by Fred McMillin
for May 22, 1998

Winery of the Week 

The Original Zin


"Our winery is the oldest in California to continuously make Zinfandel wine.

...Shirley and Lee Sobon in Shenandoah Valley Gold Country

The Rest of the Story


1856- Swiss immigrant Adam Uhlinger and wife Ursula arrive at the Shenandoah Valley. Adam plants 11 rows of wine vines to stop gold miners from tearing up the ground. The Amador Ledger reports that instead of using the popular Mission variety, "he grows nothing but the foreign grape [Zinfandel]."

1879—Adam and his sons are the valley's largest producers (equivalent of 2,000 cases a year).

1911—Italian Emelio D'Agostini and two partners purchase the winery for $500 in gold coin. As time passes, Emelio becomes sole owner, survives Prohibition by making sacramental wines, and buys a fancy new gadget, a grape press run by electricity. One of their feature wines is "Burgundy Reserve," made entirely from that "foreign" grape, Zinfandel. (see E. Costa's Old Vines)

1989—Shenandoah vintners Shirley and Lee Sobon decide on their 30th wedding anniversary gifts. They give each other a winery; they purchase the D'Agostini Winery and rename it Sobon Estate.

1995—My Scott's Panel votes the Sobon Estate Fiddletown the Best Zinfandel of the Year. Little wonder. Struggling, low-yield vines tend to make the best Zins...the vines are approaching their 90th all that time they've survived droughts (never been irrigated at that 1800' elevation)...survived pests (never been treated with insectides)...the wine was dazzling.

Just the Facts

Name—Sobon Estate Winery & Vineyards
Location—Shenandoah Rd., Plymouth, CA.
Visits—Open every day; free tastings; tours and picnic facilities
Cougar Hill Vineyard—Named from the fact that ominous footprints are found there. The harvesters pick this one very fast.
Contact—Robert Sobon, one of the six grown children of Lee and Shirley...(209) 245-6554.
Winemaker—Lee Sobon, senior research scientist, is a man of two valleys, 20 years in the Silicon, and then 20 years in the Shenandoah.


Calling all history buffs: The 1856 Uhlinger Wine Building is still alive and well, as part of the Sobon's wine museum. There's also one of the original vines, tools used to make the giant fermentation tanks, etc. You are in the home of the Shenandoah Valley's original Zin! "or better, one of the very first."

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College and is Northern California Editor for American Wine on the Web. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.


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