Columns by John

John Brown has been a wine and food columnist in West Virginia since the 1980’s. His regular columns appear in the Charleston (WV) Gazette-Mail under the title Vines & Vittles and in The State Journal - a statewide business weekly

Synapse Wines: connecting with West Virginia

Synapse Wines: connecting with  West Virginia
Throughout history, wine has had a powerful influence on just about every aspect of the human condition. From religion, to culture, to art, to war and, indeed, to our daily lives, wine has played an important role in shaping history and civilization for thousands of years.

The Romans sent farmers to far off lands to plant vines well in advance of their invading armies so the soldiers would have wine to accompany their meals and to celebrate their victories. And to this day, wine remains an integral part of Judeo-Christian religious ceremonies.

So I guess it should not be surprising that someone from Weirton, practicing medicine in California would become infatuated with wine. What is surprising is the degree to which this WVU graduate has pursued his passion for the fruit of the vine.

Bruce Ginier was born and raised in Weirton, graduated from Brooke High in 1978 and received a BS and MD degree from WVU. He actually spent the last two years of medical school here in Charleston. After an internship, Ginier moved to Sacramento for his radiology residency. The rest is wine-stained history.

As you may know, Sacramento is the gateway to the Sierra Foothills wine country that includes El Dorado and Amador Counties. The town of Placerville is smack-dab in the middle of the Sierra Foothills AVA (American Viticultural Area) and that is where Synapse Wines was established.

The Vineyard
The concept for Synapse Wines began in 2000 when Bruce Ginier and his colleague and friend Randy Knutzon hatched the idea one evening over a few beers. (Strange how beer always seems to play a role in wine making). Anyway, the two friends scoured the Sierra Foothills and found the perfect spot for the vineyard on a 40-acre westward-facing slope overlooking the Cosumnes River Canyon.

Synapse owners Randy Knutzon and Bruce Ginier

Ginier said the initial plan was to simply grow grapes and sell them to wineries in the area. So in 2002, they planted syrah and later added zinfandel, petite sirah, viognier, grenache and mourvedre. But four years after planting the vineyard, the partners were so excited by the quality of the first vintage, they decided it would be more fun to make wine than just grow and sell grapes.

The Wines
For such a new enterprise, Synapse has garnered a significant treasure chest of awards from several prestigious wine competitions. Their 2006 K-Space Syrah won a Double Gold Medal at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. Many of their other wines have won gold, silver and bronze awards at other competitions around the country. Debbie Knutzon (Randy’s wife) is the winemaker and both families are involved in all aspects of running the winery.

Most Synapse Wines are priced from $16 to $28 a bottle and can only be purchased at the winery. However, the wines are available online and can be shipped to West Virginia.

If you’re interested, check out the Synapse website at: If you decide to order wines, Bruce has offered free shipping on any order of three or more bottles. (When going through checkout, there is a box in the shopping cart window to enter a promotion/coupon code. In the box, simply type in fs3b2011).

The Name

Why “Synapse” for the winery name? Well, both owners are neuro-radiologists who spend a considerable amount of time examining the brain which is a composed of nerve cells and the connection between them – the synapse.

So, for the partners, Synapse Wines symbolize the two families coming together to create the vineyard and winery, and pays tribute to the value the owners place on connecting with family and friends.

I'll drink to that !
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