Nicole Salengo, winemaker at Berryessa Gap Vineyards says, “I see colors when I taste wine”
The Vine Guy
There are two things you should definitely know about Nicole Salengo, the talented winemaker at Berryessa Gap Vineyards, located in Winters, California. First, she gets bored easily, so she is always looking to take on new challenges – which is a good thing if you are a fan of great wine. Second, she is passionate about crafting wines that are true to their varietal characteristics. Since she is the winemaker for a family who runs one of the most well-respected vine nurseries in California, she is never bored and she is making a lot of interesting wines – 13 to be exact. Drink in this interview with the charming and talented Nicole Salengo. Wines tasted in this episode: 2019 Berryessa Gap Vineyards Verdejo 2016 Berryessa Gap Vineyards Malbec 2016 Berryessa Gap Vineyards Tempranillo
We are immigrants, pioneers, farmers and entrepreneurs.Berryessa Gap’s connection to the land runs deep with farming roots from both Spanish and German ancestry in historic Winters, CA in Yolo County.Our father Dan Martinez, Sr., a first generation farmer of Spanish immigrants, planted apricots, almonds, prunes and walnuts in Winters. Dan Sr. partnered with San Francisco winemaker and wine historian Ernest Peninou in 1969 to develop a grapevine rootstock nursery business, Yolo Hills Viticulture Society, supplying UC Davis-sourced grapevine rootstock to what would become renowned Napa and Sonoma Valley vineyards and beyond.For thirty years, Martinez Orchards continued to sell rootstock cultivated in Winters to vineyards in neighboring counties, and in 2000, Dan Martinez Jr. and collaborative business and farming partner Santiago Moreno purchased the Coble Ranch at the crest of rolling hills overlooking Berryessa Gap - a local visual landmark seen for miles around – and planted this never before cultivated land to vineyards. The Coble Ranch is the estate vineyard from which Berryessa Gap’s grapes are sourced. Martinez Orchards continues to grow and sell grapevine rootstock throughout California today.The site of Berryessa Gap Vineyards commands this view, overlooking literally a gap between the hills, east of Lake Berryessa. Here stands a very large and stately oak tree, thought to be around 300 years old. Surrounding this fine oak tree are the rolling vineyards which produce distinctive wines of the region, planted with rootstock grown only by Martinez Orchards.Steeped in family agricultural history in Winters, our winery operations began on Main Street in 2002 as we repurposed the old Winters Winery facility, and is now the location of our expanded wine tasting room. Mike Anderson, Ernest Peninou’s great nephew, became our winemaker, continuing the legacy and bringing regional terroir into focus and helping to launch our business.In 2005, we expanded and relocated our winemaking production to the historic Tufts Ranch fruit packing warehouse, minutes from downtown Winters. We invite guests to visit our second wine tasting room there, as a memorable stop on wine country backroad Highway 128 traveling to or from nearby Napa Valley.Both wine tasting locations showcase our family farming and viticulture heritage with roots in Northern California wine country brought to each glass - from rootstock to bottle.In 2013, Berryessa Gap hired winemaker Nicole Salengo to bring her local winemaking expertise to the market with fine new wine offerings. Nicole is passionate about the uniqueness and potential of Winters terroir - her winemaking style has already garnered many accolades in domestic and international wine competitions.
Nicole Salengo, winemaker at Berryessa Gap Vineyards
California Wine Country
Nicole Salengo, winemaker at Berryessa Gap Vineyards, is our guest today on California Wine Country. Robert Larsen, the winery’s PR director, is also in.Robert Larsen worked at Rodney Strong Vineyards. Now he runs The Larsen Projekt, a PR agency specialized in the wine business, representing Berryessa Gap Vineyards and ZAP, the Zinfandel Advocates and Producers. He was introduced to the Berryessa Gap Vineyards Zinfandel at “ZIN EX,” the Zin Experience in San Francisco, which is an annual ZAP event. He also produces some wine, such as a Grenache Rosé, as part of the Larsen Projekt, his own label.Nicole Salengo says she got into wine “...by a process of elimination, it was the first job I didn’t get bored with.” She just completed her 14th harvest. She studied Geology and thought she would go to graduate school but found that work boring and got a job in a wine shop. She discovered she liked it and took classes at UC Davis extention, then completed their Winemaking Certificate program part time while working at another winery.Berryessa Gap Vineyards is owned by the Martinez family. They are a fourth-generation farming family originally from Spain. They grow a lot of crops, not just grapes. They started a rootstock company for vines and they also grow fruits and nuts. The hills in their area had never been planted with grapes. They get cool winds in the evening coming off of Lake Berryessa which is about 5 miles away, after the hot days.Dan says the location combines the great attributes of both cold climate and warm climate growing. The nighttime temperatures are low enough to allow for good acidity while the hot days allow for good ripening. It’s a perfect synthesis but it takes the right winemaking team to do it. Dan says it’s tricky to grow out there, especially if you harvest early. Nicole says that it’s a great area for Iberian whites like Verdejo, a white originally from Spain. Their winery is responsible for getting that name recognized by the TTB. They also grow some Albariño.Next they taste a 2018 Sauvignon Blanc in a “shiner” which is pre-bottling. They will be bottling it next month, for now the label is handwritten. They put the blend together earlier this week. Dan says this wine has wild floral components but also a background of some herbal and citrus notes. He says if you hold onto the wine for a few years, there is a peppery flavor that will be more prominent. She picks it ultra-early, around 21 Brix, New Zealand style. Nicole did spend a season in New Zealand in 2013, before being hired at Berryessa.Then they taste a dry Rosé, also in a “shiner” bottle. Dan remembers that they tasted some Rosés from the south of France, that were in the $30 range, but they weren’t dry. This one is really dry. The blend is Grenache, Barbera for acidity and some Primitivo (aka Zinfandel).Next they taste a 2016 Tempranillo. What Dan likes about it is typically not aggressive in tannins. It is hard to predict how it ages but this may bear a few years. This variety is not grown much in California. Nicole says that Tempranillo matches the Spanish heritage of the winery. It’s one of their larger production reds. This one was just released in November. They have an annual Paella competition, the one big event they do, the first Saturday in November. Robert Larsen tells about seeing the huge paella pans in use there.Nicole has travelled to all the places of origin of the wines they make. The Rioja Alta region was her favorite. It has similar climate and soil to here. The common qualities of the Tempranillos made there are earthiness, spice, arid climate, well-drained soil.Dan admires the balanced acidity of all these wines. They have a couple of different clones in their vineyard. One is dark fruit, thick skin, high tanin. The other is more rose petal, fruit-forward with more acidic finish.Nicole Salengo always liked a variety of flavors and was interested in the lesser-known wines,