I did some photography for Dan and Michelle's business last year, and in the process of working with them, we discussed our mutual love of wine country and the places we liked to go. They recommended a place they had begun visiting over the last couple years--Gold Country. Gold Country? Yep, I hadn't heard anything about this so-called Gold Country before either.
After doing a little research I found that Gold Country is composed of nine counties in northern California, backing up to the Sierra Nevada foothills. The area is actually the Sierra Foothills AVA, and is home to over 100 wineries. Most of the wineries are located east of Sacramento within Calaveras, El Dorado, Amador and Nevada counties, though you'll find wineries sprinkled up and down the foothills along Highway 49.
And what of the "gold" part of the name? Well, this is where the Gold Rush began. Starting to sound familiar now? Apparently, where the prospectors went, vineyards followed, and this area has been growing grapes since the mid-1800s.
So last month, instead of another trip to Napa and Sonoma, we decided to take Dan and Michelle's advice and hit up Gold Country. We set out early from Sacramento and as we drove east, the flat farmland slowly turned into the rolling hills that are a hallmark of wine country all over California. We decided to stop in Amador City first.
Case in point, Amador City. This is the whole town. And yet we managed to spend about an hour there.
We spent some time in a mining antique store. Did I mention that Anson has started a side job as a gold prospector? For real. He and our neighbor will spend hours in the garage sifting dirt, looking for flakes of gold. So it was fun for him to talk to the very knowledgable owner and get some background on the tools and techniques the original miners used.
Now it was time to taste some wine. We saw Drytown Cellars on our way, so we figured we might as well make it our first stop. We were so glad we did because not only did we find the casual, friendly tasting room we were looking for, we started out with some great wine.
The hot, dry climate is great for growing big reds, so you'll find a lot of Syrah/Primitivo, Zinfandel, Barbera and Tempranillo throughout the area.
The tasting rooms in the area seemed to run the gamut from a casual extension of the barrel room, to Napa-style wine boutique like Wilderotter Vineyard. We're happy in either one if the wines are good.
Terre Rouge Easton winery were buzzing with what sounded like hundreds of bees. Just down the road, the Jeff Runquist Wines is pouring wines made from lesser-known grapes such as Carignane and Touriga.
Dinner that night was at the much-lauded Taste. The food was great--fresh, local and sophisticated, yet simple. They work on the idea that you don't have to do a lot to food when it's high quality. We started out with the Mushroom Cigars our very nice server recommended and they might have been my favorite part of the meal.
The next day we decided to explore Sutter Creek where we had stayed. There is definitely a little more going on here, lots of antique and gift stores, several restaurants, and plenty of historic buildings.
We walked across the street to the aptly named Sutter Creek Cheese Shoppe and, at the insistence of the very nice owner, tried almost every cheese she stocks.
Julie at Dry Town Cellars recommended we stop at Pizza Plus, which happens to be right next to the farmer's market and overlooks Sutter Creek. The pizza was perfect and the beer glasses were frozen. I love vacation breakfast.
It was time to head north to meet our friend, Elaine, and so we drove through more rolling hills and up through Placerville until Highway 49 turned into a twisty mountain road and spit us out along the American River about an hour later.
We drove along to Auburn, another charming old Gold Rush town, where we met up with Elaine for a beer and lunch at--where else?--the Auburn Alehouse Brewery. A quick spin around the town and we found these awesome tributes to the area's past.
Now in Grass Valley, we walked down to yet another adorable historic downtown area, lined with Gold Rush era buildings and hotels. Dinner at Cirino's was everything I love in Italian restaurants--wine, bread, pasta and more pasta. Just looking at this photo of the Penne Chicken Dijon is making me hungry. I tell you, the name does not do it justice, it should be called "World Peace Pasta."
Holbrooke Hotel, we had an after-dinner drink at the Golden Gate Saloon, the oldest continuously operating saloon west of the Mississippi River. Do you see the ghost in the photo above? Neither did we.
Ike's Quarter Cafe in Nevada City came highly recommended from Elaine's friend. I didn't get any photos of the inside or the food, but I snapped this one while we waited for a table. Yep, expect to wait if you go there, it's the only game in town for breakfast. Try the hearty Griddled Cornbread Flaps stuffed with bacon if you want something different and delicious.
Would you believe it? Nevada City also has a historic main street! Seriously though, we loved the sense of history in all these towns, and it was fun exploring a wine country with a whole other story behind it. I hope we have occasion to get back there again and explore the dozens of wineries and historic sites we missed.