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10 October, 2016

A Visit to Bella Grace Vineyards

Comments : 6 Posted in : Barbera, Grenache Blanc, Red Wine, Roussanne, Sparkling Wine, Tasting Rooms in Amador County - CA, Tempranillo, Vermentino, White Wine, Wine on by : The Gourmez

Obligatory disclaimer: Everything consumed during this visit to Bella Grace Vineyards was free to me, including the companionship.

Bella Grace Vineyards Grape Vines

The Havill Family

In August, I accepted an invitation from the Dallas Wine Chick to join in on a day trip to Amador County’s Bella Grace Vineyards along with a handful of other wine bloggers.

Bella Grace Vineyards Wine Caves

Wine Bloggers Imbibe!

Our group was a lively one, and that included our host, Stephen Havill, a man with great sarcastic wit. Stephen’s the youngest of seven siblings, most of whom are involved in the winery in one way or another. Bella Grace is a combination of their grandmothers’ names, and their mother, Michael, is the winemaker of this vineyard in the Shenandoah Valley. She’s also very talented, as I would soon discover.

Cooling Down in the Bella Grace Wine Cave

We arrived on a hillside bordering the vineyards, where a wine cave had been dug out of schist rock.

Bella Grace Vineyards Wine Cave and tasting room

It’s currently used as Bella Grace’s tasting room and the destination for wine pairing dinners, though plans are under way for a larger visitor center in the future. There’s something inherently appealing about walking into a wine cave, no matter the temperature outside.

Bella Grace Vineyards Wine Cave

On a warm summer day, the cool cave temperature was especially welcome. As was our opening glass of 2015 Vermentino ($25).

Bella Grace Vineyards wine vermentino

Acidic and buttery elements intermixed beautifully, allowing the crème anglaise, honeydew, green apple, and meringue puff notes to reach their potentials together. It was followed by the 2015 Grenache Blanc ($25) as we listened to Charlie, chief grower and patriarch, talk about the vineyard’s history.

Bella Grace Vineyards Charlie Havill

Charlie Havill and note-taking bloggers, Liza of Brix Chicks , Cyndi of Grape Experiences, and Amy of Another Wine Blog.

The grenache blanc came off fresh as mineral water, complete with lime squeezed into the glass. That makes it a dangerous wine – goes down too easily! I took two bottles home.

Bella Grace Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc

The 2015 Sauvignon Blanc ($20) was a cloud of peach blossoms. A purchase buys a spectacular nose and sparkly finish.

Touring the Bella Grace Vines

After those sips of white wines, a few of us were sufficiently cooled off to venture back into the outdoors, where Jess Havill, director of sales, took us on a stroll through the vineyards.

Bella Grace Vineyards dog

Jack, one of the vineyard dogs.

Bella Grace Vineyards Jess Havill

Jess Havill

We made our way through rows of chardonnay, grenache blanc, semillon, roussane, zinfandel, tempranillo, pinot noir, and barbera, plus a few varietals I’m sure I missed.

Bella Grace Vineyards vindulge ember and vine

Bloggers Mary and Sean of Vindulge and Ember and Vine working the wine blogger life.

We entertained ourselves with tasting grapes, guessing which would be the sweetest and most appealing for snacking at that time of the year. I think pinot noir won best all-around, though chardonnay was close. But soon, it was time to bid the vines adieu and bid our wine pairing dinner hello.

Bella Grace Vineyards wine grapes

Goodbye, grapes! I’ll meet you in the bottle.

Bella Grace offers two level of wine club membership, and the upper level, Club 24, includes an impressive enticement—one private, annual wine pairing dinner for up to nine friends! What?! A meal of that type can break the bank, making this an amazing steal of a deal…especially since Robert Havill acts as chef.

Bella Grace Vineyards Robert Havill chef

Robert and his assistant for the evening.

The food is catered by one of nearby Sutter Creek’s fine-dining restaurants, where Robert used to work. He takes their ingredients and finishes off the dishes with inventive style and well-considered combinations. Robert is as talented in the food department as his mother is in winemaking.

The Drunken Cyclist Sabers Again

But before we dug in, it was time for a wine bloggers’ special event—watching Jeff Kralik attempt to saber a bottle of Bella Grace sparkling wine. It’s worth relieving past attempts by the Drunken Cyclist to realize how integral his attempts have become to the wine blogging experience. His first try this evening used one of these Menagerie stainless steel wine pourers sold at the tasting room.


Menagerie wine pourers

I adore those wine pourers. ADORE THEM. So much that you should not be surprised if they start making appearances in my posts once I get my hands on one. Jeff, however, did not have success using them to pop the cork–

Jeff Kralik sabering

–so he moved on to a small cordial glass, and after that a large glass lid.

Drunken Cyclist sabering

And failed. Then finally, the old trusty wine glass.

