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Coloma Valley

04/30/2009 05:00PM ● Published by Super Admin

When one thinks of the California Gold Rush, thoughts of a multitude of miners and prospectors striking it rich fill the mind. Grizzled 49ers pan for gold down on the banks of the American River, and all who come to El Dorado are met with prosperity and fortune. Truth be told, very few prospectors found high fortune; most only found a meager portion, sometimes only enough to keep food on the table. Just as the promise of gold brought people to California, the promise of gold and fortune in other places caused many a prospector to move on. Those who stayed behind continued to seek prosperity in the land, but it was prosperity of a different nature: agriculture.
In the Coloma Valley, evidence of this early agricultural past remains. Though overgrown with oaks and pines in some places, a few of the hills have a sort of angular shape to them; these are the remnants of terraced hillside vineyards. Not surprisingly, viticulture and winemaking were among the services that proved to be far more prosperous than gold mining. James Marshall, despite being the man who discovered gold, never profited from his discovery; yet Marshall did experience some level of profit when he started a vineyard during the 1860s. This profit was short-lived, and Marshall gave up viticulture when he faced increased competition from other winemakers. Winemakers like Zentgraf and Allhoff, both of whom were quite prosperous in their winemaking ventures.
Zentgraf, who had originally purchased a small vineyard from another winemaker in 1854, expanded the vineyard and by 1859 was producing between four to six thousand gallons of wine annually. By 1871, his business was such that he was able to purchase an expensive adobe home, which still stands today though the vineyards are no more. Allhoff owned one of the largest winery operations in the area. Growing thousands of vines on his property, Allhoff ran what was considered at the time to be one of the finest wineries in the state of California, the Coloma Vineyards and Distillery. Today, it is better known as the Coloma Vineyard house, which is now a private residence, though, much like Zentgraf, nothing of the extensive vineyards survives. During the late 1800s, the El Dorado County area ranked third in winemaking and viticulture, just behind Sonoma and Napa, with roughly 1.5 million vineyards producing upwards of 687 million gallons of wine annually.
Unfortunately, this early prosperous viticulture suffered enormous setbacks. Disease, pests and other economic and natural woes beset it, and for the most part the early industry all but stopped, with only a few wineries pulling through.
In present time, a marked increase in the wine industry can be seen across the Sierra foothills and El Dorado County area. A resurrection of sorts has occurred, with family-owned vineyards producing award-winning wines, making them known across the state. The hillsides of Coloma are once again giving way to vineyards, mirroring a prosperous past. It is akin to a second Gold Rush, kind of; only this gold grows on vines.
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For more information on local vineyards and winemakers in the El Dorado County area, visit eldoradowines.org.

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