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It would be easy to drive by the Salvador Vineyard in Oakley, California, without giving it a second thought. The plot is on a residential backstreet, 10 or so acres of widely spaced, low-growing vines. On one side, behind a wooden fence, is a cookie-cutter subdivision full of dun-colored suburban houses. On the other side, more houses. There's no office at Salvador Vineyard and certainly no winery, only a ramshackle, ranch-style building that the Gonsalves family, who own the property, use for storage. In fact, the Salvador Vineyard basically looks like a big, drab, sandy backyard, one that just happens to be filled with vines. It's the definition of unprepossessing.
But it makes great wine.
A few months ago, I was standing in the middle of Salvador with Tegan Passalacqua, the winemaker for Turley Wine Cellars. Passalacqua, a substantial, dark-haired guy in his mid-thirties, is one of the state's most respected proponents of old, forgotten, threatened, obscure and historic California vineyards. He's a Napa Valley native, but not from a winemaking family—his father drove a cement truck for 32 years. As Passalacqua says, "He poured foundations for a lot of wineries in Napa, but that's about it." Nevertheless, vineyards caught Passalacqua's interest, and after getting a bachelor's degree in public health, he shifted course into wine.