Updated: Nov 19, 2020
Owners Michael and Charlie Havill
At some point, serious wine lovers will have the same thought. What if I quit my job and start a winery? Some will dwell on it for years. Some for only a few seconds. And then there’s those like the Havills of Bella Grace Vineyards who actually do it.
Of course, getting sage advice from an industry stalwart did help.
“We started chatting with Koerner Rombauer at an Ahwahnee vintners event because we love his wine,” said co-founder and winemaker Michael Havill. “We hit it off and told him we wanted to leave the corporate world and buy a vineyard. He said, go to Amador County. The property is affordable and the winemaking is getting better and better.”
From there Michael and her husband, Charlie, started scouring Amador County for potential vineyard locations. They never intended to “retire” to the vineyard life full-time, but their son instantly fell in love with the area and wanted to move.
“So we bailed out totally from our corporate jobs to become grape growers,” Michael said.
In 2006, the two purchased 50 acres with 20 acres of wine grapes. The vineyards weren’t in the best shape so Charlie learned as much as he could about biodynamic and sustainable farming.
Under his watchful eye, the Havills have cultivated Primitivo, Zinfandel, Grenache, Vermentino, Grenache Blanc, Syrah, Petite Sirah and Mourvedre without the use of pesticides or inorganic substances.
However, it was 6 tons of unsold Syrah that gave Michael her first foray into winemaking.
“We couldn’t bear to let those grapes go to waste and that opened the door to this other adventure,” she said. “We were fortunate enough to have our neighbors at Renwood Winery help us learn the process.”
Kismet continued for the family during the California drought in 2015. Due to low yields, Michael realized there wasn’t enough Vermentino, Roussanne and Grenache Blanc for separate bottlings and labelings, so she took a stab at a blend - the 3 Graces White.
“It think it was good,” she said. “I mean it wasn’t great, but it sold.”
In 2016, heavy spring rain and a light summer inspired her to make the blend on purpose.
“The grapes all ripened beautifully,” she said. “I had to try again.”
The 2016 3 Graces Blanc (63 percent Grenache Blanc, 23 percent Vermentino, 14 percent Roussanne) became an instant award winner, including a Gold Medal at the 2017 Indy International.
“This wine is so light and crisp. It really represents all that Amador County has to offer,” Michael said. “Our area is mostly recognized for reds, but we also have some outstanding whites.”
Outstanding, to say the least. Last year their 2016 Vermentino was awarded Best of California at the 2017 California State Fair Commercial Wine Competition. It also earned double gold medals, Best of Region – White, and Best of Class of Region.
In total, Bella Grace Vineyards has won three “Best of California” awards, plus more than 30 gold medals, including many double gold medals.
Over the next five years, Bella Grace Vineyards hopes to increase its wine production from 10,000 cases to 15,000 cases and is working to gain better distribution across California.
“Amador County is growing more as a wine tasting destination,” Michael said. “To be a part of all this is exciting. It’s been a journey for sure.”