This is Sonoma artist Jennifer LaPierre, practicing her art not in Sonoma but in another wine region, Amador County's Shenandoah Valley. Over the weekend she was one of three artists making over the former Kelson Creek Vineyads winery along Shenandoah School Road into a branch of C. G. Di Arie Vineyard & Winery of neighboring El Dorado County. Led by Oakland artist Betty Jo Costanzo, LaPierre and fellow Sonoma artist Charlotte Meyn dressed up one winery building with C.G. Di Arie's emblematic twin lions and brightened the tasting room with a mural inspired by the setting's koi-stocked pond.
During a quick spin through the Shenandoah Valley we found that C.G. Di Arie isn't the only winery in the area on an expansion kick. The Buck Cobb family, which owns Karly Winery, has opened an entirely new facility called Bantam Cellars along Shenandoah Road, in tribute to the family's fondness for raising chickens. Visitors not only can choose from a wide assortment of wines, but fresh ranch eggs were selling for $3 a dozen when we stopped by.
We didn't taste the eggs, but we sure liked several of the wines, including the jammy Bantam Cellars 2005 Chanteclair ($15), a zinfandel styled to be a "festive summer blend," according to the back label; the firm but accessible Bantam Cellars 2005 Coop D'Ville ($17), a heady but not overly warm blend of zinfandel, sangiovese, primitivo and barbera; and the Garth Cobb 2005 Barbera ($24), more robust than many barberas coming out of the area but with the kind of bright fruit that again shows why this underappreciated varietal has so much potential in the Sierra foothills.
In driving into the valley we found that the winery Young's Vineyard actually was open for visitors, which is rare, given that its wines sell out so fast. We braked abruptly and pulled in. While we enjoyed the balance and grace of everything we tasted, the standout was a surprise, the Young's Vineyard 2005 Sangiovese ($26). Sangiovese is a California varietal that more often than not lets me down. I rely on Young's neighbor Vino Noceto to show how sangiovese should perform in California, and just about every other release of the varietal comes up short. The Young's sangiovese, however, had everything I'd want in the varietal - fresh fruit, confident grip, a long finish, and a touch of nuttiness.
We also stopped by nearby Wilderotter Vineyard, where two of the three most impressive wines were the long, spicy and complex Wilderotter Vineyard 2004 Amador County Zinfandel ($24) and the vivacious Wilderotter Vineyard 2006 Sierra Foothills Sauvignon Blanc ($14). But the wine that left us kicking ourselves for not buying half a case was the bright Wilderotter Vineyard 2006 Sierra Foothills Grenache Rose ($15). Roses are gaining in popularity and esteem, but few show why with such exhuberance as this one. It's just packed with fresh strawberry fruit and refreshing acidity. It's a summer wine that has the composure and depth to last right through the Thanksgiving feast.
Incidentally, if you are planning an outing to the Shenandoah Valley, consider stopping at Pokerville Market in Plymouth either as you enter the valley or leave. It has a tremendous selection of foothill wines, and the prices are comparable with what you would spend at the wineries. What's more, we've found that while a nearby winery might be sold out of a particular wine, it still sometimes can be found at Pokerville Market.