Calaveras County Wine and Frog Jumping
Mark Twain made Calaveras County famous in his story “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County”. You can still find frogs in every shape and size but when it comes to wine, you will be hard pressed to find a toad. Calaveras County is home to over 30 wineries mainly centered near the historic town of Murphys. The town resembles the set of a John Wayne western although we just can’t picture the Duke muscling up to the tasting bar and asking for a lightly oaked chardonnay.
Calaveras County sits south of El Dorado and Amador Counties and is one of the southern most appellations in the Sierra Foothills. Much like the rest of the foothills, we found a certain “terrior” in the wines we liken to a spicy bramble of exotic herb and ripe blackberries, a very compelling combination.
As you pass through the town of Mokelumne Hill on your way to Murphys be sure to stop by the French Hill Winery. The winery expresses itself through small scale production of high-quality wines. They bottle several varietals that are all good but the barbera and chardonnay were especially delicious.
Once you reach Murphys, be prepared for serious wine tasting. Within a few mile radius, you can taste wine from several of Calaveras’ other wineries. For a complete experience, you may want to take advantage of one of Murphys’ several bed and breakfasts, RV parks or local inns. The downtown Alchemy Market and Deli and wine bar makes a great sandwich if the wine tasting sparks your appetite.
Ironstone Vineyard is the largest producer in Calaveras County and the winery itself takes you back in time to the gold era with it’s mining displays, museum and a 400 pound nugget of crystalline gold leaf which is the largest sample ever found in California. They produce a large selection of wines to choose from ranging from robust to delicate. They also offer a great summer concert series including artists from Michael McDonald to Willie Nelson. Check their web site at www.IronStoneVineyards.com for schedules.
Stevenot winery is the oldest of the current wineries in the region beginning production in 1973. While they have a tasting room downtown, the winery is located in a beautiful bowl-shaped canyon two miles down a narrow road next door to Mercer Caverns. It is well worth the short drive. Veteran winemaker, Chuck Hovey, creates a Tempranillo (the same grape used in the best Spanish Rioja) that will make you say ole! Don’t blame us if after a few glasses you find yourself wanting to run with the bulls in Pamplona. Milliaire Winery, Malvadino Vineyards and Black Sheep Winery all located in downtown Murphys are small, family run operations that produce wonderfully extracted wines without hiding the varietal characteristics of the grapes by over oaking. You can find more information on all the wineries and directions at www.calaveraswines.org.