The viticultural history of California Shenandoah Valley, mirrors that of the wider Amador County AVA. In the middle of the nineteenth century, a thriving winemaking industry developed here after the gold rush led to European immigrants in their thousands, settling on the west coast. However, prohibition quickly brought progress to a halt, and it wasn’t until the late 1960’s, with California starting to make a name for itself in the wine world, that these old vines were rediscovered and the cultivation of grapes was once again part of the Shenandoah landscape.
Close to four-thousand hectares in area, today around one fifth of the land is planted to vine with Zinfandel remaining the appellation’s flagship variety. Rhône Valley grapes such as Syrah and Mourvèdre, as well as Italian varieties Sangiovese and Barbera are also prominent in Shenandoah Valley vineyards, where free draining soils of sandy loam and decomposed granite deliver low yields of high quality fruit.
With lower elevations and subsequent reduced cooling effects from the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the Shenandoah Valley is one of the region’s warmer areas. In summer, daytime temperatures here regularly exceed thirty-eight degrees Celsius (one-hundred degrees Fahrenheit), and the extreme warmth leads to intensely flavoured, fully bodied wines with a high alcohol content.
Since receiving AVA status in 1983, the winemakers of California Shenandoah Valley have quietly continued to ply their trade outside of the spotlight that shines on Napa and Sonoma. At the same time, the reputation of the appellation’s wines has grown and the region’s welcoming wineries have become synonymous with an intimacy and level of service unmatched by the state’s bigger names.