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Monday, July 14, 2014

Amador County Wine Country, California


In Part 1 of this trip, we have a very enjoyable day of baseball and candy in Sacramento before heading up to the Motherlode country for a mediocre hotel, a great little steakhouse, a nice kitchen shop, and a slightly depressing Gold Rush era downtown.

Watch the Video!


Today, we’re heading for wine country.  My pick for the best wine country experience has always been Amador Country.  It’s one of the oldest grape growing areas of the state and is home to California’s oldest continuous operating winery.



Between our hotel in Sutter Creek and the highway lies the tiny town of Amador City, population 213…the smallest incorporated city in California.  It does have a downtown and the five cars that make up the rush hour are parked at Andrae’s Bakery.  Inside, fresh coffee, cooked to order breakfasts, bakery treats, artisan cheeses, fine wines, and Belgian beers await.  We pick up a baguette and a couple of hunks of cheese for later and some coffee for now.

We start off at Drytown Cellars.  Winemaker Allen Kreutzer is pouring tastes at the counter to spell the usual woman who works there while she’s on a little break.  We start with the whites, which are crisp and refreshing and are on sale…today all whites are $10 a bottle.  The lady returns and Allen steps a few feet away and continues to fill the oak barrels from the fermenting tanks.  We start on the reds.  Zinfandel, barbera, and sangiovese.  All are very good and the sangiovese will be the best we have on this trip. 

A couple of dogs wander around and one goads us into a game of fetch.  The other, a Jack Russell terrier, takes exception and steals the ball, growling at anyone who might want to take it away.
A half case purchased and put into the car and we’re off to the next stop.
In Plymouth, we make the right turn to head east into the Shenandoah Valley, the county’s main grape growing and wine making area.  Over two dozen wineries dot the back roads here.

Our next stop takes us off the main highway, then off of the secondary road leading to the bulk of the wineries here, off of a spur at the edge of the Consumnes River canyon, and down a one lane road to the dirt and gravel parking lot of Story Winery.
This is just about my favorite winery anywhere.  In an old miner’s shack…past the sign reminding you to beware of rattlesnakes…is the tiny little tasting room.  That sign is not in jest…last year, Letty and I spent time here when I helped the ladies in the tasting room look for a rattler that was wandering around the entrance.  The serpent slithered under the shack, never to be seen…by me at least…again.
We see none today.  One thing I really like about Story.  It’s frequently hot and dry here in the Sierra foothills.  Whenever you walk into to the tasting room, the first thing they offer…before the complimentary tasting…is a free glass of chilled champagne.  Not only does it really hit the spot on a hot day, it gets you in the mood quickly for tasting.

While we all start off with our sips, Letty quickly gets sidetracked talking with the lady behind the counter.  It all goes back to last year, they used to sell some of the best chocolate chip cookies you’ve ever tasted here.  My wife asked who made them and the lady that did wasn’t in that day.  Today, she’s manning the tasting counter.  When Letty finds out it’s her, she immediately sets in to grill her and compare recipes and completely forgets about the wine.
Oh well, Tim and I continue on.  Another aside is that Tim is not a fan of wine tasting, at least until today.  I think that had to do with the fact that in the past when he was a child, he’d have to wait while the adults would have their fun.  Now that he’s an adult, he can join in. 

He starts off a bit bummed but then something happens…this wine stuff actually doesn’t suck!  Soon, he is in a much happier mood and we’re all having fun together.

We make our purchase and take a chilled bottle of their chenin blanc out back to the picnic area with some borrowed glasses.  Just downhill a bit from the tasting shack is a shaded area with picnic tables right on the edge of the vineyard that rolls down the hill into the canyon.  It’s a spectacular sight and my favorite picnic area.

Some bread, cheese, and a couple of those Jelly Belly packets from the ball game are our light meal to go with this great bottle of wine.  We just snack, talk, and generally have a good time just hanging out together in this wonderful place for a couple of hours.

Batteries recharged, we head down the road as the time is slipping away.  Most of the wineries are now closed for the day but we have 30 minutes before Villa Toscano closes so we pull in. 

With Andrea Bocelli wafting over the speakers, this recreation of a Tuscan villa holds the tasting room here.  There’s also a bistro next door, but it is already closed for the day.  The gentleman behind the counter is jovial and helps us with our tastings.  Another group at the end of the counter belongs to the wine club here, so the guy behind the counter quickly introduces us.  Now, he says, we can qualify for the member’s prices on the wines because they extend it to their friends.  Since we were introduced, we’re now their friends.  I get a case of their great zinfandel…usually over $200…for $99.  About $8.25 a bottle.

That’s how it goes here in Amador County.  The winemakers are laid back.  They still offer free tastes of their wines.  Nobody has any pretentiousness and it is no sin if you haven’t the slightest clue about the wines.  Exceptionally good red wines with most wineries willing to cut you a deal if you’re serious about buying.
Next, it’s over to downtown Plymouth where we will spend the rest of our evening.

In the town’s little central park, there’s a farmers market going on.  Actually, there are only 3 stands selling produce, all vegetables with the exception of a few clusters of grapes at one of them.  Another stand sells a buffet dinner for $10 and Sobon Estate winery offers five samples of their wines for $5.

A singer accompanies himself with a CD player and we browse through local honeys, cookbooks, and see if the singer knows any of the songs we request.

Afterward, we walk across the street to the Dancing Bear Bar in the old Plymouth Hotel (1883) and have a Margherita pizza from their wood-fired oven.  It is delicious but we’re still hungry.  We get an order of their jalapeno poppers.

(NOTE - Since our visit, the Dancing Bear has closed. Shame, it was a great restaurant. - Ed)


The server brings our order.  The peppers are just about black, actually not too appetizing, but we give them a try anyway.  Oh my…what great poppers these are.  It turns out that the jalapenos are stuffed with chile infused cream cheese, then wrapped with bacon, and smoked out back for two hours.  Incredibly smoky with that creamy heat coming from each pepper.  I’ve never had a popper taste like this before.
Soon, a tall man comes over and asks how we liked them.  After waxing on about how great they were, he tells me he’s the owner and he takes me out back to see the smoker.  It’s a large, industrial metal oven that he’s feeding oak logs into the bottom.  He opens the door and there’s briskets and chickens rotating on trays over the low heat smoke.
“I’ve got a great guitarist that plays on Saturday night,” he says and invites us back to see that and to have some more of their barbecue.  Whatever we’re doing, we’re going to be sure to be back here at 6:30 Saturday night.
Keep an eye out for the finale of this trip, coming soon!
-Darryl
Copyright 2010 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

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