Sierra Mountain Foothills
Probably the least known AVA in California is the Sierra Foothills AVA. As you’d expect these grapes are grown at significant altitude which has lead to approximately 60% of plantings being Zinfandel. The entire AVA stands at least 1500 feet above sea level, often closer to 3000 feet above sea level. You’ll often see the wines labeled as Amador County because growing grapes in this region is difficult and the winemakers often source grapes from multiple vineyards in the area. Shallow soils in the mountain regions will decrease yields, but also increase flavor in the fruit.
The Sierra Nevada Foothills region is almost entirely compromised at present day of small, boutique wineries which are often family owned. As you can see, they have a few challenges not faced by other California wineries....you won't see a Napa vineyard snowed in at any point of the year:
If you’re looking for a good, affordable, solid zinfandel this is a good region to start. Some of the vines date back to before prohibition (vines were planted originally during the 1840’s Gold Rush) and much of the wine is priced around $10 per bottle. Moving up the price scale you’ll find zinfandel’s around $20 per bottle which often come from ultra aged vines and carry unique characteristics which are typically found in old world vines.
Recently there has been more Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Syrah planted, but Zinfandel is still the class of the AVA.