To Serve Mankind

{July 16, 2008}   Why you need to check out Murphys, CA

Ok, I know I said my next post would be about kids…but I’ve changed my mind.  I have got to put that off for now (I have been preparing for that subject, tho, and I may have to split it up into 2 posts to keep it from being too long.  We shall see) and talk about our weekend in the historic gold rush town of Murphys.  It’s located in the Sierra foothills of Calaveras County…any Mark Twain fans in the house?  Yep, this little foothill town has a main street crowded with all the typical historic CA town shops; the candy shop, antiques, books, art galleries, the saloon, the cafe, the hotel / restaurant.  What makes Murphys different from the rest of the gold rush style CA towns are the frogs and the wineries!  Oh, yeah!

     It’s been about 5 years since our last trip to Murphys (not counting the Easter we took Molly to Ironstone only) and I was happy to see the frogs and the wineries were the only changes in this quaint gold miner town.  There are about 20 tasting rooms along Main Street alone.  There were several new tasting rooms in town; Vina Moda, Frog’s Tooth, Newsome-Harlow, and Bodega Del Sur were the newbies we visited and all were quite remarkable.  And of course we had to visit our old favorites – Stevenot, Zucca, HATCHER, and Twisted Oak are stops we always make.  And then there’s the frogs.

     Placed strategically thruout the town we noticed these…frog statues, each an original piece of art.  Some were beautiful, some were ugly, all were unique.  Apparently, a few years ago the town of Murphys wanted to raise money, comissioned artists to create these individual pieces and auctioned them off to various contributors in the area.  (If anybody has more info on that, please feel free to comment – I know my story is kinda half-assed)  We saw the frogs outside several businesses along Main.  We saw a frog in somebody’s front yard!  We saw the most TWISTED frog outside of Twisted Oak’s Winery on Red Hill Road (we din’t go to the Wisteria House tasting room along the main street so I don’t know if they have a frog also).  His name was “Fricken” and he was UGLY!!  It was a cross between a frog and a rubber chicken, frog shaped but yellow and bumpy with a crown and a beak.  We have 2 pictures of it, but unfortunately neither are particularly appropriate for posting.  Go figure.  But the statue fit their winery perfectly, as you know if you’ve been there.  The rubber chicken theme saturates the grounds, and is always good for a laugh.

      So, back to the wineries.  I did a lot of .. research .. that day.  It is my business, after all!  We, well I, tried wines at all 8 stops listed above, plus Ironstone.  They were all kind hosts and now for the honorable mentions…they are the reasons you should go to Murphys.

     Vina Moda, I believe, is the baby of the bunch.  Their tasting room is located at the far end of Main (by Jones I think), just past Clarissa the donkey.  Yep.  When you walk by she brays loudly and scares the hell outta you.  Locals tell me her hubby, Clarence, just died and she has been quite lonely.  She talks to everybody who walks by.  I had to mention Clarissa because Vina Moda actually named their red table wine in honor of her!  They do make some awesome wines, and have already won awards for the best white wine in the Sierra Foothills!  My favorites were the Viognier and the Barbera.  And our host, Kirsten, shared her story with us…4 partners, but just 2 were there at the time.  She and her hubby the winemaker have been spending all their time at the shop trying to get their dream off the ground.  I admire their determination.  Cheers to you Vina Moda!  I hope your tasting room is filled with visitors daily!  And thanks for the tasting book – I used it all day! – but it’s under construction

     Zucca may be my favorite tasting room.  It’s in a basement, so it has this mildly musty smell, but not too heavy because it’s still well ventilated.  The temperature is perfect for the wines and the guests alike!  The hosts are always full of stories.  I believe Carol Zucca was pouring wines last time we were there.  This time a sweet lady, Tasha poured and told us the story of the frogs I wrote about earlier.  They always have free cheese and chocolate (AP’s favorite part has got to be the food pairing tastes!) and I hear they have fresh strawberries when they’re in season.  I must have tasted 6 wines down there.  The Barbera and Syrah were beautiful…and they make a pleasant Chardonnay and Rosato that are worth checking out.  So go check them out!

