Happy Wanderer: Old mines, wines mix in Calaveras County


CONTRACOSTATIMES.COM: July 6, 2012

Things are jumping in Calaveras County — and I’m not just talking about the annual frog competition. This Gold Country region is emerging as a popular wine destination.

Take Highway 4 east from Stockton, and the first thing you’ll notice is the romantic landscape of grazing cattle and rustic farms under an endless expanse of blue sky. This is breathtaking scenery, unspoiled by development for as far as the eye can see.

Pull off the road in Angels Camp, the home of the Jumping Frog Jubilee each May. You’ll want to see the old section of town, the historic main street that has kept its Gold Rush feel to the point that — on quiet days — you can almost hear the whisper of ghosts from the miner’s camp.

There are more than two dozen wineries within a few miles of Angels Camp. The majority of them have tasting rooms in Murphys, a town that seems more like the Wild West than a wine destination. In fact, wine is the new liquid gold in Murphys. It’s the town’s drawing card, along with a host of charming bed-and-breakfast inns and the venerable Murphys Hotel, where Ulysses S. Grant and Mark Twain hung their hats.

Much like the miners who settled this area, the winemakers have a pioneer spirit that seems to set them apart from the well-heeled wine regions of Napa and Sonoma. There’s no snobbery here. From Chatom Vineyard’s creative pairings with peanut butter cups to the rubber chickens marking the road to Twisted Oak Winery,these vintners don’t have egos. In fact, in most cases you’ll find the owners and winemakers themselves in the tasting rooms, talking tannins and fruit production. The soil and the climate are perfect for zinfandel and barbera, but winemakers are also enjoying success with Spanish varietals such as tempranillo and granache. Some wineries, such as Irish Vineyards and Val Du Vino, say visitors can even join them in the crush. And the county’s most celebrated winery, Ironstone, has one of the best summer concert series in the country, set in a lush five-tier outdoor amphitheater surrounded by vineyards.

Of course, there’s much more to do in Calaveras County than sip wine. Greenhorn Creek is the region’s premier golf resort, cradling its visitors in the splendor of the Sierra Foothills. Exquisitely appointed cottages go for just $205 a night, and the resort offers a five-bedroom lodging retreat on the links called the “caddie shack.” Their restaurant, Camps, is a popular place for wine country cuisine and winemaker events. In fact, many of the homeowners at Greenhorn Creek make wine themselves.

If you go:

Calaveras Wine Grape Alliance: http://www.calaveraswines.org
Mark the date: The Mark Twain Motherlode Festival is Oct. 5 through Oct. 7 in Angels Camp.

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