An Emerging Wine Region: California’s Gold Country

sunset over vineyardLiving in Sacramento, California, I am in the enviable position of being smack dab in the middle of the Wine Country and the Gold Country. Napa Valley is 45 minutes in one direction and the foothills of the Sierra Nevada are 45 minutes in the other direction. Normally, when I’m in the mood for a wine tasting trip, Napa is at the top of the list (plus they have Taylor’s Refresher, which is on my top five list for best burger ever). But a recent article in Sunset magazine may make me change my direction and head towards the hills instead of the valley: “an influx of creative new winemakers has made the Gold Country one of the most fascinating wine regions in the West.”

According to Sunset, the wine regions in the Gold Country can be found in El Dorado, Amador and Calaveras Counties. The “founding father” of the Gold Country wine movement is definitely the Boeger Winery. At Boeger, pictured above, and other Sierra Nevada wineries, Zinfandel grapes were planted as early as 1850s and grape growing became a popular alterantive for unlucky miners.

Sunset informs us that:

Gold Country Zins are not for the timid. Their fruit is almost pruny ripe and earty, their high alcohol levels often pushing up past 15 percent. But the best are in balance, with acid and tannins to match. They’re spectacular wines. And they’be been joined by Rhone grapes (Syrah, Mourvedre, Viongier), Italian grapes (Barbera, Sangiovese) and most recently, a Spanish grape (Tempranillo) - all worth watching.

Another enticing aspect of the Gold Country wine region is that when you visit, you aren’t talking to just anyone when doing a tasting. The person behind the bar at many of the family owned wineries in the region is often the wine maker, not just a salesperson.

[Photo from All-Outdoors ]

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Between Napa and the foothills, and just 30 minutes south of Sacramento is Lodi, a veritable bonanza of old vine zinfandel. I highly recommend stopping in at Jessie’s Grove, Michael-David, Van Ruiten, and the Piazza in Lockeford.


Thanks for stopping by. I agree that the grapes from Lodi are becoming famous, but the Gold Country is so much prettier to visit! Lodi is pretty flat and Gold Country has rolling tree-covered hills. But, I will definitely put it on my list of places to visit if the zinfandel is that good.

hi - Thanks for bringing up the Gold Country! While Zinfandel from Boeger is very wonderful (and I am certainly a fan myself) there is so much going on in the foothills beyond zin - heck beyond Syrah!

If you limit yourself to Zin, you are missing the Mourvedre, Grenache, Marsanne, Roussanne, and Tempranillo.

In Murphys (Calaveras County) you can literally crawl to, er, visit 10 different tasting rooms - each of them have a little something different to offer from the traditional to the twisted.

You probably won’t find our winemaker behind the counter right now, but you will find him out at the crush pad. Come by if you want to get your hands dirty. We won’t charge you to do punchdowns like they do in Napa.

It’s really worth checking out. I think of the Gold Country, especially Calaveras County, as the last best place for wine in California.

Of course, you recommend the one that is furthest from me as the best one. Just my luck!

Well, you’re 45 minutes from Napa so it can’t be that bad! Just scoot down 12, it’ll be over before ye know it… well, OK, plan to stay over then, at least it’s charming! If I can be any help, please let me know. - j

Jeff - we have family with a house near Yosemite, so we could make a stop in Calaveras County on our way home from there. I will make it happen!

As a benchmark, we’re 45 minutes from Groveland - that’s if you take Old Priest Grade :) Drop me a note when you are coming by so I can be around! - j

The family’s home is at Pine Mountain Lake, so you are definitely on the way. I will certainly drop you a line!