Practical Winery
65 Mitchell Blvd, San Rafael, CA 94903
phone: 415-453-9700 ext 102
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Linda Trotta
mador County’s star is on the rise. The quest for increasing quality has taken center stage in a region long heralded for classic California Zinfandels. This pursuit is led by growers and winemakers with long histories in the appellation, as well as vintners new to the region. Their efforts are being recognized by peers, critics, and consumers alike.
PWV spoke with two respected Amador County growers/vintners, both veterans in their craft. One has made wine in the region for 25 years; the other is a recent transplant from Napa County.
Appellation overview
Winegrape growing in the Amador County AVA dates to the mid-1800s, during the California Gold Rush era. By the late 1800s more than 100 wineries were established, more than any other region in California at the time. In 1888, the University of California established the Foothill Experiment Station near the town of Jackson, with 130 grape varieties.
The end of the Gold Rush, combined with the passage of Prohibition two decades later, led to a decline in the Amador winegrape industry, which remained largely dormant for 50 years. The modern renaissance for Amador grapegrowing started in the late 1960s, when the unique quality of its Zinfandel was rediscovered and the economic value of grapes increased. Today, 60% of the grapes grown in Amador leave the county to be made into wine elsewhere.
Amador County is situated in the western foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountain range in central California, approximately 50 miles east of Sacramento. The appellation’s roughly 3,700 bearing vine acres sit at elevations ranging from 300 to 2,500 feet. Annual rainfall in the county as a whole averages 30 to 35 inches, while vineyards at the lowest elevation average about 19 inches.
Most plantings are on volcanic Sierra Series soils: well-drained, moderately acidic, sandy clay loam derived from decomposed granite, with moderately low permeability. Nitrogen and phosphorus deficiencies are quite common. In general, this nutrient deficiency, combined with the low water-holding capacity of the soils, contributes to small canopies and low yields (3.2 tons/acre on average).
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