Amador County Wineries: A Weekend Guide

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Known for its bold and beautiful Zinfandels, the Amador Valley, about an hour outside Sacramento, is a great option for the wine lover’s long weekend. Whether it’s the peppery Primitivo variety, the voluptuous and softly fruity Barbera, or countless others, it’s hard to become bored by the spice and fruit these wines have to offer. Head down an easy-to-follow, even walkable (for the adventurous) wine trail and visit family-run operations, spa-like settings, and Tuscan-inspired villas. We’ve compiled a list of the top eight Amador County wineries to visit on a two-day tour of the area.

Day 1

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Image Source: Yelp

Bella Piazza Winery
19900 Shenandoah School Rd
Plymouth, CA 95669
(209) 245-4600
TripAdvisor: 5 stars, 1 review
Reservation: Not required
Directions: From US-50 E, take exit 11 for Watt Ave. Turn right onto Watt Ave, continue onto S Watt Ave. Turn left onto CA-16 E/Jackson Rd, continue onto CA-49 N. Turn right onto Shenandoah Rd, then turn left to stay on Shenandoah Rd. Turn right onto Shenandoah School Rd, then turn right. The winery is on your right.

Winemakers George Bursick and Susan Farrington have created wines that are intense, yet soft and elegant, at Bella Piazza Winery. Reds receive extensive oak aging while white varieties receive none, and rows of head-pruned Zinfandel grow alongside newer Italian varieties. Rose gardens and manicured lawns on the grounds make for excellent picnic spots with a bottle or two. The winery can get busy on weekends, so head there early–the tasting room opens at 10 a.m. Insider tip: True to its Italian roots (and a contributing factor to its well-deserved bustling traffic), the winery offers a pasta buffet on weekends.

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Image Source: Yelp

Villa Toscano
10600 Shenandoah Road
Plymouth, CA 95669
(209) 245-3800
TripAdvisor: 3.5 stars, 37 review
Reservation: Required for tours; four person minimum for tours
Directions: From Bella Piazza Winery, head north toward Shenandoah School Rd, then turn left onto Shenandoah School Rd. Drive a half mile, then turn right onto Shenandoah Rd. After a half mile, turn right and the winery will be on your right.

Erika and Jerry Wright, who also own Bella Piazza Winery, sought a place that reminded them of the Tuscan countryside. Sitting under the grape arbors on a plaza overlooking the vineyards leaves one wondering if they’ve somehow been transported to Italy. Try the bold Old Vine Zinfandel, with hints of licorice and blackberry. It pairs nicely with burgers and even smoked meats, which can be found in the winery’s onsite bistro. Insider tip: Grab a bottle and head down to the pond to listen to the musical croaking of the bullfrogs.

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Image Source: Yelp

Andis Wines
11000 Shenandoah Road
Plymouth, CA 95669
(209) 245-6177
TripAdvisor: 4 stars, 24 review
Reservation: Required
Directions: From Villa Toscano, head west toward Shenandoah Rd, then turn right onto Shenandoah Rd. Go one mile; Andis will be on your right.

After spending 50 years in Hawaii, co-founder Andrew Friedlander decided to move to Amador County and explore the wine-making business. He and co-owner Janis Akuna—who is often seen in the winery greeting guests—have worked to create a sustainable and “pretty” winery, evident especially in the unique barrel stave wall that serves as part of the tasting room. A small-production winery, the windows with sweeping views of the surrounding hills offer a picturesque way to spend the afternoon. Insider tip: The sparkling wines are an underrated star. Try the Andis Sparkling Wine made from Chardonnay, which offers a touch of fruit in a Champagne style.

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Image Source: Yelp

Helwig Winery
11555 Shenandoah Road
Plymouth, CA 95669
(209) 245-5200
TripAdvisor: 4.5 stars, 48 reviews
Reservation: Required
Directions: From Andis Wines, head northeast on Shenandoah Rd toward Bell Rd, drive just under a mile, then turn left. The winery will be on your right.

