Just outside the gates of Lake Wildwood is a winery cleverly tucked away just before you reach the highway. As unassuming as its location, owner Guy Lauterbach is thrilled to be able to welcome wine lovers back to the Gray Pine tasting room after being unable to do so for a while because of…well, you know.
Named for the native California Gray Pine which is prevalent in our area, Gray Pine Vineyard and Winery is a small, limited-production winery with an annual production of approximately 350 cases. They grow their own grapes on their two-acre vineyard and make their own wines. Specializing in Bordeaux varietals, they produce Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec and a classic Bordeaux-style Red Blend. They also have a very small amount of Sauvignon Blanc.
“We believe that fine wine is best enjoyed with fine meals, and our winemaking focus is on food-friendly wines with balanced acid and tannins, in the classic Bordeaux style,” Lauterback explained. “My winemaking philosophy is old California or European; I believe that wines are best drunk as an accompaniment to a meal, and my style of winemaking is to make wines that pair up well with food.”
Celebrating ten years of making such wines, Gray Pine was voted Best Winery of 2020 by the readers of The Union, and continues to focus on creating quality, small batch varietals to please the palate and the senses. All Gray Pine red wines are estate, which means that they are grown, produced, and bottled right here in Penn Valley. Unlike some other small wineries, Lauterback does not buy grapes from outside growers.
Lauterbach does most of the work of growing the grapes and making the wine himself, with assistance only from a crew that comes to help with pruning and harvest, and also with bottling, all of which are larger projects than one person can handle. He also often conscripts his daughter when she’s home from college, or local young people of age. “Sometimes there are Sierra grape growers or other people who want to help, and I am happy to let them,” Lauterbach said, joking that, “Winemaking is just glorified dishwashing with really big dishes.”
A 30-year Lake Wildwood homeowner, Lauterbach grew up in Southern California on an acre of avocados in La Habra, and went to college in Oregon where wanted to major in computer science, but they didn’t exist yet, so he majored in math. A year after he graduated the university got a formal computer science department, so he returned to attend grad school to finally earn that degree in computer science, then worked for the university computer center just as computers were beginning. “The computer at the school took up a whole room and had much less capacity and storage than a smart phone,” he recalled.
He remained in Oregon for 10 years, then moved to the Bay Area to begin working for real computer companies, and worked for a number of startups. While living in Bay Area, his mom passed away and his dad wanted to get out of Southern California, so Lauterbach asked his dad to move closer to him in the Bay Area. His dad wanted a golfing community, and a friend had a second home in Lake of the Pines, but didn’t like any of the houses that they saw there, but did like what they had heard about Lake Wildwood. The father son pair went there and looked at a bunch of houses, and his dad bought one…six months before the 49er fire.
While his dad was living in Lake Wildwood, Lauterbach looked around when he came to visit and fell in love with the area, and so started looking for land. “In the back of my mind I had always wanted to grow grapes and make wine. I had been a longtime wine aficionado,” he said. “The company I was working for in 2001, Net App, let me move here to work from home. There was another coworker from the company, and we rented a place in Brighton Greens, but after two years Net App wanted us to come back and work in the office, so that was the end of my computer career.”
Instead, Lauterbach and his wife focused on building their house and working on the property. They cleared brush, cut down trees, and began developing the land for a vineyard. He planted the vines in 2007, put in his wine cave in 2008, built the winery in 2009, got bonded in 2010, and produced his first commercial vintage in 2011. It would have happened in 2010, but the paperwork took longer than he anticipated.
In the past ten years since that first commercial batch, Lauterbach has been perfecting the process and loves sharing his wine with the community and the visitors who come to enjoy the area. The winery tasting room is once again open most weekends from 12:30-4:30 p.m. (with the last tasting at 4:00 p.m.). They welcome covid-vaccinated guests in the tasting room and are limiting tasting room occupancy to four guests at a time. Weather-permitting, additional guests (vaccinated or not) are welcome to taste on our wisteria-covered patio. Always check the website, graypinewinery.com, before planning your visit to be sure they’re open. Winery and cave tours and tastings are also available by appointment. Please call 530-432-7045 to schedule a tour.