The roots of old Zinfandel grapevines run deep in Gold Country, in the northeastern part of California, with a winemaking tradition that dates back to the Gold Rush days of the 1850s. Now, an explosion of wineries, wine tours, tasting rooms, and restaurants specializing in wine country cuisine has added a jolt of grape-fueled energy to the Sierra foothills, where more than 100 wineries produce a wide range of varietals, most notably still Zinfandel, but also an intriguing variety of other varietals.
Where to Taste Wine in Gold Country
To sample the new boom, head to the region’s Shenandoah Valley, which straddles Amador and El Dorado counties. The influx of new mixed with the old is front and center here, with wineries such as Deaver Vineyards, a family-run operation for generations, and newer vintners such as Linsteadt Family Winery, Dillian Wines, and Andis Wines producing vintages of Barbera, Grenache, and Sangiovese as well as the region’s famous Zinfandels. All of them are known for their richness, a flavor characteristic that comes from the valley’s low elevation: It makes it one of the hottest climates of the region, and vines have to put down deeper roots to reach water. The result is fewer grapes, but more concentrated flavors.
One particularly forward-looking endeavor in Gold Country is Wise Villa Winery, about a 45-minute drive north of Sacramento in Placer County. The operation, a Certified California Sustainable Vineyard & Winery, was one of the first wineries to adopt techniques that harness the potential of worms, owls, and mice to contribute to a sustainable production system (intrigued? Read about it here.) Drive about 45 minutes northeast, and you’ll find yourself in the middle of a community of emerging wineries in and around the town of Grass Valley. Sierra Star, Avanguardia, Lucchesi, and Naggiar are just a few of the standout vineyards that produce a wide array of white and reds; if you can’t make it out to their terroirs, the first three all have tasting rooms in town.
Even with the welcome addition of so many modern producers with tasting rooms to match, the overall feel of the entire region has thankfully not changed much from pre-boom times. There remains a down-home sensibility in this neck of California, with most Gold Country wineries being family-owned, with the winemaker also being the one who pours your wine in the tasting room.
Even if you’re just passing through the area, be sure to stop in the tiny town of Plymouth for hip tasting rooms as well as—weather permitting—outdoor tastings at Helwig and Karmère wineries. Restaurants like the sleek Taste and the more rustic Plymouth Hotel Kitchen & Bar are magnets for savvy foodies. If you aren’t much of a wine drinker, the town is also home to Amador Brewing Company, located a five-minute walk from downtown.
Gold Country Wine Festivals
Typically held in July, El Dorado County’s Great Out There event is an excellent way to discover not only the wines of the region, but some top food destinations as well, thanks to the wine and food pairings. It seems a sure bet that the aforementioned Plymouth (pop. 1,092) hosts more wine festivals per capita than anywhere else. Come in early spring for the Behind the Cellar Door festival, in late spring the Four Fires Food and Wine Festival, and in the autumn for National Barbera Day and The Big Crush Harvest Festival.
More Things to Do in Gold Country
Steeped in Gold Rush history and boasting of some of the best farmland in the state, Gold Country is also where you’ll find such cities and towns as Sacramento, Nevada City, Auburn, Placerville, and Murphys. For more inspiration, check out Exploring California’s Gold Country by Car, 5 Classic Gold Country B&Bs, Craft Breweries in Gold Country, 5 Amazing Things to Do in Sacramento, and Mona Bahraini Shares Her Sacramento Favorites.