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Copyright © 2015
Forkmedia LLC

by Fred McMillin
for January 24, 2000


When the Gold Rolled


D'Agostini Winery  
On this date l52 years ago, itinerant carpenter James Wilson Marshall bent over and picked up a bright piece of metal the size and shape of a tiny pea. At that moment, there was no vineyard in the Sierra Foothills. But a few years later there would be over 200,000 vines producing wine for the thirsty miners.

The Rest of the Story

Marshal's helper Mormon miner Henry Bigler wrote in his diary on Jan. 24, 1848, "This day some mettle was found that looks like goald." That little piece of gold caused 1% of the U.S.A.'s population to crowd into a few counties east of Sacramento. They were joined by a swarm of Australians, South Americans and Europeans. The Golden State's wine production in 1848 was the equivalent of some 20,000 cases. By 1859 it would exceed 200,000 cases. The Sierra Foothills would have more wineries than Napa and Sonoma counties combined. What was planted?

Lee Sobon The hot-button grape was Zinfandel. and it was not a brief romance. By 1910, it produced ninety percent of California wine. Furthermore, it is the State's leading red wine even as we speak. My last figures from Gladys Horiuchi of California's Wine Institute show an annual crush of 339,000 tons of Zinfandel compared to the distant second place of 226,000 tons of Cabernet Sauvignon.

In view of all of this, our Wine of the Day must be a Zinfandel from the Sierra Foothills, where appropriately not only was much of the FIRST Zinfandel made, but today much of the BEST Zinfandel is made.

Wine of the Day

1997 Vintners Selection Zinfandel
Sobon Family Vineyards, Amador County, Sierra Foothills
Winemaker—Lee Sobon, (pictured), who used French oak on this Zin
History—The Sobon family a few years ago bought the D'Agostini Winery, and gave me a bottle to serve in one of my wine history courses. Its importance? Many historians say it was on the D'Agostini property where the FIRST winery operated after the start of the Gold Rush!
Rating of This Zin—That French oak DID it. My 14 tasters gave it an EXCELLENT!
Contact—Shirley Sobon, (209) 245-4455, FAX (209) 245-5156
Price—Fine value. $12 range. (Out of the last 30 wines under $15 we've tasted, this is the only one rated EXCELLENT.)


If you are interested in the present wines and the past glamour of the Sierra Foothills, subscribe to Vine Times published quarterly by Jolene Teresi, phone/fax (916) 988-8451. For more about the publication, see the WineDay Annex titled, " Wine and Words, A Love Affair".

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.


This page created January 2000