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
There are many common misconceptions about wine that often become unquestioned beliefs. We’re getting to the bottom of five of these fallacies once and for all and addressing some of the most common myths we’ve heard in our 40+ years in the wine industry.
The myth: White wine should be served ice cold
The truth: You may have heard the idea that red wine should be served at room temperature while white wine should be served ice cold. In reality, you'll achieve the best results if both red and white wines are served in between nearly ice cold and room temperature.
If white wine is served too cold, you won't be able to taste the nuances in its flavor. If red wine is served too close to room temperature, it could taste flat. So, when it doubt, chill your wine but ensure it’s not too cold. The proper serving temperatures are 49-55°F for white wine and 62-68°F for red wine.
The myth: Sweet wines are for beginners, not educated palates
The truth: Some of the greatest wines in the world are sweet. Sauternes, Ice Wines, Trockenbeerenauslese (a German wine classification for a rich, full-bodied style of sweet dessert wine) are sweet, but are also immensely flavorful and very age-worthy.
For example, our Angel Eis Ice Wine is a beautiful example of this style of wine. Grown in Mendocino County, this 36-year-old Riesling vineyard produces small yields of flavorful grapes of this varietal. To create this wine, frozen grapes were pressed and fermented slowly for two months. This well-balanced dessert wine with hints of peaches, pears, and apricots boasts a long, lingering finish that’s a beautiful sunny day sipper, or pairs perfectly with blue cheese and your favorite crostini.
The myth: All wines worth cellaring are red
The truth: Older wines deliver a different spectrum of flavors from what you would taste in a young wine. Tannins keep wine fresh, which is why red wines that age well tend to contain greater amounts of tannins.
However, the sugar found in white wines helps to preserve the wine and prevent deterioration. Therefore, the sweeter the white wine, the better it will age which is why dessert wines (such as our Angel Eis mentioned above), a Riesling, such as our Jana Riesling, vintage Champagne, Sauternes, and even some dry white wines are just as age-worthy as reds.
In addition to high tannins and sweetness, white wines with a higher acidity level are more likely to last longer because low pH levels prevent any chemical changes that would otherwise break down the wine.
The myth: White wine does not contain sulfites
The truth: One of the most common things we hear in the tasting room is that an individual only drinks white wine because they’re allergic to sulfites. In reality, white wines actually contain more added sulfur dioxide than reds. Sulfites occur naturally during the fermentation process, so all wines — red, white, and rosé — contain some level of sulfites.
That being said, the amount of sulfites in any bottle of wine is actually quite small. In fact, more sulfites exist in common foods like eggs, raisins, cured meats and cheese, and even ketchup. So, if you don’t have any major sensitivities to these items, you’ll likely be able to consume all of our wines just fine!
Myth: Screw-top wines are inferior to corked wines
The truth: In many years leading up to the present day, screw cap wines were a symbol of a cheaper bottle of wine. But, times are changing and these days, winemakers (including Scott) have come around to the benefits of these once-scorned metal closures. Why, you ask? While cork may be traditional, it can come with its share of headaches including a risk of contamination with trichloroanisole (TCA), also known as cork taint, which is a chemical compound that can leave the wine with a damp, musty smell or mask its flavors all together.
We hope we’ve helped to ease your mind by debunking these wine myths, and leave you feeling more confident with your wine knowledge so you can share with your friends!
For the last two days while in the apex of harvest PG&E elected to cut power to the whole Shenandoah Valley and Fiddletown wine appellations of Amador County. They also cut power to Napa Valley and Sonoma as well. We produce wine at three different wineries that are located in Amador County, Napa Valley, and Clarksburg. They say it is due to high wind danger. I’m not sure about the rest of the wine-growing regions in northern California, but in Amador County, there has been no wind event to speak of. I would think that PG&E would have the ability to turn on and off different areas depending on the danger in each.
This will cost our winery in revenue and potential wine quality and will probably cost the Northern California wine industry millions of dollars.
There needs to be some better answers to this problem than just shutting off the power to all of northern California’s wine regions. Otherwise, I can see the lawsuits flying at PG&E at a time they can hardly afford any more lawsuits. The other answer is to put in a permanent high-powered generator for such occasions. Probably at a cost of $20,000 or more.
