The annual Amador County Start on Steiner Spring Fling took place on April 26, 2014. The weather, although a bit crisp, was ideal in consideration that the day prior was blessed with an abundance of rain. The previous day of rain made for some glorious views with a vibrant blue sky marked with puffy white clouds and a lessening of glare as one looked over the valley filled with newly budding grape vines.
Nine Steiner Road wineries participated in the event and opened their doors to visitors for wine tasting, food pairing, and purchase discounts. The event is a generous gift by the Steiner wineries because it is a no charge, free event. Yes, its entirely free to taste and share in the joy of savoring the various wines that each destination offers. While the wine tasting is free as well as the accompanying light bites, the objective isn't to gorge or get drunk. Every now and then the wineries will encounter a few of these winery social misfits but, for the most part, the attendees are politely enthusiastic, friendly with other patrons and ready to make some purchases.
From Dillian Wines to Amador Foothills Winery (or the other way around) Spring Fling visitors traveled Steiner Road from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Each destination had their highlights. Patrons have their favorites but usually enjoy numerous aspects of each location. Wines are appreciated by personal preference but the manner of tasting helps attendees to gain a greater understanding of the Amador County wines and wine in general. The staff will answer questions, provide history, explain wine making methods and even give information about the food, chefs and neighbor wineries.
If you missed the 2014 Spring Fling, other events are in the making including the annual Barbera Festival, The Big Crush and Behind the Cellar Door. Individual wineries also have weekly and other various events with mimimal fees and ongoing free tasting.
Dillian Wines, always friendly, is the first or the last stop on the Steiner Road Spring Fling route depending on which end of the loop visitors start their journey. During the event, Dillian Wines served tasting of their 2013 Sauvignon Blanc, 2011 Sorella, Tre Fratelli Zinfandel, Hangtree Zinfandel, Barbera and Primitivo. Since wine appreciation is truly about individual palate and what may have recently graced the tongue, awarding the title of “Best of the tasting” would be a silly task. However, bringing home a few dozen bottles of Dillian 2011 Hangtree Zinfandel and Barbera wouldn’t fill the wine cellar for long. Thousands of people who travel this route during the many Amador Vintner events seem to agree.
Dilllian Wines is easy to find and visitors can keep their eye out for their quaint tasting cottage located at 12138 Steiner Road. Plymouth. The food that Dillian Wines pairs with their tastings often comes from Teresa’s Place which during this event included rice and vegetable torta and grilled sausage. Teresa's Place is located in Jackson and is a family owned and operated Italian restaurant established in 1921. The torta and sausage were a delicious way to start the 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. tour.
Tom Dillian Sr. and Thomas Dillian attended to guests serving wine, manning the cash register and answering questions while the remainder of the Dillian crew did the same as well as kept the torta and sausage coming, cleaned tasting glasses, greeted guests and in general kept the crowds happy.
BellaGrace Vineyards is actually on Upton Road a short drive off of Steiner. This location is actually BellaGrace's outdoor tasting area that is set up in front of their cave carved out of the mountainside. The cave was created with a good helping of blasting that was inevitably required to open the massive amount of rock found beneath the surface. Some of the blasting holes bored into the rock have recently been turned into a water fountain feature that adds charm to the scene.
BellaGrace was serving samples of 2010 Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Old Vine Zinfandel, and 2011 Barbera. BellaGrace Old Vine Zins can usually be relied upon to satisfy a true Zin lover that prefers a wine with depth. Staff members like Ralph and Dewey are always ready to share their love of BellaGrace's wine making successes and procedures. During the 2014 Spring Fling event, Ralph could be heard explaining the BellaGrace later cutting of the vines in order to insure the vine energy doesn't just go into the first two new buds. His explanation was the result of someone querying why their vineyard seemed to be a bit behind the growth of some of their neighbors.
The advertised corn and black bean salad was replaced with a hot corn and potato chowder in order to help warm the guests as they visited the grounds at the tasting bar or at tables and chairs scattered across the cave entrance.
