California is a well-known hub for wine and farm-grown specialty foods, yet artisan products made by Native American communities are only now coming into the spotlight. Séka Hills, in Yolo County’s bucolic Capay Valley, is one delicious example. Owned and run by the Yocha Dehe (pronounced “YO-cha-DEE-hee”) Wintun Nation, Séka Hills produces wine, olive oil, wildflower honey, spiced nuts, beef jerky, and more—all available for sampling at two tasting rooms within an hour’s drive of Sacramento.
The Séka Hills name—Séka means “blue” in the native Patwin language—honors the rolling hills of Capay Valley, which has been the tribe’s traditional homeland for thousands of years. Today, the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation farms and ranches more than 25,000 acres in the region, both on and off the reservation, growing 14 different crops and ranching 800 head of Angus cattle.
The Capay Valley estate holds particular significance for the Yocha Dehe. In the early 1900s, the United States government forced the tribe from its village and moved it to a reservation in Rumsey, about a dozen miles from its current holdings. Dry and barren, the land proved a poor location for farming and tribal citizens struggled to survive. Decades later, the tribe won the right to move to a more hospitable piece of land near Capay Valley, and in the 1980s, some of the Yocha Dehe’s ancestral lands were finally returned to them.
In 2003, shortly after announcing plans to build the Cache Creek Casino Resort on its property in Brooks, the tribe hired Jim Etters as its director of land management. It was Etters, working closely with the Yocha Dehe tribal council, who helped develop the Séka Hills agricultural enterprise from scratch.
“Everything in the Séka Hills lineup is produced on tribal land, and that's something the tribe is very proud of,” says Etters. “They have complete control over how those crops are cared for, how they’re harvested, and how they’re processed.”
That includes grapes for the Séka Hills wines, grown on nine acres planted on the reservation, along with 20 acquired acres in the Capay Valley. The tribe launched the brand in 2012 and now produces seven wines, including Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Tannat, and an easy-drinking blend called Tuluk’a, which means “red” in the Patwin language.
“Being a small grape-grower allows us to put a lot of attention into the vineyard,” Etters says. “Through our different cultural practices we’re maximizing the flavor and the quality of the fruit.”
Environmental stewardship is a key element of the Séka Hills farming approach, not only in the vineyards but across the operation. This includes the use of beneficial insects for pest control, drip irrigation to conserve water, and cover crops to prevent soil erosion and provide nutrients. Of the 3,000 acres currently being farmed on the estate, 250 are certified organic.
“We have been really focused on planting native pollinator plants and wildlife habitat,” says Etters. To conserve precious groundwater, the tribe also utilizes surface water from Cache Creek, which flows through the property. “Surface water is a lot more sustainable than continuing to pump water out of the ground year after year.”
Visiting Séka Hills
Visitors can taste the Séka Hills wines, along with the tribe’s lineup of specialty food products, at its tasting rooms in Capay Valley and Clarksburg. Each offers its own unique experience.
At the Capay Valley Olive Mill & Tasting Room in Brooks, guests can follow the olive oil production process each fall from the time the olives arrive at the mill through pressing the fruit and packaging the oils for market. Visitors can also drink in views of the Capay Valley’s rolling hills from the tasting room and patio while sipping Séka Hills wine and enjoying salads, sandwiches, and charcuterie from the on-site deli.
The Séka Hills Clarksburg Tasting Room, located at the Old Sugar Mill just 15 minutes from downtown Sacramento, has a more urban vibe. There, visitors can see where the Séka Hills wines are made while tasting the latest vintages. Séka Hills is joined at the Old Sugar Mill by 13 other local wineries that operate tasting rooms inside the historic building.