Wine Country: Plymouth and Shenandoah Valley

Commonly known as California’s Gold Country, the Sierra Foothills offers a fascinating landscape with an amazing variety of soils, elevations, and sun exposure.

Tour the counties of Nevada, Placer, El Dorado, Amador, and Calaveras and discover the region’s new gold in the tasting rooms you visit along the way.

Bella Piazza Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bella Piazza Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The roots of old Zinfandel grapevines run deep in this northeastern region of California, with winemaking here dating back to the Gold Rush days of the 1850s.

Now, an explosion of wineries, wine tours, tasting rooms, and restaurants specializing in wine country cuisine has added a jolt of grape-fueled energy to the Sierra foothills, where more than 100 wineries now produce a wide range of varietals, most notably Zinfandel, but also an intriguing variety of other varietals.

Gold country has always been audacious and rip-roaring. No surprise—its wines are too.

Borjón Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Borjón Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most wines need time to rest, relax, and mature. And really, don’t we all?

Using Far Horizon 49er Village RV Resort in Plymouth and Jackson Rancheria RV Resort in Jackson as our home bases, we explored the Gold Rush Trail and Gold Country wineries along California Highway 49.

To sample the new boom, head to tiny Plymouth for surprisingly trendy tasting rooms and sleek restaurants like Taste, a magnet for savvy foodies. Here we used Far Horizon 49er Village RV Resort as our home base while we explored the historic and picturesque towns and unique wineries in Amador County.

Amador Flower Farm © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Amador Flower Farm © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

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.

Helwig Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Helwig Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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 may have developed its reputation around zinfandel, but Shenandoah Valley winemakers have branched out over the past 20 years and now produce wines from grape varietals originating in France, Italy, Portugal, and Spain, offering red, white, and rosé wines as well as excellent ports and dessert wines.

Cooper Vineyard © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cooper Vineyard © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

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.

Amador City © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Amador City © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There still remains a down-home sensibility in this neck of California, with most Gold Country wineries being family-owned, with the winemaker also being the one who pours you wine in the tasting room.

Oh, but there’s more. Click on this link for more articles on Gold Country Wine. You might find a few other reasons to love the California Gold Country.

Worth Pondering…

Wine is constant proof that God loves us and loves to see us happy.

―Benjamin Franklin

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