Amador’s wine country

By Kristina Hacker

The 19th century Gold Rush brought thousands to California hoping to strike it rich. Today, crowds still flock to the state’s foothills in search of treasure, only now it’s found in the perfect glass of wine.

Amador County’s Shenandoah Valley is now a designated American Viticulture Area, with 40 wineries taking advantage of the ideal conditions for producing top-quality wine grapes. While the region is known for its bold zinfandels, there are also a plethora of varieties to taste.

The Shenandoah Valley boasts both big tourist draws, like Helwig Winery, as well as boutique wineries each with their own unique style, like Karmère Vineyards and Winery.

Like many owners, Dave Helwig developed a passion for wine while traveling through California. Through that first connection, he went from being a home winemaker to him and his wife Nancy purchasing a vineyard and eventually opening a commercial winery, tasting room and outdoor amphitheater and events center.

“It’s an amazing dream that has gone beyond their expectations,” said musical events coordinator Cheryl Speed.

Helwig Winery owns 60 acres of grapes in Northern California in four vineyards located in Amador and El Dorado counties and have won numerous awards for their wines. Two wines to try are their 2014 Dusty Trail Red Blend, an anytime, super smooth four red blend with a berry taste on the nose, and the 2017 Sauvignon Blanc, a great poolside wine that’s fresh, crisp and fruity.

While visiting Helwig, make sure to check out the concert lineup. The final two summer concerts will be Pablo Cruise on Aug. 25 and The Guess Who on Sept. 29.

Literally just down the road sits an unassuming ranch home that is home to the women of Karmère Vineyards and Winery. This boutique winery began with potatoes.

“Growing up, we never had alcohol in the home. If you told me I would own a winery, I never would have believed you,” said Hayley Hoopes, Karmère tasting room manager and daughter of the winery’s founder.

Hayley’s mother, Marilyn Hoopes, was a fifth generation Idaho potato farmer. When she moved to Amador County, she fell in love with the scenic Shenandoah Valley. Being a farmer, Hoopes planted vineyards and sold grapes to the local wineries. According to Hayley, one year they lost all their contracts and instead of letting their crops go to waste Hoopes decided to make her own wine and thus the Karmère label was born. The winery’s name is in honor of Marilyn Hoopes’ mother, Karma, and the French word for mother.

The first Zinfandel vines were planted in 1994. Plantings of Zinfandel, Syrah, Barbera, Viognier, Primitivo and Nebbiolo have continued with 67 acres planted of the 105 total.

In further honor of Karma Hoopes and her hard work on the Idaho ranch — that was named after her husband — all of the wines are named after women.

The Empress Hayley — Karmère’s flagship zinfandel, has won numerous awards with its bold and robust flavor that features a little spice and a bit of pepper on the finish.

Another must-taste at Karmère is the Temperance Tarts Naughty Bawdy. This everyday red blend has a unique story behind the name. It is named in honor of the former owner of the Plymouth ranch home that now houses the tasting room — but she may not appreciate the honor. When the Hoopes found out the former owner of the land was big into the temperance movement (advocating for the prohibition of the manufacture and sale of alcohol) and she was remembered as saying she would never allow wine grapes to grow on her property, they couldn’t resist memorializing the irony of the land’s current use.

The property not only boasts a tasting room, but also an idyllic outdoor seating area perfect for picnics and a stroll around the vineyards.

For a complete list of Amador County wineries and help planning a tour to the area, visit amadorwine.com.

If You Go

Helwig Winery
11555 Shenandoah Rd., Plymouth
Tasting Room is open from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily
There is a $5 per person tasting fee.
For more information, call (209) 245-5200 or visit helwigwinery.com

Karmère Vineyards and Winery
11970 Shenandoah Rd., Plymouth
Tasting Room is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily
Wine tasting is complimentary.
For more information, call 209-245-5000 or visit karmere.com

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