If you’ve ventured off the beaten path in Amador County, you’ve no doubt found Sutter Creek, a charming wine village with the rich history of California’s Gold Rush. But nobody has been rushing to Sutter Creek for its restaurants. A quiet newcomer to the Amador restaurant landscape looks fabulous and sounds delicious but only serves breakfast and the last time we visited they refused to serve us just ten minutes after closing time: 11:00 AM. But, the menu looked much more interesting that any other restaurant in Sutter Creek. So, more on that later.
Currently, the best place to eat in Sutter Creek is Taste, which is actually in Plymouth. Well worth the 15 or so minute drive from Sutter Creek, Taste has creatively tasty delectables for those with a gourmet palate or simple wine country visitors who want to be wowed. A seemingly simple salad had amazing layers of flavor from fried chickpeas and tangy kumquats. Next a pork belly had a slightly crisp outer texture with tender salty meat on the inside with lively flavor from fennel.
The Mushroom Cigars were highly recommended by locals. Will def be back to try them!
The charming gold rush town of Sutter Creek is going through a re-birth. With delicious tasting rooms opening along Main Street, plenty of places to stay, and restaurants going through renovations, it’s time to return and give this town another look.
Try the quaint individual tasting rooms to chat with the locals and possibly meet the winemaker or owner. But go to the Sutter Creek Wine Tasting wine bar to try wines from several different labels during one tasting. They have a great variety of reds, whites, and roses as well as some interesting sparkling wines. With discounts for a purchase of 3, 6, or 12 bottles, why wouldn’t you want to stock up on a bunch of these:
Gold Hill California Champagne – a nice crisp sparkling with a hint of sweetness but not too much.
Le Mulet Rouge Almond Sparkling Wine – nuts are a flavorful pairing for sparklers so why not get them all blended together. This slightly sweet sparkler is great for appetizers, cheese, or as a dessert wine.
Gold Hill Malbec – dark ash and berry with hints of plum and blueberry dominate giving it a ripe luscious mouthfeel. We love this high alcohol wine for after dinner.
Gold Hill Merlot – probably one of our favorite Merlots. Lively bright cherry without overwhelming acidity dominates this wines body. Light tannins and a log lasting finish keep it real.
Gold Hill Barbera – this area is known for Barbera and theirs has tart bright red cherry fragrance with a big wide body full of flavors.
Gold Hilll Cabernet Sauvignon – with a cherry cola fruit palate, this wine is balanced by bright vibrant acidity and strong tannins.
Gold Hill Petite Sirah – this wine has a smooth slightly spice box melange of blueberry pie with a dark dank smoky quality that gets more and more prevalent as you swirl. PS, I love you!
For a taste of charm in Sutter Creek, stop by the Baiocchi tasting room where Greg pours lively local varietals with Italian style. With a nod to his ancestors, he takes a fun creative approach to winemaking that captures the flavors best for pairing wine with foods. His “Dego Red” is not only a tribute to his grandfather but also shows he likes to have fun with wine descriptions. His tasting room is one of the few where you can get a cool cigar and smoke on the sun kissed patio. Pun intentional.
The tasting went a little like this; Viognier hits you in the nose with lots of caramel. Then, strong acids make your lips smack and mouth water. But the most memorable flavor in this wine is its minerality and stone fruit that keep that overly floral feeling from overwhelming. Indeed, a very balanced wine. Next, the “Dego Red” is a soft, bright, and easy to drink red blend of Grenache and Syrah. Then, the Grenache, Syrah, and Tempranillo G-minor has tight crisp acidity with tart fruit but a smoky back beat, probably thanks to the Tempranillo. His Grenache is like smelling a bowl of berries and waves of tart cherry or cranberry. It craves a barbecue.
If you could channel the past lives of a wine tasting room in gold country California, I’m sure you’d be amused. Between the buildings of former brothels, various jail cells, and gold mines underneath, anyone could spin a wicked story. But none so true as the one where Driven Cellars now pours fab juice.
During the thriving days of California’s gold rush, many men traveled to these parts in search of a dream. Whether that dream panned out or not, those men needed comfort and sustenance. So, most of these little gold rush towns contained hotels, saloons, and brothels– the trifecta of happiness. What’s interesting about Sutter Creek’s brothel is that it was across Main Street from the hotel where many gold rush enthusiasts stayed. To avoid being seen walking into the saloon or brothel, men used a trap door in the sidewalk to cross the street and enter privately through an underground tunnel. After safe passage into the saloon, they could have a drink and enter a small viewing room or parlor adjacent to he bar where they viewed various women and selected a fitting companion. The new tasting room for Driven Cellars still has the other end of that trap door entrance. The rest has been blocked off to protect pedestrians and pets. But, they still have the parlor room… only now it is more like a comfy wine lounge. But I’m sure men still view other women for companionship while sipping a tasty bevie.
