California’s Placer County was home to the peaceful Nisenan Native Americans for hundreds of years before the discovery of gold in 1848 brought hordes of miners from around the world.
Only three years after the discovery of gold, the fast-growing county was formed from portions of Sutter and Yuba counties on April 25, 1851, with Auburn as the county seat. Placer County took its name from the Spanish word for sand or gravel deposits containing gold. Miners washed away the gravel, leaving the heavier gold, in a process known as “placer mining.”
Gold mining was a major industry through the 1880s, but gradually the new residents turned to farming the fertile foothill soil, harvesting timber and working for the Southern Pacific Railroad. Over time, a number of small towns were established.
Auburn was settled when Claude Chana discovered gold in Auburn Ravine in May 1848, and later became a shipping and supply center for the surrounding gold camps.
The cornerstone of Placer’s beautiful and historic courthouse, which is clearly visible from Interstate 80 through Auburn, was laid on July 4, 1894. The building itself was renovated during the late 1980s and continues to serve the public today with courtrooms, a historic sheriff’s office and the Placer County Museum.
Roseville, once a small agricultural center, became a major railroad center and grew into the county’s most populous city after Southern Pacific moved its railroad switching yards there in 1908.
Loomis and Newcastle began as mining towns, but soon became centers of a booming fruit-growing industry, supporting many local packing houses.
Penryn was founded by a Welsh miner, Griffith Griffith, who turned from mining to establish a large granite quarry.
Rocklin began as a railroad town and became home to a number of granite quarries. It now vies with Roseville for the honor of being Placer’s largest city.
Lincoln and Sheridan continue to support ranching and farming. Lincoln also is the home of one of the county’s oldest businesses, the Gladding McBean terra cotta clay manufacturing plant, established in 1875.
Foresthill was a lively gold mining town for many years, but gradually the timber industry grew and was, until recently, the major employer. Recreation now is the major industry in this area of sparkling reservoirs, pristine trails and ample camping facilities.
Colfax began life as railroad construction camp in 1865. The following year, gold was discovered. The Rising Sun, Montana and Meda mines were rich gold producers.
Weimar was established as the timbering center of New England Mills and later became the home of the Weimar Institute, a regional tuberculosis sanitarium. When a cure for TB was discovered, the medical center closed, and it’s now a health and nutrition center.
South Placer communities, in particular, have had very strong ties to the land since they became centers of a booming fruit-growing industry during the late 1800s. The fertile valley provides residents and visitors with a plentiful bounty of locally grown, high-quality produce that is available year-round.
Many varieties of these fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts and livestock are certified organic, and can be purchased at local certified farmers’ markets or at Denio’s Farmers Market and Swap Meet.
In recent years, agriculture has become a pillar of South Placer’s economic growth. As a means to support the county’s agricultural heritage and agri-tourism, local schools often organize farm visits or tours to the fields, and many restaurants feature local produce in their menu selections. In addition, major agricultural festivals take place year-round in South Placer, gathering local farmers and ranchers, and attracting visitors from all over California.
Mixed amongst the agricultural bounty is a bustling wine industry. Rancho Roble Vineyards in Lincoln, Ophir Wines and Pescatore Vineyard in Newcastle, and Secret Ravine Vineyard & Winery in Loomis are established small-production wineries that are at the forefront of Placer Valley’s wine movement, dubbed the “Gold Crush” by local writers.
Almost 100 wineries were operating in the Mother Lode area back in 1895—more than Napa and Sonoma combined. Prohibition brought the thriving industry to a halt in 1920, and most vineyard land was converted to pear, apple and citrus trees.
Today, there is a juicy renaissance going on in the hills of Placer County, with vineyards and wineries returning to the foothill slopes. The granite soil and Mediterranean-like climate are ideal for the cultivation of winegrapes, and the new, small wineries are producing a wide range of offerings that blend New World winemaking techniques with Old World varieties.
The Placer County Wine Trail is a series of small family-run boutique wineries, each dedicated to preserving the historic winemaking legacy of the Sierra Foothills with passion and craftsmanship.
A short 30-minute drive from Sacramento, the trail runs from Lincoln to Newcastle and Auburn, and is easily accessible from Interstate 80 and Highway 49.
Varietals include floral Viognier, dark-berried Tempranillo, lush Barbera, smoky and spicy Syrah and Petite Sirah, flavor-intense Zinfandel, adventurous blends and sweet dessert wines—in short, something for every occasion.
Located midway between San Francisco and Lake Tahoe, many flock to Placer County for a pleasure not found in other nearby winegrowing areas: the opportunity to meet the winemakers, who gladly share their enthusiasm with samples of their latest vintages.
Although the area is quite rural, it’s home to a number of fine-dining destinations, including Latitudes in Auburn, High Hand Café & Conservatory in Loomis, and Paul Martin’s American Bistro in Roseville.
Placer County is still known as “Gold Country,” but today most of the gold comes in delicious liquid form.
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