Marshall McKay, tribal chairman of the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, with the tribe's new olive oil at the Seka Hills Brand Launch at Mulvaney's B&L restaurant in Sacramento. (By Lisa Garrigues)

Yocha Dehe Wintun Launches Seka Hills Brand

Lisa Gale Garrigues
5/10/12

Visitors to Mulvaney's B&L Restaurant in downtown Sacramento  were treated on April 30 to the taste of  three different wines as well as a variety of appetizers, including steamed organic asparagus dipped in 100 percent extra-virgin olive oil, when California's Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation launched its new product brand, Séka Hills.

The wine and olive oil are already on the market, and the tribe has plans to expand the brand to organic food by next year, says Jim Etters, director of land management for the tribe.

Séka is the Patwin word for “Blue,” which describes the hills in the tribe's ancestral lands in the Capay Valley of Northern California. The tribe is the owner of the Cache Creek Casino near  Sacramento as well as 11,000 acres of farm and ranch land in Yolo County, California. A Viognier white, a Tuluk'a cabernet/Syrah blend, and a Rose of Syrah are currently being grown and harvested on 1,500-acre vineyard.

The Viognier  won the Best of Class Award at the 2011 California State Fair, in which 2,600 wineries from all over California competed, as well as the Gold Medal for 2012 Consumer Wine Awards in Lodi, California. It  has aromas of orange blossoms, jasmine and honeysuckle, with tropical fruit flavors like mango and lychee, and a hint of vanilla. “The Viognier is really special. It's a grape that grows well in the Capay Valley. It handles the heat a lot better than a Chardonnay or a Sauvignon Blanc,” said Jim Etters.

The Tuluk'a contains a spicy, smoky blend of Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, with a touch of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, and aromas of strawberry, vanilla lavender and white pepper, with flavors of sweet cherries and strawberry.

The Rosé made from Syrah grapes tastes pleasantly tart with hints of cranberry, mellowed with aromas of red raspberries and wild strawberry.

Last year, the Yocha Dehe produced 1,500 cases of wine and plans to ramp up to 3,500 cases over the next two to three years. After the grapes are picked, they are sent to Revolution Vineyards to be crushed, then on to the California winemaker Blake Kuhn, the former Toasted Head senior winemaker/general manager. The wines  can be purchased for $15-17 per bottle at the tribe's grocery store and at the Cache Creek Casino Resort in Brooks, as well as the Ferry Building in San Francisco, several Nugget Markets in Northern California, and online at  sekahills.com and facebook.com/sekahillsproducts. Visitors to the Yocha Dehe tribe's Seka Hills brand launch event at Mulvaney's B&L were treated to the taste of three different wines as well as the tribe's new 100 percent Extra Virgin olive oil.

A 2010 Tribal Reserve, a blend of Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, with a touch of Petit Verdot and Petite Syrah, is currently being aged in 100 percent New French Oak barrels and will be available this summer for a suggested retail price of $27.99.

The Séka Hills Extra Virgin olive oil, served with  French bread and organic asparagus from the Yocha Dehe farm at the tasting event, is made from Arbequina olives and has a smooth and buttery flavor, with a hint of grass and pepper. It is unique for California, Etters says, because it is processed using the tribe's olive mill that prevents oxygen from ever touching the oil, preserving flavor and freshness. So far, this kind of mill has only been used in Italy. The oil will also be available online at sekahills.com and at Nugget Markets at nuggetmarket.com.

The organic food products, which are already being sold wholesale, will include blueberries, walnuts, almonds, asparagus and beef from the 200 head of grass-fed, range-fed cattle which the tribe owns. All  products are grown, raised and harvested by the tribe's agricultural team in the Capay Valley.

Tribal Chairman Marshall McKay stressed the importance of the sustainable farming practices used by the tribe. “When I remember watching my grandfather farm, he was doing those same things. He wasn't adding chemicals to the soil, he was replenishing the  nutrients with different crops, he was rotating crops, he was using animal fertilizers, those kinds of things were sustainability was just the practice of the day, rather than the trend," he said. "Now we're reverting back to that.”

The 62-member Yocha Dehe, whose name means “Home by the Spring Water” in their native Patwin language, are descendants of  the original inhabitants of California's Capay Valley, located in Yolo County, California. The Wintun Nation that the Yocha Dehe belong to once numbered 15,000 people all over California, but by the mid-19th century, after Spanish and Anglo-American colonization, the entire Wintun population had  plummeted to just 15 people.

Federal relocation of the early 20th century took the Yocha Dehe away from their ancestral lands and into  reservations and economic dependance on the federal government. Now, thanks to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act and the tribe's entrepreneurism, the Yoche Dehe have been able to use their gaming revenue to expand  from a single bingo hall in 1988  to a luxury casino, hotel and golf course, as well as buy back their original land. With this new revenue, the tribe has built a cultural center, a school, and a fire department, and donated more than 19 million in grants to organizations involved in education, health care and the environment.

The launching of the Séka Hills product label will help continue the cultural, emotional and physical healing that economic independence has brought the Yocha Dehe, McKay said, as well as  foster collaboration with their California farming neighbors and with other tribes. “Things are taking a turn for the better now, families are starting to trust one another, they're trying to build a strong community again."

“It also helps us with our neighbors because we have a stake in the Valley now," he added. “If it doesn't rain, it affects us too. If we have a bad season with the insects, it affects us too.”

In the future, McKay would like to see even more collaboration with other Native tribes in both North and South America in getting their products to market. “I think the idea of buying Indian is an important value in this day and age.”

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