Wineries in this appellation are distributed in a more-or-less vertical swath over 10 California counties. All 280 of them are included in a directory toward the back of this book. There you will find physical and internet addresses, phone numbers and information about the varieties of wine each produces, as well as their policies regarding visitors. Nearly all of these wineries are small, family-owned-and-operated businesses. It’s unlikely you’ll ever share a tasting room with visitors from a tour bus.
Subtitled “Risk-Takers and Rule-Breakers,” Keck’s book features visits with 21 of these wineries. Some of the families who run these wineries took their risks years ago, such as the Boegers (Boeger Winery) and the MacCreadys (Sierra Vista Winery), both of whom began farming winegrapes in Eldorado County in 1972. Others followed, like Ann Kraemer (Shake Ridge Vineyard and Yorba Wines), who in 2001 purchased 216 acres east of Sutter Creek in Amador County and Andy Friedlander and Janis Akuna (Andis Wines), who acquired land in Amador’s Shenandoah Valley that included 25 acres of Zinfandel grapes in 2009.
Whenever the proprietors of these 21 featured wineries took their leaps of faith, their stories are all pretty interesting. The founders had successes in other fields before getting into the wine business, but most don’t seem like the really deep-pocketed types who’ve acquired or built wineries as monuments to their own money and ego. These are working owners. Barbara Keck’s features give her readers a sense of the risks and rule-breakings these people have undertaken, as well as providing substantial basic information for those likely to be planning winery visits.
Johan Martin’s photographs include several taken of these wine folks when they were enjoying food, as well as wine. For the most part they look more natural than staged. A favorite recipe is included from each of the wineries. These are attributed to the proprietors themselves or close friends with whom they tend to share the table.
Many Sierra Foothill wineries have national distribution and this book could have value to consumers in other parts of the U.S., though it seems tailored for the touring wine fan. Particularly interesting, we thought, was that in addition to all the basic information about the nearly 300 wineries in the back of book directory, each had a “landmark wine” listed. Most of these also had an intriguing “hidden gem” selection. This latter information speaks to Barbara Keck’s familiarity with her subject matter.
--reviewed by Dan Clarke