Site Contents | Wine Touring | Northern Calif Index| What's New

Vol. 9 No.6. Sept '01

Sierra Foothills II

Vineyards & Wineries Visited -

El Dorado Co.
Lava Cap
Sierra Vista
Gold Hill
Crystal Basin Cellars
Chalet Fleur de Lys
[ El Dorado Photos ]

Amador Co.
Dobra Zmelja
Terre Rouge
Nine Gables
Villa Toscano
Sutter Ridge
[ Amador Photos ]

Journal and tasting notes from visits to several Sierra Foothill wineries over a 4 day period.

(some photos courtesy of Michael Poston)

Tasting Notes / Scores: Brief tasting impressions are included following the winery write-up. The alpha scores are expressed in Aroma/Taste format, and may be compared to numerical scores by referencing the conversion chart. An "n/n" indicates that no notes were taken.

We left SoCal about 6:45am, hoping to arrive in Calaveras County by early afternoon. But, a bad traffic morning in the LA area put us behind schedule, and we never really caught up. We routed ourselves North on Hwy 99 to Stockton, and headed East from there.

Thursday, Sept 27, 2001

Arrived at Ironstone Vineyards about 2:45. Located on 6-Mile Rd in the Murphys area of Calaveras County, Ironstone is a bit of a surprise when you first see it. In contrast to the small turn-of-the-Century look that characterizes the town of Murphys and many of the area's wineries, the huge Ironstone facility, with its beautifully landscaped gardens and large amphitheater looks more like a mountain resort or mini theme park. And in fact, the winery has an active concert program that was due to feature Robert Cray and Dr. John over the upcoming weekend. Opened in 1994, Ironstone produces about 340,000 cases annually, making them one of the larger wineries in California. Ironstone draws on its nearly 5,000 acres in Lodi for most of the production. But, the winery also has 180 acres in Calaveras County (Chard, Cab, and Zin) which is used for its Estate Reserve wines. Friendly and knowledgeable gentleman named Frank poured us 9 wines. A funny thing did happen though. I gave the first pour the usual swirl and sniff, and filled my mouth with the wine (the Viognier). After giving the wine a little action on the palate, I was looking for a container to spit the wine into. But, there didn't seem to be anything. There was a water pitcher out, but no bucket. So, (swallowing) I asked " you have a dump bucket or place to spit. "Well, we don't spit here at Ironstone," was the matter-of-fact reply. (Really, I thought to myself.) I was tempted to counter with something like, "...why, haven't you tried the wines?" (H-e-e-ey, come on, I'd have only been kidding with him -- assuming that is, that he was kidding with me as well.) In actuality, they did have a dump container -- well, more like a vase or carafe, and not quite suitable to spit into. I became a dumper. Out at 3:35. (Driving tip: approach the winery from the North, or the Murphys side of 6-Mile Rd. The Winery Association's not-to-scale map makes it appear that Ironstone is located at the halfway mark, but it's really much closer to the Murphys end of the road. No kidding, ask me about my 9-mile drive on 6-Mile Rd.)

Tasted at Ironstone:

2000 Ironstone Viognier - California. $10. Nose of light grass and peach. Nice decent mouthfeel, moderately long finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1999 Ironstone Merlot - California. $10. Lots of earthiness and herbaceous qualities in the nose (maybe a dose of Cab Franc. Slightly fleshy sweet fruit, with a touch of leaf. Aroma/Taste: B/B.

1999 Ironstone Shiraz - California. $10. Spicy and meaty nose. Somewhat chewy mouthfeel, with tasty and spicy fruit and long finish. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

1997 Ironstone Cabernet Franc - California. $10. Slightly herbaceous and leafy, but very typical CF nose. Touch of cinnamon and a burnished sensation in the mouth; touch of stem on the long finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1998 Ironstone Cabernet Sauvignon - California. $10. Somewhat ripe cassis nose. Nice, if slightly thin in mouthfeel, decent flavors. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1999 Ironstone Zinfandel - California. $10. Very nice ripe and mineral-scented nose. Rather light on the palate - more of a quaffer. Aroma/Taste: B+/B

1997 Ironstone Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve - Sierra Foothills. $22. Slightly leafy and vegetal in the nose. Lots of flavor on the palate, but a bit too much to the acidic side in mouthfeel. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1999 Ironstone Zinfandel Reserve - Sierra Foothills. More to the old-vine briary smell in the nose, but pleasing. Ripe and slightly aged taste to the chewy fruit. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

1994 Ironstone Meritage - Sierra Foothills. Nice complex nose of herbaceous cassis, stem, and spice. Sweet ripe mouthfeel, slightly chewy long finish. 51% Merlot, 37% Cab. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

Arrived about 3:40 at Milliaire Winery tasting room in Murphys. This is the label of Ironstone winemaker, Steve Millier. Operating out of what appears to be an old gas station, Steve produces about 2,500-4,000 cases annually, mostly from Calaveras Co fruit. Small, sparsely decorated tasting room, with a few wine-related prints and some stained glass. Nice friendly fellow named Stan Osborne was doing the pouring of 7 wines. Some interesting Zins here, and definitely worth a stop. Out at 4:05.

Tasted at Milliaire:

NV Milliaire Simply Red - Sierra Foothills $7. Somewhat spicy ripe nose. Average mouthfeel and flavors; bit of a quaffer. 80% Zin, with equal amounts of Cab and Syrah. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1998 Milliaire Merlot Dogtown - Sierra Foothills. $18. Big fleshy and interesting nose. Lightly sweet mouthfeel and crisp finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B.

1997 Milliaire Cabernet Sauvignon - Sierra Foothills. $18. Ripe, slightly burnished nose. Bit thin in mouthfeel. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1997 Milliaire Zinfandel - Bicocca Vnyd, Sierra Foothills $16. Perfumed and floral nose. Slightly burnished and tight mouthfeel. 20 yr-old vnyd in San Andreas. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

1998 Milliaire Zinfandel - Clockspring Vnyd, Sierra Foothills. $16. Earthy and spicy nose, with lots of boysenberry-raspberry aromas. Slightly tart, tight and acidic mouthfeel. 40 yr-old vnyd in Amador Co. Aroma/Taste: B+/B

1998 Milliaire Zinfandel - Ghirardelli Vnyd, Sierra Foothills. $18. Briary and old-vine scents in the nose. Sweet boysenberry and raspberry flavors, with just a hint of cocoa. 100 yr-old vnyd in Calaveras Co. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

1999 Milliaire Zinfandel Port - Clockspring Vnyd, Sierra Foothills. $20. More late harvest in aroma; not at all porty. Sweet mouthfeel, good balance, nice finish. 19.5% alcohol. Aroma/Taste: B/B

We wandered into the Stevenot tasting room in Murphys, but were in a bit of a hurry to meet our next appointment, so we didn't stay to taste. Nice room, and this facility augments the winery itself, which we were also sorry to miss.

Arrived about 4:30 at Black Sheep Winery and met proprietors Dave and Jan Olson. Started in 1986, Black Sheep purchases about 60-70 tons of fruit from local Calaveras growers, and is producing about 3,500 cases annually, although they'll be up to 4,000 cases for this year. Nice small operation just outside of Murphys in an older barn-like structure that serves as both the winery and tasting room. Seldom seen in wide distribution, Black Sheep wines are mostly sold through the tasting room that fronts the winery itself. Jan poured us 7 wines, then showed us around the facility, where several bins were undergoing fermentation. Using small bin fermentation (as nearly every smaller winery does these days), the Olson's are making some nice wines from a variety of appellations, but mostly Calaveras Co. We chatted a bit, and pretty much agreed with Jan that Calaveras County might indeed be the least known wine-producing area in the state. Too bad, there's lots to like. Left at 5:25.

