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Category Archives: Amador County

Andis Wines – Block to Bottle Vineyard Tour

Full disclosure: Kent has been a big fan of Andis Wines, in Amador County, Sierra Foothills, for nearly 10 years. Their then-winemaker hosted a tasting at the local Total Wine & More store, and Andis quickly became one of Kent’s favorite wineries. Not just in the Foothills, but anywhere! We finally became members of Club Andis about a year and a half ago.  

Membership, as they say, has its privileges. Like complimentary admission to the monthly Block to Bottle Vineyard Tour. (Psst, it’s only $10 for non-members!) The tour starts just outside the tasting room, where Nick Pilatti, the Cellar Master himself, leads the group through the vineyards, tasting the wines produced from the vines right at your feet.

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Joining us on the excursion this fine, spring day, was co-founder, Janis Akuna. The name, Andis, is an amalgamation of the first names of the founders: Andy Friedlander and Janis Akuna. Clever, eh? 

Andy and Janis founded Andis Wines in 2009. The pair had lived part time in the Napa Valley in the 1990’s. While working in high-pressure careers, they had a vision of a winery as a new challenge, in a quieter setting. However, upon returning to Napa after several years away, they found it busier and more crowded than they had remembered. A friend invited them to Amador County, and they found the home for their winery.

Andis Wines is situated on approximately 25 acres, of which 21 are farmed. There are nine different grape varieties planted, including Zinfandel, Grenache, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Barbera, and Sauvignon Blanc. Other than irrigation for newly planted vines, Andis practices dry farming, as well as sustainable practices. They also source fruit from other vineyards in the area, including Semillon, and Zinfandel from the Original Grandpère Vineyard; planted in 1869, it is the oldest documented Zinfandel vineyard in the United States! (Read our blogs about the OGP Vineyard here, and here.) Andis Wines is one of only a small handful wineries with access to these grapes. 

In 2010, their modern, state-of-the-art winery was completed and opened to the public. A striking, modern edifice, perched atop a hill with an amazing view, the winery is like no other we’ve seen. When you get closer, you see that the front of the building is covered with grey barrel staves, engraved with the names of club members. (Ours will be up there soon!) The Andis winery is unpretentious and inviting, with an open, airy tasting room with plenty of windows to drink in the view as much as the wines.lrg_dsc00286-1

lrg_dsc00289-1On a sunny Sunday in late March, 2019, we gathered in the Andis Wines tasting room. The previous day had been cold and rainy, so there was much relief that this day dawned bright, clear, and warm. At noon, on the dot, Nick and his assistant, Vanessa, greeted us to begin the tour. As mentioned, Janis herself was to join in as well!

The first stop was the Sauvignon Blanc block. Vanessa poured each of us a taste of the 2018 vintage, and we sipped among the very vines from which the juice had come. One of our favorite domestic Sauvignon Blancs, it is crisp and fresh, with citrus, stone fruit, and honeysuckle. This is a great wine for sipping all summer.lrg_dsc00301-1Next we moved to the Grenache block. We have a particular fondness for Grenache, so we were excited to try this one. The 2016 Akuna Block Grenache is the first vintage from this vineyard block, which was planted in 2012. Elegant and restrained, this is everything we hope for in a quality Grenache; lighter bodied, with cherry, strawberry, and cranberry, bright acidity and grippy tannins. Nick suggests this wine as an alternative to Pinot Noir. 

Moving up the hill, off in the distance, we spotted the next stop: the Barbera block, where Andis grows the grapes for their Barbera d’Amador wine. Our favorite Barbera’s come from Amador County, and Andis’ selections are always at the top of our list. We tasted the 2016, the grapes harvested from vines planted in 2012. A lighter-bodied Barbera, this wine is bursting with fresh cherry and cranberry. It’d be so good with pizza or pasta! 

