. Each upstairs bedroom is cozy and inviting, featuring plank floors, feather comforters, and window seats that will take you back to memories of Grandma’s attic. All rooms include a queen-size bed, private bath, and a sumptuous country breakfast.

After asking for a short history, Deanna explained how Samuel Brannan helped establish Calistoga as a Spa town destination during the early 1860s. He hoped it would become reminiscent of New York’s Saratoga Springs. By 1868, Brannan’s Napa Valley Railroad Company’s track was completed to Calistoga, making the journey from San Francisco easier. Later the gold rush dominated the 1880s and the town flourished as a destination for health and wellness. Today day spas, including the Lincoln Avenue Spa, provide healing powers of local mud and mineral waters. The spas, coupled with outdoor recreational activities and wine tasting, create an outstanding health/wellness and vacation setting.

Fanny’s Bed and Breakfast is well appointed and has been completely renovated. The charm is enhanced by Deanna’s attention to comfort. She offered us complimentary cold drinks, coffee and/or a bottle of wine after we settled into our room.

In the 25 years since owning Fanny’s, Deanna seems to have perfected the art of hosting. She chats briefly with guest upon arrival and during her breakfast service. I appreciate how she allows guests free reign of the home without intrusion. I felt comfortable to relax in overstuffed chairs in the front room, enjoy the porch overlooking the large shaded yard and neighborhood> But when prompted, Deanna is quick to offer suggestions on area itineraries, including wine tastings, lunch and dinner spots and entertainment or recreational options.

Guests at Fanny's first enter into a marvelous, comfortable front room complete with fireplace, overstuffed chairs and bookshelves.
Guests at Fanny’s first enter into a marvelous, comfortable front room complete with fireplace, overstuffed chairs, window seats and bookshelves.

Inside are interesting antique furnishings with homey window seats for reading. The collection of books, magazines and games in the eclectic library is complete with an array of nooks and crannies. The home has appropriate old-fashioned decorations which tell the story of someone who was well-traveled and connected to the house and Calistoga. I loved the attention to detail, including professionally clean, tidy rooms. The home is air-conditioned in summer and the fireplace and atmosphere warms the home year-round.

I absentmindedly left a pair of shoes in the room and Deanna was kind enough to mail them back without any hesitation. She was a wealth of information, wonderful hostess and fabulous cook who created varied, memorable breakfasts that were different each morning.

While I do not often stay a bed and breakfasts, I heartily recommend Fanny’s Bed and Breakfast. Deanna can be reached via 1206 Spring Street, Calistoga, CA 94515.

Phone: 707.942.9491
Fax: 707.942.4810

For more information on Napa and Sonoma Valleys, check out The Preiser Key.

If you missed it, check out my June 26 post and wine review: Piccini Villa Cortile Riserva 2006 Brunello di Montalcino.

Guinness confirms Napa Valley owns wine relay record (VIDEO)

Charles Krug, the oldest family-owned commercial winery, along with St. Helena Kiwanis Club, St. Helena Chamber of Commerce and CHEERS! St. Helena, hosted The Napa Valley Wine Wave, Oct. 7.

Something was not right and Napa Valley residents take a stand at Charles Krug Winery, Oct. 7, 2012.

Located in one of the premier wine growing regions of the world, Napa residents, winemakers, growers and businesses believe the rightful place for the longest relay wine toast record belongs in St. Helena, California.

The problem: A group of Chinese located in Guangzhou, China, set a new record of 321 participants in November 2011. Knowing this was going to happen, seemed to rub St. Helena resident Lowell Smith the wrong way and he, with support from the St. Helena Kiwanis Club, birthed the idea of the Napa Valley Wine Wave and decided to raise scholarship money for local schools in the process.

Lowell Smith, right, discusses final preparations with a Wine Wave participant. Ali Morse, rear, sells commemorative bungstarters during the event. The are also available through the web site:

“We actually applied for a Guinness World Record and the Wine Wave about a year and a half ago,” Smith said. “We then got the approval to apply for this record and have been planning this event ever since.”

Smith said Guinness World Records get 50,000 requests a year for setting records. Out of those, Guinness approves about 2,000 and most get accomplished.