Tasted at Black Sheep:

2000 Black Sheep Sauvignon Blanc - Sierra Foothills. $10. Slightly sweet and grassy nose. A hint of residual sugar on the palate, with a nice crisp appley effect and long finish. Aroma/Taste: B+/B

N/V Black Sheep Lilly Pad White - Sierra Foothills. $8. Nice slightly floral and grassy nose. Crisp mouthfeel, light fruit, average finish. Blend of Semillion and Symphony. Aroma/Taste: B+/B.

N/V Black Sheep Lilly Pad Red - Sierra Foothills. $8. Seems a bit restrained in the nose, with just a few hints of fruity aromas. Light mouthfeel, and moderate flavors make this an ideal picnic quaffer. Blend of Sangiovese and Zin. Aroma/Taste: B/B.

1999 Black Sheep Merlot - Sierra Foothills. Dense fleshy nose, with a touch of stem. Somewhat fruity and moderate mouthfeel, with medium-long finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1999 Black Sheep Shiraz - Sierra Foothills. Big dense spicy nose. Nice spiced-fruit mouthfeel with a bit of chew and a long finish. Aroma/Taste: B+/B

1998 Black Sheep Zinfandel - Beckman Vnyd, Sierra Foothills. $14.50. Fruity, but also a bit tight and sharp in the nose. . Aroma/Taste: B/B

1998 Black Sheep Zinfandel - Clockspring Vnyd, Sierra Foothills. $15.50. Chocolatey and rich nose, nice flavors and mouthfeel, and long finish. Aroma/Taste: B+/B

We'd really hoped to get to a few more wineries for our first day. But, a later-than-expected arrival and general touristy approach to the visits (we took a lot of pictures) ate up what was left of the afternoon. We promised ourselves that we'd try to get back to Murphys on Sunday, figuring we'd run through Amador and El Dorado County fairly quickly. We were wrong. You really need a whole day to cover the Murphys area. Headed up Hwy 49 to Jackson for our accommodations, arriving about 6:10. Totals for the day: 3 wineries; 23 wines.

Some Photos from Calaveras Co.

Friday, Sept 28, 2001

Up early for an 8:45 visit to French Hill Winery. Met with Rod Ruthel, the energetic proprietor, winemaker, bottler, labeler, and chief salesman of French Hill wines. Rod is also a local graphics artist whose label designs adorn many of wines in the Sierra Foothills, as well as other California wineries. French Hill is a small operation producing about 3,000 cases annually. Located in a little hamlet named Mokelumne Hill, the winery/tasting room is in the northern part of Calaveras Co, and only about 15 minutes from Jackson, in Amador Co. When we arrived, Rod and an assistant were sulfuring a few bins of fruit to hold them until their yeast inoculation. Finishing up, Rod led us back through the winery to the tasting room and took us through his entire lineup of 9 wines, which included a massively rich Barbera, as well as some nice Zins and a Sangiovese that shows a lot of potential. The small tasting room is very nicely appointed with a gift shop array of accessories, wine art, sculptures, etc. After hearing that I had an interest in wine label art, Rod showed me a portfolio of his own label designs spanning several wineries over the years. Very impressive -- although just I'm impressed with his winemaking as well.

Tasted at French Hill:

2000 French Hill Chardonnay - El Dorado. $17. Nose of smoky fruit with a touch of caramel in the background. Nice mouthfeel and fruit, long finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B

2000 French Hill Chardonnay Reserve - El Dorado. $24. Nose of slightly stemmy and smoky fruit. Full mouthfeel, crisp apple flavors, very nice long finish. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

1999 French Hill Zinfandel - Amador. $15. Ripe Zinny boysenberry nose. Medium-full mouthfeel, just a bit sharp on the palate, long finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1999 French Hill Zinfandel Select - Amador. $22. Big spiced boysenberry nose. Slightly oaky mouthfeel, very good fruit, long finish. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

2000 French Hill Sangiovese - Bear Ck Vnyd. $n/a. Heavy hit of spiced dried cherry fruit and anise. Big mouthfeel, young and still a bit coarse, but loaded with fruit. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

1997 French Hill Syrah - Fair Play. $17. Nose of earthy blackberry-blueberry fruit, with a hint of bacon. Medium-full mouthfeel, nice fruity flavors, long finish. Aroma/Taste: B+/B

1997 French Hill Barbera - Fair Play. $39. Deep smoky black cherry fruit, touch of shoe polish and anise in the nose. Big, but slightly tart young mouthfeel, chewy through mid-palate, and sweetens up in the long finish. Monster Barbera! From Gold Hill Vnyd. Aroma/Taste: B+/A-

2000 French Hill Splendid - Fair Play. Racy and spicy nose. Light in mouthfeel, but tasty throughout, with crisp finish. Blend of Chardonnay, SB, and Muscat Canelli. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

NV French Hill Port - Sierra Foothills. Sweet succulent black cherry nose. Full mouthfeel, nice seamless fruit, long finish. 18% alcohol. Mostly Cab-based Port, blended with addition of 3 Portuguese varieties, fortified with distillery grape brandy. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

Although Jonathan Lachs and Susan Marks of Cedarville Vineyard were going to be busy with harvest chores in the morning, they agreed to let us drop by the winery just to take some pictures and observe the going's on. We arrived about 10:55 to find Jonathan & Susan, along with Susan's dad, Jack, dumping bins, hand-sorting and and destemming some Cab and Mourvedre fruit. Watching, I couldn't help but think about how interesting the whole winemaking process really is. On the other hand, this also looked like a lot of hard work. Promising we'd be back later to taste through some barrels, we left them to their harvesting and departed about 11:45. Yep, it sure is nice to be just a visitor.

Arrived at Madroña vineyards about 12:15. Originally planted in the mid-'70s, Madroña produced their first vintage in 1980. Located just north of Placerville in a slightly out of the way location, at the end of High Hill Rd. You actually have to drive right through High Hill Ranch, sort of a combination farmer's market and picnic grounds to get to the winery. Tasting room and winery are in a nice scenic forested setting, right next to the vineyards. Pourer Sara took us through 8 wines, all of which were surprisingly affordable. In fact, you'd normally have to board a time machine to see this many wines under $20. Producing about 10-12,000 cases per year, Madroña does about 60% of its sales out of the winery. We left the tasting room about 12:45, and tailgated for a bit. Finally departing for out next stop at 1:10.

Tasted at Madroña:

1999 Madroña Chardonnay - El Dorado. $12. Substantially sweetened nose, and very fruity slightly crisp mouthfeel and finish. About 90% unoaked fruit. Aroma/Taste: B/B+

1999 Madroña Riesling - El Dorado. $12. Nice light floral apple-scented nose. Crisp, nicely balanced mouthfeel, and good finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1999 Madroña Gewurztraminer - El Dorado. $10. Very floral and slightly sweet in the nose. Dry, lightly spiced and very floral mouthfeel, with light balance to the fruit, and a distinctive rose petal taste to the finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B

2000 Madroña Riesling - El Dorado. $10. Lots of apricot and peach in the nose, with a slight residual sugar taste to the spicy fruit. Aroma/Taste: B/B

NV Madroña Tinta, Lot 20 - El Dorado. $10. Stemmy and very Cab Franc-like in the nose. Nice taste and mouthfeel, good fruit, long finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1999 Madroña Zinfandel - El Dorado. $14. Meaty and vitamin-scented nose - almost Mourvedre-like. Tasty fruit and mouthfeel, with spicy blackberry and smoky meat taste, and long finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1997 Madroña Cabernet Franc - El Dorado. $15. Nice black cherry aromas, with no perceptible earthy-veggie qualities. A bit sharp in mouthfeel with a slightly bitter aftertaste. Aroma/Taste: B/B

2000 Madroña Cabernet Sauvignon - El Dorado. $16. Nose of cassis, show polish and spice. Fleshy black cherry-raspberry flavors, a bit tannic, long finish. 76% Cab, with some Merlot and Syrah. Aroma/Taste: B/B

Arrived at Lava Cap winery about 1:25. First vintage produced here was 1986. Nice tasting room with a deck that extends the view of the vineyards. Current annual production is 15,000 cases, split about equally between red and white varieties. We opted to try just the reds, and a friendly fellow named Fred Schaefer poured our 6 selections. Interesting lineup of wines -- and, it isn't often you'll see Cabernet Sauvignon out priced by Barbera, Zin, and Petite Sirah. But, such is the fate of many a Cab in this appellation. It also appears that Lava Cap has gone on a campaign to use the "Reserve" name for most of their lineup. Lava Cap currently has 60 acres of vines, with a potential for 130 acres total. Out at 1:55.

