There’s new wine, new grapes and new blood at the former Sogno Winery in Shingle Springs. There’s also a new name: “Cielo Estates.”
John Quiroz of El Dorado Hills and his partners Bill Manson and Carrie Nave-Manson have taken the reins of the 41-acre estate which holds the distinction of being the Sacramento region’s closest foothill winery. The new owners will introduce themselves at the grand opening celebration June 10-12. The winery and vineyard is located at 3040Ponderosa Road, between Highway 50 and Green Valley Road.
In Spanish and Italian, Cielo, translates to “heaven” or “sky”, and enjoys wide idiomatic use in both romantic languages.
“Mover cielo y tierra,” to move heaven and earth, might describe the 18-month process of raising money, procuring the winery, licensing and staging the purchase, blending and eventual bottling of bulk wine so that they’d have something to sell for their soft opening on May 21.
“Toccare il cielo con un ditto,” to walk on air, describes how the new owners felt when the first customers came through the door and not only loved the wine, but bought it. “Everyone that showed up that first weekend bought wine,” said a relieved Bill Manson last week.
The majority of those visitors came from El Dorado Hills and Folsom. By the end of the weekend, the Cielo Wine Club had 35 new members. Each of the first 250 club members will have a vine row dedicated to them, marked by a commemorative brick.
“llovido del cielo,” to come out of the blue, describes how the wine-knowledgeable partners discovered the underperforming Sogno winery, with its mature rootstock, modern wine production facility and a spectacular wedding and event venue right under their noses.
In 1998 Richard and Jackie Davis bought the Hodgkins homestead, which dates to the 1880s, and created Sogno Winery.
They restored the Victorian farmhouse, planted rootstock and built the winery from the ground up. They also landscaped the grounds and built a huge gazebo, creating a picture perfect wedding and event venue. The Davises sold the winery to George Popescu in 2007.
When Quiroz and the Mansons contacted Davis to share their plans for his original dream, he signed on as an investor. The first vine row will commemorate Richard and Jackie Davis’s founding vision.
Quiroz’ own vision for the winery goes beyond wine. “We’re trying to make this an event destination and a comfortable, family oriented place,” he said.
The stone walls, dramatic gazebo, local views and extensive landscaping all make Cielo Estates a pleasant family destination. Prepackaged picnic supplies are in the works, and wireless Internet connectivity is available in the tasting room and the surrounding patios and lawns.
Quiroz lives in El Dorado Hills and manages the day to day business operations. He spent most of the last 25 years traveling as a national sales manager for Motorola, including three years in Hong Kong.
He befriended the Mansons at Faith Episcopal church and spent part of Thanksgiving 2009 at their home on Ponderosa Road near the winery. The topic turned to wine, as it often did when they got together, and Quiroz wistfully suggested that they open a winery together.
Manson had heard a rumor that the neighboring Sogno Winery was for sale. It took until March 2011 to get the deal done.
“John wanted to reinvent himself, and I had the commercial wine experience,” said Manson, who is also a partner in Crystal Basin Cellars in Camino. “Bringing this vineyard back is my big challenge.”
Cielo Winemaker Mark Fowler grew up at Greenstone Winery in Ione. He previously managed the vineyard at Terre Rouge, was assistant winemaker at Terra d’Oro/Montevina and worked with Manson at Crystal Basin Cellars.
Cielo’s inaugural offerings were blended by Manson and Fowler using high quality bulk wine “from growers and winemakers that are my personal friends,” said Manson. “I called in markers, mostly in El Dorado County, and we spent our weekends putting these blends together.”
The results? “Taste for yourself,” said Manson. “I’m proud of what we accomplished and can’t wait until we have our own grapes to work with.”
That won’t be until spring 2012, when the first estate whites are bottled. The reds will follow by a year.
The vineyard was largely dedicated to Syrah and Primitivo. Much of that is being chopped off and grafted with Mediterranean varietals. Manson wants to emphasize little-known grapes from the Mediterranean rim that produce opulent fruit, he said, emphasizing varietals popular during the Gold Rush, such as Carignane.
“It was popular because the grapes were large and produced a high yield,” he said. “And there’s almost none left.”
Manson said he hopes to create unique wines with broad appeal. “There’s so much zin and syrah up here. I love them, but why compete when there’s so much else to try?
“Why grow Cabernet Sauvignon when guys like Mitch Schultz at Stonehouse is doing it so well right over on South Shingle Road? Hank (Battjes) at Gold Hill (Winery) manages his grapes flawlessly.”
He’s grafting in Carmenere, tempranillo, Tannat, Arneis, Cinsault and “others that our ancestors brought with them when they immigrated to this country.”
“We’ll listen to each varietal, and see what it can do on its own, then use them for blending,” said Manson. “We’ll stumble forward and see what the barrels give us.”
The winery’s seven 3,500-gallon storage tanks give him a 20,000 case capacity. In the early going Manson estimates they’ll do a quarter of that.
“It’s about quality rather than quantity,” he said, a philosophy that carries down to the pruning strategy.
“We’re going through right now and thinning the shoots a second time, which cuts our yield dramatically,” Mansons added. “I want these vines to produce the best fruit possible.”
Once the vineyards are put in order, Quiroz hopes to open the west end of the property, which contains a picnic-perfect lake and meadow, alongside a field of viognier and muscat varietals.
“That’s part of a making this place a destination,” he said. Manson wants to create an atmosphere that’s equal parts education, entertainment and relaxation. “Bring the family, bring your laptop; bring your iPhone; hang out for a while.”
The Cielo tasting room is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, and stays open later on Fridays. so that friends can meet for a glass of wine after work. If it catches on, Manson plans to stay open late on Thursdays as well.
The vineyard creates a spectacular year-round backdrop for weddings and parties.
Partner Carrie Nave-Manson is a licensed caterer, chef and wedding cake designer. She’s offering one-stop shopping for weddings and events at Cielo, including flowers, food, facility and of course, wine.
Rock walls surround a large meadow that’s anchored by a massive white gazebo straight out of Modern Brides magazine. The farmhouse, which includes overnight accommodations, is available for bridal parties or smaller corporate events.
The large party room seats 285 people. Large windows bring the vineyard into the room, which contains a massive oak wet bar and soon, a full commercial kitchen.
A concrete wine cave, complete with massive medieval doors, is being converted into a reserve tasting room.
The grand opening weekend on June 11 and 12 will feature food and music and facility tours. For more information visit cieloestate.com.
“Come for the wine, spend the day,” said Quiroz, who’s currently in “settimo cielo,” seventh heaven.