If you could channel the past lives of a wine tasting room in gold country California, I’m sure you’d be amused. Between the buildings of former brothels, various jail cells, and gold mines underneath, anyone could spin a wicked story. But none so true as the one where Driven Cellars now pours fab juice.
During the thriving days of California’s gold rush, many men traveled to these parts in search of a dream. Whether that dream panned out or not, those men needed comfort and sustenance. So, most of these little gold rush towns contained hotels, saloons, and brothels– the trifecta of happiness. What’s interesting about Sutter Creek’s brothel is that it was across Main Street from the hotel where many gold rush enthusiasts stayed. To avoid being seen walking into the saloon or brothel, men used a trap door in the sidewalk to cross the street and enter privately through an underground tunnel. After safe passage into the saloon, they could have a drink and enter a small viewing room or parlor adjacent to he bar where they viewed various women and selected a fitting companion. The new tasting room for Driven Cellars still has the other end of that trap door entrance. The rest has been blocked off to protect pedestrians and pets. But, they still have the parlor room… only now it is more like a comfy wine lounge. But I’m sure men still view other women for companionship while sipping a tasty bevie.
Driven Cellars is in a spot to watch not only because they are in a historic building but also they plan to serve food and offer patio seating. They also have a lively selection of crisp refreshing whites and big bold reds. Our fave of the day was a Primitivo with the tart red cherry flavors but thick plum body that balances out this grape’s pronounced acidity. It is their most popular red and one that makes the trip worth a visit, even if you already have companionship for the night.
When traveling to a new wine region, you can quickly cut to the top of the line just by asking around for the locally famous winemakers. In a town like Murphys, winemakers like Rich Gilpin are known by name. He is the man behind the magic of several wineries known for their quality wines. He also mentors other winemakers and consults for several other wineries. One of his secrets is staying up on the latest and greatest equipment to squeeze the most succulent flavor out of his grapes.
Lavender Ridge is where you can taste his craft for Rhone varietals like Grenache, Viognier, and Roussanne, the answer to anything-but-Chardonnay. His Roussanne has that lovely rich lemon curd and crème brulee thickness you can only get from time spent in one of those cool concrete eggs. This is a white with the hearty tannins of a red. Their Viognier has a slight hint of that floral fragrance that is typical of this grape yet it is balanced by flavors of apricot and slightly green banana. The bright red Grenache smells like a sweet bucket of cherries yet is balanced by many layers and flavors like tart red plum, earthy mushrooms, and herbs de provence. Simply magical!
The newest tasting room in Murphys is in a larger than most building right on the main strip. I believe it was once the firehouse. In this great location, Bunting serves up some classically French styled wines with a punch. The French style is not only seen in their delicious grape varietals that are sometimes hard to find in California like Marsanne and Roussanne but also in an incredible balance of bright crisp acidity with soft tannins that show off the natural fruit flavor of a varietal. The punch is in the high alcohol levels (sometimes 15%), which makes the experience like classical music with the volume turned way up.
Definitely worth a visit!
Where better to go on March 17 than Irish Family Vineyards in Murphys, CA! This trip we were wowed by a Malvasia Bianca that had lots of apricot and lemon curd with a hint of banana. Their Duct Tape that fixes most everything is now called Quick Fix and it still does with wide thick body from Merlot and Cab. Then a Petite Sirah and Zin Kilkenny red has ripe plump juice with a complex body of plum and spice on top of a whiff of smoke and vanilla. We love this wine any day of the year.