Tasted at Lava Cap:

1999 Lava Cap Barbera Reserve - El Dorado. $25. Dry smoky cherry nose. Slightly sweet mouthfeel, with lots of anise and tasty ripe fruit and long finish. Very nice! Aroma/Taste: B+/A-

1999 Lava Cap Merlot Reserve - El Dorado. $20. Smoky and fleshy nose. Spiced, light-medium mouthfeel, with decent concentration of flavors and spicy long finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B+

1998 Lava Cap Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve - El Dorado. $20. Substantially overripe herbaceous and green pepper nose. Tasty mouthfeel, if a bit austere. Aroma/Taste: B-/B

1998 Lava Cap Syrah Reserve - El Dorado. $20. Floral, almost muscat-scented nose, with a touch of stem and blackberry aromas. Good mouthfeel, lots of chocolate and toffee combined with blackberry, and long finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B+

1999 Lava Cap Zinfandel Reserve - El Dorado. $25. Slightly cooked and sulfured scent in the nose. Sweet, slightly chewy mouthfeel, with decent raspberry flavors and long finish. Aroma/Taste: B-/B

1999 Lava Cap Petite Sirah - El Dorado. $30. Slightly smoky dry blackberry-black olive nose. Full mouthfeel, big sweet blueberry-blackberry flavors, long finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B+

Arrived about 2:00 at Boeger winery's idyllic setting. Boeger was opened in 1974 as Placerville's first post-prohibition winery. The tasting room is in a photogenic old building, circa 1872. Very busy place, and parking was a bit of a task. Entering the tasting room, an energetic lady beckoned us to "come on up [to the bar], we won't bite." True enough - she/they didn't. But biting or not, we were indeed noticing a increase in tasting room patrons with each new visit. In fact, it was here that it occurred to me that wine-buying habits are a bit different here. Some of the patrons were obviously just out sampling wines for the day. But, it also appeared that other patrons were stopping by merely to buy or pick up wine for the weekend or near term drinking - almost like stopping at a local retail wine shop. Probably commonplace enough here with the abundance of wineries, but certainly not in SoCal.

Boeger was using an interesting "tape label" (it actually looked like a 1/2" wide strip of masking tape) on several of the wine bottles. The lady pointed out that this was an "original" label with them. Boeger has 30 acres of vines in production, along with 12 new acres that should be producing in 2002, and they lease another 40 acres. Production is about 22,000 cases annually. Poured 6 wines. Out at 2:40.

Tasted at Boeger:

1999 Boeger Refosco - El Dorado. $12. Smoky dry slightly fruity nose. Slightly sweet and tasty, with a quaffable quality. This varietal can be austere and coarse, but this is a nice rendition. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1998 Boeger Mourvedre/Syrah - El Dorado. $12. Dry and slightly fruity nose. Off-sweet mouthfeel, with a slight raspberry Kool Aid coarseness, and somewhat light finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1999 Boeger Barbera - El Dorado. $15. Smoky and a bit skunky in the nose. Slightly sweet mouthfeel, medium-full body, long finish. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

1999 Boeger Zinfandel - El Dorado. $15. A bit dry and rubbery in the nose. Thin mouthfeel, fruity throughout, moderate finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1998 Boeger Cabernet Sauvignon - El Dorado. $15. Dried cherry nose. A bit dry, thin and lightly fruity in mouthfeel. More of a quaffer. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1999 Boeger Syrah - El Dorado. $12. Smoky and oaky in the nose. Spicy, slightly tart fruit, long finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B

Arrived at Sierra Vista winery about 3:05. Established in 1977, Sierra Vista is owned and operated by the MacCready family - and a family operation it is! We met Barbara MacCready immediately on entering the tasting room. Soon thereafter, Michele stopped by to say hello, and John joined in later on. Barbara poured us 11 wines, and we chatted about the various vineyards that they either own or farm.

Producing 1,200 cases in their first year, the winery is no up to 10,000 cases annually. The fruit is either estate or purchased from local El Dorado growers. Syrah was planted in 1979, having procured cuttings from Estrella River - from the Chapoutier clone. The first Syrah was released in 1982, and seemed to signal that El Dorado Co could do more than just Zinfandel. The MacCready's currently farm eight acres of Syrah, five on Red Rock Ridge, and three at the Herbert Vineyard. Both vineyards are planted to the same clone, yet the wines are quite different, owing to the different soils and altitudes of 2400-2800'. John, Barbara, and Michele were great to visit with, and it was a pleasure to meet each of them on our visit. Out at 3:55.

Tasted at Sierra Vista:

NV Sierra Vista Lynelle 9th Cuvee - El Dorado. $9.50. Big fleshy and fruity nose. Quite a lip-sticker in the mouth, with cherry and raspberry flavors, and long finish. Unusual blend of Merlot, Zin, Cab, and Grenache. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1998 Sierra Vista Merlot - El Dorado. $15. Full fleshy nose with touch of stem. Big and very ripe on the palate, very good fruit, and long finish. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

1999 Sierra Vista Syrah - El Dorado. $12. Nice blackberry nose, with touch of smoke and anise. Tangy, big and young on the palate, with a chewy consistency, good fruit and long finish. This is the "regular" Syrah - a blend of Red Rock and Herbert Vnyds. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1999 Sierra Vista Syrah - Herbert Vnyd, El Dorado. $25. Floral and blackberry aromas in the nose. Big and dense mouthfeel, young and a bit austere, lots of clingy fruit and tannins, and very long finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B+

1999 Sierra Vista Syrah - Red Rock Vnyd, El Dorado. $25. Nose of spicy blackberry and pepper. Dense spicy mouthfeel, young and a bit tart, with lots of smooth fruit and tannins, and very long finish. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

1999 Sierra Vista Fleur de Montagne - El Dorado. $21. Nose of raspberry, cherry and cranberry, with a background of floral aromas. Smooth and slightly sweet on the palate, with a long tasty raspberry finish. The Grenache clone here is reputed to be a "suitcase" clone from Ch. Rayas. A GSMC blend. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

1998 Sierra Vista Syrah - Herbert Vnyd, El Dorado. $19. Nice concentrated blackberry-blueberry aromas. Smooth and fruity mouthfeel, with a meaty taste, good concentration an balance, and long finish. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

1999 Sierra Vista Zinfandel - El Dorado. $12.50. Rich and slightly sweet mouthfeel, long finish. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

1999 Sierra Vista Zinfandel - Herbert Vnyd, El Dorado. $16. Very ripe boysenberry and black cherry nose. Lots of boysenberry fruit on the palate, nice concentration, and long smooth finish. Aroma/Taste: B+/A-

1999 Sierra Vista Zinfandel - Reeves Vnyd, El Dorado. $16. Ripe boysenberry and raspberry nose. Smooth mouthfeel, lots of chewy ripe fruit, and a long finish. Aroma/Taste: A-/A-

1998 Sierra Vista Cabernet Sauvignon - El Dorado. $16.50. Nose of cassis and shoe polish. Slightly tangy and tannic mouthfeel, big off-sweet fruit, long finish. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

Arrived back at Cedarville about 4:10 to taste through several tanks and barrels. Jonathan started us off with some of this year's wines, which were "cooking" in their respective tanks inside the winery. He agreed that 2001 will turn out to be an excellent vintage, despite the frost that descended on many of the Foothill wineries in April. As it turns out, Cedarville received very little damage, though it was touch and go for a while.

