Along with picks and shovels, people brought grapevines to the Sierra Foothills in the mid-1800s. And we’re glad they did! Once planted, many of the vineyards in this region operated non-stop, even during the Prohibition years.
Today, this region is blessed with small, distinctive vineyards and wineries, beautiful scenery, quiet gold rush towns, and fresh mountain air.
The vineyards, located between 1,500 and 3,000 feet, are planted in well-drained, rich soils. Warm, sun-drenched days followed by cool, crisp nights yield grapes of remarkable intensity. And intense grapes produce wines with magnificent flavors: pure gold.
Grapes have been planted in the Sierra Foothills since gold rush days. European fortune hunters, unwilling to abandon their taste for wine, planted vineyards. When the gold boom ended, the wine industry withered. Revival came in the 1970s with zinfandel the undisputed star. Today, while zins remain impressive, Rhône and Italian varieties have found a happy home in Gold Country’s diverse terrain.
The Sierra Foothills wine country meanders through three counties: El Dorado, Amador, and Calaveras. Laced with crooked, narrow roads, wine tasting is decidedly unfussy. Throughout the area you’ll find ghost towns and quaint communities to explore, along with state parks dedicated to mining history where you can pan for gold and ride a stagecoach.
Outdoor adventure also awaits—mountain biking, hiking, horseback riding, and white-water rafting. Take your time as you wander the picturesque countryside with a good map and local wine brochure at hand. Many of the best sites and recreational opportunities lay off the beaten track.
Here’s where to head.
El Dorado County
El Dorado Wine Country has breathtaking vistas, a wide diversity of award-winning wines, and other delightful discoveries around every bend. The wineries are renowned for making vibrantly flavorful, distinctly delicious wines, grown in the dramatic elevations of the Sierra Foothills. Vineyards and wineries flourished here during the mid-to-late 1800s, making the county one of California’s oldest wine-producing areas. In the 1970s, El Dorado experienced a rebirth in the growth of premium vineyards and wineries.
Today, the county has more than 2,000 acres of vines producing 50 grape varieties and is home to more than 70 wineries.
The beautiful Shenandoah Valley is the heart of Amador Wine Country. The valley offers country roads with breathtaking views, charming postcard-perfect farms, unique tasting rooms, and relaxing environments. This undiscovered California gem features rolling, golden hills studded with majestic oaks and rolling vineyards producing exceptional full-bodied wines.
Shenandoah Valley produces some of the most interesting wines due to its terroir, a unique combination of rocky soil and warm temperatures that gives the wines their distinctive flavor.
Amador may have developed its reputation around Zinfandel, but Amador winemakers have branched out over the past 20 years and now produce wines from grape varietals originating in France, Italy, Portugal, and Spain.
At the heart of Calaveras County’s wine country is an old-school Main Street with a new-world vibe. Unique to any other wine region, Murphys is a wine-lover’s dream with numerous tasting rooms and many excellent restaurants in an historic downtown.
Murphys was one of the Gold Country’s richest diggins. The picturesque village is known today for its many natural attractions including caverns, a charming Main Street, unique shops including art galleries, and spectacular wineries. You can literally do wine country on foot in Murphys. There are over 25 wineries here and 20 of them have tasting rooms within walking distance from one another along Murphy’s Historic Main Street.
Picturesque vineyards and destination wineries are nestled in the rolling hills throughout the county.
Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, I’m finding enjoyment in things that stop time. Just the simple act of tasting a glass of wine is its own event.
―David Hyde Pierce