ABOUT FOOTHILLS WINO
What We Are
Foothills Wino is an independent website dedicated to providing objective and unsponsored information about the wines and wineries of the Sierra Foothills. Our goal is to help wine lovers make sense of this complex and difficult-to-navigate region. It is hard to know which wineries to visit and which ones to avoid, so we are here to help.
About Guy Tucker
Foothills Wino is owned and operated by Certified Sommelier Guy Tucker. Guy is working towards advanced levels in the Court of Master Sommeliers and also holds a WSET Level 3 certificate, with distinction. Guy has worked harvests and has worked as a Sommelier in numerous settings.
Guy and his wife Abby moved to the Sierra Foothills from the Bay Area in 2016. They own and operate Sangreal Vineyards™ where they are growing many varieties of grape vines that will one day produce grapes that will be made into wines at a microwinery of the same name.
About Our Winery Ratings
At Foothills Wino we originally used a star-award system in the style of the Michelin Star rating system for restaurants. In our original rankings, we focused primarily on the wine coming out of each winery.
It became apparent to us that in addition to wine quality ratings, information about the experience of visiting wineries is what new visitors to the region craved. Yes, the Sierra Foothills produces wonderful, small lot, hand-crafted wines, but it is also beautiful. In recent years there has been an influx of capital, and the facilities are becoming as attractive of a draw as the wines. So, we have re-done everything.
Now, we rate every winery in three categories: (i) wines, (ii), facilities, and (iii) hospitality. Each category is awarded a rating of:
10- World Class
8.5- Very Good
If a winery scores an 8.0 or higher in each category, it is placed on our maps and written up. If not, it is simply not mentioned. We are not here to embarrass anyone.
How do we base the ratings? As objectively as we can!
We do the majority of the wine ratings by blind tasting. We try not to hold bad vintages or a few bad experiments against a winery and try to judge them more on the overall quality of the wine. Our visits are mostly anonymous because we want to experience the tasting rooms in the same manner as a stranger to the region rather than the way the winery treats a VIP. We try to let our personal tastes influence us as little as possible and try to judge on quality, not preference.
Here are some general things we look for:
- overall quality (intensity, complexity, cleanliness, typicity, etc.)
- overall selection and availability
- price (only considered in extreme cases)
- cleanliness (the most important consideration)
- architecture, design, history, etc.
- vineyards, landscape, views, etc.
- service staff competence, knowledge, friendliness
- tasting flight design and pour size
- pairings... do they compliment or detract from each taste of wine (a poor pairing will get scored lower than no pairing)
Some extra notes on Hospitality...
Tasting room staff... we understand it is difficult to hire experienced and knowledgeable staff in these remote areas. We do not expect every pourer to be a Sommelier. We do expect them to have some basic training on how to pour and to have a base level of knowledge about wine, the region, and the specific winery. We expect them to be honest about what they don't know and to know where to find the answers for our questions that are beyond their knowledge level (and yes, we keep asking until we get to that level). For example, we do not expect a pourer to know the rootstock of the estate Petite Sirah vines, but we are very interested in seeing how they handle the question.
Pours... a tasting room must give a decent pour of each wine. No one can evaluate a wine without at least an ounce and half (preferably 1.7 ounces) in the glass. Measured pour mechanisms pour too little, are not to be trusted, and tell us that you don't trust your staff to know what a proper pour is. If you are worried about losing money, charge more for your tastings, or give fewer tastes. Four proper pours is better than six skimpy ones.
We share the positives on the site, but we do not mention the negatives. (Our negatives are available to all wineries, though, so they can see what we feel they need to improve on).
We also list several "Noteworthy" wineries. These wineries do not have numerical rating scores published. There are various reasons a winery might be considered Noteworthy. Here are a few examples:
- new winery, ownership, and/or winemaker and we need to evaluate more vintages
- wineries that are exceptional or better in a category but are otherwise not rated
- wineries that are very small and/or have no public tasting room
- wineries that have requested to not be rated, but would be highly rated if included
All evaluations are made by and/or contributions are made by our Panel of Wine and Hospitality Experts.
We do not ask for or accept any money, wine, or benefits from any winery we evaluate. No one can buy their way onto our site. (We do accept sample wines for evaluations and we allow our panel to accept industry discounts when offered, but we understand that some wineries are not able to afford this practice).
We constantly revisit wineries that are rated and that are not rated. Our evaluations are constantly being updated. It is our hope that many more wineries will make the lists in the coming years.
About Our Wine Evaluations
In addition to highlighting wineries to visit in the Sierra Foothills, we also evaluate and rate wines. We determine a Panel Selection for the best wines in each category and publish that wine along with our other Panel Favorites on the WINES page. This evaluation is independent of the winery ratings discussed above.
The thing that most distinguishes the Foothills region is its diversity of wines. We illustrate this diversity by rating wines within multiple categories. In each category, we select our favorite wines using a Panel of Wine and Hospitality Experts. The Panel is made up of certified wine experts who have a passion for the Sierra Foothills wine region. To qualify to be on our Panel, a Sommelier must have passed either the Court of Master Sommeliers Level 2 (CMS2) exam or the Wine and Spirits Education Trust Level 3 (WSET3) exam or have a similarly demonstrated wine tasting expertise. Both exams include a rigorous test of knowledge and theory and a blind-tasting exam where unknown wines must be identified and characterized.