Welcome to the second installment of our El Dorado Wine Country Adventure. Today’s appellations of focus: Fair Play and Pleasant Valley. As I mentioned in my first article, El Dorado wine growers enjoy the benefits of elevation — from 1,200 to 3,500 feet — in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, just west of Lake Tahoe.
A long growing season, cool nights and complex soil all contribute to unique flavors rendered from such classic wines as Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Barbera. Scores of other well-known varietals from Germany, France, Italy and Spain enjoy a revitalized flavor, due to the uniqueness of this region and its terroirs.
El Dorado county is large enough, and diverse enough, that it divides itself into four distinct wine appellations: Fair Play, Pleasant Valley, Apple Hill/Camino, and Greater El Dorado. Today’s post focuses on Fair Play and Pleasant Valley.
Fair Play is recognized by its winding back roads, thick oak forests, creeks, tucked away ranches and wineries. It feels magical, because at first glance it doesn’t really seem like “wine country.” Don’t let the deep woods fool you, though! In Fair Play you will find the likes of Perry Creek Winery (2,400 elev.), home of the “Zin Man,” their mascot. Big, spacious and accommodating, Perry Creek’s European and American wine makers bring out a boutique flavor in traditional wines, specializing in Rhone varietals and Zinfandels. Other notable wineries in Fair Play are Windwalker and Toogood.
This appellation is precisely what its name suggests. Rolling gentle slopes, pastures with grazing horses, crooked wooden fences and twisty country roads through California oaks are characteristic of this appellation. Additionally, the soil here is very thin, forcing roots to struggle deep into the soil, where rich minerals and deposits add to wines’ character and taste. Wineries tend to be spaced further apart, and are more “boutique.” Pleasant Valley boasts being the original area of vineyards that supplied the 49ers of old. Holly’s Hill, which practices the trellising method called “quartering” is typical of the small, tucked away wineries here. Auriga Cellars is another example of an award-winning winery from this appellation.
Next time: Greater El Dorado and Apple Hill/Camino appellations.