Old Sugar Mill offers a variety of local wineries

Old Sugar Mill at Clarksburg 20 minutes from Sacramento

A couple of weeks ago I discovered a new location to do some wine tasting. It had been right under my nose and I didn’t even smell it! Or to be more precise, taste it! My “new” discovery is about 20 minutes south of downtown Sacramento at the Old Sugar Mill in the town of Clarksburg . Even though I had heard people mention the Old Sugar Mill, I was never enticed to take a visit. It is local and small and figured they would offer only a small sampling of wine.

As my friend and I took the drive down to the Old Sugar Mill, we discovered a scenic drive along the Sacramento River and encountered other wineries along the way. Once we got to the Old Sugar Mill location, we saw a huge brick building located all by itself. It felt a little like an abandoned building in a scary movie but as we got closer it was nicely decorated with just a few visitors coming out the building. The parking lot was almost empty (must have been a slow weekend, which meant more personalized attention for us at the winery) but as we entered inside the restored sugar mill, we discovered it contained 10 local wineries in just one location.

I am used to having to drive from one winery to another when I’ve done wine tasking like in Napa or Amador County but at the Old Sugar Mill it felt like a wine tasting event where different wine vendors all gather at one location just for your tasting pleasure.  It was great! We didn’t have to worry about drinking and driving from one location to another.

Aluminum and wooden barrels hold wine at Old Sugar Mill winery

I was really surprised by how much I ended up enjoying some of the wines from the vendors. I learned that some of the wineries don’t store their wines in wooden barrels but instead use aluminum-like containers to give the wines a less oaky taste. The wines didn’t have the aluminum taste either like aluminum can beers. Some wineries said they use both methods of holding them in both oak and aluminum containers. I prefer the less oaky tasting wines to the harsher after taste of oak infused. One of my favorite wines was the Dolcetto from the Due Vigne de Famiglia vineyard. It had a smooth taste with a little hint of sweetness.  The Dolcetto contains a mix of blueberries and blackberries.

The Elevation Ten was a close second to the best wineries at the mill. Their wines are very smooth  and had a great port wine for those who enjoy dessert wines. They also have some amazing olive oil to sample. The other wineries at the mill are Clarksburg Wine Company, Carvalho Family Winery, Rendez-vous Family, Three Wine Company, Heringer Estates, Todd Taylor, Merlo Family Vineyards, and Draconis.

Tasting at each winery is $5 and is usually refunded if you make a purchase. The bottles can cost anywhere from $18 to $40. So if you want to get away from the city and enjoy a little wine tasting, the Old Sugar Mill provides a great location plus other local wineries along the way.

The Old Sugar Mill hours are from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Sunday and is located at 35265 Willow Ave., Clarksburg. For more information, you can also visit here.

Wine tasting vineyards in Amador County

Villa Toscano

Provided by Villa Toscano

About a year ago, I discovered a little town called Plymouth in Amador County, California. It’s a small town with a population over 900 about 45 minutes east from Sacramento. It has the sleeper town vibe going on. It doesn’t even have a stop light. I used to live in one of those towns. And as you drive in and you see a Mexican restaurant, a Shell gas station, a grocery store, the fairgrounds, you begin to wonder what the hell you are doing here in the first place. Over the past year, I’ve been to this little town so many times I can’t remember.

Although the town might have its charm, I have not actually set foot in any of the local places. I skip the town and head straight to the Shenandoah Valley, northeast of Plymouth, where 30 plus wineries reside all within minutes from each other. Forget going to Napa! It’s overpriced and crowded. Spending a day at the Shenandoah Valley wineries is a picnic. One day is not enough to get through abundance of wineries. As many times as I’ve visited, I haven’t managed to make it to all of them. Mostly known for the zinfandel wines, the valley grows more than 2,700 acres of grapes and with vines said to be more than 60 years old and some dating back to the 19th century. It is a red winos heaven.

The variety of wines to taste from at Villa Toscano Winery

The variety of wines to taste from at Villa Toscano Winery

Unfortunately, I am not a big on red wines; however, coming to this place has introduced me to some great red wines as it is a mostly red wine producing valley. The first time I showed up at Villa Toscano Winery one of staff members told me I was at the wrong place to taste white wines. He told me I would be disappointed as I would mostly be drinking red wines but by the end of the tasting I would be a red wino. He wasn’t wrong. I don’t know if was because they serve around 10 of their wines and I had a major wine buzz going, but by the end of the tasting, my friend and I left with six bottles of wines plus we became wine members. One of my favorite wines thus far from the valley has been the Barbera, which is incredibly smooth and doesn’t have that bitter aftertaste. But you will also find some great Tempranillo, Syrah and amazing Port wines.

Part of the unique experience of wine tasting in the valley is that the majority of the wineries are locally owned and family operated. As you drive around to the different wineries, you begin to feel very much the family spirit as you get know the people who work there and the patrons showing up to drink. At the Borjon Winery, we were sitting outside enjoying our tasting and the owner sat with us (we had no clue he was the owner). We talked for hours and he even offered us a bottle of wine (we’re just cool like that).

A view from the Young Winery

A view from the Young Winery

When I first started going tasting, most of the wineries offered free tasting, however, that was changed sometime during the year and most wineries now have a $5 charge. If you’ve ever been to Napa, you know have to wait more than 20 minutes to get served plus pay more than $20 for three tastings. At the majority of the wineries here, you’ll get to taste anywhere between five to 10 different wines for a fraction of the price and without that unpretentious feeling. If you manage to make to the top of the valley, you’ll also get an amazing view of some of the winding river canyons and the sierra. So if you’d like to get away for the day and drink some amazing wine then I highly recommend Shenandoah Valley vineyards.

List of Vineyards

Directions to Plymouth, CA