Both Liquid and Actual Gold in the Sierra Nevada Foothills — Calaveras County

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So where exactly is Calaveras County? Calaveras County is located 40 miles east of Stockton. Calaveras County terrain ranges from just above sea level to 8,000 where it abuts to the Sierra Nevada’s. Calaveras County is well known for its part during the Gold Rush of 1849. Many historical figures also traveled about Calaveras County including Mark Twain. In fact Angels Camp (the only incorporated city in the County), still holds its annual Frog Jumping Contest during the Calaveras County Fair in May made famous by “The Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” a short story by Mark Twain. The area is rich in history with Big Trees State Park; Moaning Caves; gold, silver and copper rushes; beautiful lakes and top rated championship golf courses like Saddle Creek Golf Resort. Today there is a “wine rush” in Calaveras County. Picture below is the largest gold nugget on display at Ironstone Vineyards weighing in at 44 pounds!


(picture from Ironstone Vineyards used with written permission)
With that quick overview perspective, today there is a “wine rush”. Currently in the Calaveras Winegrape Alliance (a non-profit organization run by the energetic Shelby French), there 34 wineries in the county. Murphys about 9 miles east of Angels Camp up state highway 4, is home of 25 tasting rooms which allows visitors from around the world to sip on the locally produced wines. This wine rush with both locally produced wines, as well as wineries bringing in grapes from Napa, Sonoma, Lodi, Central Coast, etc., allows visitors to taste the gambit from locally produced wines to some of the more well-known varietals around California.


(picture used by permission from Calaveras Winegrape Alliance)
While grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Petit Sirah, Viognier, Merlot, Zinfandel, Chardonnay, etc., are grown worldwide with each AVA having it’s own “unique twist”. Some have even developed and use non-traditional clones to withstand certain environmental conditions. For example, John Locke of Locke Vineyards (see story at: ) , uses a thicker skin Cabernet Sauvignon clone 338 verses 337 (more commonly found in California) due to the warmer days and nights during the growing season. Calaveras County vineyard elevations range from Valley Springs (669’) to Copperopolis (997’) to Arnold (3999’) to West Point (2769’) and many places in between. But for these “typical varietals” many areas are more recognized for their wines, for example Napa Valley for Cabernet Sauvignon due to the geographic and geology.



(picture used by permission from Calaveras Winegrape Alliance)

The growing climate (heat and diurnal temperature swings) are more akin in Calaveras County to Spain, Portugal, southern France and Italy. If you think of those areas (not next to the seaside), you will find some impressive varietals being made into excellent wine. At the recent San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition voting on 6,800 wines, Calaveras County garnered 45 wine winners! Many were also highlighted at the Sierra Foothills Wine Competition last April and will be submitted again this April. The larger Gold Medal winners this year were ( Black Sheep Winery (, Ironstone Vineyards, Jazz Cellars (see story at ) , Milliaire Vineyard Selection, Renegade, Villa Vallecito Vineyards and Vina Moda Winery. The Gold varietal winners were: Zinfandel, Sagrantino, Barbera, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. Many wineries due to their artisan and smaller production did not even submit wines to be judged.

Key here are the wine varietals that that are grown and made into wine in Calaveras County:
• Spanish: Albarino, Godello, Graciano, Tempranillo, Treixadura, Verdejo
• Portuguese: Alicante Bouschet, Touriga Nacional
• Italian: Barbera, Brunello, Montepulciano, Nebbiolo, Negroamaro, Pinot Grigio, Rolle, Sagrantino, Sangiovese, Teroldego, Vermentino
• French: Carignane, Chenin Blanc, Cinsault, Grenache, Marsanne, Mourvedre, Muscat, Petit Verdot, Petite Sirah, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Roussanne, Semillon, Viognier
Some of my personal favorite varietals from Calaveras County Wine producers are Tempranillo (Allegorie see BLOG at, Montepulciano (Ayreal Vieux see story at, Roussanne (Lavender Ridge) and Nebbiolo, Teroldego & Negroamaro (Gossamer Cellars see story at There are many more which are still to be tasted!

One of the local wineries has on their chalkboard in the wine tasting room “Adventure may hurt you, but monotony will kill you”- Anonymous. Get beyond your everyday Cabernet’s and Chardonnay’s. By thinking of Portuguese, Spanish, French and Italian food dishes while sipping some Calaveras County wines, you will find some real “gold nuggets”, albeit not as big as the one at Ironstone, but valuable and a value to drink.


Michael Kelly



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