For wine enthusiasts, the Sierra foothills require patience and flexibility.
A comprehensive and up-to-date GPS also helps.
Aside from Shenandoah Valley in Amador County and Apple Hill in El Dorado County, wineries are more scattered than cohesive, thus the growing concentration of tasting rooms in towns such as Sutter Creek, Grass Valley and Murphys.
In the fall, this geographical spread has the bonus benefit of exposing motorists to a bright and varied tapestry of autumnal colors in both wildland and vineyard.
The lay of the land runs to small family wineries rather than industrial farms. Most of the settings are casual and relaxed, though in Shenandoah Valley a couple of architectural statements have risen on the hills (Andis and Helwig), and long-standing Renwood has been spruced up and energized with an influx of new money.
Intimacy and surprise set the tone in touring foothill wineries, the former in the ready accessibility of vintners, the latter in the increasing diversity of wine styles.
Fall is a relatively quiet time in the region, with harvest ending and winter pruning yet to commence. For the most part, large promotional events won’t resume until late winter or spring, and individual wineries aren’t as busy staging open houses. (Exceptions include Terre Rouge’s release of its highly regarded Ascent syrah Nov. 29 and Boeger Winery’s “Repeal of Prohibition” party Dec. 5.)
For more information on winery events, browse their websites or the websites of winery associations for Calaveras County ( www.calaveraswines.org), Amador County ( www.amadorwine.com), El Dorado County ( www.eldoradowines.org), Placer County ( www.placerwine.com) or Nevada County ( www.sierravintners.com).
A lot of wine enthusiasts seem to relish the calm. At Feist Wines in Amador City, at least, Anthony Feist has seen a sharp surge in business during the fall. “Our best time of the year is between Halloween and Christmas.”
One final note: Foothill wineries long have boasted that tasting in the area was free. That’s changing, in large part because many visitors transitioned quickly from tasting to drinking, with some tasting rooms taking on the atmosphere more of saloon than classroom. As a consequence, several tasting rooms now impose a fee, usually $5, though the levy customarily can be applied to subsequent purchase of a bottle.
– Mike Dunne