Pops & Son Wine Trip 6: The Mountains of Murphys

Dad caught the Frickin' at Twisted Oak! - PSWT6This was a trip so epic, that it took a year to digest and to prepare the story-telling…that’s the story I’m stickin’ to anyway!  Pops & I have taken many a wine trip together over the years, this was the sixth, in fact.  Each one has been in a different appellation or sub-appellation around NorCal.  Following my pre-WBC09 Twisted Murphys visit with some other vinopanions in crime, I decided that Pops and I needed to definitely take over Murphys and its  Calaveras County wine country for our upcoming trip later that year.

I spoke a lot in that earlier Murphys post about the exciting, up and coming aspects of the Calaveras County wine region and how it has already reached at least the wine crafting quality of it’s larger and surrounding appellation of the Sierra Foothills and is coming into its own as a true wine destination.  Murphys, the historic Gold Rush and logging town, has completely reinvented itself as a more boutique, yet still nicely rustic wine and food mecca, tucked underneath the stunning Sierras and Calaveras Bigtree National Forest.  Pops and I decided that we needed to dig a bit deeper this time and really get to know this comfortable piece of wilder wine country.

The famed Ironstone gold nugget. - PSWT6It would be impossible for me to recount all of the fun, tasty times that Pops and I happily endured over those three days, so in a departure from past posts in this series, I’m sticking to the highlights.  Have no fear, all of the wines that we tasted, included a couple random ones during dinners, are all listed below.  We did some serious (spitting) damage in and around Murphys, tasting over 90 wines in two and a half days across 10 wineries: talk about a rad way to really get to know an appellation!

We arrived the morning of Day One and first went to check in at our hotel, The Victoria Inn. It was recommended to me during that last trip to Murphys by vinopanions Liza Swift (Twitter) of Brix Chicks and Thea Dwelle (Twitter) of Luscious Lushes.  I met the Innkeeper of this fine hotel that day, Michael Ninos, and he was kind enough to sit down with Pops & I after we checked in to our retro-rustic room and chat with us a bit about the local area.  Michael is extremely well versed in the region and gregariously dished out a bunch of local history, current goings-on and unprintable secrets and a whole lot about the local cuisine and wine, of which he is also a part, opening the then new V Restaurant & Bar downstairs.  I will be staying here every time I come back to Murphys in the future!

The Victoria Inn - Murphys, CAFortunately, Murphys makes this vinotrek pretty damn easy, with over 18 tasting rooms along Main Street (as of 12/2009), upon which the Victoria Inn is located.  You can walk, rollerblade, bike or stumble down the 1.5 mile main drag and get your fill of CalaCo wine (though I’ve never rollerbladed while wine tasting…).  This was actually one of the reasons that I chose Murphys, since Pops is the kindly DD when we go on these trips and I always want him to able to taste wine too, of course.   That said, I did want to hit some of the many more surrounding wineries and so the first day that’s exactly what we did, with poor Pops behind the wheel, yet again.

Chatom VineyardsWe started off at Chatom Vineyards (WineLog, Twitter), where I didn’t find a lot of wines that fit my palate until we got to their very interesting and rare 2007 Chatom Calaveras County Estate Touriga.  This is a varietal that is most commonly seen as one of the main components of Portuguese Porto.  This one was a dry still wine and showed some surprisingly good florals and fresh anise to go with it’s medium to full body and balanced tannin and acidity.  Good stuff.  Following Chatom we trundled over to a winery that I’d always been interested to visit for a number of reasons that didn’t actually relate that our particular visit.

Ironstone Vineyards Ironstone Vineyards (WineLog, Twitter) is most known for their bubbly and the massive concert series that they have during the finer CalaCo weather in spring and summer.  This was the dead of winter, yet it was also a beautiful estate and really, quite large.  This has to be the biggest facility, wine or otherwise, in the Murphys area.  The cool thing about winery is that it has a great regional Gold Rush museum attached to the tasting room complex.  Inside they have the famous Ironstone Gold Pocket, seen in the photo above.  I had an awesome tasting room pourer here, who was very interested in showing me the full range of wines that they had, except for the bubbly, heh.  I really liked their trio of Reserve Zins and the Ironstone Sierra Foothills Reserve Cabernet Franc 2006, which I gave a KeeperWK wine badge.

