Family Value

Price, quality make Sobon wines a global winner

By Gabrielle Myers
May 2024

Leon Sobon and his wife Shirley founded Shenandoah Vineyards in 1977, far ahead of the sustainable wine revolution. Based in Plymouth, the Sobon family became one of the first environmentally friendly producers to distribute local wines on a wide level outside the region.

Last month, Sobon was recognized with a California State Fair Lifetime Achievement Award. The patriarch’s dedication to the craft can be felt when Sobon describes how he turned a hobby into a second career.

Sobon was a research scientist for Lockheed living in Los Altos when he began making wine for fun. His hobby led him into a group of other enthusiasts. He and Shirley eventually moved their family of six children to the foothills to try professional winemaking.

Gone was a stable research career. But Sobon followed his bliss.

When I ask him to describe the most challenging aspect of being one of the first sustainable winemakers in Amador, Sobon mentions how marketing and getting paid by shops was very difficult at first. Sometimes he waited by the cash register, watched people buy his wines, then asked the store to pay him.

The story hit home. As a young restaurant cook earning close to minimum wage, I appreciated the affordability and quality of Sobon wines. Hearing my story, Sobon says he understands my financial tensions.

He always tried to make wine as affordable as possible. After all, he says, he was “the sole earner in a family of eight.”

Today Sobon and Shenandoah brand wines are available across California, nationwide and around the world. The labels are renowned for their quality, which helped widen the recognition of Amador County and Sacramento regional wines.

In addition to Amador County zinfandel and other popular varieties, such as barbera, petite shiraz, cabernet, chardonnay and viognier, Sobon grows bold, rich, antioxidant-packed tannat grapes.

Tannat, from southwest France and now widely cultivated in Uruguay, does well in our foothill climate. The robust, flavorful wine Sobon produces from these grapes is the perfect complement to a juicy rib-eye or rack of lamb.

Sobon and his family are dedicated to preserving the land and enriching the soil of their vineyards. As a land steward, Sobon approaches winemaking with a focus on the soil.

He says, “Add only what the grapes need, nothing more. When you add things, it’ll all be organic material. We add compost because in the process of winemaking we have a lot of waste, we have the skins, seeds and stems that get composted and turned back into the vines every single year. Not a bit goes into the landfill or garbage. It all gets put back into the soil.”

Sobon transformed the way local winemakers care for the soil and ecosystems as they cultivate grapes.

The legacy continued as he and Shirley raised another generation of Sobons to carry on the family tradition. Sons Paul and Robert and son-in-law Tom Quinn are involved in the business. The future of Sobon wines looks bright.

Find award-winning Sobon and Shenandoah wines at most local grocery stores, wineshops and the family’s tasting rooms in Plymouth.

Gabrielle Myers can be reached at Her forthcoming book of poetry, “Break Self: Feed” and book “Too Many Seeds,” can be ordered from Follow us on Facebook and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

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