Monday, November 11, 2013


Amador County Wine Country Edition

Our California riding season lingers into mid-November.  An hour or so away from the Sacramento area, nestled in the gold country foothills of Amador County, rests a growing-in-public-awareness wine-growing region.  A free morning with clear skies and moderate temperatures invites me to revisit the area.

East of Plymouth lays California’s Shenandoah Valley.  Drained by the Cosumnes River, the earliest Europeans dredged her waters for gold that would play out long before their dreams did.

In the intervening 160 years, agriculture – row crops, walnuts, grazing, berries and flowers – has given way to wine grape production. 

But remnants of those diverse agricultural days remain even as their wood foundations dissolve into the rocky soil.

Now, along Steiner Road and Shenandoah Schoolhouse Road, while old ranches have become quaint wineries, relicts of the former era stand as weathering sculptures honoring a not so long ago past.  An old caterpillar tractor (Ben Holt invented these not far away in Stockton)…

… a springtooth furrow, once used to till in anticipation of the next planting…

… another view of same…

… a disk rusts in the foreground of what once was a farmer’s field shanty turned into the tasting room for Story Vineyards.  Picnicking on this acreage affords a view of the Cosumnes.  From this vantage it is easy to see those grizzled sourdoughs looking back up the hill at us from a century and a half ago.

The autumn chill has turned the leaves to amber and gold…

… but at spots along the way, orchards not yet ploughed asunder for grape production still yield English Walnuts.

Old barns and old buildings fascinate.  A corrugated metal structure serves perhaps as a barrel room, perhaps as a workshop…

… and a red barn fronts a pasture still grazed by horses.

Glorious little roads twist behind hills and disappear.  They network in and out of stream courses and along historic fence lines.  This one leads me to a hidden gold rush era berg, one I wouldn’t have found if the road hadn’t beckoned as I crested a ridge.

I’ve visited the Amador vineyards many times since moving to the Gold County in the mid 80s.  Each time I return I find it’s been too long.  Each time I return I enjoy a relaxing rural environment that spans multiple generations; one that takes care to not depart from its historic roots.

Oh!  And the wine!

Twenty-nine years ago, I know because I just counted ‘em out on my fingers, we first discovered this region.  Living in Sonora, an hour or so south on 49, we had taken a Sunday drive, detoured off Steiner Road, up a gravel track to a metal building atop a knoll.  Amador Foothill the sign had said.  And it still does. 

In the tasting room one is likely to be greeted by either the vineyard tender (the husband) or the winemaker (the wife.)  It has been this way for 34 years, we were told yesterday as I purchased my usual half-case of Sauv Blanc – formerly known as Amador Fume.  I fill in the case with some luscious Zins and Italian varietals.  I put many of them in the “library” side of my wine rack at home.

Over the past three decades, many bigger-money wine operations have moved to the Shenandoah Valley with state-of-the-art tasting rooms, event centers, entertainment venues, bistros and paved parking.

But Amador Foothill, and a few others worth searching out, offer excellent wines at good value staffed by the farmer, his wife or one of the kids.  This is the place I seek out first.



Amador Wine Growers Association:

Amador Foothill Wines:

Story Winery:  (Cool URL!)


Aging cedar fence post
Today’s Route:  From Sacramento:  US 50 west to Latrobe Road.  South on Latrobe.  East (left) on Sacramento Road to Plymouth.  Cross SR 49.  Bear right toward Shenandoah Valley.  (Bearing left will land you in Fiddletown – a delightful blast from our gold rush past.)

Return:  Return to Plymouth and consider SR 49 north to El Dorado (ribs at Poor Reds) thence to Diamond Springs and Placerville (antiques, galleries.)

Or: Head east on Shenandoah Road to Mt. Aukum and on to Fair Play for some twisty pavement, river views and a case of Slug Gulch Red.

© 2013
Church of the Open Road Press

No comments:

Post a Comment