By Claudia Newcorn
If you enjoy wine and wine tasting, but want to keep it to a daytrip, look no further than… Amador County? With over 40 wineries, complimentary tastings, great scenery and plenty of holiday events and things to do, Amador Wine County is the place to visit this season, as well as throughout the year.
Familiar to many as Gold Rush country, Amador’s rolling hills now play host to a growing number of vineyards. The heart of the wine country lies along the Shenandoah Road, just north of Sutter Creek. Most have tasting rooms where you can enjoy a wines ranging from a delicate Semillon to a robust Zinfandel.
Browsing among these wineries is like stepping back to the old times in Napa and Sonoma. Tastings are often a no to little cost, winemakers are happy to chat, and the delightful selection of award-winning wines tastefully persuade you to keep on sampling. And for those who really are into wine, most of the wineries have wine clubs that offer great discounts.
Wine tasting rooms range from cozy boutique to opulent; many have patios and picnic areas adding to the pleasure of your visit. Carefully trellised fields sit next to gnarled century-old vines. Picturesque hills roll off in all directions, and there’s a sense of time slowing down, inviting you to relax and enjoy the “fruit of the vine,” in a beautiful setting.
Which I did. Each wine I tasted presented a marvelous bouquet; I admit that just sniffing was a pleasure. The wines delivered on the best characteristics of their varietals, not overwhelmed by too much oak or bitter tannins. The full-bodied reds had wonderful fruit. Among the whites I sampled, there was the delicate floral of the Pinot Grigio, and a balanced sweetness in the Viognier. Each had a glowing clarity as I swirled them in their glass that reminded me of the brilliant sunshine just outside.
Chat with the tasting room managers and staff, and many will tell you that the ever-growing popularity of this wine region is its wonderful ambiance. You really are made to feel comfortable when you visit; it’s not pretentious. Questions are welcome and encouraged.
Toasting the Holidays
For well over a century, the Amador region has been producing wine using dry farming techniques and working with area’s rocky, porous and mineral rich soils. The vines are planted between 1000 and 2000 feet elevation, where there are many different soil variations, resulting in a diverse flavor palette. It is known for its hearty reds, in particular Zinfandels and Barberas, as well as the sturdier whites such as Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier and Pinot Grigio.
As the holidays queue up, many of the wineries are offering special events and activities. Some are winery specific, others are collaborations between the different wineries. For example, Terra D’Oro/Montevina will celebrate its 5th Annual Library Weekend Cellar-Bration, where guests get to stroll through their wine library archives, and enjoy some small bites and sample the winery’s rich history with Zinfandels and Italian varietals.
On Nov. 11, Deaver Vineyards has its popular “Ports on Parade” in which they pair seven of their fine ports with sweet and savory foods. Dillian Winery gets into Black Friday in a big way on Nov. 25 with a Black Label/Black Friday wine and dine event. And on Nov. 26, Vino Noceto kicks off the season with their Holiday Gift Market.
The best place to learn about each of the wineries, opening hours, and upcoming events is the Amador Vintners Association. Links are provided to each winery’s website (check out their events page) and a handy map will allow you to plan your visit. And if you really want to indulge in the wines without worrying about driving, I heartily recommend the Wine Tours from Mother Lode Adventure Charter Service. Among different options, they offer a special “Masters of Wine Tours” that take you behind the scenes for unique experiences and insights.
If you want more than just wine, there’s tons to do up in Amador County. The region is dotted with towns from the whistle-stop of Drytown to the historic downtowns of Sutter Creek and Jackson. There’s an assortment of bed & breakfasts to stay in, and for the outdoor types, recreational activities galore.
While the Gold Rush era may have passed in the conventional sense, there’s still gold up in them thar’ hills, and the ever-growing number of wineries have figured out how to bottle it in the form of a great glass (or bottle) of wine. Salút!