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Sierra Foothills - There's wine in them thar hills

With one small discovery of a shiny piece of precious metal, the Sierra Nevada Mountains became a site of frenzied activity during the mid-19th century, as people from around the world came in hopes of quick fortune.  The California Gold Rush brought countless prospectors looking for that one large chunk of metal that would relocate them to easy street for the rest of their earthly days.  But instead of having their heads in the clouds, newcomers that had their feet on the ground and hands in the soil, may have made the better gamble. With the surge of population during the Gold Rush came other entrepreneurs who looked at the Sierra Foothills from another perspective.  Instead of grabbing pickaxes and gold pans, they grabbed shovels and pruning shears, planting grape vines to supply the prospectors with wine to keep them sustained through the months of searching for fortune.  And while many of the gold diggers left empty handed, the vines have remained quite at home for the last century and a half.

The Wines of the Sierra Foothills

Encompassing 2.6 million acres, the Sierra Foothills is the second largest AVA in California after the North Coast AVA.  It is not surprising then to learn that variety is the rule in the expansive winegrowing region.  Vintners, unencumbered by European style regulatory agencies, are free to grow whichever varieties they see fit and they have chosen a wide range of grapes to work with over the years.  Sierra Foothills has over 100 wineries throughout the region, the majority being small, boutique operations, with each one growing different varieties.  But there are a couple of grape varieties that are more common than others.

Zinfandel - Much like the 49ers of the mid 1800s, this grape was long thought to be uniquely Californian. And even though modern science has indicated otherwise, (Zinfandel has recently proved to be identical to Primitivo in Italy and Crljenak Kaštelanski in Croatia), the red grape still has plenty of history and importance throughout the state.  This can be seen throughout the Sierra Foothills with a quarter of the vineyards represented by Zinfandel, some of which are over 100 years old.  Zinfandel typically produces a big, fruit-forward style of wine, usually with a relatively high level of alcohol for table wine.


Other varieties - Just like Zinfandel, a number of different grapes enjoy the climate of the Sierra Foothills, and the wines made from them tend to be made in a similar “New World” style.  Rhone Valley grapes, such as Syrah and Viognier are well represented, as well as Italian varietals such as Barbera and Pinot Grigio.  Diversity certainly is the rule in the Sierra Foothills.

Growing Grapes in the Sierra Foothills

Sticking with the theme, winegrowing in the Sierra Foothills varies quite dramatically from one county to the next.  Indeed, one may find different microclimates separated by mere miles along the 160-mile north-south stretch that the AVA covers. Soil composition, temperature, rainfall, elevation, and aspect (the direction that the vineyards face) can be quite different in each of the 14 sub-AVAs spread across 7 different counties (Amador, Calaveras, El Dorado, Mariposa, Placer, Tuolumne, and Yuba Counties).  The one constant through the region is diurnal variation, the difference between daytime and nighttime temperatures, which allows grapes to maintain sufficient acidity to match the big flavors and high alcohol of many wines. Water can also be quite scarce throughout the Sierra Foothills, which generally tends to result in low yields, a beneficial viticulture practice that produces concentrated and complex flavors.  And in the Sierra Foothills, there is certainly a wide array of flavors to be found.

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·  California's - North Coast - The Uber AVA
·  Mendocino - California's Organic Wine Mecca
·  Sonoma Valley - Valley of the Moons
·  South Coast
·  The Santa Ynez Valley
·  The Napa Valley
·  California Dreamin


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