Wines of the Sierra Foothills

Our wine reviews of the Sierra Foothills wine region in California show Zinfandel is the most planted grape, followed by Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Chardonnay. The Sierra Foothills Wine Region is known for its richly-flavored red wines, including Zinfandel, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as its signature white wines, like Chardonnay.    

This region features small, signature vineyards and wineries, gorgeous landscapes, quiet back roads, crisp air and bright skies. The Sierra Foothills is one of the oldest wine regions in California, home to six AVAs, including Amador County, Calaveras County, El Dorado County, Mariposa County, Nevada County, Placer County, Tuolumne County, and parts of Yuba County. Sierra wines, from the Fair Play Winery and Apple Hill Winery in El Dorado County, Shenandoah Valley in Amador County, and Murphys Winery in Calaveras County, have all had small-town sensibilities, and many wineries are producing a variety of grape varieties.    

Most grapes from Amador County are grown in the Shenandoah Valley of California, which is home to a number of wineries as well. The California Shenandoah Valley AVA is responsible for approximately 20% of Amador Countys production, growing mostly Zinfandel, Sauvignon Blanc, and Rhone varieties. California Shenandoah Valley AVA, covers 13,000 acres; a little more than 2,000 acres are planted to grapevines, with 26 wineries operating.    S

Although Amador County has around 40 wineries, the best-known area for winemaking in Amador is the Shenandoah Valley, which has approximately 3,500 acres under cultivation. Once Californias hub for grape growing, Amador is home to the oldest Zinfandel grapevines in the nation. Amador County is known for its older grapevines and large-format reds, especially Zinfandel, but also Syrah, Barbera, and Sangiovese.    

With all of its diverse elevations, microclimates, and topography, the area is capable of producing a number of different grape varieties such as Old Vine Zinfandel, Barbera, Sangiovese, Syrah, Viognier, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Calveras County is higher and colder; besides Old Vines Zinfandel, this county is known for Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Cabernet Sauvignon usually gets all of the buzz in California, and with good reason: The grape has the potential to make some amazing wines when grown in Americas west coast.    Its parent grape, Cabernet Franc, can be equally amazing if treated right, and Terra dOro Winery knows how to handle this wine like few others. Raspberries, vanilla, and oak characterized the finish, making Ironstone Vineyards Cabernet Franc a great match for roasting meats and fruit-forward sauces. The 12% syrah added to Cedarville Vineyards Estate Grenache also gives it quite the bit of savory smokiness that hangs around the finish.    

Terra dOro Winerys Amador Zinfandel is salty both flavor-wise and texture-wise, with gritty tannins allowing for plum, blackberry, and roasted dark fruit presences. Rich, the wine is exceedingly well-balanced, having been aged in Hungarian, French, and American oak for 16 months. The shallow granite soil, combined with warm days and cool nights, allows the Zinfandel to flourish, and there are few better ways to taste California Zinfandel than through a bottle of Terra dOro Winerys Amador Zinfandel.    

Renwood Winery specializes in Zinfandel, producing limited-production, single-vineyard Zinfandels, Rhones, and Italian varietals. Youngs Vineyard offers high-quality red wines, including their Barbera and Cabernet Sauvignon, the flagship wines here.    

All wines are sourced from the grape varieties grown in Calaveras County and surrounding foothills. Continue down Highway 49 south, wine lovers can explore the dozen or so wineries located throughout Calaveras County. If you are looking for a nice place to stay at the Vineyard, wines made with organic grapes, and a meal that compliments it, you will find nice Vineyard Lodges located in the Sierra Foothills.    

Those that do not associate the Foothills with digging for gold may very well associate it with popular destinations like Yosemite National Park or Lake Tahoe. Wine grapes were first planted in the Sierra Foothills during Californias gold rush of the late 1940s to early 1950s. Early Italian settlers who arrived in the late 19th century noticed that the setting felt very much like home, so they planted some of the Sierra Foothills earliest Old World grapes, including zinfandel, which is the oldest grape in the U.S., as well as tempranillo and syrah.    

Wine growing in Amador preceded the Gold Rush, with the first vines planted by Claude Chana along the Auburn Ravine in 1848, the same year that James Marshall found gold in Sonoma. In fact, Amador County was the only county to expand vineyard acres during Prohibition, and the grapes were shipped to San Francisco and other cities for domestic vintners.