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in California State

Wednesday, 11 October 2017 23:48

Big Crush 2017

By Dan Clarke

When I first started visiting the Shenandoah Valley of California, there were wineries, but not nearly so many.

By Darrell Corti

This 2015 Amador County Zinfandel is a commemorative wine.

It commemorates the 1965 Amador County Zinfandel made as a home wine that, in 1968, convinced Bob Trinchero of Sutter Home Winery in Napa Valley to begin buying Amador County grapes. A lot has happened in the last fifty years.

Barbera Fest 16 crowd scene Picmonkey2Tasters have room to stroll at Terra d'Oro

TASTE News Service, June 15, 2016 — With an enhanced venue at Terra d’Oro Winery/Montevina Vineyards and a new format providing wine tastings by region at this year’s event, the sixth annual Barbera Festival on Saturday, June 11, continued to delight the palates of festival goers.

At Saturday’s event, Barberas were presented by nearly 80 wineries from all over California.

Chris Leamy and Darrell Corti PicmonkeyTerra d'Oro winemaker Chris Leamy (left) and Darrell Corti discuss Barbera at retrospective tasting

TASTE News Service, June 1, 2016 – Barbera fans have an opportunity on June 11 to congregate and enjoy many tastes of this classic food-friendly wine. At the Barbera Festival, held at Terra d'Oro/Montevina Vineyard in Plymouth, Amador County, more than 80 wineries will pour glass after glass of a wine that boasts a compelling story in the history of California wines.

"The story begins at Montevina in 1974," said Darrell Corti of Corti Brothers, a Sacramento-based wine merchant. Corti is internationally known as a wine and food expert. "Both in 1943 and 1960, viticulturists from U.C. Davis had recommended barbera as a compatible grape for California. In the Sierra Foothills, Cary Gott, owner of Montevina in Amador County, planted Barbera in 1972."

Monday, 16 May 2016 20:01

Wineries Share Barbera Recipes

Chris Leamy PicmonkeyChris suggests Portabella burgersTASTE News Service, May 17, 2016 - Blessed with a generous acid structure and smooth tannins, Barbera is known for its ability to pair with a wide variety of cooking styles, from pizza to haute cuisine.

Taking up the challenge of such versatility, three wineries participating in the upcoming sixth annual Barbera Festival have shared favorite recipes. Each dish represents one of three dining experiences: formal, last-minute gathering, and the backyard gathering.

These wineries, among the 80 from all over California that will gather June 11 to pour their interpretation of this Italian varietal, appreciate this food-friendly variety’s signature characteristics: a dark pigment with lots of berry flavor that can range from bright with tart cherry, raspberry and spice flavors to riper, deeper wines with black cherry, blueberry, blackberry and vanilla flavors. It is exactly these traits that make it such a food-loving wine.

Thursday, 12 May 2016 16:16

Amador Rains Don’t Dampen Four Fires

Crowd Am4Fires 2016It wasn't raining all the timeBy Jen Sleppy

May 12, 2016 - Saturday’s Amador Four Fires was well organized. The only glitch was the rain, but as I've seen happen at other festivals, the rain became a positive . . . it created camaraderie and quick friendships as people crammed in together under the tents.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016 13:41

Amador County's Five Springtime Finds

wildflowers at Volcano3 PicmonkeyWildflowers at Volcano

TASTE News Service, April 26, 2016 — The small towns of the Sierra Nevada foothills are inviting all year round, but springtime reveals a bounty of natural and culinary spectacles to Amador County. This low-key county tends to stay out of the limelight, but lately it has been catching the eye of discerning travelers for its spectacular spring colors and an array of fine wines and foods. Below are just five of the many reasons to visit Amador County now.

Friday, 01 January 2016 12:04

49er Icon Signs 1869 Bottles

Joe Montana signs 1869 bottles PicmonkeyJoe Montana signs a bottle of 1869By Dan Clarke

Nearly 30 years ago Randy Cross called San Francisco 49er fans a “white wine sipping crowd.” The comment from the all-pro guard came after a loss in which he felt the team’s fans exhibited a less than enthusiastic attitude. It was a derisive comment, but maybe not inaccurate.

Fans of many teams might be more likely to be beer drinkers or maybe shot-and-a-beer drinkers. However, 49er fans live close to the nation’s most significant wine regions and have a reputation for relative sophistication. It’s likely that they do drink more white wine than other football fans, though data on such matters is sketchy.

Amador Four Fires 2015 picture Picmonkey

TASTE News Service May 9, 2015 – Amador Four Fires, a new concept wine and food event launched its inaugural festival on Saturday, May 2 at the Amador County Fairgrounds in Plymouth. Nearly 2,200 wine and food enthusiasts came to sip and savor at a unique festival designed to showcase Amador’s finest products and to benefit the Amador Fair Foundation.  

The exceptional attendance at a first-time event surprised even its co-producer Deidre Mueller who said “We were hoping to get some local and regional interest, but the attendance was far beyond anything I could have hoped for.”

