The granite peaks, volcanic slopes and snowmelt streams of California’s Sierra Nevada mountains have created high-quality conditions for grape growing throughout El Dorado County. These rugged features, some up to 10,000 feet above sea level, are doubly valued by local vintners who also enjoy a bit of adventure and dabble in recreational activities that range from kayaking and fly fishing to biking and horseback riding.
Here are the sports they love most, and the spots they visit to test themselves against the terrain.
Tasting Room Associate, Starfield Vineyards
For Becker and her big bay-and-white-paint gelding, Littleman, the era when horses were essential to frontier living in Gold Country is still very much alive.
“There are so many different trails—old railroad grades, the Pacific Crest Trail and Indian Diggings—that it’s easy to explore on horseback,” she says. While horse rentals are rare, the region boasts campgrounds specifically laid out for those who own their own steed, like Jenkinson Lake in Sly Park Recreation Area near Pollock Pines.
Partner/Director of Winemaking, Myka Cellars
A former competitive cyclist, Raas jumps on his mountain bike three or four times a week. He can hit the snowline after just a 15-minute climb from his house, where he says that he can feel some of the same climatic sensations as his grapes, like downdrafts from the river and extreme nighttime cooling. Sly Park Recreation Area, off U.S. Highway 50 near the town of Pollock Pines, is a prime destination for endurance cycling. However, for cycle-cross bikes, he says that Cronan Ranch Regional Trails Park along CA Highway 49 is the best bet.
Family Owner, Boeger Winery; Creator, Lexi Wines
“We’ve got great trout streams anywhere in the high Sierra, and especially in El Dorado County,” says Boeger, taught to fly fish as a girl by her father, Boeger Winery Founder Greg Boeger. Eventually, she started Fly Girls, a fly-fishing school for girls and women.
She recommends beginners try the American River along U.S. Highway 50 between Fresh Pond and Horsetail Falls. More adventurous anglers, she says, can pack a lunch, use a map to pinpoint a tributary of one of the main rivers and hike in. Pro tip: Boeger’s favorite dry fly is a Royal Wolff.
Owner/Cowinemaker, Holly’s Hill Vineyards
Bendick tried to take her family car-camping years ago, but compared to their secluded home on the vineyard property, it didn’t provide much solitude. It wasn’t long before hiking became their preferred escape. She recommends the Twin Lakes area west of Lake Tahoe. You can access the trailhead from the town of Kyburz on U.S. Highway 50, via Wrights Lake Road. The Rockbound Trailhead is also nearby.
Often closed through mid-June due to snow, it’s a more challenging climb. But it also boasts a more spectacular view from the top.
Vineyard Manager, Lava Cap Winery
After a day of picking grapes in the late summer heat, Jones’ favorite cool-off move is to plunk his kayak into the South Fork of the American River at Camp Lotus and ride on the Barking Dog rapid. This locally famous standing wave allows skilled kayakers to surf in place in the middle of the roiling river. While the waterway is famous for its guided whitewater rafting excursions, kayaking on your own “can be dangerous if you don’t know the safety behind it,” says Jones.
If you are familiar with all the precautions, a morning ride down the Chili Bar run on the South Fork can get the adrenaline pumping before an afternoon of wine tasting, he says.