Taste and Talk: The ‘Land of Gold’ with Terra d’Oro Winery

Amador County Offers More than Gold–There’s Wine too!

Amador County, is in the Mother Lode, or Sierra Nevada region of California.  Also known as Gold Country, Amador County was created in 1854, and was a prime location during the California Gold Rush of the mid 1800’s.  As people around the world began flocking to California for gold, this resulted in some becoming wealthy and new road, schools, and towns being built throughout California.  Moreover, at this time, California was admitted as a State in the Union (1850).  Today Amador County is not just known for its historical significance associated with the Gold Rush, it is also a prime location-for WINE!

Terra d’Oro is one such winery in Amador County. Terra d’Oro, known for its Old Vines, operates on 400 acres of estate vines.  The Winery released their first wines in 1973 under the Montevina label, which was the first Amador County winery to produce wine since Prohibition ended (over 150 years ago).  Since then, Terra d’Oro has earned a fantastic reputation for producing several varietals of high quality wines.  

We had the honor and pleasure of having the wonderful Terra d’Oro Winery as our featured guest on #WiningHourChat. We were able to speak with the winery and the winemaker, Chris Leamy, to learn all about their wines and production methods. So, for our weekly wine chat, all of the chat participants were prepared with their own bottle(s) of Terra d’Oro Wines, food and questions.  Once we established that everyone had a glass in hand, or down the palate, our talks commenced with Terra d’Oro. If you missed this conversation on #WiningHourChat, here’s a sample of what we discussed, all in a Twitter hour:

#WiningHourChat: Can you tell us a little about Amador County, it’s location, soil, etc.?
Terra d’Oro Winery: Amador County is in Northern California, Sierra Nevada Foothills. Amador County is famous for its Zins, which were first brought by early settlers during the Gold Rush.
Winemaker Chris Leamy:  Yes, it’s a beautiful country, about an hour east of Sacramento…It’s growing. We have adorable Gold Rush towns, cute B&B’s, and some great eating!

#WiningHourChat:  Could you share a little about your winery & vineyards, the methods used, etc.
Terra d’Oro Winery: We have mostly decomposed granite soil composition.  Our winery is home to 487 acres of vineyards, with the biggest crop being Zin. We have been open since 1970, originally under the name Montevina.
Winemaker Chris Leamy: We still produce the Montevina label, but officially changed to Terra d’Oro in 2009. All sustainably farmed.

#WiningHourChat: Mmm, we all love Zins! I read that even though you guys produce many other varietals, Amador County is renowned for its Zinfandel, and that Amador County has a high percentage of old Zinfandel vines. Now, you mentioned ‘sustainably farmed,’ does that mean you use organic methods?
Terra d’Oro Winery: We are completely sustainable and have several blocks that are organically farmed.
Winemaker Chris Leamy: We are always driven to be as green as possible. And that extends into the winery as well!

#WiningHourChat: Winemaker Chris-How did you get started making wine?

Winemaker Chris Leamy: I studied Biology in college, worked in a food lab, then a winery lab, and voila!  I was hooked. Started at TDO in 2000.

#WiningHourChat: Voila!  Now, which wine varietals does Terra d’Oro Winery produce? (In addition to your fabulous Zinfandel.)
Terra d’Oro Winery: We produce over 25 different wines between our two labels, including multiple Zins.  We also make Aglianico, Teroldego, Friesa and Nebbiolo.

#WiningHourChat: What! I can’t believe you guys farm all of these typically Italian grape varietals! Awesome news!

Winemaker Chris Leamy: Don’t tell them about the secret Negro Amaro, Trebbiano, or Mammalo field! 
#WiningHourChat: Shhh…Oh my! This is awesome news! Love those Italian grapes.

When asked about any other varietals such as white wines produced by Terra d’Oro, Chris mentioned that they also make Pinot Grigio, Chenin Blanc &Viogner Blend and Moscato.  After entertaining a few more questions about their wines, it was time to Wine!

#WiningHourChat: We tasted a few of Terra d’Oro’s wines, but for tonight, we’re featuring your Deaver Zinfandel. Please share some info about this old vine zin.
Terra d’Oro Winery: Deaver is special in that it is from an Ancient vineyard planted in 1881 (130+ year old vines). Wines from this vineyard are structured with great aging capability.
Winemaker Chris Leamy: If the history wasn’t enough, that field produces grapes with gorgeous acidity. It produces focused, intense Zinfandel.