Johanna Hessling, an official Guinness World Book of Records adjudicator (a judge) from New York City, was invited to the event because the St. Helena and Napa Valley area community planned a record attempt for the longest wine toast relay.

“I actually walk down the line as the attempt is happening and will be counting with my clicker to make sure that everyone who participates does it correctly,” Hessling said. “What this group needs to do in order to break, or achieve, that record today is to have a minimum of 322 participants take part in the toast, according to the guidelines that are established by Guinness.”

As the Guinness World Book of Records adjudicator, Johanna Hessling (center) walks down the line during the wine wave attempt, she uses her clicker to make sure everyone, including Lori Ayre (right) and Cheryl Gould, participates according to the rules.

Jay Lewis, a member of St. Helena Kiwanis Wine Wave Committee and retired professor from Pacific Union College in Angwin, Calif., volunteered to be a line captain to make sure his charges did everything right.

“I’m excited because so many people are coming together to participate in a World Record,” Lewis said. “The Chinese hold the record with over 300 plus and we are hoping to get 500. This is a great event to hold in the Napa Valley, the center of the wine industry, but the Chinese currently hold the record. Oh, come on!”

Set on the tree-lined grounds of the first commercial winery in California, Charles Krug Winery is a natural place to host over 500 people to participate or watch the Napa Valley Wine Wave.

Maggie Pramuk, center, works for Robert Biale Vineyards and is on the Appellation St. Helena board. She was excited to be a winery representative, pouring at the Napa Valley Wine Wave. Pramuk said she couldn’t believe how fun this is!

Kara Chamberlain, a student at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) at Greystone in St. Helena, heard about the Wine Wave and record attempt from her professor.

“We were sent out an email asking for volunteers or participants because this is for a scholarship fund that actually benefits our school,” Chamberlain said. “A few of my friends from school came here to promote something that we love. This has been so good for me to talk to the many winemakers of the St. Helena area and taste their many different wines. I appreciate that because that is what we are studying. I am hoping to become a wine writer. I am talking to the winemakers as much as possible and networking as well.”

In fact these and other students, along with local businesses, including French Blue, Sorensen Catering and Armadillos Restaurant, served appetizers while the wine relay participants toasted and clinked their way into the record book.

Charles Krug Winery is unique in the Napa Valley as it is still 100 percent family owned and now moving into the fourth generation. Pete Jr., the youngest son of Peter Mondavi, Sr., believes Napa is the rightful place for a record like the Wine Wave.

“St. Helena is where the industry started and Charles Krug Winery is as good as any in Napa Valley,” Mondavi said. “The winery opened in 1861 … 151 years ago. But first and foremost, this is about Kiwanis. We have been involved with St. Helena Kiwanis Club as a venue for fundraising events for many years. They came over with this idea and what better place to host this event? We have beautiful grounds that can hold over 500 people. Come to see where Napa all started.”

Peter (Pete) Mondavi, Jr. (right), proprietor of Charles Krug Winery, praises Kiwanis for creating the Napa Valley Wine Wave opportunity and thrilled the Mondavi-owned winery is able to host the event.

The “wave” of toasters kept Hessling busy from 1:30-2:30 p.m. She watches as each takes turns clinking glasses and sipping wine. After toasting, each participant turns to the person next to them and the process follows from one to two, two to three and so on. The longest relay wine toast is a sequential toast where participants clink glasses in order, from start to finish, rather than the more common toast where everyone clinks glasses simultaneously. Hessling kept pace and smiles each time a red flag raises, denoting when a 100th participant completes the toast.

As each one took turns, a “cheers,” “salut” or other proclamations sounded as individuals look into a partner’s eyes while sipping 2009 Charles Krug Zinfandel. A distinct ‘clink’ and the ringing sound of glasses chime as the dings or pings mix with laughter and chatter.

A 65-foot red and yellow hot air balloon from Napa Valley Balloons provided an impressive backdrop and participants danced to Ancestree, a Santa Cruz roots reggae band. The group grooved and mixed three-part harmonies into an impressive reggae/rock mix from 10:30-1:30 p.m.

St. Helena resident Sue Collins came with her husband Peter to enjoy the unusual afternoon festivities. Peter said they have had many memorable events at the winery and Charles Krug continues to be community-oriented, hosting great events on the property.

