It took five years of exploring Spanish vineyards, 10 years of waiting and three years of growing, but in the coming weeks, Michael Stange, co-owner of the Angels Camp-based Vino Metate Winery, will be pouring the first vintages of two new white varietals in the country.
Nestled between Carmen Peak to the west and Bear Mountain to the east in Bar XX off Highway 4, Metate Hill Vineyards is home to Spanish grapes exclusively, three of which were the first to be seeded in the United States.
“I didn’t necessarily come here to grow Spanish grapes, but when I landed here, it made obvious sense,” Stange says in the tasting room, a rustic hole in the wall in historic downtown Angels Camp.
In 2001, Stange and his wife, Sierra, followed the 38th parallel across the Atlantic Ocean to reach the southern tip of Spain on a search for the supreme wine varietals for the Angels Camp region. They visited over 40 wine regions around the country, taking soil samples and interviewing winery owners to hone in on the most productive grapes for their vineyard. Those turned out to be two native Spanish whites, Godello and Treixadura.
“The thought process of that is the latitude here – the 38th parallel runs right through Angels Camp, so if you were to spin the globe you go through the lower portion of Spain, below Italy, into Sicily and Greece,” Stange says. “As you go up in elevation (toward Arnold) you’ll get cooler temperatures that mimic higher latitude temperatures closer to northern Spain and France.”
Southern Spain and Angels Camp share trade wind patterns and are positioned at the same angle to the sun, which make for consistent growing patterns for wine, according to Stange.
In the red-wine-dominated Calaveras wine country, the idea was to promote something different with the two whites, according to Stange.
“People say you can’t grow a lot of white wines here,” Stange says. “So I thought that’s an opportunity to find the right white wine varietals that would work in this area.”
The couple also brought a clone of a red grape, Mencia, back from Spain, but it’s not producing enough fruit for a harvest yet.
After being permitted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the new arrivals landed in the states in 2006 to be quarantined and tested at the University of California, Davis, Food and Plant Science facility, where they would spend the next 10 years.
“The Treixadura is medium-bodied with full fruit flavors and a floral nose, while the Godello is more layered with complexity, having lots of minerality and body to the wine,” Stange says.
Stange says he’s already had vintners from all over the country asking for the clones, which he’s branded “Calaveras Godello” and “Calaveras Treixadura.”
“You can’t find these anywhere else (in the country),” he says.
Beyond geographical similarities between the two regions, Stange became immersed in Spanish culture throughout his high school and college years, and it continues to influence the vision for Vino Metate, from plans to offer specific cheese and wine pairings to hosting flamenco guitar performances.
He and his wife opened the tasting room in downtown Angels Camp in 2016 with a vision to bring a piece of Spain to Calaveras County, while still promoting what is unique about Angels Camp and the surrounding region.
They’re currently in the process of transitioning the tasting room into a cafe and beer and wine bar.
“The eventual goal for this place is to be something to add to downtown Angels,” Stange says, gesturing around the room from behind a beetle-killed pine tree bar and four bottles lined up for a tasting. “There’s not a lot of wine tasting, there’s not a ton of food down here, there’s not a lot of music or events going on, so we’re kind of trying to fill that niche.”