Memo to fans of El Dorado County wine, in particular those of Lava Cap Winery: Tom Jones hasn’t retired, he’s just moved south.
For nearly three decades, Jones was winemaker at Lava Cap, founded by his parents on Apple Hill outside Placerville in the early 1980s.
But in 2013 he and his wife, Beth Goodlin-Jones, sold their interest in the winery and began to scout for a place where he could resume winemaking.
They found it the next year, Amador Foothill Winery in Amador County’s Shenandoah Valley, where owners Ben Zeitman and Katie Quinn were looking to retire.
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The Joneses moved in and have been quietly making over the site and the wines in their own image, starting by rechristening the place Iron Hub Winery.
“Lava Cap had gotten so large it pretty much ran us ragged,” Tom Jones said while seated on a concrete deck that once held Amador Foothill Winery’s fermentation tanks, now moved inside, below the tasting room. “We wanted to be smaller so I could do both winemaking and viticulture, and this gives us the opportunity to do that.”
Lava Cap’s annual production had grown to between 15,000 and 20,000 cases. Principal tasks had been divided between Tom as winemaker and his brother Charlie as grape grower, but Tom, who at UC Davis earned a bachelor’s degree in geology and a master’s in food science with an emphasis on viticulture and enology, wanted to spend more time in the vineyard. At Iron Hub, 16 of the 32 acres that constitute the site are planted to vines, and the couple expects production to be around 3,000 cases per year.
The new property differs in other respects from what the Joneses had been accustomed to at Lava Cap, including elevation, varieties of grapes and the presence of a gentle breeze that almost perpetually sweeps through the vineyard. To a geologist, one of the more striking differences is the composition of the soils at the new spot. Iron Hub sits atop decomposed granite, while Lava Cap sits on a volcanic mud flow.
Tom Jones, however, was familiar with the area’s traditions and potential by making wine from fruit grown in Shenandoah Valley vineyards. “I knew Amador fruit. That was a strong pull to come this way. I’m a big fan of the granite soils here. They give you intensity of flavor,” he said.
At Lava Cap he was celebrated for his cabernet sauvignons, petite sirahs and chardonnays. At Iron Hub, he doesn’t have any of those, though he anticipates planting petite sirah. The property also is peculiar by Amador standards in that it doesn’t include any zinfandel, which Jones also plans to introduce. (At Lava Cap, Joe Norman succeeded Jones as winemaker.)
During his first vintage at the new site Jones bought chardonnay grapes from Spanish Creek Vineyard, 2,700 feet up the Sierra at Fair Play. The result will be familiar to fans of his rich but balanced chardonnays at Lava Cap; the Iron Hub 2014 Sierra Foothills Small Lot Chardonnay ($27) is hefty but graceful, its tropical fruit accented with the vanilla of the French oak barrels in which it was aged.
Most of the couple’s current portfolio is from the 2013 vintage, which Zeitman and Quinn started and Jones finished, in part via his fondness for intricate blending. The fragrant, layered and creamy Iron Hub 2013 Shenandoah Valley Sangiovese ($24), for one, includes splashes of zinfandel, barbera and syrah to broaden and deepen its impact. Similarly, the vibrant and peppery Iron Hub 2013 Amador County Clockspring Zinfandel ($34) includes 15 percent sangiovese he added to reinforce the wine’s structure. His most ambitiously blended wine is the Iron Hub 2013 Shenandoah Valley Resolute ($26), a lush and lively bowl of assorted varieties of spring cherries, which apparently is what you get when you blend aglianico, grenache, sangiovese and syrah.
Tom Jones isn’t yet sure how the new location will affect his overall style, but by his early experience he appreciates the bold fruit flavors and comparatively softer tannins he is seeing in the estate’s grapes. “At Lava Cap it was a constant battle to keep the tannins down,” he said.
They’ve reconfigured the Amador Foothill Winery tasting room to give tasters a view of vineyards and Sierra peaks to the east, a hint of what’s to come, with the construction of an entirely new tasting room up slope from the winery. That dramatically modern tasting room, designed by Sage Architecture Inc. of Sacramento, will feature towering windows to give visitors an expansive view north and east, across wineries and vineyards not only in the immediate foreground but well into El Dorado County. The Joneses expect to inaugurate it next spring.
About the name Iron Hub: Not long after leaving Lava Cap, Tom Jones was hiking in northeast Nevada when he came upon a small hand-forged iron hoop poking from a dry creek bed. He retrieved it, subsequently learning that it may have been the remains of a freight wagon dating to the 1870s.
But it only in part inspired the name. “Beth and I were tussling over the name. We didn’t want to use our own name. Eventually, I came up with hub, and Beth came up with iron. I liked that. As a geologist, I see the iron core as the hub of the earth, which makes her always roll her eyes. But iron hub also signifies longevity, and we’ve been at this a long time.”
Wine critic and competition judge Mike Dunne’s selections are based solely on open and blind tastings, judging at competitions, and visits to wine regions. He can be reached at email@example.com.
The tasting room at Iron Hub Winery, 12500 Steiner Road, Plymouth, is open 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday through Monday.