This California wine region tastes, looks, smells, sounds, drives and feels like Paso Robles. But it’s Amador County’s Highway 49, not Paso Robles’ Highway 46. They even grow similar oak trees. The two regions are virtually indistinguishable except for their California locations.
Both sit between 1,000 and 1,800 feet elevation with diurnal temperature variations running above 30°+. The high and low temperatures diverge sharply from day to night. Grape loves this. Winemakers will frequently share stories about the hot days and cool nights, saying, “Stressed grapes make great wine.”
It’s no wonder these two areas produce wonderful wine. Together they cover the gamut of wines from white to red and every blend beyond.
Nestled in this area is the Shenandoah Valley district of Amador County where you’ll find Helwig Winery poised atop a hill overlooking the golden rolling hills. Gold was discovered here in 1849. During the gold rush, California’s population grew by 287,397 (310% growth.) It now stands a little north of 39+ million souls.
Most gold is gone today and the new gold rush is grape. Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Tempranillo, Zinfandel, Syrah, Barbera and Cabernet Sauvignon are the new cash generation machine.
Helwig is family owned on a 16 acre estate and a tasting room for at least 100 people (should you have enough wine hosts.) Owners Dave & Nancy Helwig along with their wine maker son Scott and daughter Mary grow grape on 280 acres of California vines. They create 30 labels of wine and work with Amphora, wine fermentation in earthen vessels.
What did we taste? Here goes:
2022 Sauvignon Blanc-Musque ✰+
2021 Three Sisters (Marsanne, Rousanne & Viogner) $32 ✰+
2021 Sparkling Rose (dry) $26 ✰+
2019 Barbera-Frenchmen’s $34 ✰+
2021 Viognier (stainless) $28 ✰+
2017 Graciano $32 ✰
2019 Barbera Amador $28 ✰+
2016 Petite Sirah $32 ✰++ (91 pts.)
2015 Petite Sirah Frenchmen’s $34 ✰++ (92 pts)
Our wine host Seth was sharp and gracious, telling us about Helwig wine, concerts and their wine club pick up parties. Tastings run between $10 (at the bar) or $15 (on the deck) and they’ll waive your taste with the purchase of a bottle. You’ll also find their wine selling retail in the Tahoe and Sacramento areas.
Located 26 miles south of Placerville you’ll find tasty Rhone blends and California wine of consequence. They’re located on Shenandoah Road near the town of Plymouth. You should visit this area if you love California wine.
Some notes on our wine ranking system.
Bill & Erin Hodge write about California Wine, the estates & winemakers producing them and educational information about Vino. Living in California Wine Country provides a front row seat to the places you want to visit the most here in the Golden State.
– -✰ means -What’s next on your list of wines
-✰ means -Not liking it too much
✰ means -We’ll drink this wine, especially if it’s hosted!
✰+ means -You’ve got our attention and we might buy this wine.
✰+ + means -We’re hooked and we’re going to buy this wine.
When you see -✰/✰+ with a slash, it means we disagree.