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Gold from Grapes

Kristofer B. WakefieldEl Dorado County produces more different types of grape varietals than anywhere else in the world. Diversity is truly their nugget.
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Placerville, long known for its Gold mining history, has a new nugget to offer. Little did the miners know that from this soil they once mined would grow the roots of a fruit that could be valued as much as their prized mineral.

The wine grapes are the new ore and the fabulous wines that are mined from them are the valuable gold. In and near this tiny historic community are a surprising number of well established wineries, some going back to the gold rush days, along with some newer high quality start-ups. There is a feeling of deep rooted quality along with innovation and expansion.

You can easily experience these precious local wines in a one or two day excursion to the historic Hangtown of Placerville. Along with wonderful wines, you will experience some beautiful settings and friendly people, while soaking up some gold country charm, and taking in commanding panoramic Sierra views. You can get away from the predictable varieties of wines experienced in the Napa/Sonoma scene and instead enjoy some amazing diversity.



There are some 40 plus varieties of wine grapes grown here in the El Dorado County soil. From this new gold comes some fantastic sensual surprises for your wine palate.

The focus here is not to focus on one grape, says David Jones of Lava Cap Winery. El Dorado County produces more different types of grape varietals than anywhere else in the world. Diversity is truly their nugget. With soil and climate conditions similar to the Rhone region of Southern France it is easy to emphasize the Rhone varietals that do well here, such as; Syrah, Mourvedre, Cinsault, Grenache, Carignane, and Viognier. Along with this, the terroir similarity with Spain and Northern Italy also produce wonderful Sangiovese, Barbera, Nebbiolo, Charbono, Refosco, and Tempranillo varietals.




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Your exploration can start right off Highway 50 on Carson Road of Apple Hill fame. A short distance off the highway is the oldest winery of the region. Boeger Winery is top quality and the expansion going on at its facility is a reflection of their success. A new large tasting room is just opening. Be sure to also step into the charming old tasting room, noting the 130-year-old Mission grape vine that climbs onto the 2-foot thick rock walls of the original home of the Italian family that started making wine here in their living room in the 1860s.

Boeger has an exciting array of outstanding wines, all of which can be enjoyed in their new facility or in a beautiful picnic area set alongside a year-round spring fed creek. Greg Boeger and his family have created one of the most innovative and prolific wineries around.

Greg boasts a total of 28 different grapes on his 95 acre vineyard. “I like to experiment,” he admits, and all the varietals except their popular Walker Zinfandel are estate grown. Boeger has also won awards for the more well known varietals as well, especially their Barbera, which they have been making for 25 years, and their acclaimed Merlot . Their Walker Zinfandel is a top seller and be sure to try the 1999 Reserve Meritage and Reserve Pinot Noir, some of the best in the Sierra foothills.

With his personal diversity to match his wines, Greg is the epitome of the foothill wine maker. Whether it is the restoration of an old winery building or the restoration of one of his antique autos, he is a hands-on, “can-do” kind of guy. Greg Boeger has cultivated the skills to take his small 1972 winery and develop it into one of the premier wineries of El Dorado County.

Just a short distance down the road you will find Lava Cap Winery, where you will enjoy a beautiful panoramic view as you taste some scrumptious wines that have done well in restaurants for years. At Lava Cap diversity is also a strong point. The production of 18 different varietals proves it. This family owned and operated winery is expanding, with new enlarged production and storage buildings.

They distribute nationwide along with a large mail order business.

With a 25,000 yearly case production, Lava Cap is the largest wine producer in the area. Most known for its reds like Cab Franc, Barbera, Zinfandel and their award winning “Stromberg” Merlot, they also have gold medal winners like their Semillon and Fume Blanc.

This is a winery that has its sights on spreading the fame of El Dorado County wines.

