We heard that you were on a search to find the best wineries El Dorado County. Look no further, we have just the place and once you visit this exquisite winery, we hope that you too will agree that it is one of the best wineries to swirl, sip and savor like a local.
In a place like El Dorado County beautiful wineries are everywhere, however we wanted place a spotlight on Element 79 Vineyards, which is located in the heart of Fair Play. If you haven’t heard of Fair Play, it’s about an hour away from greater Sacramento and considered by some as El Dorado’s premier wine growing region. Join us on an adventure, as we look at what makes Fair Play and Element 79 winery so special.
How it all started
For Les Heinsen growing up on a farm in North Dakota was everything – it was how he bonded with his neighbors, earned money and learned about the challenges of life.
You plant in the spring and harvest in the fall. The planning, the preparation and the hard work in conjunction with the unpredictability of mother nature would determine the results.
Food & Wine Pairing
Site Fee $4,000
Wine was not a big part of Les and his wife Sharon’s lives growing up. It took a move to California to cultivate that interest. Being centrally located near Napa, Lodi and the Sierra Foothills, the Heinsens had plenty of options to get their feet wet. Fair Play in El Dorado County of the Sierra Foothills really stood out to them. Besides having a cool name, they were falling in love with the wines.
A casual encounter with friends John and Cindy Miller of MV Winery resulted in being put in contact with a realtor who started showing them vineyards in the area. After searching for several months, they found a 70 acre property situated at about 2,400 feet above sea level.
Best Wineries El Dorado County
“There was no name, brand, winery tasting room or inventory. We built this brand from scratch and in researching to come up with a name and brand we dove into the gold thread”, said Les. “In our research we got reacquainted with the periodic table and recalled that gold was the 79th element. This was significant because 1979 was the year Sharon and I were married. It was also the year that I started my career with the company that I retired from to start this venture– so Element 79 has a lot of meaning to us. Seemed appropriate and fitting.”
The winery is part of a group of eight wineries in El Dorado county that have embarked on a journey to define the influence of the distinct high elevation and Alpine style conditions presented in the wines. The group now refers to the mountain terroir as the “Sierra Highlands” to define the characteristics of the wines to their customers.
About Element 79 Vineyards Wines
Element 79 Vineyards is ideal in that it mainly has western and southern exposure. Irrespective of the microclimates on the property, the vineyards have a slight west to east rise and benefits from a daily westerly breezes as well as cool night time air that give the wines nuance and complexity. “Sharon and I are involved in every decision,” said Les. “We only get one vintage a year and we only have so many years to do everything we can and partner with nature to make something magical happen in the vineyard.”
Syrah has been a key part of their portfolio as they have received high accolades from wine critics. Their goal is to ultimately produce a 100 point Syrah. Many of their Syrah grapes that are not used in their estate wines are sold to Julien Fayard in Napa Valley. They also use the grapes in Olivia’s Cuvee Blend, named in honor of their granddaughter, which is a blend of Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. The composition is adjusted every year based on blending trials as every vintage yields a unique flavor profile.
They also make a Viognier, which is gaining in popularity within the Sierra Foothills at large. The variety can best be described as a red wine drinker’s white wine as it has a bigger mouthfeel due to its higher viscosity. “It surprises me how many people haven’t heard of or tasted Viognier– it is one of the most aromatic wines”, noted Les. “Ours has a delicious Juicy Fruit nose with honeysuckle and melon notes– it is so inviting.”
This year’s 2022 vintage has not been without challenges. Element 79 experienced a late frost in April as well as May. The Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah fared well, but 50% of the Viognier and 80% of the Syrah were lost. This would have been their first year of producing Petite Verdot and Cabernet Franc, but due to weather conditions the grapes will get another year to get stronger and develop better roots, hoping for a beautiful crop next year.
The Customer Experience
The customer experience is second to none as you are warmly greeted by the staff and ushered to your own seating area. After choosing a flight of your choice, you are guided through a sensory experience that is second to none. Element 79 prides itself on putting the customer at the center of the experience.
Element 79 realizes that food is integral to the tasting experience and on the weekends offers Wine Country Tapas (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday) while also offering a Charcuterie and Cheese board seven days a week. This further enhances the experience– when you visit Element 79– you become a member of the family. Additionally, with the assistance of Estate Chef Brian Overhauser, Element 79 is evolving its food offerings and transitioning their Wine and Food experiences to a pre-fix monthly seasonal menu that ties the enchanting Wine and Food experience together among a variety of other events the winery hosts onsite.
About Fair Play AVA
The Fair Play AVA continues to grow and develop as foot traffic is increasing and more wineries are receiving accolades. “We would like to see our AVA achieve the same level of popularity as Paso Robles, and believe we can. We are smaller and that is an advantage. There are over 2 million people living just one hour to the west of us and 500 hundred thousand living just 1.5 hours to the East – making Fair Play the #1 destination for premium wine and great wine tasting for those populations is our goal,” said Les.
At Element 79 Vineyards, you get a warm and inviting reception that contrasts between urban and rustic in feel. “We like to say that we are not just a winery; we are a wine drinkers country club,” said Les. We believe that discovering wine is enhanced by what you see, hear, smell and taste – something happens chemically in your brain that unlocks all these sensory inputs allowing you to recall them later.”
Experience the difference at Element 79 Vineyards
There is tasting wines and then there is experiencing wines. We believe that every tasting experience should be fun, relaxing and an investment in pleasure. It enhances the experience to have stunning views, fresh mountain air, meticulously curated music and a modern urban rustic decor, but it’s still all about discovering great wine. Put all this together and you have the Element 79 Experience.
Who – Owners – Les & Sharon Heinsen
Winemaker – Scott Johnson
What – Family owned and operated winery in Fair Play, Ca
When – 11:00 am to 5:00 pm daily
Reservations – Visitor Information
Website – https://www.element79vineyards.com/
Best wineries El Dorado County
Gorgeous black stone fruits on the nose with flavors of cherry, blueberry and black olive. A complex wine with meaty, savory characteristics followed up by a long finish.
A composition of 70% Syrah and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon. Deep purple in color with flavors blackberry, plum and a touch of chocolate.
This Zinfandel-based blend is a favorite of our club members and customers and a top seller. It is a blend of 4 of our Estate red varietals. Delicious and versatile. This blend consists of 43% Zinfandel, 20% Syrah, 19% Cabernet Sauvignon and 18% Petite Sirah. An appealing plum color with aromas of leather and blueberry fruit and violet petal. The palate is bright with medium berry fruit, cola and youthful tannins with just a touch of currant coming through.
Aromas of chocolate-covered cherries combine with delicate hints of red chili and bell pepper. The bright cherry nose flows on the palate and marries wonderfully with flavors of black pepper, baking spices, and just a touch of vanilla reminding you of freshly baked cherry pie cooling on the windowsill. While this Cabernet Sauvignon may seem more delicate, it combines bright acidity with big, rounded tannins that lend to a long lingering finish that could hold up to any steak dinner.
We partially barrel ferment this estate wine which allows for a heavier body making this a white wine even red wine drinkers can enjoy. A swirl and a sniff of this wine will immediately make you think Juicy Fruit gum. On the nose a remarkable fragrance of honeysuckle and cantaloupe. On the palate you are rewarded with flavors of juicy apricot and an amazing big mouthfeel with a long finish revealing layers of complexity and spice notes.
A field blend of Syrah, Zinfandel and Viognier. Whole cluster pressed off the skins immediately giving it a light salmon color. Then co fermented until dry. The wonderful palate of dragon fruit, guava and softly crushed raspberries followed with a bright acidic finish.