49 mi / 79 km
Sacramento Int (SMF)
The Sierra Foothills is a designated American Viticultural Area (AVA). It's up there with the Napa Valley and Paso Robles as one of the most prestigious grape-growing regions in the Golden State. And there's another ace up its sleeve: It's downright gorgeous.
As you hop cellar door to cellar door on this 49-mile route, you'll be treated to a montage of rustic farm fields and rolling hills peppered with oak and pine woods, all of it steeped in enthralling Gold Rush history.
Start in the south and work your way north. First follow Shenandoah Road, where seas of undulating vineyards drift away on both sides. This is a corner of Amador County, a region of the foothills that's known for its cultivation of old vines. As such, there are some vineyards here that were planted more than 60 years ago, and even a few that date back to the 19th century!
It was in these very foothills that wine enthusiasts and pioneers embarked on a mission to revive old vine Zinfandel grapes. After Prohibition devastated the wine industry in the 1920s, these dedicated individuals located and restored abandoned vineyards, nurturing century-old vines back to life.
Their efforts resulted in exceptional wines that showcased the region's unique microclimates and elevated the Sierra Foothills to a premier wine destination. This revival not only rejuvenated the industry but also sparked a renewed appreciation for preserving the region's viticultural heritage.
At places like the Amador Cellars and Vino Noceto Winery, you'll be able to taste 30-year vintages made from old-vine varieties such as Sangiovese and Tempranillo. They give a rich, oaky flavor that recalls the rustic wines of Tuscany and Rioja.
Keep going north and you'll cross into El Dorado County. There are more wineries in these parts than you can shake a $60 bottle of Zinfandel (the local grape) at – but don't do that! For us, two stand out.
Head to the Cantiga Wineworks to taste wines made in the old-school way, without chemicals or catalysts to fermentation. Drop into the Sierra Vista Winery to sample award-winning reds made from vines with a lineage that can be traced back to the French Côte-Rôtie hundreds of years ago.
Rambunctious Downtown Placerville is the finishing point for this wine-doused ride through the foothills. It's the perfect spot to debrief, with a Main Street that's riddled with Gold Rush-era saloons and cozy cafes.
The Sierra Foothills in California promises an unforgettable adventure filled with natural beauty, historical significance, and exceptional wines. As you navigate the winding roads, you'll be captivated by the picturesque landscapes, rolling hills, and rows of meticulously tended vines that define the region.
So, pack your bags, hit the road, and let the vineyards of the Sierra Foothills weave a tapestry of flavors, stories, and memories that will linger long after your traverse through these charming hills.
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