Magazine article Sunset

Apple Blossom Time in El Dorado County; around Placerville, It's Time to Visit Wineries, an Iris Farm

Magazine article Sunset

Apple Blossom Time in El Dorado County; around Placerville, It's Time to Visit Wineries, an Iris Farm

Article excerpt

Apple Hill spells autumn to most people. Come September and October, these orchards east of Sacramento are laden with ripe Romes and Gravensteins and Granny Smiths, and tourists by the thousands crowd the two-lane roads there.

We like autumn in Apple Hill just fine. But right now the hill and nearby portions of El Dorado County are putting on a show just as worthy of attention-a feast for the eyes if not the stomach. From late March through April, apple trees push out white blossoms that make them resemble a bevy of brides parading over dewy green bills.

You can also enjoy spring's visual bounty (which also includes peach, pear, and cherry blossoms) without contending with the crowds that arrive after Labor Day. Most apple growers have closed their retail operations for the season, but you can still picnic and hike on the ranches. Make a day of it and sample the region's gold rush history-and some of the Cabernets and Merlots that signal El Dorado County's growing importance as a wine center.

Fifty miles east of Sacramento on US. Highway 50, the area makes a good day trip from that city or from the Bay Area. We've devised two 60-mile routes. Both start in Apple Hill; one leads northwest from there, the second south. On the southern route, you'll find a different kind of blooming attraction: irises.

There's blossoms on them thar hills Apple Hill begins just east of Placerville and stretches 10 miles on the north side of US. Highway 50 to the town of Camino. Take the Schnell School Road, Carson Road, or Cedar Grove exit; orchards line Carson and N. Canyon roads, Larsen Drive, and other byways. The routes are well marked with Apple Hill signs. Orchards have a long history here. After James Marshall discovered gold in Coloma in 1848, some entrepreneurs determined that growing fruit and vegetables for miners was a surer road to riches than panning for gold in a cold stream. Marshall himself switched to farming when the rush he started failed to reward him. Pears were the preferred crop for much of this century, but by the 1960s most growers had turned to apples. The Apple Hill Growers association now has 45 members. Last year's apple crop has already been sold. But two of the ranches should be open at least part of this month: Boa Vista Orchard, at 2954 Carson Road, usually sells apple butter, dried apples, frozen apple pies, and other goodies into April, but call 622-5522 to make sure. And on April 20 and 21, Pat Scheuner of Grandpa's Cellar sponsors Apple Blossom Open House, with free samples of apple recipes she's testing for sale next fall. You'll find Grandpa's at 2360 Cable Road; call (916) 644-2153.

For a list of growers and their facilities, write to or call Apple Hill Growers, Box 494, Camino 95709; 622-9595.

A new generation of wineries

Apples aren't the only agricultural attraction on Apple Hill. In the 1870s, ItalianSwiss winemakers began planting vineyards on the slopes. Prohibition ended their operations, but in the 1970s a new crop of pioneer winemakers settled here, and El Dorado County has now earned its own appellation. First of the new vintners was Greg Boeger; he says the region's high elevations (1,200 to 3,500 feet) and cool nights preserve the grapes' acidity and bring out more intense flavor. …

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