Tuscan Ridge Estate Winery in Red Bluff
By Melissa Mendonca
A Taste of Tuscany
By Melissa Mendonca
Photos by Alexis Le Clair
Lori Silkey laughs as she offers a tour of Tuscan Ridge Estate Winery, a venture she and partner Jeff Epperson started just a few years ago. Recalling how they came upon the property while visiting Red Bluff, she says, “We drove by this place on accident and thought it was cool that Red Bluff had a vineyard. A year later we were looking for property and we were looking for horse property, not a vineyard.”
You can guess where this is going.
A friend called to say that an amazing property was available, but that it had a vineyard on it that was set to be pulled out in two weeks. Realizing that it was the same property they had admired just a year prior, the couple made an offer and called off the tractors preparing to take down the vines.
They set about rehabilitating the vineyard of 1,600 vines of Syrah and Zinfandel grapes on drought-tolerant root stock developed at UC Davis and set to filling their first barrels. “The juice was just so fantastic that we thought it needed to be made into wine,” says Silkey.
She immediately pulled on her experience growing up in Placerville wine country and years of experience making Old World style wines as a hobby. Her other secret weapon: she’s an esthetician. “The same enzymes and acids that soften a woman’s skin soften grapes,” she says. Then there’s Epperson, who Silkey says is “like MacGyver. He can do anything.”
The couple has also found success by connecting with other winemakers and the viticulture program at Shasta College. Winemakers at Moseley Family Cellars, Dakaro Cellars and Churn Creek Wineries were all instrumental in sharing knowledge and advice, she says.
Bringing all of their skills together on behalf of their property, Silkey and Epperson have created a destination winery that people travel the North State to experience and exit the freeway for. “It’s happened so fast and people have been so receptive,” says Silkey, noting that their wine club continues to grow, and any given Thursday through Sunday will find people gathered for wood-fired pizza, Bocce ball, live music and award-winning wine.
A 600-year-old valley oak tree towers over the patio, providing shade and a magnificent presence through its size and canopy. Musicians set up underneath to serenade visitors.
“People are wanting to have the experience without having to go to Napa and Sonoma,” she says, noting that their next door neighbor built the pizza oven for them so he wouldn’t have to travel at all. “He said, ‘If you build it, they will come,’” she says with a laugh. And indeed, they do. “When we opened initially we had no idea if anyone would even show up,” she says. Through just a few Facebook posts and word of mouth, 200 found their way to the winery, 5 miles outside of Red Bluff, on opening day.
“The Tuscan vibe is my thing, is my vision,” says Silkey, noting that she’s enjoyed decorating and creating multiple spaces for guests to linger and soak up the atmosphere. A large room that is heated in winter allows year-round accessibility. While the attention to detail at Tuscan Ridge suggests a certain meticulousness, the couple is careful to cultivate an atmosphere of inclusion and welcome.
“Some people want to appreciate wine more but they don’t know how,” says Silkey. “I was that person once – I didn’t know anything. You want to learn and it’s overwhelming.”
With this in mind, she adds, “We pride ourselves in being available. We feel very connected to the wine.” They sell outside the winery at just a few select locations, and she says, “We can give the best experience with the wine if people come here.
“I have a real affinity for food and wines, and being able to get the right blends together to appeal to the average person,” she adds. Indeed, a hallmark of Tuscan Ridge is the sheer number of wines they create. They offer eight reds, four whites and special editions of Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon, in which only 24 cases are produced, which are hand bottled and gravity fed. Four additional varieties are available only to wine club members, including a Reserve Merlot and a Petite Port. Their TRE Bella Bubbly is mixed with passionfruit as the signature drink of the winery.
While there are many striking images to take in at Tuscan Ridge Estate, horses are no longer among them. “The horses are gone now,” says Silkey. “Both of us have always lived rural and have always had horses and property, but the grapes have just taken over.”
19260 Ridge Road, Red Bluff