Had a great opportunity to spend time with Jeff Stai, owner of Twisted Oak this week. Before exploring the title, the winery in Vallecito started with the purchase of the land in January 2002 by Jeff and his wife Mary. Jeff, previously an electrical engineer in Southern California had spent a lot of time in the Calaveras and Alpine foothills. Jeff’s idea of building his own winery, with his detailed background, merged the two disciplines rather easily. This is the beginning of the paradox. Wine is a creative and an experiment at best coupled with science and the whims of a farmer at the beckon of Mother Nature.
Jeff designed and cleverly implemented a gravity fed winery with four separate tiers. The grape harvest come in bins on the first level and is fed into the de-stemmer and crusher on level two. From there the juice is feed to the holding tanks on level three for soaking and punch downs. (Writer’s note: Jeff designed a “trolley” system coupled with hydraulic punch down capability over each tank! See picture). The fourth level is the underground cave that is some 300 feet in length for barrel storage and aging. In the late summer and early fall, special events are held in the cave before the barrels are filled with the current harvest so they can move the “unfilled barrels” outside for a day for their wine club members.
They use the cave for various events and have adopted a “pirates theme” for one club member (members are called the “Twisted Few”) event and is decorated in a pirate theme including “loot” usually in August. Another theme is the “twisted chicken”. Rubber twisted chickens adorn the tasting rooms – both in Murphys and at Vallecito. Again a paradox of being fun and lighthearted yet a very real business! This statue greets you upon arriving. It is a combination of the historical “Jumping Frog” made famous in the area by Mark Twain combined with the “chicken theme” called the Fricken.
Today they have about fifteen different offerings from Chicken Bubbles (méthode champenois), Calaveras Rosa to solid reds like River of Skulls (Mourvedre), Tempranillo, Touriga Nacional and many red blends with some unusual names. Those names include their 2017 *%#&@! (Yes that is the correct spelling), 2016 Murgatroyd, 2016 Pig Stai, etc. Again while making some serious varietals that are exceptional, Jeff with his creativity and light heartiness, has ample wiggle room for humor!
Without going into too much detail, he also provides a custom crush service, has one of the best winery gift shops (Mary is in charge of merchandizing), a free delivery to the local counties for wine delivery and has developed a flexible and imaginative wine club program. Today they produce approximately 4500 cases per year. You will find their wines without a heavy hand on the oak as 70% are neutral and the new barrels are a combination of French, Hungarian and American oak. The lightest wines like Garnacha are aged one and two to three years for their Spaniard.
The wines I tasted were extremely well produced and true to their varietal heritage. The “twisted chickens” had made me previously think this was a light hearted and not serious winery, but the reality, is that Twisted Oak Winery is a serious wine making operation with a light hearted approached to making their customers and wine clubs members feel welcome. Perhaps the real paradox is that it is working extremely well for all!
Stories forthcoming on a couple of the wines. Stay tuned…….