Green, as in wine
Forget green beer this year. In this grape-rich Calaveras County hamlet, they’ll be celebrating with green wine.
Not surprisingly, a town with a name like Murphys takes St. Patrick’s celebrations pretty seriously. Tucked away in the rolling Sierra Nevada foothills west of Yosemite National Park, it is holding its annual Irish Day bash, on Saturday, featuring a parade, food, music and plenty of sipping.
Even on a non-holiday, this town knows how to have a good time, with 18 wine-tasting rooms within a few blocks of one another.
“You can literally sip wine from one end of town to the other,” says River Klass, who owns two restaurants on Main Street.
Peppered among the tasting rooms are boutiques selling yard art, jewelry, books, shoes and toys. Art galleries with colorful paintings and trendy cafes give the town’s main strip that extra flair.
“We feel like we’re a small town, like Mayberry, but we’re a bit more fun and eccentric than Mayberry,” says Michelle Plotnik, president of the Murphys Business Assn.
Among the town’s charms are some colorful characters. There’s Buggy Bill, who gives horse-drawn carriage rides, and Dr. Jay, who drives through town playing a trumpet out his Jeep window.
“I think Murphys is just a cool little walking, pedestrian-friendly town,” says Dorian Faught, owner of the Murphys Historic Hotel and Restaurant.
The hotel features nine rooms, each named after the famous guests who have stayed there, including Mark Twain, Ulysses S. Grant and Susan B. Anthony. A short walk from elm-lined Main Street is picturesque Murphys Community Park, which has a white gazebo (also with shamrocks on it) and bubbling Murphys Creek running through.
The park is also the setting for the town’s other big party -- the Calaveras Grape Stomp.
At that event, the first Saturday in October, teams of two compete to see who can collect the most juice by crushing 25 pounds of grapes.
The focus in Murphys may be wine, but there’s much to be said for its dining options. You can grab an espresso and pastry at Aria or savor “gold nugget spread” over ciabatta bread at Alchemy Market & Wine Bar.
There’s also upscale V Restaurant & Bar -- chef-owner Robert Anderson is the former executive chef at Yosemite’s Ahwahnee Hotel. And vegetarian restaurant Mineral, where you can dine on winter beet and goat cheese salad and Indian spiced fried chocolate for dessert.
Klass, who owns the restaurants Grounds and Firewood, moved to Murphys from Los Angeles 17 years ago with his wife, Nannette. Of all the places Klass, 45, has lived -- New York City and Paris included -- he likes Murphys best.
“You have everything good about a small town,” he says, listing the reasons: “You’re a couple of hours from San Francisco. You have the proximity to adventure.”
While most of the activity centers on Main Street, visitors can venture to nearby Mercer Caverns or Calaveras Big Trees State Park, where they can hike through groves of giant sequoias.
And Ironstone Vineyards, the largest of Calaveras County’s 25 wineries, is just a mile from town. Ironstone hosts a popular concert series each summer at its outdoor amphitheater, where musicians such as Willie Nelson and Bonnie Raitt have played.
The winery also features a large wine-tasting room, deli and gift shops, where a 44-pound gold piece is on display.
Murphys is nicknamed the “Queen of the Sierra,” but got its real name from brothers Daniel and John Murphy, who settled the area in 1848. The brothers, perhaps using their Irish luck, made a fortune gold mining. (Legend has it they were millionaires by their mid-20s.)
These days, grapes have replaced gold. Irish Vineyards, just four miles down California 4 in neighboring Vallecito, is one of many wineries that opened this decade in the Murphys area. What sets the town apart, however, is the green wine residents will be pouring this week in honor of St. Patrick’s Day.
So how exactly does one make green wine? “It’s white wine and we add some green food coloring,” says Joan Irish, who owns the vineyard with her winemaker husband, Russell.
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If you go
Murphys Irish Day celebration takes place Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Festivities: Parade (11 a.m.), live entertainment, children’s activities, a raffle for a trip to Ireland, more than 100 fine-art and craft vendors and food, including corned beef and cabbage.
Information: (209) 728-8471, www.murphysirishdays.org