Number 19 - August 2007
Welcome to "Rick's Tips," Blue Heron Custom Tours and Travel's quarterly newsletter of fun and interesting things to do in San Francisco, the Bay Area, and Northern California. Whether you are visiting San Francisco or hosting visitors, Blue Heron can provide an unforgettable experience. Visit our website,, to learn more about our custom tours and vacations.

Winetasting in California's Shenandoah Valley

People from all over the world flocked to the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains during the late 1840s and early 1850s in search of gold. These argonauts brought with them not only a desire to get rich quick, but also a thirst for wine. Some folks found mining too hard with little pay off; so they returned to their original profession - farming - and planted the area's first grape vines.

Gold seekers from western Virginia may have found their way to Amador County and seen a valley that reminded them of back home. Not being particularly creative, they might have given this valley the same name as the one they left - Shenandoah. At least that's one theory of how the valley got its name. In reality, no one knows how this part of Amador County came to be known as the Shenandoah Valley. Regardless of how the valley was named, the official name for the wine region is California Shenandoah Valley.

Today Amador County is home to the quaint Gold Rush-era towns of Amador City, Sutter Creek, and Jackson. Visitors have long come to this area to visit historic sites, learn more about the Gold Rush, and browse through the area's antique stores.

For many years not much thought was given to the old vineyards found in the Shenandoah Valley. Some wine was made commercially, but the quality was not the best. Now this is all changing. People are taking advantage of the century-old Zinfandel vineyards and making delicious wine from these grapes. Nearly every winery produces at least one Zin. Barbera and Sangiovese are also easy to find. A few wineries are experimenting with Rhone varietals such as Syrah and Grenache.

If you like big red wines, Amador County is a great place to visit for a couple of days. With a few exceptions, the wineries are small, family-run enterprises. Tasting rooms are pleasant and few charge tasting fees. You can drop in at nearly all of the wineries that are open to the public; although, some are open only on weekends. We enjoyed Vino Noceto for its Italian varietals. Karly and Story have great Zinfandel and the latter has a pretty picnic area overlooking a valley. Deaver also has a nice picnic area beside its lake. Shenandoah Vineyards offered a tasty Primitivo. Wilderotter had the best whites we tasted. Sobon Estate is located at the site of the oldest winery in Amador County and is home to a small museum that pays homage to its rich winemaking heritage. More information on the wineries of Amador County is available from the Amador Vintner's Association.

Lodging is not available in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley. However, the nearby towns of Amador City and Sutter Creek are home to some charming bed and breakfasts. The Imperial Hotel in Amador City has six quaint rooms and is home to one of the better restaurants in the area. In Sutter Creek, The Foxes Inn and Sutter Creek Inn are charming bed and breakfasts. Also in Sutter Creek, the American Exchange Hotel offers recently remodeled and reasonably priced rooms in the heart of town.

Restaurants also do not exist in the Shenandoah Valley. I recommend picnicking at Story Winery, Deaver Vineyards, or Young's Vineyard. You can pick up excellent food at Andrae's Bakery and Cheese Shop in Amador City or Amador Vintage Market in Plymouth. Even if you don't pick up picnic supplies at Andrae's, do stop by for a morning pastry and coffee. You won't be disappointed. The best restaurant for dinner is Taste in Plymouth. The California cuisine is delicious and the service is well executed. The only downside is that the restaurant is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. As mentioned above, the restaurant at the Imperial Hotel in Amador City is quite good. Caffe Via d'Oro in Sutter Creek is also well regarded.

Amador County is a nice getaway for Bay Area residents. If you go midweek there won't be any crowds, but many restaurants are closed on Tuesday and/or Wednesday and some wineries are open only on the weekends. I recommend visiting during the spring and fall to avoid the winter's rains and the summer's heat. If you would like Blue Heron to plan your visit to the Shenandoah Valley or other parts of Gold Country, please call me at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or e-mail me by clicking here.

For more information on California's wine country, read my blog: Rick's Wine Country Journal. My other blog, Rick's San Francisco Journal, contains travel information for San Francisco and Northern California.

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See you on the road,


Blue Heron Custom Tours and Travel
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