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California’s Gold Rush Country: Savor the Unique Terroir that Defines Amador’s County’s Distinctive Wines

Nestled in the picturesque Sierra Foothills of California, Amador County boasts a flourishing wine region of over 50 wineries that you may, or may not, be familiar with, that is renowned for its bold Zinfandels, Barberas, and other robust varietals. With a rich viticultural history dating back to the Gold Rush era of the 1850s, the region’s vineyards benefit from warm days and cool nights, yielding wines of intense depth and character. The region knows what it is, and what it is not, and has a unique sense of place. Dotted with small family vineyards, each possessing a love of the land and a love for the fruits of their labor, Amador County, and neighboring El Dorado, has a strong wine community that opens its arms to you.

A short hour drive east of Sacramento, Amador County provides delightful landscapes, historic charm, and a thriving wine industry. To start your adventure, check in to the Grand Reserve Inn, a charming 5-star boutique inn, smack dab in the middle of the vineyards. This will serve as your home base for your adventure and provide a luxurious experience of service. Take a bike ride through the vineyards, book an in-room massage, enjoy the daily gourmet breakfast, and of course, drink wonderful wines. With the Teneral Cellars at Wildrotter Vineyard tasting room at the foot of the property, you are not far from the wine action.

The drive through the vineyard and up the small olive tree lined road to The Grand Reserve Inn will have you immediately breathing a sigh of calm. The inn offers five Tuscan inspired suites, all boasting stone fireplaces with private sitting areas, breathtaking views, private patios, a pillow menu, and all the plush amenities such as robes, slippers, and personal care items. Of course, there are large HDTVs and high-speed wireless internet, but I would encourage you to disconnect, soak in the beauty around you, and engage with your fellow travelers. Established in 2016, the inn truly offers an escape from the outside world and unlocks a host of VIP experiences. You can even buy olive oil that comes from the estate olive trees.

Sitting in the grand living room feels like home, with a roaring fireplace, a glass of wine, and a beautiful charcuterie board. And, if you ask nicely, some homemade chocolate chip cookies. Now, that is my kind of luxury – wine and chocolate!  All of this is indicating you don’t need to venture out to experience the region’s offerings, however, new experiences in the area await ….

Teneral Cellars, through its many different varietals takes you on a “round the world” tour with well-known grape varietals from Spain, Italy, France and beyond. The special added bonus of the exceptional wines from Teneral Cellars, is that they donate 10% of profits to organizations that empower women and promote gender and racial equity. Sitting down with CEO Jill Osur over a glass of wine at the Teneral Cellars at Wildrotter Vineyard tasting room (a stone’s throw from the Inn), Osur tells us, “Wine brings people together. Our bottles start conversations and prompt important dialogue that supports progressive changes toward a better future.” We couldn’t agree more.

One varietal we sampled with a special meaning is the 2019 PRIDE Barbera (Silver Award Winner in the San Francisco Chronicle 2022 Wine Competition). Teneral Cellars created the “Love is Love” series to honor the history of PRIDE and celebrate the LGBTQIA+ community. A rich wine of beautiful black and red fruits interwoven with herbal, floral, and spice components. Pairing notes? The bottle states it clearly – “Pair with Allyship and Advocacy.”

Another in the “Love is Love” series is the delightfully crisp and bright 2020 Uprising Chenin Blanc. This varietal from the Loire Valley brings hints of lemon, pear, and apple, is approachable and friendly on the palate. Also a Silver Award Winner in the San Francisco Chronicle 2022 Wine Competition.

Teneral’s tasting menu is large and the tasting room offers all sorts of fun souvenir items for purchase, from special gift box sets, brand merchandise, and local handmade pottery and food items. We really could spend the day here on the patio, but onward we must go.

Up the road we arrive at Casino Mine Ranch, founded in 1936 by Simone Shaw, who bought the property with the intention of mining for gold. Vineyard planting began in 2011, and today, wines can be sampled in their beautiful new tasting room with views of surrounding Amador County. Make an appointment for one of their special experiences in the tasting room, on the patio, or in the garden. Known for its Italian and Spanish varietals, my favorites included the 2021 Greco and the 2018 Marcel. Greco is an ancient white wine varietal thought have been brought to Southern Italy by the Greeks. Fermented in stainless steel barrels and bottled shortly after harvest to capture its inherent freshness, this wine is crisp, clean and delicious. Marcel is a blend of the Spanish Tempranillo and the Italian Teroldego and produces a unique wine with bold long-lasting black-cherry flavors.