The event offered a wealth of sensory activities. Over forty wineries poured 140 wines from the four wine regions that inspire Amador winemakers and growers: Southern France, Italy, the Iberian Peninsula and one dubbed “Heritage California.” Cuisine traditional to these regions was prepared on site over open-flames. Attendees could enjoy food and wine seminars, cooking demonstrations including all-day Cowboy Chuck Wagon cooking and tastings of olive oil, honeys, candies, cider and beer from local purveyors, while hearing music by two favorite local groups.

Buoyed by the success of its first Four Fires event, organizers have already announced May 7, 2016 as the second annual gathering. More information can be had at amadorfourfires.com.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015 17:47

Italian Passion, California Sunshine

Vino Noceto Tasting Menu PicmonkeyTasting menu pairs foods with Sangiovese and other varietals

by Dan Clarke

Sangiovese has disappointed many California growers and vintners. Once hoped to be the next viticultural success in a state that can grow most anything, this variety hasn't reached the broad success here that it has enjoyed in Tuscany. Were there more growers devoted to the cause like Jim Gullett, the story might be different.

San Francisco Bay Area natives Jim and Suzy Gullett purchased 21 acres in the Shenandoah Valley of California's Amador Country in the fall of 1984. Zinfandel and Barbera had long history in Amador County and some newcomers were planting the Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes that were so successful in Napa and Sonoma. Why choose Sangiovese? “We wanted to do something other than Zinfandel,” Gullett explained. “Barbera? Yeah, we could have done that,” he reflects, but that prospect obviously didn't excite him. “We wanted to do something different and we thought that it (Sangiovese) could work here. I'm a bit of a contrarian and sometimes look for things to do differently.”

The computer scientist who was turning farmer chose to go to Sangiovese's historical source. “I believe that wine is first made in the vineyard,” Jim explains. In the fall of the year after they purchased their property, Jim, Suzy and their two and five-year-old boys traveled to Tuscany “to make sure that we wanted to do this.” They made the acquaintance of men prominent in the world of Sangiovese—people like Paolo di Marchi of Isola e Olena and Alceo di Napoli of Castello dei Rampolla. On returning to California, further investigation followed and the Gulletts observed the progress people like Bob Pepi and Dick Peterson were having with the variety. “Things we saw in Italy, we could see in this winery Caporone in Paso Robles,” Jim recalls. When they acquired their Shenandoah Road property about half its acreage was fallow, but was likely a grain field at one time according to Gullett. The other half of the property was planted to walnuts. Noceto is Italian for walnut and Jim's wife, Suzy, grew up in Walnut Creek, California. So was born Vino Noceto, the wine estate said by several experts to be home to California's best Sangiovese.

Vino Noceto Tasting Bar Jim G PicmonkeyJim Gullett, a self-described contrarian

In the spring of 1987 the couple acquired an additional 18-1/2 acres adjacent to their original parcel and began planting grapes the following year. Of their twenty-four planted vineyard acres in Amador County, about 23 are devoted to five selections of Sangiovese. “There's a bit of Canaiolo Nero, Trebbiano and Malvasia, too, and two rows of Aglianico, one row of Petite Sirah, one row of Alicante Bouschet and one row of Syrah,” Gullett says. He likens these additional varieties to seasonings in the kitchen. “With Sangiovese a very little bit added will change the wine,” he explains. Vino Noceto has several bottlings of Sangiovese, one of these labeled “Misto” contains 87% Sangiovese, 3% Canaiolo Nero, 4% Malvasia and 6% Trebbiano. In all, Vino Noceto produces 4-5,000 cases of Sangiovese annually and 400-500 cases each of Pinot Grigio, Zinfandel and Barbera.

Though Jim Gullett is intimately involved in all aspects of the Vino Noceto vineyards and winery, he has help. Dave Brown is responsible for most of the orchard and vineyard work on the property. He's a fourth or fifth-generation resident of Amador's Shenandoah Valley and his family farms a nearby vineyard. Rusty Folena, who also has deep roots in this area, handles the day-to-day aspects of the winemaking.

Jim and Suzy Gullett have three adult children; Randy is 33 and works as a project manager for a Silicon Valley computer company. Bobby is a couple of years younger and is taking a sabbatical after several years working for the winery. Daughter Lindy, 27, is finishing her Ph.D. in psychology at NYU.

Prominent as Vino Noceto is among American Sangiovese fans, it's still a small, family-run operation. About 80% of its sales are direct-to-consumer. These come from their tasting room and a 1700-member wine club. Though the vast majority of the remaining 20% goes to wholesale markets within California, Vino Noceto wines can also be found in about 10 other states.

A sign in the tasting room at Vino Noceto reads, “Italian Passion, California Sunshine.” Speaking of his commitment to Sangiovese, Jim Gullet explains, “This is a long-term procedure. If you don't have focus, fortitude and finances to go for five, six or even 10 years, it's irrelevant. It takes that long.” Vino Noceto has been “a 25-year project to get us to a certain point,” he says. After a moment, he adds that the 25-year mark was 2009. One could conclude that at Vino Noceto Sangiovese has benefited from a good deal of California passion, too.

Editor's note: If you're planning a visit to this colorful wine-growing region east of Sacramento, you may want to check out the Gold Country listings in Taste California Travel's Resource Directory. There you will find links to the websites of Sierra Foothill Wineries, as well as the sites of Lodging and Dining options and even nearby craft Beer purveyors.

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