Exploring Amador Wine
In the first article about my recent trip to Amador County, we covered the historic roots of this unique wine growing region and what makes it a cool destination today. Gold may have led the world to rush into an area then inhabited by small bands of Native Americans – for me, it was all about the wine.
I was in the area to attend the Wine Bloggers Conference in Lodi along with tasting team member, the Cabernetor. Lodi produces an array of different wine, but is best known for Zinfandel. I signed on for the Amador County pre-excursion to learn more about this area about an hour away.
There were three takeaways that made a lasting impression.
Zinfandel For The Ages
Lodi may get the trade news coverage for Zinfandel, but Amador County winemakers could consider Lodi latecomers. Amador County is home to the Original Grandpere Vineyard, the oldest documented Zinfandel vineyard in California. It is noted in a county deed in 1869, solidifying its claim.
The gnarled canes of old Zinfandel vines give forth fewer grapes, but ah! The grapes are concentrated with deep briary flavors that yield complex layers of currant and blackberries. Each of these wines are superb
Mark McKenna, winemaker for Andis, says that he can “push” the Estate Zinfandel a bit, but says the OGP grapes are like a toddler, with him following behind letting the wine find its own path. The result is exceptional.
According to Scott Harvey, who boasts a wealth of winemaking success, the marine influence in Amador County makes it ideal for producing incredible Old Vine Zinfandel. We agree.
A Flood Of Sangiovese
Vino Noceto owners Suzy and Jim Gullett were called nutty by neighboring grape growers when they decided to focus on growing Sangiovese. After investigation, they decided their property was best suited for warm weather red grapes. They produced 110 cases of Sangiovese in their inaugural vintage in 1990.
Today almost all of their 25 acres of vineyard are planted to Sangiovese and the winery produces 10,000 cases of wine annually. Today they are one of the main producers of Sangiovese in the state. My goodness, their Sangiovese is delicious!
We sampled three of their nine offerings: the 2013 Marmellata Sangiovese Shenandoah Valley, the 2013 Estate Sangiovese and the 2013 Dos Oakies Sangiovese. These are triumphant wines that wines give Chianti a run for its money. They are full of jammy flavors melded with earth and spice.
Barbera Wherefore Art Thou?
The excursion was organized by Amador Vintners and if they wanted to surprise the attendees by showcasing unexpected grape varieties, they succeeded – at least with me. I had no idea that the Italian grape Barbera could create such sublime wines in Amador County.
The first inkling that this grape is something truly special came during the morning tasting at the Shenandoah School House. The Redwood Grand Reserve Barbera, of which only 50 cases were produced, is a beautiful, expressive wine. There is energy to it with a flow of chocolate and raspberry. It is a $100 bottle and drinks like it.
It’s impossible to talk about Barbera in Amador County without a mention of Dick Cooper of Cooper Vineyards. Dick is a winemaking legend who began growing grapes in Amador County in 1980. Today he has 40 acres of Barbera and is considered the Godfather of this grape.
When asked why Cooper Vineyards likes to produce Barbera, he said, “It’s too easy to grow Zinfandel. It’s like cottage cheese.” The 2013 Cooper Barbera is no cottage cheese -- it is smoky with cherry and pepper flavor notes. (Just for the record, Cooper produces some nice Zin too.)
Also joining the parade of outstanding Barbera was Bella Grace Vineyards, with their 2013 Barbera and 2013 Reserve Barbera. Bella Grace also was superb with their whites, the 2014 3 Graces Blend, the 2015 Roussanne, and one of my favorite wines of the trip, the 2015 Vermentino.
As you may have divined, I truly enjoyed my trip to Amador County and the wines there are now on my watch list. I also wanted to call out Distant Cellars, Sera Fina Cellars and Legendre Cellars for their classy wines we enjoyed during our visit.
Visiting Amador County could become a regular thing. One visit and I think you’ll understand why too.