Rancho Olivo Vineyards is located on property rich in history. In the Gold Rush days it was home to one of California's earliest wineries, the Bennett Winery. Adjacent to the old railroad that ran from the Motherload Country down to Sacramento and beyond, and also to the old wagon road and local stage stop, the winery was known up and down the line for producing a fine crop of grapes.
Unfortunately, during Prohibition the grape vines were torn out and the old stone winery building fell into disrepair. Nello and Danica Olivo have used the old stones to make a stone shell around a large addition to their ranch home on the property. Using photographs of the old Bennett Winery, stone masons matched the original stonework for the addition.
Danica will tell you that, while the enforcers of prohibition were aggressive in tearing out the old lines, they did not fully succeed. Each year along the creek that defines the southeastern property line of the ranch, the tall oak trees turn red with the fall coloring of the old grapevines that still grow in the branches which hang over the flowing creek.
Indians once camped here; perhaps it was a permanent campground for them. There is a huge grinding rock on the property and, once in a while, loose bowl-shaped rocks are turned up with the tractor as new projects are initiated on the grounds.
History of Rancho Olivo Vineyards
Nello and Dancia Olivo moved into the 21 acre property that was to become Rancho Olivo Vineyards in October of 2000. Their goal was to restore and expand the property and to plant a vineyard to provide grapes to sell to local wineries and to supply Nello's growing home winemaking hobby. A vineyard specialist was hired to supervise the operation: Lance Johnson, a Viticulture graduate of UC Davis. And the adventure began.
Planting the Vineyard
The ranch sits in a slightly elevated area, at about 1350 feet above sea level, and has long hot summers and stormy wet winters. The climate mostly resembles that of southern Mediterranean areas of southern Italy, France and Spain. Johnson suggested they plant mostly Italian or Rhone grape varieties.
Upon testing the soil, Johnson discovered several types of soil in areas where the Olivos wanted to plant their vineyard. Each soil type was paired with appropriate varietals, and when planting time came in the summer of 2002, the various varieties of grapes were grafted onto a hearty rootstock that UC Davis tested to make sure it would do well in the types of soil prevalent on the ranch and that would resist all common blights.
Cabernet was planted at the highest point of the land where the soil was well drained with decomposed granite. Viognier was planted at the lowest point where the soil was heavy with clay. In between were planted Petite Serah, Sangiovese, Barbera and Merlot.
Primitivo was planted in a small vineyard on the opposite side of the acreage in an area of rocky decomposed granite soil semi-shaded by large oak trees Danica refused to give up! This is the area of the ranch the Olivos have the greatest problems with pests. Apart from the birds who roost in the trees, there are also wild turkeys, raccoons, Fox's, skunks and squirrels. They all love Nello's grapes!
The First Harvest
To ensure the highest quality of fruit, grapes were not harvested for winemaking during the first three years of growth. By then the roots and permanent structure of the vines had developed properly. Nello ensured the vineyard was managed with extreme care, using all the labor-intensive measures required for the finest grapes possible. And the results were spectacular with the 2005 crop selling to established wineries at high prices.
Birth of Nello Olivo Wine Label
Of that first harvest, some Primitivo remained. Nello arranged with Mount Aukum Winery to "custom crush" these grapes, and Rancho Olivo Vineyards, LLC, became a fully licensed winery. Overseen by Mount Aukum's winemaker, Lance Campbell, a Primitivo '05 was the first wine eventually bottled under the Nello Olivo label.
Meanwhile, wineries using Nello's grapes were winning gold and double-gold medals with their wines, a circumstance convincing Nello that he was on the right track producing wine using his own estate-grown fruit under his own Nello Olivo label.
He asked Marco Capelli, winemaker at Miraflores and Toogood wineries to become official winemaker for Nello Olivo wines. Marco made a delightful Primitivo, a great Petite Sirah, and excellent Cabernet, Barbera and Sangiovese varietals, all bottled at Toogood Winery.
At Mount Aukum, Lance Campbell produced some wonderful Cabernet and a delicious blend released under the name Super Tuscan Style. He also made some excellent Viognier port. When Lance left Mount Aukum and moved from the area, Marco Capelli took over all varietals of Nello Olivo wines.
643 Bee Street, Placerville
Tuesday: by appointment
Wednesday: by appointment
We're the closest winery to Hwy 50, at the "corner of" Hwys 50 and 49. Start your wine tour here. We have winery maps!
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