Book Review | Wineries of the Sierra Foothills: Risk Takers & Rule Breakers / by Brian Yost

Keck, Barbara. 2016. Wineries of the Sierra Foothills: Risk-Takers and Rule-Breakers. Tahoe City: Range of Light Media Group.

When one thinks about California wine country, typically Napa and Sonoma come to mind. As availability of prime wine-growing property in those regions began to wane and the cost of land in those regions continued to spiral higher and higher, it became necessary to look toward other parts of the Golden State. In her recent book, Barbara Keck details the risks and rewards of pursuing viticulture in one of those lesser-known regions. Wineries of the Sierra Foothills—Risk-Takers and Rule-Breakers captures the stories of owners and winemaking pioneers in the Sierra Foothills.

Keck intimately knows the ten counties, clustered around Lake Tahoe, that comprise the Foothills region. Her years as a columnist for The Tahoe Weekly helped shape that understanding. Then, while conducting research for her book, she drove thousands of miles, crisscrossing those counties to capture the stories of the people who have helped define the region. Keck collected 21 separate vignettes and organized them around the central theme of risk and reward presented by winegrowing in the Sierra Foothills.

A brief regional background is also provided. These counties were the center of the California gold rush in the 1840s and the earliest viticultural efforts began with that body of fortune-seeking immigrants. Of course wine production halted and many of those vines were pulled up in the 1920s. So the story that Keck brings her readers really begins in the 1960s. Her account details the rise of winemaking from the ashes of prohibition to the vibrant community of 280 wineries that exists today.

As the title of her book implies, however, there are risks involved. Viticulture in the Foothills is not a sure thing. It is an agricultural pursuit after all and uncertainties of winegrowing at elevations between 800 and 3000 feet pose many challenges. One out of every ten regional-winemaking operations results in failure.

Wineries of the Sierra Foothills is more than a compelling read. While it can provide background and insights for anyone intent on exploring the Foothills, it is also an indispensible guide. The final pages of the Keck’s book contain a complete and comprehensive directory of the region’s wineries. As an added bonus for the foodie in search of wine-pairing options, each of the 21 winery stories is accompanied by a corresponding recipe supplied by each of the featured wineries.

So Wineries of the Sierra Foothills is more than just the story of wine in the Sierra Foothills. It is also a guide to regional wineries and a cookbook. It is a resource than need not simply be read and then left to gather dust on your bookshelf.

Brian Yost is Editor in Chief of Wine Tourist Magazine. He also blogs about Virginia wine as The Virginia Grape and writes for a variety of local and regional publications.