Story by Nicole Johansson

Whether it is during events or on a normal business day, sharing the process of winemaking from vine to wine is something Vanessa Pitney (MS, Nutrition Education, ’09) is passionate about. Originally from Walnut Creek, she earned her bachelor’s at Humboldt State before moving to Chico, where she met and married Jess Pitney, (Construction Management, ’05). They chose to settle in Durham, with hopes of starting a family out in the country. Today, they run Nascere Vineyards together, while also raising two boys, ages 6 and 9. Pitney is also a clinical dietician for Feather River Tribal Health in Oroville, specializing in providing outpatient nutrition education and assisting patients with their journey to wellness. This month, she’s excited to share her love of winemaking with visitors as one of 31 destinations on the new Sierra Oro Farm & Wine Pass, where visitors can tour, taste, and toast for 31 days in October. Passes are still available, and she’d love to see fellow Wildcats on the trail.

As a first-generation female winemaker, what do you love most about your job?

Jess and I were looking to have a small farm or orchard from the beginning. We really like this community and we were always interested in farming, but when we found the vineyard we fell in love with it. The idea of farming grapes was challenging and new. It was already planted when we moved in, and at first, we were just going to farm the grapes, but the excitement of learning about winemaking encouraged us. We pursued more education at UC Davis and then worked in collaboration with Hickman Family Vineyards. We released our first vintage in 2011 and our winery officially opened in 2016. I enjoy sharing with our customers the story of the wine—specifics such as the exact location where the grapes were grown and how they’re processed, bottled, and labeled. That’s a perk of a small, family-owned winery. We’re often on the property and are happy to stop and chat with our customers.

How do you use your degree in your work for Nascere Vineyards?

My background in the sciences—particularly biology, chemistry, and microbiology—definitely helps me to understand the winemaking process at a deeper level. At Chico State, I took classes in food sciences and sensory analysis, which have really helped me to understand the aromatics and flavor profiles of wine. Another larger contributing factor is understanding how nutrition plays a role in a thriving community. Part of that is the importance of small farms and local foods. I have an enhanced appreciation of our small vineyard and the importance of growing crops locally, organically, and sustainably.

They say wine takes on the personality of the winemaker. How does your wine reflect your personality?

It’s really a reflection of both Jess and me. We like complexity, so we make blends that showcase the fruit. We tend to like wines that have a little spice and highlight the grape itself. Our wines aren’t overly oaked and don’t mask the flavor of the grape itself. Organic wine used to be sulfate-free for organic certification, but we haven’t taken the step for that designation on our label. We grow our grapes organically, which is more costly and more demanding, but it’s worth it. Minimal sulfates are added to the wine to protect it from oxidation and microbial contamination. Because we are small, we do a lot by hand. We don’t have a lot of mechanized equipment, it’s the beauty of an artisan winery. We use a simple basket press, we harvest our grapes by hand and punch down wines by hand. Since we are doing small lots of wine, it’s more artisan, handcrafted and there are less needs for high-tech equipment for processing used for making larger quantities. Organic is not our only selling point, we are a small winery and 90 percent of our sales are face-to-face to the tasting room. People who buy our wines enjoy and appreciate a personal relationship with us. My favorite part of my job is connecting with our community.

Two small boys reach into a plastic tub filled with freshly picked wine grapes in a vineyard.
Winemaking is a family affair for the Pitneys. During harvest, it’s all hands on deck with the help of their two sons.

How do you come up with brands and labels?

We like creative names, and we try to find names that speak to us. We like humor and we like people to feel comfortable, so part of our process in naming our wines is to come up with names that make people laugh. An example is our wine club is called the “Devoted Drinkers.” Our white Rhone blend is called Four Lamour (For Love). We try to make it catchy and have fun.

Why did you join the Sierra Oro Farm Trail?

We joined the farm trail five years ago, and it’s been a great way to connect with customers and get our wine and our name out. It’s been valuable to us to be able to promote Nascere wines and support the other farms at the same time. It’s fun to see and talk about all the stops in Butte County that the Sierra Oro Farm Trail has to offer—there really is an array of choices. The Sierra Oro Farm Trail is a reason for people to come and taste our wine, meet us, and see what we have going on in Durham. It also supports the local farmers and vintners and provides a great time while doing so.

Visit Nascere Vineyards on weekends from noon-5 p.m. with the Sierra Oro Farm & Wine Pass.

Nicole Johansson is a Butte County resident who has worked as a marketing communications professional for the last 23 years. She is passionate about contributing as a writer and communicator to make our community a better place.