el dorado, El Dorado Passport Weekend, El Dorado Wine, El Dorado Wine Country, Sierra Foothills, Sierra Foothills AVA, Wine

El Dorado Passport Weekend 2018

Off again on another exciting wine tasting weekend! This time we were headed to El Dorado County, for the El Dorado Passport Weekend. El Dorado County is right in our back yard, just about an hour from home. As guests of the El Dorado Winery Association, who provided us with complimentary VIP passes to the event, we were looking forward to a deeper exploration of the region. While we’ve lived nearby for many years, quite honestly, our ventures to the land of gold discovery had been few.

 

El Dorado Winery Association represents nearly 50 wineries. About half were participating in the annual Passport Weekend. With so many wineries to choose from, we had to map out our strategy. Compounding the mathematical quandary was the fact that we had only Saturday to attend. We had other commitments on Sunday! Clearly, we needed a plan.

El Dorado County is located east of Sacramento, and runs from the valley floor all the way to the peaks of the Sierra Nevada mountains. In fact, the town of South Lake Tahoe is in El Dorado County. The highway that one travels from Sacramento to South Lake Tahoe is U.S. Highway 50, part of the historic Lincoln Highway. As it happens, Highway 50 bisects El Dorado wine country, with the Apple Hill area wineries on the north side, and Pleasant Valley, Mount Aukum, and Fair Play regions to the south. Of these regions, Fair Play is perhaps the most well-known, at least in the area, and is the part of El Dorado County we’ve explored the most. With that realization, our plan was established. We would delve into the Apple Hill area, on the north side of Highway 50, and visit wineries that were completely new to us! Well, mostly, as you will read.

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Image Credit: El Dorado Winery Association

The El Dorado Passport Weekend actually spans two weekends. We attended the second. The first weekend was met with sunshine and unseasonably warm temperatures. The second weekend was, well, more seasonable. It was overcast and chilly, with an often biting wind at outdoor venues. Nevertheless, even cold weather would not prevent us from enjoying the day and sampling some fantastic El Dorado County wines.

High elevation wines are what sets El Dorado Wine Country apart from other California regions. The growing region varies from 1,200 to more than 3,500 feet above sea level! That’s some serious altitude! Some 50 grape varieties thrive here, from Gewürztraminer to Cabernet Sauvignon, to Barbera, to Chardonnay, to Zinfandel, and many others. Rhône and Bordeaux varietals do especially well here. There are many soil types, including volcanic rock, decomposed granite, and fine shale, each providing its own influence to the terroir.

El Dorado Grape Varieties
Image Credit: El Dorado Winery Association

From here, please enjoy the photo montage along with brief descriptions of each winery we visited. We quickly learned that El Dorado Winery Association knows how to host a party, as each winery had food pairings for almost all of their wines. We did not go hungry!

Our first stop was Fenton Herriot Vineyards. Perched atop a hillside with spectacular views, Fenton Herriot is located just outside Placerville, a quaint Gold Rush era town. The wines were as amazing as the views, and we enjoyed the catered food pairings as well. As part of the VIP experience we were invited to a three-vintage vertical tasting of their Sangiovese.

 

 

Next was Lava Cap Winery. This is the one I intimated above; we’ve been familiar with Lava Cap for years, because their production is such that they can be found in Sacramento area restaurants and even grocery stores. Don’t let this dissuade you, however, their wines are first-class! As part of our VIP experience, we tasted a flight of library wines, including a 12 year old, oak aged Viognier. Yes, you read that right – a 12 year old Viognier! It was spectacular!

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Moving on, we stopped at Madroña. Established in 1973, Madroña is one of the oldest El Dorado County wineries. I even remember them being there when I visited Apple Hill as a child! Here was tasted a flight of Cabernet Sauvignon including a 1985. That’s the year my daughter was born! The wine has aged and mellowed as much as my daughter has. Amazing! They also have a red blend, El Tinto, composed of 25 different grape varieties. Delicious!

 

 

Next we stopped at Via Romano Vineyards. Via Romano specializes in Italian varietals, and they do them exceptionally well. Check out the Pinot Grigio paired with mango, peach, and apple bruschetta! Simply ethereal!

From there, we stopped at Bumgarner Winery. Any San Francisco Giants fans in the audience? Owner Brian Bumgarner did some genealogical research, and found at least a distant relation to starting pitcher and future Hall of Famer, Madison Bumgarner. Even if baseball is not your thing, stop on by their rustic tasting room for some rich, full-bodied red wines.

At the recommendation of one of the staff at Bumgarner, we next ventured just south of Highway 50 to Chateau Davell. There we were reunited with owner and winemaker, Eric Hayes, who we had met at the Wine Bloggers Conference a few months earlier. Eric is a skilled winemaker, and also an accomplished painter. Each label is adorned with a portrait of a family member, lovingly painted by Eric himself.

As you can imagine if you’re keeping score, by now we were getting palate fatigued. Nevertheless, we had some time to kill before we would be meeting friends in Placerville. So we forged on to one last winery, Sierra Vista Vineyards and Winery. Another early pioneer in El Dorado Wine Country, established in 1979, Sierra Vista was also on the forefront of the Rhône movement in the area. Their dedication to the craft is evident in each sip.

