What happens when you get bunches of wine bloggers all together to take over a small wine country town? Mine cave-ins, death, destruction and mass group arrests! OK…that didn’t quite happen, but mass chaos, super amounts of fun and the realization that Calaveras County is an up-and-coming wine region with Murphys leading the charge as a boutique wine destination definitely DID occur. The Twisted Oak Winery Pre-WBC09 Murphys/CalaCo wine event had dropped, and there was no going back!
Jeff Stai (Twitter, Twitter2) vintner of Twisted Oak and the mad blogger behind the wine biz-leading industry blog, El Bloggo Torcido teamed with his esteemed winemaker Scott Klann (Twitter), himself the vintner and winemaker for his own Newsome-Harlow Wines, for a day long re-introduction to the wines of Calaveras County. While we started out with a meetup and tasting tour at the Twisted Oak compound, most of the action took place in the beautiful and historic former gold mining town of Murphys. Murphys, the “Queen of the Sierra,” has been nestled in the Sierra Foothills below Calaveras Big Trees State Park and Bear Valley since it was settled by Daniel and John Murphy in 1848 at the start of the California gold rush.
Attending much of the activities that day were Ashley (Twitter) of Drink with the Wench, Thea (Twitter) of Luscious Lushes, Megan (Twitter) of Wannabe Wino, Russ (Twitter) of California Wine Hikes & Winehiker Witiculture, Sharon (Twitter) of No Reins Girl, David Honig (Twitter, Twitter2) of Palate Press, Amy (Twitter) & Joe (Twitter) of Another Wine Blog, Ryan (Twitter) & Gabriella (Twitter) of Catavino, Oscar (Twitter) & Nadia of Quevedo and many others. I came up with Liza (Twitter) of the Brix Chicks after a wonderful ride over from the East Bay. While I stayed at the solid, everyday Murphys Inn Motel, most of the ladies stayed at the beautiful and rustic Victoria Inn, owned by the very wine-knowledgeable Michael Ninos. While there was nothing to complain about my accommodations which were solid and local to the main tasting room, the mining-era charm of the centrally located Victoria Inn, combined with the virtual local historian in Michael convinced me to stay there when I return!
Starting with the 2008 Calaveras County Verdelho, we moseyed inside to taste through a few more wines that Twisted Oak had to offer. Jeff and winemaker Scott make perhaps, the most consistent line of wines that I’ve tasted thus far from Calaveras County. While there are more wineries that I need to, and will, try in the future, it can be clearly seen that alongside Hatcher Winery, Twisted Oak is also making a name for Calaveras County wines in all three categories of red, white and dessert wines. While I’ve tasted a number of Twisted Oak wines both at wine events and through my WineQ.com queue, but today was the first time that I could try a bunch alongside one another. All of the wines from these two wineries as well as many from Scott’s own Newsome-Harlow, feature the balance, mouthfeel and acidity that I look for in great wines. The depth and complexity of the fruit is matched by the varietally correct level of round tannins and the good, food-centric acidity. The wines are also dry and retain that balance in fullness, never thin when the varietal calls for power yet never overly-extracted. While some of the wines from Twisted show more oak than I prefer, I’ve seen how this oak integrates well over time and helps contribute to the long term aging potential of their wines.
After tasting through much of the Twisted lineup, I decided to take my pour of the ’07 Twisted Oak Calaveras County The Spaniard along for the ride to the winery tour, led by Scott. This flagship wine of Twisted is always a beautiful Spanish blend of varietals, led by Tempranillo. It is big as it should be with these varietals but as I mentioned before, the complexity and balance is never short of impeccable. Scott clued us in as to how much of the wine is made at Twisted Oak. Scott also makes Newsome-Harlow and most of the Tanner wines at this same facility. The winery was designed on a hill and was designed for gravity flow winemaking, so that the juice is handled the least amount as possible, always flowing downwards with no pumping to next step in the process. The most exciting part of the tour was yet to come, as you can see in the pic that Scott’s holding a thief for some Twisted cave barrel-tasting!
We welcoming walked into the cave, escaping the almost 100 degree F sunshine outside. El Jefe led the procession through to the barrel of ’08 Syrah-Viognier that was slumbering in a barrel towards the back of the cave. The cave was dug completely new from the ground, with the dirt displaced then used as the foundation for the tasting room that we had just encountered. Braving bats, thirsty winedog Nacha and bad jokes all around, we passed back outside into the crazy summer sunshine. It was time to get crack-a-lackin’ and go 5 minutes up the road into town and taste more CalaCo vino.
