Even with spring still a month away, the recent warm weather has foothill wineries already pruning and worrying about water needs and early bud break that are reminiscent of drought conditions three years ago. Fortunately, last year’s above-average rains have not left us in the peril we experienced two seasons ago.
And there is no better time to check the current winemaking pulse than by attending the annual Behind the Cellar Door on March 2 to 4 in Amador County. Here is a great opportunity to get an inside scoop on the coming year, and actually taste results of winemaking during the recent challenging drought years. More than 40 wineries provide visitors a chance to go beyond the usual tasting room experience by engaging them in educational seminars, barrel tastings and winery activities. Most of the wineries offer wine-friendly foods, including some from their own family recipes.
Short, informative seminars might include checking wine development through barrel samples, learning about pruning techniques or trying your hand at blending various grape types. Some of the presentations take place at specific times on the weekend, so advance planning is a must. Oak barrel demonstrations are always popular seminars at a few wineries, while some test your senses with aroma and flavor sensory evaluations.
The past few years, blending classes have become popular wine exercises with guests who create their own combinations. And a handful of wineries dig into their library collections and give participants a chance to see how the aging process impacts the wines.
The weekend actually starts with a winemaker reception on March 2 in the barrel room at Terra d’Oro Winery in the Shenandoah Valley, with some of the region’s best winemakers sharing cellar treasures and favorite older vintages. Dinner is prepared by students who are part of the American River College Culinary program.
New this year are weekend VIP passes that include opportunities to spend time with winemakers in the new VIP Tasting Salons. Staged at the historic one-room Shenandoah Valley schoolhouse each weekend morning, the one-of-a-kind setting features a different trio of winemakers on a panel sharing examples of various wine vintages and how they evaluate them. From weather conditions to individual farming practices and conditions, these experts share winemaking skills as they are impacted by those factors.
Each day’s afternoon salon session will focus on a specific winemaker’s approach to blending his or her wines. March 3 focuses on Zinfandel’s role in making blends, while the March 4 session looks at Syrah as a big player in developing terrific blends. The sessions are limited to only 50 VIP guests per event.
Unlike other regional wine events, there is a good chance you’ll actually meet the winemaker at the participating Amador wineries. There will also be an opportunity to purchase older vintages or wine futures, along with discounts on current wines. Be sure to check the wineries’ websites for specific times for many of the demonstrations and sessions, and to learn the special foods offered.
Weekend passes are $65 each, with individual daily passes priced at $55 for Saturday and $45 for Sunday. The Friday night winemakers’ reception is $65 per person and advance reservations are necessary. All tickets can be purchased at amadorwine.com.
To get a peek Behind the Cellar Door, purchase your passes and check out all the historic region’s winery happenings. See you there.