What's great in wine, beer, fine dining,
places to stay, & places to visit
in California State

By Darrell Corti

This 2015 Amador County Zinfandel is a commemorative wine.

It commemorates the 1965 Amador County Zinfandel made as a home wine that, in 1968, convinced Bob Trinchero of Sutter Home Winery in Napa Valley to begin buying Amador County grapes. A lot has happened in the last fifty years.

Sunday, 14 August 2016 18:54

Five Historic Sierra Gold Mines

Columbia Stage Coach PicmonkeyArrival of stage coach gives that gold rush feel to Columbia

By Alyssa Green

The Sacramento area is rich with history as its beginnings sprang up from the onset of the California gold rush.

Saturday, 21 May 2016 15:13

Wineries of the Sierra Foothills

Wineries of the Sierra Foothills cover shot Picmonkey

By Barbara Keck

Photography by Johan Martin

 

2016 Range of Light Media Group

Tahoe City, CA

ISBN: 978-0-9966209-0-1

Soft Cover, 174 pages, $19.95

The Sierra Foothills is one of the world’s most interesting wine regions. Barbara Keck’s book gives it the respect it deserves and strikes a warm note without being gushy.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016 13:41

Amador County's Five Springtime Finds

wildflowers at Volcano3 PicmonkeyWildflowers at Volcano

TASTE News Service, April 26, 2016 — The small towns of the Sierra Nevada foothills are inviting all year round, but springtime reveals a bounty of natural and culinary spectacles to Amador County. This low-key county tends to stay out of the limelight, but lately it has been catching the eye of discerning travelers for its spectacular spring colors and an array of fine wines and foods. Below are just five of the many reasons to visit Amador County now.

Viticulture in California's vast interior valley, nestled between the state's coastal mountain range and the Sierra Nevada, is actually two valleys: the Sacramento Valley in the north and the San Joaquin Valley in the south, which includes the Delta area located in the middle where the two valleys meet. Although the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys are not designated American Viticultural Areas (AVAs), the region produces 70 percent of the state's winegrapes and is home to 15 AVAs. The Sierra Foothills region is an AVA that runs adjacent to both valleys on the east side, along the Sierra Nevada Mountains. About 0.5 percent of the winegrapes grown in the state are produced from the Sierras.

American Viticultural Areas are to appellations of origin as grapes are to fruit. AVAs are delimited grape growing areas distinguishable by geographic, climatic and historic features, and the boundaries have been delineated in a petition filed and accepted by the federal government. In size, AVAs range from extremely small to extremely large. AVAs are one kind of appellation, but not all appellations are AVAs. An appellation can also be a political designation, such as the name of a country, a state or states, or a county or counties within a state.

 

Sacramento Valleysacramento valley highlight SMALL

The Sacramento Valley runs for approximately 120 miles from Red Bluff in the northern end of the valley to the city of Sacramento. Bordered by the Sierra Nevada to the east and the Coast Ranges to the west, this level, sun-drenched, agriculturally rich area is unaffected by ocean influences. The region has about 8,000 acres of winegrapes. Chardonnay is the most prominent variety and Zinfandel follows. There are some 16 wineries, and approximately two percent of the total state winegrape crush comes from this region.

 

The Delta

The Sacramento and San Joaquin Valley meet at the river delta about 100 miles east of San Francisco, roughly encompassing portions of Solano, Yolo, Sacramento and San Joaquin counties. Here Chardonnay is also the most widely planted variety with Zinfandel a close second.

