‘Apple Hill’ offers visitors a ‘magical connection’ with the land | To travel
SAN JOSE, Calif .– How does it feel to spend time on the orchard-strewn slopes near Camino and Placerville that plunges us into a state of dream-eyed bliss?
Is it the refreshing mountain air?
The glorious pastoral landscape?
Or would it be the wine we sipped?
As our super friendly waiter introduces us to another flock of ‘mystical’ reds, we happily conclude that it must be all of the above.
We came to the historic Boeger Winery in an area known simply as Apple Hill and immediately fell in love with its enchanting, fairytale layout. We are seated at a wooden picnic table with grass under our feet and a canopy of redwood branches above our heads. Nearby, a pond is fed by a small stream.
And we rejoice in the pleasure of it all.
This picturesque estate includes a Gold Rush-era farmhouse that was once a winery and distillery before being closed during Prohibition. It wasn’t until the early 1970s that former Sacramento residents Greg and Sue Boeger turned the property into the area’s first modern commercial winery. Still standing here is a small two-story fieldstone structure that was built in 1872.
Today, Boeger and eight other wineries are part of the Apple Hill Growers Association. They each offer a unique taste of the Sierra foothills while also a reminder that the Apple Hill experience has become so much more than pastries, ciders and pies.
âPeople used to come for apples and they were surprised to find out, ‘Oh, there’s a winery up there,’â says winemaker Justin Boeger, who has a weakness for varietals and quirky blends with an emphasis especially on Barbera. âNow wineries are high on their to-do list. “
Speaking of things to do, this land of plenty in El Dorado County offers a dizzying array of activities throughout the year, but especially during the cooler days of fall, when the rolling countryside teems with. visitors to the Bay Area and all of Northern California.
At the ever popular High Hill Ranch, on your own, you can fish for trout in a small lake or take a cart ride through the orchard. There are pony rides for the kids, craft fairs, and a field of pumpkins to pick.
But that’s hardly it. Apple Hill Christmas Tree Farms open in November. In addition, there are nature trails to walk, corn mazes to conquer, handmade chocolates to gulp down, and landscapes to observe. Everywhere you go, aromas of fruit and pine mingle, and there’s no Taco Bell in sight.
We naturally want to participate in some of this Apple Hill action – although we could easily vegetate in the Boeger Gardens forever. So we get in the car and drive along Carson’s winding road, curious to see what new discoveries lurk around every turn.
I should note that our day trip was in early August – a time when many farms run by Apple Hill Growers had yet to fully open. Additionally, at press time in late August, smoke from the nearby Caldor fire hung heavily in the air – a reminder that tourists can sometimes be embarrassed by California’s ever-capricious wildfire season.
Among our first stops is Hidden Star Camino, which features a 16-tap craft cider bar. It is adjoined by a bakery, which we assume to be first-rate as several local residents have slumped down to the counter. Among their suggestions: try the blackberry cheesecake. No need to tell us twice.
It doesn’t take long before my inner child is drawn to an area of ââthe Hidden Star property dubbed Kid’s Town. It’s full of miniature wooden structures to climb and frolic on, including a church, hotel, pirate ship, and even a jail (where the bond is set at 10 cents). So imaginative and fun – a great place for the kids to breathe some energy while mom and dad take in the scenery.
From there, head to the expansive outdoor farmer’s market at Boa Vista Orchards, where mounds of fresh fruit and fresh produce vie for attention with a hard cider tasting bar. However, we are mainly won over by apple candies. So it’s a calorie heck as we load up on a range of mouthwatering donuts, turnovers, strudel, and apple-cinnamon donuts, all packaged for future consumption.
The gastronomic adventure continues with a late lunch at Pine-O-Mine Ranch. There, an imposing but unpretentious barn is surrounded by a vast lawn dotted with picnic tables. Inside the barn they have craft beers and ciders on tap – the perfect complement to the freshly grilled delicacies served outside.
As we enjoy generous pulled pork sandwiches, I am overwhelmed by the bucolic feeling of time lag. At any point, I practically expect to see Andy and Opie come out of the barn and head for the nearest fishing hole.
Meanwhile, I fully understand what Justin Boeger means when he talks about âa magical connection to the landâ that visitors feel when they return year after year to Apple Hill.
âIt’s kind of an agricultural paradise that represents what so many people enjoy these days,â he says.
Our afternoon in paradise ends with a visit to Edio Winery at Delfino Farms. Talk about the perfect bookends – a day that started at Boeger, the region’s oldest winery, ends with the most recent.
The Delfino family has a long history in El Dorado County, having welcomed guests to their farm and bakery since 1964. Last spring, in the midst of the COVID-19 shutdown, they stepped up their offering by opening a tasting room and cellar on their property and named it in honor of Edio Delfino, the late patriarch who founded the farm.
And what they have done with this place is amazing. The tasting room – and the store – are housed in an impressive rustic-industrial building with several nods to the past. It opens onto a large terrace that juts out spectacularly over acres of albarino grapes.
Perched at nearly 3,000 feet, Edio is one of California’s tallest vineyards. While tasting fine Alpine wines and good conversation, guests are treated to a magnificent tapestry of vine mounds, 60-year-old apple trees and a thick blanket of cedars. In the distance are the granite peaks of Desolation Wilderness.
And on this amazing day, the sunlight is spreading like icing over it all.
âIt really is a dream come true for us,â says Christine Delfino Noonan.
A dream, indeed. Christine and her brothers Peter and Derek founded the winery after studying agriculture and viticulture at Cal Poly and working at wineries in San Luis Obispo County. Apparently their wine is as good as the view. The 2019 MourvÃ¨dre, for example, recently got a score of 94 points from Wine Enthusiast.
âWe’re creating a bit of noise,â Noonan says, referring not only to Edio, but his neighboring vineyards. “… It’s great to see people fall in love with what you love.”
This love, of course, is well deserved. As we inhale all the warm vibrations in weary contentment, we know for sure that we will return – and that many memories will be created here.
If you are going to
Boeger Winery: Open year round 10 am to 5 pm daily at 1709 Carson Road in Placerville; www.boegerwinery.com.
Edio Winery at Delfino Farms: Open year-round 11 am-5pm Thursday through Monday at 3205 N. Canyon Road, Building 1, Camino; www.shop.delfinofarms.com.
Orchards Boa Vista: Open year round 7:30 am to 6 pm daily at 2952 Carson Road in Placerville; www.boavista.com.
Hidden Star Camino: open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily through November 30, as well as Fridays and weekends from December 1 at 4220 North Canyon Road in Camino; www.hiddenstarcamino.com.
High Hill Ranch: open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekends until December 24 at 2901 High Hill Road in Placerville; www.highhillranch.com.
Pine-O-Mine Ranch: Open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily until December 31 at 2620 Carson Road in Placerville; www.pineomine.com.
Find more information about other Apple Hill Grower locations and seasonal events and activities at www.applehill.com.