Visitors are discovering a new way to strike it rich in the foothills of Sacramento – liquid gold – the region’s award-winning vineyards and wineries. Considered one of the oldest wine-producing areas in California, vineyards and wineries first appeared during the Gold Rush era, but essentially disappeared following prohibition. A century later, in the 1970s, a renaissance in the growth of premium vineyards and wineries began, producing countless varieties of celebrated wines. Today these small, family-run wineries of Calaveras, Amador and El Dorado counties are becoming fast favorites among wine lovers and competition judges alike.
Located in the western foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, grape growers in this region plant their vines almost exclusively on rolling, oak-studded hillsides that provide a broad range of temperatures, soils, solar radiance, and exposures. The land’s diverse terroir – qualities unique to the soil and microclimate – allow vintners to produce wines with deep flavor and elegant balance.
The high elevation and mountainous topography also challenges grape growers to match the right grape with the right microclimate. The mountain terrain creates hundreds of tiny nooks and crannies, which allows vintners to produce an extraordinary array of varietals. These conditions allow vintners to make world-class wines in conditions similar to each grape’s European homeland, especially those of northern Italian and southern French origin.
Renowned for producing California’s most rich and robust zinfandels, vintners are also earning enthusiastic praise for other varietals, including barbera, sangiovese, sauvignon blanc and syrah with limited bottlings of viognier, rousanne, mourvedre, and petite sirah. Exceptional dessert wines made from Muscat varieties and port-style wines made from zinfandel and Portuguese varieties are also produced.
While the foothill wineries are quickly earning a reputation for producing award-winning wines, the area is also renowned for its friendly tasting rooms. Primarily, the wineries in the region are small, family-owned operations where unpretentious hospitality and complimentary wine tastings are the norm.
It is common for visitors to be greeted in the tasting rooms by the proprietors themselves who make and sell their own wine. This family atmosphere has left an indelible impression on oenophiles in search of an unaffected wine-tasting experience. Access to the owners and winemakers allows guests to experience a personal connection with the history, natural beauty and the small-scale art of fine winemaking that the area has to offer.
Although accolades from prestigious competitions are helping to raise the profile of these small wineries, the region is still largely undiscovered leading to an unhurried atmosphere devoid of throngs of tourists. This allows guests to enjoy rich, fruit-forward wines in relaxed, friendly tasting rooms.
In addition to wine tasting, this scenic region, set amid the foothills of the magnificent Sierra Nevada Mountains, is ideal for hiking, biking and picnicking. In fact, many of the area wineries offer picnic areas among their flowering gardens overlooking the vineyards.
Throughout the year, vintners also offer an array of special events and activities ranging from educational hikes and cellar tours to participating in the annual “crush” and “Bottle Your Own” parties. For a complete list of wineries and activities in the region, visit www.eldoradowines.org, www.amadorwine.com, or www.calaveraswines.org. The more than 50 foothill wineries are just an easy day trip from the vibrant city of Sacramento. Just 45 minutes south of Sacramento is the Lodi Wine Country, a collection of small family-owned wineries and the huge Woodbridge Winery by Robert Mondavi. Visit www.lodiwine.com. The Grape Escape is Sacramento’s annual June event showcasing wines from all surrounding areas.
Content provided by www.discovergold.org