I’m sure we all have heard “Change is good” often enough in our lifetimes, and since the summer of 2018, some of our foothill wine players seem to have risen to the occasion.
In Amador County, the most recent and by far the biggest announcement came in February, with the purchase of Renwood Winery and Tasting Room by Rombauer Vineyards, one of the Napa Valley’s most popular producers.
“We have been sourcing Zinfandel from the Sierra foothills since the early 1990s, and actually tried to buy the property in 2011 when it first went up for sale,” said Alison Surgeon, the national sales manager for Rombauer.
The acquisition allows the company to move its Zinfandel production to the Renwood facility in Amador County and free up space for increased production of their other wines in Napa. Plans are in the works to update the Amador production facility, but little or no changes are planned in the tasting room outside Plymouth, which company representatives said they feel is welcoming and already beautifully appointed. They are also making arrangements to retain some of the current staff members, and said they look forward to reopening in early April, when the entire portfolio of wines will be available.
Jack Gorman, executive director of the Amador Vintners Association, feels that it’s a good fit for Amador County.
“So far, the Rombauer group has been fantastic to work with,” he said.
Surgeon also made it clear the company appreciates the Shenandoah Valley.
“It is not about bringing Napa to Amador,” she said. “Rombauer has its largest club membership in Sacramento, so we are coming to them. Our focus will be to continue connecting people and wine in a personal experience.”
Other news coming out of Amador County is the addition of two new tasting venues in Amador City.
Holgate Hill Winery just opened a tasting room on Main Street in the city. Winemaker Rob Holgate is best known for his time working at nearby Terra Rouge Winery. Along with his wife Cassidy, they started to craft their own wines about two years ago in a small facility in Jackson. They produce around 850 cases. Sourcing small quantities of grapes from area vineyards, they offer a surprisingly large number of varietals to sample or buy in the new location. They just had their third release to their wine club, which Rob said will be limited to only 100 members. The tasting room will be open Fridays through Sundays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Although it has been open for several months, the End of Nowhere Tasting Room is also on the adorably short Main Street in Amador City. Local Chris Walsh’s winemaking approach is to strictly produce natural wines that have grown in interest in the wine community.
About four years ago, Walsh started Little John Lane Vineyard on his childhood family property near Pioneer with plantings of several Rhone style varietals. “Natural wines” means that the wines are made by native yeast fermentations and utilize organic grapes, and are not fined or filtered and see minimal chemical intervention.
In Calaveras County, two properties have recently changed hands. John and David Oliveto, owners of the Stevenot Winery label, recently purchased the Irish Vineyards winery on Highway 4 near Murphys. For tasting at the site, the plan is to remodel the barrel room and open in May on weekends. Wives Lorraine and Lori will help with the tasting room activities. The Olivetos are gradually making changes to the winery’s production facility, as well as the 1868 farmhouse on the property. They will continue to operate the Stevenot tasting room in downtown Murphys.
It has been almost a year ago that Rob and Sheri Hendricks purchased the Renner Winery and Cantebury Vineyards, following the passing of founder Dr. Renner. The winery and vineyards are near Vallecito in Calaveras County off of Parrotts Ferry Road. They have brought Brent Jensen onboard as the winemaker. Brent got his start a number of years ago at nearby Stevenot Winery. The Hendricks have also changed the name of the operation to Aloria Vineyards.
The unique vineyard site is home to Syrah, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier and most recently planted Barbera grapes. You can still taste their wines at the tasting room in downtown Murphys.
Across the river in Tuolumne County, big news is the purchase of the Gianelli winery and vineyards outside Jamestown. New owners Brendt Noon and Amy Veldstra have big plans for the property and hope to create a winery event destination at the vineyard just outside of town. This would include day-use activities such as a picnic area, hiking trails, winery tours and a wedding venue.
“In addition to the Gianelli Winery label, we are also developing a second label called Covered Bridge that will utilize grapes from our new vineyard planted to Barbera and Aglianico in Knight’s Ferry on Covered Bridge Road,” Veldstra said. She also said they have created a number of new incentives and bonuses for wine club members.
Young winemaker Cody LaPertche, a Tuolumne County native, will remain on as winemaker and says he’s excited about the new developments. The tasting room is on Main Street in Jamestown and will continue to be the site of a number of special tasting activities.
In Columbia, Pete and Karen Luckhardt, owners of Inner Sanctum Cellars in Jamestown, have purchased the Columbia Nursery and just opened a second tasting room on the site. The Luckhardts have made wine since 2010 and have grown to producing about 2,000 cases a year. They source their grapes primarily from producers in Tuolumne and Calaveras counties. They have found their Jamestown tasting room, which opened in 2013, to be too small to accommodate their growing number of tasters and wine club members. The Columbia site is an expansive property that will eventually become a special event and wedding site. While the nursery is essentially gone, the Luckhardts have retained the floral shop, which will aid the wedding planners. With a wedding slated for next month, they are moving ahead quickly with changes to the site. They also plan to offer live music on Saturdays and are developing a picnic area as well as outside seating.
About one mile from the historic town of Columbia on Parrotts Ferry Road, the tasting room and patio are currently open Fridays through Sundays. The Jamestown tasting room will remain open five days a week.
Changes are always part of the wine industry, and new players and ideas are sure to keep the Mother Lode’s wineries on everyone’s minds.