The Other Shenandoah Valley

What Napa was like 25 years ago

The beautiful Shenandoah Valley stretches 200 miles across the Blue Ridge and Allegheny mountains of Virginia. A lesser-known Shenandoah Valley in the Sierra Nevada foothills also offers country roads with breathtaking views and charming postcard-perfect farms.

Amador Flower Farm in the Shenandoah Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The most concentrated Gold Country wine-touring area lies in the hills of the Shenandoah Valley, east of Plymouth—you could easily spend two or three days just hitting the highlights. Zinfandel is the primary grape grown here but area vineyards produce many other varietals from Rhônes like Syrah and Mourvèdre to Italian Barberas and Sangioveses. Most wineries are open for tastings at least on Friday and weekends and many of the top ones are open daily and some welcome picnickers.

Amador Flower Farm in the Shenandoah Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This undiscovered California gem features rolling, golden hills studded with majestic oaks and rolling vineyards producing exceptional full-bodied wines. Shenandoah Valley produces some of the most interesting wines due to its terroir, a unique combination of rocky soil and warm temperatures that gives the wines their distinctive flavor.

Home to some of the oldest vines in California, the wines produced from the vineyards in the Shenandoah Valley are renowned for their intense fruit and deep color. Stylistically, zinfandels from the Shenandoah Valley tend to be fuller, riper, and earthier with a characteristic dusty, dark berry fruit character, hints of cedar, anise and clove spice, and scents of raisin and chocolate.

Bella Piazza Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The valley offers unique tasting rooms and outdoor event venues, bed and breakfast inns, and relaxing environments for locals and visitors alike to enjoy all year long.

While Shenandoah Valley heats up early in the day, it rarely exceeds 100 degrees. Equally important, temperatures typically drop 30-35 degrees in the evening as breezes cascade down from the Sierras. This rapid cooling helps the grapes retain the acidity essential to balanced wines.

Bella Piazza Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Villa Toscano Winery brings the essence of the beautiful Tuscany region of Italy to California. Many of their full-bodied wines are crafted from century-old vines. Starting with rich, mature fruit, winemakers, George Bursick and Susan Farrington, create wines in a style that displays both richness and balance. Extended oak aging on their red varietals ensures wines of depth and complexity. The white varietals receive no oak aging to preserve their fruit character and freshness.

Borjón Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Borjón Winery is a dynamic, Mexican-American, family-owned winery. The Borjón family comes from the small town of Paracuaro in the state of Guanajuato, Mexico. Isy’s parents, Jesus and Nora Borjón, arrived in the Shenandoah Valley over 30 years ago with passion and drive they built Borjón Winery together, as a family. They offer a range of European-influenced wines including Italian (Barbara, Primitivo, Sangiovese), Spanish (Garnacha and Tempranillo), and French (Petite Sirah). We tasted five hearty reds and purchased a bottle of 2013 Petit Sirah.

Helwig Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Helwig Winery offers sweeping vistas overlooking lush vineyards, breathtaking views of the Sierra and Coastal mountains, and a sky you won’t believe until you see it for yourself.

Helwig Winery offers guests a multitude of wine tasting experiences in a setting that cannot be beat. With sweeping vistas overlooking lush vineyards, breathtaking views of the Sierra and Coastal mountains, and sunsets that will take your breath away, your experience will be a memorable one.

Helwig Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Helwig boasts a new, state-of-the-art winery with a unique wine cave system. Visit their spacious Tasting Room, well-equipped meeting and conference rooms, an outdoor terraced concert amphitheater, and the popular picnic Pavilion and their “cool” wine cave. They offer a little something for everyone, no matter the weather, the event, or the mood. The Tasting Room is a great place to taste a range of exciting wines including several made from Rhone varietals (Syrah, Marsanne, and Viognier), several wonderfully complex Zinfandels, and a big, bold Barbara. The Tasting Room is open seven days a week from 10:30 am to 4:30 pm, except for major holidays.

Cooper Vineyard © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A visit to Coopers Vineyards is a visit to one of California’s most charming family wineries.

Dick Cooper, whose family originally arrived in the Sierra Foothills in 1919, is generally considered Amador County’s “Godfather of Barbera.” Zinfandel might be Amador’s heritage grape but it is a grape that does well in other parts of California. Barbera, on the other hand, makes a red wine that many of today’s wine lovers believe grows better in Amador County than just about anywhere else in the world—even as well as the Piedmont region of northern Italy, where the grape originated.

Cooper Vineyard © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A grape grower first, Dick moved into the winemaking business in 2000 and opened the Cooper Vineyards winery and tasting room in 2004. Before grapes, Dick’s family grew a wide variety of crops including tree fruit and nuts. Gradually over the years, the walnut and fruit trees gave way to Zinfandel and Barbera and Rhone grape varietals. Now totaling almost 80 acres, Dick has expanded the vineyards to a potpourri of exotic grape varieties including Alicante Bouschet, Carignane, Mourvèdre, Petit Sirah, Pinot Grigio, Viognier, Grenache, and Sangiovese.

Cooper Vineyard © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Products from the soil are still the greatest industry in the world.

—Dick Cooper, 1966