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Grapevines first took root in Placer County the same year that the discovery of gold kicked off the California Gold Rush. Up until Prohibition, the Sierra Foothills surpassed Napa and Sonoma counties in wine production. The resurgence of Placer County winemaking began in the 1960s, and the area now boasts 20 local wineries.
With primarily small, family-owned vineyards, the Sierra Foothills offers a welcoming, intimate wine-tasting experience that seems worlds apart from the more commercialized feel of larger wine regions. To help visitors explore the county’s thriving viticulture scene, the Placer Wine Trail was created to help discover all there is to do. Get to know the laid-back, personal character of Placer County’s vineyards with one of these three suggested itineraries.
Start off your day with breakfast at the Old Town Auburn Farmers’ Market, open year-round on Saturday mornings. After fueling up, make your first stop at Auburn’s Vina Castellano for award-winning Spanish-style wines. Located on a family ranch amidst quintessential California hills, this winery beckons visitors to soak up the pastoral atmosphere. Tastings in its bar or stone barrel cave include seven to 10 wines and take place Thursday through Sunday afternoons. Add a snack platter to your wine tasting, because delicious Tempranillo, Garnacha, and cabernet franc deserve to be paired with equally authentic Spanish meats, cheese, and olives. In summer, sip wine down by the river while you enjoy a picnic or play on the croquet and bocce courts.
Just up the road, Fawnridge Winery continues the rustic feel at this family-operated vineyards and tasting room. Visit Friday through Sunday afternoons for complimentary tastings of their award-winning wines. We mean it when we say award-winning: every wine they’ve produced has earned an award. Views of rolling foothills and the resident goat and sheep herds make the property a welcoming place to stay a while as you sip chardonnay or Tempranillo.
Continue farther north to Bear River Winery in Meadow Vista. This boutique winery produces handcrafted wines from grapes grown on its own property and around the northern Sierra. Come for a complimentary tasting in the barn-style tasting room on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon. The friendly staff will pour a selection from their extensive list of rosés, reds, red blends, white blends, and dessert wines while you enjoy views of the forested hills surrounding the vineyard.
In Auburn, the family-owned Mt. Vernon Vineyard and Winery was established in 1996, and it features a tasting room that was built in a restored 1950s milk house, surrounded by gardens and overlooking the vineyards. It’s a wonderful place to sample the wines made there, including Old Vine Zinfandel, Syrah Port, Cabernet Sauvignon, and a barrel-aged, fermented Chardonnay.
Located on Wise Road between Auburn, Newcastle, and Lincoln, you’ll find five spectacular wineries within six miles of one another. Start closest to Auburn at Lone Buffalo Vineyards. This small, family-operated winery offers a friendly, educational wine-tasting experience in the laid-back comfort of the countryside. Kick back on their patio while you sample your way through Mediterranean and Rhone varietals—don’t miss the heavily awarded syrah blend.
Continue on to Dono dal Cielo, the 7-acre estate producing 10 wine varietals. After a guided tasting, stretch out for a picnic on their lawn or patio. The family welcomes visitors to bring kids and dogs along, and chances are you’ll meet their two dogs roaming the property. Around the block, PaZa Estate Winery invites you to sample their growing list of artisanal wines in their rustic, outdoor tasting shed overlooking the tree-covered hillsides. Ciotti Cellars and tasting room lies just down the road, where brothers Giuseppe and Archangelo draw on their Italian culture and family winemaking heritage to produce small batches of delicious vino.
End the evening at the family-owned Wise Villa Winery & Bistro. This 26-acre estate boasts more than 30 world-class wines and has earned the prestigious recognition as the Golden State Winery of the Year 2015. Sign up for an intimate winery tour and tasting, then treat your group to the full culinary experience at their elegant Tuscan-style bistro. Enjoy live music at the bistro on Fridays and watch the sunset over the hilly vineyards from its courtyard.
With so many wineries to visit on this stretch of road, it makes sense to spend the night in Auburn. The Park Victorian and Holiday Inn Auburn are two of the best options for a relaxing getaway.
Travel a bit farther south in Placer County to the small town of Loomis for three more local wineries. Start the day at Secret Ravine to sample handcrafted wines produced from grapes grown on their sustainable vineyard. Unique French and Italian styles like Zinfandel, Tannat, and cabernet franc fill its list. Then make your way to Cristaldi Vineyards (open Saturdays only) for small-batch wines at their charming, Italian-inspired estate. You’ll walk through vineyards and olive groves to reach the tasting room at this 5-acre farmstead. Once you arrive, make yourself at home on the patio for a leisurely, seated wine tasting experience.
Finish the Loomis Basin tour at Casque Wines. Rhone- and Bordeaux-style wines take center stage at this quaint, homey winery. Its tasting room and garden share the property with The Flower Farm Café, which serves lunch on Casque’s patio.
Celebrate the vibrant wine culture of Placer County by joining in on one of the local wine and food events. The Grape Days of Summer joins together the entire Placer Wine Trail for a weekend-long extravaganza every July. One paid ticket gets you wine tastings and small bites at all the wineries on the Trail along with educational sessions and live music at many of the wineries. Come December, Holidays in the Hills follows a similar format of a self-guided Wine Trail tour and combines it with a charity toy drive. Wine tastings, music, holiday cheer, and food trucks make this two-day event a great way to kick off the season.
Written by Jenna Herzog for Matcha in partnership with Visit Placer County and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Featured image provided by Visit Placer County