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With a renewed fascination and enthusiasm for our backyard wine region, we are determined to return soon and continue our adventure of discovery. If you are planning a trip to Northern California, perhaps to the more famous wine regions like Napa, Sonoma, or Lodi, you owe it to yourself to plan a little detour to the east, and come discover the fantastic wines of El Dorado County.

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael
  • Unless otherwise credited, all photos by Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael
#WBC17, Santa Rosa, Sonoma County, Wine, Wine Blogger Conference, Wine Cave Dinner, Winery

Pulling the Cork on WBC17

It was a dark and stormy night.

Snoopy

That seems an appropriate way to open a story about a trip to Santa Rosa, home to the Charles Shultz museum. Charles Shultz, of course, was the creator of the Peanuts comic strip, and everybody’s favorite beagle, Snoopy.

Our “easy” drive to Santa Rosa was hampered by the first significant rain storm of the season. The roads were slick, and glare from oncoming headlights was blinding, so everyone was driving extra cautiously. And slow. But we made it, and spent the last three days enjoying the activities and adventures of the 10th Annual Wine Blogger’s Conference, #WBC17.

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It was our first time attending WBC, but it will not be our last! It was a fun, informative, and engaging event. This post will be a general overview of events, with more detailed posts of the highlights in coming days and weeks.

Our first event was an excursion to Hanna Winery. Located on a hilltop with gorgeous, sweeping views of the valley, Hanna Winery has been in operation since 1985. We were greeted by our host, Christine Hanna, who gave us some history, and then winemaker Jeff Hinchcliffe took us down to the barrel room for some tasting. Following this, we enjoyed an amazing lunch, paired with several Hanna wines. Welcome to Sonoma County, indeed!

Upon our return to Santa Rosa, we participated in a Wine Discovery Session with Mark Beringer, Chief Winemaker at Beringer Vineyards. He led us through a tasting of their Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, starting with four of the single vineyard wines that go into the final blend. Once we had established the baseline, we “worked” our way through a decade vertical tasting of the Private Reserve wines, starting with 2014 and travelling back in time to the 2004, 1994, and finishing with the 1984 vintage. The evolution of these powerhouse wines was amazing to behold.

Later in the day, we journeyed around the world with A Study of Pinot Noir. Our tour guide was Senior Winemaker John Priest, from Etude Winery. He took us from Sonoma County, north to the Willamette Valley, then all the way south to New Zealand in our exploration of this incredibly versatile grape. It was a wonderful trip!

The wine education sessions were followed by an opening reception, where we met many of the bloggers we have been following, as well as new friends. Thus ended day one!

The following day, we attended educational seminars covering writing tips, legal and ethical issues, wine vocabulary, and developing relationships with wine companies. Lunch was hosted by El Dorado Wines. Nearly 30 El Dorado County winemakers lined the back of the conference room, and then poured samples of their wines.

After lunch we enjoyed a Wine Education Seminar, presented by Lyn Farmer, about the “Region to Watch,” DOP Cariñena in Spain. We were immediately enamored with the region, and have added DOP Cariñena to our list of “Must Visit” destinations. We tasted through an amazing flight of Garnacha, with one Cariñena varietal wine (you may know it as Carignan) mixed in for interest. These are some amazing, affordable wines. You’ll want to try some as soon as possible!

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Following a captivating keynote address by Doug Frost, we participated in our first Live Wine Blogging event. Wineries get five minutes at each table to pour tastes, and we blogged, Tweeted, or Instagrammed our impressions of the wines. It was kind of like speed dating, but with wine! A high-energy and raucous time, we tasted some amazing wines! The Friday speed-tasting was whites and rosés.

Friday ended with what was the absolute highlight: a Wine Cave Dinner at the Thomas George Estate. It was a first class affair! It was an amazing, “check-it-off-the-bucket-list” adventure. We’ll write more about this later, but suffice it to say this was among best meals we have ever had!

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Saturday opened with more educational sessions, including Social Media tips, photography and video, and panel discussions covering relations with PR firms, and ideas for monetizing a wine blog. (If you’re into that whole, making money doing what you love thing.) We also attended a presentation about the devastating wild fires that ravaged the area only one month earlier. The destruction was unprecedented, but the recovery and rebuilding has begun, and Wine Country is open for business.

Following lunch, we returned to Spain with our host, Lyn Farmer, to explore DO Rías Baixas, and the spectacular Albariño wines being produced there. We tasted through 10 (yes, ten!) different expressions of this amazing white wine. I can’t say enough about Lyn Farmer and his friendly, comfortable teaching style and encyclopedic knowledge of Spanish wines.

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After another round of Live Wine Blogging, AKA speed-tasting, this time with red wines, the conference concluded with a banquet hosted by NakedWines.com. As you probably know, I am a long-time customer of NakedWines.com, so it was fun to see many of the winemakers and staff I have come to know over the years.

Even with all the fun and wine (did I mention we had wine?) the biggest take-away for us is the comradery, support, and encouragement that exists in the wine blogging community. From big name bloggers and writers, who have thousands of followers and are making a living writing about wine, to brand new members who have yet to post their first blog, we were warmly welcomed and embraced as part of the family.

Finally, the dates and location for next year’s Wine Blogger’s Conference were announced. Walla Walla, here we come! We hope to see you there!

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael