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Category Archives: Amador County

A Weekend to Remember…OGP ’18

Once in a while, amid the post-holiday, mid-winter blues, an event comes along that sparks the imagination, warms the heart, and…well…quenches the thirst. One such event is the annual Original Grandpère Vineyard Weekend. Held at three wineries in Amador County, California, the OGP Weekend celebrates the oldest documented Zinfandel vineyard in the United States, and the phenomenal wines produced from its grapes. These vines can be traced back to 1869, and were likely planted several years before then! Those are some seriously Old Vines!

This was my second time attending the OGP Weekend, and Robyn’s first. There is some fascinating history around this vineyard, which adds to the allure and mystique of the event. The fact that only a handful of wineries have rights to the grapes creates a buzz and demand for the rare wines. More shocking is the fact that during the (gasp) White Zinfandel craze in the 1970’s and 80’s, these historic grapes were relegated to a fate I just can’t bring myself to write about again. I documented my trip to the 2017 event in a collaborative project with Bri of Bri’s Glass of Wine, so I won’t go into any more historical detail here. Please check out my post on Bri’s blog, here, for more detailed background and history. I think you’ll enjoy it!

This year we attended the celebration on Sunday, by visiting the wineries in order of approach. Coming from the Sacramento area, that meant Scott Harvey Wines first, then Vino Noceto, and ending with Andis Wines. The weather cooperated perfectly! Despite the fog that shrouded the valley below, the foothills were clear and bright, with temperatures in the upper 50’s to low 60’s. Consequently, Scott Harvey Wines and Vino Noceto hosted their festivities outside. It was spectacular!

Scott Harvey Wines

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Held in the open air entryway of their barrel room, the tasting at Scott Harvey Wines featured generous samples of their 2008, 2010, 2011, and 2015 Zinfandel. Scott Harvey refers to his wines, made from this historic vineyard, his Vineyard 1869 series. (Read last year’s post for more on why this is significant.) Our friendly and knowledgeable host, Muffin, poured tastes and explained the pairings. With the 2008, we enjoyed a Caprese salad of sorts…skewered onto a pipette filled with Extra Virgin Olive Oil, we pulled the basil leaf, mozzarella cheese ball, and cherry tomato off with our teeth, while squeezing the EVOO into our mouths. Unique, and delightful! A special way to eat a salad! The 2010 paired exquisitely with lamb and mint meatballs in an Indian curry sauce (hidden inside the black dish in the photo below.) I popped the whole meatball in my mouth, but Robyn was smarter, taking smaller bites so she could re-dip and enjoy all the curry sauce. The final food pairing was the 2011 with a cheddar biscuit slider. The slider contained grilled forest mushrooms, smoked Gouda cheese, and white truffle aioli. You had me at white truffle!

Each of the wines was spectacular. The Old Vines produce age-worthy Zinfandels that are soft and restrained, but still maintain juicy fruit and soft spice notes. In addition to the pairings, we sampled the newest vintage, the 2015. This one was much brighter and livelier, with fresh fruit flavors and more spice, but still restrained compared to other Zin’s of the same vintage. The recommended pairing is Balsamic Quick-Braised Pork Chop.

After these tastes, Muffin directed us into the barrel room where we were met by Dominic. At the time we were the only ones there so we had the opportunity to enjoy some pleasant conversation with him as he thieved samples of their 2016 “1869” Zinfandel. (Volume up!)

Dominic explained that this wine has nearly another year in barrel before they will bottle and release it to club members, then the public. As a special bonus, we also had a taste of their 2012 “1869”. Once again, this was a spectacular wine that is drinking well now, but could age another half-dozen years.

Vino Noceto

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This year, Vino Noceto went with more of a backyard barbecue theme, serving their three samples of Original Grandpère Vineyard wines with a variety of grilled sausages, paired with several tasty sauces. Here, we tasted the 2006, 2011, and 2013 OGP Zinfandel. There were several tasting hosts pouring, and I wasn’t able to get their names so I can’t properly recognize them here. Nevertheless, they were generous with samples, re-tastes, and service. We sat at a picnic table in the sun and enjoyed the wine, the sausages and sauces, and the vineyard views. The 2013 Zin was a surprisingly good match for the Jalapeno sausage and pepper sauce. As we sat, one of the hosts brought over a bottle of their 2005 OGP Zin to try. We were amazed at how well this wine is holding up. Zin, as you may know, is not known for being very age worthy.

