The Gold Rush brought a flood of argonauts, gamblers and adventure-seekers to California’s gold-flecked hills. But modern-day visitors are wooed by something else — a taste of the Wild West, yes, but one washed down with barbera and rosé, perhaps with a little charcuterie or fried Brussels sprouts on the side.
We’ve arrived in the charming gold country town of Sutter Creek on a summery Saturday, the air filled with sunshine, delicious aromas and plinking ragtime tunes, courtesy of pianists stationed around town for the Ragtime Festival. The sidewalks are already bustling as we head for Element, the chic breakfast-only restaurant at the Hanford House Inn.
We feel fairly certain the 49ers would have abandoned their gold pans at once in favor of Element’s brunch cocktails, Mother Lode omelets and the breakfast sandwich — our fave — named for the Sierra’s legendary outlaw. A sunny-side-up egg tops the incredibly delicious Joaquin Murrieta, filled with molten aged cheddar and a chorizo-style pork patty.
Fortified, over-caffeinated and not a little giddy as we mosey down Sutter Creek’s main drag post-brunch, we’re already talking like 49ers — or perhaps more like “Westworld” fans. We do declare, it feels like there are more wine-tasting rooms here than ever before.
At least 11 dot downtown, so you can sashay from the delightful Yorba Wines on Hanford Street to Feist Wines on Eureka Street. Uphill Vineyards’ sophisticated tasting room just opened, offering sips of the cabernet that earned a gold medal from the San Francisco Chronicle, as well as tempranillo, primitivo and a gorgeous rosé. And Leoni Farms’ tasting room opened the day we were there. Blink and there will probably be two more.
One could while away entire days sipping and sampling — although if that’s the plan, best book a room at the Hotel Sutter or another inn. The Foxes Inn is surrounded by tasting rooms, and the Craftsman-style Eureka Street Inn is just steps from Feist and the extremely popular Gold Dust Pizza, with its shady deck and stellar pies.
There are plenty of ways not related to grapes to while away the time, though. Sutter Creek Provisions is half live-music venue and bar and half market, with picnic fare, craft beer and gourmet items. The charming Antique Gardener stocks garden-centric home decor, from aprons and kitchen towels to gardening gloves. We didn’t actually need a domed wicker beehive, but we coveted the adorable thing nonetheless.
Sierra Ridge Wine and Culinary brims with foodie temptations, from crave-worthy bowls and dishes to its own line of barbecue sauces and salad dressings. Its wine bar offers free tastings. We were intrigued by the wine made from vranac grapes, an Eastern European varietal that dates to the Middle Ages. We were even more intrigued by a jar of Fig & Vranac Preserves made by Wagon Wheel Pantry.
By the time we’d toured the Knight Foundry — a fascinating 1873 foundry and machine shop — we were in full-blown calendar remorse. We’d planned a weekend getaway. With this many Gold Rush temptations, we needed a week.