As we headed to our next tasting sample, we passed by another block that has really piqued our interest. All along the way thus far, all the vines had been pruned in preparation for the new season of growth. This block still had last year’s shoots. Nothing more than timing, Nick said. These would be pruned the following week. The interesting part is the variety of grape these vines produce: Schioppettino. Never heard of it? Neither had we! If you have read Appetite for Wine very long, you know Kent’s quest for unusual and obscure grape varieties. (He’s a proud member of the Century Wine Club, having tasted more than 100 different varieties!) 

Nick explained that Schioppettino is an obscure red grape, native to northwestern Italy. It produces light to medium bodied wines that are fruit forward and spicy. The first vintage is in barrel, not expected to be bottled for awhile. No, sadly there was no barrel tasting on this tour. Rest assured, however, when it is released and we get our hands on a bottle, we’ll be sure to tell you about it!

From there, we circled down the far side of the property, into one of the Zinfandel Blocks. Like the Barbera, Andis Wines Estate Zinfandel is always one of our favorites. The 2015 that we tasted this day is no exception. Rich, blackberry and black cherry fruit flavors, with chocolate, baking spice, and black pepper.

Making our way to the winery, we stopped on the crush pad for our final tour taste. Painted Fields is Andis Wines’ signature red blend. It is a field blend of mostly Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah, with a bit of Zinfandel and Mourvèdre to round it out. Velvety smooth, with bold fruit and soft oak influences, it is at home at a barbecue or fine dining table.  This wine is a perennial crowd favorite.

Our last stop was the barrel room (seriously, can you ever see too many barrel rooms? We think not!) before we returned to the tasting room where we started. After sampling a few more of Andis Wines portfolio, including their exquisite Semillon, Rosé of Barbera, Primitivo, and more, we made our selections and headed out. 

This was a fun and educational day at one of our all-time favorite wineries. We highly recommend the Block to Bottle Vineyard Walk. You can get more information or make reservations on the Andis Wines website.

Cheers!  

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael
  • Photos by Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael
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Small Plates and Vertical Tasting OGP Zinfandel

This is a repost of a project I published in 2017, in collaboration with Bri’s Glass of Wine. Sadly, I recently discovered that Bri has taken her site down. So I am posting this now on our site, because, frankly, I refer to it in a couple of subsequent blog posts, here and here. Plus, I happen to think it’s a pretty good post! Please enjoy!


Nestled in the heart of Sierra Foothills wine country lie what are reportedly America’s oldest producing Zinfandel vines. The Original Grandpère Vineyard (OGP for short) can trace its roots to the California Gold Rush era, with documentation dating back to 1869, and vines predating even that year. In keeping with Wild West tradition, the story of these vines is mixed with history, intrigue, and conflict.

Located in the beautiful, rolling hills of the Shenandoah Valley in Amador County, historical records identify the original owners of the vineyard as the Upton family. Over the years, ownership changed hands, Prohibition came and went, and White Zinfandel happened. In the 1970’s and early ’80s, the grapes produced in the vineyard were largely sold to make White Zin. In 1984, Scott and Terri Harvey purchased the land. At the time, Scott worked for Renwood winery. He named the vineyard Grandpere in honor of its age – Grand-père is French for Grandfather.

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OGP Vineyard, photo credit: Randy Caparoso

While working at Renwood, Scott Harvey produced wine from his Grandpère Vineyard for the Renwood label. Meanwhile, Renwood Winery trademarked the name “Grandpère”, and using cuttings from the original vineyard, started producing Grandpère Vineyard Zinfandel from their own vines in a different vineyard. Through a series of events, including disputes, lawsuits, settlements, and divorce, Scott Harvey and Renwood parted ways; the use of the name “Grandpère” is legally protected and limited; and Terri Harvey owns the 1869 vineyard on her own. That Gold Rush era vineyard, with its 1869 heritage, is now known as the Original Grandpère Vineyard. The terms of a settlement agreement require that vintners using these grapes must use that entire name, or nothing at all.

