Alternatives to Napa Wine Tasting – We Adore Amador

By Kearsten Shepard 

Kearsten Shepherd
Kearsten Shepherd


Over the past year I have been lucky enough to go on two “teambuilding” retreats for work, both of which included wine tasting in Amador County. I’m not sure why both groups chose wine tasting, or Amador, but it was a win-win for me as I got to visit eight amazing wineries and bond with amazing people.

Amador is a great alternative for three reasons.  One, it’s super close to Sacramento. It took us a little over an hour to get there from downtown Sacramento– but travel time can vary depending on which wineries you are visiting. Second, there are more than 40 wineries very close together, which means you’ll need to take more than one trip. Third, it’s closer and cheaper than Napa!

I’ve outlined my favorite places in Amador below– but there are quite a few to choose from, so check out Amador Vintners for a map to plan out your own trip.

(Listed in alphabetical order, not preference)

Bray Vineyards – This fun, family owned winery doesn’t take itself too seriously and offers some great varietals including Brayzin Hussy Blond (white blend) and Blayzin Hussy Red, as well as Barbera, Verdelho, and Viognier. The tasting room has a barn-like feel with knowledgeable staff that make you feel right at home.

Dobra Zemlja – This beautiful family-owned winery provides amazing grounds (perfect for a picnic) and a cave-like tasting room. The winery offers some of the varietals Amador County is known for including Viognier, Sangiovese, Barbera, Syrah and Zinfandel.  This one is definitely worth the trip! Tasting room hours are 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. daily.

Helwig Winery – One of my all-time favorites in the region! The grounds are gorgeous and offer picturesque views of the vineyards while you enjoy your wine and snacks on an outside patio. The tasting room is open and vibrant – and the staff is great. For five bucks you get to taste a “flight” which was about eight wines total. The tasting fee is applied toward any bottle purchase as well – so why not! Tasting room hours: 10:30am to 4:30pm daily. Appointments are required for parties of six or more.

Jeff Runquist Wines – Also a big winner in my book! My view may be slightly skewed by the fact that someone in the group was a wine club member – this place went all out for us. We tasted in a beautiful private tasting room with the appropriate accompaniments – including meats, cheeses, crackers, olives and chocolate! The wine was great! And we got to taste some of their reserve blends not on the regular tasting menu. This winery and the staff are amazing – I highly recommend it! Tasting room hours: 11:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. (Friday-Monday).

Sobon Estates (and Shenandoah Vineyards) – Both vineyards owned by the Sobon family are known for producing great wines with their own sustainably-grown grapes. The Sobon Estates property offers an old farmhouse feel and a free museum, while the Shenandoah Vineyards property offers a newer, contemporary feel. Both are great and have friendly staff. We were able to taste at both places for one fee ($5), which also included a free glass to take with us. Tasting room hours: 10:00 a.m. -5:00 p.m. daily.


Amador County wine tasting is a great day trip or last-minute getaway – only 40 minutes east of Sacramento. Make sure you give yourself enough time at each winery – no one wants to be rushed –and call ahead and schedule an appointment if you have a larger party (six or more). Make sure you have a designated driver, or better yet, get a limo to take you so you can crack open a bottle on your way home (check out Groupon for deals on limo trips to area wineries). I hope you enjoy some of my suggestions, and make sure to share your favorite Amador wineries with us in the comments section – happy tasting!

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