East of Sacramento in the foothills of the Sierra Mountain Range is gold country. In the 1840s the precious metal was discovered there. The area quickly prospered through the gold rush. At the same time vineyards were planted and wine was produced. The gold ran dry before the end of the century but the Zinfandel vines have endured.
This is a terrific, scenic part of California that will nearly take you back in time to those gold rush days. It’s an easy drive from Sacramento and close to Lake Tahoe. We visited in the winter of 2017 and our post, In the Sierra Foothills may be worth another read.
This winter we returned on a trip to Lake Tahoe. We tasted wines in both El Dorado and Amador Counties which have the largest concentration of high quality wineries in the foothills.
Miraflores was our first stop on our way to the lake. It occupies 250+ acres with a stunning view, a large open tasting room, and spacious outdoor terraces. That chilly day we welcomed the roaring fire inside and being greeted with a bowl of hot soup.
Miraflores offers more than two dozen wines to make your tasting selections from. Its not an easy task to pick from so very many choices. They produce an amazing variety from 52 acres of vines on the property, and they do it very well.
We found the 2017 Viognier to be our favorite white but we had difficulty choosing one red as a favorite. We left with a 2014 Mouvedre, a 2016 Yellow Block Zinfandel, a 2014 Tempranillo, a 2014 Petite Sirah, a 2014 Trilegato and a few additional Zinfandels. A delicious array of their reds for sure!
Lake Tahoe was our destination for a few days. The scenery is spectacular! We met up with friends there that declared the skiing fantastic.
Leaving the lake we headed back to El Dorado County and stopped at Boeger Winery just outside of Placerville, CA. During gold rush days the property was a fruit and nut farm that produced wine from an early clone of Zinfandel. After prohibition it was the first winery to begin production in the area.
The winery has a very extensive and popular outdoor area as well as a large tasting room.
We had a fantastic tasting with Sue while discovering their vast array of varietals. Boeger’s most popular wine is their Barbera but the wines that really stood out for us were the 2017 Cabernet Franc which is an absolute steal at $20, the 2016 Rosa Canina Zinfandel, the 1872 Heritage Blend, and the 2016 Zinfandel.
El Dorado County has a tremendous variety of grapes growing in the region including amazing Mediterranean varieties. The county is also a big apple growing and harvesting region.
We headed next to Amador County and to Amador Cellars.
The winery sits on 22 acres, growing Zinfandel, Tempranillo, Mourvedre, Grenache Noir, Aglianico and Sauvignon Blanc. Like so many of the Amador County wineries, it has a small footprint, it’s unpretentious and less commercial. The area reminds me of what Sonoma’s wine region was like 20 years ago.
Kali, the wine dog greeted us at the tasting room. The wine making facility shares the one building so you get the feel of being in the midst of the production when you come for a tasting. Kelly graciously poured for us and we particularly favored their 2016 Barbera and Estate Zinfandel.
Next we were off to Terre Rouge Easton. They call themselves a small artisan winery.
Winter months are a terrific time to go wine tasting. You are often the only ones there and are afforded a one on one tasting with staff or, often a winemaker or owner. In this case we had the pleasure of tasting with Kelsy and we had quite a good time with her.
Terre Rouge wines are Rhône varietals. Winemaker Bill Easton also makes wines bottled under the Easton label that are more traditional to the Sierra Foothills such as Zins, Cabs, and Sauvignon Blanc. Altogether he makes 30 different wines in small case productions. He holds his wines back for longer periods than most other wineries so they are ready to enjoy immediately on release.
We enjoyed a number of their wines and packed up bottles of Terre Rouge L’Autre and Easton Zinfandel to take with us.
And on a side note…..I’m not sure if this incredible deal still holds true but it is certainly worth a check. Previously Terre Rouge Easton shipped free during the month of December.
We’d heard some amazing things about the Casino Mine Ranch so we were delighted to get an appointment to visit on this trip. Honestly, we were blown away by the property! This one should be on your bucket list for sure!
Mackenzie Cecchi met us and hosted our quite incredible tour and tasting. The 60 acre ranch has a colorful history going back to the gold rush and to Aunt Simone (worth a read online). It’s owned now by two brothers, Aunt Simone’s Grand-nephews, who have built it out creatively and tastefully with nearly every amenity you could want to own and more.
All of Casino Mine Ranch wines are estate wines crafted by winemakers Jessica Tarpy Shaheen and Andy Erickson. They are producing 8 different wines from the 14 acres of fruit on the property.
