Autumn and winter drives to El Dorado County’s Apple Hill have been family traditions for generations. The meandering journey through the colorful Sierra foothills treats visitors to pastoral scenery and tempts them with seasonal produce, baked goods, cider and wine from family-owned farms and wineries.
This year, some advance planning for the popular day trip will be helpful, as Apple Hill businesses have modified the ways they welcome visitors to comply with state and county health guidelines related to COVID-19.
At the time this article was written, the area’s barns and tasting rooms were limiting capacity to follow public health guidelines. As a result, Apple Hill growers and wineries have gotten creative by offering outdoor sales and experiences.
These days, you’ll find well-spaced tables among the orchards or near vineyards where you can enjoy the region’s beauty in an environment that allows for safe social distancing. Pack your own lunch or order food offered at many of the locations.
While many El Dorado wineries continue to offer seated, outdoor table service for wine tasting, orange tier guidelines now allow for limited indoor tastings.
Advance reservations are encouraged—especially during busy weekends—and guests are asked to wear masks except while seated to comply with COVID-19 guidelines, according to El Dorado Winery Association executive director Kara Sather.
The region’s farms are encouraging the same for visits and U-pick activities.
“To comply with COVID-19 guidelines, we ask that you plan to keep groups to your household members only,” says Lisa Crummett of the Apple Hill Growers. “We’re making sure that our facilities are set up to allow for appropriate social distancing in all areas,” she says, adding that the farms are taking additional sanitation measures, employees are wearing protective masks, and they’re offering safe payment options.
One tip for Apple Hill visitors is to explore experiences and slightly off-the-beaten-path destinations.
Look for U-pick farms for gathering late-season items such as apples, usually through October. You can pick your own chestnuts at Smokey Ridge Ranch, and you’re likely to find pumpkins at stops including 24 Carrot Farm, O’Halloran’s Apple Trail Ranch and Goyette’s North Canyon Ranch. Many Apple Hill growers are open through November, and some remain open until December.
Harris Tree Farm in Pollock Pines will be taking reservations for cutting Christmas trees this year, so plan ahead. The farm’s bake shop and country store will be open, and no reservations are needed to pick up holiday pies, ornaments and wreaths throughout the season.
Consider wineries on roads less traveled such as Chateau Davell, located in Camino on the south side of Highway 50, and Wofford Acres Vineyards, which is high on a ridge above Apple Hill.
Chateau Davell owner and winemaker Eric Hays says, “We have a lot of outdoor space with tables and a grassy picnic area where guests can enjoy wine with safe, social distancing. We bring a no-contact wine tasting experience to tables, and talk about each wine with our guests.” It’s a relaxed, family and dog-friendly winery with a rustic, eclectic vibe.
The views from Wofford Acres Vineyards are nothing short of spectacular, and you can drink them in from strategically placed seating areas. Owner Ann Wofford and staff are wrapping picnic tables with fresh butcher paper for each group of visitors. “Don’t forget to ask for crayons,” she says. “We’ve also created CROP (Covid Re-Opening Protection) Circles for those who prefer to spread out a little.” Reservations are required and groups are limited to eight people.
Not far from Wofford Acres, Delfino Farms offers a farm, bakery and new winery with plenty of space to roam. Wine tasting is conducted at wellspaced tables. “Guests can purchase pies and enjoy the 25-acre property,” says owner Christine Noonan. “During our busiest weekends (in October), we charge $5 per car to help control traffic and encourage visits on weekdays or in November.”
While it’s located on well-traveled Carson Road, Lewis Grace Winery tends to be a bit quieter than neighboring wineries such as Boeger and Madroña. Its patio, adjacent to the historic Irving Ranch house, affords a sweeping view of vineyards and tree farms. Several award winning wine flights are offered tableside for $10 per person, and wines are also available to purchase by the glass or bottle to enjoy on the grounds or take home.
Tips for Planning Your Apple Hill Visit
- Consider making the trek to your favorite farms and wineries on weekdays, when traffic is lighter. Weekends are typically busy, especially in October.
- Choose locations that are a bit off the beaten path, or visit farms that are farther out first, then work your way back home from there.
- Check websites or call ahead to confirm hours and product availability at farms. More than a half-dozen Christmas tree farms are open through December.
- Make reservations in advance whenever possible. Walk-ins are accommodated only as space allows.
- Bring masks and follow social distancing guidelines.
- As state and county guidelines are updated, experiences along Apple Hill’s farm and wine trails may change from those described. For the latest updates, refer to applehill.com, and check the websites and social media pages of your favorite Apple Hill destinations.