Met Mike Owen, the winemaker and owner of Crystal Basin Cellars a few years back. He had asked me to come up to Camino to see his winery several times. Due to Covid and subsequent variants, it kept getting pushed out. Finally agreed to meet him in June and I couldn’t have been more pleased! Spent a little over two hours and could have spent two days with his engaging personality.
Crystal Basin Cellars is located in Camino on Highway 50 halfway between Sacramento and Lake Tahoe. Generally speaking, once you’ve seen lots of wineries, you have a basic idea of what to expect. Surprised at first as we drove up to a 1940’s building with 8 inch walls stuffed with sawdust (old fashion building kind of installation) which is perfect for keeping the barrel room cool. This is not a glamourous building like so many shrines of opulence in Napa Valley, it truly is rustic, funky and charming all rolled up into one facility. They are located in an 80 year old building that had been a pear barn, a box manufacturing facility, an apple barn and now production facility for Crystal Basin Cellars. They were in fact the second winery to be licensed in El Dorado County after Prohibition.
Mike and his wine making and hospitality staff follow a simple mandate: “provide a wine tasting experience that is one part fun, one part information, and a price-to-value that is second to none”. Today they make some 39 award winning wines. They current have 16 Gold Medal winners in their line up! The goal of the winery is to showcase wines made with grapes from within 30 miles of the winery. El Dorado is a unique AVA due to its elevation changes from 1100 to 3300 foot elevation changes. It has your typical Sierra foothill varietals, yet some are unique and offered in different packaging. All the wines are aged 18 months in oak and can be laid down to age 3 to 5 years.
The Winemaker/ Owner
Mike will talk with you extensively about Crystal Basin Cellars and the Folsom Wine Festival which he co-founded, but actually for an extrovert, somewhat modest about himself. Mike made wine from an early age for personal consumption for 12 years and founded the commercial winery in 2000 after leaving Silicon Valley. His creative genius is shown with all his wine varietals. They include: Barbera, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Malbec, Merlot, Mourvedre, Petite Sirah, Primitivo, Sangiovese, Syrah, Tempranillo, Zinfandel, Sparkling wines, Chardonnay, Fiano, Sauvignon Blanc and many more. A wine for one and all. Additionally, besides being a solid wine maker, his astute business acumen is shown with a line called Bagnum Pouch Wines. Having a long discussion on Millennials, Gen X, Y & Z, etc., and their impact on the wine industry, Mike developed this line of product. The packaging allows the wine to remains fresh for 30 days.
While Mike wanted me to taste all 39 wines, I had to limit the tastings. The key four wines of the 10 or so tried were the 2018 Mourvedre, 2017 Cabernet Franc, 2020 Nebbiolo (yet to be released) and the 2017 Quijote a blend of 60% Tempranillo and 40% Grenache.
The 2017 Quijote is a wine of immense beauty and grace. Not a light fluffy wine, dark and luscious with a brawny sense of purpose, but so easy to drink. Delicious is a word that only starts the tasting experience. It falls within the label line up called Ascendance Grand Reserve Reds. Truly this wine could be your welcoming wine should you ascend to heaven! If you are in doubt of your “after death travel plans” I would suggest purchasing a bottle now!
The next wine which was equally startling was the 2020 Nebbiolo. Just the nose alone transported you to the hillsides of Piedmont, Italy where Nebbiolo home base is located. The taste of red cherries and raspberries burst on the palate. The long lasting finish provided both a soft leather and luscious mineral quality, reminding one of its origins in Italy. The tannins were structured and evident, yet gentle enough to enjoy each sip.
I already had some Cabernet Franc at home, but these two ended up in the cellar to be enjoyed with just the right food pairing and with friends. By the way, they also have a tasting room in Folsom should you not want to drive up to Camino.
The visit was so long in coming and when I left, I was so impressed with the wines and his philosophy of winemaking, hospitality, etc., I mentioned to my wife, I wished we lived closer to Mike.