I’d heard whispers about Murphys, a speck of a village in the oak-studded Sierra foothills, a six-hour drive from Los Angeles.
At each tasting room my husband and I visited, the same claim was repeated: Napa Valley’s biggest distributors source much of their red grapes from these hills.
Murphys is wine country’s Cinderella — and she doesn’t seem to mind staying in the shadows of Napa’s viticulture scene as long as she can retain her mellow appeal.
Murphys may not be on L.A.’s “it” list just yet, but it’s only a matter of time before the town is cluttered with tasting menus and chic wine bars. For now, the royal hub of Gold Country is low-key and approachable. The tab: $550 for two nights at Courtwood Inn; $20 for tacos and pizza at Firewood; and $89 for appetizers, salad and local wine at Alchemy.
Tennis pros Chris and Larry Parker own the tennis-themed cedar-log Courtwood Inn (2081 Ponderosa Way, Murphys;  728-8686; from $275 a night). Its five rooms, named after major tennis competitions (Davis Cup, Wimbledon, etc.), have spa tubs and private decks, patios or balconies overlooking the forest. Full breakfasts (think quiche, croissants and watermelon) and an afternoon wine and cheese hour are included.
Pizza and wine deals lure families to Firewood (420 Main St., Murphys;  728-3248). For something a bit more sophisticated, my husband and I dined under a trellis at Alchemy (191 Main St.;  728-0700), where visitors line up for Cabernet produced up the road. I had the touch-too-sweet strawberry balsamic-glazed salmon. The big draw was the rib plate, a messy affair my husband loved diving into. Afterward, we lined up for a scoop of Violet Beauregarde (blueberry) ice cream at JoMa’s (386 Main St.,  728-8655).
We bypassed the crowds in the visitors center parking lot at Calaveras Big Trees State Park (1170 E. Highway 4, Arnold;  795-2334), about a 40-minute drive from Murphys, then motored four miles to the South Grove Trail. This five-mile meander had us craning our necks, with the aim of viewing one of the 1,000 giant sequoias in the park. About two miles in, a giant sequoia blocked our path, so I looked up, up and up at the grandeur of this ancient wonder. I finally gave in and leaned against a log to view the topmost pine needles stretching for sunlight, comforted by the knowledge that the Earth’s largest trees are protected here.
Wine-tasting lures, but art sustains. At Allégorie Art Gallery & Tasting Room(432 Main St., Murphys;  728-9922) I sipped sparkling rosé while perusing jewelry designs by L.A. native Melissa Loschy. Farther along, I popped into Twisted Oak (363 Main St., Murphys;  728-3000) for a whimsical pairing of Zinfandel and sculpture. And at Independent Mercantile (78 Scott St.,  728-8963), I admired how the natural environment had inspired the bracelets and necklaces crafted by store owner Linda Trent. It’s clear that being far from the hustle of city living has made creative juices flow like the wine this region made famous.