A search for simplicity led the Helwigs to Amador, but the wines here are anything but simple or basic. Syrah, Barbera, and Sauvignon Blanc thrive in the soil here, and Helwig Winery has received several awards to validate the hard work behind each of their vintages (the Voignier Vintage 2013 is the winery’s most recent recipient of a Shenandoah Valley Award). A tour of the wine caves and a wind-down tasting are relaxing, informative wrap-ups to day one of your Amador wine adventure. Insider tip: Head out to the winery during the spring and summer, as there are usually weekend concerts scheduled.

Day 2

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Karmère Vineyards & Winery
11970 Shenandoah Road
Plymouth, CA 95669
(209) 245-5000
TripAdvisor: 5 stars, 16 reviews
Reservation: Outside of the tasting room hours (11 a.m. to 5 p.m.) require appointments. No limo groups are permitted.
Directions: From Helwig Winery, head southwest toward Shenandoah Rd, turn left onto Shenandoah Rd. In half a mile, turn right; the winery will be on the right.

Named after co-owner Marilyn K. Hoopes’ mother, Karmère Vineyards & Winery planted its first Zinfandel vines in 1994. Today, Syrah, Viognier, Primitivo, and Nebbiolo have joined the team, resulting in more than 67 planted acres at the vineyard. Settle in at the French Provincial tasting room, and feel thoroughly at home with that friendly, family vibe. Insider tip: Ask about the names of the wines, as many are gleaned from interesting family stories.

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Image Source: Yelp

Dillian Wines
12138 Steiner Road
Plymouth, CA 95669
(209) 245-3444
TripAdvisor: 4.5 stars, 3 reviews
Reservation: Required for groups of seven or more
Directions: From Karmère Vineyard, head north toward Shenandoah Rd, then turn left onto Shenandoah Road. Go about a quarter mile, then turn right at the 1st cross street onto Steiner Rd. The winery will be on the right.

Built on property owned by the Dillian family since 1917, this small family-run winery specializes in Zinfandel, Primitivo, and Barbera. The tasting room is modeled after the original family home, built by current owner Tom Dillian’s great grandfather. For a true taste of the winery, make sure to sample the 2012 Barbera, full of cedar and smoke aromas with flavors of blueberry. Insider tip: The tasting room is dog friendly, so bring your four-legged friends.

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Image Source: Yelp

Renwood Winery
12225 Steiner Road
Plymouth, CA 95669
(209) 245-6979
TripAdvisor: 4 stars, 36 reviews
Reservation: Required for private tastings and all tours
Directions: From Dillian Wines, head northeast on Steiner Rd toward Upton Rd, the winery is .2 miles up the road on the left.

Established in 1993, Renwood Winery offers a spa-like setting in the Sierra Foothills. The facilities, including the tasting room, were recently renovated and offer a stylish and modern, yet rustic spot to enjoy a glass of wine (their specialty is Zinfandel) along with the tasting menu which includes artisan cheeses and charcuterie. Insider tip: Plan on buying food and drink there—outside beverages and snacks are not allowed on the property.

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Image Source: Yelp

Dobra Zemlja
12505 Steiner Road
Plymouth, CA 95669
(209) 245-3183
TripAdvisor: 4 stars, 9 reviews
Reservation: Required for groups of eight or more
Directions: From Renwood Winery, head east on Steiner Rd., after a half mile turn left. The winery is on your right.

For the final stop on your tour of Amador County’s wines, head to Dobra Zemlja, Croatian for “good earth.” Founded by Milan and Victoria Matulich, the winery started in 1995 and specializes in “big Amadors” like Sangiovese, Syrah, and Barbera. Step into the tasting room—which is actually a cave—and enjoy the bold, full-bodied, and unfiltered reds Dobra Zemlja is known for. Insider tip: Dobra Zemlja’s Kikas Zinfandel, pronounced “kick-ass,” is a Croatian-style Port, and pairs splendidly with anything chocolate.

There is no shortage of big, bold, and full-featured Zinfandels, Barberas, and Syrahs in the Amador region of California. The area is lesser known than Napa, so tasting rooms and wineries are typically be less crowded, and quieter. This list just scratches the surface of what the region has to offer, but will give a solid start to your explorations.