Our day of adventure concluded with a wine pairing dinner at Taste Restaurant & Wine Bar on Main Street in Plymouth, California. News of the creative global menu at Taste has certainly gotten out, having been named one of the top 100 wine restaurants in America by Wine Enthusiast Magazine, received the Wine Spector Award of Excellence, and rated by ZAGAT as one of the top restaurants in America. Owners Mark and Tracey Berkner deserve every accolade, having renovated the former saloon known as the Sportsman’s Club, into what is now a gourmet experience of local and seasonal ingredients, whose menu changes based upon availability of products. This gem is truly a destination to be placed on your Amador bucket list. The tasting menu on our visit was decadent: A fennel and sunchoke salad with goat cheese aioli; seared scallop with chive beurre blanc; black pepper New York steak with truffled duchess potato, crispy shallot, and squash puree; duck confit with wild mushroom risotto; and chocolate indulgence with five-spice whipped cream. My mouth is watering just writing this! Each course was expertly paired with a wine from Teneral Cellars. While a favorite is hard to choose, I will single out the black pepper New York steak paired with Teneral Cellars All In Zinfandel.  The All In Zinfandel is a collaboration with the Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative, to raise awareness and funds for the non-profit dedicated to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Tracey joined us for dinner, and explained, “We want to make sure our guests have a great experience here at Taste. We produce high-quality products, the freshest that we can get all the time. So, everything on the menu is going to be delicious, seasonal, and sustainable.” Vegan? Gluten-free? Allergies? No problem at Taste. They truly go out of their way to make sure everyone has a great dining experience.

There is nothing quite like the sunrise in the vineyard … in our robes with a cup of coffee on our patio, watching the painted backdrop of pinks, oranges, and purples signaling the new day. In the dining room, a full breakfast awaits – with pumpkin scones, spinach frittata, bacon, fresh squeezed juice and, even some bubbles if you’d like with your juice. With a full belly once again, we headed out to DiAire Vineyard & Winery. Winemaker and proprietor Chaim Gur-Arieh greeted us with a big smile and hearty handshake. Chaim, a food technologist by trade, brought his expertise to the art of winemaking and his enthusiasm and passion for his wines is easily apparent. Chaim is a story in himself, as he is the man responsible for the creation of some of America’s favorite food products: Cap’n Crunch Cereal, Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing, Tiger’s Milk Bar, pudding cups, Power Bar, and the list goes on. Chaim and his wife, Elisheva, purchased a 209-acre parcel of land between the south and middle forks of the Cosumenes River in the Shenandoah Valley of the Sierra Foothills, and planted 42 acres of rolling vineyards with 11 varietals. They designed and built a winery facility and tasting room perched on a hillside with unbelievable views of their land below. This dynamic duo has an intense love for the land and conservation. A tasting of the 2017 Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon exhibits the high quality of the grapes. Two different clones were fermented and aged separately, and then blended just before bottling. “I like to make wines that are elegant and have good balance. My style of wine has forward fruit that carries to the mid-palate and a long-sustained finish. I like to use the oak to enhance the varietal identity of the wine and not mask it,” says Chaim. Smooth and soft with aromas of dark berries, this Cab is one to savor.

Did someone say sushi for lunch? Yes, please. The Gur-Arieh’s love of sushi spawned (pun intended) another venture – Hikaru, The Sushi Wine. Hikaru means “to shine” in Japanese, and this unique wine was crafted to reflect the pureness of the fish, guided by the principles of balance, harmony, and attention to detail. Chaim tells us “Hikaru was born out of our love for sushi and our love for each other. Our epic father-daughter sushi dinners have always been a sacred time for us to connect, catch up, and bond over our favorite cuisine. We wanted to create a wine that shines a light on these heavenly meals.” Available in Sauvignon Blanc, Chilled Red Blend and Sparkling Rose, the especially acidic light to medium-bodied varietal blends achieve the perfect complementary balance.

After lunch and wine tasting was a perfect time for a relaxing in-room massage. That, and a short siesta, provided some rejuvenation before gathering for a pre-dinner glass of Teneral Cellars 2020 Rosé and a recap of our wonderful day. This, our last night at the Grand Reserve Inn, we experienced a multi-course wine dinner prepared by the in-house chef, which provided a bounty of flavors from Amador County. From the leek and carrot soup with spiced pistachios and crème fraiche; to the roasted wild halibut with blistered tomatoes, capers, kalamata olives, and a Chardonnay butter sauce; to the pear and almond tart with Frangelico sauce; each course was lovingly prepared and paired with an exceptional wine.

This was a fitting finale to our first (but not last) visit to Amador County. This weekend, while filled with wonderful food and wine, had bigger concepts at work – togetherness, love, sense of place, community. So, next time you’re looking for a new experience, try an authentic wine country experience and head to Amador County. You’ll be glad you did!


VISITING AMADOR COUNTY

GRAND RESERVE INN

19890 Shenandoah School Road

Plymouth, CA 95669

209-245-5466

grandreserveinn.com

 

TENERAL CELLARS at Wildrotter Vineyard

19890 Shenandoah School Rd.

Plymouth, CA, 95669

209-245-6016

teneralcellars.com

 

TASTE RESTAURANT & WINE BAR

9402 Main Street

Plymouth, CA 95669

209-245-3463

restauranttaste.com

 

CASINO MINE RANCH

10690 Shenandoah Road

Plymouth, CA 95669

209-330-0695

casinomineranch.com

 

DiAire VINEYARD & WINERY

19919 Shenandoah School Road

Plymouth, CA 95669

209-245-4700

cgdiaire.com

 

ALL PHOTOS are ©Metrosource

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Published by
Michael Westman

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