At Terra d’Oro & Montevina, former Winemaker Jeff Meyers—now Vice President and General Manager—and current Winemaker Chris Leamy, know more than just a thing or two about making complex and balanced wine. With state of the art facilities and 486 acres of planted vineyards, Terra d’Oro & Montevina are producing about 80,000 cases of wine per year.
The passion of both Meyers and Leamy is evident in the winemaking, as well as in the vineyards, where Kevin Steward oversees and tends to the vines. Tracy Dehn, Tasting Room Manager, says that Steward is both “The Vineyard Manager and ‘vine whisperer.'” The grapes grown by Steward, as well as the wine produced by Meyers and Leamy, reflect and respect the terroir of the Shenandoah Valley, where the vineyards and winery are located.
Throughout Amador County, and specifically in the Shenandoah Valley, the Italian heritage is hard to ignore. During California’s gold rush, Italian immigrants planted Zinfandel and Italian varietals throughout this region and, as a result, many of the wineries in this area produce an array of Italian varietals.
At Terra d’Oro & Montevina, about half of the varietals produced under the two labels are Italian. Under the Terra d’Oro label, the winery produces Pinot Grigio, Moscato, Sangiovese, and Barbera. Under the Montevina label, the winery produces Pinot Grigio and Barbera, though the winemaking process for these varietals is different than that of the same varietals produced under the Terra d’Oro label. Many of these Italian varietals have been growing on the Terra d’Oro & Montevina land for over thirty years. In particular, Terra d’Oro & Montevina has a special relationship with Barbera.
Dehn says that “Jeff Meyers was originally called the ‘Baron of Barbera’ in wine publications, write ups, and around town. His passion for Italian varietals early on helped to create a kind of local legend with producing a varietal that a lot of folks didn’t feel was special enough to make.” Ask any wine aficionado about Barbera and they will tell you that Barbera is a varietal that produces high acid and low tannin wines—the style of wine that does not receive much credit from wine critics. However, in the past forty years, Meyers, Leamy, and other winemakers in Amador County have been working hard to counteract the negative associations with Barbera as a less than premium red wine.
To prove it, Terra d’Oro & Montevina collaborated with Taste Restaurant—the only Zagat-rated restaurant in Amador County—to pair library vintages of Barbera with an array of elegant and delectable dishes. Meyers and Leamy hosted the Anniversary Barbera Tasting Dinner alongside Darrell Corti—”a one man show of legendary status,” Dehn says. Corti’s relationship with Meyers “goes back some 30 years . . . [and] given his family history with wine and the Terra d’Oro & Montevina families, we couldn’t have asked for a better Ambassador to represent the heritage of Barbera at Taste Restaurant,” Dehn states.
In 1970, Darrell Corti urged Cary Gott to purchase the land that Terra d’Oro & Montevina sits on now. It was in 1970 that Montevina was established as the “first new post-Prohibition winery in the Sierra Foothills” (Terra d’Oro ‘History’). Since then Corti has maintained a relationship with Terra d’Oro & Montevina, as well as with Meyers—who became the winemaker in 1986, and Chris Leamy—who took over the winemaking in 2004.
At the Anniversary Barbera Tasting Dinner, twelve vintages of Terra d’Oro & Montevina Barbera—ranging from 1980 to 2012—were paired with six different dishes, prepared by Taste Restaurant’s Executive Chef Mark Berkner. Instead of pairing the wine by vintage in chronological order, Terra d’Oro & Montevina decided to showcase the vintages by style, bringing together similar aromas and flavors to complement the dishes.
The oldest vintages poured and paired were the 1980 and 1990, both produced by Montevina. These vintages were served alongside each other with a dish of roasted beets, sage, tatsoi, and hazelnut. The 1980 is brick in color with a sweet, raisin-like nose; in flavor, the wine exhibits notes of earth, spice, burnt sugar, and caramel. The 1990 is also brick in color but boasts stronger notes of spice, plum, red cherry, and raspberry. The roasted beets dish was a lovely pairing with these two wines. The flavors of the wine complement the earthiness of the beets and tatsoi, and the touch of sweetness in the beets match the bright fruit notes of the wine.
Berkner prepared a delectable duck rilette with local cherries prepared three ways to pair with the 1993, 1997, and 1999 vintages—all produced by Terra d’Oro. This range of vintages was by far showing the best of all the vintages paired that evening. The 1993 has aromas of sweet caramel and raisin. On the palate, the wine shows flavors of spiced plum with a smooth texture and dry finish. The 1997 was the overall favorite of the night—with a strong mushroom and earth nose complemented by flavors of bright raspberry and strong baking spice. The body of this vintage is full, making the texture and flavor of the 1997 complex and balanced. The 1999 has a lovely spice and plum nose with plum flavors, bright fruit, gentle texture, and balanced acidity. Served with the duck rilette, these three vintages shine in terms of their food friendliness. The cherry preparations match the fruit in the vintages; texturally, the duck rilette brings body to the wines. The flavors and textures of the wines are certainly enhanced by this dish and the though the flavors of the food are amazing on their own, they become even richer and more pleasurable with the wines.
As far as dishes go, Berkner wowed guests with his lamb meatball prepared with local white polenta, tomato reduction sauce, and cumin. This dish was rich, juicy, earthy, and spicy. The 1998 Terra d’Oro &1998 Montevina wines were perfectly suited to this fantastically prepared dish. The wines themselves are rich and full bodied, but the creamy polenta heightens the body of both wines even more—in a way that makes the palate feel like it is coated in silk. The tomato reduction sauce, which has a subtle sweetness to it, provides wonderful balance to the acidity of the wines. Additionally, the cumin accentuates the spice notes in the wines and contrasts the fruit. The tender and juicy lamb also enhances the body and flavor of the wines.
The exploration of Barbera vintages spanning 34 years of winemaking by Terra d’Oro & Montevina was indeed a wonderful experience which showed the amazing ageability of Barbera—a wine typically not thought of as ageable. With the impeccable standards in the vineyards and the careful, talented winemaking at Terra d’Oro & Montevina, it is clear that producing complex and balanced Barbera is both possible and fulfilling. Additionally, this experience certainly speaks to the prowess of the Shenandoah Valley in Amador County as a premium Barbera producing wine growing region and of Terra d’Oro & Montevina’s significant contribution to bringing Barbera to the forefront.