Get Out of Town!
Go for the Gold, Stay for the Wine
September, 2012 - Issue #95
"Who wants this gold?" asked a park ranger holding up a small glass tube packed with shiny flakes.

Without waiting for an answer, she waved her hand over a trough lined with sand and gravel. The flakes fluttered into the cold water and disappeared to the bottom.

"OK, go find it," she said. And the search was on.

We were panning for gold at the Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park in Coloma. It was one stop on a multi-day field trip to the Sacramento area we made with two other families so our fourth-graders and their siblings could see firsthand what they had been studying during their year of California history.

"Knowing the kids could only wander
so far away, the
parents relaxed in the
over-size family room
and dining room,
sampling Rome Valley's

and nibbling
decadent snacks
left by our hostess."

Sutter's Mill, where gold was discovered in 1848, lies about 40 miles east of Sacramento in the foothills. It is now the site of a museum, and a place where you can actually pan for the mineral that gave the state its nickname.

The kids took turns scooping up panfuls of sand and swirling it around in their best imitation of the technique demonstrated by the ranger. We parents hunched over our young miners and tried to slow down their swirling and keep the sand gravel in the pan so the gold could settle to the bottom and be found.

With practice, the kids got the knack of it, and shouted excitedly when they found flecks glinting in the bottoms of their pans. We also discovered that panning is a slow, tedious process that doesn't yield much return given the investment of time involved. It's no wonder most miners didn't strike it rich in the heady days of the Gold Rush. But for us, it was fun to try our luck and imagine what life was like back then.
Our interest in reliving history on the field trip had its limits, however. It certainly did not extend to our accommodations. Our group of three families boasted six adults and 14 children. While the kids might have wanted to experience canvas tents or rustic miners' shacks, the moms and dads wanted something more plush than pioneering.

What we found made everyone happy. Nearby Rome Valley Vineyards boasts a sprawling hilltop home decorated with a Victorian touch and many Disney mementos. It is surrounded by pine trees and rows of Syrah, Vermentino and Grenache Blanc grapes. On a clear day, the views extend to Mount Diablo on the west and the snow-capped Sierra Nevada on the east.

After being on the road for a couple of days, and working to keep the kids quiet in hotels, we all appreciated the opportunity to unwind. The kids took over the grounds and vineyard as their playground. Knowing they could only wander so far away on the fenced property, the parents relaxed in the over-sized family room and dining room, sampling Rome Valley's award-winning wines and nibbling decadent snacks left by our hostess.

Rome Valley's current wine selection includes Zinfandel, Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. It plans to unveil a new blended white wine creation this year. Situated in El Dorado County's Garden Valley area in the Sierra foothills, Rome Valley Vineyards was the first winery in the area. Its vines benefit from the area's unique soil combination of granite and sand - and plentiful sunshine. Because it is a small, family-owned operation, most of the growing and production is done by hand with limited intervention by technology.

The house is often used for weddings, family reunions and other large gatherings, so it easily accommodated our group. The kids had a giant slumber party, while the parents slept comfortably in the house's many bedrooms.

Everyone woke up rested and ready to explore California history, and perhaps find their fortune shining in the bottom of a mining pan.
Eric Harnish lives in Castaic - but hasn't found any gold there yet.

For more Info...
Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park

Rome Valley Vineyards
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