Amador Wines Impressive in State Competition

By Kirk Neiberger

ledger dispatch contributor


Michael and Charlie Havill, owners of BellaGrace Vineyards, and Joe Shebl of Fiddletown Cellars, on the day at the Barbera Festival when BellaGrace was told of their “Best of State” awards at the California State Fair competition.

Amador County wineries that entered their wines in the very competitive 2012 California State Fair wine competition made an impressive showing. One such winery was BellaGrace Vineyards, in only its fifth year of operation. Located in the Shenandoah Valley, near Plymouth. BellaGrace garnered two coveted “Best of State” awards for its white Rhone varietal — its 2011 Grenache Blanc — and its red Italian varietal — its 2010 Barbera. Each wine earned an impressive 98 points from the state wine judges.

“This is fabulous for our young winery,” said Charlie Havill, co-owner of BellaGrace, along with his wife and winemaker, Michael Havill. “We are proud and excited, and this recognition gives us the energy to move forward making quality wines.” Only three years prior, another well-respected Amador County winemaker, Bill Easton (known for his Rhone varietals) suggested to Charlie that he re-graft part of his vineyards to Grenache Blanc. Charlie listened to his advice and, with Michael’s winemaking acumen, turned the Grenache Blanc grapes from this small one-acre block into a “Best of State” white wine.

“We actually found out the news that our 2010 Barbera also won the same award while pouring it to visitors at the recent Barbera Festival at Cooper Ranch,” Havill recalled. “We want our winery to stay small, make handcrafted wines, and produce high-quality wines at a competitive price.” Both of these award winning wines are available for sampling and purchase at BellaGrace’s tasting room, on Main Street, in Sutter Creek. The 2011 Grenache Blanc retails for $22 per bottle and the 2010 Barbera retails for $24 per bottle.

Another Amador winery to score the “Best of State” award is Vino Noceto, also located within Shenandoah Valley, for its Italian varietal, 2009 Dos Oakies Sangiovese. Owners Jim and Suzy Gullett were the first to bring the Sangiovese varietal to Amador County, planting their Dos Oakies vineyard in 1987, where it has thrived ever since. It seems only fitting that Jim’s oldest Sangiovese vineyard would win this prestigious designation.

The Dos Oakies vineyard derives its name from two ancient oak trees that originally graced this vineyard, only one of which is still standing today. “The Dos Oakies Sangiovese is my personal favorite,” said Jim Gullett, “as it is the most Italian of our Sangiovese wines. This wine represents the Brunello Di Montalcino style of Sangiovese wine.” He acquired the cuttings that would later become his Dos Oakies vineyard directly from the Il Pioggione Vineyards, in Italy.

“This year, we have had a string of successes in three major wine competitions,” Gullett continued, “with three different Sangiovese wines winning awards, the most recent being for our Dos Oakies Sangiovese, winning ‘Best of State.’ This is truly exciting and, to some degree, validates what we are doing. We’re trying to make Sangioveses with California-grown fruit that are also fundamentally Italian wines.” The 2009 Dos Oakies Sangiovese retails at $28 per bottle.

Bella Grace and Vino Noceto were not the only Amador County wineries to receive medals and awards in the California State Fair. Amador County wineries won 18 Gold Medals, five Double Gold Medals, and seven Best of Class awards. Amador County wineries’ medal count was further augmented by an additional 70 Silver and 29 Bronze medal-winning wines.

“These awards mean that Amador County is receiving well-deserved recognition for producing high quality wines,” observed Amador Vintners’ Association Director Jennifer Pechette, “which we hope will translate to more consumers wanting to visit our excellent wineries and experience these award-winning wines for themselves.”

As published in the Ledger Dispatch on 6/29/12

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