Visiting the farms of Apple Hill has been a yearly family tradition since my children were babies. Near the Sierra foothill town of Placerville, just off the beaten path between Sacramento and Lake Tahoe are the Apple Hill Growers. Founded in 1964 with just 16 apple ranches, Apple Hill has now grown to include unique fruit and vegetable farms, bakeshops, wineries, a Bed & Breakfast Inn, flower gardens, and Christmas tree farms. The winding roads and scenic beauty have been a popular destination for over 50 years.
Though farms are open nearly year-round, Fall is prime time in Apple Hill. The apple orchards are in harvest and pumpkin patches are in full swing and as I discovered travelling for the first time without kids in tow – local wineries tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the farm tours provide a welcome respite.
While there is no shortage of options for paths to follow – here is my recommendation for a lovely day of indulging in food, fall treats and of course, Zinfandel!
When arriving in Apple Hill your first stop should always be Rainbow Orchards – home of the world-famous Apple Cider Donut. Donuts are always served fresh and hot. Grab a dozen and some freshly pressed Apple Cider to wash it down! Picnic tables under the apple trees are the perfect place to savor your treats.
If you have arrived early enough in the season, swing by Denver Dan’s for You-Pick apples. They have multiple varieties, but I highly recommend the golden delicious! Also – if you are lucky, they will have someone demonstrating their apple peeler and you can have a freshly peeled and sliced and served onto your thumb!
As you pull into Madroña’s you are likely to be greeted by Sprocket – winery dog extraordinaire! Not only will he greet you, but he will also escort you into the tasting room. There is no sign of pretention here, we were invited to draw on our outdoor picnic tables while we enjoyed the Zinfandels of the region. When we were ready to taste something new, Paul Bush owner and winemaker, invited us to pour out our glasses right onto the ground – “We have very happy trees here!” The outdoor tasting area has a lovely view of the vineyards and the signature Madroña Tree that drew his family to this location.
High Hill Ranch
You are probably ready for lunch by now and High Hill Ranch is the perfect spot! Honestly, you could probably spend the whole day at High Hill – they have a pumpkin patch, kid’s activities, craft booths but at the center is the Pie Shop. Don’t let the name fool you, there is far more than pie to be enjoyed here! Serving locally sourced & naturally flavored meats, including marinated Tri-Tip, flame grilled burgers, and slow cooked sausage links this restaurant specializes in traditional American style barbecue. And of course, pie for dessert!
Lava Cap Winery
After you have had your fill of goodies it’s time to head down the road to Lava Cap Winery. The tastings are held on a lovely redwood deck overlooking the patios, picnic areas and vineyards. Be prepared to be educated by the knowledgeable tasting room staff on the unique volcanic soil that makes this vineyard and these wines so special! In fact, we learned that The Jones family (a family of geologists!) specifically selected this location for its prime volcanic soil that is particularly well suited to growing fine wine grapes.
Able’s Apple Acres
I would be remiss in not suggesting that for your final farm stop, you visit Ables Apple Acres. This is always my favorite shop to pick up my take-home treats. The freezer is full of pies to bake at home, shelves stocked with Apple Butter, local honey and Apple Cake. There is also a candy corner where you can take home fudge or any one of their many fancy caramel apples, YUM!
Before you begin your trek home, be sure to stop at Boeger Winery. The enchanting outdoor tasting area is like a magical wooded glen. Picnic tables where you can bring your food (with purchase of some wine of course!) are sprinkled in the dappled shaded areas. In case you didn’t already know that this was one of the first wineries in the area, that will be apparent as you stroll down to the original homestead, which now functions as a venue for small private events. Constructed in 1872 and listed on the National Register of Historic places, the cellar is a cozy spot that can accommodate up to 20 guests.
No matter where you decide to stop in Apple Hill you are sure to feel the love that these family owned and operated farms and wineries have for the land and the fruits of their labors. Come prepared to explore and indulge in whatever the season has to offer!
Pro-tip: You can make your trip feel longer if you eat some of your treats on the drive home!