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El Dorado's Liquid Gold

The Sierra Nevada foothills are a destination loaded with outdoor adventure, exhilarating activities and charming historical towns.  It is also home to three wine regions: Calaveras, Amador and El Dorado.  The El Dorado or Gold Country is located approximately 45 minutes from both Sacramento and South Lake Tahoe and surrounds the historical town of Placerville, once known as Hangtown.  Placerville is a gem within itself, rich with a variety of things to do and see.  The town’s streets are lined with galleries, antique shops, boutiques and many interesting restaurants, breweries and cafes.  There are many cozy B&B’s to select from and even a historical hotel, where President Grant once gave his inaugural speech and Mark Twain and John Studebaker once were guests.  Like the precious metals that are found in the surrounding hills, the wine that is produced here is liquid gold!     


The Eldorado wine appellation is an official AVA (American Viticulture Area) and is designated and regulated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF). An appellation is a specific grape-growing region recognized by its unique “Terroir,” or the physical environment of a vineyard that includes geographic and climatic features such as soil, elevation, topography, wind, temperature, and rainfall.  The federal government’s strict regulation of this AVA or any AVA is to guarantee wine quality and authenticity.    


Within the El Dorado wine country, one will find four distinctive regions:  Apple Hill, North Country, Pleasant Valley and Fair Play.  All regions host their own microclimates and are carefully planted with wine grapes that compliment the individual climates or “Terroir.” Grape growers here are courageous, adventurous and ambitious, having planted over 50 different grape varietals on over 2,500 acres that carpet arable plots of land that lie amidst the intense, rugged and very beautiful terrain.  A wide range of delicious, hand-crafted classics can be tasted such as Chardonnay, Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon as well as rare varietals like Charbono and Tempranillo.  But Zinfandel is clearly the King, ruling the land as the signature grape.  A vibrant and thoughtful population of Rhone varietals can also be found and in most cases show untamed flavors from the earth, incredible depth, structure and balance, while boasting their individual charm and countryside personalities.  Some of the best Rhone wine found is certainly Syrah, but the Grenache, Mourvedre, Roussanne, Marsanne and Viognier are also very harmonious.     


The Fairplay wine region is a sub-appellation within the El Dorado wine country.  It consists of thirty-three square miles and has more than 350 acres of vineyards with over 20 bonded wineries and more wineries on the way.  The elevation and microclimates are extremely unique with growing conditions that cannot be found anywhere else in the world.  The name Fairplay, originated from a gold mining camp that was established during California’s Gold Rush period. 


Mount Aukum Winery sits at an elevation of 2,615 feet in Fairplay.  The breath-taking, panoramic views, welcoming hospitality and of course the wine makes this winery a very worthy stop while visiting the appellation.  Lance Campbell leads the way in this family- owned winery and he wears many hats including founder, proprietor and winemaker.  From vintage to vintage, the quality and flavor has maintained its award-winning consistency.  You will be tickled pink after tasting the Rose of Grenache that screams rhubarb, strawberry, pomegranate and cherry with nice spicy notes of clove and nutmeg.  Generally speaking, this wine is a perfect pair with summer and a great glass to sip while standing over a hot barbeque.  But it is the Zinfandel, Syrah and in-your-face Petite Sirah that keeps me coming back for more!    


Windwalker Vineyard and Winery is another great place to visit in Fairplay.  Fun, “Fast Eddie” will surely entertain you as you sip your way through a long list of wine.  Be sure to ask for the Foxy Lady Zinfandel and the Lady in Red, an impressive Bordeaux blend.  The winery also has a great wine country gift shop and makes a nice place for a picnic.    


Bordering Fairplay is the sub-region of Pleasant Valley.  The wines here are very pleasant indeed.  I definitely hit the Mother Lode at Miraflores!  Seldom do I walk into a winery and find the entire portfolio to be pure brilliance!  The estate sits on 240 acres of a Terroir wonderland.  The owners, Victor and Cheryl Alvarez knew exactly what they had found upon purchasing the property.  The winery currently has 40 acres of grapevines planted with an exquisite site selected for their soon-to-be-constructed Provincial-style tasting room.  The Barbera nearly brought me to my knees, showing big, ripe, black cherry fruit, creamy vanilla and strong mineral characteristics from the earth.  But the tasting proved to get even better!  I found so much delight in tasting the many Syrah’s, Zinfandel’s and Petite Sirah.  Even the baby vintages that are still maturing in their barrels were stellar!  While the Terroir is here, it takes more than just premium grapes to produce great wine.  The talent behind the scene trickles up to El Dorado from the Napa Valley.  My highest complements go to Winemaker Mario Cappelli; you truly are a gifted man!  The only other advice to announce before leaving this winery is to SAVE ROOM FOR DESSERT!  You will not regret it!  The black Muscat is heavenly and comes in an extraordinary bottle.  Other great wineries in the area that should not be missed are Holly’s Hill, Sierra Vista and Narrow Gate. 


The fun and adventure continued while visiting the wineries of North Country and Apple Hill.  Apple Hill is a “blast” if you enjoy locally grown, handmade treats.  Nestled around the community of Camino, one can find delicious specialty food items from ciders to Fudge!  The area also has many scenic places to stop for a picnic.  Orchards, nurseries and even Christmas tree farms are only part of the buzz.  I staked many claims while visiting this agricultural area.  Apple Hill is also home to the significant wineries of Boeger and Jodar.  And if you like wines that are huge in flavor and big on alcohol, be sure to visit Crystal Basin.  I also admired the wines at Fenton Herriott.   Finally, if you find yourself in the North Country, stop in and say hello to the staff at David Girard and Gold Hill Winery.  Whether your wine itinerary is just two days or a week, I’m sure you will find that El Dorado is a magical playground tainted with natural beauty at its best and home to many liquid assets!


Cheers!  Jil  


For more information or to book an El Dorado wine country vacation, please contact a Wine Tours of the World vacation specialist.   

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