California’s nascent wine industry took flight during the Gold Rush of the 1850s, amid the rugged western foothills of the majestic Sierra Nevada mountain range. As fortune seekers, many of them European, flocked to the Sierras to prospect for gold, small wineries arose to help slake their thirst. Within a few decades, there were over 100 wineries in the area known as the Mother Lode, more than any other region of California. Some of the vineyards planted during that era survive to this day.
The decline of gold mining at the end of the 19th-century, followed by the advent of Prohibition in 1920, devastated this frontier wine community, which remained dormant until the late 1960s. Then, a new generation of pioneers began migrating to the Gold Country’s Amador County, this time drawn by the region’s rolling, sun-drenched hillsides, warm daytime temperatures, and volcanic, decomposed granite soils – ideal conditions for producing top-quality wine grapes. When their robustly flavored wines, especially zinfandel, began attracting the attention of wine lovers throughout California and the U.S., the historic Sierra Foothills wine region was reborn.
Today, where gold once reigned, some forty wineries produce a new treasure: superb wines which have earned Amador County international acclaim.
Amador County’s two major sub-appellations are Shenandoah Valley and Fiddletown, both in the northern part of the county near the small town of Plymouth. Stylistically, zinfandels from the Shenandoah Valley tend to be fuller, riper and earthier with a characteristic dusty, dark berry fruit character, hints of cedar, anise and clove spice, and scents of raisin and chocolate. By comparison, zinfandels from the Fiddletown appellation, a smaller, higher-elevation region east of Shenandoah Valley, tend to be lower in pH and display a fruitier, more cherry-like fruit tone.