Ann Kraemer crafts Italian, Rhone varietals on Shaker Ridge Ranch
With a family farming tradition, dating back to 1769, the Yorba name has been associated with cattle, grain and oranges. Today’s Sutter Creek Yorba Wines brand, while still linked to the cattle days by the brand on their bottle, is all about farming sustainability and remarkable wines in Amador County.
When Ann Kraemer and family bought the Shake Ridge Ranch in the Sierra Foothills region in 2001, the family took on the name for their Amador County label. They planted their first vines in 2003.
As owner and vineyard manager of the family winery, Kraemer applied her previous experience of vineyard management for wineries like Cuvaison, Clos Pagase, Swanson and Domain Chandon and has transformed the area’s Zinfandel success into a highly successful winery which includes Rhone, Italian and experimental varietals.
I’ve met up with Ann a couple of times in the past and, during a quick visit to Sutter Creek, I was again drawn to the tasting room the vineyard manager occasionally occupies. I was in luck; Ann was pouring.
Today’s post is to pique interest and encourage visitors to drive up California Highway 99 northeast of Lodi, California, and head toward Old Highway 49 to Sutter Creek. And while I could not stay long enough for a trip out to her 46-acre plot of vineyards, Kraemer’s passion for farming and fine tuning her Zinfandel and Barbera varieties clearly got me reacquainted with her grapes so many other wineries crave.
Of course we tasted through her Barbera and Italian varietals many times in the past and, even as she was pouring us a taste of the 2011 Barbera, I set a bottle aside to take home. I love its light spice, easy drinking and already smooth texture. It’s almost a Grenache-like mouth-feel. This wine can be served with most any food except for fattiest cuts of meat. I love its sweet berry jam, juniper, earthiness and spice beginnings to cranberry and rich blueberry and herbs on the finish. This wine is downright delicious and elegant.
As we chatted and reacquainted, Kraemer shared her love for her family and how grateful so many participated in the daily workings of Yorba Wines. As I listened, she shared how extended family members worked in the vineyard to the tasting room. And as they have grown, especially over the last few years, she admitted Yorba Wines and the Kraemer family will have to hire more folks. She beams sharing how her sisters, cousins and others all help out, creating memorable wines.
She then pulled out her 2007 Zinfandel and the 2011 version, her most recent release. The joy was all mine as we chatted about the intense dark fruit of the Amador County ’07.
I am a sucker for wines that are given time to relax and opportunity to smooth out, becoming silky with essences of chocolate, blackberry and cedar and a hint of coffee. The 2007 is lush, rich, balanced and plenty of structure. I slurped up the whole pour. And while the 2010 were so freshly minted, I loved the opportunity to taste the sheer skill Ann and Yorba winemaker Ken Bernards who also produces a private label: Ancien.
The 2010 Shake Ridge Vineyard Zinfandel was brighter than the 2007 with notes of plum and raspberry. However, this wine is not for the faint of heart. There is so much depth awaiting to be realized. I grew up picking blackberries and raspberries as a kid and this wine is all about wild blackberries and its brambly and herb flavors.
The spice, bright raspberry flavors and cedar are there but subdued and not yet fully developed. Actually, many might prefer this wine now as it is fruitier than its 2007 cousin. In a very difficult year, Bernards and Kraemer have created an Amador County gem in the making. This Zinfandel would be perfect with roast chicken and turkey.
Her vineyards are right in the heart of Gold Rush country. Much of the land has quartz, volcanic rocks, ocean bottom, and metamorphic rock. Miners dug through the hills looking for gold and now Kraemer grows liquid gold.
Our chat veered off to her Rhone and other Italian varietals–Petite Sirah, Graciano, Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Greco di Tufo and others– and touched on her commitment to low- input, organic and biodynamic methods in the vineyard. Winemakers from all over California want her fruit and Ann sells up to 80% of it to wineries like Favia Wines, Keplinger Wines, Newsome Harlow, Turley, Dirty & Rowdy Family Winery, Gallica, Forlorn Hope and Buccella.
Our last tastes were from her Shake Ridge Amador County 2010 Red Wine–definitely a wine and taste of The Ranch. The 2010 version of Shake Ridge Red is like no other! The big, brawny structure of 50% Petite Sirah is balanced by 25% Graciano and 25% dainty Malbec. Kramer says imagine a sumo wrestler balancing two dainty ladies on his shoulders.
She talked how Graciano is a fiery redhead on one side and Malbec is a prim lady on the other. I love the big flavors of black raspberries, juicy plum, black cherry and savory notes. This is to be enjoyed with earthy, savory meats and roasted veggies.
See what I mean? Who talks like this? Kraemer has creative story characters to help describe her wines.
So, I need to set aside another full afternoon or morning and meet Ann in her vineyards. I want to see her immaculate and almost cult-like rows that so many revere. She has such a passion and sets her standards so high that I know her wine is made in the vineyard.
In only 20 minutes of discussion beyond the tasting, I want, no need, to see the results of her crop management, irrigation practices, harvest timing and, more often than not, risk taking. She has earned the respect not only of her Amador County vintners but those over the hills to Napa, Sonoma down to Paso Robles and beyond.
Yorba Wines is one of nine tasting rooms in Sutter Creek. There is plenty of free parking nearby at a lot next to the post office. There are so many still to talk about and this post is just an introduction. Ask Kraemer about her Rhône—Syrah, Grenache, Viognier and Mourvèdre along with her Zins, Italian varietals and experimental vines. You will need to stay the night and return for a couple of visits. I need to return to know more about this respected Rhone Ranger.
Yorba Wines are located at 51 Hanford St., Sutter Creek, California 95685 in Amador County. Call the tasting room (209) 267-8190 or the vineyard (209) 267.5055, visit the Yorba Wines website and/or email them at email@example.com. Tasting room hours are Thursday – Monday noon-5 p.m.
Be sure to read TalesoftheCork’s previous blog post, “Changing Lodi Zin culture: Klinker Brick Winery.” And if winemakers, wineries or restaurants are interested in a TalesoftheCork wine and/or food review on the blog, Instagram, Twitter and/or Facebook, please send us a request via email: firstname.lastname@example.org or use DM on social media. TalesoftheCork also offers social media seminars for businesses.