Here's part 2 of our Amador Country trip from 1998 where we go from possibly the most historic site in California (part 1) and delve deeper into the wineries and tasting rooms of the region...
After a few hours in Coloma, we start to head south on highway 49 towards our lodging in Ione. Along the way, we decide to have lunch in Plymouth-one of the many Gold Rush era towns dotting the hills here. Driving down Plymouth’s small main street we do not see a single restaurant though we do see many saloons. Back out on the edge of town is Marlene & Greg’s Diner which serves a very nice and reasonable lunch.
Still with a couple of hours to kill before check-in time at the Heirloom, we head over to our main weekend destination, the Shanandoah Valley just outside of Plymouth. This is California’s oldest wine region. There are still vines growing-and producing-in this area that date back over 125 years.
Next, we head over the Shanandoah Vineyards. Shanandoah is owned by the oldest winery in the state, the nearby Sobon Estate. The wines here are okay, but I guess being the oldest is not necessarily the best. Nothing to knock your socks off here.
We finish off this afternoon’s tasting at Renwood Winery. Several wines here really, really blew us away. The barbera was like drinking velvet, but at $35 was a bit out of reach today. Their old-growth zinfandel was superb and a drink of living history made from vines that were alive with the 49'ers. The sangiovese bested even Atlas Peak’s stunning entry. We take a couple of bottles of the sangiovese and some delicious muscat for later and head over to Ione to check-in to our room.
Driving into Ione is much like any of the other Gold Rush era towns here except Ione is not a gold town...it’s a brick town. Ione, while contemporary with the other mining towns here such as Sutter Creek, Jackson, and Amador City, was not a gold-harboring site. Rather, it made it’s living making bricks from its abundant clay that the other more famous nearby towns were built out of.
Coming in the first thing you notice is an imposing, castle-like building on the north end of town that dominates the landscape. It turns out that the “castle” is the main administration building of the local juvenile hall.
Today, Ione’s main industries are i
The Heirloom is located at the end of a 1/4 mile drive just off of the main highway through town. Separated from a nearby strip mall and the rest of the town by a barrier of big old trees, it retains a seclusion and tranquility that really help recharge your batteries.
The owners, Millicent and Pat, go out of their way to make you comfortable at the 6 room inn. 4 rooms, including ours, are located on the second floor of the circa 1863 main building and 2 more are located in an adobe walled cottage nearby.
Our room included a fireplace, private bathroom, queen size bed and balcony. After a day of touring & wine tasting we quickly settle for a nap after checking in.
Dinner that evening was at the Palace Hotel and Saloon in nearby Sutter Creek. While looking a little tacky from the outside, we were pleasantly surprised by the quality and value of the food. The service and atmosphere were also top notch. The owners of the inn and other guests were surprised at this because the Palace is kind of considered the “low rent” dining establishment of the area.
Breakfast the next morning, July 4th, was served out in the garden with a quiche, fruit, and a special patriotic shortcake with an America flag sticking out of it. Despite Millicent and Pat’s efforts to include at least two parties at each table, most guests stuck to themselves on this first day, which is too bad because a big part of the B & B experience is to meet new people. The next day would be different though.
Now we had a full day to tour the local wine country. First stop: California’s oldest continuously operating winery...the Sobon Estate.
If you’re a wine lover, you know that California is one of the top wine producers in the world. What most don’t know is that Napa Valley is not where the state’s wine industry started. That honor goes to Amador County and the Sierra Foothill area known as the Shanandoah Valley.
To see where it all started, I recommend that all wine lovers make the pilgrimage to the humble little cellar...dating back to before the Civil War...here at the Sobon Estate. The estate has a historical museum...admission free...with artifacts of 19th century life and wine making. The museums goes through 5 areas, each one a little older, until you end up in the original wine cellar dug into the hill those many years ago.
It’s a small room actually, no larger that many living rooms, that is still used by the winery to age the wine in oak barrels. Nothing has changed, except the addition of electric light, in all those years. It’s an awesome sight.
For all that, however, the wines produced by Sobon are rather pedestrian but it is worth it to buy a bottle as a souvenir of California wine history.
Next, we head over to the Deaver Vineyards. The Deavers not only run a winery, but also run the Amador Harvest Bed & Breakfast (on the grounds of the winery) and the Amador Flower Nursery nearby, which is world-renowned for its day lillies.
Being July 4th, there are numerous red, white and blue banners and baloons. Tables and a big barbecue are set up on the grounds. A 2 man band is preparing to play. Is it a private party? We don’t know but a sign out front says the tasting room is open so we head on in.
Mike Deaver, his family, and employees are busy manning the tasting counter. We quickly line up for some samples and taste some fine wine. The Deavers best, however, are their port wines which just tickles the palate and goes down ever so smoothly. Mike then asks us “are you staying for the barbecue?”.
We don’t know, we reply. “It’s free”, he says. Well, in that case...
We feasted on barbecued bratwurst and burgers. Washed down with free sodas and water. To ease our guilty conscience, we buy a bottle of Deaver’s sauvignon blanc to drink with our meal. This was all while we sat on the beautiful green lawn on the banks of their little lake and listening to the surprisingly good music put out by the band...easily the biggest bargain of the weekend.
After lunch, we took a walk around the lake, watching the local birds and getting a close-up look at the vineyards.
After the great lunch break at the Deaver place, we continued over to Story Winery with its tasting room in the ancient miner’s cabin. The wine at Story is good, very good, especially the whites. What really sets them apart from the rest is the view over the Consumnes River canyon from their tasting area. We saw several eagles while relaxing here. Story also has an old growth zinfandel (like many here do) on ancient vines...but with a difference. These vines recieve only rain water, no irrigation. The result is an intensely flavored fruit that passes that excellent quality on to the wine.
That was it for the wine tasting, although there are many other wineries in the area we’ll have to get to next time. For now, it was back to the inn with our trunk load of wine to wind down, relax, and get ready for dinner.
After a nap and a very pleasant stroll along the banks of Sutter creek, we head over for dinner at the nearby, historic Ione Hotel.
Here you can have some very good food served by candle light right off of the old western-style saloon. Service is also excellent here and prices, while not cheap, were still reasonable. We walked around the small downtown area of Ione and then headed back to the inn.
Another restful night, another great breakfast (this time with some other guests to share our table) and then it was time to head back home. That evening they tell us Ione had a great fireworks show, oh well, maybe next time we’ll get to see it.