California Shenandoah Valley is an AVA that is mainly located in Amador County in the Sierra Foothills region of California. It is the least elevated of the AVAs in the region, making it well suited to the production of big, brawny Zinfandel and Italian varieties such as Sangiovese and Barbera.
Vineyards stretch across the rolling valley floor, surrounded by hills that separate the zone from the neighboring AVA of Fiddletown in the east. During the Gold Rush of the 1840s and 1850s, the town of Plymouth within the valley was settled, and the production of wine to supply the influx of migrants became an important source of income. At the turn of the century, Shenandoah Valley was one of the largest centers of wine production in California.
Prohibition had a devastating effect on the wine industry in the area, and vineyards were largely forgotten until the 1970s, when winemaking was revived. Luckily, many of the vineyards were still intact, and today, California Shenandoah Valley boasts some of the oldest Zinfandel vines in the state.
Because of the area's relatively low elevation (around 1400ft/425m above sea level), its climate is less influenced by the Sierra Nevada mountains than it would be if the AVA were higher. Consequently, it has one of the hottest climates in the region.
The soil is largely made up of decomposed granite and sandy loam. Well drained and infertile, it is excellent for growing wine grapes: Because the vines must put down deeper roots to get to the water, fewer berries are produced, but these have more-concentrated flavors. The combination of the soil and the hot, dry climate means that California Shenandoah Valley wines are generally rich and complex.