The discovery of gold in 1848 led to the establishment of hundreds of instant mining towns along the western foothills of the Sierra Nevada.
Most mining camps were nothing more than temporary encampments established where a section of a creek was panned or sluiced until the gold ran out. Permanent towns developed in areas where more extensive operations spent decades tunneling deep into the hills. Many of these historic and picturesque towns still exist, linked by California Highway 49, the Gold Rush Trail.
The original mining-era buildings in these towns are now home to unique shops—but my interest lay elsewhere, in the gold mining history of these towns and the robust wines of the region.
Nestled in these foothills is the unique wine district of Gold Country. Touring the unique wineries along historical Highway 49 took us back in time. The majority of the area still looks stuck in gold rush times, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t produce sophisticated wines perfect for the modern-day wine enthusiast.
Using Far Horizon 49er Village RV Resort in Plymouth and Jackson Rancheria RV Resort in Jackson as our home bases, we explored the Gold Rush Trail and Gold Country wineries along California Highway 49.
Gold country has always been audacious and rip-roaring. No surprise—its wines are too. Most wines need time to rest, relax, and mature. And really, don’t we all?
For most of the above, we recently embarked on a tasting getaway in the foothills of Amador, El Dorado, and Calaveras counties where some vines date to the late 1800s and all the wines seem amplified with a flavorful dose of the American West.
The most common adjectives for the area’s potent reds are big and robust—zinfandels, syrahs, and barberas that howl at the moon. Roughly 40 wineries in Amador County alone offer sips.
Amador County’s major wine area is the Shenandoah Valley in the northern part of the county near the small town of Plymouth. Stylistically, zinfandels from the Shenandoah Valley tend to be fuller, riper, and earthier with a characteristic dusty, dark berry fruit character, hints of cedar, anise and clove spice, and scents of raisin and chocolate.
Amador may have developed its reputation around Zinfandel, but Shenandoah Valley winemakers have branched out over the past 20 years and now produce wines from grape varietals originating in France, Italy, Portugal, and Spain, offering red, white, and rosé wines as well as excellent ports and dessert wines.
Wineries within five or 10 minutes of Plymouth include Bella Piazza Winery, Terra d’Oro, Borjón Winery, Helwig Winery, and Cooper Vineyards, one of California’s most charming family wineries and a personal favorite.
El Dorado County’s Grace Patriot Wines, a family-run business, provides not only award-winning wine, but history to the area. Their scenic property lies a few miles east of Placerville in an area known as Apple Hill for the abundant apple orchards scattered across the landscape.
The winery and adjacent vineyards sit at an elevation of 3,000 feet, with an amazing eastward view over the Sierra Foothills and onwards toward the High Sierras on the far horizon. The tasting room looks out on to the patio and frames the timeless scene through its windows and the grand double doors through which visitors enter.
Our visit to the winery was memorable, as we had the opportunity to taste through their portfolio of wines. We took three of our favorite Grace Patriot wines back to our motorhome to enjoy during the winter.
At the heart of Calaveras County’s wine country is an old-school Main Street with a new-world vibe. Unique to any other wine region, Murphys is a wine-lover’s dream with delightful tasting rooms and excellent restaurants in an historic downtown. You can literally do wine country on foot in Murphys. There are over 25 wineries here and 20 of them have tasting rooms within walking distance from one another along Murphy’s Historic Main Street.
Picturesque vineyards and destination wineries are nestled in the rolling hills throughout the county.
Let us celebrate the occasion with wine and sweet words,