Wine grapes were introduced to the Sierra Nevada foothills during the Gold Rush years, when miners were thirsty for refreshment and farmers eager to provide. Today, the Sierra Foothills AVA (American Viticultural Area) stretches from Yuba County in the north to Mariposa County in the south, with five smaller AVAs under the umbrella designation. Two of them, El Dorado and Fair Play, are in El Dorado County, within easy striking distance of Sacramento, gateway to the Gold Country wine country.
The Apple Hill Wine Trail is a great place to sample the bounty of the region, but be prepared for weekend crowds in October, when roads are jammed with families visiting farm stands and pumpkin patches. Pick a weekday, and you’ll have no trouble navigating the bucolic countryside glowing with fall color. (You’re sure to bring home a peck of apples as well!)
Seven wineries are on the wine-trail map, with six open to visitors with leash in hand (the new Starfield Vineyards tasting room won’t open until next year). A favorite with DogTrekkers is Boeger Winery, whose lovely, terraced picnic grounds are not far off Highway 50 at Camino. Known for its barberas and other big reds, Boeger also sells cheese, cold cuts and crisps for those who’d like to enjoy an impromptu picnic right on the grounds.
For photo-worthy views at the height of the fall color season, it’s hard to beat Lava Cap, whose tasting veranda and adjacent picnic tables look out onto a hillside vineyard where you’re welcome to walk your dog.
You’ll drive far up a winding road to reach Wofford Acres Vineyard, a hilltop venue with dog-friendly picnic grounds just outside the (also dog-friendly) tasting room, which also dispenses hard cider. Enjoy your vintage while also enjoying views of the American River Canyon. Fenton Herriott Vineyards, in the same vicinity, is a laid-back (and dog-friendly) venue situated along the old Pony Express Trail, while Rucksack Cellars is the region’s newest winery born from a former Christmas tree nursery and nurtured by Maggie and Paul Bush, founders of the well known Madrona Vineyards, which is also on the Apple Hill Wine Trail. The concept at Rucksack is to have visitors do their tasting outdoors, under the trees overlooking the vineyards, so as to inhale the sights, sounds, tastes and aromas of the region. (The $5 tasting fee, by the way, includes a “GoVino” glass perfect for camping.)
Photo Credit: @hi_ericabrown