Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Tasting and Touring in the Sierra Foothills AVA: Part 1 - Estate Wineries - Lavender Ridge Vineyards Offers #Organic Gold in Wine Country

My, my how Murphys has grown up!

When I last visited, which could have been a decade ago, it was a laid-back Gold Rush town Americans went to see for its historic appeal. Today it's a chic, boutique-filled destination site, much frequented by European tourists, as well as Americans, who delight in strolling through its tiny, family-owned winery tasting rooms, clothing shops, and art galleries.

One such winery that's been on my bucket list for years is Lavender Ridge Vineyards, which is one of the very few in the area to have an organic estate vineyard. Its Murphys tasting room is housed in a delightful, 1859 stone structure that originally served as the town's grocery and later as its bakery and it's just a few steps away from the iconic Murphys hotel - Murphys Inn.

Lavender Ridge is owned and run by the Gilpins, who settled here in 2001, and who have an 8 acre certified organic vineyard about 20 miles south of town where they grow Rhone varietals. Their vines sit on a 42 acre property at 1,200 feet of elevation, overlooking a scenic schoolhouse (that was used in the TV series Little House on the Prairie).

The shop is filled with lavender, as well as
an excellent assortment of cheese, in addition
to their lovely wines
It was a delight to wander down to their Murphys tasting room with my new friend Gwendolyn Alley (we met at the Wine Bloggers Conference - her blog is here), a poetry professor from Ventura, who specializes in food and wine pairing, since Lavender Ridge Vineyards sells cheese and offers wine and cheese pairings.

Gwendolyn Alley tasting at Lavender
Ridge with our tasting room host
Lavender Ridge Vineyards makes two wines from their estate vines, in a normal year - a Cotes du Calaveras Blanc and a Cotes du Calaveras Rouge. Unfortunately due to the last three years of drought, the 2015 white wine was blended with other vineyards's grapes, so an all estate wine wasn't available to taste.(Of course, I tasted it anyway and recommend it as a way to continue to support organic growers). The red Cotes was 90 percent from estate vines.

The 2013 Cotes du Calaveras (Rouge) ($24) is a beautiful wine, translucent and light in weight, as it's a Grenache-based blend. (The exact blend is 42% Grenache, 29% Syrah and 29% Mourvedre). It boasts tart cherries notes, which our tasting room server told us are unique to this region. (Cases made: 285.) Gilpin uses native yeast on all the wines.

The wine was paired with a delicious Black Diamond Old Cheddar from Canada topped with a sour cherry compote made from Armenian cherries. Our server told us the sour cherry was selected because it paired well with the tart cherries in the wine - and it did. The lightness of the wine was also a perfect complement to the richness of this creamy cheese, a cheese I was happy to discover. (I left with two jars of the compote).

On weekends, the winery can get a lot busier
and opens a back room for flights.
But Lavender Ridge has more to offer - its lavender theme carries through to the decor as well as bags and bouquets of lavender for sale. It also carries the lavender theme into its wines which have lavender colored screw tops.

The back wall of the tasting room is filled with lavender bunches.
A most elegant dump bucket
It's nice to see that the Gold Rush regions are finding they can make a living by becoming "wine country." And while I don't think Murphys is quite "the next Napa," as some of its promoters say, it's a fun little town to explore. And Lavender Ridge has something to offer for all kinds of tourists (unless you don't like cheese or wine).

We also visited Ironstone Winery, with its unique historic attraction (hint, hint). And I tasted at a little winery down the street that makes an organically Zinfandel. More on that later.


  1. Fun article! Though I'd have to argue Murphys has more to offer than cheese and wine. They have lots of great restaurants, quite a few beer options (Murphys PourHouse, Murphys Irish Pub, Alchemy) as well as a national award winning coffee shop, killer local bakery, quirky shops, haunted hotel, adorable downtown park, and a cupcake shop that won the cupcake wars a few years back. That's quite a lot of action for such a tiny town!

  2. Yes, Murphys has come a long way! Great place to visit.