Our visit to China: Pandas, Peking duck — and Mandarins

WE FEATURE THE SWEET MOUNTAIN MANDARIN in our fall issue, so it’s fitting we’re writing the introduction while vacationing in China — where a version of the seedless, easy-to-peel fruit likely originated centuries ago.

It’s “fall break,” and we decided to visit this exotic destination to explore its rich culture, enjoy the cuisine and see giant pandas firsthand at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding. And we brought our work along. (The Great Firewall of China does not block our magazine’s website.)

We’ve felt at home during our trip too. Among other things, we’ve been eating Mandarin oranges. In fact, a bowl of Mandarins was waiting for us when we arrived in our hotel room at the Rosewood Beijing, as if on cue.

“Mandarins probably originated in China and were taken to India by traders,” the horticulture and small farms advisor for Placer and Nevada Counties has written.

“Later they spread to Japan, where Satsuma Mandarins developed about 300 years ago. Our Satsuma varieties came to us from Japan. Most of the commercial production in the foothills is the ‘Owari’ Satsuma Mandarins.”

As a matter of fact, we’ve also sampled the Japanese version of Mandarins — on a trip to Tokyo back in November 2015. (World travel is one of our passions.)

But you don’t have to visit Asia to enjoy delicious Mandarin oranges: As most of us know, the tastiest version is grown right in our own backyard – in the foothills of Placer County.

This sweet crop is the star attraction at the Mountain Mandarin Festival in Auburn on November 22-24, which draws up to 35,000 people from throughout the West.

Our region is getting noticed for other crops as well. Like the Mountain Mandarins, our wine grapes are sought after for their world-class quality and flavor.

This spring Rombauer Vineyards, one of Napa Valley’s premier wineries, completed the purchase of the Renwood Winery facility in Amador County.

The acquisition allows Rombauer to add 20 acres of vineyards to their holdings for its award-winning zinfandel wine, which has a cult-like following.

“My dad loved the Sierra Foothills and always envisioned Rombauer crafting more wine from this outstanding grape-growing region,” said KR Rombauer, second-generation proprietor of Rombauer Vineyards.

Amador County makes up about one percent of the wine grape agribusiness in California, but more than 30 percent of the gold medals awarded in state competitions come from grapes grown in Amador County, according to the Amador Winegrowers group.

Led by Mountain Mandarins and foothills’ wine grapes, our fall issue is dedicated to the food, wine and art that defines our region.

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