Calaveras Enterprise

Our oldest Zinfandel vineyard gets a birthday party

Zinfandel grapes

Zinfandel grapes

If you are a fan of the Zinfandel grape, there is an important birthday around the corner. The oldest Zinfandel vineyard in the United States soon turns 150 years old, and the venerable vines happen to be in our own backyard.

The Grandpere Vineyard, nestled into the heart of Amador County’s Shenandoah Valley, was planted in 1869 and continues to produce wonderful fruit. Three area winemakers currently utilize the vineyard’s grapes, and the trio is also behind a special vineyard celebration, tour and tasting on Saturday and Sunday.

Zinfandel grapes continue to grow in popularity and can be found in almost all California wine grape-growing regions. While the grape prefers warmer climes, it is also one of the more sensitive types when it comes to potentially wet conditions or its vines receiving a lack of sun. This brings us to the unlikely source and history of Zinfandel and its possible trek to Amador County.

It appears that Zinfandel vines made their way to the Mother Lode foothills in the late 1850s, along with a number of eastern native varieties including Catawba, Isabella and Muscadine grapes. There was already a fair amount of Mission vines planted in Amador, Calaveras and Tuolumne counties at the time because vines were planted extensively along the coast for decades and the vines moved east. Zinfandel was a new variety that arrived a few years later from an East Coast nursery, and soon after, it prospered in the foothills. It is hard to imagine Zinfandel (or Zenfendel, as it was called by the New Englanders who brought it here) had its origin in the cold reaches of the Atlantic coastal region. Thought to have been imported to Long Island, N.Y., in the 1820s from a nursery in Austria, the grape was originally called Black St. Peter. A nursery in Boston eventually grew vines indoors that were sold as table grapes.

Taste Restaurant in Plymouth will host a special prix fix menu, featuring Zinfandel wine pairings.Courtesy photo

Taste Restaurant in Plymouth will host a special prix fix menu, featuring Zinfandel wine pairings.Courtesy photo

The rootstock made its way to Stockton in the 1850s, then it found its way to the foothills. It is thought that Zinfandel was probably used for raisin production back then. Researchers believe Zinfandel most likely came from Croatia, proved through DNA analysis.



Amador’s Grandpere Vineyard (aka Vineyard 1869) still produces sought-after fruit, but only four wineries are privileged enough to receive grapes from this storied vineyard. Three of them are in Amador County – Andis Wines, Scott Harvey Wines and Vino Noceto – and the fourth is Macchia Wines in Acampo.

I happened to become aware of Zinfandel’s historic importance as a home winemaker after friends and I got grapes in the early 1980s from John Downing, the owner of the historic Amador vineyard at the time. The old vineyard, along with several others in Amador, was a popular source of fruit for home winemakers at a time when there was a surplus of Zin grapes. We did not know what we had at the time, but the fruit made a wonderful, dark, ripe, award-winning Zin for us.

If you would like to learn more about this historic vineyard, join current winemakers for a vineyard tour and tasting. At 10 a.m. Saturday, Vino Noceto winemaker Rusty Folena leads a walk among the gnarly old vines, or explore with Scott Harvey Wines’ namesake winemaker Scott Harvey at 10 a.m. Sunday. The vineyard is at 10861 Shenandoah Road, outside Plymouth. Reservations are limited to 24 tourists for each day; tickets are $60 for a tour and tasting at all three wineries over the weekend, available at, or These tours will sell out, so try and reserve now.

The weekend actually starts on Friday at Taste Restaurant in Plymouth, where a special prix fix menu highlights pairings with OGP Vineyard 1869 Zinfandels from all three wineries.

From 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, each winery offers current and library vintage tastings of their Grandpere Vineyard 1869 Zinfandels. Tastings cost $40 for all three wineries, also available at the websites.

If you cannot join in on this weekend’s vineyard walk or if it’s already sold out, plan your own birthday wish with a visit to one of these three wineries in the Shenandoah Valley to try this historic Zin. You’ll be reminded of how many decades of wine enjoyment have been generated from these gnarly old vines. Oh, the stories they could tell!

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