In June 2010, we had the pleasure of visiting Dick Cooper at his namesake Cooper Vineyards in California’s Shenandoah Valley AVA near Plymouth, in Amador County. As we stood tasting several aging wines from barrel with Dick and winemaker Mike Roser, Dick reminisced about his ancestors’ walnut farming history, the replanting of family farmlands to wine grapes in the late 1970s, his storied years as a grower (whose fruit is among the most sought after in the region), and his family’s eventual venture into crafting their own wines.
During that visit we learned much about the history and current state of Amador County grape growing and winemaking, tasted through Cooper Vineyards’ bountiful portfolio, and most memorably, discovered the winery’s Amador County Barbera. Barbera is an Italian variety — Piedmont, by origin — that has gained significant ground among Amador County grape growers, winemakers, and consumers in a region best known for Zinfandel. While the variety is believed to have been originally introduced to the area by Italian immigrants during California’s Gold Rush over a century ago (Amador County was, after all, the center of the Mother Lode), Dick was among its earliest proponents in Amador County’s modern winemaking era.
We fondly recall that at the end of our visit Dick and Mike sent us home with a few bottles of their 2008 Barbera, which at the time was fresh off the bottling line. Just this past weekend, we picked one of those bottles out of our cellar and pulled the cork to share with friends alongside a couple other Amador County Barberas from different producers and vintages. At five years old, Cooper’s 2008 Barbera was the sweet spot of the tasting, hitting all the notes on the nose and palate we have come to associate with the variety in Amador County: ripe black plum and dried dark fruit; black pepper and baking spices; browned butter and chocolate covered caramel. The wine is expressively fruity at its core — rich and round on the palate — but deftly balanced with vanilla-tinged oak, finely-woven tannins, and still-fresh acidity. A pure, honest, and thoroughly enjoyable wine that makes us yearn for more.
Availability: Cooper Vineyards 2008 Amador County Barbera was a pick from our cellar and is likely no longer available from the winery — unless, perhaps, as a library selection. But as good as the 2008 was, it is well worth taking a little time to seek out and taste more recent vintages of Cooper’s Barbera. We encourage you to contact the winery virtually (www.cooperwines.com), by phone (209-245-6181), or in person at the tasting room (21365 Shenandoah School Road, Plymouth, CA 95669) to inquire about their current release and other vintages that may still be available.