     When we walked up to the Frog’s Tooth tasting room, the first thing I noticed was the sign on the door Welcoming the children who may be accompanying their parents and letting them know that Grandma Sue will be happy to come out and play with your little ones in the “Frog Pond”.  Sue and her husband, Gary, are the owners and were pouring for us on Sunday.  Basically, Sue loves to sit outside on the patio with your little ones in a little toy area they call the Frog Pond.  We will be taking Molly to play with Grandma Sue next week when we go back with the kids.  Their wines were consistently awesome.  The Marsanne–YES!  The Barbera–YES, YES!  (Hmmm, Is that my 3rd Barbera mention?)  The Tempranillo–Oh Yeah!  And I really like that they offer splits.  Half-bottles of wine are so convenient!  I really enjoy switching up wines for each course of a meal – who wants to commit to a middle of the road wine that just “accommodates” your salad, soup, seafood, pasta, or whatever  when you can customize and compliment with the variety granted by half-bottles?  I bought the Marsanne split.  Of course.

     Hatcher’s tasting room is our favorite pit!  You walk in and the walls are a gallery of brother Sewell’s photo art.  His love of family, grapes, and the SF Giants were quite evident.  This is the first place AP and I ever tried/used the stemless wine glasses years ago.  I remember Sewell showing them off, how they could spin and sit at a comfortable angle.  There were about 5 people already in the tasting room when we walked in so instead of interrupting his sales we played with the tasting room dog, Justin.  This slobbery black lab was sweet and playful – even AP who is NOT a fan of dogs, warmed up and was throwing Justin’s tennis ball across the tasting room so he could fetch while I tasted.  Brother Matt has made a dynamite Sauv Blanc – so balanced, so beautiful.  But I din’t buy it because we sell it at Sips and I’d rather support Hatcher via Sips!  Ya know?  The Merlot is very worthy, too, and I don’t typically care for Merlot.  So I guess we could say this one is something special…?

  And the other newbie we loved was Newsome-Harlow.  So glad to find a “new” winery in the area.  Their winemaker used to make wines for Stevenot and still makes wines at Twisted Oak!  He’s also good friends with Hatcher, I’m told.  I guess it’s a tight little winemaking community up there in them hills!  I found the Zin here to be awesomely balanced, and was impressed by the Meritage despite its high percentage of Cab grapes (not generally a Cab fan either).  Gorgeous tasting room, too.  Go see!

     And altho this was our first stop, I’m saving this one for last.  I must mention Ironstone, tho they are not like the other wineries.  I don’t really prefer their wines.  They are very commercial, and I wouldn’t be suprised if my friends out on the East Coast could find at least one of their wines out there.  Perhaps the Symphony Obsession?  The grounds are beautiful and they host many concerts and events out on their lawn, like the aforementioned Easter egg hunt.  I’d like to see Steve Miller Band play there next month… anyway.  Their tasting room is huge.  If you love shopping and wines, prepare to spend here!  They have a full service deli.  You can literally walk into this place and buy an entire picnic lunch–food, basket, red-checkered blanket, wine and glasses!  And then take it out on the grounds and enjoy the beautiful scenery; the trees, the grass, the Sierras, the drunk bachelorette party tumbling out of the limo that just pulled up.  😉  Good times!  They have a museum (more gold rush theme); they have a grounds and cave tour that take about an hour.  We, unfortunately, din’t have time for it on this visit, but will plan it in our next trip.  They have half-bottles!  Gotta love it!  We bought a Chardonnay to go with our lunch. 

     So, it was a beautiful day of research.  And the best part is that it’s only about an hour drive!  Screw Napa!  That’s a 2 to 3 hour drive!  If you love having fun with your wine, I totally recommend a trip up to Murphys.  Stop by and pick me up on your way up the hill!

PS–I had a pic of the rubber chicken tree posted.  Then I tried to post a second pic and jacked up the first.  So, if you want to know what a rubber chicken tree looks like, just ask.


el jefe says:

hi Michelle – Great post! You should post lots more often. I mentioned your post over on El Bloggo Torcido today and posted a picture of the Fricken for good measure (would really like to see your pictures!) Glad you enjoyed all of the wineries. Drop me a note when you come up next, I’ll be happy to give you a tour!

Cindy says:

Great post! The wineries sound great. I would love to be close enough to go for some teastings! 🙂 We have one in Dahlonega, GA that is Frog Town, but it’s not nearly as decorated as the ones you describe.

Hi Michelle. Great post. I really enjoyed reading it. Thanks for the OpenBottles mention too. I’m glad you enjoyed the tasting notebook too. I’d love to have you join OpenBottles so we can all learn from your experiences.

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