Fair Play originated as a gold mining camp in the Sierra Foothills during the California gold rush. The first recorded settlers at Fair Play, as it was originally spelled, were N. Sisson and Charles Staples in 1853. Fair Play was a prosperous little mining town with several stores and hotels. According to local tradition, the name arose from an incident in which an appeal to “fair play” forestalled a fight between two miners.
Although Fair Play was at first only a mining camp, the town later became a trading center and post office for drift and hydraulic mines in the area. Provisions were shipped to Fair Play and to Slug Gulch to the east, over steep mountain roads.
In the 1880’s, agriculture was the principle economic activity, although a stamp mill still operated. The California gold rush came to an end when the State Legislature restricted hydraulic mining, leaving only a few surviving hardrock mines. Most mining camps like Fair Play dwindled and all but disappeared, except for the occasional store and school to serve the remaining farmers and ranchers after the miniers drifted on. Only two businesses (the grocery and hardware), the former schoolhouse (now a residence), and the old cemetery remain.
While the mining may have been on a downturn, agriculturally, things were beginning to look pretty good. Several ranches in the vicinity were gaining local acclaim for the quantity of the vegetables that they produced. By 1969, a vineyard and orchard had been planted. The first commercial vineyard and winery was established in 1887 by a Civil War veteran and Wisconsin native, Horace Bigelow. Near where today’s Seven-UP Ranch is located, Bigelow planted 2,000 fruit trees and 4,000 grape vines.
As far as viticulture is concerned, for most of the 20th century it was pretty quiet around Fair Play. A declining population, coupled with the difficulty of transporting fruit and wine to distant markets had taken a toll on the farmers and ranchers in the more remote portions of El Dorado County. The reawakening of Fair Play as a wine growing region didn’t really occur until the planting of an experimental vineyard on Ben Simm’s Diamond Bar Ranch in 1967 (This vineyard is now owned by Charles B. Mitchell). By studying the trial vineyard, it was determined, that among others, but most notable, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay could be expected to produce excellent dry table wines in the Fair Play region. Currently, the total acreage of wine grapes is approximately 350 acres, of which about 250 acres are currently in production.