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Hawaii winery owners strike gold in California foothills

By Chuck Furuya

LAST UPDATED: 9:52 a.m. HST, Apr 21, 2011

I love touring wine country. One of my latest visits was to Ama­dor County, Calif., in the Sierra Foothills. What a beautiful, panoramic countryside.

In the old days this was gold rush country, and many of the small towns dotting the countryside still have buildings from the era and reflect a laid-back, farming-town lifestyle.

There are many old vine plantings scattered throughout the Sierra Foothills, which include several counties — Ama­dor (Shenandoah Valley and Fiddletown), Cala­ve­ras (Murphy) and El Dorado (Fair Play and Somerset). Many of the top vineyard sites are at higher altitudes and feature soils largely comprising decomposing granite or volcanic material.

Shake Ridge Ranch, for instance, is 34 acres of vines planted at 1,810 feet elevation just above the town of Sutter Creek. This is Ann Krae­mer’s vineyard, which supplied Favia Wines the grapes for its “Quarzo” and “Rom­pe­ca­be­zas” bottlings. Both were recently rated at 95 points.

The most highly revered vineyard of the Sierra Foothills is named “Grandpere,” with its gently sloped 10 acres of gnarly, 140-year-old Zinfandel vines. Owner Terri Harvey still lovingly hand-prunes these fragile, crusted old “work horses” herself. It is a magical site with a spiritual aura.

We struck gold in the town of Plymouth.

Here there are quite a few renown wineries, such as Copper (Barbera), Jeff Runquist, Terre Rouge, C.G. Di Arie, Bray and Vino Noceto (San­gio­vese). Their tasting rooms are reminiscent of the old days in Napa Valley — fun, informal and personal.

The top wines we tasted in the area, however, came from Andis, a relatively new proj­ect owned by Hawaii residents Janis Akuna and husband Andy Friedlander.

It was, in fact, a tasting of their wines in Hono­lulu that prompted this visit.

Winemaker Mark McKenna is crafting some tasty,

interesting wines using grapes from some of the region’s top vineyards and dedicated farmers. Since their wines are available only at the winery, visit to learn more. But let me say that if you know Andy, you know the wines are really good and will keep getting better as time goes on! 

The eye-catching, ultramodern and innovative winery and tasting room are in themselves worth the stop. They include an argon gas-driven wine “on tap” system. Regulars and neighbors can come by to refill their special Andis “club” bottles with the featured wine of the week at an extremely reasonable price. What a cool concept! I wish we could do this in the Islands.

One of the best meals we had on this weeklong trip was at Restaurant Taste, also in Plymouth. The food was brasserie/bistro in style and not only well executed, but also wine-friendly. This terrific restaurant is well worth a stop. Visit for more information.


Chuck Furuya is a master sommelier and a partner in the D.K. Restaurant group.

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