Since breaking ground for Viña Castellano in 1999, the Mendez family has built an empire of Spanish wines complete with a treasure trove of gold and silver medals. Along with winery foreman Derek Irwin, the family specializes in the complex flavors of Tempranillo, Syrah, and Verdejo grapes. In the tasting room, visitors can sip new pressings and old favorites, and pick up a fine cigar to hilariously slip into a packet of exploding cigars.
Donna Hunter started whitewater rafting as a hobby, but after spending 15 years as a social worker in San Diego, she was drawn back to the river as a career. With a few friends for support and a goal to start a rafting-adventure company, she went to night school and honed her business skills. Today, with some of her staff boasting more than 20 years experience leading tours, Donna orchestrates trips down various forks of the American, Merced, Kings, and Tuolumne Rivers to pit participants against rapids as high as Class V. Certified guides lead these tours in Hyside self-bailing rafts and inflatable kayaks, with some rafts holding up to eight people.
Wilderness guides also connect their guests with civilization, often combining rafting excursions with wine tastings and trips to local vineyards. On these overnight trips and other multi-day rafting excursions such as family gold-panning trips, they build relationships with their guests, garnering a clear idea of their paddling skills and the amount of time they've spent practicing in their washing machine.
The company’s camp boasts tent cabins—with names like Eagle's Nest and Falcon's Nest—which populate riverside clearings between picnic tables, swimming holes, and volleyball courts. A camp shop prepares guests with river gear, and hot-water showers let them wash off river water. When not seeking action on the river, staffers organize camp entertainment, such as live music, games, and visits from a local gold panner who demonstrates his craft.
Grapes hang heavy from the vines on trellises scattered across 20 acres of the rolling Lincoln Hills. The fruit, tended by Wise Villa Winery's oenophiles, yield awards, including a prestigious honor from the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. Owner and winemaker Dr. Grover Lee draws on viticulture training while producing single-variety and blended wines or doing the crossword in the Grapes Aficionado Quarterly. Within the winery, the tasting room fills with the sound of clinking glasses as patrons sample various award winners, such as the Pinot Noir Rose. The winery also arranges frequent events, including live music on Fridays, grape-stomping parties, and reservation-only pairing dinners at its bistro.
Everything changed for Bob and Chris Quinlan when they organized a successful pub crawl for their local Rotary club in 2005. The positive reception to their event led the pair to found AppeteasersUSA in 2011, which has since expanded from its initial tour in Folsom to include outings in Northern and Southern California, Washington, and Florida. Across the country, AppeteasersUSA’s savvy guides can be found leading patrons from culinary hot spot to hot spot.
Throughout the four-hour tours, herds of at least 25 tour goers stop at restaurants and bars unique to the area—eschewing chains and large franchises—for 30-minute stints, nibbling on appetizers and noting which kitchen appliances might come to life after the restaurant closes. To wash down savory flavors, patrons can swig discounted drinks at each establishment.
What began as Mike Owen's small winemaking venture in a private basement in 1981 blossomed into a full-scale commercial operation by 2000. Under the name Crystal Basin Cellars, Mike and the team have continued to rely on the principles that helped them grow: they source all their grapes from local vineyards, and work with a team of part-time but dedicated wine enthusiasts. Their efforts have won them numerous accolades at the California State Fair, including a double-gold award for Best Syrah in 2013.
Just next door to the independent winery, unassumingly housed inside a former Chevron gas station, is Crystal Basin Bistro. Warm, earth-toned interiors surround patrons with quirky design elements such as a giant metal spoon, spatula, and whisk hung from the ceiling, and an outdoor patio lets them soak up the sun or practice bald-eagle calls. Internationally influenced shared plates such as carnitas tacos, Russian cheese bread, and Asian-style pork dumplings pair with the winery's renowned private-label and bistro wines, some with names inspired by jazz-age references in pop culture. Regularly, the bistro and winery explode with live-music events such as the summer concert series. From May to October, the lawn fills with music from local and nationally recognized acts such as Laurie Morvan, Ronnie Montrose Band Remembered, and the Styx tribute band Renegade Rocks.