As I sipped my glass of zinfandel, standing in the vineyard from which it came, I had a solid moment of realization. Wow, do I love my career. I was in the one of the oldest vineyards in America (planted in the 1880s) watching the vines do their work to produce the same wine in my glass. We were in the historic Deaver Vineyard in Amador County, and it was the end of our incredible tour of Terra d'Oro Winery.
Lets start at the beginning, shall we? My friend Nikki and I found ourselves in Amador County this past August while on a trip to see a concert in Sacramento. About an hour south of the city, Amador County is most famous for its historic and quaint towns from the gold-rush era, but it also is home to many wineries specializing in Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, and the newest sensation in the area, Barbera.
Nikki and I were excited to go see Terra d'Oro winery after driving around the previous day and getting completely lost through windy-roads with no shoulder, no cell phone service, and thus no GPS. But that's all part of the fun. Upon our arrival, we were welcomed by Jeff Meyers, Terra d'Oro's VP, General Manager and previous, but still very involved, winemaker. He immediately piled us up into his pickup truck and we went for a little off-road adventure into their vineyards. A pretty awesome "welcome" if you ask me.
Low and behold as we're going through the vineyard he starts telling us all about the different varietals planted in the different plots, when they were planted, when they were pruned, why the leaves are turned a certain way...yeah, this guy knew his stuff. I immediately sensed this wasn't going to be our typical "this is how wine is made" basic tour I sometimes get with wineries. Jeff was passionate and he wasn't afraid to show it. We had questions, and he had ALL the answers.
We made our way through the first vineyard, passing an awesome dead tree that they purposely never cut down because it was so creepy, and reached a shady little grove with a picnic table, bottle of wine, sandwiches, salad, cookies, and even a vase of fresh flowers for lunch. What hospitality! They served us Terra d'Oro's Chenin Blanc-Viognier white blend which went perfectly with our assortment of sandwiches. It inspired me to do the Chicken Salad Sandwich pairing featured at the end of this post.
At the time, I didn't think it got much better than this. A little wine, a little lunch, and a great view of the vineyards makes for an awesome tour for me! But we were just beginning. We piled back into the truck and made our trek back to the winery for THIS ridiculous tasting. Yes, that's 16 wines, a water glass, and a spit cup. Thank God for that spit cup!
If I wasn't convinced that this winery's wines wouldn't equal the amazing hospitality we'd already been getting, this was my confirmation. We tasted almost all of Terra d'Oro's current offerings as well as their sister winery, Montevina, which offers even more approachable, affordable wines that I would suggest to friends any day of the week. They were all great, but my favorites were Terra d'Oro's Barbera, “Home Vineyard” Zinfandel, and small-batch Aglianico which is unfortunately not distributed much. They also do a lovely Pinot Grigio and Moscato for the white-wine lovers out there.
After that, we did an actual tour of their SPOTLESS winery--I'm telling you, I've never seen a winery floor so clean! Crazy! This was Jeff's time to shine. He told me more about winemaking in an hour than I've learned in the last 4 years of studying it. It was great. He finished up with doing an extensive barrel sampling of perhaps 10 or 12 wines. Man, were we spoiled! My favorite of that batch of tastings, again, was the aglianico. It was a cool little grape that unfortunately has such small production, its hard to find.
And then, after all that, we piled up into the car and made our way to the historic Deaver Vineyard, home to 130 year-old vines, with yet another spread of cheese, fruit, and a glass of Deaver-Vineyard zinfandel waiting for us at the top. The vineyard was weedy and unkempt, but Jeff was proud to say they leave it that way on purpose. In a vineyard that old, you just have to let the vines do their own thing and make minimal impact. See how different it looks than a normal vineyard? Zinfandel vines are so cool.
It was a 5-hour winery visit and an incredible day. With his passion for what he does and all he knows, Jeff inspired me to also stay passionate, keep learning, and remember why I entered this industry in the first place. I hope I can inspire anyone reading this blog to enjoy wine as much as I do and encourage you to keep learning and appreciate it. If you ever make your way to Sacramento, I definitely suggest you make a day trip down to Amador County and visit this winery and a few others. If you can't make it there, lucky for you these wines can be found at wine shops and some grocery stores. Pick up a bottle and have it at your next outdoor picnic!
Chicken Salad Sandwich Paired with Viognier Blend
As I just described, Terra d'Oro's Chenin-Blanc and Viognier white blend went really well with our picnic lunch. I recreated this pairing with a chicken salad sandwich I made for myself one Saturday afternoon. This wine will go with almost any sandwich or lunch entree (except peanut butter and jelly--keep the milk for that one). The wine works so well with lunch because it is a heavy-bodied wine, weighing out almost any flavor combination that comes its way. With every bite of sandwich, chips, or salad, this wine will stand up to it. Despite its weight, however, the flavor is light enough not to overpower any delicate, complex flavors you'll get in all the lunch goodies. With common flavors of tropical fruits, peaches, and floral notes, its a great choice as a day-drinking wine. The Cranberry-Chicken Salad Sandwich recipe I made for myself can be found on Ari's Menu Blog. Enjoy!