Travelers on historic California Highway 49 will be familiar with the Shenandoah Valley, just east of Plymouth, CA. The valley is quickly becoming known for its award-winning wines, activities centered around the vineyards and a deep sense of California Gold Rush history surrounding the area!
Shortly after gold was discovered in nearby Coloma in 1848, the Shenandoah Valley began producing wines. Zinfandel prospered in the valley’s loamy and granitic soil, and some of the state’s oldest Zin vines reside here. In the 1970s, Sutter Home began producing popular zinfandels from the Shenandoah’s distinctive grapes, raising awareness of the valley; it gained appellation status in January, 1983.
Since then, the valley has achieved acclaim as home to some of the state’s best Zinfandel wines, as well as syrah and other new award-winning wines. The appellation now encompasses over 10,000 acres and well over 2,000 acres in vineyards. It’s growth has helped fuel a resurgent tourist industry in nearby Plymouth and Fiddletown, as well.
A recent tour took us to a handful of family-owned wineries, each with a distinctive flair. First stop was Karmere Winery, which we have visited several times. With a beautiful French Chateau-inspired tasting room and perfectly manicured grounds opening out to acres of surrounding grapes, it hosts many weddings and parties. Their syrahs, barberas and zins were all tasty, and the ‘Naughty Bawdy’ wine was a hit with our party!
We happened upon Helwig’s final Summer Concert, featuring Gregg Rolie, original lead singer for Santana – scores of revelers danced until past 9 PM; we’ll return next season! Helwig’s Wine Club was intriguing, with many member benefits including free tastings, bottle and case discounts, discounts on concerts, tours of their wine caves and discounts on a nearby bed and breakfast in Sutter Creek.
Our next stop was Wilderotter Vineyard, where we sampled delightful sauvignon blanc, Grenache rose and petite syrahs. This boutique winery continued our impressive tour, with carefully manicured grounds, a warm and cozy tasting room and informative staff.
Another delightful vineyard is Borjon Winery with a host of wine offerings, three choices of wine clubs and five annual events, ranging from the Vino Neuvo to the Vino De Los Muretos. Once again, we resolved to return for one of their coming events!
Final stop was Bella Piazza Winery, with tasting room, a stunning reflective pool and grounds looking out to the vineyards and valley beyond. Their zins, syrahs and a selection of varietals merit close attention; we also found their zin port of special interest.
Nearby Plymouth and Fiddletown are rich in Gold Rush history and offer explorers a wealth of interesting historic sites, shops, restaurants ready for touring! And, at 1,000 to 1,500 feet elevation, both are generally well below the Sierra foothills snowline, making sunny fall or winter days the perfect time to tour!
Fiddletown traces its Gold Rush history back further than Plymouth (though Plymouth, located on Highway 49, is larger and better known). Fiddletown was established by prospectors from Missouri in 1849, and quickly grew in the 1850s and 1860s as a center of trade for many mines located nearby.
Miners were known, during the dry season when water for their hydraulic mining ran low, to just “fiddle around”, hence the town’s name. During the city’s boom years, it numbered almost two dozen businesses, a handful of taverns, blacksmith shops, bakeries and restaurants. With a post office, church and school, it was a full-fledged city.
The town soon grew to over 2,000 residents, with over half Chinese, who worked the mines and established many of the early businesses (some of these still stand, though in a state of disrepair; the local Fiddletown Preservation Society is working to refurbish several structures).
While touring the several remaining blocks of old Fiddletown, be sure to check out the Chew Kee Apothecary (a rare “rammed earth” building dating to the 1850s), the other old Chinese merchant buildings, C. Schallhorn’s Blacksmith and Wagon Store and the Fiddletown Community Center with the giant fiddle over the door!
Nearby Plymouth traces its history to the 1870s, when prospectors stopped there in search of quartz and gold. For gourmet travelers, the new Taste Restaurant in Plymouth is a must-stop, drawing rave reviews from around the region. The city has a cute public park with bandstand, the old Plymouth Hotel and other eateries, all grouped along several old-town blocks.
Both Fiddletown and Plymouth are known as “Gateways to the Shenandoah Valley” and make logical stops. While touring the area, take time to explore a variety of scenic back roads rimming the Shenandoah – watch for wild turkeys and deer, both found in abundance in this bucolic setting!
What’s nearby: Plymouth, on Hwy. 49, is just a mile from the edge of the Shenandoah Valley, while Fiddletown is about six miles away on Fiddletown Road.
How to get there: From Stockton, the Shenandoah Valley is about 60 miles, 1.5 hours. Take Hwy. 88 northeast, then Hwy. 124 north, connect to Hwy. 49 north to Plymouth, then follow the Shenandoah Road east to the valley.
What to bring: Binoculars, camera, good walking shoes!
To plan your visit: For insight into Karmere Winery, go to www.karmere.com, or call 209.245.5000, located at 11970 Shenandoah Road; for Wilderotter Vineyard, www.wilderottervineyard.com, 209.483.9170, 19890 Shenandoah Road; for Villa Toscana and Bella Piazza, www.villatoscano.com, 209.245.3800, 10600 Shenandoah Road; for Helwig Winery, www.helwigwinery.com, 209.245.5200, 11555 Shenandoah Road; for Borjos Winery, www.borjonwinery.com, 209.245.3087, 11270 Shenandoah Road. For insight into Plymouth food and lodging, go to: http://www.historichwy49.com/amador/plymouth.html.
For more inspiration on other travel destinations in California and the west, see my blog, http//blogs.esanjoaquin.com/valleytravel, or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Happy travels in the West!