“We are here to support Kiwanis and support the wine industry,” Sue said. “We hope to have a little fun, get together with some good music and friends and enjoy a glass of wine in a beautiful location. Oh, and of course, there’s that Guinness thing, too.”

Ira C. Smith, Sports Director at KVON/KVYN, proclaims to the 487 participants, they broke the Guiness World Record. Johanna Hessling then awards Pam Simpson (CEO/President of St. Helena Chamber of Commerce) a framed certificate honoring the Napa Valley Wine Wave record, while Lowell Smith thanks Hessling with a commemorative bungstarter.

While hundreds gathered on the Charles Krug grounds, including the 487 people who took turns to ‘clink, sip and clink,’ there were dozens of others who watched as spectators; students and volunteers served and the Saint Helena Community Band played instrumental numbers until most revelers left.

“We brought our community together and we set a Guinness World Record,” St. Helena Mayor, Del Britton, said. “This unique world record now resides in the Napa Valley, the heart of the wine experience.”

All 487 Napa Valley Wine Wave participants received a medal commemorating the Guinness World Record for the longest relay wine toast, Oct. 7.

Upon completion of the record, Hessling, along with Master of Ceremony, Ira Smith, announces that the new world record of 487 now belongs to the Napa Valley Wine Wave of St. Helena, California. Each participant also received a world record medallion to commemorate the event.

Local food trucks, Marks The Spot and Awful Falafel, served gourmet pulled pork and chicken sliders and Middle-Eastern food. These where paired with wines from Appellation St. Helena, including Ballentine Vineyards, Charnu Winery, Chase Family Cellars, J. Lohr & Wines, Raymond Vineyards, Robert Biale Vineyards, Rutherford Grove, Salvestrin Winery, Trinchero Napa Valley, Tudal Winery, and V. Sattui Winery.

The Napa Valley Wine Wave was created by the St. Helena Kiwanis Club, in partnership with the wineries of Appellation St. Helena, St Helena and St. Helena Chamber, CHEERS! St. Helena, as a way to raise money for scholarships. Proceeds raised from the event go towards scholarships in the agriculture, viticulture, winemaking, business and hospitality industries. For more information and opportunities to purchase commemorative merchandise and donations for scholarships, visit the Napa Valley Wine Wave or on Twitter at @NVWineWave.

For more information on the Napa Valley Wine Wave, visit the award-winning channel Wine Oh TV and watch Monique Soltani’s VIDEO.

Johanna Hessling, an official Guinness World Book of Records adjudicator (center bottom), pronounces St. Helena the new home of the Longest Relay Wine Toast. The Napa Valley Wine Wave and its 487 participants cheer and toast their new record, Oct. 7, 2012. (Photo by Charles O’Rear)

Viticulture and Enology programs promote Fresno State research at Grape Day

My wife’s hospital co-worker asked me last week to chauffeur her son to daily chess and chef camps. Her 12-year old son needed something to pass the time, rather than sit home alone watching TV. At first I said no, but have since enjoyed learning about Fresno’s summer camps; this week, I am limo driver for the youngster’s canoe camp on the San Joaquin River.

The daily deliver and pick up routines last about 45 minutes, but the trip takes me by area vineyards both near the river and California State University, Fresno [FSU]. Ripening grape clusters along country roadways initially attracted my attention, so I took the time to stop and check on the status of the Thompson and Muscat vineyards.

Fresno State students grow many grape varietals and create award-winning bottles of Barbera, Petite Sirah, California Syrah, Chardonnay, Rosè and Pinot Gris.

As temperatures heat up in August, schools and universities are gearing up and the grape harvest is not far off. So it was no surprise to me the Fresno State Viticulture and Enology program is set to host Grape Day, Aug. 14.

According to their web site, “Grape Day is an informal field day and open house held at the Department of Viticulture and Enology at Fresno State for grape growers, pest control advisers, winemakers, and winery personnel. The event is designed to showcase the latest grape and wine research conducted at Fresno State and to provide an educational forum on current issues affecting the grape and wine industry.”

Senior enology major Kerry Fitzgerald is planning to attend Grape Day by helping out one of his viticulture professors, Kaan Kurtural, as he talks about mechanical management (machine harvest, pruning). Fitzgerald is excited to attend his first Grape Day.

