Story Winery in Amador County’s Shenandoah Valley has a long – and yes, storied – history. Its tasting room is a restored bunkhouse from the Gold Rush era built in 1860. The estate vineyards date back to 1894 – a .75-acre block planted with Mission – along with its Picnic Hill Vineyard, 6.75 acres planted with Zinfandel in 1896, and its Creekside Vineyard, 7.5 acres also planted with Zinfandel in 1936. Story Winery also makes wines from younger estate vineyards, select Amador County and Sierra Foothills sites, and two Chardonnays from the famous Sangiacomo Vineyard in Sonoma County’s Carneros AVA – plus imports wines from the country of Georgia – which makes the story of Story even more intriguing.
Eugene and Ann Story founded Story Winery in 1973, then sold in 1992 to Jan and Bruce Tichenor. In August 2019, David and Natalie Dediachvili – Bay Area residents who moved to the United States from the country of Georgia in 1992 – purchased the estate that includes the tasting room and surrounding vineyards.
After spending almost 20 years in health care, David Dediachvili decided to do something different with his life. “Because of my Georgian roots, owning a winery felt right to me. I had been looking for a winery, so when I saw Story Winery in the spring of 2019, I became excited and simply fell in love with it.” Bonus – he tasted one of the best wines of his life at Story Winery. It was meant to be.
The beauty, rusticity, and history of Story reminded Dediachvili of Georgia. The appeal of a small winery also made sense to him, since he did not have winery ownership experience. “The fact that Amador is producing some of the best wines, especially Zinfandel, Barbera, Sangiovese, and Syrah, etc., made it even more appealing to me. It was an easy decision that I belong here,” he shared.
Dediachvili’s passion for world-class wine has more than made up for his lack of experience. He retained longtime winemaker Rob Campbell to ensure continued quality, then decided to try something unconventional – introduce wines from Georgia and make local wines using the ancient Georgian Qvevri method of winemaking. Qvevri are clay vessels in which the grape juice, stems, skin, and seeds are fermented, then aged about six months. They are either buried or kept in cellars or caves. The pomace (stems, skins, and seeds) separates from the wine, resulting in a pure expression of the grape variety.
There are few choices in the U.S. when it comes to Georgian varietal wines, so Dediachvili, Campbell, and his Georgian winemaker, George Bakuradze, decided to experiment with local grapes. “There is no guarantee that all of our experiments will be a success, but so far, most of our decisions about which grapes to use for our Qvevri wines were spot on,” said Dediachvili. They include the 2020 Sangiacomo Carneros Chardonnay, Estate Zinfandel, and Sierra Foothills Syrah – and the 2021 Sangiacomo Carneros Chardonnay, Estate Zinfandel, and Sierra Foothills Petite Sirah, Verdejo, and Viognier. The 2020 wines will be bottled in summer 2022 and released late summer to mid fall.
The major difference between the European and Qvevri methods is that Qvevri does not influence a wine’s taste or texture. “You get wine in its most natural form, as nature intended. Extended skin contact (3-6 months) gives wine the qualities like aroma, color, and flavor that you would never experience with European-style wines,” added Dediachvili. In the case of Simba’s Dream, the first wine released, the winemaking team destemmed the grapes; fermented the juice, skin, and seeds for three weeks; aged the combination for six months; then removed the wine from the top and placed it into neutral barrels until bottling.
The collaboration between Campbell and Bakuradze has also been a learning experience for both. “George gets most excited about European-style winemaking. On the other hand, Rob is excited about the Qvevri method because it is so new to him. At the end of the day, it is a beautiful and unique collaboration of two vastly different winemaking styles,” said Dediachvili.
Story released its first Qvevri method wine, Simba’s Dream Sangiacomo Carneros Chardonnay – named after the family’s affectionate brand ambassador dog, Simba – with fantastic success. “While our Carneros Chardonnay was awarded many top medals over the years, Simba’s Dream turned out to be a big hit,” said Dediachvili. “We will continue to produce it, but I want to experiment with local Sierra Foothills Chardonnay if I find great fruit.”
Story continues to make and import 11 Georgian wines from their sister winery in Kakheti region of Georgia. Most of them were made in Qvevri and are expected to arrive by the end of July 2022.
While the Qvevri-style Chardonnay and Georgian imports are receiving lots of praise and attention, Story will continue making the flagship Amador County varietal wines that put it on the map. “Story Winery is known for its award-winning local wines made in the European style. We have added more varieties, like Petite Sirah and Petit Verdot. We also brought back Story’s Miss-Zin, GPS (Grenache, Primitivo and Sangiovese blend), and others,” confirmed Dediachvili. “We have a history of over 150 years beginning with our tasting space and our original Mission vineyard. We care about our past, because without it, there is no future. We will continue producing high-quality local wines, local as well as Georgian, for years to come.”