Within the Delta area, the Lodi AVA has been a major winegrowing region since the 1850s. Grapes were always part of the local landscape, growing wild, dangling from the trees along the riverbanks. Early trappers called one stream "Wine Creek," due to the abundance of wild vines. The river was later renamed the Calaveras River, and flows through the southern part of the Lodi area. Today, the Lodi AVA is farmed by more than 750 growers. About 60 wineries are located in this picturesque rural area known for its older head-trained grapevines. Like the other Delta wine areas that include the Clarksburg AVA with its 10 wineries and 9,000 vineyard acres and the Merritt Island AVA, Lodi is also defined by its proximity to the Pacific Ocean and the coastal gap where the northern and southern coastal ranges meet at the San Francisco Bay. As temperatures rise in the state's vast interior valley, cool maritime breezes are pulled directly through the Delta area, creating a distinctive climate that has allowed premium winegrapes to thrive for more than a century. Lodi has a Mediterranean climate, with warm, dry summers and cool, moist winters. Deep, sandy clay loam soils predominate.

 

San Joaquin Valleysan joaquin highlight SMALL

One of the richest agricultural areas in the world, the San Joaquin Valley measures about 220 miles in length and 40 to 60 miles in width, extending from around Stockton south to Bakersfield. There are five million acres of irrigated farmlands planted to cotton, grains, vegetables, fruits and nuts. The majority of wine, table and raisin grapes in California are grown in this valley. French Colombard is the leading variety. Chardonnay is the second most planted grape. The red winegrape with the most acreage is Zinfandel. By far the largest producing area in the state, the San Joaquin Valley accounts for more than 44 percent of the total state winegrape crush. There are more than 30 wineries and four AVAs.

The Sierra Nevada mountains form the eastern border of this grand expanse of land, and the lower, more irregular Coast Ranges define it to the west. Irrigation of this land with limited rainfall comes from two huge reservoir and canal systems that bring water from the length of the Sierras to the valley farmers. Although grapes have been grown in the region for more than 100 years, there has been a continuing advance in grape and wine quality due to viticultural refinements, including new varieties, rootstocks, trellis systems and irrigation techniques. These advancements are helping to transform the San Joaquin Valley from a generic into a varietal wine producer.

 

Sierra Foothills

sierra foothills highlight SMALLThe California Gold Country is also a wine region. Originating back to the gold rush days, the first grapes were planted in the 1850s, as a lot of wine was needed to quench the thirst of the Forty-Niner population that migrated to the state at this time. The Sierra Foothills AVA stretches from Yuba County in the north to Mariposa County in the south, along the western portion of the Sierra Nevada, with Amador, El Dorado and Calaveras counties in the center. Within the entire Sierra Foothills AVA, which totals 2,600,000 acres, there are five other AVAs: California

Shenandoah Valley, El Dorado, Fair Play, Fiddletown, and North Yuba. The total winegrape vineyard acreage in the Sierra Foothills AVA is 5,700 acres. Zinfandel has the largest amount of plantings, followed by Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Chardonnay, Merlot, , and Barbera. More than 100 wineries are nestled throughout the nooks and crannies of the foothills, with vineyards generally located between 1,500 to 3,000 feet where elevation creates a four-season climate. The shallow, mountainside soils create moderate stress on the vines, producing low to moderate yields and high quality.

The Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys, the interior of California, are the agricultural heartland of the state. Winegrapes are only one of the bountiful crops grown in this immense expanse of farmland. Lodi, Solano and the rest of the Delta area differ from the vast valley regions in their proximity to the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay influence of maritime breezes. The Sierra Foothills could be described as an interior AVA, but its climate and soil conditions starkly contrast all aspects of those viticultural areas on the extensive valley floor below.

 

(Wine Institute sources contributed to this article.)

 

Links to the websites of thousands of lodging and dining options in the Central Valley and Gold Country regions can be found in Taste California Travel's Resource Directory. Also in the Resource Directory are links to most, if not all, of the wineries.

 

Frog Jumping Champ SMALL photo courtesy of Calaveras CountyFrog Jumping Champ.    photo courtesy of Calaveras County

It's difficult anymore to find a corner of Earth where we are separated from our electronic devices. Even at  30,000 feet, two little syllables - Wi-Fi - keeps travelers plugged in. But California's Gold Country, the state's northeast/central region connected by meandering Highway 49, offers some steller spots where visitors can disconnect from technology for a digital detox.

