Wineries of the Sierra Foothills: Mt. Vernon Winery

From left, Jim and Lynda Taylor, and Ryan Taylor. | Johan Martin

Ryan Taylor tells a funny story about the origin of Mt. Vernon Winery.

When he was a senior in high school, his parents, Jim and Lynda Taylor, listened to a suggestion from one of their friends. That friend was a Napa Valley winery owner who said that if they planted Zinfandel grapes on the property surrounding the Taylor residence he would buy the crop. “My dad looked at me and said, ‘I have a strong son, and he’s not doing anything this summer.’ So, he kicked me out in the field.”

In 1997, the Taylor family put 3 acres of Zinfandel vines and 1½ acres each of Syrah and Barbera in the ground. In the meantime, realizing it would be four years before the first commercial harvest, Ryan went off to college at Chico State to begin gathering the education necessary to make wine.

I think that Italian varietals grown in this part of the Sierra Foothills are perfect for Old World winemaking styles.
Mark Henry

Ryan never sold the grapes to the Napa winery. Instead, he kept the fruit for his own Mt. Vernon label. With the original 6 acres under cultivation, he’s chosen to expand primarily by purchasing grapes from other growers, an arrangement that allows him to tailor his output to contemporary tastes.

“When you plant a grapevine, you are stuck with it for 100 years,” he remarks. “Buying gives you the liberty to work with the varieties that are in demand. If, for instance, Syrah is selling better, we can make more. We like that freedom, and so, apparently, do our fans.”

Mt. Vernon’s annual production of around 5,000 cases is a hefty volume for a small, family-run operation with just one winemaker. Its 18 to 20 annual offerings range from the soft and subtle, easy-drinking Girly Man, a 50/50 Syrah/Petite Sirah blend, to bold and colorful big reds like Cabernet Sauvignon; as well as a handful of whites and dessert wines.

Taylor remembers that life was a bit on the edge when they started the company and “put all our eggs in one basket.” Now the business is successful. “Even in the face of a bad harvest we still win awards,” he notes, thinking back to the tough year of 2011 that nonetheless produced a Cabernet Sauvignon that took a Gold Medal in the 2015 San Francisco Chronicle tasting, and the Cabernet Franc from that year, which was awarded a Gold Medal and Best of Region at the 2015 California State Fair.

Taylor acknowledges how fortunate he is to have a career that allows him to remain in the Sierra Foothills where he grew up. “I love living up here,” he says. He feels lucky that he was “kicked out in the field” 20 years ago.

The Tasting Room is housed in a restored milk house at the winery and is open Thursday to Sunday. |

Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from the second edition of the popular guidebook “Wineries of the Sierra Foothills: Risk-Takers & Rule-Breakers” available on Amazon. All sales support Tahoe Weekly.