Wine Tasting in California's Shenandoah Valley

It has been almost 20 years since I lived in the East Bay of San Francisco. We used to drive through the little farming town of Lodi on the way to go backpacking in the Sierra Nevada mountain. I never really thought much of the area, and never explored it.

Now it is home to somewhere around 90 wineries. Restaurants and hotels are abundant, and the tasting rooms are crowded with wine enthusiasts that don’t want to deal with the high prices, and “upturned noses” in Napa Valley.

Michael David Tasting
I brought our wine club back to Lodi, since we had such a great experience three years ago (seethat blog here). Once again, we started our weekend off with a visit to Michael David Winery. Things have changed over three years. They have expanded their wine tasting and entertainment grounds, with a beautiful new tasting building. We were hosted by Joseph Phillips (his father is the "David", in Michael David - we met years ago at a wine pairing dinner). He poured a number of wines for our group, and based on the number of bottles and boxes leaving the property, there was no doubt the wines impressed. What is most impressive is that a winery of this size has been able to scale up, and maintain the consistent quality of their product. If you are in Lodi, this is a “don’t miss” tasting stop.

Outdoor seating at Pietro's
Since our drive from Southern California was about seven hours, it didn’t leave time for any other tastings on a Friday afternoon. We checked into the Hampton Suites Hotel. The rooms are well appointed, and priced very well. Why not spend your money on wine, rather than a hotel room?
We were able to get our entire group together for a family-style dinner at Pietro’s Ristorante. The homemade gnocchi and ravioli were a treat, and we left completely full.

Saturday, we gathered for the complimentary breakfast, at our hotel, then loaded into the limo bus I had chartered for the day. We used Nuemann Limo services, out of Sacramento. The 24 person bus would have been crowded if we used all the seats, but the 18 of us easily fit. I’d suggest 20 would have been the maximum.

The California Shenandoah Valley
Months before our outing, I had made arrangements to visit four wineries in the California Shenandoah Valley AVA. This tiny wine region is located in an oblong valley, just outside of Plymouth, CA. There are only about 27 wineries in the valley, but 42 in all of Amador County. It is rich with gold rush history, as are most areas along the Sierra Foothills. I had previously written about this area in a blog back. Check it out here. The area is known for their Zinfandel and numerous Italian grape varieties…and that is where our focus was for this trip.

The first stop was at the far northeast corner of the valley, at the oldest continuously operating winery in California, Sobon Estates. While Sobon has been around since 1989, the winery has been in operation since 1856, when D’Agostini Winery became bonded winery #2459, and is now an historical landmark. This corner of the valley is at the highest elevation, so cooler micro-climates. The tastings are free, unless you do the reserve tasting, which is $5, and you get to keep the glass. They have a very nice gift shop, friendly staff, and an old winemaking museum, that is free to tour. The wines are all well done, and priced very reasonably. The most expensive wine on the list is $28, with most less than that. We arrived at 10:00am, when they open. They are the first to open in the valley, so head here first to get things going. For many in our group, this was their favorite winery of the day. The quality and value of the wines made for many purchases. A few whites, but a lot of Zinfandel, Syrah, Petit Sirah, Barbera, and even a pleasant Rose.

Alicante Bouschet grape tasting
The next stop was only five minutes away at Cooper Vineyard. I had visited Cooper a few years prior, and loved their Barbera wines, so wanted to bring the group for a tasting. Our host was the grand daughter of Dick Cooper. She ran us through a tasting of about six wines, then took us out to the vineyard to taste Barbera, Alicante Bouschet and table grapes on the vine.

As we drove down Shenandoah School Rd, and headed back to the main road, to get to our next stop, we noticed a large Gourd and Fine Arts Festival that was going on at the Amador Flower Farm. Something to keep in mind for another visit to the area.

Vino Noceto Tasting Pavilion
Our next stop was at Vino Noceto, where I had arranged to have our box lunches delivered by the Amador Vintage Market. Everything had been delivered, and kept refrigerated for our arrival, and we have tables set up for us in the Pavilion area. After an enjoyable lunch, surrounded by vineyards (with beware of snake signs), we were introduced to Rhys Tappero, who is the local sommelier and wine educator for Vino Noceto. He took us through the history of the area, and the specific vineyards of Vino Noceto. We did tastings of Sangiovese from multiple different vineyards. It was interesting to see the differences in Sangiovese clones and vineyards. The stories of how the vine clippings made it to the 40 acres of vineyard were also interceding.

Scott Harvey - tasting in the barrel room
Our last stop of the day was just next door at Scott HarveyWinery. Scott was one of the founders of ZAP, the Zinfandel Advocates & Producers festival. So, as you can imagine, the winery offers a variety of Zinfandel, Primitivo, Syrah and Barbera. They also make a sparkling wine, in the typical Champagne method. Some of you may be familiar with Scott Harvey, but didn’t know it…he was the creator of “Menage a Trios” wines.

We boarded our wine limo, and headed back to the hotel in Lodi, arriving around 5:45. Our group purchase a lot of wine, and that took about 15 minutes to unload the limo and organize everyone’s purchases into individual piles along the side walk. My purchase for both Friday and Saturday included 26 bottles of wine, from 5 different wineries. The breakdown was: Zinfandel (5 btls); Sangiovese (6 btls); Barbera (4 btls); Rose (3 btls); Red Blends (2 btls); Port (2 btls); Alicante Bouschet (1 btl); Petit Verdot (1 btl); Sauvignon Blanc (1 btl); Moscato (4 cans)…..yes you read that last one correctly….four one-glass cans of sparkling Moscato.

The Shenandoah Valley is a great place to visit, and go wine tasting. Most places do not require appointments (unless you are in a large group) and tasting fees range from no fee, up to $10. The pours are generous, and the people are friendly. Most are farmers, and enjoy talking to you about what they do. This is was Napa Valley was like 25 years ago, or Paso Robles just 10 years ago. I encourage you to visit the area. It is much more that the typical Zinfandel that is grown in the Sierra Foothills.

Catch our follow up day in Lodi on my next blog entry.

 #WineBlog #WineTasting #WineTravel #Wine #WineEducation #FoodandWine #WineEnthusiast #wineExpert #WinePairing

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