I recently had the opportunity to connect with Bill Tobey, a wine broker representing a number of small, family owned wineries in California. Bill takes pride in the handcrafted brands he represents, and offered us the chance to sample a few labels that he represents.
Two of the wines we got to taste were from the Clarksburg region of California, located directed south of Sacramento, about 100 miles or so east of Sonoma, as the crow flies.
Rendez-Vous was the winery, and Bill told us a bit about Larry Dizmang, a physician by trade, and the current winemaker/co-founder, whose previous winemaking experience included establishing the Folie`a Deux Winery in St Helena, California in the early 1980’s. He was sole winemaker at the time, and in 1985, won an award at the California State Fair for their 1983 Chardonnay. He has won multiple gold medals for both his white and red wines over the years, and in the early ‘90s, Wine Spectator listed his Chenin Blanc among the top three along with Pine Ridge.
After 18 years of working on the brand, Larry sold Folie`a Deux, at that time producing 20,000 cases per year, and went on to pursue other endeavors.
Larry has recently returned to his passion for wine making with his partner Karan and opened the Rendez-vous Winery, one of only 10 boutique wineries in Clarksburg, at the Old Sugar Mill.
The current focus of the Rendez-vous winery is truly local, as Larry and team endeavor to use only Clarksburg appellation fruit. Last fall, Rendez-vous successfully acquired Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Grenache, Primitivo and Petite Sirah grapes, all from local Clarksburg vineyards.
Contrary to common belief, good fruit does not have to come from rocky stressed soils to have the highest quality.
Larry told us a bit more about his story, and what originally drew him into winemaking.
“In 1977, I returned to the Napa Valley where I was raised and went to school. I purchased 23 acres of land north of St. Helena. My initial intention was to plant vineyards on the land and retire to the “good life”. I quickly realized during the labor of planting my vineyards, doing the tractor work, laying out the rows, etc. that retirement was not what I wanted but the fruits of my labor which, ultimately, would be wine.
I went back to school at UC Davis part time, took all of the enology classes and set my course to learn as much as I could about wine. In this process, I began to deal with BATF (the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, as it was known at that time) to obtain my winery license. Although I started early, after 8 long months of exchanging documents, dotting “i”s and crossing “t”s I still didn’t have my license.
In July of 1981, I finally made a breakthrough. One very nice agent in the BATF’s regional office in San Francisco said to me (I believe out of my obvious frustration) over the telephone, “I don’t think they believe you really are going to make wine. I suggest you order a partial gondola (Editor’s note: a trailer that can hold up to 6 tons of grapes) of Chenin Blanc, park it in the shade, and then call the Regional Office in a ‘panic’ stating you ‘just had a load of grapes arrive, they were sitting in the sun and were going to quickly spoil’. Then you will see some action.”
Having nowhere else to turn, I did exactly that. This wasn’t ‘acting’, however, because I was truly in a panic! I repeated the story to the agent on the other end of the line, and he said he would get back to me. Two hours later, he called back, and I had my Bond Number! The cool Chenin Blanc grapes were successfully crushed, and that was the beginning of our winemaking business.
15+ years of wine making later at Folie`a Deux Winery, with much success and many Gold medals for both whites and reds, the County decided that all wineries North of St Helena would have to have left hand turn lanes put into the highway at their expense. From Napa to St Helena, the County paved all of the left hand turn lanes and then ran out of money. Faced with such a major expense and being only a small winery I decided I had to sell as the only option.
I went on to other endeavors and spent the next 15 years practicing psychiatry. As soon as the thoughts of “retiring” entered my head I almost immediately thought of making some good Chenin Blanc once more and returning to what I loved most, making wine. The Wine Spectator had listed Folie`a Deux’s Chenin Blanc among the top three along with Pine Ridge for multiple years. I began to explore good sources of Chenin Blanc, since there was none left in Napa. I learned that Pine Ridge had always gotten their Chenin from Clarksburg near Sacramento.
The soil in the area is a deep rich river loam (Editor’s note: loam is generally comprised of sand, silt, and clay-ideal for grape growing and healthy vines). All kinds of stone fruits thrive in the area, as well as the grapes which are gradually replacing other fruit, as the grape quality is beginning to be more widely recognized. Contrary to common belief, good fruit does not have to come from rocky stressed soils to have the highest quality.
After tasting many of the wines from Clarksburg, and considering other locations, I fell in love with Clarksburg fruit! Even though the area can be quite hot during the summer, the weather nearly always cools down at night (Editor’s note: hot to cool weather is what makes for great wine!), similar to Napa, and we have a cool breeze off the Sacramento River. Thus, I settled on Clarksburg to obtain and make my wines, and Rendez-vous Winery was born. All of our wines are now from the Clarksburg AVA.
My first crush in Clarksburg in 2011 was not as dramatic as when I started in Napa, but was equally satisfying! As good fortune would have it, the first grapes to come in were Chenin Blanc. Those first grapes won a Silver Medal at the California State Fair last year and the 2011 Chardonnay just won a Silver Medal at the Lodi Consumers Wine Tasting. Not too bad a start for just getting tuned up again and adjusting to another terroir.
This week I am bottling my efforts from some of the 2012 Harvest with Chardonnay, Chenin and a dry Muscat. I made this Muscat first at Folie`a Deux and everyone loved it! When I ask now, no one seems to remember ever having tasted a dry Muscat. It is a wonderful wine!”
A Grenache rosé is also in the works, as well as the reds that we’re hearing Rendez-vous is developing. If you’re in Florida, can’t find Rendez-vous wines, and want to try these warm weather friendly favorites, tell your local wine distributor you want it, or join Rendez-vous’ Club de Vin.
You can find Rendez-Vous wines at 35265 Willow Ave, Clarksburg, CA 95612, or Rendez-VousWinery.com.