Whether unplugging is a choice or a geographic happenstance, California's Gold Country offers everyone the chance to unplug and recharge. Here are twelve places to drop the call:

Rock Climb and Hike, Amador County: Remember what it feels like to be alive by hanging from a cliff by your knuckles 1,000 feet above a pristine mountain lake. http://www.touramador.com.

Cave and Mine Adventures, Calaveras County: Change your perspective zip lining over forests or crawling into the depths of the Earth, 165 feet into Moaning Cavern and through amphitheater-like rooms covered in stalactites. Sometimes visitors can hear the cavern actually moaning. Thankfully there is no cell reception. http://www.caveandmineadventures.com/

Kennedy Meadows Resort and Pack Station, Tuolumne County: Spend days reading books with real pages, petting horses in the stables, trout fishing in the Stanislaus River, or dancing to old country music from the Saloon's juke box—who needs iTunes? For Teddy Roosevelt-like adventure, see Southern Yosemite National Park on horseback. http://www.kennedymeadows.com/

Susan's Place Restaurant, Sutter Creek (Amador County): Nosh on artisanal cheeseboards and homegrown mustards while sipping local wines on a brick patio enjoying the trellised landscape. The sign on the door, "please turn your cell phones off", sets the mood. http://www.susansplace.com/index.htm

Cascade down rivers, El Dorado County: Nobody can effectively shoot the rapids while texting. http://www.visit-eldorado.com/river-rafting.php

Concerts in Ironstone Vineyard, Murphys (Amador County): This year choose a concert by Reba McIntire, John Fogherty, Tony Bennett, Jeff Foxworthy and others while wining and dining at the vineyard. Even if your ring tone is "I left my heart..." it is taboo to leave your phone on. http://www.ironstonevineyards.com

In the footsteps of Ansel Adams, Yosemite National Park: This half-day photography class allows photographers to capture the same images Ansel Adams made famous through his classic black and white images. (OK, there may be a digital device involved.) Step back in time with an overnight stay in the historic Wawona Hotel, a mid-19th century wooden lodge in Yosemite National Park. http://www.yosemitepark.com

Take a soak at Yosemite Bug Rustic Mountain Resort, Highway 140/Midpines: Buy a day pass for access to a 10-person stainless steel hot tub, cold-rain shower, cedar hot-rock sauna and a seven-jet show in the Health Spa. www.yosemitebug.com

American River Bike Trail, Folsom (to Sacramento): City cyclists will enjoy a break from competing with autos on the longest continuous paved cycling path in the United States. With 32 miles of trails, there are plenty of options for riders of all levels. http://www.visitfolsom.com/cycling/

Christmas Tree Vineyard Lodge, Forest Hill (El Dorado County): Escape the news at this rustic six-room bed and breakfast abode because rooms are TV, radio and telephone-free. http://www.christmastreevineyardlodge.com

Off Road, Placer County:See this beautiful area on ATV's and motorcycles down mountain trails and through parks. www.visitplacer.com/northern-california-off-road.aspx

Jumping Frog Jubilee, Calaveras County:Immortalized by Mark Twain, this annual event in May attracts young and old, individuals and teams (and their bug-eyed competitors) for the Jumping Frog Jubilee at the Calaveras County Fair.  Visitors aren't off the grid here but might have their hands full. http://www.frogtown.org

The northeast/central California region known as the Gold Country, where gold was discovered in 1849, is an area made up of 12 counties and dozens of historic towns dotting Highway 49. It has been named one of the top ten U.S. travel destinations to see in 2012 by Lonely Planet. For more information call toll free (U.S.) 800-225-3764 or 916-985-2698, or visit www.calgold.org.

 

(TravMedia.com contributed to this article)

 

Editor's note: Links to the websites of hundreds of lodging and dining options in Gold Country can be found at Taste California Travel's Resource Directory.