Placer County and Amador County may correctly self-identify as “Gold Country,” but El Dorado County is where the Gold Rush really started. When gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill in Coloma, fortune-hunting easterners and immigrants flooded the state, bringing not just mining equipment but a wealth of old-world winemaking knowledge.
By the late 19th century, El Dorado County had become the third-largest wine-producing region in the state, with roughly 40 commercial wineries in operation. Economic decline and Prohibition conspired to kill the industry, but El Dorado made a comeback in the late 1960s, and the area’s reputation was boosted considerably when Boeger opened for business in 1973.
Part of the Sierra Foothills AVA, the El Dorado subappellation is unique among wine regions for its changes in elevation and mountainous topography, which combine to create a diversity of microclimates suitable for a wide selection of grapes. The warm weather-loving Zinfandel and Barbera grapes grow better farther down the mountains, while the German Gewürztraminer grape prefers the higher elevations, where cooling breezes from the Sierra Nevada mountains maximize sun exposure.
Facts and figures: No. of wineries: 60+; acres planted: 2,300+; average yield per acre: nearly 2.6 tons; varieties grown: 50+; most popular grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Merlot.
SUCH GREAT HEIGHTS
The diversity of wines coming out of El Dorado County is partially attributable to the diversity of climates. Premium wine grapes are grown between 1,200 and 3,500 feet above sea level in the El Dorado subappellation, with different climates at different elevation levels presenting favorable conditions for growing certain varieties of grapes. Taste your way up the mountain at these three wineries.
Low elevation David Girard Vineyards has a tasting room in Placerville, but the vineyards are located at a lower elevation in Coloma, where the conditions are ideal for growing grapes from southern France’s Rhône Valley. (530) 295-1833 (appointment only)
Medium elevation Located 2,000 feet above sea level on a hillside in Garden Valley, Krizl Vineyard grows 4 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes from vines planted in the early 1980s, and it welcomes home winemakers as well as professionals. 5674 Nancy Lee Mine Road, Garden Valley
High elevation Cedarville Vineyard is located at the top of a 2,500-foot-high hill in Fair Play, all the better for its Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes to soak up the sun, which gets reflected in the bright, fruity flavors of the wine. (530) 620-9463 (appointment only)
It took awhile for the food scene in El Dorado County to catch up with the wine scene, but a new breed of forward-thinking restaurateurs has transformed the area into a foodie’s paradise.
The Farm Table Restaurant As the name implies, everything at The Farm Table is locally sourced, organic and/or house-made, and the food is the ultimate in luxurious freshness. Try the “house special” duck confit, which arrives over mashed potatoes with green beans and cherry-rosemary reduction. 311 Main St., Placerville
Sienna The husband-and-wife team of Mark and Karoline Platt filled a major gap in the El Dorado Hills restaurant scene when they opened this New American eatery in 2010. They followed with a second location in Roseville in 2016, but the original focus on upscale comfort food never changed. 3909 Park Drive, El Dorado Hills
Solid Ground Brewing All boundaries between beer and wine come crashing down at Solid Ground, a craft brewery, small-batch winery and restaurant that debuted in late 2017. Brewers Scott Johnson and KC Sare craft daring yet drinkable crossovers, such as a high-alcohol strong ale blended with their own Viognier, while the kitchen serves elevated bar fare such as polenta tots and salmon tartine. 552 Pleasant Valley Road, Diamond Springs
With more than 60 wineries sprinkled throughout El Dorado County, you can only scratch the surface in a single day. Thankfully, the area’s rustic lodges, luxurious spas and homey bed-and-breakfasts make it easy to turn your day trip into an overnighter.
Bella Vista Bed & Breakfast Go whitewater rafting in the American River or kick back in front of a fire pit at this beautiful Placerville bed-and-breakfast located on a 5-acre estate. bellavistainc.net
Bella Vista B&B
Eden Vale Inn More than just a mountain getaway, this Placerville resort presents guests with a host of massage options, including hot stone therapy, couples massages and a prenatal package for pregnant women. edenvaleinn.com
Eden Vale Inn
Lucinda’s Country Inn Situated in the southeastern part of El Dorado County in the emerging Fair Play wine country, this comfortable bed-and-breakfast also allows you easy access to wineries in the Amador area. lucindascountryinn.com
North Canyon Inn Bed & Breakfast Tired of making the long drive back to Sacramento after a day at Apple Hill? Put it off until tomorrow and reserve a room at this 2-acre forest retreat in Camino, close to golf courses, wineries and breweries. northcanyoninn.com
Seven-Up Guest Ranch Get a taste of the cowboy life without leaving wine country at this Somerset ranch. It sits right next to Skinner Vineyards, which was recently named one of the top 100 wineries in the world by Wine & Spirits magazine. sevenupguestranch.com