Roots to routes — Highway 128 winery connection

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For many, Highway 128 is a stunning stretch of highway throughout northern California. For Berryessa Gap Vineyards co-owner of Corinne Martinez, it’s an ideal wine route that starts at Berryessa Gap Vineyards in Winters and ends on the breezy, coastal area of Mendocino.

Well over 100 miles long, Hwy. 128 snakes through a number of microclimates, valleys, hills and other amazing small towns like Winters. Each are filled with hole-in-the-wall shops, boutiques, restaurants and proud locals eager to share what makes their hometown great. Of course, it’s the wide range of incredible wineries along the way that make the dots on the map that Martinez wants to connect.

“What we have today is this ‘day pass’ to Chiles Valley, so we’re partnering with Green and Red Winery, Maxville and soon to be adding Nichelini. With this day pass, people can go up from Winters, taste some wine there, then come back to Winters and, of course, taste some wine here,” Martinez explained. “The next phase that we’re working on goes all the way to the town of Rutherford.”

Martinez said she’s talked to a number of different wineries along Hwy. 128 who are interested in participating and being included on the map. In total, 16 wineries have been identified on (or just off) of Hwy. 128 between Winters and Rutherford.

These 7 wineries (in order on the route) who have agreed to participate in the Highway 128 Canyon/Lake Route include: Berryessa Gap Vineyards, MS Torun, Green & Red, Nicholini, Dakota Shy, Conn Creek and Frog’s Leap.

“So, we’re building this new map for people that starts in Winters and it’ll show all the different places you can stop and taste wine. You’ll pass Lake Berryessa and Lake Hennessy on what we call the ‘Lake Route’ on your way to Rutherford,” Martinez said.

The route includes “iconic wines stops” on Hwy. 128 that mark each county from east to west including: Yolo, Napa, Solano and Mendocino. Each of the wineries designated as an iconic wine stop features an iconic wine varietal.

The final phase of this enterprise is making it to the very end of Hwy. 128 at Lula Cellars in Anderson Valley. With Lula Cellar’s participation already secured, Martinez is a cork pop away from also securing their final participating winery in Rutherford.

As one can imagine, this tour can’t be completed in one day. That’s why Martinez and company are also working on partnerships with hotel properties along the way. Alongside that, this daisy-chain of small towns, wineries and fun will feature a careful curation of experiences one won’t want to miss along the way.

“The wine route has been written about before and people have talked about it, but what we’re trying to do here is find places that are representative of each region with an iconic wine from there,” said Martinez. “I don’t think a lot of people think about doing it because it’s such a long route that takes multiple days. From that perspective, that’s what we — and I say ‘we’ because there’s a group of us in Winters like Chris Turkovich, us and others — have been talking about how to get people to start in Winters and head east down 128. That ideas been floating around for a long time, but the official itinerary is a new thing.”

Beyond that expansive tour on Hwy. 128 is a project that brings a lot of tastes from along 128 to the Berryessa Gap tasting room. While over 90 percent of wines at Berryessa Gap are made from grapes grown at their own estate, they’ve gone out to other regions to collect grapes grown from their renowned Martinez root stock.

“For this Highway 128 collection project, we specifically went to growers outside of our region in Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino Counties, to purchase fruit from them so we can make the kind of wine you’d typically find there,” explained Martinez. “So, we’re purchasing Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon grapes from one of Martinez Orchard’s customers. Somebody who bought root stock from Martinez Orchards and went and planted those grapes. That’s that closed loop for us is that we’re saying, ‘Hey you bought root stock from us and you’re a premium grower in Napa. We’d like to buy some of your fruit and make a small amount of Cabernet in our winery from your fruit.’ We did the same thing with a grower in Sonoma to buy some Chardonnay and with a grower in Mendocino to buy some Pinot Noir.”

Berryessa Gap’s newest wine collection showcases connections along Highway 128, and celebrates those wineries.

“That’s the base of the Highway 128 Collection. It’s to say, ‘We have a connection to highway 128, not just because we sit in Winters and is the beginning of it, but we have a connection because these are our customers and we’re they’re customers and we’re making some good wine from fruit they grew, but from roots they bought from us. That’s the uniqueness of Berryessa Gap doing this and having three identified winery partners in different counties,” Martinez said.

From the Highway 128 Collection to the wine road tour to Mendocino, there’s a lot to be excited about on the horizon. To stay up-to-date with Berryessa Gap Vineyards, its wine collections and to view the wine route information, visit www.berryessagap.com.

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