As we were walking up to a higher vantage point along side the vineyard, Jonathan steered us clear of a patch of poison oak. Whew - close one! Apparently, Jonathan discovered this the hard way - after mowing through some, he got the itch to stay away. Standing there at the back edge of the property was quite serene. Some deer on a nearby hill just stared at us - or was it the fruit they were staring at? Jonathan mentioned that he had once seen a deer leap over his 7' wire fencing in one jump. All the more impressive, the jump was uphill! The soil here is decomposed granite which allows very good drainage, with 3 wells providing the irrigation.

I have to admit, besides being fun, tasting through 17 wines is also a very instructive way to appreciate wine at its various stages of development. Especially so, since I'd tasted many of these wines about 6 months previously (see: In-Depth Visit, April '01). As a recap: the Cedarville Vineyard occupies 15 acres, including 6 acres of Zin - divided into 5 blocks. They specialize in Syrah, Grenache, Zinfandel, and some Cab Sauv, but also play around with a little bit of Mourvedre and Viognier. The vineyards are still rather young by Foothill standards, with the Zin being from 4th - 8th leaf in age, and the Grenache and Syrah fairly young as well.

Out at 6:15 after an exhaustive session. Well for Jonathan, anyway. Actually, if it weren't for dinner reservations, we'd probably have stayed even longer. Come to think of it, if it weren't for our jobs, we probably still be there now.

Tasted at Cedarville Vineyard:

from tank...

2001 Cedarville Syrah (Lower Block) - Fair Play. Lush blackberry mousse nose. Medium weight on the palate, with a good fruity back end.

2001 Cedarville Syrah (North & East Blocks) - Fair Play. Spicy and creamy blackberry nose. Seems big on the palate, with a nice grip to the fruity finish.

2001 Cedarville Zinfandel (young block) - Fair Play. Spicy boysenberry nose nose. Quite a palate gripper in the mouth.

2001 Cedarville Zinfandel (Gopher Snake Block) - Fair Play. Ripe and very tasty throughout.

2001 Cedarville Zinfandel (Hilltop Block)- Fair Play. Lots of blueberry-boysenberry aromas and flavors. Tasty.

...from barrel...

2001 Cedarville Syrah - Fair Play. Oaky and roasted nose. Big bodied, with a very long finish. Picked in August, and recently barreled. Aroma/Taste: A-/A-

2001 Cedarville Petite Sirah - Fair Play. Dense, slightly sweet nose. Huge gripping fruit and tannins, seems a bit acidic right now, but should smooth out. From purchased fruit; will probably be a Vnyd Designated bottling. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

2000 Cedarville Grenache - Fair Play. Sweet raspberry, roasted grains, perfume and floral aromas in the nose. Sweet ripe mouthfeel, slightly astringent and puckery, with long finish. 100% Grenache right now; will get some Syrah in the final blend. Aroma/Taste: A-/B+

2000 Cedarville Syrah (vineyard blend) - Fair Play. Ripe blackberry and floral nose. Lots of medium density fruit on the palate, slightly chewy mouthfeel, with hints of caramel and vanilla in aftertaste. Aroma/Taste: A-/A-

2000 Cedarville Zinfandel (Hilltop Block) - Fair Play. Nose of raspberry, pecan pie, and toast. Tasty mouthfeel, with a nice nutmeg taste to the grip on finish. Aroma/Taste: A-/A-

2000 Cedarville Zinfandel (Gopher Snake Block) - Fair Play. Lots of boysenberry-raspberry fruit in the nose. Ripe sweet fruit, big mid-palate, long finish. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

2000 Cedarville Zinfandel (young block) - Fair Play. Nice ripe raspberry-boysenberry nose, with just a touch of a rubbery scent. Fabulous mouthfeel, and especially good and tasty finish. Aroma/Taste: B+/A-

2000 Cedarville Zinfandel ("thief-blend" of 3 Zins above) - Fair Play. Excellent combination of the three vnyd sources. The young vnyd seems to come across more in the nose, and the Hilltop and Gopher Snake in the smooth mouthfeel. Aroma/Taste: A-/A-

2000 Cedarville Cabernet Sauvignon - Fair Play. Coming along nicely. Still notice a bit of that gunpowder/clay scent, but now it's become more interwoven with the rest of the aromas. Full mouthfeel, and smooth tannins, touch of a bite on the finish. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

2000 Cedarville GSM - Fair Play. Ahh, the GSM. Very nice nose and mouthfeel. The meatiness of the Mourvedre is a nice compliment to the sweet raspberry of the Grenache. Aroma/Taste: B+/A-

...from bottle...

1999 Cedarville Zinfandel - Sierra Foothills. $22. Very dense boysenberry-raspberry aromas. Big chewy mid-palate, long finish. Aroma/Taste: B+/A-

1999 Cedarville Syrah - Sierra Foothills. $24. Dense blackberry nose. Excellent mouthfeel, slightly off-sweet fruit, long finish. Aroma/Taste: A-/A-

Off to dinner at Zachary Jacques, just outside of Placerville. Excellent meal (I can recommend the rack of lamb. Also, the wine list and prices are both excellent (i.e. '99 Cedarville Syrah $29 - only $5 above retail). Sitting inside the restaurant is probably nice enough, but if there's even the slightest bit of daylight, request the patio...killer! Total for the day: 6 wineries; 57 wines.

Some Photos from El Dorado Co.

Saturday, Sept 29, 2001

Arrived at Gold Hill about 10:35. Poured 7 wines. Founded in 1980 by Hank Battjes, this winery is in the Coloma area of the county, north of Placerville. Gold Hill produces 2,500-3,000 cases of wine annually, and also brews ales and stouts as well. The fruit from Hank's 50 acre vineyard has started to gain favor with other wineries, and is starting to show up as Vnyd-designate bottlings -- French Hill's Barbera comes from here. When we arrived, Hank was finishing the analysis on some of the still-hanging grapes. A very knowledgeable guy named Alex was working the tasting bar, and poured us through the 7 wines. The fact that Gold Hill was also a brewery wasn't lost on me, and I tried 4 of the brews as well. We complimented Gold Hill on the nice views of the vineyards from the decks, and on their very the spacious tasting room. Alex explained that Gold Hill hosts frequent weddings on the grounds, and holds the receptions in the tasting room, and/or upstairs on the upper level.

Apparently, Hank also leases his facility to fledging winemakers, one of whom was Mike Owen, a partner in a small operation called Crystal Basin Cellars. Mike and his partners make their wines at Gold Hill, and just happened to be having one of their semi-annual tastings. So, he graciously invited us to stop by the barrel room to try his wines. How could we refuse? In fact, we considered it a duty.

