South Valley wineries on the up and up

Dhruv Khanna is the owner of Kirigin Cellars in Gilroy.

Like a canary in a coal mine, roses provide an early-warning detection system in our vineyards. Roses are generally weaker than grape vines, yet have almost the same genetic make-up. Planted among the grapevines, roses react first to disease, soil and water conditions. Roses are “indicator plants” that give the vineyard manager time to fix the problems before they reach the grape vines. Not only are roses a harbinger to the production of healthy vines, they also lend a colorful contrast to the vineyard.
Retail Wine Tip
I recently tried two wonderful wines from Acacia Vineyards in Napa. The 2010 Carneros Pinot Noir is a smooth, elegant wine with flavors of berries, ripe bing cherry and plum. It’s a great deal at Costco ($14.99) and at BevMo ($17.99).The 2010 Chardonnay has green apple flavors with a bit of toasted oak and a bright, balanced acidity that makes it ideal with white meats and seafood. Find the Chardonnay at BevMo ($14.99).
Local Winery Buzz
Founded in 1916, Kirigin Cellars in Gilroy is one of the oldest wineries in our region and Dhruv Khanna, an energetic visionary, is only its third owner.
Dhruv was raised in New Delhi, India and came to California to study law at Stanford. When Dhruv immigrated here, he brought his love of cricket, the most popular sport in India. Because recreational land is scarce in the Bay Area, Dhruv began looking for a piece of land that could be suitable for a cricket field. Dhruv found the perfect spot – full of weeds and complete with a winery – for sale.
With assurances to help operate the vineyard from Allen Kreutzer, the winemaker for the previous owner of Kirigin Cellars, Dhruv purchased the winery and surrounding 48 acres of property in 2000. Dhruv “dusted off the cobwebs, but was careful to keep anything old and beautiful,” and built a third well, replaced old water pipes and planted rows of sequoias. As Dhruv zipped me around in a golf cart, he pointed out the 31 acres of grape vines interspersed with hundreds of roses.
The acreage produces Tempranillo, Malbec, Petite Sirah, Pinot Noir, Cabernet, Zinfandel and Syrah. The white varietals include Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio and Malvasia Bianca. The Malvasia Bianca wine, produced from 80-year-old vines, just won Best in Class at the San Francisco Chronicle wine competition. Its bestseller is the Vino de Mocca; a delicious dessert wine infused with coffee, chocolate and a touch of orange flavors.
Dhruv’s business strategy is to sell “five star wines at three star prices.” By selling wine directly from tasting rooms to customers, he keeps prices below $20 a bottle with a 50 percent discount on mixed cases. Tastings are free.
In addition to its great wines, the winery provides a family-friendly atmosphere with cricket matches, car shows, archery events and dog agility contests.
Dhruv is “bullish” about local wineries’ success.
“The last 12 months have shown a significant acceleration in revenues for our wine region,” he said. “We had record attendance at the last Passport Weekend, which is an indicator of things to come. It’s an exciting time for wineries and whether we acknowledge it or not, a tsunami of business is coming our way. That’s why we must upgrade and continuously improve – to be ready to meet the on-coming demand and satisfy our customers.”  
Dhruv’s plans for expansion include the Kirigin Cellars Club House (currently under construction) that will be used for special events, wedding receptions and storing barrels. A second tasting room was recently added – with plans to build more – along with a new parking lot with 130 spaces. A gazebo for weddings is planned – at the end of a long narrow strip of lawn and flanked on either side by vineyards and roses.
Like the canary and the roses, the increase in customers visiting wineries indicates a robust wine country for years to come. Dhruv Khanna and Kirigin Cellars are ready.

Wine Munchie
Savory Caramelized Macadamia Nuts
Melt two tablespoons of butter and lightly mix with two cups of salted macadamia nuts. Spread out buttered nuts on a foil-lined pan and bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes, or until golden brown (watch carefully so as not to burn). Take the nuts out, sprinkle with sea salt, if desired, and let cool. These nuts are great by themselves with a chilled glass of Malvasia Bianca or sprinkled over vanilla ice cream topped with Vino de Mocca.

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