Murphys can only be described as small, quaint and historic. Many original buildings line the main street, where virtually all of the shopping, art galleries, dining and 16+ tasting rooms abound. Everything is nestled into a about a 1/4 – 1/2 mile distance, making all of it walkable from almost all of the lodging that is available in town. Our first stop on the wine tour was Hatcher Winery, tucked into the basement of one of the many older buildings. Vintage wood beams and stone abound in the comfortably-sized room and their own dog Justin rules the realm. As I mentioned above, Hatcher makes a very consistent, high quality line of wines. My favorites were many, with the ’08 Pinot Grigio, ’05 Tempranillo, ’06 Syrah and particularly the ’06 Barbera having very favorably complexity and food-driven balance. Hatcher is another example of a winery that is making this region known for its Rhone varietals, as well as Spanish and Italian wines. Jen kindly led us through the set of wines available that day.
Leaving from Hatcher, we had a walk of about two doors before we landed in the courtyard of Scott’s Newsome-Harlow tasting room. Here the decor was much more contemporary, with loft-style marble and darkly stained wood styling. Scott was pouring through seven wines that day and I found that the three Zins that he made matched my palate the most. The ’07 Shake Ridge Zinfandel was my clear favorite, with good peppered red fruit and cinnamon towards the front, then blue fruit with integrating toast underneath. It is a great single-vineyard Zin and one that is helping lead the charge for Zinfandel in the local appellations.
Our last tasting room (tasting) stop of the day was at Tanner Vineyards, a winery for which Scott also custom crushes. Here the group was getting a bit fatigued, including my own palate and ears and as such, I didn’t get to taste through as many of the wines as I would have liked. The tasting room is held in a small wooden building that has seen many tenants in its many decades. Nanette, a 2nd generation Tanner, was pouring that day and very patiently worked through the wines with all of us, despite a somewhat rowdy crowd. My clear favorites here were the Tanner Vineyards Calaveras County Estate Vermentino-Viognier 2008, as well as the Estate Syrah 2006 and the ’06 Petite Sirah. All of the Tanner wines are Estate and the fruit quality comes through in virtually all of the wines. El Jefe has recognized the same and has been making a tasty Twisted Oak Tanner Vineyard Syrah for a number of vintages, as well.
The rest of the afternoon and evening was filled with food and more wine, of course. We started with some micro brews across the street at the great food, beer and wine establishment, Alchemy. Following that, we headed over to the Twisted Oak tasting room that was also in town, for our evening’s dinner, deliciously prepared by Scott’s wife, Melanie Klann. She, an accomplished chef and caterer, enlisted Scott to BBQ while she prepared the sides. The rest of us took a detour down to the creek, somewhat kitty corner to Twisted and cooled off a bit.
Sufficiently now at a normal temp, we walked back to the Twisted tasting room and our lovely meal. It was one of those moments where everything came together: great people, great wine, great food, great weather and a great atmosphere. What a meal! Speaking of wine, Brett Keller winemaker for Renner Winery also joined us, bringing with him his ’07 Viognier and ’06 Canterbury Vineyard Shiraz-Cabernet, both which showed well with the food that night. Coincidentally, we had run into Dr. Renner earlier in the day while at the Tanner tasting room.
It was now time for the competitive portion of the evening, a wine blogger blend-off, with the actual barrel components for the 2008 Twisted Oak The Spaniard: Tempranillo, Garnacha and Graciano. While we didn’t win, it was a very fun time and a great learning experience. Just before heading out however, the night concluded with some very well-made port from the vintner himself, Oscar Quevedo and his girlfriend Nadia. Two beautiful people, inside and out, they were attending with the Catavino kids as part of a whirlwind tour promoting Quevedo Porto. They poured the very well constructed ’03 Quevedo Porto Late Bottle Vintage and it was a true treat to finish the vinous activities with this silky and balanced gem.
Completely satiated at this point, we all headed our respective ways for night, mainly to our hotel rooms. I accepted a gracious offer for a night cap with Scott, Mel and Brett at The Nugget, continuing the great wine conversations with my new vinopanions late into the night.
An almost overwhelming thank you goes out to Jeff, Scott, Mel and everyone else at the tasting rooms that day and around the town. It was a lovely experience and immediately prompted me to call Pops and declare that our 6th Pops & Son Wine Trip would be in Murphys this year! To be continued…
Listed below are all of the wines that tasted or drank during that rager of a wine-region introduction day in Murphys for Calaveras County wines. If you would like to list all of these wines in your own WineLog, they are all tagged with “WBC09TwistedMurphys“. All of the photos from that day are over at my Flickr and are also tagged with “WBC09TwistedMurphys” in my WBC09 set. Enjoy!