After another delicious morning meal, we hit the road for a side trip up over the Carson Pass. We turn off highway 50 onto highway 89 just past the small community of Meyers. Civilization quickly fades as we drive along side the Upper Truckee River. It’s just beautiful up here with sharp blue skies, miles of meadows, with trout filled streams running through.
A quick right onto highway 88 at Sorensens and we’re heading up the pass.
In 1844, a group of soldiers headed by explorer Kit Carson and 2nd Lieutenant John C. Fremont were looking for a route to Sutter’s Fort from the Utah Territory to re-supply. As they came up through this snowy pass in February, they ran into some bad weather, got stranded, and had to eat their dogs and horses to survive. On Valentine’s day, Fremont and his cartographer hiked up a local peak and became the first white men to set sight on Lake Tahoe. At the end of the month, the weather cleared enough that the party was able to continue on and make it through the pass that now bears Carson’s name and arrive on March 6th to Sutter’s Fort with no fatalities.
Soon, we arrive at the peak elevation of 8,650 ft. near Red Lake. It was in this area that the group was stranded. Not long after, we hit a 2-mile stretch of road alongside a steep slope bearing ominous signs of “No Stopping – Avalanche Zone.” One time years ago, a ski patroller from Kirkwood ski area rode along with us on one of our spring break adventures here. He told us that the area where the snow on the side of the road suddenly grew thicker was where a recent avalanche had come down. He then told us about another avalanche where a man was buried and rescuers could not find him…until the spring thaw when they found his body under the platform that was built for a landing area for the rescue helicopter.
A little beyond this and we get to Caples Lake, which sits in front of my personal favorite ski area, Kirkwood. It’s been several years since I’ve skied, but this would be the place I would try to come to more than any other.
About half way down the pass, we stop at a roadside residence where a sign tells us the owner makes homemade bird feeders. He doesn’t have anything that would work for us but he and his wife invite us to chat for awhile, looking at all the birds that come to their yard. Afterward, he tells us to go to the TrueValue hardware store in Jackson to find the feeder we want.
We do stop there, but we don’t find a suitable feeder although my wife found some great deals on yard decorations.
We make the turn up highway 49, headed to our favorite wine appellation, Amador County. At the tiny town of Plymouth, it’s a right turn to go to the Shanandoah Valley. (see our original Amador County report for more)
Our first stop is Montevina Winery, although it’s now called Terra ‘d Oro. They still have a label called Montevina but the winery has added a large warehouse and production facility since we were last here 11 years ago. No wonder I had a hard time finding it.
We try a few tastes and take along some Zinfandel and Barbera. They used to make a Refosco that would make you sigh, but now Montevina is their budget label. It’s still good, but it used to be better.
Next, it’s on to the King of Zinfandel, Renwood Winery. Renwood makes some superb zins from their old growth vines, some dating back to the Gold Rush. We tasted several great renditions of this grape and one, the Grandpere, was a musty tasting wine. Didn’t enjoy it as much as we have in the past. The Old Vine Zin and the Barbera were very enjoyable. We took half a case of each.
As we were tasting, two other couples came in to taste and insisted on white wines and the guy working the counter jokingly said, “oh, you want the sissy wines.” They turned around and walked out. Seemed very thin skinned to me as it was obviously just a light tease…Renwood (and Amador County for that matter) is known for its heavy reds.
On to our next stop, the beautiful Story winery. Another winery with old (over a century) vines, Story lets their oldest vines go without irrigation, relying only on natural rain. This produces a small fruit, with concentrated juice giving the wine some of the most intense zinfandel flavor you’ll find. Their tasting room is in an old, small cabin next to a picnic area overlooking the Cosumnes River Canyon. We get their “recession special” which consists of 2 of their premium Miss-Zin wines (50/50 mission grape and zinfandel), 2 old vine zins, a chardonnay, and champagne for $60.
We get another bottle to enjoy at the table overlooking the canyon while I look back at the cabin and see the two ladies that work there poking around the bottom of the shack with a rake and hose. I ask what’s going on and they say they saw a rattlesnake slither under there and they’re trying to catch it.
The wine country of Amador County is beautiful, relaxed, and features some of the state’s best wines. It doesn’t hurt that they still routinely offer free tasting, unlike the big valley north of Napa.
It’s time to eat so we head back to the Carson Pass. Up at Kirkwood, we stop at the Kirkwood Inn, a small restaurant and bar across the street from Caples Lake and the Kirkwood Ski area.
This place has been in business since 1864. Snowshoe Thompson was one of the regulars here. It also has some seriously good food. I have a steak sandwich while my wife has a pasta dish. Both fill us up for the night. Inside, you sit under massive wooden beams by a roaring fire (in cold weather), and chat up with the locals. You get the feeling that you’re a hundred miles from civilization and that you’ve stepped back in time.
In reality, it’s only about 25 miles back to Tahoe. Along the way, I see this guy in a wheelchair fishing the Upper Truckee River…I can’t figure out how he got there.
More to come, stay tuned for part 3…
Copyright 2010 - Darryl Musick