This 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.
It 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!
Fortunately, 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.
We 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 (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.
Following 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. Out 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.
We 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.
Day 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. We 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! Each 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.
There 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.
With 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 PSWT6. Cheers!
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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