A few weeks ago, I finally made my way up to the Sierra Foothills to check out the local wine scene and get some rest & relaxation. I was fortunate enough to make it up there before all of those crazy wildfires and spent some quality time sitting in the American River and putzing around Placerville.
The highlight of my trip was a visit with one of my favorite California winemakers, Hank Beckmeyer of La Clarine Farm. He has quietly been making phenomenal, soulful, natural, terroir-driven wines in the Sierra Foothills since 2001. La Clarine Farm was a gateway for my foray into the world of natural wine, and all these years later those wines still delight me with every sip. Every vintage is a little different, and the wines age incredibly well.
Hank’s farm is a testament to how organic farming can work even in extreme climates like the Sierra Foothills. He uses no chemical pesticides at his farm, recently began dry-farming all of his vines, and from this vineyard he creates his “Home Vineyard” wines every year. He grows mostly tempranillo, with a few other varieties scattered throughout. There was even a “volunteer” grapevine that sprouted forth from his compost pile, and after having it ID’d at UC Davis, they found it to be a grape that has never been identified before (though it appears to be closely related to Sauvignon).
Hank was kind enough to guide us through a tasting of all of the wines he currently had aging, which included a barrel fermented rosé, his 2014 “Piedi Grandi” (a nebbiolo-based blend), his 2014 Petit Manseng (an obscure high-acid, high-sugar white grape), as well as several of his wines already in bottle. The hallmark of Hank’s red wines is a high-toned tropical fruit profile framed by herbs and minerals while his whites tend to be full and luscious with loads of acid and texture.
One of the most striking qualities of La Clarine Farm and Hank’s approach to winemaking is how laid-back it feels. It’s not as much about natural wine dogma as it is about practicality. His winery is small yet efficient, with barrels and flex tanks packed tightly in an orderly way. He doesn’t indulge in expensive and unnecessary winery equipment; instead he makes wines that are delicious, accessible, affordable and pair well with food.
Not only does Hank grow grapes and make wine at his little farm, but he also raises goats and has several adorable dogs. One of them had been bitten by a rattlesnake on her snout the day before, but fortunately survived the ordeal thanks to a vaccine and swift treatment. Her poor little nose was swollen and sore, but she found time to hang out with us during our visit.
Since Mr. Beckmeyer’s winery is not typically open to the public, I felt very honored to be able to spend a little time with a person who unknowingly guided me through the early days of my adventure in natural wine. La Clarine Farm’s wines are a favorite amongst my wine club members, and every day I’m so grateful that I can share this experience with others.
I have a few of Hank’s wines for sale in my online shop. I deliver throughout the Bay Area and ship all over California. Please see my Delivery Terms for details.
I hope that you come to love La Clarine Farm’s wines as much as I have over the years. Cheers!