Historic winery sold for $4.7M

Sean Janssen, The Union Democrat /

The former home of Murphys' pioneering Stevenot Winery and the neighboring historic Dragone Ranch were purchased last week for $4.725 million by a group including a Napa winemaker with a reputation on the rise.

Matthew Rorick, 41, owns a winery called Forlorn Hope and has previously been a winemaker for Dashe Cellars and Elizabeth Spencer in Northern California, as well as Vina Errazuriz in Chile. The San Francisco Chronicle profiled Rorick as a "winemaker to watch" in February for his minimalist approach and as his label's name implies, a willingness to take on the improbable.

"I've been working with a variety of vineyards in the foothills for the past eight years," Rorick said Monday in a phone interview. "The soils and elevation are what I love about the area … what keep me coming up there."

His newest task appears to be turning around a property with a rich history but a more difficult recent past.

A real estate investment group including Rorick and three of his cousins, ARO Partners, based in Carlsbad, bought the property from BaySierra Financial, a Santa Rosa mortgage lender that took ownership in May 2012 after foreclosure befell the previous owner, Jack Munari, a Paso Robles developer.

Munari bought the land in 2006 from Barden Stevenot, who founded the winery, one of the first in Calaveras County, in 1978. Stevenot Winery filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy about a year before the sale.

Munari also filed for Chapter 11 protection by 2009 and sold the Stevenot label in February 2010 to Oliveto Distributing, based in Sutter Creek. Munari then launched an eponymous label that had a brief run.

Joan Irish, of Century 21 Sierra Properties in Murphys, the seller's agent in the transaction, said she expects the new ownership "will be great for the wine industry" in Calaveras County.

Irish and her family own Irish Vineyards in Vallecito.

"I understand how important it is to have these icons up there and making great wines again," she said.

Irish said the property has been well-maintained by BaySierra, which has continued to harvest its grapes and sell them to primarily local wineries.

"It's a great little destination location," she said, pointing to "Theater Under the Stars" hosted by Murphys Creek Theatre and other events hosted there. "The more events we can have up here … the better for the industry and all the shops in town and hotels."

Scott Klann, owner of Newsome-Harlow Winery in Murphys, got his start in winemaking 21 years ago at Stevenot and recently leased facilities at the property to make some of his wines.

"It was a lot of fun to go back after 20 years. It definitely needs a little bit of TLC but it's an incredible place to go to work," Klann said. "I think Matthew bringing his label up here will be really a kick in the pants. I think it'll be a really good fit."

Klann said he has encountered Rorick on a few occasions as they use some of the same grape growers.

"He's been gaining notoriety for his brand … he is very passionate about good-quality wines and I know he's had a bit of a bug for the foothills for quite a few years," he said. "I think (his purchase) was one of the greatest things I've heard short of me being able to buy it."

Rorick said he will continue to have Steve Collum of Vineyard Concepts caring for the property but will need about a year to develop a plan for it.

"For somebody who believes the spot is everything, it's a really good spot," he said. "I'm really excited to have a wine project in the family now. I couldn't be happier to have some vines in the ground to work with in the foothills."

The Union Democrat
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