In our first installment of "Amador County Wine...California's Second Gold Rush", we took a stroll through the history of some of California's oldest vineyards, planted during the Gold Rush in the 1850's. When mining became less profitable and surface gold was depleted, many miners abandoned their claims and went on to find greener pastures. With this exodus from gold country, most vineyards were also abandoned and left unattended, some dying away and others going dormant.
It wasn't until the 1960's and 1970's when Amador County saw it's second "gold rush", this time in the form of the wine industry as a whole. In addition to the vineyards, wineries began popping up throughout the Shenandoah Valley.
WHERE IT ALL BEGAN
While not quite the tourist destination at that time, heck, even Napa Valley was still budding, winemakers in Amador County began producing world-class wines to sell commercially and to individuals. Some of the first wineries in Amador County include Montevina (est. 1973) and Story Winery (est. 1973), both of which Scott worked at before and after his winemaking education. Read more about Scott's History. While wineries, such as Cooper, Dillian and Spinetta, didn't open until after the 1980's, these families have been growing grapes in Amador County for decades, thus firmly earning a place in the Amador County wine history books.
Amador County is home to the third oldest winery in the state! The D’Agostini Winery was started in 1856 by Adam Uhlinger. In 1911, the winery and its 125 acres of vineyards were purchased by Enrico D’Agostini, for whom the winery was named for. In 1984, Armagan Champagne Cellars purchased the business and the Amador County vineyard and wine cellar were sold to the Sobon family in 1989. The original wine cellar still exists today, and is now the Shenandoah Valley Museum.
WHERE WE ARE TODAY
Today, there are more than 40 active wineries that make up the Amador Vintners Association with faciliites throughout the Shenandoah and Fiddletown AVAs, along with a handful of others outside of those AVAs. Many of these wineries are family owned and operated, and have been for generations. They always welcome you in with a smile and the desire to show off their home grown and hand crafted wines. Visit the Amador Vintners Association website.
Scattered throughout Amador County, you'll find a number of private tasting rooms featuring award-winning gold country wines. Up and down Main Street of historic Downtown Sutter Creek, you'll find more than seven tasting rooms nestled among unique shops, fine and casual dining and top-notch lodging facilites. Visit the Sutter Creek Business Association's website and Wine on 49.
WHAT WE HAVE TO OFFER
While Amador County is known for its tasty, award winning and historical Zinfandels, the rising and shining star in Amador’s vineyards is Barbera. An Italian variety that hails from the Piedmont region of Italy, this grape variety is unknown to many in California and most of the United States; unless of course you’re a Scott Harvey fan, then you've already established your love affair with Barbera. Amador County Barbera has become so popular, it even has it's own event! Learn more here about the Barbera Festival.
Amador’s volcanic soil, made up primarily of sandy clay loam as a result of decomposed granite, is ideal for growing Zinfandel and Barbera, as well as Syrah, Tempranillo, Sangiovese and Petite Sirah, among other lesser-known red varietals. While Amador County is not known for its white wines, you’d be surprised to know that it is home to some award winning Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier.
Just recently, the Sierra Foothills region made headlines when Wine Enthusiast contributing editor, Jim Gordon, wrote about his experience in "The New & Improved Sierra Foothills". Mr. Gordon highlights some of the rustic charm mixed with relaxed luxury as well as some of the old vine gems scattered throughout Amador County and the Sierra Foothills; including a Cellar Selection rating on our Vineyard 1869 Zinfandel.
RETHINKING CALIFORNIA WINE COUNTRY
Let's revisit our word association game. This time when we say "California Wine Country", maybe you'll think of Amador County. When we say "Award Winning California Wines", you can easily name a handful of Gold Medal winners from the Sierra Foothills. When we say "Barbera", you think "YUM!". As for "Old Vine Zinfandels", you, as a Scott Harvey fan, know first hand that these are must-haves for your collection!
When you're getting ready to plan a trip to “California’s Wine Country”, think Amador County. In addition to the fantastic wines and wineries, you will also enjoy the rustic charm of historical towns such as Sutter Creek, Jackson and Plymouth. Take in all that Amador County has to offer, including fine dining, shopping, gold mine excursions, art events and much more!
