Discover Amador's growing wine country

By: Gwen Bohdan, Folsom Lake Entertainer
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Forty-five miles from Folsom lies Amador County ? a hidden jewel of bucolic splendor rich with history, entertainment and award-winning wines. Amador boasts 40 wineries throughout the county, 37 of which belong to the Amador Vintners Association. Some of the most famous names include Renwood, Shenandoah Vineyards and Sobon Estates. Most of the wineries are located in Plymouth?s Shenandoah Valley; however, several tasting rooms can be found in Sutter Creek and Ione as well. The association has a Visitors Center, located at 9310 Pacific St. in Plymouth, which helps newcomers develop personalized itineraries based on the individuals? particular tastes in wine. The group is pushing to get Amador marketed as a major wine region ? specializing mostly in Zinfandels, Barberas and Syrahs. ?We want to let people know it?s an easy drive; it?s a beautiful drive and well worth the drive to get up here,? said Shan Trail, Visitors Center Coordinator for the Amador Vintners Association. The Visitors Center offers guests brochures and other items about each of the member wineries, as well as information on local bed and breakfast inns, restaurants and the history of the Amador appellation and its terroir. ?Terroir is simply a term that encompasses the entire set of growing conditions: Earth, wind, sunshine, fog, precipitation ? all those factors that affect the ability for a grapevine to produce,? Trail explained. ?Our terroir is actually hot weather conditions in the summertime, cool and rainy in the wintertime. Our soil ranges from volcanic to alluvial. Precipitation amounts annually are rather sparse, compared to the coastal regions.? Winemaking has a long history in Amador County. The D?Agostini Winery - now Sobon Estates, located at 14430 Shenandoah Road - is the fourth oldest bonded winery in California. Established by Swiss immigrant Adam Uhlinger and his family in 1856, the D?Agostini brothers bought it from him in 1911 and sold it to Shirley and Leon Sobon in 1989. Today, the site includes a museum as well as a tasting room, picnic area and the original wine cellar. Sobon Estates is one of the stops for Gold Country Wine Tours, Inc. Owners Cathy Patrenos and Kirk Neiberger will pick up guests at the different hotels, B&Bs, and RV parks in Amador County, and even the Sutter Hill Transit Center. Groups tour the area in a 14-passenger shuttle bus lined with large windows that allow visitors to view the expansive scenery. The couple acts as docents of the wine country using wireless headsets to explain the history and other significant facts about each of the locations. ?Part of the reason we called this business ?Gold Country Wine Tours? is because we could see a sort of marriage of the Gold Rush with the wine country in the area,? Patrenos said. ?It was during the Gold Rush that the immigrants and farmers planted the wonderful vineyards in Northern California. It?s not all about wine; it?s about history and wine.? Amador?s future looks as bright as its past. One of the newest music venues in the area is Helwig Winery, located at 11555 Shenandoah Road, which opened in 2011. Helwig boasts a 500-seat amphitheatre as well as a covered patio, public and private tasting rooms, and a wine cave. ?We try to coordinate music with just about everything we do,? noted Cheryl Speed, Helwig?s music coordinator. ?We try to create a cozy and fun, relaxing environment.? The Helwig at Dusk series takes place every Friday night from 6:30 to 9 p.m. and features live music with a more relaxed atmosphere. The summer concert series hosts bigger-name rock and roll acts in the amphitheater. Helwig Winery is a favorite of Sutter Creek resident Ghenelle Yancey, although she admits to enjoying the entire Amador County wine region. ?Each winery is unique in design, offering a different experience at each,? she said. ?But all the wineries offer a variety of premium wines and welcoming personal attention that makes you feel like they truly want you to enjoy the wine ? not merely just buy their wine.?