BellaGrace also hosts a Summer Concert Series at their location in Sutter Creek at 73 Main Street. Every Friday night from 6:00 - 9:00 p.m. they have live music on the deck and pizza.
Renwood Winery would be found third on the Steiner Road and during the 2014 Spring Fling it was a bit like a mild madhouse with visitors eager to get in on the super special case sales. Select wines were being sold for $50 a case which was cause for a long line of purchasers waiting at the warehouse doors to pick up their boxes of wine.
In the meantime, other guests continued their tasting of a near endless selection of wines open for sampling. Renwood's actual wine and food pairing took place on the patio with three different pizzas and wines beckoning visitors to get a taste. Staff members Bob and Lia tended those stations and patiently dealt with the crowds that contained both polite and greedy gobblers.
Renwood's 2010 Syrah was paired with a three cheese pizza topped with spiced sausage, grilled peppers and onions. Their 2011 Primitivo was paired with Marguerite pizza made with traditional tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella and basil. And for dessert, a sweet pizza created with chocolate, hazelnuts and port roasted strawberries was paired with the Renwood 2005 Vintage Port.
Paul at Shenandoah Vineyards, affiliated with the Sobon family wines, was another staff member found on the Spring Fling journey who clearly enjoyed providing information about the wines, the winery, and the highlights of the featured tasting wines. Paul is affectionately called So-Paul since he is the "other Paul" of the Shenandoah/Sobon family as opposed to Paul the winemaker.
Wines at the top of the being purchased list after tasting at Shenandoah were the 2012 Verdelho and 2011 Carignane. Visitors were also found to be ogling the art for sale on shelves and tables while others were busy pairing the wines with the turkey wraps and orange muscat inspired dessert. Yum!
Shenandoah Vineyards is set on a hill that offers some lovely views as well as a table and bench area framed by floral vines. Lavender and other plants add color and beauty to the scene that visitors encounter as they reach the parking lot. During this event, a pretty young lady offered guests to play a game in order to win a coupon. Tossing a bean bag into the board slot was rewarded with applause and a discount card.
Rolling through the gentle curves of the Steiner Road path, one would next approach Deaver Vineyards. Spring Fling wouldn't be right without stopping at the Deaver doors. Tasting was offered under a tent outdoors where visitors were encouraged to start. Servers offered genuine smiles as they poured the outdoor samplings including a peach and a pomegranate Sparkling Wine, a 2012 Sauvignon Blanc and 2009 Signature Carignane.
Outdoors was also where the complimentary dip bar was located and it featured Robert Rothschild dips that are exclusively distributed in the Shenandoah Valley area to Deaver. Rothschild products can be found elsewhere in the country but adding a couple jars to your wine purchase while at Deaver was clearly a popular idea with Spring Fling patrons. Bluecheese and Chive Dip, Raspberry Honey Mustard Pretzel Dip and Sweet and Spicy Red Pepper Hummus were among some those being offered. Recipe cards featuring the Rothschild dips with chicken, salmon and tenderloin dishes could also be found.
The tasting continued inside at the bar with a selection of three reds as well as two dessert wines also paired with a little taste. Their 2009 Late Harvest Zinfandel was paired with Fran's Dark Chocolate Sauce and the Merlot (blue wax) was paired with fig orange jam.
Dobra Zemlja would call to the Spring Fling travelers and tasters about half way through the route. Specializing in "Big Amadors," they were founded in 1995 by owners Milan and Victoria Matulich. Dobra Zemlya (Doh-bra Zem-lya) means 'good earth' in Croatian and they are noted for their focus on the "wines this area is famous for - Viognier, Sangiovese, Barbera, Syrah and Zinfandel."
Among the staff at Dobra was Katie (pictured left) who was quick and very adept at remembering which wine each individual was at on the tasting list. Wow, what a memory as well as a passionate personality.The appetizer table was filled with delights as well with Andrae's Sesame Cheese Crackers topped with homemade and delicious spreads by recipe of the Dobra Zemlja general manager, Anamieke Kegge. A multi talented crew indeed. Recipes are available on the Dobra facebook page.