Let’s play a little word association game. I’ll give you a word or phrase; you tell me what first comes to mind:
(1) California's Wine Country
(2) Gold Medal Winning California Wines
(3) Old Vine Zinfandels
Now, let us give the conventional answers:
(1) Napa Valley
(2) Again…Napa Valley
(3) Jammy fruit bombs that are high in alcohol
(4) That’s not how you spell Barbara…and what does she have to do with wine?
For those of us who live in California or are familiar with California wines, we know that good wines come from the upper North Coast all the way down to the Southern California border, and everywhere in between.
California is home to some of the best wines in the world, and is only surpassed in production (not necessarily quality) by Italy, France and Spain. While Napa Valley may have solidified its claim to fame at The Judgement of Paris in 1973, there are a vast number of wine regions in California that have been producing award winning wines for decades; many still unknown or thought to be insignificant in the world of wine.
For those who enjoy Scott Harvey Wines, you already know better. Some of the best wine in the world comes from the fifth smallest county (in terms of square miles) in California; Amador County. Within the 600 square miles that makes up Amador County, about 4,000 acres (less than 1%) consists of wine grapes. But the grapes grown within that 1% produce some of the best wines in California, if not the world.
The Making of California’s 2nd Gold Rush:In part one of our two part blog, we visit some of Amador's deeply rooted wine history, including our own little piece of history in the Vineyard 1869 as well as the new shining star, Barbera.
During the 1850’s, California was flooded with prospectors staking claims and digging for fortunes, mining for their pot of gold. The biggest surge of miners passed through Northern California and the Sierra Foothills, home to vast veins of this precious metal. While some succeeded in finding prosperity, most were fooled and left “holding the pan”. But all of the mining, successful or not, made the “49ers” thirsty, thus resulting in the planting, cultivating and fermenting of grapes to make wine to quench their thirst and ease the hard days.
The Sierra Foothills nearly fell off the map, with regard to wine production, when gold mining ended with the 19th century and the initiation of Prohibition started in the 1920s. The miners deserted their camps and vineyards were left to wither and die. It wasn’t until the 1960s when new “prospectors” started the second “Gold Rush” of Amador…winemaking!
While numerous vineyards were planted in Amador County during the 1850’s, the oldest documented vineyard is one of our very own; the Vineyard 1869. A land deed from an 1869 U.S. Geological Survey notes a fully established vineyard on the property that is home to our historical Old Vine Zinfandel grapes (as well as some Barbera). LEARN MORE ABOUT VINEYARD 1869 HERE.
Today, of Amador’s nearly 4,000 acres of wine grapes, over 600 acres are over 60 years old, and several date back to the 19th century. These older vines are often non-irrigated and must rely on their roots to dig deep for water. These stressed grapes produce bold, complex and multi-faceted wines that you won't find anywhere else. These wines are often produced in the Old World style with low alcohol and balanced pH, making them perfect to pair with food.
More recently, Amador County has unearthed another piece of California gold by cultivating Barbera vineyards. Hailing from the Piedmont region of Italy, this variety was first planted in Amador County in the 1880s, but didn't really gain traction as a known variety until the late 1990s. Barbera vines are adaptive to a variety of soils, but thrive in decomposed granite and volcanic soils, and enjoy a little heat during the summer days with cooler evenings. This describes Amador County perfectly. Originally used as a "blending" wine, Barbera is now taking Amador County, California and the nation by storm. Barbera is a versatile, food friendly wine that goes well with Italian style meals, vegetarian meals and a variety of cheeses. READ MORE HERE ABOUT AMADOR'S SHINING STAR
Let's revist our little word association game now. I’ll give you a word or phrase; you tell me what first comes to mind:
(1) California's Wine Country
(2) Gold Medal Winning California Wines
(3) Old Vine Zinfandels
Here are your new answers:
(1) Amador County, California
(2) Again…Amador County
(3) Complex, balanced and multi-faceted
(4) Sure to be your new favorite wine!
Just how many grapes does it take to make up Amador's "liquid gold"?
Download our Free Vineyard to Bottle Sheet to find out!
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