“This is going to be a very good experience,” Fitzgerald said. “Not only will I be able to listen to my professors, but FSU enology alumni will be on hand to share why the program helped them graduate into successful careers.

Fitzgerald has kept tabs on FSU alumni and winemaker Bo Barrett of Chateau Montelena. The Fresno State graduate is often referred to the winemaker of Bottle Shock fame. Fitzgerald met Barrett at the Fresno State Winery in March 2012 at the Home of Tomorrow’s Winemakers event.

Besides meeting Barrett, Fitzgerald also has worked at The Grape Tray, a Fresno wine cellar and sandwich shop, where he has been encouraged by another FSU graduate selling his bottles via the retail market.

Winemaker and FSU alumni Bo Barrett, right, is senior Kerry Fitzgerald’s winemaker hero because of his involvement with the “Judgement of Paris.” The Chateau Montelena Chardonnay Barrett and his dad entered in a 1976 Paris blind tasting showed the world Napa had come of age.

“Alumni Dave Scheidt sells his wines at The Grape Tray as Mastro Scheidt Family Cellars. It is really cool to have a guy who graduated from Fresno State selling his stuff in the retail market,” Fitzgerald said. “Fresno State enology students are successful upon leaving the program and I am excited to listen to them share their stories at the event as well.”

Fitzgerald went on to say how Fresno State is the only student-operated commercial winery in California. The students complete their book work but then learn how to grow the grapes to using winemaking equipment from harvest to bottling. They not only read about sorting, using the wine press, punching down, checking the sugars and racking the wine, but they can sell it via the Rue and Gwen Gibson Farm Market.

“I love being a Fresno State enology student because this is as close to real world experience as it gets and I’m still in school,” Fitzgerald said. “I can be in class one hour then spend hours in the vineyards or winery learning hands-on. You cannot get that anywhere else. We are student farmers becoming winemakers. We research and test as much or more than anyone else and we produce and sell our product. People should come to Grape Day to check us out and find out for yourself.”

Grape Day is a half-day event held every other year at the Jordan College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology on Fresno State campus. There will be practical field and indoor presentation with viticulture and enology professors sharing the latest grape and wine research.

Fresno State is one of five campuses in California which have notable winemaking programs: Napa Valley College, California Polytechnic State University, Sonoma State University and University of California, Davis.

In 1997, the California State University, Fresno, became the first university in the United States to have a winery fully licensed to produce, bottle and sell wine.

Registration and exhibits open at 7:30 a.m. with the program running from 8 a.m. to noon in the shaded lawn west of the Viticulture building. A BBQ lunch is sponsored by American Vineyard Magazine and will be on the lawn near the Viticulture and Enology building, 2360 E. Barstow (between Cedar and Maple) on the north side of the street, surrounded by vineyards. To reserve a spot at Grape Day, visit the Viticulture and Enology web site. Tickets are $20 and $15 for current students. Be sure to bring a hat and sunscreen.

Tours of the unique facilities, refreshments, and lunch are included in the registration fee. Parking is available in the yellow or green lots with a courtesy parking code. Check for the code at registration. Without a code, parking at FSU is $3 per day.

A spokesperson for the program was not available to comment on the event and suggested interested students or community members refer to the July 31 Fresno State News press release.

According to the Fresno State web site, one of the focuses of the event will be to “learn about the latest research into crop forcing, nematodes, grape-rot measurement and mechanization. A complete list of presentations are listed.

“Dr. Sanliang Gu, holder of the Ricchiuti Chair of Viticulture, will discuss “Crop Forcing – Yield and Cultural Practices” and his work on introducing degree-hours to better interpret heat accumulation and thermal distribution of regions and vintages for wine grape production.”

Dr. Sanliang Gu briefly discusses crop forcing in this short YouTube video previously posted.

For those interested in checking out the Enology program at California State University, Fresno, and the Fresno State Winery, be sure to contact them at the winery. For Enology inquiries, call 559.278.2791 or call 559.278.9463 for winemaking inquiries. The campus farm, the Rue and Gwen Gibson Farm Market, has fresh produce for much of the spring through fall, including many of the California award-winning student produced wines. Their phone number is 559.278.4511. Be sure to also visit the Jordan College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology web site on how to become involved as a Fresno State viticulture and enology student.