Amador is old vine country; nearly 600 acres of the county’s vines are at least 60 years old, while several vineyards date to the 19th century. Nestled in the heart of Gold Country, this region is known for its rich history and rich reds.
California’s wine industry took flight during the Gold Rush of the 1850s amid the rugged western foothills of the majestic Sierra Nevada mountain range. As fortune seekers, many of them European, flocked to the Sierras to prospect for gold, small wineries arose to help slake their thirst.
Within a few decades, there were over 100 wineries in the area known as the Mother Lode, more than any other region of California. Some of the vineyards planted during that era survive to this day.
The decline of gold mining at the end of the 19th-century, followed by the advent of Prohibition in 1920, devastated this frontier wine community, which remained dormant until the late 1960s. Then, a new generation of pioneers began migrating to the Gold Country’s Amador County, this time drawn by the region’s rolling, sun-drenched hillsides, warm daytime temperatures, and volcanic, decomposed granite soils—ideal conditions for producing top-quality wine grapes. When their robustly flavored wines, especially zinfandel, began attracting the attention of wine lovers throughout California and the U.S., the historic Sierra Foothills wine region was reborn.
Today, where gold once reigned, some forty wineries produce a new treasure: superb wines which have earned Amador County international acclaim.
Amador County is located in the western foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountain range in central California, approximately 100 miles east of both San Francisco and Napa Valley and 40 miles east of the state capitol of Sacramento.
Using Far Horizon 49er Village RV Resort in Plymouth as our home base, we explored the wines of Amador County.
The majority of Amador’s 3,700 vine acres and 40 wineries are in the northern part of the county in the Shenandoah Valley, near the small town of Plymouth. Here, vines are planted on rolling, oak-studded hillsides ranging from 1,200 to 2,000 feet in elevation.
Slightly to the east is the small Fiddletown appellation, which boasts even higher-elevation vineyards. In recent years, prospecting winemaker’s have grown fond of vineyards to the Southeastern reaches of the county for their grape sources.
Most Amador vines are planted in volcanic Sierra Series soils—primarily sandy clay loam derived from decomposed granite. These friable, moderately dense soils effectively retain Amador’s 36 to 38 inches of annual rainfall, enabling most growers to dry-farm their vineyards. Dry-farming, coupled with the low nitrogen and phosphorous content of the soils, results in sparse vine canopies affording the grapes excellent sunlight exposure.
Amador County once was identified almost exclusively with zinfandel. During the past 20 years, Amador vintners have begun producing a diverse array of varieties, especially those of Italian and southern French origin. While zinfandel, with over 2,000 acres, remains Amador’s signature variety, the region’s wineries also vinify superb examples of barbera, sangiovese, sauvignon blanc, and syrah; limited bottlings of pinot grigio, verdelho, viognier, roussanne, marsanne, grenache, mourvedre, petite sirah, aglianico and tempranillo; lovely rosés made from a wide variety of grapes; exceptional dessert wines made from muscat grapes; and port-style wines made from zinfandel and traditional Portuguese varieties.
Wineries within five or 10 minutes of Plymouth include Bella Piazza Winery, Terra d’Oro, Borjón Winery, Helwig Winery, and Cooper Vineyards, one of California’s most charming family wineries and a personal favorite.
Wine is constant proof that God loves us and loves to see us happy.