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Wine Buzz: El Dorado to shine in D.C.

Published: May 11th, 2011 12:00 AM

The nation's capital will soon get a taste of some wines from the Sacramento area. Two El Dorado County wineries, Crystal Basin Cellars and Holly's Hill, are among the vintners being featured at a sustainable seafood symposium set for June 7-10 at the Smithsonian.

Billed as "sustainable, biodynamic American Rhônes," the sold-out event features two dozen wineries from across the country. The bulk come from California, especially Paso Robles and the Central Coast, though El Dorado County's reputation continues to grow as a sweet spot for Rhône varietals, like a bit of southern France in the Sierra Foothills.

While Holly's Hill specializes in syrah, Crystal Basin Cellars will pour its 2008 Roumanier ($20), an equal-parts blend of roussanne, viognier and marsanne. Crystal Basin will also feature its 2008 Mourvèdre ($27), which nabbed a "best of class" award at the 2010 California State Fair Commercial Wine Competition.

There's just one slight snag in this trip to Washington, D.C. Crystal Basin founder Mike Owen can't make the trip.

When he's not running the winery, Owen works as the chief fiscal officer of health services for El Dorado County. Budget meetings in early June will keep Owen close to home, so his wife, Melissa, a co-owner and tasting room manager, will make the trip on behalf of the winery.

"I may be a little mopey because I couldn't go, but my wife will wave the flag," said Owen. "But it's nice to see that this area is getting recognized for its excellent Rhônes."

Owen is especially proud of the 2008 Roumanier, a Rhône-style white that was aged in neutral oak and bottled just a few weeks ago. The grapes, coincidentally, come from vineyards in and around Holly's Hill.

"It's a clean, white Rhône," said Owen. "It's nice because it doesn't finish sweet. It has more of a sauvignon blanc kind of role, and has a pleasantly dry finish."

Owen is especially excited about the Smithsonian tasting since his wines can't be found too far outside El Dorado County. Crystal Basin produces about 4,500 cases annually: The winery started as a home operation back in 1981 and began making wine commercially in 2000.

"This is going to be nice for us," said Owen. "Going from the basement to the Smithsonian is a big leap."

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