On the map

Butte County wineries form districts to encourage agritourism

Spencer-Shirey Wines offers samples of its PM Good Times red blend during this year’s North Sierra Wine Trail.

Spencer-Shirey Wines offers samples of its PM Good Times red blend during this year’s North Sierra Wine Trail.

Photo by Meredith J. Cooper

When Carolyn Denero moved back to Chico about two years ago, she admitted she was surprised to learn there were roughly 20 local wineries and vineyards in the Butte County area.

She’d lived here in 2009, but only briefly before moving and working in multiple industries throughout California, including at the Calistoga Chamber of Commerce. Now the executive director for Explore Butte County—the region’s tourism business improvement district—Denero says it’s no secret that food and drink can make a destination, and drawing folks to local tasting rooms and vineyards can have a significant economic impact.

Tourists spent $312.1 million in Butte County last year, buoying municipal and county coffers. By far the largest revenue-generator was food services, which topped the list at $87.1 million. That includes imbibing at the region’s dozens of wineries.

Local wineries and a distillery recently formed the Bangor Wine & Spirits Region to further distinguish the small town’s offerings.

Photo by Meredith J. Cooper

“It really generates more than somebody just buying a bottle of wine. The more visitors we can bring here and show them the experience they can have here, it’s going to prolong their stay,” Denero said.

What she has come to realize is that the wine industry in the region has a lot of potential for growth, especially when it comes to promoting itself as a destination. Much of that comes down to fostering a sense of place and culture around the wineries with special events and experiences.

Recently, local wineries have been tapping into that potential, creating their own districts or regions to set themselves apart, cross-market and encourage travel and agritourism.

Alyse Hickman says many people don’t even realize Bangor, a rural community with fewer than 1,000 residents, is a town, let alone a producer of high-quality wines. Her family’s businesses—Hickman Family Vineyards and Cobble Ridge Artisan Distillery—are part of the Bangor Wine & Spirits Region, along with Bangor Ranch Vineyard & Winery and Spencer-Shirey Wines.

Tasting wines, paired with food, at Bangor Ranch Vineyard & Winery.

Photo by Meredith J. Cooper

Distinguishing the region from the dozens of wineries and distilleries in the North State is a vital part of drawing people to their slice of the Sierra Foothills American Viticultural Area, an “appellation of origin” that includes their operations in Butte County, plus wineries in Amador, Calaveras, El Dorado, Mariposa, Nevada, Placer, Tuolumne and Yuba counties. Regions designated as an appellation of origin are federally required to source a minimum of 75 percent of their grapes locally.

Hickman said appellations can put a region on the map and speak to the value of the wine produced there. “The Sierra foothill appellation is really starting to get noticed … because our wines are amazing, our vineyards are great because of the area we’re in, the terroir.”

But Hickman is focused on further distinguishing Bangor’s offerings.

“We really wanted to create our own presence … to let people know there’s a little town called Bangor and we have our own region [within the appellation],” she said. “It’s been like a secret this whole time. … By getting our own name out there, and getting more popular, we’ll get more ag tourism, which is great for Butte County.”

Alyse and Tod Hickman opened the doors of Hickman Family Vineyards in 2011.

Photo by Meredith J. Cooper

In addition to the Bangor region, four wineries just south of Chico also have joined forces, forming the Durham Wine District. It includes Almendra Winery & Distillery, Dog Creek Cellars, Gale Vineyards and Nascere Vineyards.

Jennifer Leonard, Almendra’s wine club manager, said the district was formed so the wineries could pool their resources to increase public awareness—they’re easily accessible, being within 6 miles of one another, and each has its own distinct wine-making style, so there likely is something for everyone who visits.

Though the wineries haven’t created collaborative events thus far, both the Bangor region and Durham district started offering postcard maps.

“We’ve been working hard in Butte County to increase the public’s awareness of the high-quality wines we all produce, from the valley floor up into the mountainous areas,” Leonard said. “And in Butte County, the odds are you’re going to run into the owner or the winemaker at these wineries because we’re all family-owned operations.”

Denero said districts such as these two are beneficial because local wineries can leverage their financial resources and collaborate to create a local draw, which then helps the region promote itself.

The Sierra Oro Farm Trail is a perfect example, Denero said. Since 2005, the association has grown from a handful of farms to include more than 30 specialty farms and agricultural businesses, including wineries, throughout the county. The Bangor and Durham wineries are included in that tour; plus, the former participates in the annual North Sierra Wine Trail, a weekend tasting event created by Hickman and her husband, Tod, that includes Oroville wineries as well as those in north Yuba County.

“When visitors come and see that sense of place in a community,” Denero said, it generates a “genuine interest” that spreads. What was once a singular event at one winery can become a full-day experience at multiple vineyards that collectively exposes visitors to a variety of wines and products.