CEO and Winemaker
From phenomenal memoirs and comedic fiction novels to compelling murder mysteries, if you find fascination in all aspects of wine and food like we do, we have the best summer reads to keep you entertained through the sweltering weather. Sit back and relax with a glass of your preferred Scott Harvey Wine and immerse yourself in one of our five favorite summer reads for wine lovers.
1. The Winemaker by Richard G. Peterson
Winner of the “2016 Best in The World” wine book by Gourmand, Richard Peterson’s memoir is an inside look into the development of the California wine industry from family-owned wineries to the corporate world of winemaking. A key player in the wine industry, Richard was pivotal in the success of many top wineries in Napa. In 1996, our very own Scott Harvey met the renowned Winemaker at Folie à Deux when Scott was recruited as Partner, Winemaker & President for the newly purchased winery. Combining forces, Scott and Richard developed award-winning wines for Folie à Deux.
Richard also invented several wine techniques still in use today, including the “no topping, bung-and-roll” red wine barrel aging practice. He’s also the original designer of the steel barrel pallet, which allows wine barrels to be handled mechanically. This novel will give you greater insight and appreciation into the history of the California wine industry and how it’s developed into one of the best wine industries of the world.
2. Bottled Poetry by James T. Lapsley
California's Napa Valley is one of the world's premier wine regions today, but this has not always been true. James Lapsley's entertaining history explains how a collective vision of excellence among winemakers and a keen sense of promotion transformed the region and its wines following the repeal of Prohibition. Focusing primarily on the formative years of Napa's fine winemaking, 1934 to 1967, Lapsley then concludes with a chapter on the wine boom of the 1970s, placing it in a social context and explaining the role of Napa vineyards in the beverage's growing popularity.
Names familiar to wine drinkers can be noted throughout these pages—Beaulieu, Beringer, Charles Krug, Louis Martini, Inglenook—and the colorful stories behind the names give this book a personal dimension. These strong-willed, competitive winemakers found ways to work cooperatively, both in sharing knowledge and technology. The result was an unprecedented improvement in wine quality that brought with it a new reputation for the Napa Valley. This book along with Richard G. Peterson’s book, mentioned above, gives you a good feeling for the post-prohibition wine industry.
3. The Secrets of My Life (Vintner, Prisoner, Soldier, Spy) by Peter M.F. Sichel
Another phenomenal memoir is Peter M.F. Sichel’s The Secrets of My Life. Peter dives into how he survived and escaped Nazi Germany to fight against the Axis and became the first head of what would become the CIA.
After his time at the CIA, he took over the family wine business and put the ancient Margaux property, Chateau d'Angludet, on the Bordeaux wine map. He later took the Blue Nun wine brand to the top of the sales tree in the 1980s. With such a diverse and remarkable life story, his unique autobiography keeps us hooked!
4. Corkscrew by Peter Stafford-Bow
If you’re looking for a fun - albeit provocative - book involving wine, this one is for you. You’ll learn about obscure wine varietals while following the hilariously improbable, but occasionally true tale of Felix, a professional wine buyer.
Orphan Felix Hart is expelled from school, cast onto the British high street, and forced to make his way in the cut-throat world of wine retailing. He soon forges a promising career as his adventures take him to the vineyards of Italy, South Africa, Bulgaria, and Kent. However, his path to the top is littered with obstacles. Office politics, unhinged managers, and the British Board of Wine & Liquor prove to be his largest challenges. But, when Felix negotiates the world's biggest Asti Spumante deal, he bites off more than he can chew and is plunged into a terrifying world of the mafia, smuggling, and ruthless multinationals. This slightly risqué, satirical novel set in the world of wine and big business has been deemed “part thriller, part self-help manual, and part drinking companion.” This isn’t your average wine book, but well worth a read if you enjoy this genre.
