Driving through Calaveras County, I explore wine in an unlikely place; near a cave called Moaning Cavern where passerby’s in the gold rush era used to fall to their death when they mistook the wind howling from the cave as screams for help. My fiancé convinced me to give it a go and try the easiest way down—into a cave entrance so tiny that I now know what moist rocks smell like up close and what my knees sound like shaking when walking slowly up and down a 155 step steel spiral staircase. On the outside of the cave, there are plenty of weekend tourists getting their harnesses on for a ride down a 1500 feet zip line that zooms you past mountains of redwoods while you inhale crisp, cool air at about 60 mph. I’ll pass, thank you.
Minutes away from Moaning Cavern, Hwy 4 takes you alongside some of the best wineries in the region. First stop is Laraine Winery. A small dirt road takes you there, but worth the trek as the winery is one of the most scenic in the area. The tasting room’s pine bar is surrounded by windows that overlook beautiful views of the estate and vineyards. This is a perfect place to bring a picnic and enjoy a glass of wine outside. The winery has a few standout varietals including their syrah, but the star here is their 2008 chardonnay, which has notes of crème brulee and almonds. For a lighter version, try their 2009 chardonnay.
On our way to downtown Murphy’s, we make a stop at Indian Rock Vineyards. Indian Rock has peaceful grounds and two large ponds that feed from natural springs. The tasting room is warm and charming and you can try from any of 18 or more varietals they grow. Wines not to miss are the 2007 Barbera, 2005 Coyote Creek Red and the Tawny Port Dessert Wine.
Downtown Murphy’s is a wonderful stop for shopping, a stroll, and of course wine tasting! Downtown is bursting with tasting rooms. You can’t pass one block that doesn’t have a tasting room. This is great if you are limited for time and cannot venture out to some of the actual vineyards. This time around we find a newly opened boutique winery called Allegorie. Allegorie’s tasting room also features local art and handcrafted artisan jewelry. As we enter this trendy spot, the tasting room is elbows only and I make my way in for a taste of their spectacular 2009 Tempranillo, which has a bouquet of vanilla and roasted coffee with a spicy finish. Wines are on the pricey side, but you won’t be disappointed.
We stop for an afternoon bite at the Kitchen which also houses Newsom-Harlow’s tasting room. The chef here focused on food from local farmers and suppliers and it shows. Dishes here are fresh and delicious. For tastings, I recommend relaxing with a wine flight in the courtyard lounge. Reds are the winners here. Try the 2009 Train Wreck or the 2009 Petit Verdot.
Happy Wine Adventures!
Laraine Winery, www.larainewinery.com, 3675 Six Mile Road, Vallecito, CA 95251
Indian Rock Vineyards, www.indianrockvineyards.com, 1154 Pennsylvania Gulch Road, Murphy’s, CA 95247
Allegorie Art and Wine, www.allegorieart.com, 432 Main Street, Murphy’s, CA 95247
Newsome-Harlow Tasting Room & Kitchen Restaurant, www.nhvino.com, 403 Mian Street, Murphy’s, CA 95247