Historic La Caille has been restored — and there are new things to come

The restaurant bottles wine from vines planted in 1986, serves farm-to-table food and is building a new bar and lounge.

(Camille Durtschi, The Salt Lake Tribune) | The lower pond area of La Caille, which will host a fundraiser for the nonprofit Tribune on Aug. 27.

La Caille, the iconic restaurant which sits on 20 acres at the mouth of Cottonwood Canyon in Sandy, has found its stride with farm-to-table food and a re-established wine label.

For decades, La Caille, which opened in 1975, was the fine dining spot Utahns chose for marriage proposals, weddings, anniversaries, and Easter brunch. But by the mid-2000s, the informal, familial structure of the business unraveled, and the owners found themselves embroiled in a lawsuit that culminated in a tragic murder-suicide.

In 2012, La Caille re-opened under the ownership of Kevin Gates, who spent $1.5 million restoring the chateau and the grounds.

Contractors filled nearly 30 industrial dumpsters with broken kitchen equipment, dated chairs and tables and yard waste.

They also fixed leaking ponds and tilled an area for a garden.

With help from a local farmer, the garden was built as a closed ecosystem where kitchen scraps are composted. It is now growing several types of beans, plush squash, sunchokes, artichokes, leeks, cabbage, squash, Brussels sprouts, tomatoes and lettuces. The restaurant maintains an aquaponic system inside its greenhouse, where it grows herbs.

The gardens will be on display during a fundraiser to benefit the nonprofit Tribune starting at 3 p.m. on Aug. 27 (VIPs can enter at 3 p.m. and those with regular tickets can join at 5 p.m.). There will be live music and more than 35 local food and wine vendors, including La Caille. A limited number of tickets are available at saltcitywineanddine.com.

Kelly Doll, who manages La Caille, said that garden doesn’t necessarily fill the plates at the restaurant — instead, they source from rotating list of Utah farmers.

“The menu changes with the seasons,” he said.

The menu isn’t the only thing that’s changing. Doll said they’d like to restore La Caille’s ponds, vineyards and buildings back to their original state. And there’s the new bar.

“We’ve made many, many improvements to the property, bringing the tender loving care back,” he said. “We’re in the process of building a new lounge and bar in the future. There are neat things coming to the property.”

La Caille’s beginnings

Quail Run was a weekends-only restaurant opened at the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon in the early 1970s.

By 1975, it was replaced by La Caille, an upscale French restaurant housed in a 14,000-square-foot stone building co-founders Steve Runolfson, David Johnson and Mark Haug built by hand without an architect or contractors.

Utah hadn’t seen anything like it.

La Caille was known as much for 20-acre grounds as its food. The winding brick driveway (also laid by hand); the swan ponds; the fountains and orchards; the lush gardens, full of strutting peacocks.

In the early 1980s, the co-founders planted a vineyard of Seyval Blanc — an American-French hybrid grape. The grounds sit 5,350 feet above sea level and take advantage of low nighttime temperatures, well-draining sloped hills and soil rich in glacial deposits.

New Chateau La Caille

The vineyards have come a long way.

In 2011, Gates hired Michael Knight of Kiler Grove Winery, who had worked with La Caille in the 1990s to establish the restaurant’s first wine label, to help restore the vines. When Knight arrived, he replanted dozens dead and diseased plants. He also installed a drip irrigation system to prevent mildew on the grapes.

Winemaker Mike Marron joined La Caille in 2015. He said he began fermenting apple and grape juice at the age of 10, and planted pinot noir grapes behind his childhood home in 1977 — which he still uses to make wine.

At La Caille, “we grow Seyval Blanc and Dornfelder,” he said. Their estate wine, Enchante, “is made from the Seyval grapes, and fermented in stainless steel, which is a little different,” Marron said.

The goal is to create a full-bodied wine that’s fruity, has high acidity and a crisp finish.

“We try to get it as dry as we can,” he said. “Sometimes the grapes are too ripe, and they do get a little sweeter, but most people don’t even notice it.”

The Chateau La Caille label now produces enough wine, including Pinot Noir, Choix Évident, Cabernet Sauvignon and a Seyval Blanc, to host regular tastings at the restaurant.

La Caille is open from 5 to 9 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sunday. Wine tastings at La Caille are available by appointment by calling 801-942-1751.

An earlier version of this story stated that Kelly Doll was partner in La Caille; he is the manager. It also stated that the vineyards were planted in 1976, but were planted in 1986. The earlier version also stated that La Caille grows Sauvignon Blanc and Dornfelders, but they grow Seyval Blanc and Dornfelder grapes. Finally, the earlier version stated that Ed Primosic has been managing the vineyards for decades; Primosic left three years ago. We sincerely regret the errors.