Local vintners open shared wine tasting room

By: Leah Rosasco,Loomis News Correspondent
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The High Hand fruit shed loading dock is seeing fruit movement again, but now it’s grapes turned into wine. In October, three local vintners – Ciotti Cellars, Cristaldi Vineyards, and Popie Wines – opened Tre Vigne, a joint tasting room in the old loading dock area of High Hand. Throughout the tasting room, remnants of Loomis’ fruit-growing history are found in material recycled from a Loomis barn built in the 1800s and a vintage “Iced Melons” sign that hangs above the door. The sign was a gift from Walter Taylor, whose family Taylor Road is named after. “There is such a rich agricultural history in Placer County,” said Michael Duarte, owner of Popie Wines. “We wanted to be sure we showed that.” According to Joe Ciotti, owner of Ciotti Cellars, the tasting room has seen a steady increase in walk-in visitors since moving to its new location. “There is a really good synergy here between the three of us,” he said. All three winemakers agree that what makes Tre Vigne unique is the ability to pour a wide variety of quality wines. Many of the wines offered at Tre Vigne have won multiple awards over the past several years, such as at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. Award winners include Old Vine Zinfandel and a Barbera from Ciotti Cellars and the Bianca de Barbera, Basin Red, Zinfandel, and Barbera Reserve from Popie Wines. Lincoln Hills residents Ken and Lois Hession and Elaine and John McGushin were at Tre Vigne the first day it opened. “We come for the people and the wine,” said John McGushin, adding, “It’s perfect.” Although each winemaker has a unique background in wine making and growing grapes, they all agree the growing conditions are ideal in Placer County. “Wherever quality fruit trees are, grapes will grow,” Duarte said, referring to Placer County’s historic fruit tree crops. Duarte now grows grapes on the very land where Walter Taylor’s father once had a fruit orchard. He said the operation is something the whole family has been involved in, including his wife Lisa, their daughter Megan, 22, and son Kevin, 19. Duarte grew up in Napa Valley, working in the vineyards with his father Richard, for whom “Popie” wines is named. “My dad always told me ‘The wine’s made in the vineyard,’” Duarte said. Brockman, a 1985 graduate of Del Oro High School, said people are usually surprised to learn he became interested in winemaking during graduate school at Yale University. Given that he’s from the area “they assume I went to U.C. Davis,” he said. After graduate school, Brockman toured Italy on a bicycle, and he said, “That was enough to make me want to do this.” Brockman said in 1997 he and his wife, Ramona, stopped in Loomis so he could show her his hometown and they happened upon the “perfect” lot for sale. “We made an offer that night,” Brockman said. “Fate stepped in.” He and his family have since planted fifteen varietals of grapes and 100 olive trees on that land. Ciotti and his family moved to Sacramento after his father passed away when he was a young boy, but he said he would return to Upstate New York to spend summers with his aunts and uncles, which meant making wine. “Being Italian, everything revolved around food and wine,” Ciotti said, “It’s in my blood.” Like all three of the winery owners at Tre Vigne, Ciotti has a “day job,” but winemaking is his passion. He said he spends much of his spare time working with the growers to get his grapes just right. “I’m a stickler for good fruit. That’s where the wine starts,” he said. The vintners all agree that the camaraderie between them surprises most Tre Vigne visitors. “There is no competition amongst us,” said Ciotti, “When we all three met it was an instant family.” TRE VIGNE What: Wine tasting room for three local wineries. Who: Ciotti Cellars, Cristaldi Vineyards and Popie Wines Hours: Noon to 5 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday Where: High Hand Fruit Shed, 3750 Taylor Rd. Cost: $10 for tasting from all three wineries Information: 538-9150,