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Charm, History and Wine in Calaveras County

by Inga Aksamit

trolling down leafy, tree-lined Main Street in the small town of Murphys, along the western slope of the Sierra, we felt enveloped in history. The aura of gold was everywhere, from the gentleman panning for riches in Angel’s Creek downtown to the liquid amber of the locally produced Chardonnay. Taking our first sip during the 15th Annual Passport Wine Weekend this past June, when 22 Calaveras County wineries coordinated tastings, food pairings and entertainment for three days, my husband, Steve, and I were pleasantly surprised to taste a variety of quality wines with distinctive characteristics.

For me, Murphys was a longforgotten memory of childhood trips to the gold country, part of a shadowy collection of recalled images of dusty, crumbling towns sweltering under a scorching sun. While the sizzling heat of the Sierra foothills hasn’t changed, the modern Murphys couldn’t be more different. Set in the heart of the Mother Lode, the community’s prosperity, then and now, is obvious, with substantial, stone buildings from the mid-1800s now housing boutique shops, art houses, wineries and eclectic restaurants.

For me, Murphys was a longforgotten memory of childhood trips to the gold country,

During the Passport Wine Weekend we were treated to wines not often found in Napa and Sonoma, such as Cisnault, Tempranillo, and Treixadura. Old vine Zinfandel, which flourishes in the foothills, was well represented.

Some sparkling wine tickled our fancy at Stevenot Winery, along with the price of $15 a bottle. We enjoyed the wines of Black Sheep Winery, which featured a light, refreshing 2009 Chardonnay and a robust, peppery 2008 Zinfandel, as we nibbled on BBQ pork sliders and juicy watermelon on the cool deck bordered by the creek. One of our favorite stops was Metate Hill Winery, which presented Spanish varietals, several with a side-byside comparison of the same wine aged in steel compared to oak, an interesting match-up. At the Wild Heart Winery we enjoyed a smooth 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon from Paso Robles, which paired beautifully with a hand-made double-chocolate truffle.

The ambiance was laid back and the pace meandering as we toured the town, souvenir wine glass in hand. We enjoyed getting our passport stamped at the participating wineries and learned that there’s more to Northern California wines than Napa and Sonoma. We noticed that there was a big difference between tasting room fees and wine prices compared to the better known wine regions, with either free or a fee in the $3 range — waived with any wine purchase. Many of the wines were priced a third to half that found in better known wine regions, reflecting excellent value for hand-crafted wines.

It was wonderful for the two of us to explore the history of the charming town, with its rich Gold Rush heritage, and experience the contemporary success of vineyards whose origins stretch even further back in time and geography, to the grapevines of the Old Country.

Murphys Visitors Info: www.visitmurphys.com
Caliveras County: www.gocalaveras.com
Passport Wine Weekend: www.calaverawine.org

Inga Aksamit is a freelance travel writer based in Kenwood, California.

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