El Dorado County sits at the north end of California’s famed Mother Lode, the 120-mile gold vein discovered in the late 1840s which became the site of the Gold Rush.
Today, the region is better known for its visitor attractions, agriculture, and old-vine zinfandel.
These Sierra foothills range from 1,200 to 3,500 feet and hundreds of microclimates perfect for nearly 50 grape varieties. And these artisan winemakers have a passion for experimenting and for this place. That’s what sets El Dorado apart.
Want to know what gives El Dorado wines their intense flavors and deep colors? Mountain vineyards on steep hillsides with warm summer days and cool night air. It’s an environment that gives wines luscious fruit, an alluring balance, gentle tannins, and body and depth that valley floors just can’t match.
California’s Gold Rush began in El Dorado County in 1848 with James Marshall’s discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill, on the South Fork of the American River in Coloma. As legions of people flocked to California to claim their fortunes, the region’s winemaking industry was born.
By 1870, El Dorado County was among the largest wine producers in the state, trailing only Los Angeles and Sonoma counties. The local wine industry flourished until just after the turn of the century when there were approximately 2,000 acres of vines in the county. Shortly thereafter, El Dorado began a gradual decline, brought about by poor economic conditions and a diminishing local population. Prohibition was but the last straw.
Between 1920 and 1960, viticulture virtually disappeared from the county. It wasn’t until the late 1960s that winegrowing made a resurgence. Following the development of several experimental vineyards, it became apparent that both the climate and soil of El Dorado County were ideally suited to the production of high quality, dry table wines.
With the opening of Boeger Winery in 1973, El Dorado was once again on its way to becoming an important winegrowing region.
Today, the county has more than 2,000 acres of vines, is home to approximately 50 wineries, and produces some of California’s most sophisticated wines. El Dorado was designated an American Viticultural Area (AVA) in 1983.
El Dorado County’s Grace Patriot Wines, a family-run business, provides not only award-winning wine, but history to the area.
Their scenic property lies a few miles east of Placerville in an area known as Apple Hill for the abundant apple orchards scattered across the landscape. The winery and adjacent vineyards sit at an elevation of 3,000 feet, with an amazing eastward view over the Sierra Foothills and onwards toward the High Sierras on the far horizon.
Located on busy Carson Road, the winery can be easy to miss. Unassuming from the road, the winery boasts a sleek tasting room with charming ambiance. The gravel parking lot is gathered together by a pair of old red buildings and a modest entryway veils an historic ranch, a majestic setting, and a dynamic portfolio of estate wines.
Rows of cabernet sauvignon vines line the northern edge of the patio where visitors can sit and sip their wine only feet from where the grapes are grown. From here, it’s a showcase of the beauty of El Dorado County.
The tasting room looks out on to the patio and frames the timeless scene through its windows and the grand double doors through which visitors enter.
Our visit to the winery was memorable, as we had the opportunity to taste through their portfolio of wines. We took three of our favorite Grace Patriot wines back to our motorhome to enjoy during the winter.
In El Dorado County, the vintner’s strength is the land’s terrain: hundreds of microclimates provide a broad range of temperatures, exposures, and soils. When well matched, this topography provides an ideal location for the world’s finest wine grapes, hailing from Bordeaux, the Rhône, Germany, Italy, and Spain.
And that’s what they call “Right Grape, Right Place.”
A gourmet meal without a glass of wine just seems tragic to me somehow.