The new Napa

Henri checks out Chico’s suddenly booming wine-bar scene

Anecia Johnson enjoys a glass at the LaRocca Vineyards wine-tasting room in downtown Chico.

Anecia Johnson enjoys a glass at the LaRocca Vineyards wine-tasting room in downtown Chico.

Photo By melanie mactavish

Henri and his father, the late Etienne Bourride, had little in common save for our love of all things culinary and oenological—readers may remember his moving back to the south of France, then dying of a heart attack in April of 2004, a glass of Bordeaux in hand, two violet de Provence artichokes from his beloved fields steaming on the stove.

And, I guess, we were both a couple of misfits, though in very different ways: he a Catholic and a scholar of French film, raising eyebrows in a conservative, largely Lutheran Midwestern community; moi with my proclivity for the exotic, propensity for the dramatic, and penchant for the alternative—growing up in the same friendly but immutably disapproving milieu.

One of his ongoing frustrations was his inability to find wine—not just good wine but any wine—in our little town, though I have long suspected that his friendship with Monsignor O’Reilly in the Twin Cities area—and his frequent hundred-mile drives to visit him—was motivated at least in part by its potential to provide access to the Sacristy of St. Theresa of the Walleyes and to the sacramental wine stored therein.

So of course, he’s been on my mind lately as I’ve watched Chico and the surrounding area experience a veritable wine renaissance. There are now 12 wineries in Butte County, plus New Clairvaux in nearby Vina, and three new wine bars in Chico (five total). How he would have loved drinking it all in, particularly stopping at the wine bars to taste and talk wine. Papa, rest assured that your faithful daughter et moi have been dutifully researching them in your stead.

Creekside Cellars: Chico’s oldest wine bar (1998) offers a pleasant patio as well as indoor seating for tasting selected wines ($4-$6 for a half-pour, $4-$12 for a glass). The inventory is extensive, with a wide range of imported and domestic bottles, many under $15. Creekside also sells wine “accessories,” including glassware, cheeseboards and picnic baskets, as well as truffles and a large selection of gourmet cheeses. Recently, Colette was quite taken by the Rusack chardonnay, while I thought the Primal Roots red blend was very good. We did think that the cheese tray—five tiny pieces of gourmet cheese, a few thin slices of baguette, with olives and grapes—was overpriced at $9.50, though the cheese was very tasty. It’s located at 250 Vallombrosa Ave., Ste. 500, behind T. Tea Bar & Fusion Café. Visit for information.

LaRocca Vineyards Tasting Room: This little wine bar, at 222 W. Second St. in downtown Chico, offers tastings and bottles of the Forest Ranch vineyard’s organic and sulfite-free wines. The tasting room and Jim, our server, were both unpretentious and welcoming: Colette loved LaRocca’s 2009 chardonnay and bought a bottle; I was impressed with the 2008 zinfandel (both $6 a glass). We were also impressed with the complimentary plate of Parmesan cheese and Tin Roof Bakery bread. Visit for information.

Monks Wine Lounge & Bistro: The popular Monks, just a block from LaRocca at 128 W. Second St., offers more than 40 wines by the glass and a full dinner menu, with entrees and a range of small plates, including meatballs, and bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with bleu cheese. Only in Chico: One night after dinner, Colette asked for an espresso, and our waiter nodded, then disappeared out the front door only to return a couple of minutes later with her coffee, fresh from the Naked Lounge Tea & Coffeehouse a couple of doors down. Visit for information.

Tannins Wine Bar & Bistro: Located at 234 W. Third St., in downtown Chico, Tannins specializes in dishes with local and seasonal ingredients. The menu features small plates running $7-$12, as well as soups, salads and desserts ($6-$7). The wine list includes a wide range of reds and whites, with glasses for $5-$9, and bottles starting at $20 and topping out at $65 (for a Rodney Strong cabernet). Visit for information.

Wine Time: Also specializing in small plates, made with local seasonal ingredients, Wine Time is located on the north end of The Esplanade at 26 Lost Dutchman Drive, in a gorgeously remodeled pig barn, built in 1901 and once owned by John Bidwell. The main dining room is lit partially by two huge chandeliers, originally made for Reno’s Crystal Palace in 1951. Wine Time offers appetizers, flatbreads, salads, meat plates and desserts, with recommended wine or beer pairings. The 80-plus wines include locals New Clairvaux, Odyssey, Bertagna and Gale, as well as many from Napa and the central California coast and Europe. Visit for information.