Tasted at Gold Hill:

1999 Gold Hill Chardonnay - El Dorado. $12. Smoky, apple-scented nose. Apple and citrus flavors, with a nice oak bite on finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B+

1998 Gold Hill Chardonnay Reserve - El Dorado. $20. Slightly smoky and even a bit skunky in the nose. Chewy mouthfeel, nice fruit with lightly smoky flavors. Aroma/Taste: B-/B+

1998 Gold Hill Barbera - El Dorado. $10. Nose of shoe polish and dried cherry. Big mouthfeel, smoky dried cherry flavor, slightly drying tannins, very long finish. Aroma/Taste: B+/B

1998 Gold Hill Syrah - El Dorado. $18. Nose of blackberry fruit, as smelled inside a tire store. Slightly tart, and a bit acidic and stern on the palate, long finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B-

1999 Gold Hill Cabernet Sauvignon - El Dorado. $18. Medium cassis and oak nose. Nice black cherry flavors, long finish and nice aftertaste. Currently unreleased - just awaiting labeling. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

1999 Gold Hill Cabernet Port - El Dorado. $24. Rich Zin-like nose. Sweet mouthfeel, smooth and very fruity, full-bodied with a slight grip on the finish. 18% alcohol. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

NV Gold Hill Sparkling Wine - El Dorado. $12. Following logic, a place that host numerous weddings must have a sparkling wine. This one is made in Woodbridge for Gold Hill. Decent fruity nose, and more in the Extra Dry style (slightly off-sweet), rather than Brut (dry). Aroma/Taste: B-/B-

...and from the tap...

Gold Trail Pale Ale. An ESB type of ale, with lots of grip throughout, and a nice lightly fruity crispness to the finish. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

49er Red Ale. Very smooth in nose and mouth. Tasty, almost nutty and Stout-like in taste, with a nice malty finish. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

Scotch Ale. Slightly sweet malty nose. Initially sweet mouthfeel, but picks up a nice crisp bitterness through the finish. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

Gold Hill Porter. Unmistakable oats and chocolate in the nose. Smooth, slightly bitter on the palate, with a nice honeyed finish. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

We headed downstairs to the 4,000 sq.ft. Gold Hill barrel room about 11:45 to see what was happening with the Crystal Basin Cellars open house/tasting. CBC has been making wines since 1981, first as a co-op, and finally as a commercial entity. Available by mail order, the wines are offered initially as futures to the members and/or partners, but also to the public via their website. CBC also holds tasting events such as this to introduce the wines to other potential buyers. The 2000 futures varied from $220-240/case, or about $18-20/bottle. They have a unique "adopt-a-barrel" program, where members purchase an American or French oak barrel in exchange for 3 cases of wine. And, the cool part is they'll put your name on a plaque and mount it on the barrel - of course you have to go to El Dorado County to actually see it. Production is up to about 500 cases. Another partner, Bob Kershaw, poured us through 6 wines. Out at 12:35.

Tasted at Crystal Basin:

1999 Crystal Basin Zinfandel - Creekside Vnyd, El Dorado. $n/a. Raspberry and boysenberry nose. Big, but slightly tart mouthfeel, long finish. Aroma/Taste: B+/B

1999 Crystal Basin Cabernet Franc - Gold Hill Vnyd, El Dorado. $n/a. Fleshy and very full nose, with no perceptible earthiness. Slightly tart fleshy mouthfeel, moderate concentration, lots of berry through the long finish. Aroma/Taste: B+/B

1999 Crystal Basin Cabernet Sauvignon - Gold Hill Vnyd, El Dorado. $n/a. Slightly restrained cassis-scented nose. Full mouthfeel, cassis flavors seem a bit narrowly focussed at present, long finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B-

1999 Crystal Basin Grenache - Sierra Vista Vnyd, El Dorado. $n/a. Lightly spiced floral and raspberry nose. Moderate mouthfeel and raspberry flavors, long finish. Aroma/Taste: B+/B

1999 Crystal Basin Syrah - Vnyd Hill, Nevada Co. $n/a. Fleshy nose of blackberry, smoke and anise. Moderate body and intensity, long finish. Aroma/Taste: B+/B

2000 Crystal Basin Rhone Blend - El Dorado. $n/a. Interesting complex nose of floral and fruity aromas, with a touch of earth. Sweet-sour flavors, good if slightly tart fruit, long finish. Blend of Syrah, Cab Sauv, Grenache, and Mourvedre. Aroma/Taste: B+/B

Since we'd left Cedarville in a hurry to get to our dinner reservation the night before, we stopped back by to actually buy some wines, and of course taste both of the current offerings - the '99 Zinfandel and '99 Syrah (see TNs above). Leaving Jonathan and Susan's place, we'd planned to made a few more stops in El Dorado County to round out the day -- saving the final day for Amador County. We made attempts to stop by two other wineries in the area, but both were quite crowded, so we didn't stay to taste. Verifying our own experience, the last few wineries we visited all confirmed that both Charles B. Mitchell and Latcham (see photo at left) are usually very busy with weekend traffic -- and apparently, two of the busiest. Alas, El Dorado County probably requires 2+ days to visit everybody, while taking no prisoners along the way. (The occasional crowded tasting room can be a dicey issue. i.e. , you wander into the room and find the tasting bar filled with patrons. Generally, someone ends up leaving, thus making room for you and your party. But, as the minutes continue to tick by and no one leaves the counter, AND no one at the counter gives you a sign of recognition...well, at that point it can be prudent to move along to other wineries.)

Arrived at Oakstone about 3:20. Located off the Perry Creek Road loop, on Slug Gulch Rd. (Now there's a colorful name for you.) Compared with Mitchell and Latcham, we apparently hit Oakstone at the right moment in time, as they had some room at their tasting bar despite the moderate-sized crowd. Production is about 8,500 cases annually. (The Oakstone facility is where Cedarville made their '98 and '99 vintages.) Tasting room staff member Bobbie poured us 7 of the 13 wines, and we chatted about the wineries and the Fair Play appellation. At this point in the day, I usually start concentrating on the red wines, so I didn't try the 6 whites on the list, including an apple wine. (This was the 2nd or 3rd place in El Dorado Co that had an apple wine - probably due more to the apple groves in this part of the county, rather than the tastes of patrons.) Out at 3:50.

Tasted at Oakstone:

1998 Oakstone Sangiovese - Fair Play. $8. Slightly sweet dried cherry nose. Quite Chianti-like on the palate, with a similar acid level, and long finish. Aroma/Taste: B-/B-

1999 Oakstone Zinfandel - Sutter Ck Vnyd, Amador. $12. Strange slightly cooked and funky nose. Slightly sweet fruit and a bit coarse in mouthfeel; nice quaffer. Aroma/Taste: B/B+

1998 Oakstone Merlot Estate - Fair Play. $14. Fleshy and slightly stemmy nose. Fleshy and tasty mouthfeel, nice concentration. Aroma/Taste: B/B+

1998 Oakstone Cabernet Sauvignon - Fair Play. $14. Somewhat brushy, weedy and veggie in the nose. has a good core of fruit, but it's generally weedy and austere. Aroma/Taste: B-/B-

1999 Oakstone Meritage - Fair Play. $18. Fleshy cassis nose. Good mouthfeel, with nice fruit and long finish. The 44% Merlot does a nice job fleshing out the Cab Sauv and Cab Franc in this blend. Aroma/Taste: B/B

2000 Oakstone Pinot Gris Late Harvest - Fair Play. $10. Slightly sweaty nose, with a bit of leaf and floral aromas. Tasty mouthfeel, with the taste resembling something like a blend of muscat and Riesling. Aroma/Taste: B/B+

1999 Oakstone Merlot Port - Fair Play. $12. Nose of blackberry, shoe polish, and oak. Fairly smooth mouthfeel, with a decent core of sweet fruit, and a touch of heat on the finish. 20% Petite Sirah. 18% alcohol. Aroma/Taste: B/B

Arrived at Chalet Fleur de Lys about 3:50. Located near Perry Creek and Windwalker, this small production winery opened just last December. Proprietors Robert (Ro-baire) and Mireille Lajoie, a very friendly and outgoing French-Canadian couple, have both worked for other wineries in the area before starting their venture. The winery is currently sourcing its fruit from Windwalker, among others, and they have eight Estate acres that should be producing shortly. Mireille poured us 3 wines (apparently there was a Viognier that was quite good, but has sold out). I expect the wines here will improve as the experience and fruit quality increases. If you're looking for a small place away from the crowds where you can still interact with the owners, this is a good choice. Out at 4:10.

