Practical Winery
65 Mitchell Blvd, San Rafael, CA 94903
phone: 415-453-9700 ext 102
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A common misperception is that Amador is a hot region. In fact, it rates as a high Region 3 on the UC Davis heat summation scale, making it comparable to St. Helena and cooler than Calistoga. Maximum summer temperatures are in the upper 80° to low 90°F range. Cooling breezes typically pick up in early afternoon, emanating from the San Francisco Bay Area and river deltas. At sunset, hot air rises from the Central Valley and cool air cascades down the Sierras and settles in. As a result, night-time temperatures average in the upper 50°F range. This 35° to 40° diurnal temperature shift is widely credited as a significant factor in grape quality, contributing to acid balance and tannin development in red wines.
Amador’s signature variety continues to be Zinfandel, with more than 2,000 acres planted. Amador County is home to the oldest existing Zinfandel plantings in California, dating from 1865. Emerging varieties in the past two decades include Italian, particularly Barbera and Sangiovese; French (Syrah); and Spanish (Tempranillo).
About 600 acres of vineyards are more than 65 years old. Employment of organic farming practices is a growing trend. At least 10% of the vineyards are farmed organically and almost all are farmed sustainably; reports are that these percentages will increase steadily.
Preferred rootstocks for new plantings are St. George and 110-R, with some 1103-P and 101-14. Older plantings are own-rooted and while Phylloxera is slow moving in the region, it is gradually wearing down many of these vines.
The two main sub-appellations are the Shenandoah Valley of California and Fiddletown. The Shenandoah Valley AVA (SV) includes 3,074 acres (plus 120 acres that cross over into El Dorado County). The SV AVA is seven miles long by five miles wide, located in the northern portion of the county near the town of Plymouth. The Fiddletown AVA is east of the SV AVA, and ranges from 500 feet to 1,200 feet higher in elevation than the Shenandoah Valley AVA. The terrain is steeper with more rolling hillsides and the climate is cooler than SV, bringing later ripening. While geographically larger than SV, it has only 215 planted acres.
Bill Easton has been growing and making Amador wine for 25 years. He founded Terre Rouge and Easton Wines (Domaine de la Terre Rouge) in 1985, outside Plymouth. “I grew up drinking wine from the Shenandoah Valley. Then I was immersed in European wine when I owned a wine shop in the San Francisco Bay Area.
The French have a term for wine that expresses the place where it is made: goût de terroir.
Amador is one of the few regions in California where I experience the place in the finished wine. I wanted to make place-oriented wines and Amador and the Sierra Foothills has so many varied terroirs where varieties such as Zinfandel and those from the Rhône excel.”
Easton produces a total of 20,000 cases per year, comprised of 32 bottlings, including Zinfandel, Syrah, Barbera, Cabernet Sauvignon, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, and other Rhône varieties. The Terre Rouge label has an exclusive Rhône focus, the grapes are grown and sourced from vineyards in various areas of the foothills region, including Amador. Easton Wines include non-Rhône varieties grown primarily in Amador, as well as other areas of the foothills region.
Easton owns and leases estate vineyards in Shenandoah Valley and Fiddletown. These properties include 21.5 estate acres in Fiddletown (13 acres of Syrah, 6 acres of Zinfandel, and 2.5 acres of Viognier), and 30 estate acres in Shenandoah Valley (Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon). He also contracts with other growers with whom he works closely on farming practices.
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