A Road Trip through California’s Gold Country Wineries

A quaint wooden sign hangs in a green garden before a two story historic B&B.

The Dunbar House, 1880 in Murphys is the perfect place to stay after a long day of tasting. Photo © Christopher Arns

Almost every corner of the Gold Country now has wineries and tasting rooms offering homegrown estate vino to visitors. Fun and unpretentious, these wineries often feature vintners working in their own tasting rooms, where you’ll experience vintage foothills hospitality while sipping Rhône and Bordeaux varietals. Along the way, enjoy a few side trips to Gold Rush ruins or a short hike to breathe in the pine-scented air of the Sierra Nevada high country.


Apple Hill

In the Northern Gold Country, El Dorado County’s wineries are especially known for finely balanced syrah, barbera, cabernet sauvignon, and zinfandel. Start by exploring Apple Hill, near Placerville, where vineyards mingle with fruit trees high in the foothills. Follow the Apple Hill Scenic Drive to visit numerous orchards and sample fresh produce, apple cider doughnuts, and homemade apple pies. Along the way, make sure to visit family-owned vintners like Madroña Vineyards, Lava Cap Winery, and Boeger Winery. Spend the night back in Placerville at the adorable Albert Shafsky House and get spruced up for dinner at Cascada.


Fair Play

For jaw-dropping scenery with a glass of wine, get ready to dig Fair Play in southern El Dorado County. Barely a town, Fair Play is a rugged backcountry community that produces damn good wine. Often ignored by most day-trippers enthralled with Amador’s wine scene, Fair Play is really the next big thing in Gold Country wine.

Make your first stop at Miraflores, named by Wine Spectator as a place to watch. That esteemed publication also thinks Cedarville Vineyards is leading a “taste revolution” in the foothills, but you’ll need to make an appointment first. Take a lunch break at Gold Vine Grill in Somerset, then help your digestion with more foothill vino from Skinner Vineyards, produced by arguably one of California’s most storied winemaking clans. There’s a gorgeous view of the vineyards and surrounding hillsides, but it’s hard to top Fitzpatrick Winery and Lodge for scenery. Make this place your last stop and crash here for the night after trying the Irish-themed wine.


Shenandoah Valley

Amador County’s Shenandoah Valley is the Gold Country’s answer to Napa and Sonoma. Some of California’s oldest vineyards are here, but the glory belongs to newcomers producing top-notch wines from small lots of estate-grown grapes.

Begin your tour in Plymouth, with stops at C. G. Di Arie Vineyard and Winery, Borjon, and Terre Rouge Wines. More wineries line the English-style countryside between County Route E16 and Fiddletown Road. Wrap up the day with dinner at the outstanding Restaurant Taste in Plymouth. At night, meander farther south to Amador City and stay at the grandly historic Imperial Hotel. In the morning, look forward to mouthwatering pastries made from scratch at Andrae’s Bakery.


Murphys

Try something new by skipping over to Calaveras County and exploring Murphys. This rugged burg is the Gold Country’s St. Helena, with a long drag peppered with tasting rooms, haunted buildings, rustic bistros, and a smattering of cheeky saloons. Visit some of the tasting rooms around the outskirts of town—Ironstone Vineyards, Val du Vino Winery, and Twisted Oak Winery—before strolling Main Street to try varietals from Chiarella Wines.

Wrap up a day of wine-tasting with dinner at Grounds or gourmet veggie cuisine at Mineral Restaurant. At night, join the packed throng at the 1856 Saloon in the Murphys Historic Hotel and party like a bandit. Stay at the Dunbar House, 1880 and collapse into homespun luxury.


Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Sacramento & the Gold Country.


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