Tasted at Chalet Fleur de Lys:

1999 Chalet Fleur de Lys Chardonnay - Fair Play. $14. Appley nose and flavors, moderate mouthfeel, slightly soft finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B-

1999 Chalet Fleur de Lys Sangiovese - Fair Play. $18. Nose of dried floral and fruit aromas. Slightly sweet initially, but develops more acids from mid through latter palate, finishing like a nice Chianti Classico. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1999 Chalet Fleur de Lys Zinfandel - Amador/El Dorado. $15. Nice nose of sweet raspberry-boysenberry. Light-medium mouthfeel, with a new-oak quality to it's medium-long finish. Aroma/Taste: B+/B

Arrived about 4:25 at Firefall. Planted back in 1991 by Robert and Laurie Jones, a couple of transplants from Silicon Valley. After tasting their wines at HdR, I felt this winery might be an up-and-comer, and was looking forward to a visit. Currently using their own acreage, along with fruit from some other local sources, the winery is concentrating on Rhone varietals, along with some Italian varietals. Excellent hospitality provided by Lulu, whose other jobs are volunteer firefighting and serving as president of the local firefighting association. She poured 5 wines while we chatted about the local vineyards. She described the location of Firefall's vineyards, and decided to go check them out. Out at 4:55.

Tasted at Firefall:

2000 Firefall Rosato di Sangiovese - El Dorado. $10. Nice fruity dry nose and mouthfeel, good finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B

NV Grizzly Flat 1849 - El Dorado. $10. Nice fruity and full nose. Good palate coverage, and tasty mouthfeel, with a nice long finish. Mostly Sangiovese, with 5% Syrah. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1997 Firefall Sangiovese - El Dorado. Rich dried cherry nose, with a touch of anise and wood. Slightly tight mouthfeel, with spicy fruit, good balance and long finish. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

1998 Firefall Syrah - Alexander Valley. Seductive floral and blackberry nose. Somewhat fat initially in mouthfeel, the wine tightens up a bit at mid-palate, with a slightly crisp finish. Aroma/Taste: B+/B

1998 Firefall Syrah - El Dorado. Slightly restrained blackberry and anise nose. A bit stern and austere on the palate, but with obvious fruit and long finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B

After leaving Firefall, we headed back into the hills to check out the vineyards. In addition to Firefall, we stumbled on the Herbert Vnyd (Sierra Vista), which was a nice surprise. Total for the day: 5 wineries; 28 wines, 3 ales, and a Porter. Had a good day, though not as many visits and wines as usual - but, we just took the day as it came. For instance, finding Crystal Basin Cellars was a bit of a fluke, and a nice surprise as it turned out.

More Photos from El Dorado Co.

Sunday, Sept 30, 2001

It had been a fairly hot day Saturday (low 90s), and we were variously assured by people we met that this was either seasonal and unseasonal). Today, according to the weather reports, temperature was expected to be in the mid-90s. Yeah, you can still drink/taste red wine, but I'm telling you, it definitely takes some of the fun out of it.

Arrived at Sobon about 10:05. Good-sized tasting room/gift shop, and they have also an adjacent Foothill wine country-oriented museum - quite interesting, with lots of memorabilia. We pretty much had the place to ourselves (Sunday morning's a good time to visit), though a few people trickled in later. Tasting room staffer Dianna poured us 8 wines. And, I noticed right away that the Viognier seemed corked, but for whatever reason didn't say anything until after we'd tasted through the lineup. "You may want to check out the Viognier - it seems corked to me," I suggested. Giving it a sniff, Dianna replied, "Oh my gosh! We were pouring from that bottle all afternoon yesterday, and nobody mentioned anything about it being bad! And you waited until you were finished with the tasting to say anything. Why didn't you say something earlier?" Sheepishly, I said, "Uh...I dunno; but I'm saying something now - doesn't that count?" It was kind of amusing, here I was being chastised for withholding information about their wine. But, we had a good time, Dianna tossing off mock (I hope) threats that she ought to hit me for saying nothing earlier, and me replying that I was only holding out for the abuse. Out about 10:50, with my confidence wobbling, but still intact.

Tasted at Sobon:

2000 Sobon Roussanne - Amador. Nose of peach and vanilla honey. Crisp fruity mouthfeel, medium-long finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B

2000 Sobon Viognier - Amador. Nose of apricot, peach and honey. Nice balance and fruity flavors. Aroma/Taste: B/B

2000 Sobon Rhone Rosé - Amador. Lightly fruity nose. Kind of a floral taste, with a slightly sweet back end. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1999 Sobon Syrah - Amador. Nose of blackberry-blueberry. Slightly off-sweet mouthfeel, long finish. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

1999 Sobon Primativo - Amador. Zin-like nose. A bit austere on the palate, with a meaty and minerally aftertaste. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1999 Sobon Zinfandel - Rocky Top Vnyd, Amador. Sweet boysenberry nose. Off-sweet mouthfeel, slightly stemmy aftertaste. Aroma/Taste: B+/B

1999 Sobon Grenache - Amador. Nice raspberry-strawberry nose. Sharp and slightly acidic initially, but loaded with fruit, with a slightly stemmy finish. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

1999 Sobon Zinfandel Lot 1 Signature Select - Fiddletown Vnyd, Amador. Dense boysenberry nose. Brawny mouthfeel, chewy body, long finish. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

Arrived about 10:55 at Dobra Zmelja. Opened in 1997, Proprietor Milan Matulich and wife Victoria selected a memorable, if difficult to pronounce, name for their winery, which translates to Good Earth. Last time I was here they were out of Zin, so I was looking forward to a return visit. Their first vintage was the '95, and they've quickly established a reputation for very nice wines (especially the Zin), at very reasonable prices. Production is about 1,500-2,000 cases annually. Milan poured us 5 wines, and we chatted about wines, but mostly about how computers have minds of their own. Out at 11:25.

Tasted at Dobra Zmelja:

2000 Dobra Zmelja Viognier - Amador. $16. Big and rich apricot-peach nose. Light, yet concentrated mouthfeel, crisp long finish. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

2000 Dobra Zmelja Amador Red - Amador. $16. Nice fruity nose. Rich mouthfeel, very fruity and spicy flavor, long finish. 66% Sangiovese, 34% Mourvedre. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1999 Dobra Zmelja Syrah - Amador. $20. Nose of boysenberry and blackberry. Slightly austere in mouthfeel, long finish. Aroma/Taste: B+/B

1999 Dobra Zmelja Zinfandel - Amador. $20. Massive boysenberry pie nose. Somewhat young and coarse mouthfeel, with very long finish. Aroma/Taste: A-/B+

1999 Dobra Zmelja Zinfandel Late Harvest - Amador. Nice slightly sweet nose. Seems a bit thin on the back end, but quite tasty. 16.2% alcohol. Aroma/Taste: B+/B

Arrived at Deaver about 11:30. The temperature was now starting to warm up quite a bit. First visit to this winery with spacious park-like grounds. Apparently, the facility is frequently used for local events, including a Kawanis picnic on one side of the property near a lake, and a Hot Rod show on the other side of the grounds on that very day. Deaver sells most of their wine out of the winery, with probably a few cases here and there making it out to local stores. From the hospitality staff, Connie chatted with us and poured 12 wines. She seemed quite knowledgeable about wine in general and Deaver in particular. She was a hoot, especially when she insisted that Michael looked very familiar to her - she wanted to know if he was some celebrity in disguise. Excellent good line; I'll have to remember that. Out at 12:10.