Jeff saber cork

Success! The Bella Grace sparkling wine is a combination of chardonnay and pinot grapes, and it makes for a crisp and light bubbly to keep on hand. Quite refreshing, once Jeff finally did his job and opened that bottle. 😉

Wine Pairing Dinners at Bella Grace

Our plates contained multiple takes on a course, meant to complement and contrast with each other and the chosen wine pairings.  The first one was cucumbers dotted with Bella Grace’s raspberry and mango vinegars, which are also sold in the tasting room along with a line of olive oils, most notably the estate blend made with three types of olives grown just across from the vineyards.

Bella Grace Vineyards wine pairing dinner

The apricot, pistachio and what I think was chevre impressed me most on that plate. So simply done and so perfectly paired with the highly fragrant 3 Graces White ($23), made from a blend of grenache blanc, vermentino, and roussanne. Even before I took a bite of the food, I smelled cucumber and apricot in the wine, so it couldn’t have been better matched. The 2013 Roussanne ($25) didn’t go quite as well with the mélange of curried yellow squash, Kalamata olives, macadamia nuts, and curry aioli that came next.

Bella Grace Vineyards wine pairings dinner

I enjoyed the roussanne’s tropical notes, with banana and a Crenshaw melon that settled into a less powerful Santa Claus melon as time passed in the glass. Clay and granite notes pleasantly dominated; they just didn’t combine that well with the course, for me. Both were great on their own, and it’s the only pairing that didn’t hit the mark out of five (5!) courses.

Bella Grace Vineyards wine pairings dinner

Ah, time for meat, and thus, time to transition to reds. The lamb, chicken, and parmesan sausage with pepper jelly and bacon jam on a potato slice was a combination of inherently strong flavors. Perhaps as a reflection of Robert’s talent, the simple salt and pepper seasoning on the arugula and spinach salad made it stand out the most to me — or I just like my veggies. Great dish all around, and it was served with their earthy, restrained 2013 Old Vine Zinfandel ($28).

My favorite Bella Grace wine came next.

Bella Grace Vineyards barbera

The 2013 Barbera ($30) is a super smooth show stealer. Many layers of flavor are blended within it, including violet, juicy plum, and black cherry notes that demand notice with a soft knock. There’s a reason Amador County takes home 80% of the wine medals for barbera in the state when it only grows 5% of the grapes, as Stephen shared. The wine was an excellent companion to pulled pork dotted with olive tapenade and served beside fig jelly on manchego cheese.

Bella Grace Vineyards wine pairings dinner

The barbeque sauce’s sweetness and fruitiness tasted amazing with the wine’s enhancement, and the manchego brokered an unexpected camaraderie between the flavors.

The barbera also went super well with one of dessert’s three offerings.


The lavender panna cotta in the middle of that plate, served on a crust reminiscent of shortbread cookies, was a natural pairing with the barbera’s floral prowess. The dark chocolate drizzle threated to overtake the panna cotta on its own, but with the wine by its side, that panna cotta stood up for itself.

The wine intended for pairing with this plate, however, was the 2013 Tempranillo ($28), an unusual choice for an ending wine.

Bella Grace Vineyards tempranillo

It worked because this tempranillo differs quite strongly from the typical profile, with little spice and smokiness and a lot of appealing cocoa. Blood orange and Queen Anne cherries came to mind, and it finished very well.  Both the brownie, sprinkled with marigolds, and the blue cheese-laden cracker brought out different sides of the tempranillo’s pairing potential.

Wow. What a wonderful feast we had of masterful wines with unexpectedly delightful pairings…and all in a wine cave tucked into the beautiful Shenandoah Valley. Stephen and the rest of his family made a Bella Grace believer out of me, and I look forward to visiting again, hopefully sooner rather than later.  It’s a standout, great-value winery of, well, beautiful grace evident in the winemaking, the views, and the pairings.

Bella Grace Vineyards

Goodbye, Bella Grace!

Visited 14 August 2016.


6 thoughts on : A Visit to Bella Grace Vineyards

  • October 10, 2016 at 10:33 am

    Love the article, Becca!! We had such a fabulous time at Bella Grace together and the wines are absolutely delicious. Cheers!

    • The Gourmez
      October 13, 2016 at 5:31 pm

      It was great to get to share this day with you, Cindy, and to be fellow newbie additions to this blogger crew!

  • October 20, 2016 at 11:04 am

    It looks like a fantastic visit to Bella Grace, both food and wine-wise. That Sauvignon Blanc and the Barbera hav peaked my interest and found their way onto my “to try” list.

    • The Gourmez
      October 21, 2016 at 12:14 pm

      I have heard Bella Grace wines *may* make an appearance in the WBC Scholarship fund’s wine club…

  • Stephanie
    January 2, 2017 at 3:39 pm

    I came across your post while searching for the perfect spot for a rehearsal dinner in June. Bella Grace seems to be a solid option, particularly given your fantastic review of your experience.
    Can you tell me who catered your event?

    • The Gourmez
      January 10, 2017 at 6:45 pm

      Hi Stephanie, Bella Grace would be lovely for a rehearsal dinner! I will email you with contact information on how to reach the family — one of the brother’s oversaw the catering for our dinner.

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