The roots of old Zinfandel grapevines run deep in Gold Country, in the northeastern part of California, with a winemaking tradition that dates back to the Gold Rush days of the 1850s. Now, an explosion of wineries, wine tours, tasting rooms, and restaurants specializing in wine country cuisine has added a jolt of grape-fueled energy to the Sierra foothills, where more than 100 wineries produce a wide range of varietals, most notably still Zinfandel, but also an intriguing variety of other varietals.
To sample the new boom, head to the region’s Shenandoah Valley, which straddles Amador and El Dorado counties. The influx of new mixed with the old is front and center here, with wineries such as Deaver Vineyards, a family-run operation for generations, and newer vintners such as Linsteadt Family Winery, Dillian Wines, and Andis Wines producing vintages of Barbera, Grenache, and Sangiovese as well as the region’s famous Zinfandels. All of them are known for their richness, a flavor characteristic that comes from the valley’s low elevation: It makes it one of the hottest climates of the region, and vines have to put down deeper roots to reach water. The result is fewer grapes, but more concentrated flavors.
Even with the welcome addition of so many modern producers with sleek tasting rooms to match, the overall feel of the entire region has thankfully not changed much from pre-boom times. There remains a down-home sensibility in this neck of California, with most Gold Country wineries being family-owned, with the winemaker also being the one who pours your wine in the tasting room.
Typically held in July, El Dorado County’s Great Out There event is an excellent way to discover not only the wines of the region, but some top food destinations as well, thanks to the wine and food pairings. If you are passing through the area and time doesn’t permit for more thorough explorations, visit the tiny town of Plymouth for trendy tasting rooms and sleek restaurants like Taste—a magnet for savvy foodies.