SUTTER CREEK, Calif. — 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 rose, 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 — is that bacon? — and plinking ragtime tunes, courtesy of pianists stationed in courtyards 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.
You don’t have to be a 19th-century adventurer to know that exploration requires sustenance. Had the 49ers had this particular option, we feel fairly certain they’d 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 ($13), 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 tasting rooms dot the downtown now, so you can sashay from the delightful Yorba Wines at one end to Feist Wines, which opened a tasting room last year on Eureka Street, just steps away from the historic Knight Foundry. Uphill Vineyards’ sleek, sophisticated tasting room just opened, offering sips of the cabernet that earned a gold medal at the 2017 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, as well as tempranillo, primitivo and a gorgeous rose. 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 one of the other inns that line these streets. The Foxes Inn, for example, is surrounded by tasting rooms and the Craftsman-style Eureka Street Inn is just steps from Feist, the historic Foundry 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. Actually, we coveted pretty much everything.
A block down the main street, 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. A wine bar in the back offers free tastings, as well. We were intrigued by the wine made from vranac grapes, an Eastern European varietal that dates back to the Middle Ages. We were even more intrigued by a jar of Fig & Vranac Preserves made by Wagon Wheel Pantry, a local home cottage business.
By the time we’d toured the Knight Foundry — a water-powered 1873 foundry and machine shop — we were in full-blown calendar remorse. We’d planned a weekend getaway. With this many Gold Rush temptations and this many things to do, we needed a week.