When Come Lague and his spouse, Charlene Li, traveled through the Shenandoah Valley on the way to a family getaway in Grizzly Flats, they had no idea they’d be opening a winery and tasting room in the neighborhood. What’s more, they had even less of an inkling that they’d be doing so during a pandemic.
More than 10 years ago, Come happened upon the wineries of Amador County and was immediately taken by the natural beauty of the region and the quality of wines. It reminded him and Charlene of their travels to Sonoma County decades ago, when things were quiet and relatively undiscovered, when they could count on “great wines, great people and personal experience at a reasonable price,” he says.
Soon, Come and Charlene were looking for a home in Amador County. “We found the perfect spot—a former walnut farm owned by one of the earliest settlers of this area, the d’Agostini family, with some of the remaining 75–year–old walnut trees still producing. The only scary part—it came with a vineyard!”
So Come started making wine from his inherited primitivo vineyard that sits at an elevation of around 2,000 feet. Early results were encouraging, and soon he was hooked. Armed with input from local winemakers and vineyard specialists—and personal research—Come and his team started planting the varieties they thought best suited for the red volcanic granitic soils that pervaded the property. In 2013, they started planting new varieties, including Italian grapes, like barbera, and Rhone varieties, including the highly sought–after Alban clone of grenache noir.
Jump forward a few more years, and the accidental winemaker was now ready to launch a real winery with a tasting room called La Mesa Vineyards. Come partnered with Sage Architecture, whose portfolio included designs for Andis, Helwig and Iron Hub wineries, to design a wine tasting facility that was laser focused on customer experience. Together, they designed a building with a hip and energetic vibe, featuring expansive views of the surrounding landscape. In November 2019, construction began.
Early in 2020, COVID-19 would take center stage, and the resulting public health restrictions forced frequent changes to the original plans at La Mesa. These obstacles and ever-changing requirements were met head on, and a decision was made to stay the course and keep focused on the long–term goals. On Thanksgiving weekend of 2020, La Mesa Vineyards’ tasting room opened to the public.
Upon arrival at the new facility, guests are greeted by undulating hills covered in vines and a handful of gnarled old walnut trees lining the winding driveway. Once parked, visitors step up to a modern building, which boasts three sides of floor-to-ceiling windows for maximum visibility of the hillside vineyards. The tasting room centers around a horseshoe–shaped bar; that will allow for easy conversation and interaction between guests when indoor tasting is allowed. Outside, an expansive patio allows for plenty of social distancing and personalized service from staff members who can keep track of guests from inside the glass-walled tasting room.
Seated guests are offered a selection of wines to taste. The wines come in small carafes so that wine lovers can taste at their leisure and sample back and forth between the different selections. You’ll find some regionally expected selections like barbera and viognier, but you’ll also find some more esoteric choices such as the wines featured below:
La Mesa 2019 Barbera Blanc—Hints of cherry and citrus on the nose invite you to taste this completely white, almost colorless, light bodied, crisp, dry wine made from red grapes. Clean and bright, this wine is well suited to shellfish or as an aperitif.
La Mesa 2018 El Dorado Gamay Noir—This wine is light ruby in color and opens with a nose of bright plum and cherry, and a subtle hint of strawberry bubblegum (indicating that the wine had undergone carbonic maceration, similar to beaujolais nouveau). On the palate, this wine is reminiscent of pinot noir, light-bodied and charming—an ideal pair for something like pork tenderloin with a cherry reduction, or your favorite cheese board.
La Mesa 2016 Estate Primitivo Seta—Up front, plum and black cherry notes dominate, accented with subtle hints of vanilla, spice and toast. This medium-bodied cousin of zinfandel offers ripe, dark fruit flavors, a juicy mouthfeel, and restrained tannins. It’s a pleasure to drink and would be a perfect to anything coming off the barbecue.
Categorically, the wines are well made and elegantly styled. The winemaker, Antonia de Heinrich, clearly has confidence in the quality of the grapes and allows the fruit and terroir do the talking.
The winery, located on Shenandoah Road in Plymouth, is not currently open for tastings (due to the most recent coronavirus shutdown) but guests can visit the website to place orders or join the wine club. For more information and COVID updates, please visit La Mesa Vineyards.