Tasted at Deaver:

1999 Deaver Chardonnay - Amador. $13. Lightly fruity in the nose, with traces of toast and smoke. Moderate mouthfeel, good fruit, long finish. Underwent 50% ML. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1999 Deaver Chardonnay Reserve - Amador. $19. Fruity and smoky nose. Nice mouthfeel, full chewy fruit, long finish. Underwent 100% ML. Aroma/Taste: B/B+

1999 Deaver Red Table Wine - Amador. $9. Very fruity and fresh in the nose - almost like crushed berries. Nouveau in mouthfeel, with primal young fruit, and grainy finish. 100% Cab Sauv from 6 yr-old vines - No oak! Aroma/Taste: B/B-

1999 Deaver Sangiovese - Amador. $19. Smoky cherry and anise nose. Smoky and meaty in mouthfeel, the Barbera seems to really add a punch. 8% Barbera. Aroma/Taste: B/B+

1998 Deaver Zinfandel - Amador. $19. Dried raspberry nose. Spicy and tasty mouthfeel, long finish. 130 yr-old vines. 14.8% alc. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1998 Deaver Zinfandel - Amador. $25. Slightly stemmy raspberry nose. Spicy, slightly sweet mouthfeel, smooth long finish. As above, 130 yr-old vines, only picked 2 weeks later. 16% alc. Aroma/Taste: B/B+

1989 Deaver Zinfandel - Amador. $19. Lots of sediment in the glass. Smells old; looks old; is old. Flavors of tea, tobacco, and yet some nice Zin fruit still left. Aroma/Taste: B-/B

1989 Deaver Zinfandel Late Harvest - Amador. $19. Somewhat maderized nose. Sweet mouthfeel, touch of heat and kind of Porty on the palate. Aroma/Taste: B/B-

NV Deaver Orange Muscat Port - Amador. $13. Sweet orange nose. Smooth and tasty, with a medium-full mouthfeel. 18% alc. Aroma/Taste: B/B

NV Deaver Port - California. $17. Nice berryish nose. Smooth mouthfeel, sweet finish. 19.5% alc. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1998 Deaver Zinfandel Port - Amador. $20. A bit coarse on the palate, with long slightly hot finish. Slightly coarse mouthfeel. 18.5% alc. Aroma/Taste: B/B

NV Deaver Golden Nectar Port - Amador. $20. Stemmy and citron-like nose. Almond walnut flavors, along with a touch of hi-test gasoline. Thought I was tasting Aquavit. Made with Mission grapes. 22% alc. Aroma/Taste: B/B-

Arrived at Renwood about 12:15. Wow, what a difference a year makes. On my previous visit (April '01), Renwood was pouring reds primarily from the '98 vintage, and I recall leaving generally underwhelmed with the lineup. At the time, I was fairly certain that this was a vintage-induced problem, but you never know for sure - what with winemakers coming and going. Well, it looks like it may have indeed been a '98 vintage problem, because these wines were all '99s and they all tasted great. Staffer Larry poured us 8 wines. Out at 1:00 and tailgated until about 1:25.

Tasted at Renwood:

1999 Renwood Barbera - Amador. $20. Massively fruity and smoky nose. Chewy mouthfeel, lots of young fruit across the palate, long finish. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

1999 Renwood Zinfandel Old Vine - Amador. $17. Old viney Zin nose. Smooth mature-tasting fruit, with a slight softening at mid-palate through finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1999 Renwood Zinfandel Fiddletown - Amador. $25. Beautifully complex nose of boysenberry, blackberry, anise, and toast. A little young and coarse on the palate, but very nice fruit, and long finish. Aroma/Taste: A-/B+

1999 Renwood Zinfandel Grandmere - Amador. $23. Very nice nose of boysenberry, raspberry, and toast. Young and fresh mouthfeel, long finish. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

1999 Renwood Sangiovese - Amador. $20. Somewhat restrained nose of cherry and smoke. Huge, sweet and chewy mouthfeel, lots of spice and grip, very long finish. Aroma/Taste: B+/A-

1999 Renwood Syrah - Amador. $25. Sweet ripe and rich with nice stemmy and floral quality in the nose. A bit soft, lacks a bit of punch and grip on the palate, but still very fat and tasty, with an off-sweet finish. Aroma/Taste: A-/B+

1999 Renwood Zinfandel Grandpere - Amador. $35. Beautiful boysenberry anise and raspberry nose, with a slight touch of mint. Very tasty fruit, fabulous balance, long smooth finish. Aroma/Taste: A-/A-

1999 Renwood Zinfandel Jackrabbit Flat - Amador. $17. Very nice boysenberry and toast nose. Young mouthfeel, a bit flat on the palate, with long finish. Aroma/Taste: A-/B

Arrived about 1:30 at Shenandoah Vineyards. Started in 1977 by the Sobon family. Established an early reputation for dessert wines like Black Muscat, and was the flagship winery for the Sobon family before they purchased the old D'Agostini winery in 1989, renaming it Sobon Estate. They've recently added a nice new tasting room to the existing Shenandoah facility. Poured 5 wines. Out at 1:45.

Tasted at Shenandoah:

1999 Shenandoah Zinfandel Special Reserve - Amador. Nice boysenberry nose. Moderate mouthfeel and finish. Aroma/Taste: B+/B

1999 Shenandoah Zingiovese - Amador. Interesting nose of dried floral and cherry scents. A bit tangy on the palate, with a long finish. 62% Zin; 38% Sangiovese. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1999 Shenandoah Cabernet Sauvignon - Amador. Slightly veggie and weedy in the nose. Thin acidic mouthfeel, and a somewhat hot finish. Aroma/Taste: B-/B-

1999 Shenandoah Barbera - Amador. Smoky and rich nose, but also very pruny. A bit cooked in taste, with a decidedly overripe finish. Aroma/Taste: B-/B-

1998 Shenandoah Port - Amador. Nose is a bit leafy and weedy. Fairly tasty mouthfeel, and long smooth finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B

Arrived at TKC Vineyards about 2:00. Started by Harold and Monica Nuffer in 1983, TKC produces about 1,000-1,200 cases annually. The TKC name is derived from the couple's daughters names: Tierre, Karina, Courtnay. Barbara poured us 3 wines. TKC is also currently offering a '96 Cabernet and a '99 Mourvedre, but neither were being poured. Out at 2:20.

Tasted at TKC:

1996 TKC Zinfandel Extra Special - Amador. $19. Decent Zin-like nose. Very light fruit on the palate, with a coarse and slightly tannic mid and after-palate. Aroma/Taste: B/B-

1997 TKC Zinfandel - Amador. $22. Old and viney nose. Slightly sweet fruit, oaky with lots of grip on the palate, long finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1995 TKC Cabernet Sauvignon - Nevada Co. $22. Bit of leaf and stem in the light cassis nose. Big mouthfeel initially, but the fruit dissipates toward latter palate, leaving lots of tannic grip on the long finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B-

Arrived about 2:25 at Terre Rouge/Easton. Moderately busy when we arrived, but found an ideal place at the end of the tasting bar, where Chris poured us 8 wines. Owned by the Easton family, the Domaine de la Terre Rouge label is reserved for Rhone varietals, and the Easton label is used for pretty much everything else. Both labels have been achieving good reviews, with Terre Rouge garnering most of the praise for its Syrahs. Out at 2:50.