Dobra Zemlja offered tastings of seven different wines from 2012 Viognier to their 2011 Zinfandel. Their cave-like tasting room is surrounded by lovely gardens, big trees and a panorama of beauty.
Driven Cellars is often explored by photographers enamored with the collection of antique trucks and cars as well as other old and interesting equipment. Their wine, of course, is the highlight and tastings were offered on the outdoor patio as well as indoors. Classic tomato and pesto meatballs, truffle salted popcorn, and other good bites were paired with wine tasting selections. Chef Jason Clevenger was at hand to answer questions about his meatballs that were near gone by 3:00 p.m. with only an hour left to the event.
Driven Cellars "began in 1993, when Rudy Chinco purchased 41 rolling acres in California's Shenandoah Valley. The region is noted for its intense, rich Zinfandels and other zesty reds. Rudy, his son Chris and daughter Cathy worked side by side, planting their vineyards and laying plans for the winery, which opened 10 years later." They say, "Driven to go beyond that next curve and push your passions to the next level, driven to live life like there's no tomorrow, driven by the love of family and friends" is what propels Driven Cellars down the creation of fine wine path.
Charles Spinetta Winery
Nearing the end of the Steiner route, visitors would encounter Charles Spinetta Winery and perhaps even one of the Spinetta's serving wine from their list of dry or sweet. Mike Spinetta, although rarely indoors during the busiest events due to the large crowds he somewhat likes to avoid, was free with his informative chat and friendliness on April 26, 2014. Catching him at the tasting bar, visitors who queried were treated to details about the flowers among the grape vines and how they have been planted and nurtured.
Other Spinetta people were pointed out by Mike as the one on the tractor or checking on the wine making steps. Gorgeous labels and masterful wildlife art on the walls and an upstairs room broadened the Steiner Road beauty to further depths. The art of winemaking, the joy of visual art, and the art of growing the fruit were all discussed by Mark and visitors who stopped in at Charles Spinetta that day.
Amador Foothills Winery
And as the 4:00 o'clock hour approached, Amador Foothills Winery would be found last (or first if starting at this end) on the Spring Fling trip. More splendid views, an old tractor, friendly faces still friendly after a long day of many guests and serving taste after taste were at hand.
Owner-winemakers Katie Quinn and Ben Zeitman produce "two classic vineyard-designated Zinfandels and are among the pioneers of Sangiovese and Aglianico in California." They "also produce Sauvignon Blanc, Late Harvest Semillon, Grenache and a Rhone-style blend called Katie’s Cote at this 5,000 case facility."
As with all the wineries on the Steiner Road Spring Fling, special purchase prices were available during the event on select wines. Amador Foothills also offered tasty bites of Chef Beth's hummus on famous chips and endive stuffed with gorgonzola, apricot and crumbled bacon.
All kinds of guests
The greatest reward of the Amador County wine tasting events such as the 2014 Steiner Road Spring Fling is the WINE. Of course, its about the wine. However, the manner in which these wineries often pair their wines with a bite or two of tasty treats makes the tasting tour an incredible experience for the pallet. From pizza to chowder, chardonnay to port, the event is filled with deliciousness.
Patrons come from Amador County and far beyond. They come from Sacramento, the bay area, up the road and down the road to get to these wine tasting events because the valley is abundant with flavor, beauty and charm.
Part of the event charm is the staff who are knowledgeable and for the most part exceptionally friendly and patient. The other part of the people charm can be the guests you encounter as you mingle, sit, talk and taste. There is typically a broad range of people in ethnicity, age, location and style. Those sharing a day with their mom, biking in with their girlfriends, arriving in a limo or bus, tasting only red or only sweet or dry all come out and enjoy the event.
The agenda for a Spring Flinger might follow in this course: taste the wine, buy the wine, taste the food,, note how the food enhances or alters the pallet, greet the staff, fall in love with the staff, meet fellow Spring Flingers, take photos for them with their phones they hand you with a pretty-please smile, pet the pooches occasionally encountered which it turns out are often Golden Retrievers, look at the art for sale, buy yourself and future birthday and holiday gifts, taste some more wine and depart in hand with designated driver.