Like much of California’s wine history, the founding “wine-fathers” of the Sierra Foothills date back to the Gold Rush days. California’s Gold Rush originated in El Dorado County when James Marshall discovered the firsts glimmery nuggets at Sutter’s Mill in 1848. Along with the rush of Americans, Europeans,too, flocked to the area seeking their fortune in gold. Those immigrants brought with them their love and knowledge of grape growing and wine production and by 1870, El Dorado was one of the largest wine producing regions in California.

But by the 1920s, the gold mines had closed and Prohibition kicked in. It wasn’t until the 1970s, alongside Napa’s wine production “comeback” that the Sierra’s, too, found their permanent place on California’s winemaking map. For El Dorado, it was the opening of Boeger Winery in 1973 that gave this Foothill nook it’s status as an important wine region, becoming its own AVA in 1983. Today, El Dorado has over 2,000 acres planted to vines, about 50 wineries, and produces some of the most bold California wines due to their unique place below the Sierra Mountains.

Courtesy of the Eldorado Wine Association

What makes the El Dorado appellation so unique is its varying elevations and topography. How cool and how warm an area gets is based solely upon its elevation and soil type — not its proximity to water (as opposed to as coastal regions, who rely strongly on ocean breezes and fog). Here, cooling breezes roll down from the Sierras, and the rocky terrain can create pockets where vineyards can either be shielded from, or immersed in, that cold air.

The three basic soil types of the region are fine-grained volcanic rock, decomposed granite, and fine-grained shale — all whose already good-draining abilities are enhanced by the area’s elevation.

The diversity of these microclimates and soil types means a diversity in grape varieties — El Dorado grows about 50 different types, from cool-climate grapes like Gewürztraminer to sun-loving grapes like Barbera (and pretty much everything in between).

But it’s El Dorado’s Pleasant Valley that’s become the Sierra Foothills known Rhône region and where I’ll be traveling this week, taking a closer look at three specific wineries and their expression of the Rhône wines I’ve come to love.

So let’s jump right in with:

Narrow Gate 2013 Estate Syrah-Viognier

Holly’s Hill 2015 Estate Carignane

Miraflores 2011 Estate Syrah

Narrow Gate 2012 Dunamis Estate GSM

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