El Jefe TwistedFollowing Ironstone, we headed around the ways a bit just driving around aimlessly somewhat, before alighting on one of the highlights of any trip to Murphys: a visit with El Jefe and his Twisted Oak Winery (WineLog, Blog, Twitter)!  Reuben was in full effect that day, as evidenced in the pic to the left.  Jeff “El Jefe” Stai (Twitter) was kind enough to take us around his twisted estate that afternoon, including a nice trip barrel-tasting in the two-entranced cave.  REUBEN! - Twisted Oak WineryOut of all of the wineries in the Calaveras area, Twisted Oak has to be placed right towards the top for the quality of their wine, their estate and the work that El Jefe has done to continuously promote his wine region. I like just about every wine that Twisted Oak produces and that day was no exception.  The Spaniard 2007 flagship continues to be a model of consistency for the powerful grace of Spanish varietals in this region (OldWorldWK) and the tank tasting of the 2009 Viognier even prompted an AwesomeWK badge!  It was tough to do so, but Pops and I finally left Nacho and Jefe and headed back out onto the dusty road.

Our last winery stop of the day was at Irish Family Vineyards (WineLog), where Owner and Winemaker Russell Irish was pouring through his wines.  I was taken by their Irish Family Vineyards California Póg Mo Thóin Red Wine and again, another fine Spanish varietal, their 2006 Irish Family Vineyards Calaveras County Rolleri Vineyards Tempranillo, both of which garnered WKBadges.

Newsome-Harlow Owners Scott_and_Melanie KlannWe finished off the day with a fantastic Thai dinner, graciously cooked by esteemed caterer, Melanie Klann.  Her and her husband Scott Klann, winemaker for Twisted Oak and his own Newsome-Harlow Wines (WineLog, Twitter) invited us into their home for dinner and some wine with Jefe and his wife.  It was a toasty and relaxing end to a fun first day.

Pops @ BigtreesDay Two was kicked off with a down home breakfast at the Murphy’s Historic Hotel and then a drive up to check out the snow at Bigtrees.  The park was mainly closed, but we were able to walk around a bit following a donation and the forest was just gorgeous, with what looked like a new layer of powder.  Old Standard Oil station, Sheep Ranch, Calaveras CountyWe continued down the mountain following a different route and ran into Sheep Ranch, what looked to be a very old Gold Rush town that appeared to be almost dead…and clearly wanted things kept that way.  We got creeped out by the Deliverance feel of of it all, but it did have some pretty cool historic and vintage sites to the tiny unincorporated town.

Escaping with our lives, we made it back down into town, just in time to salve our psychological wounds with some tasty wine.  Day Two was all about walking through town and tasting alongside Pops, no more vicarious tasting through me!  Newsome-Harlow Tasting Room - MurphysEach room has it’s own great feel and theme, many of them housed in the beautiful historic buildings of Murphys: Tanner in the old schoolhouse and diner at the start of town, Newsome-Harlow (WineLog, Twitter) with their cozy courtyard and restored and contemporary tasting and event rooms, Lavender Ridge (WineLog) in the Old Segale building (with a bit too much actual lavender in the room for my taste), Milliaire (WineLog) in the classic gas station, Hatcher Winery (WineLog) in their gorgeous wood and iron basement and Zucca Mountain (WineLog, Twitter) in their strange, almost dwarve-like strong of connected basements and mining paraphernalia.  All can make for a unique, special tasting.