Driven Cellars is in a spot to watch not only because they are in a historic building but also they plan to serve food and offer patio seating. They also have a lively selection of crisp refreshing whites and big bold reds. Our fave of the day was a Primitivo with the tart red cherry flavors but thick plum body that balances out this grape’s pronounced acidity. It is their most popular red and one that makes the trip worth a visit, even if you already have companionship for the night.
Whenever you are passing through the Sierra Foothills and want to try some wines that are deliciously different, check out Renegade. Their Tempranillo had a wonderful vanilla smell, probably due to the barrels used. Their barrels once helped hard liquors come into their own so they have no doubt soaked up the flavor and shared it with others. This Tempranillo is not like any other tasted and sure to stump even the best blind taster. It has bright fruit of cherry, plum, and blueberry with long acidity. The vanilla that hits you at first lasts a long time and rounds out the body.
Their Syrah has dark cherry, vanilla, spice, and a bit of smoke. Those were the only two we were able to try thanks to the people at the Hotel Leger. But we MUST return to the winery someday to taste the rest.
Still thinking about the rich ripe long and luscious Merlot and creamy vibrant Barbera from Gold Hill out in the Sierra Foothills. Got to get back to that Sutter Creek Wine Tasting room in “downtown” to get some more of that velvety wine. It must be the gold in those hills…
This is also one of the few wineries that brews beer. If your palate leans toward the suds and lighter alcohol or you prefer harder grape juice. You can find something here for everyone.
Fiddletown California remains as a reminder of what the gold rush was like. On the main highway, you pass several vintage structures that looked like they could have been used as a schoolhouse, church, or post office. I think I even saw hitching posts in front of these buildings. When it was a thriving mining camp, this town probably became home to the mavericks of other societies in search of gold dust and a dream.
Now, Fiddletown is home to several winemakers also in search of a dream and the same bootstrapping gusto. Scott Mahon at Legendre Cellars is a one-man show, running a small operation with bold ideas and big results. He set out to simply make wines he enjoys drinking. I know; sounds simple yet it only yields results if you are a master of flavors and have a highly developed palate. It also doesn’t hurt if you know how to make wine and are gutsy enough to cultivate different varietals than your neighbors.
His wines are designed to pair with food so their acids need to be high yet he gets fruit with such complex structure that his wines don’t taste acidic. He is also producing Rhone varietal blends, which is refreshing in a region filled with Zinfandel and Barbera. His wines are the ones you’ll remember long after you’ve left Fiddletown.
Once in a while, offer to shadow someone at work who simply loves what they do. Having a job that makes you feel like you’re living the dream is really what life’s all about. People who have mastered this take their craft to another level. By nature, these people can be meek so you may have to be attentive or look differently in the most seemingly ordinary places. But super heroes like them live amongst us and their stories are always inspiring.
Ann Kraemer from Yorba is a vineyard super hero. What she knows about viticulture is astounding. Known as “The Vine Tender” of Shake Ridge, she took her extensive experience in Napa to Sutter Creek where her sustainable farming practices yield delicious fruit and vivacious wines. She is so attentive to her vines that she even has a strategy to make sure the grapes don’t sunburn. No, it doesn’t include SPF. She plants them in the appropriate direction for the appropriate amount of sunlight year round. The end result is her wines are all so succulent you may have trouble deciding which ones to buy. She ensures they have crisp acidity yet ripe fruit for balanced and complex structure.
The winery destination for cool concerts in Amador is going to be Helwig. Their newly renovated tasting room has an amphitheater! I hear they also plan to do wine cave tours and Friday nights they stay open late and serve wines by the glass in their outdoor pavilion.
But the wines are the real reason to go. Their sparkling pink Syrah is the refreshing start to any tasting. It’s got that tart cran, raspberry, strawberry flavor with a hint of creamy body to balance its structure. Also, make sure you try their Barbera because that’s what really thrives in Amador County. Theirs has great structure and balance.
One of the smallest and newest wineries you may miss because it is literally not on the map is Youngs Vineyard. But it is worth trying just for its wonderfully smooth yet supple Chardonnay with tart green apple that wakes up your taste buds and a creamy texture it received by just a bit of oak at the very end.