SAVOR EL DORADO
Visit the Sierra foothills’ golden county.
WRITTEN BY MARNIE MCARTHUR
PHOTOS COURTESY OF EL DORADO COUNTY VISITORS AUTHORITY
Over the mountains from here, El Dorado County — from the Spanish, meaning the golden — is where the California gold rush began. John Marshall discovered the first gold flakes on Jan. 24, 1848 at Sutter’s Mill near the town of Coloma. Only an hour and a half from Reno on Highway 50, the area is full of 49er gold rush history, small wineries, farm-fresh foods, and many opportunities for family adventures in the great outdoors.
“El Dorado County is an amazing place to indulge your senses,” says Jody Franklin, executive director of tourism. “There are so many things to do, see, and savor year round.”
In January, when many head for nearby ski slopes, the county welcomes foodies with The El Dorado Epicurean Collection of Culinary Adventures.
“We are compiling a county-wide collection of events, showcasing locally grown products; wine-pairing specials; prix-fixe dinners; farm tours; vineyard hikes; cooking demonstrations; discounts on food, wine, accommodations, and transportation; plus a progressive dinner or two,” Franklin says. “My goal is at least one adventure every day of the month.”
Gold rush history
Other adventures await in the Gold Hill area along Highway 49. Stroll the grounds at David Girard Vineyards and taste elegant French-style wines. Explore museums and hiking trails in Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park. On Jan. 23, Coloma hosts a celebration and re-enactment of John Marshall’s historic gold discovery on the banks of the American River.
Along the river within the park, The Argonaut, a quaint and cozy farm-to-fork café, is a must-stop for lunch. Campgrounds across the river from the restaurant may appeal to those seeking outdoor adventures. Others will enjoy comfortable lodging in Placerville.
Stay and play
Highway 50 divides Placerville into historic “old town” to the east and neighborhoods of charming Victorian and Arts and Crafts-era homes to the west. The tasting room and cellars of Nello Olivo Wines occupy the lower floor of the famous Bee-Bennett house.
Several other historic homes have been converted to B&Bs or guest suites. The Albert Shafsky House Bed & Beakfast is a graciously restored Queen Anne Victorian. Nearby Coloma Spring Suites, a charming Arts and Crafts house, offers two large suites with bright bathrooms and full kitchens.
After a day of sightseeing, don’t miss the opportunity to explore the many restaurants, art galleries, and shops along Main Street in old-town Placerville. Enjoy a delicious dinner at The Farm Table, a whole-harvest restaurant and charcuterie, or a casual lunch of authentic Napoletana pizza at Pizza Bene.
El Dorado wines
Nothing pairs better with pizza than zinfandel, and El Dorado County is zinfandel country. Many Italian, Rhone, and French varietals also are grown on more than 2,000 vineyard acres. The variety of wines produced in El Dorado County is made possible by hundreds of microclimates in a landscape ranging from 1,200 to 3,500 feet in altitude. From the rugged American River Canyon in the north to Mount Aukum in the south, high plateaus, rolling hills, and serene valleys are covered with vineyards and filled with brilliantly colored oaks in fall and wildflowers in spring. Each distinctive area has its own charm.
The annual spring Passport event is an excellent time to explore the different areas. Many of the county’s more than 70 wineries participate in this two-weekend extravaganza of wine-and-food pairings. With a good map and a detailed game plan, it’s possible to visit at least a dozen wineries in a weekend.
For starters, there are three in a row in the town of Camino. In the gift shop at Crystal Basin Cellars, you’ll find handy wine-glass holders with neck straps for hands-free wine tasting, a definite advantage while balancing small plates of food at each winery.
Next door to Crystal Basin are tasting rooms for two boutique wineries, Chateau Davell and Bumgarner. Before starting his own winery, owner/winemaker Brian Bumgarner (no relation to the Giants’ pitcher) made wines at Boeger Winery, an estate originally homesteaded during the 1840s gold rush. Decades after Prohibition, Boeger became the first modern-day winery in El Dorado located in the Apple Hill area.
A drive around Apple Hill is a popular family activity year round. In season, there are berry farms, u-pick apple ranches, cider stands, handcrafted beers, a fudge factory, pumpkin patches, and Christmas tree farms. In addition to Boeger, other small wineries include Grace Patriot, Lava Cap, and Madroña where second-generation owner/winemaker Paul Bush practices his natural/sustainable philosophy in the vineyards.
Many El Dorado vineyards are organically farmed. Biodynamic farming is practiced at Narrow Gate Vineyards in Pleasant Valley, an area known for Rhone-style wines. Five Pleasant Valley wineries present the Rocks & Rhones Wine Festival May 21 – 22.
A weekend in Fair Play offers an opportunity to visit 17 wineries in the southernmost area of the county. Mount Aukum Winery, perched on the mountaintop, offers expansive views. A drive through rolling hills leads to C.G. Di Arie Vineyard & Winery, where fine art is featured along with fine wine.
Whether wine tasting, food sampling, hiking, or exploring history, adventures await everywhere you go in El Dorado County.
Reno freelance writer Marnie McArthur is retired from decades of work in wine public relations. She now savors the pleasures of visiting wine country so close to home.
El Dorado County Visitors Authority • http://www.visit-eldorado.com
El Dorado Winery Association • http://www.eldoradowines.org
Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park • http://www.coloma.com/california-gold-discovery/marshall-park/
The El Dorado Epicurean, January • http://www.visit-eldorado.com/culinaryadventure.php
A Chocolate Affair, Feb. 13 • http://www.chocolate-affair.com
Gold Discovery Day in Coloma, Jan. 23 • Call 530-622-3470
The Albert Shafsky House Bed & Breakfast • http://www.shafsky.com
Coloma Spring Suites • http://www.colomaspringbnb.com
The Farm Table • http://www.ourfarmtable.com
Pizza Bene • http://www.eatpizzabene.com
The Argonaut • http://www.argonautcafe.com
Boeger Winery • http://www.boegerwinery.com
Bumgarner Winery • http://www.bumbarnerwinery.com
C.G. Di Arie Vineyard & Winery • http://www/cgdiarie.com
Chateau Davell Boutique Winery • http://www.chateaudavell.com
Crystal Basin Cellars • http://www.crystalbasin.com
David Girard Vineyards • http://www.davidgirardvineyards.com
Grace Patriot Wines • http://www.gracepatriotwines.com
Lava Cap Winery • http://www.lavacap.com
Madroña • http://www.ladronavineyards.com
Mount Aukum Winery • http://www.mountaukum.com
Narrow Gate Vineyards • http://www.narrowgatevineyards.com
Miraflores Winery (in Pleasant Valley) • http://www.mirafloreswinery.com
Nello Olivo Wines • http://www.nelloolivo.com