Just a mention of some of the amenities of the property in no particular order – wine caves, video arcade games and pinball machines, a full regulation indoor basketball court, swimming pool, hot tub, luxury accommodations throughout, and on the slightly strange but cool side – a real bear’s paw in the residence wine cellar.
Mackenzie poured a number of wines for us throughout the tour beginning with the 2017 Vermentino. All were quite special. We made sure to take a few with us including the 2018 Rose’, 2016 Tempranillo, and the 2016 Marcel.
The property is the home of one of the brothers so in all likelihood when the tasting room they are building down the road opens, this property may become private or only available to wine club members. So grateful for having the chance to taste here!
And on a side note….MacKenzie’s husband Brad is an accomplished chef. We look forward trying his restaurant in Sacramento called Canon as well as trying The Citizen Hotel she recommended on our next visit to the capital.
Several hosts at the wineries suggested we stop at Jeff Runquist Wines so we gave it a try. The wines are from the grapes of 19 growers throughout the state of California. Nearly all wines specify the vineyard designation and the grower’s name. It’s a different approach than you find at most of the wineries in Amador County.
Susan was a terrific host, acquainting us with the winemaker’s approach and with specific wines. Our favorite was the 2017 Petit Verdot from the Damir Ranch in Stanislaus County followed by the 2017 Barbera from Amador County. There was also a 2018 Cabernet Franc from Enver Salaman Vineyards in Clarksburg that we thought was another standout.
Andis is another winery we had a chance to visit. It has one of the newer tasting rooms and production facilities in Amador County. It’s contemporary architecture is a show off surrounded by lovely grounds and 23 acres of planted vines.
We tried a number of their wines and truly enjoyed the 2018 Sauvignon Blanc, Codevilla, the 2017 Grenache Noir, and the 2016 Barbera. Among their other wines they produce an estate grown Zinfandel. They also make a very unusual, rarely found Schioppettino from estate grapes. Schioppettino is a northern Italian grape that is made into a “wedding wine” that is meant to be drunk early.
This trip we had our dog Rocky along so accommodations and dining can be a bit tricky. I’m not a fan of Days Inn but The Days Inn by Wyndham Sutter Creek turned out to be very satisfactory. Large suites, fairly quiet and only a short walk into Sutter Creek.
Breakfast out is a must and the very best place is a bakery in Amador City, Andrae’s. Sadly I learned it closed in August 2020 for a little R&R so you’re on your own there! For dinner we can recommend Taste in Plymouth. It’s small so a reservation is almost always a must.
Downtown Amador City
We returned to a couple of tasting rooms we enjoyed on the last trip. One was the Turley Wine Cellars in Plymouth, Ca. It’s a great small tasting room with a terrific view and an outdoor space to relax with a picnic and a glass of their wine. They also have a tasting room and wine making facility in Paso Robles.
Turley specializes in producing single vineyard Zinfandels and Petit Syrahs from some of the oldest vineyards in California. In Amador County, they pick grapes from the Sadie Upton vineyard that was planted during prohibition in 1922. All of their wines are terrific, and we’ve been drinking and enjoying them for the last 15 years.
Lastly, we made it back to Yorba. Ann Kraemer and Ken Bernards are the wizards behind this wine. The grapes come from Shake Ridge Vineyard on the sustainably farmed Shake Ridge Ranch. It’s comprised of 46 acres of Zinfandel, Barbera, Rhone varietals, Tempranillo and Petite Sirah, planted in 2003 and 2009. Most of the grapes are sold to vintners eager to get some of the Shake Ridge crop, but about 10% is held back to produce Yorba wines.
Yorba’s tasting room is in the town of Sutter Creek. On our visit we actually enjoyed three hosts – Abby, Kyle and Kelsey. And again, you can get quite a bit of attention in the winter visiting tasting rooms! We had a wonderful time tasting some superb wine and catching up on all of the new releases and events with the three of them.
Sadly we had to leave to drive back to Sonoma but not before loading up on the 2010 Zinfandel, and the 2019 Greco di Oro.
The Sierra Foothills are still a hidden gem. The vineyards growing there are producing luscious fruit, and the talent making wine there is more than impressive. For my distant friends, I highly recommend planning your next flight into Sacramento (rather than San Francisco) to spend a few days in Amador and El Dorado Counties before heading toward Sonoma, my other favorite wine region in California.