‹ Back to Region
SAN FRANCISCO—California’s dozens of scenic wine regions offer an exceptional variety of experiences and wines to enjoy. To help visitors explore them all, Wine Institute’s California Wines Road Trips series highlights a different region each month. For March, the spotlight shines on regions in the western foothills of California’s Sierra Nevada mountains. The region was the epicenter of the Gold Rush, which attracted thousands of prospectors who sought their fortunes in the precious metal—and left vines in the soil.
In the heart of California’s storied Gold Country, the Sierra Foothills wine region includes Amador, Calaveras, El Dorado, Mariposa, Nevada, Placer, Tuolumne and Yuba counties, known for their rich history and rich red wines. Here, visitors can enjoy pairing glasses of local Zinfandel or Syrah with some of California’s most breathtaking scenery including famous attractions like Yosemite National Park and Lake Tahoe, the largest alpine lake in North America.
SIP: The Sierra Foothills wine region is home to more than 200 wineries. Browse this list of Sierra Foothills wineries or use the discovercaliforniawines.com interactive map to search wineries by amenities such as tours, gardens, picnic areas, food for purchase and more. The Amador Vintners make it easy to plan a winetasting route through the Shenandoah Valley with their downloadable map. Calaveras offers a year-round Passport program for visitors to 23 participating wineries. Explore more than 20 El Dorado wineries at the county’s 25th annual El Dorado Passport events April 9-10 and 16-17. Taste Nevada County wines in quaint downtown Nevada City or visit this region with the Sierra Vintners map. On the Placer County Wine Trail, learn how winemaking came to the area in 1848—the same year that gold was discovered there.
STAY: From cozy lodges and historic hotels to lakeside cottages and camping, the Sierra Foothills offers wilderness and Wild West charm. Plan a route with overnights in Gold Rush towns such as Grass Valley or Murphys, location of the famous Murphys Historic Hotel where many historical figures slept, including Mark Twain, author of “The Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.” Placerville is home to inns, B&Bs and camping. Or enjoy a room with a lakeside view at South Lake Tahoe.
PLAY: Outdoor enthusiasts will find outstanding recreation year-round in the Sierra Foothills. The 850,000-acre Tahoe National Forest offers hiking, camping, skiing and swimming and boating in nearby Lake Tahoe in warmer months. Enjoy the giant sequoias on a hike in Calaveras’ Big Trees State Park. Take an adventure on the whitewater rapids of the North and South Forks of the American River or relax on the more placid South Fork of the Yuba River. Yosemite National Park is the star in the crown of the Sierra Nevada range’; plan your visit here.
Most of El Dorado’s wineries are located within 30 minutes of downtown Placerville, an historic Gold Rush town with unique shops, farm-to-table restaurants and the oldest hardware store west of the Mississippi. Pan for gold where it was first discovered at the Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park. Get in on the food and fun May 19-22 at the Calaveras County Fair and Jumping Frog Jubilee—the name a nod to Twain’s famous story.
The Sierra Foothills are a great place for rock hounds and geology buffs. Explore underground limestone caves at Moaning Caverns (which also offers zip line rides), California Cavern State Historic Landmark, Black Chasm Cavern and others
MAKE: The Sierra Foothills offers world-class views for photographers. Learn to take outdoor photographs at a multi-day Yosemite Photography Workshop or four-hour Ansel Adams Photography Class. Artsy types will enjoy classes and workshops in drawing, painting, mosaics, printmaking and more at ASiF Studio in Grass Valley or the El Dorado Hills Arts Association. For cooks, make a dish or two in fun cooking classes at Tess’s Kitchen Store, Newcastle Produce or BriarPatch Co-op’s Cooking School.
GROW: Many gold miners became vintners as the region slowly transformed from Gold Country to farmland. Not surprisingly, some of California’s earliest plantings of Zinfandel, Barbera, Syrah and Sangiovese were found here. Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes—as well as a variety of white grapes such as Viognier—also thrive in this mountainous terrain, which features high elevations, warm days and wide day-to-night temperature swings. Amador in particular is old vine country; nearly 600 acres of the county’s vines are at least 60 years old, while several vineyards date back to the 19th century. Many Sierra Foothills growers and vintners participate in the California Sustainable Winegrowing Program, adopting best practices for high wine and grape quality that benefit the environment and community.
EAT: A stroll through nearly any of Gold Country’s historic downtowns and surrounding areas will reveal an array of options from casual to fine dining, featuring local products and wines. Check out these suggestions for Murphys, Placerville, Grass Valley, Angel’s Camp and more. Summer in El Dorado's Apple Hill area abounds with farmers markets and hands-on experiences such as fruit picking and other agritourism activities. Visit in fall for the apple harvest and make your own apple cider or visit bake shops full of buttery turnovers and the locally famous “Apple Hill Cake.”
See several fun itineraries from Visit California for more Gold Country trip ideas.
Visit discovercaliforniawines.com for information on wine regions, wines and wineries throughout the Golden State and for planning a trip to California wine country. California is the number one U.S. state for wine and food tourism with dozens of distinct wine regions, 138 American Viticultural Areas and 4,400 wineries that produce 85 percent of U.S. wine. Established in 1934, Wine Institute is the public policy association of nearly 1,000 California wineries. See: wineinstitute.org.
# # #
Wine Institute Communications Dept.
Explore the Sierra Foothills on a California Wines Road Trip
Details: Wine Institute Series Offers Tips on How to Sip, Stay and Play in Wine Country