Tuesday, October 16, 2012

A trip to Apple Hill: Sweetie Pie's, Rainbow Orchards, Jack Russell Farm Brewery & Winery, Abel's Apple Acres

I first learned about Apple Hill from Chowhound, and immediately knew I had to go. It only took me about, oh, two years to convince Ryan to take us there, but it finally happened a few weeks back, in late September.

For those of you unfamiliar with Apple Hill, it's an association of apple orchards, each with its own apple based specialties for sale: think apple cider donuts, apple streudel, sparkling apple wine, buttermilk apple pie...jams, caramel apples...the list is extensive and mouthwatering.

Apple Cider donuts – the specialty of Apple Hill

Prior to the trip, I made a map and list of places that we had to visit. Apple Hill is in Camino, about a three hour drive northeast of San Francisco (past Sacramento), so be prepared to spend six hours in the car. But IT'S WORTH IT. And I don't even like apples that much.

I'd describe it as Napa, except with apple orchards in place of wineries, with a little Disneyland thrown in (it's very family-friendly; some orchards have hay rides and face painting to appeal to the tots). There's also a handful of wineries and breweries in the area, so I guess there's also a pub crawlish element, but I doubt the Apple Hill Marketing team would ever describe it that way.

Here's our itinerary for the day:

Brunch at Sweetie Pie's

Stopped by an adorable Victorian-converted-into-restaurant for brunch in Placerville, CA. This place is known for their apple cinnamon toast, which they give in generous portions with most of their brunch entrees. I think their bread was homemade too. Delicious...

Rainbow Orchards

This was our first orchard stop of the day. Since we were both stuffed silly from brunch, we only ended up getting the apple cider donuts and apple cider.

The apple cider donuts are served piping hot, and are only a buck each. These were my first apple donuts ever, so I wasn't sure what to expect. They're more apple-y than cider-y, but were warm and delicious, with a "moist crumb." ← Feel douchey saying this, but alas, it was true.

Some shots of the interior.  They had samples of their apple cider, which was delicious (but didn't have the "little pieces of apple" that I was expecting from my research...sad). They had a few varieties of apples on sale, but nothing exotic or uncommon.

Jack Russel Farm Brewery & Winery

I flipping loved this place. It's a very lively brewery/winery with a ton of outdoor seating (and crafts/kettle popcorn/food stands placed conveniently around the perimeter).

We went to the brewery first. First of all, look at their board – see how they illustrate levels of hoppiness vs maltiness and light vs dark ? That is an example of excellent information design.

I went a little crazy on the flavored beers. We got a sampler of the Harvest Apple Ale, the Pumpkin Ale, the Blueberry Ale, and the Farmhouse Ale. I remember wishing that they tasted more fruity (and that is where the beer experts exit this page and never come back...) because the flavors were very faint. I think fruit-flavored beers are just one of those things that sound good in theory, but then taste kind of like nothing. Anyway...

We then took the few steps over to their winery.

Again, we ordered a sampler of wines, focusing on what was sparkling and apple-centric. We ended up getting the (from left to right):

- Semi-Sweet Sparkling Blackberry mead (made from their own farm-raised honey and berries)
- Sparkling Pyment (mead with fermented honey and wine grapes)
- Hard Apple Cider
- Cyser (which is a blend of the hard apple cider with semi sweet mead and honey)

I LOVED THE CYSER. It was SO delicious. It was very light and refreshing, crisp and pear-flavored. I was going to buy a jug, but ended up forgetting (oops...I blame my beverages).

 The outdoors seating area was so pretty.

Here I am in front of some llamas (across the "street" from the winery).

MadroƱa Vinyards

Our second and last winery of the day.  This one offered a complementary tasting of most of their wines. We tried a few of their white wines and ended up buying a sweet little Yellow Muscat (sounds like an animal, no?)

Some views of their vineyard:

Boa Vista Orchards

This orchard had the greatest variety of apples for sale. We picked up a bunch of Jonah Golds and Sweet Septembers (peaches...I couldn't resist.)

I'd best describe this place as the land of samples. You could sample their fruit, apple cider, apple wines (which were complimentary to taste. Some were overly sweet but I remember there was one that was lightly sweet and very refreshing)...

The wine tasting station...

 ...fruit butters...

...barbeque sauces...sample heaven.

Abel Apple Acres

(Try saying their name five times fast)

This was our last orchard stop of the day. We were so tired from all the eating and drinking (I know. Life is so hard) but we managed to fit in their apple cider donuts, which are purportedly the "best" in all of Apple Hill.

They were delicious. They weren't served warm, but they were very cake-like. I bought three.

I wanted to buy more apple pastries – e.g., an apple dumpling and strudel, but to be honest, they didn't look very tasty at this point.

Please go to Apple Hill and eat the things my stomach could not stretch enough for.

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