After the official tasting, I escorted Robyn into the Vino Noceto tasting room. She had never been, and we need to try some more of their delicious wines, including the Sangiovese for which they are best known. Directory of Hospitality, Bret Burdick, served us. (By coincidence, he was my table host at last year’s event.) As we chatted and tasted, Bret gave us the full rundown of Vino Noceto’s lineup, as well as a geography lesson on Chianti and Brunello, complete with visual aids (maps). Most of the vines on the estate are direct cuttings from some of the most famous Sangiovese vineyards in Italy.

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Andis Wines

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Andis Wines hosted their portion of the OGP Weekend indoors, in their wine education room. Another group was finishing up, so we bellied up to the tasting room bar so we could enjoy some of Andis’ fine wines. There, Assistant Hospitality Director Lindsey Miller guided us through the flight on the tasting menu. Always delicious and balanced, we enjoyed these wines until the room was ready for us.

As we sat around the large, comfortable table, Chef Shannon served our food, while Brand Ambassador/Sales Manager, Lorenzo Muslija poured our tastes of the Andis lineup of 2012, 2014, and 2013 Original Grandpère Vineyards Zinfandel. No, that isn’t a typo. We tasted out of chronological order. Lorenzo, in his suave Italian accent, explained that he wanted to serve the wines in order of depth and complexity, rather than simply by vintage.

The 2012 was paired with Indian Spiced Mushroom Ragou on naan bread. Everything about this screamed comfort food! The yet-to-be-released 2014 (available at the event only, for now) was paired with Albondigas…Spanish meatballs with smoked paprika, garlic, oregano, and tomato sauce. It was very Mediterranean, and reminded me of the curried lamb meatball at Scott Harvey. (Note to self: This Middle-Eastern/Mediterranean/Curry Sauce pairing with Zinfandel is worthy of more exploration!) The final wine, the 2013 was a bit more tannic than the others because of the growing conditions that drought year. The pairing of Seahive Beehive cheese was designed to soften the tannins and create a smooth, rich mouthfeel. It was a masterful success!

After a wonderful afternoon, surrounded by passionate, wine-loving people, gorgeous scenery, and abundant sunshine, it was time to head back down into the fogged-in valley. It was a perfect day. I can’t wait to go back!

Cheers!

  • Text and photos by Kent Reynolds
  • Video by Robyn Raphael
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Lesser Known AVAs: Shenandoah Valley

My how time flies! It’s been almost a year since my first post on the Sierra Foothills AVA. When I wrote that piece, I had the grand idea of showcasing each of the five sub-appellations that comprise the Sierra Foothills: North Yuba, El Dorado, Shenandoah Valley, Fiddletown, and Fair Play. Alas, such is the life of a hobbyist blogger. Work, family, and life in general get busy, and grand ideas get set aside. It has taken some time, but I was finally able to make it to Amador County wine country recently to conduct some “scientific research” for this continuing series. It was arduous, but I’ll do whatever it takes for you, dear reader, to provide what I hope is interesting content.

As I lamented in my earlier post, the Sierra Foothills area is, in my opinion, an underrated and underappreciated wine region. Often flying under the radar of major wine publications, the wineries here are producing wines that rival bigger, better known producers and regions. Fortunately, the Sierra Foothills received some recent exposure when nearby Lodi hosted the 2016 Wine Blogger’s Conference. Although I was unable to attend, I’ve read some great posts from fellow bloggers on the field trips that were offered to the foothills. Several of the winemakers and owners I spoke with on my recent daytrip also commented on the visits, and appreciate the attention the conference gave to the region. Still, it is with some trepidation that I go on; for fear that too much exposure will spoil the tranquil, picturesque wine region located in my own back yard. Nevertheless, I wish nothing but success for these amazing wineries and wines, so I must shout my praises from the rooftops. Well, at least from my living room.

Amador County is home to two of the five Sierra Foothills sub-appellations; Shenandoah Valley and Fiddletown. These two neighbors adjoin one another, and while I did briefly venture into the Fiddletown AVA, my focus this day was the Shenandoah Valley.

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The Shenandoah Valley is perhaps the best known Sierra Foothills wine region. It is the most easily accessible, and perhaps not coincidentally, is home to some of the larger and better known Sierra Foothills wineries. Many producers in the Shenandoah Valley, like Renwood and Montevina, have grown large enough to distribute their wines nationally, and perhaps internationally. In fact, some time ago I opened a Costco-branded Kirkland Signature Amador Zinfandel, and was surprised to find the Renwood Winery logo on the cork. That’s a testament to success!

Just outside historic Plymouth, a gold-rush era town, Shenandoah Road intersects State Highway 49. A short drive up Shenandoah Road, and around a hilly curve, and you are greeted by lush vineyards and stunning views. The majority of the wineries in the Shenandoah Valley AVA are located along Shenandoah Road or Steiner Road, which loops off Shenandoah Road, meeting it again a little further up. There are some 31 wineries located in the Shenandoah Valley AVA. Most are small, family owned operations, and it is not uncommon for the winemaker to be the owner, or the owner’s son, daughter, or other relation.

