Travel Gold Country
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Raise a glass along Gold Country’s ale, wine trails
By Carey Sweet

When exploring Gold Country, many travelers plan their trips around breweries and wineries they would like to visit. It’s a salute to history, actually, since beer dates back to the Gold Rush era, as thirsty prospectors soothed their parched throats with something more flavorful (and fun) than water.

Wine grapes, too, have been grown in the area since the 1850s, as European fortune seekers flocked to the Sierra Nevada region in search of gold. When not mining, they set to building small wineries to make the cherished drinks of their home countries. At one point, there were more than 100 wineries operating in the Mother Lode area.

To help plan your own adventure, check out routes such as the Shenandoah Valley Wine Trail, the Placer County Wine Trail and the Tuolumne County Wine Trail.

You can also plot some stops along the Placer County Wine & Ale Trail, including breweries, places to eat and places to stay.

Wherever you go, be sure to raise a glass to those Gold Rushers.

GOATHOUSE BREWING CO.

To make their boutique beers, owners Michael and Catherine Johnson grow their own organic hops on their brewery’s surrounding 11.5 acres, keep bees for honey and grow their own herbs and fruit to add even more flavors.

You can tour the farm and admire the pets, including goats, a mini donkey named Rory, geese and chickens that are fed with spent grain from the brewing process.

Then, mosey back to the big redwood barn to sip the good stuff. Converted into a brewery and shabby chic tasting room, the space brims with charming touches like the tasting bar, tables and shelving made from former horse stall wood (the bartender will proudly explain that the wood was initially salvaged from the original Kezar Stadium in San Francisco before becoming equine housing).

This is where to mingle with locals, stopping in to get growlers filled or lounging against the bar to check out the seasonal quaffs.

Some 13 beers are on tap, in fun recipes like Disco Lemonade (Meyer lemon Saison), Gose 4 My Plums (a light, tart Gose featuring Italian and Santa Rosa plum varietals grown on-site) and Big Brown Beer (an Imperial, malty brown ale aged in 10-year-old Kentucky Bourbon barrels).

Weekends also mean noshing with rotating food trucks that offer items like pizza, Greek bites, wings and burgers.

VIÑA CASTELLANO

A heavy wood door adorned with iron bull horns greets visitors at this tasting room, set in a cave tucked into a small hill beneath tall steel winery tanks. You may feel like you’re lost at first and venture to the nearby home set next to a large pond. But no, the dark, moody cavern is indeed where you go to sample the intriguing, Spanish style wines produced here.

Built-in stone walls and a low stone ceiling with string lights, the small space is cluttered with a mish-mash of gift items, a plank table balanced on barrels and a lounge, and it feels like a delicious secret. The owners, the Mendez family, hail from Spain and celebrate the culture by pouring between seven and 10 estate wines, including Tempranillo, Garnacha, Monastrell and an Abuelito red blend.

The estate is a particular gem on summer weekends, when you can relax over al fresco Sangria tastings by the pond. Add tapas, as well, of Spanish meats, olives, cheeses, tapenades, Marcona almonds and dark chocolate. You can also borrow croquet or bocci equipment to play on the lawns or simply chill at the Adirondack chairs and bistro tables.

AMADOR BREWING COMPANY

Brewery co-owners Will Pritchard and Matthew Johnson don’t do boring beer.

Alongside signatures like lemony Kolsch Pilsner Ale, wildflowernuanced Kit Carson Pale Ale and tropical Amador IPA, they whip up concoctions like the marvelous, tongue-tingling Velvet Volcano con Chili. This Imperial Stout is infused with pasilla, arbol and chipotle chiles, the peppers lending fruity aroma, smoky flavor and mischievous heat.

They are also food-friendly beers, too. That fiery Volcano, for example, is perfect for pairing with the fine food truck and catered grub often offered at the tasting room. Pad Thai from Thai Lemongrass, ribs from Incahoots BBQ & Catering and spicy fried chicken from Nash & Proper are particularly delicious.

The near-constant introduction of new boutique-batch beers — along with the very popular Amador Brewing hallmarks — have helped make the brewery a quick success since it opened in spring of 2015.

The tasting room keeps busy sending out its eight beers on tap, served solo or as flights of four glasses tucked into craved wood boards.

Bottled brews and growlers can be had, too, or for folks in a full party mood, kegs are available to-go.

In between sips, guests play pinball, watch the beers being made in the tanks and barrels just steps away, or soak up the sun with their pups on the patio.

SCOTT HARVEY WINES

Lots of wineries claim to work with Old Vine Zinfandel grapes, but winemaker Scott Harvey can boast that louder than most. His Scott Harvey Vineyard 1869 Zinfandel is sourced from what he claims are “America’s oldest documented Zinfandel vineyard.” No wonder he lovingly calls the fruit “Grandpère” grapes, crafting them in Old World style to highlight their luscious, briary blackberry notes.

Harvey also makes Amador County Barbera, including a singlevineyard bottling from the county’s Toy Vineyard. He’s known, too, for his Amador County Syrah, in three labels including the Mountain Selection, from grapes grown on the steep rocky volcanic slopes of this Sierra mountain terrain.

To sample, visit the storefront tasting room in the historic gold