There’s a new rush happening in the beautiful foothills of Amador County, and it’s not for gold. Wine is the current cash crop—with deep historic roots in this part of California. The wine industry here took off back in the gold rush days before tapering as gold mining declined. But now the wine is back, in a big way. With a climate providing perfect conditions for robust vintages, Amador County’s Shenandoah Valley is fast becoming the go-to region, with a down-to-earth vibe and inexpensive tasting fees, even as the awards keep rolling in. The loping sun-drenched vineyards are absolutely stunning in fall and winter. Pack a lunch and head to the best picnic spot in the valley: Story Winery. The tasting room—a renovated 1870s bunkhouse—is high on a hilltop overlooking a river canyon and surrounded by vineyards—some over 100 years old. (Story’s Alitia Zinfandel pairs nicely with the scenery.) Another winery with amazing views (and wines: we like the Primativo) is Helwig (pictured). This newer winery (2011) may be one of the hippest places to taste in Amador County. It can be quite the scene on a Saturday afternoon with people mingling around the horseshoe-shaped bar ($5 tasting fee) or swirling and sipping and enjoying bruschetta on Helwig’s modern, multi-tiered patio. The staff here isn’t too cool for school either—they’re downright fun. Also friendly is Turley ($10 tasting). Their rustically elegant ambience brings to mind Restoration Hardware, with some wine prices to match! The Atlas Peak Zinfandel is worth a holiday splurge. Cheers!
The Shenandoah Valley in Amador County is about 2 hours east of San Francisco by the town of Plymouth (directions). Story Winery is located at 10525 Bell Rd., Plymouth. They’re open 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and tasting is complimentary. Helwig Winery is located at 11555 Shenandoah Rd., Plymouth; open from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and tasting is $5 which can be credited to the purchase of a bottle. Turley is located at 10851 Shenandoah Rd., Plymouth; open from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and tasting is $10 which is waived with the purchase of two bottles.