By JASON CAMPBELL
209 staff reporter
MURPHYS – It was once a mining town boasted visitors like humorist Mark Twain and Civil War General and future President of the United States Ulysses S. Grant.
But today the lifeblood of Murphys isn’t the gold that once set deep in the Calaveras County hillsides and creek beds, but the fruit of the vines that have popped up all around the quaint mountain enclave that plays big on its Irish roots.
Wine is the new gold in Calaveras County.
The Charming Downtown district that once catered to the miners that spent their days working their hands to the bone has become radically transformed over the last two decades as winemakers have ventured further away from traditional Northern California vine hotbeds like Napa and Sonoma and Healdsburg and Lodi – adopting a fresh new take and a long list of varietals that work well in the conditions that are starkly different than their low-lying counterparts.
And it all started with Ironstone.
In 1989 Lodi grape grower John Kautz decided to venture out onto his own and needed a place that he could call his headquarters. Finally setting on a plot of land on his wife’s family ranch just outside of Murphys, an effort that includes picks, shovels and even dynamite cleared the way through the limestone and the Calaveras Schist Rock to create the wine aging caverns that added a unique experience for visitors. The underground portion even housed the winery’s first tasting room.
Since then Ironstone Vineyards has grown into one of the biggest distributors of wine in America and the largest winery and entertainment complex in California – a region known for creating quality wine and allowing visitors to share the winemaking experience with the experts through tours and talks.
Every summer the winery hosts a handful of major touring artists for concerts – drawing the likes of Sheryl Crow, Huey Lewis and the News, Chris Issak, Bonnie Raitt, Alan Jackson, Chicago, Crosby, Stills and Nash and Lynyrd Skynyrd.
But they’re not the only place in town to pick up tasty bottles and toast to the modern-day gold rush that has transformed the rural enclave into a hotbed for vino enthusiasts – (although the museum at the site does hold the largest single crystalline leaf gold nugget ever discovered, weighing in at 44 pounds, just down the road in Jamestown in 1992.)
Here are some places to check out if you’re planning on making a day trip:
*Twisted Oak Winery – There are actually two places you can visit in you’re in the market for the foothill-grown Spanish style grapes that this unique winery has made its bread and butter – the actual winery itself located just outside of Murphys and the tasting room situated on a row downtown that has made strolling and sipping something that the city is famous for. And those that are visiting the winery are treated to something truly different – meandering along a winding road that stretches up to the large warehouse, tasting room and gift shop with the aid of funny signs that all seem to focus on the rubber chicken that serves as the brand’s unofficial mascot. The tree that graces the label – a massive California blue oak tree – is situated on the Vallecito property that produces varietals like Tempranillo, Grenache, Graciano, Marsanne, Roussanne and Mourverde. The winery is located at 4280 Red Hill Road, accessible by Highway 4. The Downtown Murphys tasting room is located at 363 Main Street. More information can be found at www.twistedoak.com. 209.736.9080.
*Bunting Wines – Along the heart of Murphy’s wine-centered corridor sits the quaint Bunting Wines tasting room – producing Rhone-style varietals like Mourverde, Rose’, Rousanne and Muscat Canelli. The staff is warm and friendly and it serves as the perfect place to stop in when visiting just for a wine day or trekking across the Calaveras County foothills for the day. The tasting room is located at 397 Main Street. For more information visit www.buntingwinery.com or call 209.559.4778.
To contact reporter Jason Campbell email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 209.249.3544.