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Since the early days of the California Gold Rush, this area has produced wine. Originally, vines were planted by enterprising emigrants to supply alcohol to the thirsty miners who came to strike it rich. Zinfandel vines were found to thrive here, so that became the dominant varietal. Today, some individual vines can be traced back more than 150 years to those pioneering days. Other varietals have since been added to the region; mostly Italian and Rhone grapes that thrive in the warm, dry climate. The west slopes of the Sierra Foothills afford abundant sunshine during growing season, and summertime temperatures that can hit the low 100’s help to create ripe, fruit-forward wines.

Like all of the Sierra Foothills wine regions, the Shenandoah Valley AVA’s natural beauty equals, or dare I say, even exceeds that of the more famous California regions. Certainly Shenandoah Valley lacks the crowds, traffic, and commercialization of those internationally recognized destinations. Many wineries still offer complimentary tastings. Those that do charge generally limit it to $5, and that is waived with the purchase of just one or two bottles. (Many Napa wineries are now up to $30 or more, and waiver requires signing up for the wine club, a commitment of several hundred dollars per year.) Even the bottle prices are much more affordable, typically less than $30 for spectacular, award-winning wines.

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Photo Credit: helwigwinery.com

Winemaking here waned as the Gold Rush petered out. It wasn’t until the 1970’s that the potential for this region was noted, and commercial wineries established. Early wineries such as Deaver Vineyards and Sobon Estate are still going strong, and are joined by relative newcomers like Andis (est. 2010) and Helwig (est. 2011). The growing popularity of wine among the younger generation, and the trend away from exclusivity and pretentiousness in wine has driven the rise in popularity and demand.

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Deaver Vineyards

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Sobon Estate

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Helwig Winery

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Andis Winery

The atmosphere at the wineries in this area vary from traditional, down-to-earth, and intimate, to state-of-the-art, hip, trendy, and vibrant. Some offer tours, including a Farm-to-Glass Vineyard Tour at Vino Noceto. Click the link to read my post on my recent experience and learn more. To attract even more people to the area, including non-wine-drinkers, Helwig Winery built an amphitheater along with their winery. They host a summer concert series each year, attracting some big name performers and plenty of fans, who are introduced to the beauty, and deliciousness, of the area. No matter your preference, you are sure to be greeted warmly, and will taste some underappreciated, world-class wines.

If you are thinking of visiting, the closest airport is Sacramento (SMF). Check out the Amador Vintner’s Association website amadorvintnerlogofor trip planning help and tips. Come to the foothills, check out the wines and history, and enjoy the stunning scenery. You’ll be glad you did!

Farm-to-Glass at Vino Noceto

Many wineries have tours. Visitors get to see the crush pad, fermentation tanks, and barrel room on the way to the tasting room. I have been on several of these tours, and always enjoy them. There is something enlightening in learning more about the processes that go into making this wonderful, enjoyable beverage. Still, I’ve often felt there was something missing in these tours: the vineyard. What goes on out there? I long to walk the rows, taste the berries straight from the vines, and learn more about the agricultural part of the process. Wine is, after all, the end result of months of patient and backbreaking farming. Then I learned about the Farm-to-Glass Vineyard Tour at Vino Noceto. I signed up immediately.

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Vino Noceto is a family-owned winery in the Sierra Foothills. More specifically, they are in Amador County, in the Shenandoah Valley AVA, a sub-appellation of the Sierra Foothills AVA. Located in the rolling hills about an hour east of Sacramento, Vino Noceto is a fun, friendly, and inviting destination.

The Farm-to-Glass tour is often led by either the winemaker, Rusty Folena, or owner Jim Gullett. For my tour, a small group of just three of us, Jim was our guide, providing us with intimate details and insight into the history of the winery. It was fascinating to hear Jim relate his personal journey from just starting out; to the successful operation he leads today.

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Jim Gullett, owner and tour guide extraordinaire!

Jim and his wife Suzy purchased the land, formerly a walnut grove, in 1984. The name, Noceto, reflects a part of Suzy’s history. Suzy is from the city of Walnut Creek, in the east Bay Area of Northern California. Noceto is Italian for walnut grove. It is also the name of a town in Italy, located in the province of Parma. Noceto, Italy is the sister city of Walnut Creek, California.

In keeping with the Italian connection, Vino Noceto specializes in Sangiovese, the main grape used in Chianti. Vino Noceto is one of the leading producers of Sangiovese in California. This is quite a departure for a winery in a region known for Gold Rush-era Zinfandel vines, and the Rhone varietals many of their neighbors are producing. Still, Jim and Suzy had a passion, and they pursued it.

