Blazing New Trails in El Dorado County

In the heart of the Sierra Foothills wine region, between Sacramento, and Lake Tahoe, El Dorado County’s history in wine dates back to 1848, when gold was first discovered at Sutter’s Mill.

Published: 6/24/2014

In the heart of the Sierra Foothills wine region, between Sacramento, and Lake Tahoe, El Dorado County’s history in wine dates back to 1848, when gold was first discovered at Sutter’s Mill. Today, the county is home to more than 70 wineries and more than 2,000 vineyard acres, planted at the highest elevations in California. Across the state, El Dorado fruit is in high demand. Enticed by the soil, elevation, and quality of the grapes, many winemakers have migrated here. Recently, we toured the county asking, “What’s new? Are you applying any practices in the vineyard, winery, or tasting room that our readers should know about?”

Lava Cap
Assistant Vineyard Manager Kevin Jones
“In the vineyard, we’re trying to catch the true phenolic ripeness in all of our varieties. This allows the fruit to express the unique flavors derived from grapes grown in lava cap soils. Our soil is rarely found in regions viable for grape production. We like to taste this unique quality in the wine. In the cellar, our new winemaker, Joe Norman, has introduced a new barrel program and aging program. The clean luscious fruit Joe seeks are going to put the quality of our wines into a new category. We can’t wait to share the results.”

Wofford Acres Vineyards
Winemaker Paul Wofford
“We joined the Fish Friendly Farming program several years ago, when it was first introduced in El Dorado County. They ran a pilot program and we really admired the concept. We were in the second class for certification. Personally, I’m an avid fly fisherman, and I take the responsibility of sustainable and environmentally safe farming very seriously. Anything we can do as a winery to promote stewardship of the land and our water supply is a program we can wholeheartedly support.”

David Girard Vineyards
Winemaker Grayson Hartley
“We are dedicated to growing grapes that pay homage to the Rhône Valley, including the obscure varieties that appear as a small but important percentage in blends, like Counoise, Rolle, Marsanne, and Grenache Blanc. All of these grapes are head trained in the traditional way. In the winery, we take our Rosé very seriously. Rather than practicing the saignee method, we make our Rosé by direct press. The grapes are farmed, picked, and processed specifically for the Rosé, rather than as a by-product of a red wine fermentation. This results in a refreshing, dry, and never overblown pink wine.”

Narrow Gate Vineyards
Winemaker Frank Hildebrand
“This spring, we applied our first Biodynamic vineyard spray, known as BD501, aka horn silica. It is prepared by crushing quartz rock into a very fine powder and stuffing it into the horn of a cow that has calved previously (for the calcium influence as the silica and quartz composts) and buried it in a shallow hole. It remains there for the entire summer and then we dig it up and store it for use next spring. When ready for use, the mixture is diluted in clean well water. We spray it over the tops of our newly pushed buds and leaves as a stimulator for upward growth.”

Skinner Vineyards & Winery
Winemaker Chris Pittenger
“We are extremely fastidious in the winery. Since we don’t fine or filter our wines, we have to be surgical in our sanitation practices. Our winery is also a sustainable winery facility. It is solar powered and cooled at night by the outside air. The winery building itself is made from recycled steel with high R-value insulation. At Skinner, we focus on growing and producing Rhône varietals. Our Grenache, in particular, is getting a lot of press as a single varietal and we’re also using it in our blends.”

Owner Victor Alvarez
“We have an intriguing sweet wine program that consists of interesting wines made in Old World style. Our Black Muscat Wine is made in the Angelica style. Fortifying very early [and] creating a delicious sweet wine. Another wine, Tintoretto, is created in an interesting way. We dry the estate Petite Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah grapes in equal proportions for three months in the cellar. We vinify the concentrated grapes, producing a wine that is very unique to the Sierra Foothill region. Our Tintoretto is similar to the Amorone style of making wine in Italy.”

Mount Aukum Winery
Winemaker Michel Prod’hon
“I was born in France and my wife, Terrie, and I have developed a number of practices to support the look, feel, and overall aesthetic energy of a winery based in France. We now have a fountain outside with flowing water, numerous plants and greenery leading up to the doors, photos and artwork of French landscape around the tasting room, and so on. We also landscaped to open up the tasting room entrance and exterior tasting environment to focus on our unmatched views. In short, we have created a full experience to match our French style wines.”

Boeger Winery
Owner Greg Boeger
“We have a new planting of Pinot Noir on a property that we bought about 10 years ago. It's in a cool, high elevation site that we feel is ideal for this variety, since the Sierra Foothills are not known as being a climate to grow Pinot. We planted five clones of Pinot on this site and have made three vintages under our Pinot Grande label designed by my daughter. The 2010 vintage got a “Best of Region” Gold Medal at the State Fair that hopefully vindicated my decision to plant such a sensitive variety in our area.”

As seen in the issue Summer/Fall 2014 of Touring & Tasting Magazine.