Tuesday, October 3, 2023


California Gold Country wines and wine tasting with Harvest Hosts

I have done a lot of California wine tasting through the years. Napa, Sonoma, Santa Barbara, Temecula, Paso Robles, and more. But I never realized how much great Gold Country wines and wine tasting opportunities there were until this year’s travels took me up California’s Highway 99.

This area is huge farmland for all kinds of agriculture, including table and wine grapes.

I planned to spend a month or so in the Auburn area, but to get there I used Harvest Hosts to wine-taste my way up California’s interior. And what a great time it was. I stayed at four distinctly different wineries, all part of Harvest Hosts: Vista Ranch in Merced, Jessie’s Grove in Lodi, Chateau Davell in Camino, and Field 15 in Placerville (those last two are very close to each other, but I needed a place to stay for a weekend, and there they were).

To be sure, there are many, many more Harvest Host wineries on this route, so many that it was difficult to choose. So if you have experiences at other Gold Country Harvest Hosts wineries, please drop them in the comments below.

And if you don’t already know about Harvest Hosts, it is an awesome program. For one low annual fee, you can spend the night at thousands of wineries, breweries, restaurants, farms, museums, churches, attractions, and more. Mostly it’s dry camping, but a minority of hosts offer hookups for a fee. Once you pay the fee, the camping is free, although you are expected to spend at least $20 with the host.

A nice bottle of wine and free RV parking? Count me in!

In my opinion, there is no better way to go wine tasting. You get in, you set up, and you relax. No more driving. I try to have some nice food on hand to pair with the great wines I will be tasting, unless the winery offers food. Some do, most don’t. It all makes for an amazing and relaxing day.

Gold Country Wines and Wineries with Harvest Hosts

Vista Ranch, Merced

Gold Country wines - Vista Ranch, Merced

I have been to Merced many times over the years, as a performer in my circus days, and more recently visiting USP Atwater, a maximum security penitentiary, for my work as a justice advocate. That view of this small central California town was nothing like the bucolic scenery of Vista Ranch’s 20 acres. Not surprisingly, the Ranch offers a far more relaxed vibe, too. For me, it was a whole new Merced!

Most of the ranch’s business comes from visitors going to or coming from Yosemite, as it’s right on the way.

The tasting room takes up the ground floor of a historic farmhouse from the 1800s. Surrounding the house is a beautiful event space for weddings and other private functions shaded by a canopy of old-growth trees. On Thursdays and Fridays, they serve food and there’s live music from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

I was there on a Monday, so no live music. But I spent time in the tasting room chatting with my genial server.

Tastings were just $10 and the tasting fee was refunded with purchase (the way it used to be almost everywhere but now is almost nowhere). The wines were quite good, with my favorite being their Golden State Pinot Grigio, a crisp white with a nice fruit to mineral balance. The complex and jammy Base Camp Zinfandel was a close second.

RV parking was large and level in a back field. On that particular night, it was me and one other rig, but there was room for many more.

Learn more about Vista Ranch here.

Lodi Wines at Jessie’s Grove Winery, Lodi, CA

Lodi wines from Jessie's grove winery

This Lodi winery is also a gorgeous event space capable of hosting large crowds. In fact, the local country music station was sponsoring a big concert the day after I left.

I especially loved the RV parking at Jessie’s Grove. It was in a large lot in the rear of the property nestled next to an olive grove with a stream running behind, that provided croaking frogs serenading you to sleep through most of the night.

RV parking at Jessie Grove winery, Lodi, CA

Tasting flights were $10 for whites or $15 for reds and were refunded on purchases.

The merlot was amazing and extremely complex with a flavor and finish much larger than its $24 price tag. My friend and I both went home with a bottle.

I also liked their Oak Chardonnay because there was barely any oak. Go figure, but as I detest oaky chardonnays, it worked.

Their dessert wines, something I am not normally a big fan of, were also outstanding.

I was, however, confused by their “Rosé”, which had not even the barest hint of pink to it. Oh, well. You can’t win them all.

Learn more about Jessie’s Grove Winery here.

Chateau Davell, Camino, CA

Chateau Davell wines

Chateau Davell is clearly a labor of love for owner Eric Hays and his family.

This family strives to live an eco-friendly lifestyle and the way they produce wines fits right in.

The wines are varied, with Eric being extremely hands-on, from growing organically and sourcing organic grapes when possible, to wine making, to working in the tasting room, to cooking up wood-fired pizzas. He even created the lovely portraits that adorn Chateau Davell’s bottles—all bear portraits of Eric’s family, who the wines are named for.

My favorite was Charlotte’s Cuvée, a heady blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc aged in French oak for 36 months.

Solstice and Midsommar at Chateau Davell

I had an absolutely magical experience at Chateau Davell, but it was a result of various influences. Great wine and a great host started it out. But I was also there on a Friday night, when they serve wood-fired pizzas and have live music.

The band was a guitar player and a pocket trumpet player. It might sound like a strange mix but their funky ska and reggae-tinged jazz worked.

