Wine Institute Series Highlights the Wine Roads Less Traveled

SAN FRANCISCO — California is home to dozens of distinct wine regions, including some of the world’s most famous destinations. But hidden among even the high-profile appellations are the wine roads less traveled featuring stunning rural scenery, delicious wines and, often, fewer visitors. To help consumers discover new wines and wineries this summer, Wine Institute’s California Wine Country Back Roads series highlights off-the-beaten path wine roads and regions.



The California Gold Rush from 1848-1855 occurred in the heart of the Sierra Foothills wine region which covers 2.6 million acres of rolling hills, old mining towns and several of the coolest and highest elevation vineyards in the state. The region is a haven for small, family-run wineries known for their rich history, 100-plus-year old grapevines and full-bodied red wines, located throughout eight counties—Amador, Calaveras, El Dorado, Mariposa, Nevada, Placer, Tuolumne and Yuba. Here, visitors can enjoy pairing the latest vintages with some of California’s spectacular scenery, as this wine region has three national parks and 20 wilderness areas that include Yosemite National Park and Lake Tahoe.

El Dorado County Spring Vineyard
El Dorado County has more than 70 wineries and mountain vineyards that produce more than 70 winegrape varieties. Photo credit Lava Cap Vineyard.

TASTE: The Sierra Foothills region is home to more than 200 wineries and a diverse range of grape varieties. Amador County, tucked into the western foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, includes more than 40 wineries—many specializing in Zinfandel, Barbera and Rhône-style wines. In Calaveras County, where Mark Twain gave the county its claim to fame with his bestselling story “The Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” there are more than 25 tasting rooms on the charming Main Street of Murphys. El Dorado County, with its mountain vineyards perched high above the valley, features 70 wineries producing everything from Cabernet-based varietals to wines made from Rhône, German, Italian and Spanish grape varieties. Back-road gems can also be found in Nevada County, Placer County and Yuba County. For a taste of several sub-regions, take a scenic excursion up historic Highway 49. The road begins in Oakhurst, then winds its way north through several winery-rich counties, including Amador, Calaveras, El Dorado, Nevada and more.

Gnarly Vines Murphy's Hotel
Visitors can attend Amador County’s Barbera Festival and might also go past 140-year-old vines. Photo courtesy Deaver Vineyards. In Murphys, Calaveras County, there are over 25 wine tasting rooms and the historic Murphys Hotel along Main Street. Photo courtesy Calaveras CVB.

TOUR: Celebrate local wine, food and agriculture June 20-21 during the Placer Wine Trail’s Grape Days of Summer, a self-guided tour that features food, music and educational experiences at every stop in Placer County. Amador County’s annual Barbera Festival in September during California Wine Month offers tastes from more than 50 local wineries, plus fabulous food, live music and artisan vendors. Also, in September is the WineDerLust Renegade Wine Festival in Placerville, a wine bazaar and concert showcasing the best of El Dorado wines.

Placer County Grape Days
Visitors enjoy wine in a cavern tasting room during Placer County Wine Trail’s Grape Days of Summer. Photo courtesy of Placer County Wine Trail.

For more information on lodging, dining and upcoming events, see Amador County Vintners, Calaveras Winegrape Alliance, El Dorado Wines, Go Nevada County and Placer Wine Trail.

For all of the wine regions included in this series, use the interactive map to search wineries by amenities such as tours, gardens and picnic areas, and view winery events around the state.

To see Wine Institute’s Back Roads guides to other California wine regions, visit

Wine Institute Communications Department, 415/356-7525