5. Bruno, Chief of Police: A Mystery of the French Countryside by Martin Walker
Bruno, Chief of Police is the first installment in Martin Walker’s internationally acclaimed murder mystery series. The series follows a young bachelor and Police Chief in a small town in the Dordogne region of Bordeaux, France. The series perfectly balances wonderful sensory descriptions of the town, gourmet foods, and wines with the intricacies of daily life as a policeman.
Bruno is a former soldier who has embraces the pleasures and slower way of country life. When the murder of an elderly North African who fought in the French army changes the rhythm of this lifestyle, Bruno must balance his beloved routines—living in his restored shepherd’s cottage, shopping at the local market, drinking wine, strolling the countryside—with a politically delicate investigation. “This novel is as tasty as a slice of Bruno’s local foie gras, topped with a glass of his homemade vin de noix,” says David Ignatius, author of Body of Lies. We couldn’t agree more!
No matter the genre you prefer, make sure you’re stocked up on your favorite Scott Harvey wine to sip while you read! We have a wine for every style of story. Cheers!
We couldn’t resist the opportunity to embrace Earth Day and do a deep-dive into our spectacular vineyards. They are, after all, what gives our grapes the characteristics that shine in our wines - each wonderfully unique in their own right.
While Scott Harvey Wines is based in Amador County, we source some of our grapes from a few other highly sought after vineyards around Northern California. Because we’re in the midst of spring, it’s the perfect opportunity to hone in on some of this season’s favorites. Let’s start off close to home with our Rosé vineyards.
Hailing from our very own Amador County where Scott has been making wine for over 45 years, our Rosé of Barbera is long-time Scott and Jana Harvey fan-favorite.
Shenandoah Valley is an American viticultural area (AVA) in the heart of California's once-thriving gold-mining country. Although Zinfandel reigns supreme here (check out our red wines!), the region also produces high-quality Italian favorites like Sangiovese and Barbera.
This Barbera vineyard used for our Rosé of Barbera sits on a hilltop overlooking the entire Shenandoah Valley. These flavorful Barbera grapes are harvested early to produce this light, crisp, and dry Rosé. It is produced in the “Halbtrocken Kabinett”
style, which is the lightest style of Riesling done half-dry (or slightly sweet). Scott loved producing this style of wine while he went to winemaking school and worked in Germany many years ago.
In Amador, hot, sunny days turn to cool evenings bringing breezes that blow down from the Sierra Nevada. This drop in temperature allows the grapes time to close down their ripening processes overnight, retaining the acidity required to create balanced wines. The refreshing breezes are also essential for ventilating the vineyards and keeping fungal diseases at bay.
The most noteworthy soils in Amador are of iron-rich decomposed granite. They’re often laced with sandy clay loam, enabling them to retain water and stay hydrated despite the county’s limited rainfall. These are ideal conditions for cultivating high-quality grapes as the vines are forced to grow deep, strong root systems.
Moving farther out west toward well-known Napa Valley, we then take a right and head north toward Lake County. Lake County is home to our Sauvignon Blanc vineyards, and one of the most interesting aspects of this county is that ancient volcanoes have provided much of its terroir. Ridges and hills throughout the county have been formed by ancient lava flows, and vineyards are planted on hillsides with a variety of different slopes to take advantage of the prevailing weather patterns.
We source the grapes for our Sauvignon Blanc from the Olden vineyard, which is located on the northern shore of Clear Lake. The vineyards are located against a large pear orchard and these sandy, alluvial soils drain well to produce our wonderfully flavorful Sauvignon Blanc. This wine is made to be fresh and crisp to preserve the wines ability to tell the story of the vineyard it comes from, and the varietal character.
Gravel, sand, and even pockets of heat-retaining obsidian can be found in the areas near Clear Lake, while the lack of water in the ground leads to small berries with great concentration of flavor.
Lake County lies in the rain shadow of the Mayacama mountains, and the region is generally warm and dry. The Olden vineyard experiences afternoon breezes which help to cool the grapes and extend the growing season. These warm days are followed by colder nights, ensuring berries have a slower ripening period during which they can develop varietal character without sacrificing acidity.
Our final stop is northwest of Lake County at the northern limit of California's quality wine-growing regions.
