It is hard to believe there are more than 20 wineries in Calaveras County, with most having tasting rooms on Main Street in Murphys.
The 28th annual Sierra foothill wine competition recently took place in Angels Camp and drew wines from more than 40 foothill producers.
The judging is offered to any bonded winery in the six foothill counties, stretching from Mariposa north to Yuba.
The grapes can come from outside the region. The bulk of the entries come from Calaveras, El Dorado and Amador counties.
With more than 260 wines entered, the competition is a barometer of what's happening in our growing wine region.
Having been chairman since the first competition 27 years ago, I looked back at some of the earlier judgings and managed to find results from 1982. They paint an interesting picture of where the local industry has come and what wines now vie for the gold.
The 2008 competition featured only two white zinfandels and no chenin blancs, a big change from 25 years ago when whites outnumbered reds and there were 14 white zins entered. Now it is the other way with reds overshadowing whites by about 4 to 1. While the red zinfandel class is still the largest with more than 40 entries, new faces have made a showing and have scored well.
More than 20 syrahs and more than 15 barberas and petite sirahs showed up in the 2008 judging. While these three were no-shows in 1982, this year they received the highest percentage of medals.
Two other growing red flights that showed well were the tempranillo and grenache category.
The category that seemed to struggle included the cabernet sauvignon flight, which received no gold medals. Equally fascinating was the emergence of new obscure grapes such as vermentino and aglianico, two Italian grape types whose origins are in Sardinia and the Naples area, respectively.
Best of show for white went to Ironstone Vineyards of Calaveras County for its fruity but brightly balanced 2007 Symphony, a double gold medal winner. It edged out the Black Sheep 2007 Sauvignon Blanc, which won best white of Calaveras.
The best of show for red went to Latcham Winery of El Dorado County for its 2005 zinfandel. Right behind it was the Lavender Ridge 2006 Rhone Blend, which won best of Calaveras Red.
Several Calaveras county wineries did very well. Chatom Vineyards chardonnay and syrah each picked double golds. A double gold is when the entire panel of four judges is in agreement on awarding a gold medal.
Tempranillo is a successful grape type in Calaveras and all the entries received a medal in this class, including a double gold for a new Calaveras winery, Frogs Tooth.
Amador County showed its strength in zinfandels, with a number of gold medals being awarded to this premier zin area. Sobon Estates of Shenandoah Valley led the way with three gold medals, including two double golds.
"I think the foothill wineries have come to understand what works in our region. The new grape types show that there is still room for discovery," said Bob Fisher, a wine enthusiast and longtime judge from Sonora. "The overall quality of the wines has come a long ways since the early days of the judging."
Twenty-two judges from as far away as Cheyenne, Wyo., travel to Angels Camp to participate in the contest. Most judges are connected to the industry as educators, writers, winemakers and salespeople.
The winning wines will be on display at the annual Calaveras County Fair & Jumping Frog Jubilee this weekend at the county fairgrounds in Angels Camp. Available to taste will be a selection of Calaveras wines.
A complete list of winners can be found at www.frogtown.org/results/
Wine picks are from Tom Bender, wine instructor at Columbia College and wine steward for O'Brien's Market, 4120 Dale Road, Modesto, 545-8100.