You may or may not know how significant the Zinfandel varietal is in Amador County, but with this month being Zinfandel month for Scott Harvey Wines, Scott took some time to elaborate on the various plantings and noteworthy events of this grape in our region. Enjoy Scott’s account of the history of how Zinfandel came to be celebrated in this part of California, and how he became involved in working with the grape.
Zinfandel first came to Amador County during the California Gold Rush. Gold was found in the Sierra Foothills in 1848, and soon the California Gold Rush of 1849 was attracting large numbers of people from all around the world to the Sierra Nevada and what would later become Amador County. These gold miners brought a thirst with them, and soon some of them began to plant vineyards on their mining claims. Incredibly, our Vineyard 1869 Zinfandel is a vineyard that still produces wine from this period.
The vineyard was planted on the Upton gold mining claim and was developed by Mahala Upton, a widow with six children. Not only is this vineyard still making wonderful wine, but many of her descendants are still farming in the Shenandoah Valley of Amador County today.
From 1920 until the end of 1933, Prohibition took its toll on Amador County’s commercial winery production with only one winery surviving. The rest of the grape growers, including my grandfather, moved to selling grapes to the home winemaking market. They sold grapes to what we called “Jobbers”. These were people that bought grapes in wooden grape boxes and sent them east on railroad cars to the markets in Chicago and New York. In fact, some of the great wine family names you know of today started out this way. The Gallo brothers, Ernest and Julio Gallo, were both born in Amador County. Robert
Mondavi, originally from an Italian mining community from the iron ranges of Minnesota, was sent to California to secure grapes during Prohibition.
Grape acreage in Amador County increased during Prohibition because the terroir in this county produces grapes at higher sugar levels while maintaining great acidity. Since home winemakers don’t use SO2 (sulfur dioxide), the naturally higher alcohol levels from the Amador Zinfandel would make the wine last longer, or as the home winemakers put it, “the wine was less likely to go sour.”
During and after Prohibition, Zinfandel growers of Amador county continued to sell their grapes to home winemakers. However, things were soon to change because of a Sacramento college teacher by the name of Charles Myers.
As an accomplished home winemaker in the early 1960s, Charles was lamenting to one of his classes about the high cost of grapes in Napa Valley. A student-directed him to her cousins in Shenandoah Valley who grew Prohibition-era Zinfandel vineyards, and the rest is history. The high quality of Charles’ Amador county Deaver Vineyard Zinfandels got people like Sacramento wine merchant, Darrel Corti, and Napa Valley’s Trinchero family to invest in Amador County Zinfandel and promote it. From there, Corti convinced a man named Cary Gott to build a substantial winery in 1973. In 1974, I went to work for Cary Gott at Montevina Winery as an apprentice. Ever since I have been making and promoting Zinfandel from Amador County, going on 46 years now.
Cheers to Zinfandel month and this incredible grape we’re proud to produce for you each year. If you’re local, stop in and try our classic Amador County wines - we’re open daily from 11am-5pm!
- Scott Harvey, Winemaker
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