Gold that began California’s famed Gold Rush was first found where El Dorado County exists today. This high altitude region still produces gold of a liquid variety in over 40 wineries. From Apple Hill to Camino and Fair Play and Pleasant Valley, the vineyards benefit from the summer’s hot dry days that are cooled by the nighttime breezes sweeping off the Sierra Nevada. Grown in multiple microclimates the appellation is renowned for making wines, particularly of the Rhône varietals. Three major annual events are January’s “Bring out the Barrel”, “Passport Weekends” in the spring and in June the “Fair Play Festival”. If you cannot make those – no worries – events occur at almost every winery on a frequent basis.
Some smirked in the 70s when the Bush family came to grow grapes in the high altitude verdant foothills of this apple growing region. Smirks turned into smiles of delighted appreciation for the acclaimed wines such as Malbec, Nebbiolo, Zinfandel, Chardonnay, and Dry Riesling. Low impact agriculture procedures are practiced like using grape seeds to aerate the land. Their devotion to being stewards of the land is also found in the flavorful offerings of single vineyard wines like the 2006 Syrah Enyé Vineyard.
As the mid summer’s full moon shines down upon Perry Creek’s vineyards the Zin Man can be found dancing. Luckily, for us humans we can rejoice year-round in the full forward fruit taste of their Zinfandel. Owner Dieter Juergens and his team of Stefan Tscheppe, Garrett Buckland, and Jonathan Pack combine the best of European, Napa and Sierra foothills’ expertise and stylings. Located in Fair Play the winery’s estate wines include a Chardonnay and Barbera. Their Altitude: 2401 series reflects a multitude of tastes from tropical fruits, chassis to blueberry, black pepper and dark chocolate in superior wines like Petite Sirah, Viognier, two Zins and a Syrah.
There comes a point when driving through the winding hills of Pleasant Valley you might think, “is there really a winery out here?” Keep driving for the liquid rewards at their hilltop antique laden tasting room are bountiful. The wines reflect the personal tastes of owners’ Victor and Cheryl Alvarez. The Barbera is massive with a cherry taste and a bit of smokiness. An incredible smooth elegance is the keystone for their Syrahs and Petite Sirahs every year. Sweet wines such as the Botricelli amplify winemaker’s Marco Capelli’s ability to transform the grape mold Botrytis Cinerea and Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc grapes into full-honeyed nectar.
Here Northern California and France cozy up together thanks, in part, to the skills of winemaker Mari Wells Coyle. Her inspired finesse is enjoyed in both the reds and whites. Viognier, Roussanne and Rolle are estate grown and offer bright fruit tastes, tropical, citrus and melons, to entice the nose and tempt the palate. Spice tones of cloves and cinnamon deepen the tastes of the Grenache. It is also in the Triptych along with Syrah and Counoise. Their reserve Syrah is offered along with a Mourvedre. Tinged with a bit of Viognier the Syrah based “Okei San” honors the nearby site of California’s first Japanese colony and 10 percent of each bottle’s sale goes to its preservation.
The smallest of the county’s wineries, WAV features the talents of the Wofford family – Paul, Ann and Mike. Case production might be lower; however the array is just as strong as the larger wineries. Estate wines include Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The Molino de Viento is a rose made from the Syrah while the Dulcinea is a blend of Viognier and Roussanne. A stunning panorama of the American River Valley comes with every wine tasting.
Linda Bottjer is a full time writer whose love of California wine leads her on many grape adventures. Her work can be found at www.words4sail.com.