History and Land
The discovery of gold in California’s Sierra Nevada foothills in the late 1840’s attracted adventurers from around the globe. Newly rich pioneers spawned a thriving economy of luxurious hotels, sumptuous dining and fine wine. Within two decades, there were more wineries in this area than anywhere else in California, but as gold ran dry at the end of the 19th century, the frontier wine community waned. Half a century later, a new breed of pioneer was drawn not by gold, but by a climate and soil type ideal for producing great wines.
The Sierra Foothills American Viticultural Area, of which Amador and El Dorado counties are located in, was established in 1987. Major wine varieties include Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Chardonnay, Merlot and Barbera. The area has decomposed granite soils, formed over centuries by mountain erosion – this forces the vines to put down deep roots for nutrients and water. The resulting wines have dense, ripe fruit and plentiful structure. El Dorado County has cool temperatures and the highest vineyards in California, resulting in light wines. Amador County’s vineyards are at lower altitudes, and the plateau on which they sit endures much higher temperatures, resulting in full-bodied, robust and intensely flavoured red wines.
El Dorado County contains vineyard land situated between 1,200 and 3,500 feet in elevation – in the heart of the Sierra Foothills. Above 2,000 feet, vines find root in high-acid, magma-based soils. The mountain and hillside vineyards enjoy a long growing season, with warm days and cool nights, allowing grapes to mature slowly and develop deep, complex flavours. Around 50 grape varieties are grown by artisan winemakers in the area. The dominant grape is Zinfandel, although many wineries have achieved success with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
Amador County is one of the oldest winegrowing regions in California, dating back to the early days of the Gold Rush. A lot of the prospectors were immigrants from Europe, whose love of wine inspired them to plant vines in Gold Country. Many of these old vines survive, producing the intense Zinfandels for which the region is known. Amador County has recently earned renown for wines made from Italian and Rhone Valley varieties, including Barbera, Sangiovese, Syrah and Viognier.
The Lodi AVA is an area with a strong wine producing history. Many of the growers have been producing grapes for decades. Lodi sits where the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys meet, and the gap between the meeting of the northern and southern coastal ranges means that cool breezes are sucked into this area.. Lodi produces good Cabernet Sauvignon, but is particularly known for its old vine Zinfandel. In fact, more zinfandel grapes are grown here than anywhere else in the world! The diverse soil is sometimes rocky, sometimes a fine sandy loam, giving its Zinfandels distinctive character.