Since moving to their Mokelumne Hill location in 2015, Sue and Mark Rueger have helped put the secluded little town on the map as one of the best places to sample the wine and hospitality of the Mother Lode.
A favorite among locals and visitors alike, Renegade Winery is known for its all-inclusive atmosphere of food, live music, long, leisurely hours and even an extensive beer selection. With the new addition next door, clients can now book a private venue to celebrate the Renegade way.
In its less than a decade in operation, the winery has garnered accolades including Best Micro Winery for Northern California (2016), Entrepreneur of the Year from the Calaveras County Chamber of Commerce (2017), Best Winery of Calaveras County from the chamber of commerce (2018), and four different awards in the 2019 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. Most recently, a representative from the Orange County Fair drove for hours to present Renegade with a plaque for winning a double gold for its 2018 Chardonnay.
Prior to the presentation of the plaque, the Enterprise sat down with Sue Rueger to discuss the ins and outs of what make Renegade Winery so special.
What does winemaking mean to you?
Sue Rueger: It means our future. It’s fun. We got into it because I’m a real estate broker, and he was in construction, and he hurt his back, so he needed another avenue to fall back on. We had friends that owned a small winery, so he asked them, “If I trade my labor for your knowledge, will you teach me how to make wine?” So he’s had no formal school training, but it’s all been hands-on.
Our winemaking process is ...
We actually decide in the springtime which varietals we want to do, and we research where we’re able to obtain those grapes from. Then we decide which flavor characteristics we want to bring out or enhance in the wine, and from there, that’s how we determine which yeast we use to help ferment the grapes and turn it into wine.
Where we find inspiration ...
There’s certain styles of wines that we like. We notice that the general public has decided that they like more fruity and less tannic, recently, and a very smooth finish. So that’s how he’s trying to make his wines now.
My favorite of our wines is ...
Our Syrah. It’s a 2017 Syrah that was aged in a bourbon barrel, so it’s got a nice smokiness to it, and it’s fruity, and then a very smooth finish. It’s won two double golds, best of class, and that was at the San Francisco Chronicle Competition and the state fair. So that one, having that smokiness, it’s just really good. And because it’s only a 2017, it’s still very young, so it’s just going to get better.
How our wines differ from others’
(With) our wines, every wine has a different finish. It’s kind of a pet peeve of ours when we go to a winery and they all taste the same, or they have the same finish. So we don’t expect everyone to like every wine, but we want each one to have its own flavor, characteristics and finish.
The biggest compliment we’ve received about our wines is …
… they’ve been getting better over time. (Also), “More old-school, less technical.”
Renegade Winery is unique because ...
We were the original (winery) in the area to stay open longer than 5, so that’s how it started. And then, from there, that’s when we incorporated the music, and we had $5 glasses of wine on Fridays, those types of things. So that’s what makes it unique. People come and they don’t want to leave. They’re just relaxing. … We try to make it feel like you’re in our backyard, enjoying the afternoon, or in our living room having a glass of wine.
On attracting people to Mokelumne Hill and competing with Murphys, the “Mecca” of wine tasting in Calaveras County:
Actually, a lot of the wineries up there now are getting to know us and have been here, and they are promoting us, too. They’re telling people, “For a good time, come down here.” ... So, word of mouth is big. It’s a hidden gem. It’s such a cute town that not a lot of people know about. … It has the ambiance like Murphys but without all the people.
Know of a winery or winemaker the Enterprise should profile in this feature? Contact reporter Dakota Morlan at firstname.lastname@example.org.