Cooper Vineyards: A “Barbera” dollar bill started things

THE LATE ’60s AND ’70s LARGELY marked the start of Northern California’s modern winemaking era: Robert Mondavi opened his winery in Napa Valley, the Silverado wine trail was born, and California wines topped some of France’s finest in a blind tasting competition dubbed the “Judgment of Paris.”

The foothills also experienced a milestone in wine grape growing. In the late ’70s, Dick Cooper’s family began growing barbera grapes in the Shenandoah Valley of Amador County with the encouragement of Sacramento wine merchant Darrell Corti of Corti Brothers. (At a dinner party, Darrell wrote “Barbera” on a dollar bill for the Coopers because nobody could rustle up a piece of paper, and the rest is history).

Cooper started with five acres of barbera, and it now has 35 acres in production. Dick, 76, is called “the Godfather of Barbera.” He has provided cuttings, grapes and advice for much of the barbera grown in the foothills and has written a book Vineyard Development and Maintenance in Amador County. “I take pride in passing on what I know,” he says in an interview.

The region is famous for its barbera. “No other appellation came close to matching Amador County’s success with the varietal” in the 2016 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, wrote wine critic Mike Dunne for the Sacramento Bee.

All told, Cooper’s farm now includes 90 acres of vineyards planted in 17 varietals. Under winemaker Mike Roser, the winery specializes in estate-bottled single varietal wines. Dick Cooper’s daughters—Rochelle, Jennifer, Chrissy and Jeri—are all actively involved in the family business. Cooper’s tasting room is located near Plymouth, and the “Barbera dollar bill” is on the wall.

For more information, visit CooperWines.com.

(Photo: Randy Caparoso)

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