I’m not sure if it’s the beauty of the foothills, the abundance of recreational opportunities or the people who are grateful to live here, but Calaveras County seems to have one of the most active wine regions in California. You might think the months following Christmas and the cold winter weather are a time to hunker down indoors, but not in Calaveras wine country. The party has just begun and January and February are great months to grab a honey and warm the spirit by cozying up in the tasting room with a hearty glass of wine.
One of my favorite places to top off the work week on a Friday evening is in the charming Stevenot Tasting Room on Main Street in Murphys, where live music is offered on the first Friday of every month. The tasting room is in the original town butcher shop that was built in the late 1800s and its solid 18-inch thick stone walls built for cold storage also keep it warm and intimate, and the walls offer great acoustics. Stevenot is the kind of place where everyone cozies up together and by the end of the evening you will have made friends with everyone at the bar.
If those cozy quarters aren’t warm enough for you, the Murphys Hotel across the street fires up the old-fashioned cast iron woodstove every night and serves a mean Irish coffee drink; after all nobody says we have to drink wine all the time. But if you do, luckily the hotel mostly serves Calaveras wines, and I recommend a rustic red Tempranillo or Syrah blend to beat the cold. You will probably find me there by the stove watching the Super Bowl.
For the best fireside wine tasting, nothing beats the fireplace at Ironstone Vineyards. It has to be the largest fireplace in Calaveras and if not, I would sure love to visit the larger one. You might have to stop me from climbing in and hibernating until June. Rumor has it that John Kautz insists on having the fire burning large and hot for guests daily. He’s a man after my own heart. While visiting Ironstone, be sure and go on the wine cavern and estate tour with longtime employee Conrad Levasseur. He is a delight and will fill you in on just about everything you ever wanted to know about the history of Ironstone, the Kautz family and their commitment to sustainable winemaking and agriculture.
Now is a great time to visit the wineries in Calaveras before the crowds hit this spring. The weather might be chilly or unpredictable, but the hospitality in the tasting room is abundant, offering you time to talk with the tasting room personnel or share in one of the many events and special tastings offered. The charming Lavender Ridge Vineyards Tasting Room on Main Street in Murphys recently expanded to include additional space to host intimate wine and artisan food tastings with its knowledgeable staff. Every second Sunday of the month, the tasting room staff hosts an Artisan Tasting Series for $20 per person, which happens next on Feb. 12. Advance registration is required but act fast, because this series always sells out well in advance. Call 728-2441.
The perfect preparation for Valentine’s Day would be a visit to Coppermine Winery off Highway 4, which offers an Artisan Chocolate and Cheese Tasting on Feb. 12. We have all heard the reports that a glass of wine a day can offer some health benefits, but did you know the cocoa in chocolate can be linked to more than 40 different health benefits? True, most of the benefits are “slight,” but chocolate does release the chemical serotonin, and in combination with a good wine, it’s pure bliss.
Over the summer, Milliaire Winery started a locals’ night series and, due to the overwhelming success, the folks there decided to keep the fun going with a winter concert series at the Milliaire Winery barrel room, just three miles outside of Murphys on Murphys Grade Road. On Saturday, Feb. 11, the winery hosts live music by the Bob Eisenman Jazz Trio with pizza by Old Skool Pie, along with half-price select bottles of wine. Admission is free and the music starts at 6 p.m.
Milliaire also hosts another of its popular Sip and Paint events on Feb. 20. These events are all the rage, where everyone paints the same scene on canvas under the step-by-step direction of the art director. They supply the canvas, brushes, paints, aprons and instruction, and you just bring your creativity and sense of adventure and leave with your very own masterpiece. Artistically challenged? Don’t worry, that’s what the wine is for. Grab your friends and sign up by calling Milliaire Winery at 736-1915 to uncork your creativity.
Coming up on Feb. 18 and 19 is the Calaveras Winegrape Alliance’s annual Presidents’ Day Wine Weekend. Some of you might be drinking more due to recent “politics-unusual” and some of you might be toasting more, but either way, this year more than ever we all should support each other and local businesses by participating in the wine weekend. With the purchase of a $25 commemorative wineglass, you can taste wines at all participating Calaveras wineries, sample great foods and enjoy live music and special deals on wine purchases. For more, visit calaveraswines.org for all the details on this very popular event.
While you’re in town be sure and stock up on Newsome Harlow’s just released 2016 Sauvignon Blanc. This cool and crisp summer sippin’ wine sells out every year before the heat heads south again.
In honor of our recent wet winter, I raise my glass to you and offer a toast: Cheers to water divine; it dews the grapes that give us wine. Clink!