Gwinllan Estate is one of the latest wineries to establish itself in the wine Region of Fair Play. Fair Play is a very small geographic area, at approximately 2000 to 2500 feet in elevation in the Sierra Foothills of El Dorado County. This was our first visit to the Gwinllan Estate.
We meandered our way from the Cedarville Winery along Fair Play Road to the entrance gate leading to the Gwinllan tasting room. From there you travel about a third of a mile up to the Gwinllan wine cave. It is a very pretty and scenic road through the vineyards. You are at 2500 feet and the views are excellent. The tasting room has been dug into the side of the hillside and thus called a wine cave. It is just the right temperature and humidity for aging wine in barrels. Once we were in the tasting room, owner Gordon Pack and son Jonathan Pack, winemaker extraordinaire, were there to greet us. That is what we love about visiting wineries in far out wine country. You will not get this type of reception anywhere in the Napa Valley.
We learn from Gordon Pack that he once tried to make wine is his native England. No matter how hard he tried, he was not successful. Eventually, he and his wife Chris found their way to California and began a search for the ideal winemaking area. They felt that Fair Play would be the ideal place to establish their winery and make wine. The high altitude, the decomposed granite, and the vineyard management techniques all add up to a unique terroir. Their first vintage was 2009.
We tasted through four wines. For now, only one white wine is produced, a Chardonnay. It’s a mellow Chardonnay, aged elegantly in French Oak barrels. We tasted three reds, the Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, and the Winemaker’s Selection. The wines are all well made and very tasty. We thought the best wine was the Winemaker’s Selection. This is a blend of Grenache and Syrah, a blend common in the Southern Rhone of France. The Pack Family plans to slowly increase production over the next several years. It is a winery to watch.
Perhaps the only negative for us is the price of the wines. They are steep compared to most wineries in Fair Play. Part of that can be attributed to the low-grape yield per acre of vineyards. According to Jonathan, the grape yields are small. The Packs want to stress the vines and give the remaining grapes more intensity. Still, back up at Cedarville, where the wines are equally impressive, the prices are much less.
If you would like to visit Gwinllan and the other wineries in Fair Play, we have mapped out a wine trail leading to our favorite wineries. You might also consider heading towards Plymouth and visiting wineries in Amador County and in the Shenandoah Valley. Wine tasting is available at Gwinllan Estate every Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 11 am to 5 pm.