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Friday, December 23, 2016

CLASSIC TRIP: It's Bargain Time in the Motherlode

I just hate it when wineries try to stick it to you when you visit their facilities. There was the time we went to a tasting room in Solvang with a $16 tasting fee...not applicable to purchase....that got you maybe two ounces of wine. Same with a winery in Temecula. Chateau Montelena in Napa Valley is famous for being the winery in the movie "Bottleshock" where an incredulous Bo Barrett asks his father if they now charge for tasting.

"No," Jim Barrett (in the movie answers). 

In real life, it will cost you a sawbuck and you have to buy at least $100 worth of wine before you get that back.

I'm more partial to the yet-to-be-discovered-by-the-masses wine areas where you will find down-to-earth winemakers, eager to intice you with their fine products and make you a deal when you decide to buy.

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Cucamonga Valley, Mariposa County, and Lodi are examples of wine countries that have yet to go the route of the Napas, Temeculas, or Santa Barbara County's as far as gouging their visitors is concerned.

Still, our favorite is Amador County. Just a shade below the river where James Marshall found that fateful gold nuggett at John Sutter's sawmill, it's a sleepy, scenic area with blistering hot summers that are very conducive to growing the big, bold reds like sangiovese, barbera, temperanillo, and...the state's official grape...zinfandel.

You can find the state's oldest operating winery here, have a winemaker pour a taste while you scratch behind the winery dog's ears, eat at some of the state's best restaurants, explore some of the historic gold mines of the area (some of which are still commercially producing), see ancient Indian grinding rocks, and support those same Natives by throwing some money around at their casinos.

What you won't find is a lot of other tourists, especially if you come mid-week.

Monday is serious downtime for most in this area. Tuesday, a few wineries start to shake off the weekend cobwebs. Wednesday, a few more open up along with some restaurants and Thursday the county is winding up for another weekend with almost everybody up and operating again.

It's Wednesday. I already got a case of some very good barbera for just a hair over $100 at Amador 360 yesterday. Today, we'll go to the Shenandoah Valley and taste some more.

First stop is quirky Bray Vineyards. You'll find them easily on Schoolhouse Road by the yellow road signs with a silhouette of a farmer popping a wheely on his tractor, wine bottle firmly planted to his lips.

We start off alone with just the server (who turns out to be a winemaker I've spent a few years looking for) tasting their wares.  You can get "mystery wine" here, unlabeled bottles from their runs, at a discount along with growlers of wine filled from a tap.

Another lady comes in while we're there and she strikes up a conversation with my wife about where the best tasting rooms are around here.

We go outside, take some pictures, and pet the winery's dog.

It's up the road to Sobon Estate, the previously mentioned oldest winery (used to be D'Agostini), taste some more and trade an e-mail address for a 20% discount on an already reasonably priced mixed case.

It was to be Shenandoah Winery next but construction blocks our access so we end our day again with a trip to our favorite winery, Story, located way up a few winding roads at the top of the Consumnes River Canyon.

A case of their Gold Hill Zinfandel is procured for $99 while we sip. On this hot day, the biggest hit is their Miss Rose, which is a rosé made out of their mission grapes. It may be the best rosé I've ever tasted.

We grab a bottle and head outside to enjoy a picnic of bread and cheese on a very breezy day.

Alexandra, the lady we met at Bray, shows up next for some tasting and comes down to say hi.

"Wow, you were right. This place is amazing!" she exclaims to my wife.

She's on a reconnosance trip to find a place to take a group from work during an upcoming weekend and has settled on an Amador tasting safari ending with a picnic here at the stunning, grapevine covered canyon top picnic ground here at Story Winery.

As we sip our Miss Rose, chat with a new friend, and enjoy the stellar views, I realize my batteries are now pretty fully charged. Funny how everytime I come up to this beautiful, amazing, and laid-back place that happens.

Amador County is about an hour east of the state capitol of Sacramento. Everything mentioned in this post is wheelchair accessible. Good to great accessible lodging is available at the Best Western in Jackson, Days Inn in Sutter Creek, and...our new favorite...the Shenandoah Inn in Plymouth.  The Hyatt House in Rancho Cordova is also a good option with a 45 minute drive to Amador County and includes a full, hot breakfast.  All (except for Days Inn) have pools to cool off in the hot Amador summers with pool lifts.

Copyright 2014 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Pictures by Letty Musick
Copyright 2014 - Letty Musick
All Rights Reserved

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