#WiningHourChat: Let’s move on to our next featured varietal, Terra d’ Oro’s Barbera. Please tell us about this wine and the process.
Terra d’Oro Winery: We’ve been producing Barbera since 1974. This one is aged in French Oak and 100% Barbera.
Winemaker Chris Leamy: Our Barbera is fermented in stainless with two full weeks on skins. Aged in French, Hungarian, and American oak. Only about 25% new.

#WiningHourChat: I’m really taken by this Barbera! I never actually had one outside of Piedmont, Italy. Impressive.
Winemaker Chris Leamy: Barbera expresses itself beautifully in Amador County.

Here’s our tasting experience with their wines:

#WiningHourChat’s Terra d’Oro Tasting:

Terra d’Oro Deaver Vineyards Zinfandel 2014 
Deaver Vineyards 130+ Year Old Vine Zinfandel was planted back in 1881, when Italian immigrants brought Zinfandel cuttings to the Sierra Foothills, leading to the production of true ‘Old Vine’ wines. The vineyard produces “truly remarkable fruit with amazing concentration, character, and Shenandoah spice.”  Because these vines are so aged, it leads to limited fruit-not limited taste.  When producing Deaver Vineyards Zinfandel, the limited fruit is hand-picked then crushed. Juice is bled before crushing to get maximum extraction. Next, yeast is added to complete fermentation and the wine is aged 14 months in French and American barrels.

Terra d’Oro Deaver Zinfandel has blackberries, vanilla and allspice on the nose and a palate of jam, chocolate, blackberries and tobacco. Terra d’Oro maintains that the old vines add to the dense complexity of the wine.  No argument here as there are layers of fruit. This 130 year Old Vine Zinfandel is rich, flavorful and sexy.  In fact…it’s a Zin! Deaver Zinfandel is absolutely “a balance of beauty, power and grace.”  14.5% ABV.  

Maggie, @Winegal57, also thoroughly enjoyed the Deaver Zinfandel and marveled at the “lovely garnet color, with dark fruit, clove, spicy blackberry and spicy plum.”  

Terra d’Oro suggests, “For a zesty pairing, serve this wine with a roasted rack of lamb or a juicy ribeye steak.” Many of those on the chat also paired with a steak.  Cara, @CaraMiaSG paired her Deaver Zin with “a nice spread of cheese, peppers and jam.”  That works too!

Terra d’Oro Barbera 2014

As mentioned, we were only familiar with Italian Barbera from Piedmont, Italy.  Imagine our delight in tasting and learning about this one from Amador!  It was interesting to learn that Barbera is the sixth most planted red grape in California. Terra d’Oro says, “these dark-skinned Barbera grapes thrive, developing lively fruit flavors, refreshing acidity, and a stunning ruby red color.”

Terra d’Oro Barbera is fermented in stainless steel for two weeks to extract the maximum color and flavor. It is then aged in small French and Hungarian oak barrels for 15 months, which “integrates toasty oak aromas and flavors with the rich, juicy fruit.” We were quite pleased with Terra d’Oro’s Barbera and noticed the differences between Italian Barbera and this Californian Barbera.  Whereas the Italian version tends to be a little lighter, this one is rich and loaded with fruit flavors. We smelled cherry aromas and tasted jammy blackberries, tart blueberries and licorice on the palate.  Terra d’Oro Barbera is medium-bodied, with a refreshing acidity that makes you take notice. This versatile Barbera wine pairs with truffle dishes, mushroom pizza, roast pork or a bolognese.  13.5% ABV.

Terra d’Oro is certainly a treasure in the ‘Land of Gold.’  We had a great time tasting their wines, having them as our guest and learning about their winery and region.

If ever in Amador County, be sure to stop by Terra d’Oro Winery.  Their wines are also available in stores, online and through their wine club.

About The Wining Hour
The Wining Hour writes about wine, Italy and global travel.  The Wining Hour boutique caters to wine-lovers across the globe by offering all wine-related items.  The Wining Hour markets unique wine décor and furnishings, accessories, glassware, barware, wine racks, storage and cooling options, games, gifts and more. The Wining Hour also hosts #wininghourchat on Twitter (@wininghourchat) on Tuesday’s at 9 p.m. EST.(For more, see links at the top of this page)

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Planted, harvested and aged in NY. I have a background in education and marketing, with a love and passion for travel...and all things wine. In addition to writing about wine, I also maintain an online wine boutique (thewininghour.com) that caters to the winelover, as well as the weekly vinous winechat (#WiningHourChat) on Twitter (see page for more info).

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