by Merle Exit
Gold Country is located in the Northern area of California that is flecked with wineries. One of the best cities to visit is Murphys. 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. Picturesque vineyards and destination wineries are nestled in the rolling hills throughout the county. Since 1851, they’ve been a pioneering wine industry with an innovative spirit. Under the Calaveras Winegrape Alliance there are just over 20 wine tasting rooms here. Murphys alone has about 16 all within walking distance. I visited three of them: Zucca Mountain Vineyard, Tanner Vineyards and Twisted Oak. www.calaveraswines.org
I learned that for a wine to be labeled with a grape name it must consist of at least 75% of a specific grape. For example, Zucca’s 2006 Sangiovese and 2006 Barbera are two varieties measuring up to the 75%. Anything less than 75% cannot be labeled with the grape name, it becomes a blend and a name can be created.
Zucca’s is a smaller winery producing about 1,500 cases. They specialize in Barbera, Sangiovese, Syrah, and Syrah Port. All of their grapes are from the Calaveras county grape growers, except for Barbera grapes as this variety comes from Amador county. www.Zuccawines.com
Every year on the first Saturday in October crowds of people form in Downtown Murphys Park to celebrate the beginning of the wine harvest season at the Largest and Oldest Grape Stomp Competition in California. Now in its 25th year, the annual community Grape Stomp has grown by participation to include over 120 teams vying to be known as “Champion of the Juice” or winner of the “Best Costume” award.
During the stomp, teams of two, many with creative names and costumes, compete to collect the most juice out of 25 pounds of grapes in three-minute heats. The stomp itself has become so popular that it sells out every year and people come from all over the US to compete.
I registered to stomp and was trying to decide as to whether to stomp in my sandals or bare feet. After getting feedback from both sides I went for the barefoot rendition ala I Love Lucy. No, the buckets weren’t that large. Nancy was my partner who was responsible for pushing the liquid through a bucket hole and into a glass container trying to clear the screen from the crushed grapes. Rather than go fast, I concentrated on forcing the grape juice out of each heavy step. Yes, it felt mushy but the stems did not bother the bottom of my sensitive feet.
Twisted Oak, in nearby Vallecito, was my favorite winery and where the Rubber Chicken National Forest is located. You can view the chickens looking out the windows of a house at the bottom of the hill. Amusing signs point the way to the main room, some having rubber chickens attached to them. A California 300+year-old twisted Blue Oak graced the hilltop location. This winery is known for their Iberians and Rhones, of which the grapes are in the foothills of the Sierra Mountains. Jeff Stai is the owner and president of the winery. www.twistedoak.com