On a recent January afternoon when the California Delta was still waterlogged from recent rains, I cruised down South River Road to visit the Old Sugar Mill in Clarksburg.
Completed in 1936, this one-time factory has been given new life on the banks of the Sacramento River. Rising from vineyards behind a river levee, the imposing red-brick structure has become a beacon for wine lovers seeking an undiscovered gem.
Wine in the Delta? Really?
Northern California certainly has a wealth of designated wine regions. From Elk Grove, both Lodi and Amador County are just thirty minutes away. And of course, the Napa Valley is doable for a day trip.
But little Clarksburg is only a short jaunt across the Sacramento River from Elk Grove. And while it’s still relatively unknown compared to other California appellations, wines from this region shouldn’t be missed—and the mill is the best place to try them.
Eight wineries have opened shop inside the mill’s renovated galleria, an indoor plaza with tasting rooms lining each side. While some wine regions might have downtown tasting rooms that sample local labels, the Old Sugar Mill is a stunning twist on that concept.
Andy Gaudy, operations manager for the Clarksburg Wine Company, one of the wineries at the mill, thinks the old building’s historic location and close proximity to a metropolitan area is also unique.
Better yet—with a fistful of wineries housed inside the remodeled brick walls, there’s no need for gallivanting all over the area for tastings.
“That’s the best part about it,” said Gaudy. “We’re just a stone’s throw from Sacramento. More and more people are realizing they can come down here and spend an afternoon in eight different tasting rooms.”
But there’s more than just wine.
Last year, the mill hosted several large events that included wine and food festivals and concerts with award-winning musicians. In November, jazz artist and Grammy winner Kid Chocolate performed a dinner concert there.
And recently, local food vendors began serving gourmet fare at the mill on weekends.
One of those vendors is Bret Bohlmann, chef and owner at Elk Grove’s Boulevard Bistro. Bohlmann started making baguette sandwiches at the mill in December and thinks the Clarksburg venue is a blessing for the region’s food and wine culture.
Bohlmann, who grew up in Elk Grove, remembers taking trips to the mill with a family friend who delivered sugar beets to Clarksburg long before the facility was remodeled.
“It’s fantastic spot, and what they did was incredible with that old building,” said Bohlmann, who serves wine from three of Clarksburg’s wineries at his Elk Grove restaurant.
Of those varietals, Bohlmann noted he especially recommends chenin blancs and syrahs from Clarksburg, which has a terroir similar to Napa because of the cooler Delta climate.
Taking a trip to the mill can also include a longer tour through the Clarksburg wine region. There are several wineries along Highway 160 and South River Road, which both follow the river and make a scenic weekend drive through the Delta.
A chilly day is a perfect excuse to stay inside at the mill while still enjoying plenty of Clarksburg wine. But if the sun comes out, there are guided bike trips that include the mill and surrounding area. Fast Eddie Bike Tours offers 10 and 15 mile rides through Clarksburg’s wine region and scenic Delta waterways.
More about the Old Sugar Mill
The mill is open for tasting from Wednesday to Sunday. Doors open at 11 a.m. Children are welcome; pets too, but on a leash. For more information on events at the mill, visit www.oldsugarmill.com.
Directions: From Elk Grove, take I-5 North to the Pocket Road exit and turn right. At Freeport Blvd/Highway 160, turn right and go straight for about 1.8 miles. Turn right again at the Freeport Bridge; after crossing, turn left on South River Road. Head south for 3.2 miles and turn right on Willow Point Road. Drive for about two hundred yards, then turn left on Willow Avenue to arrive at the mill.