The personality of a tasting room can say as much of the aspirations and values of a winery as its wines. Whenever you walk into the tasting room of the Charles Spinetta Winery in Amador County's Shenandoah Valley you sense right away that this is a hands-on family business with each member pursuing their chores with as much joy as pride. Charlie, the patriarch, could be behind the counter, cracking wise while pouring tastes for touring wine enthusiasts. His wife, Laura, could be just across the aisle, in her work station, painstakingly framing paintings for the wildlife art gallery upstairs. Their three sons would be here and there, tending fermentation tanks in one wing, moving around pallets of cased wines in another.
Laura Spinetta. She'd put up a valient struggle with a stubbon illness, seeming never to relinquish one bit of the positive spirit with which she embraced life. We last saw her two months ago, at the annual barbecue of the Amador County Grape Growers Association. She was as upbeat as ever, urging us to try her brownies on the dessert table. And for the last time, as it turns out, we again shared a hearty laugh provoked by our memories of an amusing incident when we were part of a group touring Italy several years ago. Her quips and her laughs were spotaneous, genuine and catching, giving lift to any moment.
Last fall, when I stopped by the family winery to check on the progress of the harvest, she gave me a jar of jelly she'd just made. It was a blend of primitivo and zinfandel from the vines about the family home. Each autumn, just before her husband and sons calculated that the grapes were ready to pick for wine, she'd grab bunches of the fruit, figuring correctly that they were just at the right maturity for a jelly bright and sweet. She was a marvelous cook, as well as craftsman, farmer and artist.
She and Charlie were married in 1965, making their first home at McCloud in Siskiyou County. He was in the timber trade. He still was when they relocated to his home county of Amador in 1972. Three years later they settled in Shenandoah Valley as one of the area's first pioneers to see potential in a revival of the region's historic though slumbering grape and wine industry.
They had fun building their twin business of grape growing and winemaking, rearing their sons, and being engaged in the community - church, school, county fair. She was a real farmer, capable of completing any and all chores with spunk and glee, including gardening, sewing, baking, volunteering as a music teacher at the local school. Her family will miss her most, but the entire Shenandoah Valley and Plymouth community is experiencing a profound loss. May her questing and sharing spirit live on in the couple's three children and three grandchildren.
A funeral mass will be at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Sutter Creek at 11 a.m. Tuesday, with a reception to follow in the church hall.
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