Tasted at Terre Rouge/Easton:

1997 Terre Rouge Noir Blend - Amador. $20. Floral and fruity nose. Seems like a very easy-drinking style without a lot of complexity or concentration, but still tasty. GMS blend of 45% Grenache, 35% Mourvedre, and 20% Syrah. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1998 Terre Rouge Mourvedre - Amador. $20. Light meaty and fleshy nose. Moderate mouthfeel, tasty finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1998 Terre Rouge Syrah - Sierra Foothills. $22. Nice fruity blackberry nose. Spicy and tangy mouthfeel with a bit of grip at mid-palate, yet seems to lack concentration of fruit. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1998 Easton Zinfandel - Amador. $12. Leafy and stemmy nose. Off-sweet fruit, moderate mouthfeel, and a bit acidic on back end. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1997 Easton Zinfandel - Shenandoah Valley. $20. A bit leafy and stemmy in the nose. Tasty mouthfeel, off-sweet finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1998 Easton Merlot - Shenandoah Valley. $20. Leafy and fleshy nose. Moderate body and fruit, medium-long finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1998 Easton Cabernet Sauvignon - Amador. $40. Nice cassis, anise and toast in the nose. Nice cherry fruit on palate, medium-full mouthfeel, long finish. Nice, but $40? Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

1998 Easton Zinfandel Fiddletown - Amador. Nose of dried fruit, tea and tobacco Moderate, tasty mouthfeel, long finish. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

Arrived at 2:55 at Nine Gables. Owned by the Notestine family, this tasting room opened just last year. Featuring the usual Zin and Italian varietals, using a combination of Estate and other Vnyd-specific fruit. Fairly busy room, but we found a place to squeeze in, and Betty poured us 6 of their current offerings. Out at 3:15.

Tasted at Nine Gables:

1999 Nine Gables Zinfandel - Linsteadt Vnyd, Amador. Decent Zin nose; little complexity. Basic Zin, and maybe a little light on the palate. Aroma/Taste: B/B-

1999 Nine Gables Zinfandel - Story Hilltop Vnyd, Amador. Slightly cheesy boysenberry nose. Has some initial grip, but seems a bit thin on the palate. Aroma/Taste: B/B-

1999 Nine Gables Zinfandel Estate - Amador. Strange tarred weedy nose. Thin mouthfeel, medium-long finish. Aroma/Taste: B-/B-

1998 Nine Gables Zinfandel - Amador. Sweet fruity nose. Sweet, yet acidic mouthfeel, long finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1999 Nine Gables Barbera - Coopers Vnyd, Amador. Cheesy, smoky, and vitamin-infused nose. Fleshy mouthfeel, with a clingy acidic finish. Aroma/Taste: B-/B-

1999 Nine Gables Syrah Estate - Amador. Fruity nose with touch of tar and oak. A bit puckery and thin on the palate, with a long acid-driven finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B

Arrived about 3:20 at Villa Toscano. Fabulous looking place with a Tuscan Villa architecture, small pond and lots of umbrella space on a large front patio. Classy looking operation, with the staff all decked out in ties and aprons. Very large attractive tasting room and gift shop. Poured 9 wines, but we opted to try reds only. Out at 3:40.

Tasted at Villa Toscano:

1999 Toscano Zinfandel - Shenandoah Valley . $18. Spicy and fruity nose. Sweet and slightly soft mouthfeel, balance a little too fat and cloying. Aroma/Taste: B/B-

1998 Toscano Syrah - Amador. $24. Nice blackberry nose. Very fruity, even jammy on the palate, but lacks a backbone and grip. Aroma/Taste: B/B-

1998 Toscano Cabernet Sauvignon - Amador. $24. Slightly vegetal and sharp nose. Medium-full mouthfeel, a bit to the thin and acidic side, with a sparse finish. Aroma/Taste: B-/B-

1999 Toscano Zinfandel Old Vine - Fox Vnyd, Amador. $28. Somewhat old-viney ripe nose. Nice sweet aftertaste of boysenberry pie. Original plantings date from 1899. Aroma/Taste: B/B+

Arrived at Sutter Ridge about 4:00. Being geographically at the southern end of Amador Co, Sutter Ridge really needed to either be at the beginning or end of our schedule of daily visits. However, due to the fact that they opened a bit later than most of the wineries in the area, it seemed to be a difficult place for us to get to. So, we planned to make it as the last stop of the trip. As we pulled up to the gate, there was a gentleman down at the entrance pulling down the "Open" sign. So, although the tasting room was listed as open until 4:30, it looked like they were closing up early. "Got time for one more?" I asked. "Yeah, sure," came the reply. So, we drove on up to give 'em a try. I didn't get the gentleman's name, but he seemed quite knowledgeable about the operation and the wines. Totaling about 175 acres of vineyard, Sutter Ridge makes 1,500 cases under their own label, and is contracts out the rest of their fruit (popular, huh?), much of it going to the likes of Coppola. The gentleman poured us 5 wines, keeping the chat to a minimum, and we reciprocated by not hanging around too long. Out at 4:15.

Tasted at Sutter Ridge:

1998 Sutter Ridge Merlot - Amador. $14. Fleshy and slightly stemmy nose. Full mouthfeel, off-sweet fruit, medium-long finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1997 Sutter Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon - Amador. $18. Slightly veggie and overripe nose. Tasty fruit, with full body, long finish, and nice anise flavored aftertaste. Aroma/Taste: B-/B

1999 Sutter Ridge Cabernet Franc - Amador. $15. Fleshy and stemmy nose, with a slight herbal touch. Somewhat chewy mouthfeel, good fruit, long finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1997 Sutter Ridge Zinfandel Reserve - Amador (non-Estate). $15. Very ripe nose of boysenberry and tar. Full mouthfeel, ripe flavors, good balance, long finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B+

1996 Sutter Ridge Pinotage - Amador. $15. Nose of shoe polish, black olive, and fresh grapes. Very jammy mouthfeel, tasty fruit, good balance, long finish. Sutter Ridge has 7 acres of Pinotage, out of the 11 acres statewide. Aroma/Taste: B+/B

Total for the day: 10 wineries; 64 wines. Pretty good totals, and this is relatively easy to do in Amador County, since the wineries are much closer together than they are in, say El Dorado for instance.

Some Photos from Amador Co.

Wrap up: What a great trip! Very nice winery visits and wines, all amid fabulous scenery. We'd tried to time our visit primarily to watch the harvest, and secondarily to see the Fall color change in the Sierra Foothills. Well, we made out just fine on the harvest, but obviously with 90º+ temperatures, there was little color other than green to be seen.

Total for trip: 24 wineries; 172 wines. Favorite visits: Black Sheep, French Hill, Sierra Vista, and of course Cedarville. Plus, Dobra and Renwood and Terre Rouge are also must visits. Met lots of proprietors and many great folks in the tasting rooms.

We decided to take the scenic route on the return trip to SoCal. Traversing across the Sierras to Hwy 395, we first stopped at the Ghost Town of Bodie. Fascinating place! Also, stopped at Devil's Postpile monument for some photos before heading home.

Some Photos from the Eastern Sierras and Bodie

Site Contents | Top of page | Wine Touring

Copyright © 1993 - 2004, Eric Anderson -
All rights reserved
No original material may be reproduced without written consent
Mail & Comments
- Eric Anderson