The tour began in the tasting room; just long enough to each receive a glass and a generous pour of Vino Noceto’s Clarksburg Pinot Grigio. Light, crisp, and delicious, this was a great way to start off! Jim grabbed his bottle caddy – more tastes awaited us along the way – and we headed off to the vineyard.

The next wine we tasted was the flagship Sangiovese Originale. We tasted the 2013, but the first release of this Chianti-style wine was in 1990. Light, ruby color in the glass with flavors of raspberry and cherry, and lively, balanced acidity. This wine is delightful on its own, and would pair exceptionally with a variety of foods. Jim said his vision was to create a “Chianti with California sunshine.” He didn’t want to simply imitate Chianti; he’s in California, and he wanted to allow the California influence to shine through. Mission accomplished, Jim!

Many of Vino Noceto’s Sangiovese vines can be traced back to nine original cuttings. These were obtained from a neighboring winery that had procured them some years earlier, but decided to go a different direction with their production. Other vines came from various other sources, all of which can be traced back to Italy. Some of these other cuttings had originally been brought to the U.S. from Chianti via (ahem) a briefcase import in the 1970’s. So the Vino Noceto vines have some pretty prestigious, if shadowy, heritage.

The original vineyard plot is called Dos Oakies, because of two large oak trees that stood watch over the vines. One of these sentinels fell in a storm a few years ago, but the other remains, providing shade and shelter for vineyard tourists and wildlife alike.

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Dos Oakies, minus one.

As we walked through the vineyard, Jim informed us that Vino Noceto is a Certified Sustainable vineyard. After harvest and crush, the grape pressings are returned to the earth to help fertilize for next year. They also reclaim the water used in production. In addition, their winery and tasting rooms run completely on solar power, and investment that has already paid for itself.

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Moscato Pressings back to the earth.

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Harvesting the California sunshine.

Harvest was already complete on the day of my tour, but some fruit lingered on the vines. This enabled us to sample some of the berries. We tasted Trebbiano and Malvasia, both white grapes, and Sangiovese, Canaiolo Nero, and Aglianico, the latter two used as a blending grapes in Italian wines. It was interesting to note the differences in flavor, texture, and tannin, right there among the vines that produced the fruit.

One the way to the winery building itself, we sampled two more wines; the Dos Oakies Sangiovese, a single vineyard bottling from that original vineyard block; and the Hillside Sangiovese. Both were stunning, and had the classic Chianti stylings, with that extra pop of California sunshine. The Hillside Sangiovese has just a hint more oakiness, giving it a fuller feel and flavor. Perhaps that is why it has won so many awards and high scores!

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Don’t forget the wine, Jim!

At the winery, the tour included a stop at the crush pad, where Jim explained the processes from harvest, to sorting and de-stemming, to crush. Then we moved into the fermentation room and barrel room. Jim detailed the processes, including such decisions as which yeast to use in fermentation, and the level of toast required for their barrels.

Though Sangiovese experts, Vino Noceto is a Sierra Foothills winery. Therefore, they also produce a Zinfandel. Using his wine thief, Jim got us a barrel taste of the 2016. It is already coming along nicely, and when released in a couple of years, will be a superb Zinfandel. As we left the winery, Jim poured us a taste from their current release, 2012 OGP Zinfandel, made with grapes from the Original Grandpère vineyard. Unlike many jammy, powerful Zins, this is a lighter, more restrained Zinfandel that really allows the fruit to show its stuff!

Normally when you hear “cult wine” you think of big, bold, in-your-face Cabernet from Napa. Would you believe: a cult white wine? Yes, Vino Noceto makes a Moscato blend called Frivolo. Slightly effervescent, and completely refreshing and delicious, Frivolo has a cult following, and its own wine club! That’s right, a club for a single wine. Members receive one shipment per year, in December – a case of the newly released vintage. While the 2014 is long sold out, the day of my tour the 2016 was undergoing cold stabilization. Naturally, as a good host, Jim got us a sample from the tank. Ice cold, but still delicious and flavorful!

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Cult White Wine!

The tour ended back in the tasting room, where Jim said his goodbyes and left us in the care of the friendly, helpful staff. There, we were offered more tastes of wines we didn’t try on the tour, plus opportunities to re-try those we had. Like so many Sierra Foothills wineries, tastings at Vino Noceto are complimentary.

If you are in the area, I highly recommend the Farm-to-Glass Vineyard tour. Tours are held daily at 11:00 a.m.; free for club members, $10 for everyone else. Money well spent! You can book online here, or call Vino Noceto at (209) 245-6556 x2.

Saluti!