This year we decided to do something I haven’t done, on purpose, ever. We decided to “go to the snow”. Northern California’s most fashionable winter vacation destination is Tahoe, and we’ve still not yet been there. We opted instead to head towards Bear Valley, a bit further south in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Biggest attraction for me, about an hour down the mountain, and our first stop of the trip: Murphys. The Sierra foothills wine town.
The little main street is lined with tasting rooms, and because we had the good fortune of showing up on the Saturday of President’s Day weekend, discovered we had picked exactly the right time to visit: Presidents Wine Weekend. For $20 you could buy a glass that would get you unlimited tastings at all the tasting rooms in town. All weekend. TWENTY DOLLARS!! This was certainly not the Napa Valley.
We’ve been wine tasting in many of the different areas in California, from Santa Barbara to Sonoma, but nowhere has been quite like Murphys. Cowboy hats and motorcycles instead of designer jeans and stretch limos—it was about as different from tasting along 29 in Napa as you can get!
We zipped up our winter coats and trudged along between tasting rooms, starting with a place called Black Sheep Winery. I had faith that good wine was to be found, as we would later seek out the tasting room for a winery I’d had the pleasure of encountering before. But as far as first impressions go… let’s just say this wine was not in a style I prefer (read:dry) and I spit, then poured, most of it into the bushes outside.
Not knowing the lay of the land, we stepped into the next tasting room we encountered, Wild Heart Winery, which promised on its sign wine as well as chocolate. Inside there was no chocolate to be found, and the wine was, quite frankly, undrinkable. $20/glass was starting to feel like less of a good deal.
Now 0 for 2, we walked down the street further and decided to stop at a tasting room located in a house with a front porch swing, and a toy box. Inside it was crowded. Very crowded. I took it as a good sign that I had to elbow my way up to the bar with Myles and I’s glasses just to get our first pour. Twisted Oak Winery finally gave me what I was looking for: a wine I was willing to swallow. They were pouring too many wines to possibly try, especially considering the crowd. So after trying a few we pulled the boys away from the toys, kicking and screaming, to find the winery we knew: Frog's Tooth Winery.
A couple years ago at wine club, the host put in front of us a white wine to try and asked us to guess the varietal. My best guess was Albariño, but it turned out to be Torrontes from the Sierra Foothills. As the most popular white wine of Argentina, I’d never had it before (at the time I’d never even heard of it before!). Similar to Albariño, with its floral notes and medium-bodied drinkability, I’d been anxious to try the Frog’s Tooth example again after discovering that one of our favorite labels, Forlorn Hope, also makes a version. I also hoped that all of Frog’s Tooth’s wines were equally tasty. I was not disappointed. They had an excellent Barbara, a Cab Franc, a Rousanne, among many others all priced at around $20/bottle. We accidentally left with a wine club membership. And a case of wine.
The boys were beginning to tire of wine at this point so we took them to play at the park located behind the main drag, right alongside a babbling creek. The afternoon was growing particularly chilly, but we were determined to make our $40 investment in the tasting rooms of Murphys really worth it. We stopped briefly at Newsome-Harlow Vineyards because they had a large patio (with an open table) warmed by the coolest looking heat lamps. It was busy inside so we only tried a couple of their wines, but they were good.
Evan finally feel asleep in the stroller as we meandered back up the street towards the car, so I ducked back into Twisted Oak to buy a few bottles and ended up loitering near the register while the winery owner chatted with a couple about how the 2011's were coming along. We ended the day by taking turns in Milliaire Winery, who specialized in decent Zinfandel, but also had a sweet sparkling that was so sickly sweet I could barely swallow.
While these wineries certainly seem to cater to a different audience than many of our other California favorites, there was definitely some good wine to be drunk, and just like in Napa, some good wine to be dumped. We can officially check off Calaveras County on our wine country list.
I’m not sure how quickly we’ll be racing back up to the snow, we cut our trip short the next day after spending a couple hours in the snow when Connor experienced what I’m pretty sure was altitude sickness. It might be okay with me if another ten years pass before I stand in the show again. My snow boots are cute, but uncomfortable.
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