Lone Buffalo Vineyards Builds New Winery

New location improves visibility on Placer County Wine Trail

by Jon Tourney
lone buffalo vineyards
Jill, Phil and Jocelyn Maddux, the owners/operators of Lone Buffalo Vineyards, opened their new tasting room (above) in Placer County on Jan. 11.
Auburn, Calif.—After expanding wine production and sales for five years at its original location, Lone Buffalo Vineyards has roamed to a larger property in Placer County and built a new and larger winery and tasting room that opened Jan. 11. The new 12-acre property is located northwest of Auburn, Calif., and north of Interstate 80, placing it within the Sierra Foothills American Viticultural Area and closer to a more heavily traveled section of the expanding Placer County Wine Trail. The new site is within three miles of a cluster of newer wineries and tasting rooms that include Dona Dal Cielo Vineyard and Winery, PaZa Vineyard and Winery and Wise Villa Winery.

Family-owned and operated by Phil, Jill and Jocelyn Maddux, Lone Buffalo began commercial operation in 2007 at a smaller, off-the-beaten path property with a one-acre vineyard south of Auburn. Phil Maddux is a native of Sonoma County who practices real estate law, but he is increasingly devoting more time to the winery. He began making wine in 1971 and has taken winemaking and chemistry classes at the University of California, Davis, and Sonoma State University, and cites Sonoma County winemaking legends Dick Arrowood and Cecil DeLoach as mentors.

Maddux was an award-winning amateur winemaker for many years, and Lone Buffalo wines are now winners in commercial wine competitions. Most recently, Lone Buffalo won medals for each of its five wines entered in the 2012 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, notably taking a gold medal for the 2010 Sierra Foothills “Thunder Beast Zinfandel.”

Jill Maddux, with a 25-year career in sales and marketing, manages Lone Buffalo’s sales and accounting and assists Phil with vineyard management, including managing three 1-acre vineyards in Placer County, where the winery sources grapes. Their daughter Jocelyn Maddux handles public relations, manages graphic media and the winery’s website, electronic and social media in addition to operating her own marketing consulting business—jbrandmarketing. All three Madduxes staff the tasting room on weekends. “Each of us brings our own skills and strengths to the business,” Jill said. “We’re a three-legged stool, and we complement one another in how we divide up the duties.”

Success enables move
Lone Buffalo’s success and growth enabled the move and expansion. “We’ve been profitable since our third year in business,” Phil said, “and we’d been looking for a new location for almost two years.” Direct sales through the tasting room, a wine club and the website account for a significant part of sales, with the remainder of production sold through local retailers and restaurants along the I-80 corridor from Sacramento to Lake Tahoe.

The new location on the Placer County Wine Trail is expected to draw more customer traffic. The Wine Trail is a project of the Placer County Vintners Association (PCVA) and is expanding both with wineries and visitors. The Trail includes 17 tasting rooms (most of them less than 10 years old, and most located north of I-80 from the Northern California cities of Loomis to Auburn). PCVA provides signage, visitor maps and holds two Wine Trail weekend events per year—in August and December. Phil is vice president of PCVA, and Jocelyn is PCVA’s marketing and website manager.

Larger facility increases production efficiency, capacity
The 2,400-square-foot tasting room and production facility will enable all operations and case goods storage to be consolidated in one building and provide room for modest production growth. The winery currently produces 1,200 cases per year, and its average bottle price is $21. Total production is expected to top out at 2,000 cases.

The new facility is a pre-engineered metal building with custom touches to architecturally resemble a western ranch structure, both outside and inside. The building is well insulated with interior rigid foam panels. Discussing the decision to go with a metal building, Phil said, “This type of building is economical, and it goes up much faster.” Groundbreaking occurred in September 2012, when a concrete slab was poured, and the structure was ready for move-in before the end of 2012 (though move-in is still in progress). Stainless steel fermentation tanks and the 2012 vintage remain at the original winery and will be moved after these wines go from tank into barrel.

The new building has a higher ceiling to increase barrel-aging capacity with more efficient barrel stacking. A new forklift was purchased to move and manage barrels and case good pallets. An outdoor covered crush pad is on one side of the building, and pavement encircles the building to provide better grape delivery and process flow operations. The site allows expanded visitor access and parking for the tasting room, and it can accommodate more wine club and special events. The new property will be planted with a larger 3.5-acre estate vineyard beginning in spring 2013, with one acre each of Syrah, Tempranillo and Zinfandel, plus a half-acre of Malbec.

Buffalo provides theme and inspiration
Since childhood, Phil has been fascinated with the American buffalo and its history as the once-dominant animal of the American Plains that was hunted to near extinction in the late 1800s. The buffalo’s comeback, beginning in the latter 20th century, with expanded herds in parks, preserves and on private ranches, has inspired Maddux. He sees a similarity between the history of the Sierra Foothills wine industry and the history of the buffalo. “The Sierra Foothills was California’s original wine country beginning with the Gold Rush, and a premier wine production area prior to Prohibition, when most wineries closed and many vineyards were removed for other crops or development,” Phil explained. He noted that the wine industry’s post-Prohibition revival in Placer County has lagged behind other Sierra Foothills counties such as Amador, Calaveras, El Dorado and Nevada—one reason he selected Placer County to start the Lone Buffalo brand and to be part of Placer’s wine industry resurrection.

Each bottle’s back label reads: “The buffalo’s strength, power and resilience in the face of encroaching civilization symbolizes hope, renewal and inspiration for all. Here in the Sierra Foothills, Lone Buffalo Vineyards symbolizes this same hope and renewal with our contribution to the reemergence of the winemaking tradition in Placer County.”

The buffalo theme is reflected on wine label graphics and with wine names such as “Bison Blanc Viognier,” “Tatonka Tempranillo” and “Where the Buffalo Roam,” a Rhone blend of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre that is the winery’s largest production label. Other varieties produced include Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah and Zinfandel. All wines are sourced from Sierra Foothill vineyards, with the exception of “Pawnee Tawny,” a port-style dessert wine produced from Madera County-grown Portuguese varieties.

Jocelyn Maddux has created and introduced a new “jbrand” by Lone Buffalo. The brand started as a father-daughter collaboration in which Phil worked with Jocelyn to pass on winemaking skills while also introducing wines with a younger consumer taste profile. The brand’s three releases to date are limited-production, single-varietal wines: Just Pinot Grigio, Just Grenache and Just Syrah.

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