- By Laura Ness •
Red hills covered by dense green grass, a riot of daffodils and myriad flocks of sheep welcome you to the hills of Amador’s Gold Country wine region in late winter. In the vineyards, cover crops are vigorous, and old vine Zin trees look like semaphore poles. Along the winding, well-marked roads, flashes of blue reveal lupine, sure sentinels of spring.
It’s the first weekend of March, time for the region-wide event known as “Behind the Cellar Door.” Featuring tastings from barrel and bottle at 42 Amador County wineries, the two-day festival features entertainment, demonstrations, tours and seminars, library and vertical tastings, live music and gourmet foods. At $50 for both days, or $35 for Sunday only, it’s a pretty great way to cruise the backroads of Plymouth, enjoying the scenery and of course, the wines.
I found it a splendid introduction to the area’s plethora of excellent Rhones, Italians and Iberian varietals, along with what many consider to be its indelible signature grape, Zinfandel, and its cousin Primitivo. The Barberas here are getting better by the season, and the Tempranillos are showing promise.
Great Lodging, Food and Wine List at Volcano Union Inn
As usual, my posse took over the Volcano Union Inn, a four-room B&B in Volcano, a pioneer town of 100 or so residents at 2,000 feet elevation outside Jackson: you cannot beat this place for the food, with excellent breakfasts served up by Robert, and dinner by Chef Micah Malcom, featuring succulent lamb burgers served in fresh pita, homemade pasta Bolognese and fabulous veggie burgers with wholesome garlic fries.
You can pretty much get a glass of wine from half the wineries in the region here, as they have quite a collection, along with local beers. If you need a cocktail, you head to the Whiskey flat saloon, at the St. George Hotel, another lodging option.
Renwood Winery for Great Food and Wine
Before the Cellar Door event, we visited Renwood on Friday, where they have expanded outside seating nicely, and will serve you, restaurant style, from a wealth of selections from their new food menu. We enjoyed a scrumptious grilled cheese Panini with cream of tomato soup, spiced olives and an amazing bruschetta with fresh burrata and chopped tomato with basil.
Then there’s the cheese tray with exciting palate pleasers like Truffle Tremor, Cambozola, D’affinois, Old Amsterdam Gouda and Cypress Grove Midnight Moon. Each one matched the wines in the flight impeccably, accompanied by welcome touches like quince paste, dried apricots, Marcona almonds, rosemary crackers and fresh sliced French bread. Tasting Room Manager, Jennifer Hunt, will see to it that you have an outstanding visit, and Winemaker Joe Shebl’s wines will tempt you to join their wine club forthwith.
Barrel samples of the Renwood 2013 Grand Wren (premium Zin), 2013 Grand Mere (Syrah, Zin and Petite), 2013 Jack Rabbit Zin and 2014 Cooper Vineyards Petite Sirah were particularly memorable. Gets better all the time!
Behind the Cellar Door
Nearly every winery offered live music, some very interesting food and special tastings. At Cooper Vineyards, Winemaker Michael Roser treated the crowd to Viognier done three ways: oaked, stainless and a pink dessert wine, along with sausages and grilled vegetables.
G. D Arie offered a chance to meet Artist/Winemaker Chaim Gur-Arieh featuring their Double Gold Winners (2015 S. F. Chronicle Wine Competition) blends of Bordeaux & Rhone varietals grown in the Sierra Foothills. Guests were able to get a sneak peak into the crafting of these wines by the winemaker himself, while enjoying Mediterranean cuisine.
Jeff Runquist winery was a buzz of activity, as guests came to enjoy the butternut squash soup from Andrae’s Bakery, along with samples of newly released wines. The Moscato, even though a bit sweet, tasted refreshing after all of Jeff’s big-boned reds, including the blockbuster 2013 Petite Sirah, a mouthful of dark plum and chocolate, leaving that telltale purple ring around your lips.
The party was really happening at Dobra Zemlja, home of Croatian winemaker Milan Matulich, whose high alcohol bruiser wines will “knock your socks off,” so you might want to leave them at home. We tasted in the hillside cave at this pondside retreat, where Connie Bryan and Capitol Blues Jam were rocking out on the crushpad. They served tasty Croatian sausages and cheese biscuits, while Milan refilled plastic pouches with his “Milan Rouge” blend to the delight of two somewhat wasted tasters with an extra long selfie stick.
Renwood was serving up savory world famous “Frenchy’s Waffles,” along with barrel samples with Winemaker Joe, while many folks camped out on the green at neighboring Deaver, grooving to the live music. Amador Cellars attracted a huge crowd with the New Originals, and featured goodies by Pasta Raphael and cheeses to nibble, along with reserve tastings in the barn.
On Steiner, Amador Foothill tempted with Zinfandel brownies, barrel samples and the jazz guitar of Greg Perkins, while Sierra Ridge had Stonewall Kitchen sampling their wares to jazz harp and classical/Flamenco guitar. At the top of the hill, at Driven Cellars, with a view to drive miles for, sat a barn full of old classic cars. Dippin’ Sauce was putting forth tunes, while guests sampled pulled pork sliders, baked beans and Primitivo cupcakes. A pair of ruddy colored mountain goats were escorting visitors up and down the driveway, much to our amusement.
Dillian, home of some outstanding Sauvignon Blanc, was sampling and selling futures of 2014 Hangtree Zinfandel, and serving Vinciguerra Ravioli, while Helwig had a master cooper from Radoux demonstrating barrel making.
At Borjon, the mariachi band was as handsome as their blazing horns, and the authentic Mexican food by Mother Nora Borjon, was absolutely terrific, including memorably good salsa and chicken tacos. The Sangiovese and Barbera here are amazing, and what’s in the barrel from both local and Napa vineyards, is well worth joining the wine club to ensure early access. The 2014 Barbera from Cooper Vineyards tasted so good out of the barrel, we wanted to fill our water bottles with it!
So much to do, there’s no way you could pack it all in even in two days. Better plan to come back here again and again. May we suggest the next event, which is Amador Four Fires, coming up in May?
Amador Four Fires: Saturday, May 2
Brand new this year, the Amador Four Fires event will be held at the Amador Fairgrounds in Plymouth on Saturday, May 2, from 11 to 4 p.m. Featuring food and wines from the four unique classes of wines that flourish in the region, namely Iberian, Italian, Rhone and American, more than 50 wineries and the area’s top restaurants will be cooking up some tasty treats to accompany these wines. amadorfourfires.com
Tickets can be purchased here: