Aspen Times Weekly: Gold for the 400th column |

Aspen Times Weekly: Gold for the 400th column


As great as their Zin is, Terra d’Oro also makes a number of wines from Italian varietals including:

Terra d’Oro Pinot Grigio

Terra d’Oro Sangiovese

Terra d’Oro Barbera

Terra d’Oro Aglianico

Terra d’Oro Donna Avida Red Blend (Zin, Barbera, Syrah, Sangiovese and Viognier)

Oh, and a Port: Terra d’Oro Zinfandel Port

In 2010, Decanter, the British wine magazine that is arguably one of the world’s most influential wine publications, had a small celebration to commemorate the 400th contribution of “our doyen of columnists,” Michael Broadbent. Now that is an impressive number indeed.

Poured at said celebration were Mouton 1982 in magnum (“So fresh it might have been ten years younger,” said Steven Spurrier, famed for arranging the 1976 Judgment of Paris tasting ), Chateau Climens 1971, Champagne Pol Roger, Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill 1990 in magnum, Corton-Charlemagne, Bonneau du Martray 2003, and, to close it all down, Graham’s Port 1970. Fine wines indeed, and I am certain those in attendance had an equally fine time as well.

This is the 400th edition of WineInk to appear in the Aspen Times Weekly. Though I may present as the “doyen” of Times’ wine columnists, it is unlikely that a celebration will be held in commemoration. Nor will a line-up of wines be made available for my pleasure. Instead I am left with the joys of drinking a Terra d’Oro 2012 Amador Zinfandel, a steal at $18.

And I assure you, I’m good with that.

Begin with the assertion that I am drinking a wine that was grown, made and bottled in the heart of California, the state in which I grew up. With all respect, the Decanter group was drinking wines from countries other than their own, not that there is anything wrong with that, of course. It’s just that there is something called pride of place and when the Brits imbibe they are enjoying the pleasure of someone else’s place. No offense.

Secondly, I am drinking pure Zinfandel, the grape that may be the most “American” of all the grapes we grow here in our 50 states. I say that because, if one looks back at the short history of wine in America, it was the Zinfandel, originally brought by immigrants to California about the time of the Gold Rush that formed the base of the industry. It was first planted in Oak Knoll in Napa in the 1850s but soon proliferated and became a stalwart in the foothills of the Sierra where wines were made to quench the desires of the gold seekers who mined the mountains.

Amador County, in those very foothills, has become Zin Central in California over the last half-century since pioneers like Cary Gott (father of Joel Gott, one of California’s great young winemakers) rediscovered the region in the early 1970s. There, they found a place with the remnants of pre-Prohibition vineyards, glorious sunshine and soils that were high in both iron and magnesium. All perfect for resurrecting a region and growing great Zin.

“Zinfandel loves the sun and in Amador we have sunshine all day long from sun up to sun down” enthuses Chris Leamy, who is the winemaker at Terra d’Oro. “The whole terrior of the area creates a Zinfandel that focuses on the warm baking spices.”

It was that terroir that enticed the then 24-year old winemaker Gott, with backing from banker/father-in law Walter Fields, to create the Montevina Winery in 1970 in Plymouth, California. It was one of the first new post-Prohibition wineries in the Sierra Foothills and it would become known for producing great Zinfandel. The Trinchero family, which made a fortune producing White Zinfandel from the region, acquired Montevina in 1988 and in 1993 introduced the Terra d’Oro label as a premium brand. In 2009 the original winery in Plymouth was rechristened as Terra d’Oro, or “land of gold,” to more accurately reflect the heritage of the region.

While Terra d’Oro and Montevina, which focuses on appellation wines from California now, make a number of wines, many from Italian varietals, it is still the Zin that steps to the forefront. “With Zinfandel, you can make so many different and delicious styles of wines from one grape,” said Leamy, with obvious admiration for the grape. “One really could plant a Zinfandel vineyard and make a wine to fit about every niche of wine styles, from a light dry blush, to a rambunctious red, to an elegant sipper, to a lush port.

And they do. Though in addition to new plantings, a bottling of the Terra d’Oro Deaver Vineyard Old Vine Zinfandel emanates from vines that have a 130-year old pedigree. A 14-acre vineyard planted in 1881 is a jewel of the Amador Valley and the dark, concentrated fruit it provides is as rich in flavor as it is in history.

The Brits can have their French wines. As a son of California, I am happy to drink the fruit of the Golden State to celebrate the 400th.

Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass with his wife, Linda, and black Lab named Vino. He can be reached at

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