Grey Fox Winery is a connoisseur’s delight in the Oroville foothills
As the old adage goes, “If you want to start a fire, rub two Boy Scouts together.”
So what happens when you rub two Italian-American families together? Right, they start a winery. That’s just what happened when two couples, friends Gary and Jeanne Cecchi and Bruce and Patricia Arrigoni, joined forces and purchased 11 acres of land in the foothills east of Oroville.
Bruce Arrigoni knew how to make wine, but he thought all the partners should have that knowledge, so all agreed to attend enology and viniculture at UC Davis before they began building their company.
Then they spent months clearing the rocky hillsides. In 1996, they planted Sangiovese, Barbera, Syrah and zinfandel grapes. Jeanne Cecchi was so excited watching the vines sprout, she could be heard talking to them. Perhaps that was why she was put in charge of the first harvest, in 1999. Ag students from the local high school came to pick the grapes and help with the crush.
Those first grapes were pressed with an old wooden basket press. The students enjoyed the harvest so much they’ve been coming back each year.
Today about five acres have been planted, with muscat, delcetto, Grenache and Viognier added to the earlier varieties. The winery also purchases premium grapes from regions where the climate is better suited to growing them, such as chardonnay and merlot. Grey Fox has also produced two excellent dessert wines. One is a dark, rich and full-bodied Port Syrah. It is full of berry currant flavors and has a slight hint of chocolate. The other is a Moscato Dolcà. It’s a unique blend of muscat, Viognier and Sultan grapes. The taste gives hints of peach, apricot and pineapple.
Recently, the winery bought some tempranillo grapes from the monks at the Cistercian monastery in Vina. This medium-bodied red wine is being made in the Spanish tradition with a complex of flavors of vanilla, spice and a hint of toffee.
Grey Fox is a wonderful place to visit. It’s new and still small, but the Arrigonis and Cecchis have fixed it up nicely. It’s open for touring on weekends from noon to 5 p.m. The wine-making facility, interestingly, is underground. There you’ll meet Patricia Arrigoni pouring wine and giving tours.
Grey Fox also participates in many nonprofit organizations’ fund-raising wine-tasting events in the community. Along with the tasting, Pat and the other family members will provide you with a wealth of information about wine making.
A computer-controlled press has replaced the old wooden basket press. While many wineries use large oak barrels to age the wine, Grey Fox uses temperature-controlled stainless-steel tanks to facilitate the process. Oak wood is placed in the wine during the aging process and is removed just at the right time to give just a hint of oak flavor. Gary Cecchi, whose other job is as a doctor in the Bay Area, has a strong chemistry background and is responsible for making a premium wine that ages well.
Even with the winery’s modern equipment, its wines are handmade in the Old World tradition. All of the grapes are hand picked, not machine harvested, as is done at many wineries. The grape juice is fermented in small batches for a more precise quality control.
Bruce grew up in a family that always made wine at home. He remembers as a little boy sitting in the basement on his grandfather’s lap tasting wine. This love of wine is the inspiration for his once-a-month “Cooking with Wine” dinners that he prepares for a group of about 10 people. Each recipe has wine as an ingredient, such as Barbera in making hearty red pasta sauce or a puff pastry dessert filled with Moscato Dolcà-soaked fruit. And of course each dish is companioned with a glass of wine. Dinner starts shortly after six and many times ends at midnight. On top of the excellent dinner, each guest receives a bottle of wine to take home.
Since Grey Fox Vineyards is a small, family-owned boutique vineyard and winery, there’s always something happening, whether it’s pruning the vines, bottling the wine, or the bringing in the harvest, which usually starts in early August. Visitors are always welcome to join in the fun.
Grey Fox wines are available at the vineyard, in wine shops and liquor stores and are served in many restaurants in Butte County.
From Oroville, take the Olive Highway just past Gold Country Casino and turn right on Oakvale. Follow the signs for about two and one-half miles to Grey Fox Lane, and you will find the winery on top of the hill.
Richard S. Calhoun is the author of the Breakfast Around the World cookbook and co-author of The ABC’s of Food reference book for secondary-school students.