By Tom Bender

Attention Barbera fans! Just in case you have not heard and you thought you missed it, the popular foothill Barbera Festival has moved from June to September and is coming up this week.

One of the Gold Country’s premier events, it will be held Saturday at Terra D’ Oro Winery in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley in Amador County. And it seems a fitting place to pay homage to the wine that was first grown and planted at this winery in the early 1970s by original founder and winemaker Cary Gott.

The grape has its origin in the Piedmont district of Northern Italy and usually displays a solid core of dried berry fruit along with a distinctive brightness that’s a result of its higher acidity. It has become a terrific companion for a number of foods including traditional Italian fare and summer grilling favorites.

California Barbera has seen its popularity skyrocket over the past dozen years with the Sierra foothill region becoming a major player. Taking place this year in September in order to escape the June heat, the venue is also being expanded to include other Cal-Italian wines that have also made their presence known. Almost 80 wineries from across California are on board so far.

There is a rustic characteristic usually found in the imported versions, while our California producers tend to create a fruit-driven style that still benefits from its nice acidity. And we are fortunate enough to live in an area that offers a number of Barberas. The variety seems to fit well with the region’s long standing Italian heritage. Here for the Gold Rush, Italian miners saw a resemblance to their home land and planted a number of vineyards up and down the foothills. Warm days and cool nights are perfect for fruit development in a number of Italian grape types. Even the region’s favorite grape, Zinfandel, has to tip its hat to the early spread of Italian winemaking.

“We attend and pour at only a few wine events each year and the Barbera Festival is a favorite,” said Nathan Vader, winemaker and owner of Vina Moda Wines in Murphys. “The Sierra Foothills were the pioneers in planting Barbera, and our success shows through.”

Nathan will be pouring Vina Moda’s 2014 Barbera at the festival and has plenty to talk about as the wine recently won the Best Barbera award at the recent Sunset Magazine International Wine Competition.

“We have been a participant since the festival started. It is fun to connect with the other wineries and see what they are doing with the varietal,” said Carol Zucca, winemaker and owner along with her husband, Bob, of Zucca Mountain Wines in Calaveras County.

For a number of years they have sourced their Barbera fruit from Cooper Vineyards and Dewitt Vineyards, both located in Amador County. Occasionally bottled separately, the Zuccas will pour their 2015 Barbera, a blend of the two vineyards.

Other Calaveras County producers planning to their Barbera include Frog Tooth Vineyards, Irish Family Vineyards and award-winning Villa Vallecito Vineyards.

Wineries from as far away as San Louis Obispo County will be there. Neighboring wineries from the Lodi region have also had recent success with the grape and will be well represented.

This year, wineries will also be able to pour other Italian white and red varietals including Montepulciano, Vermentino, Sangiovese, Pinot Grigio, Nebbiolo and Aglianico, to mention a few possibilities.

“This allows Barbera fans to bring their white-wine drinking friends,” said Brian Miller, co-organizer of the annual event. “Most tasters assume that events like this are very crowded, but we have made every effort to spread out the venue and give participants a chance to pace themselves with shaded walks under oak trees and checking out other activities.”

The Barbera Festival is spread out over four acres, and winery pouring sites are easy to access. I find tasters asking questions and wanting to learn more about one of their favorite Italian varietals. Along with its slow-pace atmosphere, there are other activities to check out including a Sip & Stroll Tasting Trail, Barbera Sensory Station and vineyard owl habitat demonstration. Several highly regarded local restaurants will also participate.

Since the event will now take place at the height of the fall grape crush, it gives visitors at Terra d Oro and other nearby wineries a look at winery activities and get a first hand sense of the harvest.

Look for several wineries to offer reserve or vineyard specific Barbera including highly regarded examples from nearby Cooper Vineyard. If you want to seek out other Italian grape types and their wines, here are a few wineries that may have them on hand.

Check out the Jeff Runquist Wines and his wide selection of Barbera along with several other Italian varietals. Jeff has won a number of awards this past year including several Best of Class awards for his Barbera. Vino Noceto produces a solid Barbera but is best known for its vineyard designated Sangiovese. Host, Terra D’ Oro Winery is the largest winery in the county and a strong supporter of Italian grape growing in the region. See if they are also pouring their Aglianico or Teraldego. Borjon Winery Barbera recently won Best of Class at the Amador County Fair competition, while Bella Grace Winery won for its Vermentino.

Be adventurous, find new favorites, and be sure to pace yourself.

The event has sold out many years in the past, so make your decision to attend soon. Tickets cost $50 and must be purchased in advance by Thursday. There are no tickets sold at the door.

For tickets and more information, including a list of participating wineries, go online to

Proceeds benefit the Amador Community Foundation.