By Betty Yu

SONOMA (KPIX) — In a Sonoma County vineyard, a border collie named Gig sniffs the soil for a black truffle (also called a Perigord truffle).

Black truffles are not native to California. On Thursday afternoon, Gig made a discovery that could bolster the belief that California’s Wine Country may become the next great truffle-growing region.

“Almost had a heart attack, this is incredible, this is our first truffle orchard in America that’s produced the first scientifically-grown truffle,” said Robert Chang, chief truffle officer with American Truffle Company.

The American Truffle Company works with growers to cultivate truffles using repeatable, reliable and consistent methods.

“People have actually been trying to grow truffles in this country for the last 30 years — largely without success — because the science of growing truffles is really not out there in the public domain,” added Chang.

Thursday’s find was an estimated 70 grams or $150 worth on the retail market. It’s only the second at this undisclosed location in the last month. The trees were first planted in 2011.

“It’s crazy slow but that makes it exciting as well, because you’ve got that long build-up period,” said Dr. Paul Thomas, a researcher with the American Truffle Company. “Within that period, we know exactly because we’re looking at root samples, we’re looking at soil samples.”

Dr. Thomas said the Wine Country has an ideal climate for truffle growing, which is one without extremes.

“To find a truffle under a tree in the ground less than 15 miles from the restaurant is really, really exciting,” said Ken Frank, owner and chef of La Toque in Napa.

Frank cooks regularly with truffles. Right now, he’s paying up to $700 per pound and, by the time the truffles arrive from Europe or Australia, they’re about a week old.

“It’s potentially a game-changer simply because to get truffles chefs in the Bay Area within the next few years — same day or next day — like chefs in France or Italy do now,” said Frank.

Perhaps in the near future, local truffles will also be featured in the upcoming Napa Valley Truffle Festival.

It celebrates all things truffle, kicks off Friday and ends Monday.

WEB LINK: Napa Truffle Festival