Hatcher Winery Tasting RoomThere were many a good wine that day, but I’ll mainly focus on the wines that garnered a WKBadge.  One of my favorite four wineries in Murphys, Hatcher threw down the Hatcher Calaveras County Beckman Vineyard Zinfandel 2007 and the Hatcher Calaveras County Cabernet Franc 2006. Both featured great fruit complexity and overall balance and some tasty earthy dustiness to each of those components.  Newsome-Harlow brought some love with the Newsome-Harlow Calaveras County El Portal 2007 and one of my favorite named wines, the Newsome-Harlow Sierra Foothills Dalton Vineyard The Donnor Party Zinfandel 2007.  Lavender Ridge poured two favorites, the Lavender Ridge Sierra Foothills Côtes du Calaveras 2007 and the Lavender Ridge Sierra Foothills Syrah 2007, again showing that Rhone varietals kick serious booty in Calaveras.  Lastly, Tanner weighed in with the most surprising wine of the trip, the Tanner Vineyards Calaveras County Estate Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2007.  An AwesomeWK Cab from Calaveras?  You betcha.

The Twisted Oak - Calaveras CountyWith the quartet of Twisted Oak, Newsome-Harlow, Hatcher and Tanner leading the way, Calaveras County and Murphys should only continue to enjoy great success resulting from their historic town, their beautiful natural setting and of course, their top notch, elite wines.  Their challenge may become that of many a special wine region: keeping the growth and tourism to a manageable level so that the locals and the tourists can both enjoy these riches nestled against the mountains.

All of the wines that we tasted during those fantastic three days are listed below and tagged with PSWT6 for listing in your own WineLog…all 90+ of ’em!  A few of them received various WKBadges and those slapped with the requisite wine badge.  All of the photos from the trip can be found in their set on my Flickr and are also tagged with PSWT6Cheers!

Wines (PSWT6):

Chatom Vineyards (WineLog, Twitter):

Chatom Vineyards Calaveras County Estate Esmeralda Syrah 2005

Chatom Vineyards Calaveras County Estate Gitano Sangiovese 2005

Chatom Vineyards Calaveras County Estate Merlot 2005

Chatom Vineyards Calaveras County Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2007

Chatom Vineyards Calaveras County Estate Semillon 2007

Chatom Vineyards Calaveras County Estate Touriga 2007

Chatom Vineyards Calaveras County Estate Zinfandel 2005

Hatcher Winery (WineLog):

NewWorldWK - WKBadges Hatcher Calaveras County Beckman Vineyard Zinfandel 2007

Color: Medium garnet

Nose: Plush and ripe Bing cherry and sweet tobacco…a great nose.

Palate: Full and still very bright with juicy raspberry and cherry. Char comes in towards the juicy and long raspberry finish. Very good with its dusty and dry tannins: NewWorldWK.

QPRWK - WKBadges Hatcher Calaveras County Cabernet Franc 2006

Color: Medium ruby

Nose: Great dusty red and black fruit medley with savory truffle underneath.

Palate: Good palate with rhubarb quickly moving into cherry and raspberry. Rose petal comes later in the bright, yet earthy finish. Good: QPRWK.

Hatcher Calaveras County Estate Zinfandel 2006

Hatcher Calaveras County Grenache 2006

Hatcher Calaveras County Quinn the Eskimo 2007

Hatcher Calaveras County Syrah 2006

Hatcher Calaveras County Viognier 2008

Hatcher Sierra Foothills Meritage 2006

Hatcher Sierra Foothills Sewell 2006

Irish Family Vineyards (WineLog):

Irish Family Vineyards Calaveras County Graciano 2007

OldWorldWK - WKBadges Irish Family Vineyards Calaveras County Rolleri Vineyards Tempranillo 2006

Color: Medium garnet

Nose: Spicy, peppery red fruit with some earthy black fruit underneath.

Palate: Dusty red fruit here, good, with earth, ripe blackberry, cassis and round dry tannins: OldWorldWK

QPRWK - WKBadges Irish Family Vineyards California Póg Mo Thóin Red Wine NV

Color: Dark violet with garnet edges

Nose: Spicy anise with black fruit, though black cherry pokes through with some savory notes.