Along the way, I made friends with another RVing Harvest Hosts couple who were having as great a time as I was. They lived within two hours of Chateau Davell, but they spend every weekend exploring different wineries in their truck camper through Harvest Hosts.

After the band, for those who wanted to stay, a Summer Solstice/Midsomar ceremony, fire, and drum circle followed. We all agreed it was the perfect setting to create a magical experience.

Eric Hays making pizza at Chateau Davell

The one area where Chateau Davell fell short was on the food, although I found that did not take away from the fabulous time I had overall.

The wood-fired pizza was OK. Barely. I have had better pizza. Heck, I make better pizza. They could seriously use a consult from my friend Ryan Mondragon of Sanctuary Pizza in Turlock. If you catch one of his pop-ups, go out of your way, for his pizza is truly outstanding.

But I digress.

I expected more creativity out of both the salad and the pizza at Chateau Davell. And I have to say for a sustainable place, it absolutely baffles me that they did not toss the salad and instead served it with disposable containers of salad dressing on the side. Really? Yes, sadly, really.

On both salad and pizza, the ingredients were definitely quality, but they were far too stingy with them. Places on my pizza inches from the edge had no toppings at all. And even though it was wood-fired (I did see the oven), there was no hint of char. How can that be?   The crust was pretty lackluster too. But then, I will put in the disclaimer that I am definitely a pizza snob who used to own an Italian restaurant and even traveled to Italy to learn about making pizza.

OK, my food complaints aside, was the overall experience and parking place worth the price? Absolutely! I would just skip the food and buy more wine in the future.

Learn more about Chateau Davell here. 

Field Number Fifteen in Placerville, CA

Field # 15 in Placerville produces Gold Country wines

This tiny Mom and Pop winery is also another obvious labor of love. How tiny? The wine tasting room host was hand-attaching labels to each bottle when I was there.

My favorite wine here was their Barbera Rose, a crisp rosé with a mineral finish. I am waiting to make some spicy Thai food to go with the bottle I bought.

This was the only one of the four wineries that do not refund the tasting fee on a bottle.

While there was nothing fancy about Field Number Fifteen, it was still a beautiful experience in my RV parked on the hilltop with rolling vineyards all around.

Learn more about Field Number Fifteen here.

If you’re not a member of Harvest Hosts, I highly recommend trying it out. Your one-time annual membership fee buys you not only incredible places to stay around the country, but incredible experiences, too.



Cheri Sicard
Cheri Sicardhttps://cannademy.com/
Cheri Sicard is the author 8 published books on topics as diverse as US Citizenship to Cannabis Cooking. Cheri grew up in a circus family and has been RVing on and off her entire life.


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2 months ago

We too have enjoyed many Harvest Host wineries in California, always with good memories. One of our favorites isn’t in the Gold Country, but most of their red grapes are, is Chasewater Vineyard and Olive Oil in Kelseyville, CA. It’s a beautiful winery on the west side of Clear Lake. I especially love the wood bar built by the local founder of Maharaja water skies.

Jim B
2 months ago

We stayed at Vista Ranch a couple of weeks ago. We arrived just before closing on Monday, the 26th of June and were greeted by Omar. He welcomed us graciously in spite of our late arrival. He pointed us to our parking spot and welcomed us back to the tasting room and suggested a nice wine (we needed it). Overall, we had a really nice quiet stay (except for the occasional train, which we don’t mind). We purchased another bottle of their wine as we were leaving and let the hostess know we intended to come back.

2 months ago

Why do wines at vineyard tastings, taste so much better than the bottle does once you get it home?

One theory is that small portions of somewhat sweet wine taste better than dry wines. But once you drink a couple of glasses at home with food, they’re overly sweet.

2 months ago

I think we all know that California is known for having a “few” (LOL) wineries. But, from our experience traveling cross country last summer the farther West we got the fewer and fewer Harvest Hosts we found. Believe me, we tried and tried to find a Host vs staying overnight at Walmart. One HH outside of Boise, ID wanted a $40 deposit with my stay request! I asked the owner if they were a “farm” and “HH” or a campground.

Not to just throw shade at HH, but we also thought for a state as large as California we were somewhat taken aback by the scarcity of campgrounds available near areas of our interest. First trip and last trip to the Golden State.

Cheri Sicard
2 months ago
Reply to  Lonewolf

The charge should be reported to HH as that is against their rules. As to CA I travel in CA all the time while staying at HH. There are a few areas where they are sparser, but there are lots. I have long lost track of how many I have stayed at.

2 months ago

Hi Cheri!
What a coincidence! that’s our Tiffin in the background at Jesse’s Grove Winery. We were on our way to Oregon in that stay! Wish we had a chance to chat (probably wine tasting and eating too)!
We’re lifetime members of Harvest Host.

Cheri Sicard
2 months ago
Reply to  Ran

Wow! What a coincidence. Yes would have been nice to chat. Happy travels to you!

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