Attention Barbera fans; just in case you haven’t heard and you thought you missed it, the popular foothill Barbera Festival has moved to September and is coming up on Sept. 16. One of Amador County’s premier events, the event is held at Terra d’Oro Winery at 20680 Shenandoah School Road outside Plymouth, right in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley.
It seems fitting to pay homage to this wine that was first grown and planted at this winery in the early 1970s by original founder and winemaker Cary Gott. The grape has its origin in the Piedmont district of Northern Italy, and usually displays a solid core of dried fruit along with a distinctive brightness that’s the result of its higher acidity. It has become a terrific companion for a number of foods, including traditional Italian fare and summer grilling favorites.
Our California Barberas have seen popularity skyrocket over the past dozen years and the foothill region has become a big player. The Barbera Festival is being held in September in order to escape the June heat, but the move to a different venue allows the event to expand to include other California Italian varietals that have also made their presence known. Over 70 wineries from across California are on board so far.
There is also a rustic characteristic usually found in the imported versions of Barbera wine, while our California producers tend to create a fruit-driven style that still benefits from the nice acidity. And we are fortunate enough to live in an area that offers a number of fine Barberas. The variety seems to fit well with the region’s longstanding Italian heritage.
Here for the Gold Rush, Italian miners saw a resemblance to their homeland and planted a number of vineyards up and down the foothills. Warm days and cool nights are perfect for fruit development in a number of Italian grape types; even the region’s favorite grape, Zinfandel, has to tip its hat to the early spread of Italian winemaking.
Neighboring wineries to the west in the Lodi area have also had recent success with the Barbera grape and will be well represented. Wineries from as far away as San Louis Obispo County are expected, too.
This year, wineries will also be able to pour other Italian white and red varietals, including Montepulciano, Vermentino, Sangiovese, Pinot Grigio, Nebbiolo and Aglianico, to mention several possibilities.
The Barbera Festival is spread out over 4-acres and winery pouring stations are easy to access. I find tasters asking questions and wanting to learn more about one of their favorite Italian varietals. Along with its slow pace and relaxed atmosphere, there are other activities to check out, including a Sip and Stroll Tasting Trail, Barbera Sensory Station and vineyard owl habitat. Folks from several highly regarded area restaurants will be on hand serving food.
Since the event now takes place at the height of the fall grape crush, it gives visitors to Terra d’Oro and other nearby wineries a nice look at winery activities so they can get a firsthand sense of the harvest.
Look for several wineries that are expected to offer reserve Barberas or vineyard-specific wines at the festival, including highly regarded examples from nearby Cooper Vineyards. If you want to seek out other Italian grape types and their wines, I’ve collected a few wineries that may have them at the ready. Check out Jeff Runquist Wines and his wide selection of Barberas, along with several other Italian varietals. Jeff has won a number of awards over the past year, including several Best of Class awards for his Barbera. Vino Noceto produces a solid Barbera, but is best known for its vineyard-designated Sangiovese. Our host, Terra d’Oro, the largest winery in the county, is a strong supporter of Italian grape growing in the region. See if it also pours the Aglianico or Teraldego. Borjon Winery’s Barbera recently won Best of Class at the Amador County Fair Competition, while Bella Grace won for its Vermentino.
“Expanding the wine options allows Barbera fans to bring their white wine drinking friends,” said Brian Miller, co-organizer of the event. “The other unique aspect of our tasting is how it is less crowded than most wine events. You can easily pace yourself with the wineries on the shaded walk or visiting the craft vendors who are required to make everything they sell.”
Be adventurous; find your own new discoveries and don’t forget to pace yourself like Brian advises.
If you can’t get to the Shenandoah Valley until the next day, there will be a number of wineries offering Barbera tastings along with special discounts at area tasting rooms.
The Barbera Festival has sold out many years in the past, so make your decision to attend soon. Tickets are $50 ($30 for designated drivers) and must be purchased by Sept. 14. There are no tickets sold at the event. For tickets and more information, including a list of participating wineries, go to barberafestival.com.
Proceeds from the afternoon benefit the Amador Community Foundation, which will make donations to Tri County Wildlife Care, the A-Pal Humane Society, and FFA and Rotary Interact clubs.