Jun 19

Red Wine and White Water Rafting: An Epic Combination

I might as well come out and admit that I’m a bit of an online coupon whore. I’m sorry if it sounds a bit uncouth, but I can’t help myself–Groupon, Living Social, Travel Zoo– any time I see a good deal I just can’t help but take my panties off and wave them around in the air in triumphant celebration, (metaphorically speaking, of course). That’s why, when I saw the deal for a wine tasting and white water rafting trip priced at half off, I HAD to do it. Whoever had the idea to mix a weekend of alcohol and a dangerous activity is my new hero. And I could think of no one better to go with me than my adrenaline junkie partner in crime, Keeley, the same person who jumped out of a plane with me, took me swimming with sharks, and convinced me to try online dating (equally as daunting, I assure you).

Wine and view of beautiful El Dorado wine valley


Last Friday, Keeley picked me up from the Sacramento airport and we headed out to Coloma, an area (not even a town, really) about an hour outside of Sac. The road was peppered with signs for white water rafting companies along the way; I had no idea it was such a big attraction, but apparently hundreds of people raft the American River every weekend. When we arrived, our tent was already set up, complete with super thick sleeping pads. Cha-ching! This is my kind of camping!

In the morning, we arose to a hearty breakfast buffet of eggs, sausage, hash browns, pastries, fruit, fruit, coffee, tea, and juice. Were we actually staying at the Marriott, you ask? Why no, we were only stumbling distance from our tents! Again, THIS is how camping should be done. At 9:30am they loaded us onto the bus and by 10:00am we were at our first winery. Chardonnay for breakfast? If you insist!

Pouring wine at Gold Hill Winery
Although I knew we would be wine tasting, I wasn’t sure where, as I had never heard of wineries from that area. Much to my delighted surprise, though, there is an entire wine district known as the El Dorado Wine Country. It’s nestled among the beautiful, rolling hills surrounding Placerville and many of the wineries are tucked just off of winding country roads. It was a refreshing change from the touristy and yuppy wine region in Santa Ynez valley that I frequent on weekends with my friends. The atmosphere was casual and friendly, tastings were all free and abundant, and each location offered a uniquely impressive view of the countryside.

Beautiful view of El Dorado wine valley

David Girard Winery Tasting Room
We visited six wineries/breweries, so I figured I would list them and my impression (aka fuzzy memory) of each:

Gold Hill Winery/Brewery: A casual tasting room with a deck overlooking the vineyard for a beautiful view and photo op. I was not impressed by their wines, but the beers were amazing! Their 49er Red Ale was unlike any red ale I’ve ever had before. Definitely try the beer sampler!

David Gerard Winery: A stunningly beautiful winery with an excellent selection of wines. This was my favorite place! They gave us a tour of the cellar, poured as many samples as we could swallow, and they had the most amazing little cracker-cookie things. They even serve brick-oven pizzas outside! The 2007 Coda Rouge blend was my favorite wine, but every wine was absolutely delicious.

Apple Hill Family Farm: This wasn’t really a winery but a little tasting station at the back of a market. The main focus was actually the apple wines–and the apple blackberry wine was scrumptious! The market also had an incredible bakery inside it–we tried the sour cream apple pie and a blackberry dumpling. Oh. My. God. Itwassogoodyouhavetotrysome. This was also around the time we started drinking wine straight from the bottle…

Crystal Basin Cellars and Bistro: The wine was okay, the food was delicious– we had warm pita bread with hummus, a cream cheese and pesto spread with French baguettes, and endives stuffed with goat cheese and walnuts. They sell a nice assortment of cheeses there, too. God, I love cheese.

Jack Russell Farm Winery/Brewery: A quaint little place with a nice lawn to sit at picnic tables and two tasting rooms. Their beer was good, and they also served hard cider. It all tasted good from what I vaguely remember…

Winery #6: Let’s be honest–I was hammered by this point. I have no idea where I was or what I was drinking, but there is a picture of me climbing a tree in a cowboy hat.

Deluxe cheeses while wine tasting

Wine tasting with Keeley

Endive stuffed with goat cheese and walnuts


Hugging a tree at the last mystery wineryAfter eight straight hours of wine tasting,they drove our rowdy busload back to the campsite and somehow allowed us all to jump in the river. Thank God I had my wine jacket on, because that river is COLD. Then they fed us a dinner of grilled tri-tip, chicken, and an array of salads and side dishes for vegetarians like me.

Gorgeous sunset on the river

Waking the next morning was not ideal. But the nerves of preparing to go white water rafting for the first time helped overcome most of the hangover, and by 10am we were suited up and loading into a raft! We each had a paddle and our guide, Cody, sat at the back of the boat calling out orders.

Rafts on the river

“Alright team, paddle forward!” “Backward paddle only on the right!” “Two paddles forward, aaannd Stop!”

We were like a Nordic ship of vikings, ready to conquer those rapids with our precision rowing. And that we did.

I don’t know, I guess I had envisioned some kind of epic journey, where we battled rapids for hours and people were falling out of the boat, flailing in the treacherous waters until someone flung them back into the raft in a heroic save. For the most part, it was a calm river, and we only went through five or six “threats”, or sets of rapids, but at least they had cool names like “Meat Grinder” and “Satan’s Cesspool”. One rapid didn’t have a name, so we discussed a few potential names and decided unanimously on “Your mom’s hole.” We were classy like that.

The last rapid was scary looking, and going through it was the most fun. We whooped and hollered and I grinned the whole time. Afterward, we chatted with our guide and asked him if anything bad has ever happened on that rapid. We figured maybe a few people had fallen out, maybe broken an arm or something.

“Oh yeah, a guy died on that rapid just last year. His boat tipped and he got caught on a rock underwater and drowned.”

Yeep. Well, I’m glad he told us that after we went through it! Overall, though, if you have a good group of paddlers who follow instructions and a guide who knows the river well, it is an incredibly fun and safe experience and I recommend it to any thrill seekers out there.

Our group of rafters on the river

After a half day or rafting, they fed us a lunch of burgers (a veggie patty for me) and we all said our goodbyes. On our way out we stopped by the place that sold photos of the rafting trip–they had had a person taking photos of the rafts as they went through the last set of rapids–and we were excited to buy a CD of pictures. That is, until we saw the price tag: $250 per CD. $250!!!! That’s more than the whole weekend cost!! It was the only disappointing part of the whole trip; I don’t know how they could price gouge in such a sickening manner and still sleep at night.

Overall, I highly recommend the tour company, Adventure Connection, for this kind of experience. We were worried that we would be the only young people among a bunch of families and children and would be the annoying and slightly inappropriate “those girls” on the trip, but most of the group was in their 20s and 30s, with a good mix of singles and couples.  The guides were all laid back but professional and knowledgeable, the food was great, and the company had all the bases covered for their customers.

As for Keeley and me, we’re on the lookout for our next big adrenaline rush adventure. Keeley is convinced we should go shark cage diving, but I don’t know if I’m quite there yet… Any suggestions? 😉

  • Keeley

    I think shark cage diving is a really good idea.

    • kaleenamq

      Of course you do. Can I add that to the list of things I’ll only do if I have 2 weeks left to live? Along with squirrel suit base jumping.