Fast forward to 2017, and the few producers who are fortunate enough to source fruit from the Original Grandpère Vineyard are making some outstanding, elegantly restrained, nearly 150-year-old, Old Vine Zinfandel wines. I recently attended a Small Plates & Vertical Tastings event, accompanied by my daughter and her friend, that was hosted by three of those wineries making Original Grandpère Vineyard Zinfandel: Vino Noceto, Andis Wines, and Scott Harvey Wines. By no small coincidence…OK, no coincidence at all…Zinfandel is one of my favorite grape varieties. According to my Vivino stats, Zin is second only to Cabernet Sauvignon as my favorite varietal wine.

Each of the wineries poured a number of their OGP Zinfandel wines, paired with small bites to complement each vintage. We started at Vino Noceto…

Our host, Bret, set us up at a cozy high-top bistro table, and got us started with the yet-to-be-released 2013 vintage, followed by the 2012 and 2008. The small bites for pairing included Genoa Salami with Sundried Tomato-Rosemary Fromage on Crostini (with the 2013), a Black Forest Ham and Cranberry Cream Cheese Spirals with Thyme Zinfandel Glazed Sweet Onions (with the 2012), and Dates Stuffed with Whipped Chevre & Cocoa Nibs (with the 2008).

02 Vino Noceto Menu

The bites were perfect pairings for each wine; drawing out the nuances of the tannins, acids, and flavors in the wines.

03 Vino Noceto OGP

Vino Noceto OGP Zinfandel 2013 ($32 retail)

Violet color in the glass. Aromas of blackberry and soft oak on the nose. Flavors of blackberry, boysenberry, cherry, and blueberry, with notes of spice and black pepper. Bright acidity with full, firm tannins. Long finish with dark berry, black pepper, and cherry notes.

04 VN 2013 in Glass

Vino Noceto OGP Zinfandel 2012 ($32 retail)

Ruby color with brick colored rim. Aromas and flavors of raspberry, cherry, and ripe strawberry. Very soft tannins with light acidity. Medium finish with red berry and spice notes. (It was very interesting to notice the contrast one year makes; from 2013 black fruit and firm tannins, to 2012 red fruit and soft tannins.)

05 VN 2008 in Glass

Vino Noceto OGP Zinfandel 2008 ($49 retail)

Brick red color. Nose of cherry and raspberry, with a hint of oak. Flavors of bing cherry, ripe raspberry, and spice. Tannins are soft and silky, balanced with bright acidity. Long, zesty finish with red fruit and spice.

06 VN 2012 in Glass

Next we traveled all the way across the road to Andis Wines. Here, we were seated at a large table in a private room with other guests, and treated to a detailed history lesson by our host, Art. He confirmed my earlier research, outlined above, and then poured us two samples and distributed the matching small bites to complement the wines. At Andis, we enjoyed the 2012 and 2013 vintages. Art explained that the 2012 vintage was made entirely by the original Andis winemaker, Mark McKenna; however, the 2013 was started by McKenna, but completed by Napa winemaker Doug Hackett.  McKenna used non-traditional methods; fermenting in stainless steel, then adding oak chips and dust to introduce the oak influences. Hackett is more traditional, aging in oak barrels. The contrast in winemaking styles was definitely apparent. With the 2012, we enjoyed a Crostini with Whipped Chevre and Rose-Raspberry Jelly. With the 2013, the pairing was Artisan Bread with Aged Gouda and Dried Cherry Tapenade. Again, the pairings were excellent.

06 Andis Menu

Andis Wines Original Grandpère Vineyard Zinfandel 2012 ($37.99 retail)

Ruby color. Nose of fresh raspberry and cherry, with a hint of soft oak. Flavors of sour cherry, raspberry, and ripe strawberry. Bright acidity with smooth tannins and a medium finish of red fruit flavors. My overall impression of this wine was “soft.”

