El Dorado AVA
The El Dorado AVA is a subset of El Dorado County's borders to the north and south but drawn by elevation for its east (3,500 feet) and west (1200 feet) borders. Within these borders the grapes show their characteristics of mountain grown. El Dorado is located in the Sierra Foothills directly east of Sacramento and the Carquines Strait opening up a direct line to the cooling of the Pacific marine layer. This influence is most significant when following a summer heat wave the cooling effects of the marine layer blow directly up into our foothills. Otherwise our warm daily summer temperatures are rapidly reduced at night from the cool upper elevation downdraft dropping temperatures by as much as 50 degrees. Location, location, location - El Dorado wine grapes enjoy a climate like no others.
El Dorado is a land of four seasons with everything from infrequent to regular snowfalls depending on the elevation. This elevational variation allows diversity in the selection of the grape varieties to grow. This diversity is reflected in the long list of wines produced in El Dorado. Annual rainfall is high, between 3 0 and 60 inches, greater as the elevation increases. But it rains mainly between November and April leaving the growing season long and dry. Where there is deep soil, dry farming can be practiced but most vineyards are supplemented with irrigation water. The vineyards of the north enjoy ample water supplied by the El Dorado Irrigation District but those in Fair Play and other outlying areas depend on scant supplies of groundwater. Yields are moderate to low averaging 2-4 tons per acre depending on varietal and location and that year's rainfall.
From Gold Rush to the new Pioneers
With the discovery of gold in El Dorado County in 1849 came the Gold Rush and the opportunity to farm and provide this wild population with food and wine. During this period El Dorado had more wineries and wine grapes than Napa and Sonoma. But as the Rush to gold wained so left the population for California's growing cities like San Francisco, Sacramento and the like. Transportation down the mountain with barrels of wine was difficult at best and other areas closer to these urban centers and with the transportion luxury of a lazy river (Napa River), El Dorado quieted down. And after the blow of phylloxera followed by the double punch of Prohibition, El Dorado all but disappeared on the wine map.
Then the new pioneers started arriving with Boeger Winery in 1972 followed by four more by 1980. The emphasis was on Zinfandel and the Bordeaux varieties at first. But it didn't take long before Syrah and the Rhone varities and many others were planted with mostly good success. This AVA has grown to about 65 wineries now in 2010 most of which open their doors to wine tasters from all over the world. The area's natural beauty alone makes El Dorado a must see on your ventures into the Sierra Foothills wine experience.