Scott’s favorite white wine to make is our Old Vine Riesling, and Mendocino County was the perfect place to venture to for these grapes. Nelson Ranch, where these grapes are sourced from, is the perfect vineyard for our Riesling because of the area’s cooler climate. This climate allows the grapes to ripen slowly to preserve that beautiful, well-rounded varietal character.
The Mendocino region is divided into two distinct climatic zones by the Mendocino Range, one of several mountain ranges which make up the Pacific Coast Ranges. Unusually for California, some vineyards lean toward the inland areas rather than the coast. Inland, it is significantly warmer and drier and vines are sheltered from the cooling effects of the Pacific Ocean.
We consider each of our wines to be a reflection of the complex terroir and growing conditions of the AVAs they come from. It’s always incredible to see how these factors affect the characteristics of wines, and how these can change so drastically from year to year. While Mother Nature can certainly be unpredictable at times, we’re especially thankful for these vineyards and everything they endure to provide us our grapes each year. We hope you have the opportunity to step outside and enjoy this beautiful planet today - Happy Earth Day!
I have not missed a harvest since 1974, this being my 45th harvest. I’m wondering how many more I have in me? Especially after this 2018 harvest. Some harvests come and go quickly and are over before you know it. This was not one of those. It was one of those long drawn out harvests that just seemed to go on and on… Fortunately, the long drawn out ones tend to produce the best most flavorful and extractive wines. Harvests like 1974, 1979, 1986, 1991, 1997, 2016 and now 2018.
Harvest started for us on September 6 with Muscat Canelli off our estate vineyard. The grapes are in frozen storage waiting to be pulled out to produce Ice Wine. So, technically harvest is still not over until we process the Muscat Canelli Eis Wine.
We finished harvesting grapes on November 6 and 7 with both the Portuguese varieties for our Forte and Concord for the Tickle Me Pink.
As in most late harvest years, the yields were a little above average in size. We had a wonderful spring with a good healthy flowering for all varieties except the Tempranillo. Our neighbors in Amador County had the same complaint about their Tempranillo.
The growing season was dry and with periods of cool weather and some long hot spells. The hot spells were early enough in the growing season that they did not negatively affect the grapes with excessive sun burning. Harvest began later than normal and went on and on with no rain until early October. I say the best Zinfandels in Amador are made after the first rain. So, it was welcome. After the rain, it dried out quickly with a North wind, so we escaped any molding in the Zinfandel.
Resulting wines are full and extractive with good acidity and lots of regional and varietal character. Wines that were similar to the great 1991 wines I produced at Santino/Renwood.
I’m convinced, and it is rapidly becoming known, that Amador County is the best wine growing region in the world for Barbera – and the proof is in the high-quality wine that flows out of here season after season.
When you look at the natural origins of Barbera, it hails from a region in Italy called the Piedmont or Piedmonte, which translates to “foothill” in Italian. And much like the Alps above Italy, the Sierra Nevada flanking Amador are huge granite, monolithic uplifts born from continental drift. These foothill regions are full of decomposed granite soils coming off the sides of the mountain range. Amador’s terrain is like a home away from home for Barbera.
The biggest difference between the two winegrowing regions is that Piedmont is very close to a marine influence – the Mediterranean Sea. During the growing season, Piedmont receives a nourishing fog from the Mediterranean, creating the best varietal known as Nebbiolo (named after the fog). The most expensive wines, Barolo and Barbaresco, come from this region. And while Nebbiolo is a fog-loving variety perfect for the misty Piedmont region, Barbera is a sun-loving variety that is dealt the second-best vineyard sites in Piedmont.
Now, take it around the world to right here in Amador County, a very similar foothill region up against a very similar fast-growing, granitic mountain range. The Sierra Nevada’s marine influence, the Pacific, is too far away for the fog to roll in during the growing season, making this a more suitable territory than the Italian Piedmont. Barbera thrives in Amador like no other place on earth.
My favorite red wine to make is Barbera. I first cut my teeth making Barbera at Montevina Winery in 1974, and it struck a passion in me that’s never faltered. I’ve been producing Amador County Barbera ever since, under our own Scott Harvey label. It’s my favorite because it makes, undoubtedly, the best wine in the region.
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