With over a million residents and a bustling suburban scene, it’s understandable that wine isn’t the first thing people think about in Contra Costa County. At Hannah Nicole Winery, they are working to change that. There is a long history of growing grapes in the region, but until fairly recently the production of wine wasn’t allowed at those growing sites. Now that the laws have been changed, the folks at Hannah Nicole Winery are out to establish their own identity.

A first step to that end is being able to educate people about their region. The eastern part of Contra Costa County was not included in the San Francisco Bay appellation when its boundaries were decided. Thus, Mark Enlow, the operations manager at Hannah Nicole, has been working with others in the newly formed Diablo Foothills Winegrowers Association to provide the east side of the county with it’s own American Viticulture Area (AVA) designation.

As with many regions that are still in the process of growth, Contra Costa County faces a degree of skepticism when it comes to the quality of their fruit and ultimately their wines. Bottles from well established regions, such as Napa and Sonoma, are sometimes assumed to be of better quality, but quality in any region isn’t fixed, and the fruit grown in Contra Costa County is quite comparable to growing regions throughout the state. In fact, many wineries source grapes from Contra Costa County to blend into their wines, and as long as it is under 25% of the final proportions, they are not required to acknowledge the fruit’s presence on the label. In other words, there is a good chance you have enjoyed a bottle of wine with fruit from Contra Costa County and just haven’t known it.

Of course, part of raising awareness about the county’s wine means getting people to try it, and Hannah Nicole is pioneering that effort. They are the first operation in the area to have a fully functioning winery and tasting room on site. Having such a facility allows them to host plenty of events, from winemaker dinners, to weddings, to a concert series during the summer months. So weather you come for the music and stay for the wine or come for the wine and stay for the music, there is plenty of fun to be had.

At Hannah Nicole, there wines are generally, fruit-driven, lush, and approachable. (Click the links to read reviews of their Vioginer, Sauvignon Blanc, Le Melange Rosé, Merlot, and Meritage.) When it comes to white varietals, Vioginer has shown very well for them as well as other vintners in the area. Rhone reds, like Petite Sirah and Syrah as well as Bordeaux varietals, like Merlot and Petit Verdot have also produced some very nice wines.

Mark believes that “if an AVA were granted to this area, you’d see six to eight wineries pop up like that.” With an identity to build on, Mark sees the growers association putting together more events to showcase the wines of the area, and as awareness grows, the amount of interest and investment in the county will increase. “ For a long time, there were only a handful of wineries in Livermore and then, suddenly, forty -two.” Mark sees the same kind of growth coming to the Contra Costa region. As more and more wineries follow in Hannah Nicole’s footsteps and the quality of the region continues to improve with each harvest, there is little doubt wine lovers are going to catch on and realize just what this region has to offer. Keep an eye on the area; a lot is likely to happen in the next few years.

By Jason Barlow