07 Andis OGP

Andis Wines Original Grandpère Vineyard Zinfandel 2013 ($37.99 retail)

Deep purple color. Nose of blackberry and spice. Flavors of blackberry, ripe raspberry, black cherry, and toasty oak. Medium acidity with firm tannins and a long, spicy finish. My overall impression of this one was “bright.”

08 Andis Tastes

To finish out the day, we traveled the few hundred yards down the road to Scott Harvey Wines. Here, host Kelsey greeted us at the tasting bar as set up our tasting and small plates. Scott Harvey presented their vertical in the reverse of the traditional order, starting with 2011 and moving forward through 2014. Scott Harvey wines are aged in neutral French oak. The tastes included Potato Chips with Point Reyes Blue Cheese-Zin Glazed Onion Dip (2011), Sopressata & Gouda Palmier (2012), Chicken & Chimichurri Empanadas (2013, and Chard Pesto with Whipped Cream Cheese and Crostini (2014.)

09 Scott Harvey Menu

As an added bonus, Scott Harvey Wines compiled a “This Year in History” handout to highlight some other historical events that occurred in 1869. Did you know the Suez Canal opened the same year that the Original Grandpère Vineyard was recorded? Neither did I!

10 1869 History

Given that Scott Harvey was in the middle of the multiple lawsuits surrounding the Grandpère name, he has abandoned the name entirely, and has dubbed his wines “Vineyard 1869.”

11 Scott Harvey OGP 1869 Vineyard

Scott Harvey Vineyard 1869 Zinfandel 2011 ($55 retail)

Bright ruby color. Aromas and flavors of raspberry, bing cherry, blackberry, and spice. Soft tannins with smooth acid, and a long finish with red fruit, spice, and black pepper.

12 SHW 2011

Scott Harvey Vineyard 1869 Zinfandel 2012 ($55 retail)

Bended with 6% Barbera. Ruby color. Bing cherry, raspberry, and stewed strawberry. Medium acidity and light, soft tannins. Long finish with red fruit flavors.

13 SHW 2012

Scott Harvey Vineyard 1869 Zinfandel 2013 ($50 retail)

Bright ruby color. Flavors of raspberry, cherry, and white pepper. Bright, lively acidity with medium tannins. Long finish with red fruit and black pepper.

14 SHW 2013

Scott Harvey Vineyard 1869 Zinfandel 2014 ($48 retail)

Brick red color. Blackberry and black pepper on the nose. Flavors of raspberry, blackberry, and baking spice. Lively acidity with medium tannins. Long finish of red fruit and spice.

15 SHW 2014

This was a fun, educational event, exploring the history and evolution of winemaking in the Sierra Foothills. The event weekend starts on Friday and includes a Prix-Fixe dinner with wine pairings, and a walking tour of the Original Grandpère Vineyard on Saturday afternoon. I was only able to attend the Small Plates and Vertical Tasting on Sunday, but I hope to go again next year to participate more fully. This is an annual event, so if you are in Northern California in January, look into getting tickets and enjoy a taste of California winemaking history.

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds

Historical References:

http://randycaparoso.blogspot.com/2015/04/the-original-grandpere-vineyard.html

http://www.scottharveywines.com/americas-oldest-documented-zinfandel-vineyard-vineyard-1869/

http://palatepress.com/2012/04/wine/the-oldest-zinfandel-of-amador-county-original-grandpere-vineyard/

http://winecountrygetaways.com/1869-old-vine-zinfandel-vineyard-in-amador-wine-country/

http://www.sfgate.com/wine/article/DRAMA-IN-AMADOR-Great-grapes-hard-feelings-2617116.php

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!

(Update May 2, 2019: I just discovered that Bri’s site is gone. I’ve reposted the article, and you can find it here.)

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

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.

sunny-vineyards

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.

helwig-tasting-room

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.

deaver-vineyards

Deaver Vineyards

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Sobon Estate

helwig-winery

Helwig Winery

andis

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!