Adventurous wines: 2017 Passport celebrates El Dorado County-based wineries

Autumn Whitney
Passport attendees sample wine from Skinner Vineyards & Winery at the 2016 event.
Courtesy / Heather Palmer |

One of the top county-wide wine events is back for its 26th year: On April 22-23 and 29-30, El Dorado County Wine Association’s 2017 Passport is taking over a vineyard near you — and with the sunny weather currently in the forecast, there’s no better time to drive through the scenic foothills in search of local wines.

For those who don’t know, the two-weekend-long event features over 20 wineries from the region. Learn about winemaking in El Dorado County while sampling a variety of wines and food from participating locations.

“We tried to create unique experiences at each winery that guests wouldn’t be able to experience when they’re visiting any other time of the year — that typically includes being able to interact directly with our owners and winemakers.

“Some wineries offer barrel tastings that they wouldn’t offer normally, and most of the wineries have some sort of food component, whether it’s individual pairings with the tastings they’re offering, or some sort of signature food item that they think pairs well with all the wine that they’re serving,” EDWA Passport chair Stephanie Simunovich said.

Participating wineries are scattered across the county, reaching from Caloma and Apple Hill on the northern side to Fair Play on the south. Pick your starting winery, and the rest of the weekend is yours to plan.

“It tends to be a really fun and engaging event where the wineries pull back the cellar door and give people inside access to the wineries that they might not be able to normally allow guests into year round,” Simunovich noted.

The various wineries will be offering a range of blends and food pairings: Camino-based Findleton Estate Winery’s menu is an “Under the Sea Adventure” and Lava Cap Winery in Placerville is offering pairings with food inspired by nature. Other notable themes include Miraflores Winery’s Alice in WINEderland and Nello Olivo Wines’ “The Grapefather” — but all reflect the “adventure” theme of the 2017 Passport event.

“We, as an association, had really spent some time over the last year or two trying to come to a consensus of what makes the El Dorado County wine region unique in California and in the world. One of the things we uniquely have in our area is the diversity in our varietals that we’re able to grow because of the diversity of our microclimates and our soil types, as well as the access to other adventure activities.

“There are just not that many other places you can go wine tasting one day and be on the ski slopes the next day, or be river rafting or hiking. All of the various outdoor adventure activities make this a unique region to visit. As an association, we have taken on a new tagline and message statement about when you come to El Dorado County you’re really embracing wine adventure,” Simunovich explained.

Gordon Pack’s Gwinllan Estate Vineyard and Winery is relatively new on the scene — it just opened four years ago, and is participating in Passport for the third time this year.

“We have quite a diverse selection of whites and reds and we have one of the very few real champagnes that are made state-grown in the Sierra Foothills,” stated Pack.

For those who venture to Somerset, where the winery is located, Gwinllan will offer a handful of food and wine pairings.

“We have a chardonnay with salmon cakes and a honey mustard glaze, a petite syrah with a port-laced brownie, and we have a light pastry with prosciutto, onions and parmesan cheese that’s paired with one of our blends.

“We’re going to have our winemaker selection, which is our own blend, and we are sorting out the pairing for that at the moment with the chef. It will be something with zinfandel-laced marina sauce,” Pack said.

This year’s newest addition, however, is the Pre-Flight Tasting, which occurs before the event’s Winemaker Dinner on Friday, April 21.

“It will feature seven or eight wineries that weren’t able to participate in the weekend events, but will be offering tastings to visitors and guests during that two-hour Pre-Flight Tasting on Friday afternoon,” Simunovich said.

The tasting is held from 3-5 p.m., and the Winemaker Dinner, a five-course farm-to-table meal, begins at 6 p.m. at Sienna Restaurant in El Dorado Hills.

How do you know if Passport is the right event for you?

“Guests who love wine, love food, are looking for something unique and different that they haven’t experienced before and are interested in really learning about El Dorado County — this event is an awesome way for people to get an introduction to the different types of varietals, the different personalities that they’ll encounter when they’re visiting our area and to really get a great overview of planning a more in-depth trip in the future,” said Simunovich.

With purchase of a ticket, 2017 Passport attendees receive a commemorative wine glass, event guide, access to all participating wineries, complimentary wine tasting, food and discounts from local restaurants and businesses.

Prices range from $10-$95, so check out the website and choose which ticket is best for you. Purchase your passport and learn more online at

The event is open Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and concludes with the same hours April 29-30.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around the Lake Tahoe Basin and beyond make the Tahoe Tribune's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.