Off the Beaten Path Wine Country – Sierra Treasures


Written by:

Joe Becerra

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Far from the madding crowds lies this bucolic wine country in the Sierra Foothills. This adventure in off-the-beaten-path wine country starts in the upper Shenandoah Valley of Amador County and heads upwards to the Fair Play wine region of El Dorado County. The scenery is absolutely breathtaking. The wineries produce only small amounts of wine but are oh, so delicious. You will love this hidden getaway.

Quiet Sierra Foothill Wine Country

Vineyards at 2500 feet elevation in Fair Play

How do we get there

The Sierra Foothills in this area is in blah blah. From San Francisco. one can go through Sacramento or head over to 580 and the Stockon area. Either way is about a two blah drive to where we live to stay. Either Plymouth or Sutter Creek.

Where do we stay

In Plymouth, the best lodging is at Rest. In Sutter Creek, there are more choices for lodging and shopping. One can also start the adventure in Placerville, but we think Sutter Creek is the best wine and gold country town in this portion of the Sierra Foothills.

Where do we Dine

The same folks that run Rest Hotel in Placerville have the best restaurant in the area. It is Taste. Taste is very popular, so be sure to reserve a table well in advance. There is also an interesting restaurant in the tiny town of Volcano. Hotel George is worth a try.

Wineries to visit in Fair Play

There are many excellent wineries to visit between Plymouth and Fair Play. We want to get off the beaten path and for that reason, we head to Sobon Estate Vineyards to start our journey.,

Sobon Estate Vineyards

off the beaten path wine country
Sobon Estate winery and tasting room in Amador

Sobon is on Highway E16, Shenandoah Valley Road in Amador County. Sobon is family owned and has many varieties of wine. You will enjoy all the wines at Sobon, from the Rousanne to the Primitivo. Prices are reasonble. The tasting room is fun and very inviting. Check out the grounds; they are beautiful.

Skinner Vineyards

hidden wine country -sierra foothills fairplay
Historic vineyards at Skinner

As you move from Sobon to El Dorado County, the elevation will increase to upwards of 2000 feet. This brings a different climate and geography that mark the tasty wines of the Fair Play AVA. The wines are pricier at Skinner, but very well-made and delicious. The winery is all about Rhone-Style white and red wines.

Cedarville Vineyard

green manure vineyards
Jonathan Lachs in his East Zinfandel organic vineyard in Fair Play AVA

Susan Marks and Jonathan Lachs have teamed up to create the remarkable Cedarville Vineyard winery. This husband-and-wife team met at U.C. Davis, then worked in the Silicon Valley to build a nest egg for a winery. They chose the Fair Play area because it has the ideal environment for growing Rhone varietals. We think their wines are exquisite. Cedarville does not have a formal tasting room. Visitors are welcome by appointment only, and all wines are served in their cellar. It is a quaint and wonderful experience. Don’t miss out on Cedarville.

Gwinllan Estate

Jonathan Pack, winemaker pouring in the tasting room

Gwinllan Estate is at the top of ridge, at 2500 feet elevation, with excellent views of their vineyards and the Fair Play wine region. The tasting room is novel, dug into a mountain slope. Gwinllan is a family affair, Gordon Pack working with his two sons. The Gwinllan wines are delicious, well-made, with some unique varieties for the Fair Play area. Among the interesting wines are a sparkling wine, Riesling, Muscat Canelli, and a Mourvedre. You are likely to find one of the three Packs working the tasting room. 

Cantiga Wine Works

off the beaten path winecountry sierra foothills
Rich Rorden – owner and winemaker at Cantiga Wine Works

Cantiga Wine Works offers visitors something very unique in the world of winemaking. Rich Roden, the owner and winemaker, is committed to doing as little intervention as possible. He lets the wine do its natural thing as it develops and ages to maturity. Almost all wineries allow their red wines to undergo Malolactic Fermentation. ML, as it is called, at Cantiga is not allowed to occur. What this does is allow the wine to attain its fruit characteristic. You will understand more about natural winemaking techniques when you visit this unique winery.

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  • Joe Becerra

    Joe Becerra has been traveling to wine country and enjoying wine since 1965. He is a retired educator, and now have the time the opportunity to share his wine travel experiences through this Website.