Mark Twain gave Calaveras County its claim to fame with his bestselling story “The Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.” Nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, this famous Gold Rush location still maintains its 19th-century charm, including Murphy’s Historic Hotel, in operation since 1856. Twain was just one of its famous guests.
The California Gold Country first rose to prominence during the 1849 gold rush, but now, people come to experience the region’s natural beauty, the balmy weather, and the wine.
At the heart of Calaveras County’s wine country is an old-school Main Street with a new-world vibe. Unique to any other wine region, Murphys is a wine-lover’s dream with more than twenty tasting rooms and many excellent restaurants in an historic downtown.
Murphys’ rich and colorful past came alive in 1848 when John and Daniel Murphy established a trading post and gold mining operation in the area that is now their namesake.
Murphys was one of the Gold Country’s richest diggins. During one winter, five million dollars worth of gold was taken from a four-acre placer area.
The picturesque village is known today for its many natural attractions including caverns, a charming Main Street, spectacular wineries, and unique shops including art galleries. You can literally do wine country on foot in Murphys. There are over 25 wineries here and 20 of them have tasting rooms within walking distance from one another along Murphy’s Historic Main Street.
But don’t miss the chance to hop in your car to hit up a few of the operational wineries that are mere minutes from downtown and offer the authentic winery experience complete with wine caves, and stunning views.
Ironstone Vineyards is more than just a vineyard; it is a full-fledged wine-themed tourist destination. With an outdoor amphitheater, a tasting room and deli, a wine cellar cavern, a jewelry shop and gold rush museum, extensive landscaped gardens, and acres of grape-yielding fields, the complex provides entertainment for everyone.
Ironstone offers free daily tours, which include a visit to the cave where the wine is aged and a stop at the Heritage Museum and Jewelry Shoppe (which houses a 44-pound piece of crystalline leaf gold, the largest in the world), culminating with wine in the tasting room.
In 1990, after many years of growing wine grapes for other wineries throughout California, the Kautz family commenced the construction on a winery of their own. They built on the property that was, and is, a working Polled Herford ranch. This property was previously owned by Bauer Kramer, Mrs. Kautz’s father. The property is over 1,150 acres with nearly 100 acres devoted to vineyards.
In the middle of the property a large rock formation was turned into caverns for aging bottles of wine. The Caverns were hand blasted and carved by miners. It took 10 months to make their way through the solid limestone and schist rock hillside.
As the miners were blasting and carving away at the rock, they declared that the rock was “like iron”. From this the name Ironstone was conceived.
The Caves maintain a constant natural temperature of 60 degrees. The channeled spring waterfall can be adjusted to maintain humidity for proper fermentation.
The main bar in the tasting room was built by the Brunswick Bowling Company of New York in 1907. It was originally installed in the A.J. Bumps Saloon in Sacramento. The fireplace is 42 feet tall, 16 feet wide, and 13 feet deep. It was built from rocks on the property. The largest stone weighs 3,500 pounds.
A museum houses artifacts from the Gold Rush period and early Native Americans, as well as a eclectic collection of art, antiques, and gifts for sale.
Ironstone Vineyards tasting room is located at 1894 Six Mile Road near Murphys and welcomes wine tasters seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Winery tours are offered Wednesday through Sunday at 1:30 p.m.
Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, I’m finding enjoyment in things that stop time. Just the simple act of tasting a glass of wine is its own event.
―David Hyde Pierce