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Usually, conversations with local wine makers and winery owners start with me asking, “What’s new,” or “What’s up?” And as most of us who call Amador County our home know, one of the special features of living here is that you actually meet, work with, play and party with not only friends who work in the wine industry, but also the owners of the vineyards and the winemakers. They are accessible to everyone, making a trip through our region and tasting award-winning wines all the more special. Such was the case when I ventured into Andis Wines (11000 Shenandoah Road, Plymouth), to catch up with Andy Friedlander, Andis Wines owner and Mark McKenna, winemaker. The question, “What’s new?” quickly turned into a conversation worthy of sharing with the readers of the Amador Ledger Dispatch.
Andis Wines opened in November of 2010. It is a state-of-the-art winemaking facility surrounded by panoramic 360-degree views of the Shenandoah Valley and the 25-acre vineyard site. What I did not know is that the winery was built to minimize energy requirements and water usage. “The 17,000-square-foot facility is set on an east-west axis in such a way as to reduce heat from the sun, thus minimizing the need for excessive air conditioning during the hot months,” explained McKenna. “We utilize evaporative cooling instead of air conditioning in our barrel and production areas. This is a tremendous energy savings as well as a system that causes less wine losses due to evaporation and allows the wines to experience moderate temperature fluctuations while aging, ultimately resulting in more stable wines.” Indeed, the winery design exceeds California’s strict Title 24 energy standards by over 15 percent. The beautiful decorative stave wall is made from retired and repurposed wine barrels — and includes names of club members in appreciation of their support and love of Andis Wines.
One of the big lurking issues for Andis Wines and the winery industry as a whole is sustainability, the hottest topic lately being water usage and the persistent drought we are all too familiar with in California. “Our grapes are almost exclusively dry-farmed, meaning we don’t irrigate them,” said McKenna. The only irrigation used is on newly replanted parcels to ensure vines get properly established. “This allows us to use as little water as possible and force the plants to develop deep and sustainable root systems,” said McKenna. All of Andis Wines landscaping was designed to require minimal irrigation, as well.
And in the “What’s New“ category, McKenna was kind enough to show me the steam sanitation process. In the past, washing and sanitizing a single wine barrel required approximately 60 gallons of water. The steam sanitation process is not only more effective, but reduces that usage to just three gallons of water per barrel. “It has reduced the amount of water we use to clean tanks from 200-300 gallons down to less than 15. It’s more effective and ensures the wines are even better cared for than before,” said McKenna.
As any Amador County gardener will tell you, mole and vole populations can be a problem. Andis Wines installed owl boxes to attract predatory birds to protect the vineyard. “This way we don’t have to use any chemical inputs in the vineyard or around the winery to control the rodent population,” said McKenna. “We use cover crops to help amend the health of the soils in lieu of chemical amendments and are planning to use baby doll sheep starting this year for weed control.”
In the cellars themselves, tradition and innovation go hand-in-hand. Using alternative aging vessels (concrete and “flex” tanks) in addition to barrels allows Andis Wines to make wine of more intense character while reducing the need for barrels, saving some trees along the way. My personal favorite is the refillable carafe. “We save a bottle, label, cork and case each time a customer purchases one of our refillable carafes,” said McKenna. “It also happens to be a great deal at $15 for a one liter refill (only $10 if you are an Amador County resident) — because for us, local matters!” Coming soon is the installation of one of only two Tesla and EV charging stations between Sacramento and Lake Tahoe.
Building a state-of-the-art winemaking facility and winery that utilizes “green” design is expensive. Andis Wines views it as an investment and critical to the future of the Amador wine industry. The mission is to craft delicious wines with balance, character and complexity. Garnering 90+ point scores in Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast, glowing reviews and placements in some of the finest restaurants in Northern California and Hawaii, I would say Andis Wines is the perfect blend of vineyard, winemaker and winery.
If you are considering a trip to the Shenandoah Valley and Amador wine country I would encourage you to relax in the picnic area, spending time with family and friends. As their website states, “Our contemporary design, gracious staff and commitment to making superior wines make Andis a must-stop on your Amador wine tasting adventure.” Personally, that statement is 100 percent correct. And knowing their commitment to sustainability and the future of Amador County, California and the wine industry as a whole makes their wine all the more delicious. Amador has made wonderful wine for a very long time — come enjoy the next chapter. Visit andiswines.com for more information on Andis Wines.
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