Next, not too much farther down the road, you do not want to miss Madrona Winery. Sitting in the shade of a majestically beautiful madrone tree, you get a feeling of comfort right off in its unpretentious friendly tasting room. You will get a kick out of humorous Paul Bush, and his wine hosts as they share wit and wisdom during the pouring. Paul gives out excellent cooking tips as he shares his popular wines with you. He describes their wine production style as, “white wines on the dryer side and red wines on the heavier side.” Paul’s parents, Dick and Leslie Bush, and his wife Marjorie are focused on producing great wines and keeping their prices competitive. You are in for a treat when you get a hold of their unbelievable Zinfandel as well as their Merlot, which is distinguished with a peppery undertone. Their Chardonnays are not aged in oak, giving them a light, crisp, fresh distinction. The New World Port is a nice blend of five grape varietals. You undoubtedly will enjoy your tasting room experience… you may even pick up an interesting new cookbook!

Now, a little out of the way (about a 15 minute drive), you will find it well worth visiting the two wineries that are right next door to one another on Leisure Lane off of Pleasant Valley Road. Both offer excellent wines and magnificent views.

Sierra Vista, (aptly named) has been around and doing well for 25 years. Sitting atop Red Rock Ridge, Sierra Vista Winery with its adjacent picnic ground has a commanding view of nearby rolling hills and valleys, surrounding grape vineyard, and distant snow capped Sierra, as pictured on their label. Here the MacCready family has been very instrumental in developing El Dorado County as a Rhone wine region. John MacCready was one of the founding members of the “Rhone Rangers,” an organization established to promote the virtues of Rhone style wines. Sierra Vista Winery was established in 1977, curves along a half-mile ridge taking in four different micro climates, creating a variety of ‘terroirs’ for its wines.

They, too, do an oak-free, stainless steel aging to produce their crisp light style Chardonnay. Syrahs, such as their Red Rock Ridge Syrah, have been their flagship wines for 25 years. Another favorite is Lynelle, a house blend much like a Southern France Provence blend. Other mentionables are their ’00 Fleur de Montagne, a Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre & Ci sault blend, as well as the ’97 Cabernet Sauvignon Five Star Reserve.

Right next door is the newly (1 year) opened Holly’s Hill Winery. You will find a very friendly atmosphere here, even offering toys for you or your kids to play with on the lawn. Ask for the Bocci balls. Again you are in for an incredible view, this time looking off toward the Cosumnes River Canyon. On clear days you can even see Mt. Diablo. Owners Tom and Holly Cooper along with their daughter and son-in-law Josh & Carrie Bendick, have added a small gourmet deli to help you enjoy the wines and the view. The umbrella covered deck and classical music make it an inviting ambiance. The wine emphasis here is on Sangiovese wine, a special blend of three Sangiovese grapes and a Cabernet. Of course, Syrah and Zinfandel are a great portion of their production along with Chardonnay and the Viognier. Their motto, “Bon Vive,” (the good life) will be featured on the label of their new release Rhone blend. Best of luck to this nice new kid on the block!

Visitors heading in or out of Placerville via Highway 49 North should be sure to stop at Gold Hill Winery on Cold Springs Road. Just 10 minutes out of Placerville, you are in for a special treat here as well. Hank Battjes, owner of Gold Hill Vineyard Winery & Brewery, has created a very unique winery overlooking the American River Valley. The uniqueness comes in many ways: one from the character of Hank himself, another from their great local views and perfect setting for weddings and other venues, and the fact they offer a very nice champagne. However, what makes Gold Hill most different is the fact that the winery is a brewery too! The tasting room, full of character, with its D lanesque music, has it all; champagne, wine and beer. Besides producing excellent estate grown reds, crisp blushes and white blends, Hank makes excellent beers. These i clude; Axe Pic’n Stout, 49’er Red Ale, Old Miners Scotch Ale and others, all available to sample. One more unique item is the construction of their new 126-foot underground wine cave. As you can see, Gold Hill Winery has a lot of ‘unique’ for you to experience.

Maps to these and other Placerville area wineries can be found at http://www.elderadowines.org, a wonderful web site that is linked to all the individual wineries. Some good recipes and articles can be found here as well. Check it all out and take a trip to Placerville. You may fine a fun adventure and some great nuggets to bring home to share with friends.


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