Palate: Floral here, with great bright blue to red and then black spicy fruit. Good. Great balance of acid, char & tannins: QPRWK

Irish Family Vineyards California Viognier 2008

Irish Family Vineyards Clarksburg Chenin Blanc 2008

Irish Family Vineyards Lodi Alicante Bouschet 2007

Irish Family Vineyards Lodi Elk Vineyard Petite Sirah 2006

Irish Family Vineyards Lodi Malbec 2007

Irish Family Vineyards Sierra Foothills Barbera 2006

De Ireys Calaveras County Rolleri Vineyards Cabernet Franc 2006

Kilkenny California Red Wine NV

Ironstone Vineyards (WineLog, Twitter):

Ironstone Amador County Deaver Vineyard Reserve Zinfandel 2007

Ironstone California Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

Ironstone California Merlot 2007

Ironstone California Verdelho 2007

Ironstone Lodi Cabernet Franc 2006

Ironstone Lodi Old Vine Reserve Zinfandel 2007

Ironstone Lodi Old Vine Zinfandel 2008

Ironstone Lodi Petite Sirah 2008

Ironstone Lodi Rous Vineyard Reserve Zinfandel 2007

KeeperWK - WKBadges Ironstone Sierra Foothills Reserve Cabernet Franc 2006

Color: Medium dark garnet, ruby edges

Nose: Fuller nose, great dusty black cherry, slight toast, cassis underneath

Palate: Bigger tannins here, needs time, ripe black cherry, blackberry and sweeter tobacco flavors with some char.

Ironstone Sierra Foothills Reserve Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

Christine Andrew Lodi Malbec 2007

Christine Andrew Lodi Rosé of Malbec 2007

Lavender Ridge Vineyard (WineLog):

QPRWK - WKBadges Lavender Ridge Sierra Foothills Côtes du Calaveras 2007

Color: Ruby

Nose: Baking spice here as well, toast, candied cherries and more rhubarb

Palate: Again good acid and tannin balance, vanilla with cinnamon, cherry and juicy raspberry. Very fruit forward, great value: QPRWK

Lavender Ridge Sierra Foothills Granache Rosé 2008

Lavender Ridge Sierra Foothills Mourvèdre 2007

Lavender Ridge Sierra Foothills Petite Sirah 2007

Lavender Ridge Sierra Foothills Roussanne 2008

OldWorldWK - WKBadges Lavender Ridge Sierra Foothills Syrah 2007

Color: Ruby

Nose: Earthy and gamy, with good leather and black and blue fruit.

Palate: More earth here, dried garden herbs, some game here as well. Dried wile blackberry and oak in the juicer finish: OldWorldWK

Lavender Ridge Sierra Foothills Vin Doux 2008

Lavender Ridge Sierra Foothills Viognier 2008

Milliaire Winery (WineLog):

Milliaire Winery Amador County Clockspring Zinfandel Port 2005

Milliaire Winery Calaveras County Ghirardelli Zinfandel 2005

Milliaire Winery Calaveras County Old Vine Zinfandel 2005

Milliaire Winery Lodi Eagles Nest Petite Sirah 2007

Milliaire Winery Sierra Foothills Chardonnay 2008

Milliaire Winery Sierra Foothills Robert’s Cuvee Late Harvest Zinfandel 2005

Milliaire Winery Sierra Foothills Sparkling White Wine NV

Newsome-Harlow Wines (WineLog, Twitter):

NewWorldWK - WKBadges Newsome-Harlow Calaveras County El Portal 2007

Color: Dark, almost inky core with violet edges

Nose: Dark, muted nose in this young age. Good black fruit with new leather.

Palate: Full with very good balance of toast underlaying layers of black fruit and the dusty dry tannins. Good acid in the mouth and good new leather in the finish. Well done: NewWorldWK

Newsome-Harlow Calaveras County The Dash NV

Newsome-Harlow Calaveras County Trainwreck 2007

Newsome-Harlow Calaveras County Vineyard Select Series Big John Vineyard Big John’s Zinfandel 2007

NewWorldWK - WKBadges Newsome-Harlow Sierra Foothills Dalton Vineyard The Donnor Party Zinfandel 2007

Color: Brighter ruby

Nose: White peppery bramble, raspberry and blackberry fruit with a touch of dark chocolate.

