Touring Amador wine country

By Kirk Neiberger

Special Ledger Dispatch contributor

Vines follow contours at Shake Ridge Vineyards. Ledger dispatch photo by Kirk Neiberger

On a bright spring afternoon in May, I ventured up the serpentine Shake Ridge Road toward what the Amador County locals call “Upcountry,” discovering a hidden treasure of 46 acres of pristine vineyards appropriately bearing the name, Shake Ridge Vineyards.

Vineyard manager and part owner of Yorba Wines, Ann Kraemer was there, with her extended family, happily hosting their annual event, “Yorba Wines’ Taste of the Ranch.”

Once a year, Kraemer opens Shake Ridge Vineyards, by invitation, to her friends, Yorba Wine Club members, and the curious to leisurely stroll through her cherished vineyards, with wine glass in hand, to sample Yorba Wines paired with a delicious assortment of gastric treats at various tasting stations strategically positioned beneath large, shady oak trees.

In 2001, the Kraemer Family (fourth generation Yorba citrus growers in Southern California) acquired this 200-acre ranch, originally belonging to the Oneto family, in a land swap deal. The acquisition of this property was the culmination of Ann’s 20-year search to find the perfect parcel of land that was “under-appreciated, but not overpriced,” said Kraemer. “I had looked at over 200 parcels all the way from Nevada City down to Mariposa County. I knew immediately this property was it, nothing else even came close.”

The gentle slopes of this property were already cleared from previous farming and grazing of livestock. Her many years as a vineyard manager in Napa County, at Domaine Chandon and Swanson wineries, told her that this land, in the heart of the Sierra Foothills, had soil that would drain well, a proper elevation and a great climate, where her future vineyards could thrive.

Kraemer’s success with Shake Ridge Vineyards did not come overnight. After acquiring the land, she had to amend the soil with lime and gypsum, install an irrigation system and, finally, plant her first 34 acres of vines, in 2003, which yielded their first fruit in 2005, and her first Yorba Wines vintage release, in 2007. Her motto is simple: “The vineyards always come first. I am always looking for ways to do it better.” A testament to Kraemer’s successful grape-growing technique is that 80 percent of her yearly grape production is eagerly snatched up by 26 different wineries, which often use Shake Ridge Vineyard as a designate on their wine labels. Her remaining grapes are utilized for wine production under her family’s Yorba Wines label, making between 1,500 and 2,000 cases of wine per year. It usually takes great fruit from meticulously managed vineyards to make great wines. “I want my vines to work hard, be fit and healthy, like a long distance runner,” Kraemer said, which probably explains why her grapes are in such demand by winemakers near and far.

Ken Bernards, Yorba Wines’ winemaker, was chosen because of his winemaking prowess and because Kraemer has known him since the early 1990s, when they worked together at Domaine Chandon. “Ken lets the fruit shine through his wines,” Kraemer explained. “His wines are elegant, structured and truly showcase our vineyards.” Yorba Wines offer a wide selection of grape varietals, including Zinfandel, Barbera, Syrah, Tempranillo, Petite Sirah, Malbec, Mourvedre, Primitivo and others.

This fall, Yorba Wines will join four other established winetasting rooms on Main Street, in Sutter Creek, by opening their own tasting room to showcase their wines made from grapes grown exclusively at Shake Ridge Vineyards. “Sutter Creek is just such a charming town,” Kraemer volunteered.

One of the Yorba Wines you will have the opportunity to taste there is Yorba’s Shake Ridge Red, “a vintner’s choice”that is a varietal blend that changes every year. Yorba Wines’ 2007 Shake Ridge Red is a wonderfully unique blend of Syrah, Primitivo, Petite Sirah, Malbec, Mourvedre and Merlot, displaying layers of lush fruit flavor with herbal and mineral components. If you can’t wait until this fall to discover what Yorba Wines has to offer, you can currently sample and buy Yorba Wines from Amador 360, in Plymouth,, or order  online, at .

Neiberger operates Gold Country Wine Tours:

As published in the Ledger-Dispatch Newspaper on 6-15-12


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