The Sierra Foothillls is, nowadays, something of a winemaking backwater relative to the famous regions closer to the coast (Sonoma, The Napa Valley etc), but at the start of California’s wine story it was the place to be. The ‘49ers had made their way to the foothills in the mid-1800s, prospecting for gold in Amador County and the surrounding area and working up a thirst while they were at it. A Swiss immigrant called Adam Uhlinger was one of the earliest to plant vineyards in the area (1856) in order to service this growing local market.

The end of the gold rush and resulting decline in population put many wineries out of business, but not Uhlinger. When the family eventually sold the land to the d’Agostini family in 1911, their vineyards were considered among the finest in the county. After seeing out prohibition (they got dispensation to sell sacramental wine thanks to their connections to the church) the d’Agostinis continued to make wine until 1989 when they sold to their neighbours the Sobon family, who added the land to the estate they had been farming since 1977.

The Sobon’s knew what they were buying – vineyards that were planted in the early 1900s and located at high elevation (many of them around 2000ft above sea-level), yielding some of the best Zinfandel, Carignane and Petite Sirah in California. The ‘Rocky Top’ vineyard was planted in 1926 and produces a full-bodied, rich and spicy Zinfandel that (thanks to that high elevation) retains the freshness and acidity to give it perfect balance. It is blended with a little Carignane (8%) and Petit Sirah (6%), and bottled after 18 months in a mix of French and American oak (30% of it new). Their entry level Zinfandel is under their Shenendoah Vineyards label and is aged in neutral barrels for 9 months before release. It is medium-bodied, bright and fresh with vibrant red fruit character.

Although the ambiance at Sobon is undoubtedly old school, they are also very forward looking and have installed solar panels to take advantage of the endless Amador County sunshine and fulfil their energy requirements (they are actually carbon positive). This respect for the environment is reflected in their conscientious approach to farming and dedication to preserving their beautiful old vineyards.

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