In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Amador County gained a reputation for producing high-alcohol reds that, while catnip to some, seemed over the top to others. This late-harvest style stemmed in part from the conviction of most Amador growers that, in order to capture fully the unique qualities of Amador zinfandel, the fruit needed to achieve a high degree of ripeness before harvest. Zinfandel, however, is notorious for ripening unevenly, with both raisined and green berries often appearing within the same cluster. Thus, it is difficult to calibrate the ideal ripeness level at which to pick the fruit, because raisined berries can drive up sugars in the fermenter and produce higher alcohol levels.
Over the past 20 years, Amador growers have become far more adept at managing their vines to reduce both over-ripening and second crop. This is accomplished through proper pruning, canopy management, crop thinning, and grape sugar sampling. In addition, a new generation of university-trained winemakers employs state-of-the-art crushers, presses, temperature-controlled fermenters and tannin management techniques to produce more refined wines. Amador’s reds are still full-bodied, robust, and intensely flavored, but, in contrast to days of yore, they are far more balanced and harmonious.