Palate: Full and peppery here too with darker wild fruit and more of a brighter, ripe plum finish. Good: NewWorldWK

Newsome-Harlow Sierra Foothills Sauvignon Blanc 2008

Tanner Vineyards (WineLog):

Tanner Vineyards Calaveras County Estate Mélange de Mère 2006

Tanner Vineyards Calaveras County Estate Mourvèdre 2007

Tanner Vineyards Calaveras County Estate Petit Verdot 2006

AwesomeWK - WKBadges Tanner Vineyards Calaveras County Estate Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2007

Color: Garnet core, ruby edges

Nose: Great black cherry, ripe cassis, forest floor and more savory notes.

Palate: Full bodied with firm round tannins, good acid with cocoa, lush cassis and cardamon underneath. A long black cherry finish ends this well-done wine and the best Cab that I’ve ever tasted from Calaveras County! AwesomeWK

Tanner Vineyards Calaveras County Estate Syrah 2007

Tanner Vineyards Calaveras County Estate Vermentino 2007

Tanner Vineyards Calaveras County Estate Vermentino-Viognier 2008

Twisted Oak Winery (WineLog, Twitter):

Twisted Oak Calaveras County Grenache 2006

Twisted Oak Calaveras County Parcel 17 2007

Twisted Oak Calaveras County Petite Sirah 2006

Twisted Oak Calaveras County Tanner Vineyard Syrah 2005

Twisted Oak Calaveras County Tempranillo 2005

OldWorldWK - WKBadges Twisted Oak Calaveras County The Spaniard 2007

Color: Medium ruby

Nose: Fruit is closed by great earth and dried cigar with some charred meat

Palate: Earth with game, charred black fruit, great acid and big round tannins into the long and intense black fruited finish. Good: OldWorldWK

Twisted Oak Calaveras County Viognier 2004

AwesomeWK - WKBadges Twisted Oak Calaveras County Viognier 2009

Color: Medium golden, good viscosity

Nose: Great. Big florals and bright peach, apricot, pear, chamomile, Meyer lemon.

Palate: Zippy yet full with all of the stone fruit and light citrus from the nose, then a wonderful crisp finish with lemon blossom. Outstanding already: AwesomeWK

Twisted Oak Sierra Foothills Marsanne 2004

Twisted Oak Sierra Foothills Ruben’s Blend 2007

Zucca Mountain Vineyards (WineLog, Twitter):

Zucca Mountain Vineyards Amador County Zinfandel 2007

Zucca Mountain Vineyards Calaveras County Barbera 2007

Zucca Mountain Vineyards Calaveras County Chardonnay 2007

Zucca Mountain Vineyards Calaveras County Grenache 2008

Zucca Mountain Vineyards Calaveras County Grenache Rosato 2008

Zucca Mountain Vineyards Calaveras County Sangiovese 2007

Zucca Mountain Vineyards Calaveras County Sorprendere 2006

Other Wines:

Solovino Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

QPRWK - WKBadges Etz Kamptal Austria GRÜNER Grüner Veltliner 2008

Color: Almost clear yellow

Nose: Big notes of zingy lemon, spicy pepper and some warmer tropical fruit notes.

Palate: Very zesty, with wonderful pepper lemon and citrus, followed by a more peach-pit finish. Quite good and an amazing value, especially in the 1L bottle: QPRWK

Vinopanion: Ward Kadel - @drXeNo

View posts by Vinopanion: Ward Kadel - @drXeNo
Ward Kadel - @drXeNo is the founder of Vinopanion wine blog, former West Coast Ambassador & Staff Blogger for WineLog.net and former Le Wine Buff for Bordeaux.com (CIVB). He will try any and all wines and tends to write about the parts of his life that include wine...like virtually all of it! He and his wife grew up in Napa and Sonoma and they still live in the Napa Valley. Check out the wines he's recommended with his WKBadges. Follow him on Twitter, Instagram and Like #Vinopanion on Facebook. Contact him: "Ward at WineLog.net". Ward happily accepts samples but does not guarantee a review, positive or negative.

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