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2009 Dancing Coyote Gewurztraminer, Clarksburg, California

I try to taste widely. I'm always excited when I come across wines from regions that I haven't heard of before, especially when those regions are in my back yard.

It's been a few years since I first spotted the region "Clarksburg" on a California wine, but that first experience with a Grenache Blanc from the region made me sit up and pay attention. Since then I've been pleased to gradually see more wines appearing from the region.

The Clarksburg AVA (American Viticultural Area) has been called California's "secret appellation" because so few have heard of it, yet its grapes appear in many wines that dancing_coyote.jpgbear the names of other AVAs on their labels. More than 90% of the roughly 50,000 tons of grapes grown in the 9,000 or so acres of vineyards in this AVA are turned into wine in some other AVA.

Roughly sixteen miles long by eight miles wide, Clarksburg sits in the low-lying land of the upper Sacramento delta, just south of Sacramento at the intersection of Sacramento, Yolo, and Solano counties. Despite being relatively far inland, and close to the very warm climes of Sacramento, Clarksburg still manages to benefit from the capillary action of the Delta, which channels cool air inland from the ocean. The hottest days are mitigated by these breezes, and cooler evenings provide a wider range of temperatures (that grapes like) than are possible just a few miles to the east.

The soils in Clarksburg are relatively rich and fertile compared to many other AVAs, which means that it's fairly easy to produce large quantities of mediocre grapes, unless you're careful. But there are an increasing number of serious winegrowers and wineries in the region, which was first planted in 1968 by William Bogle, whose eponymous winery still operates there.

But let's get back to this wine, shall we?

Needless to say I was excited when a bunch of Clarksburg wines showed up at my door from Dancing Coyote winery. Dancing Coyote is a medium-sized outfit that makes about 10,000 cases of wine a year, and was spun off from the McCormack Williamson winery, owned by Celia McCormack, whose current day job is Chairman of the Bank of Rio Vista, but whose family has apparently been farming in the region for more than five generations.

Winemaking is done by the McCormack Williamson winemaker Chad Joseph, who oversees the dozen or so wines the label produces in their 19th century granary-turned winery in the town of Acampo.

This particular wine comes from grapes grown in the sandy clay soil of the region. After hand picking, the grapes were pressed from whole clusters into steel tanks for fermentation at low temperatures. Roughly 225 cases were made.

I tasted through a good portion of the Dancing Coyote lineup, and this was my favorite wine, and a great reminder of the potential of this little AVA about which few are aware.

Full disclosure: I received this wine as a press sample.

Tasting Notes:
Palest gold in the glass, this wine has a wonderfully perfumed nose that smells of fresh pink rose petals. In the mouth the wine is lightly sweet, with rosewater and orange blossom flavors that dance lightly on the palate. Charming, varietally correct, and very pretty, this is a wine that you could easily drink a whole bottle of, chilled on a hot day. Damn tasty and a guaranteed crowd pleaser, especially among those who won't turn up their noses at a little residual sugar. 13% alcohol. At $11 a bottle, it's a phenomenal value.

Food Pairing:
This wine would do very well with some mild cheeses or salad.

Overall Score: around 9

How Much?: $11

This wine is available for purchase on the Internet.

Comments (12)

Matt wrote:
01.12.11 at 10:05 PM

Damn, Alder. The tasting note led me to the winery's site which lists this wine as sold out. I'll definitely need to stop by their winery on one of our trips from Southern Oregon to the Bay Area. Perhaps I'll have to give their Albarino a try.

Mike wrote:
01.13.11 at 9:42 AM

Alder, we recently posted about Dancing Coyote wines and you are right about Clarksburg being a hidden gem.

Joe Lange wrote:
01.13.11 at 11:02 AM

Go Clarksburg!

1winedude wrote:
01.13.11 at 11:09 AM

Dug the Gewurz. Thought the Albarino was even better!
And both are about $11 - total bargains.

Jason wrote:
01.13.11 at 11:53 AM

Were you concerned that if you wrote a less-than-stellar review of the other wines you obviously tasted that wineries might stop sending you free samples?

Alder Yarrow wrote:
01.13.11 at 3:47 PM


If you think I'm in this for free samples you obviously have no idea what I'm about. No one wants to read about what not to drink, and writing negative reviews takes just as much effort as positive ones, AND they're not fun to write. Also, everyone can get better the next vintage. So I don't write about wines I don't like and focus on wines that I do.

Bill Ward wrote:
01.13.11 at 5:23 PM

Alder: well done, as usual. I hadn't had any Clarksburg wines except for the Dry Creek Chenin Blanc (a rare success with this grape in your neck of the woods) until I got Dancing Coyote samples several months back.
I really liked 'em all, especially the verdelho and the gruner (!). A revelation of sorts: respectful California treatment of European grapes that have not yet fared well here.
These wines got me really excited about Clarksburg's potential.
Jason: Not only do you clearly not know much about Alder, but you don't understand much about wine writing.
Yes, we (or I, since I don't want to speak for Alder) know that it could be valuable to "warn" consumers away from wines I consider poorly made. But that's a slippery slope, and Alder's points are well taken.
So, ironically, many of us (again not speaking for Alder) end up doing exactly what the winery would prefer: We write about the wines we like and DON'T write about the ones we don't. That's a lot bigger quandary than worrying about whether we get the next round of samples.
Steering consumers to well-made, delicious wine is, for me at least, the first order of a reviewer's business.
Oh, and ... why would we be worried about not getting more samples of wines we didn't like?

Alexander wrote:
01.14.11 at 12:30 PM

A wonderful review of the Gewurztraminer. Clarksburg has never crossed my mind, as far as areas in CA, we are bastions of amazing AVAs but this wine and area intrigues me. I liked your tasting notes and look forward to the next gem under fifteen dollars.

I also really appreciate RS, especially when integrated with palate-cleansing acidity.

01.14.11 at 7:31 PM

Clarksburg has been known within the winemaking community for good Chenin Blanc and Petite Sirah for a long time, but somehow never caught the eye of the media or consumer. I'm a big fan of Dancing Coyote's Albarino and Verdelho myself.

01.14.11 at 8:56 PM

Being of Austrian decent, I cut my teeth on Gewürtztraminers (and Blaufränkisch wines in the 80s). It's still one of my favorite wines and I enjoy seeing new regions (or as you said regions you didn't know about) delving into this wine. Thanks for a great writeup!

tammi wrote:
01.17.11 at 8:53 AM

clarksburg is a mere stone's throw from my west sacramento front door. i've had a few of their wines at local tastings, and so far, have been impressed with the bang for your buck quality of this sleeper winery. west sac grocery outlet has the Dancing Coyote Rhumba, a white blend for a mere $3.99/btl.....a nice sipper when you're not analyzing every mouthful...

01.17.11 at 2:39 PM

We were a half-hour removed from our last tasting at Lodi's "First Sip" when on our way home we were delayed by a train in Acampo. Over my left shoulder I saw the sign for McCormack-Williamson and thought it better to check it out rather than sit for 5 minutes watching the train go by.
The staff was obviously putting stuff away when we pulled up but they still invited us in for a quick tasting.
The winemaker was there, explained each wine in detail, and kindly poured a glass for me and each of my companions.

The Albarinho and Verdelho were a bright and pleasant change from the Zins and Barberas we had been tasting all day, plus the "Rhumba" was playful in both flavor and it's label.
Between the three of us I think we left with a mixed dozen.

Dancing Coyote/McCormack is a little off the beaten path but has a nice tasting room and is staffed by very friendly and knowledgable people.
Highly recommended

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