Murphys is the Best of California Green & Gold
by Barbara L. Steinberg
The wonder of California is that you never know what to expect. This year, we have been blessed (by some accounts) with an onslaught of winter weather. Murphys was dressed in winter white just days after experiencing unseasonably warm temperatures. But spring is just around the corner and the hills are beckoning. Don't wait.
After many months of little or no rain Calaveras County's landscape of rolling hills and valleys is a brilliant gold. Farm fields are stunning in contrast to the deep green of live and valley oaks and pine. Winter rains bring much needed sustenance to a parched and, yet, picturesque countryside; a renewal and regeneration. It's spring! The days are getting longer and warmer. Though distant mountain tops may be dressed in winter white, the foothills are awakening from their golden slumber replaced by a verdant terrain.
Bursting with jubilance and proud of its fine Irish roots, the tiny village of Murphys personifies all that is green, especially in spring. The traditional Murphys Irish Day celebration, March 19, 2011, is all about the green. Each year, as if by magic, a huge green shamrock appears at the town's only 4-way intersection. Tiny Main Street - all .8 miles of it - is brimming with merrymakers clad in their finest and funniest Irish greenery. Irish music, storytellers, food, and an authentic hometown parade make this a memorable event. To alleviate the traffic congestion, free parking and a shuttle are available at Ironstone Vineyards.
While honing your green spirit, nearby Irish Vineyards is a must. Their award-winning green wine, Slaite - Gaelic for welcome - is available for tasting during this fete. But only as long as supplies last and supplies are very (very) limited! On Murphys Irish Day, the Irish family (yes, that's their name) offers all things green including hot pepper-jelly cheesecake, cupcakes and shamrock cookies, and Celtic music...and it's all free, so forget about the green!
When not openly celebrating their Irish heritage, Murphys is still a celebration of green. There are many dining choices for such a Leprechaun-sized locale...plan ahead and arrive hungry. Even if you aren't a vegetarian, the up-scale Mineral Restaurant puts a new perspective on green-eating. The Black Steel Cauliflower with Red Wine Tapioca Caviar is anything but black including an accessory of micro greens. Medjool Samble Tempeh with candied kumquats and confit of fennel is an exotic journey. Chased by Peanut Butter Chocolate Truffles and a Guava Sake Elixir, one of their many sake potions...Superb! Small plates, artistically designed by Executive Chef Steve Rinauro, are as pleasing to the eye as they are tempting to the palate. Most ingredients are organic and locally grown. "People who stumble upon us, say, 'Wow!'" remarked Maya Radisch, owner. "We wanted to create something that can't be duplicated at home." The husband and wife team have succeeded.
Off the lobby of the Victoria Inn you'll find V Restaurant. Before finding his pot of gold in Murphys, owner and Chef Bob Anderson had a 20-year run as head chef at The Ahwahnee Hotel. The Mediterranean-inspired menu is geared towards a varying clientele and includes everything from tempting 'small plates' to Petite Lamb chops with lavender salt and pomegranate molasses. A wee bit of the green comes in the form of fried Spanish olives stuffed with anchovies. Seriously, they are divine. More than one person remarked that "V" is the best in town. In green terms, the 35-seat cafe defines small footprint and sustainable philosophies. Chef Bob makes use of local organic products, and recycles everything.
The Victoria Inn and its sumptuously-appointed rooms and suites offer a fuel-friendly option in the heart of Murphys street life. Park your car and spend a couple of days exploring; it's just that simple. Many of the county's 23 wineries have tasting rooms (11) on Main Street. An array of outstanding eateries, interesting shops, galleries, historic landmarks and museums provide more than enough amusement, all within walking distance of the inn. You won't have to go far to enjoy more of Murphys culinary fortunes: Alchemy Market & Wine Bar/Cafe, Grounds, Firewood, Aria Bakery, and Nelson's Candies (to name a few) are all Main Street essentials. Choose your level of comfort at Victoria Inn: fireplaces and spa tubs, king beds or queen sleigh, luxury or cozy...it's all delightful and includes a continental breakfast.
For a tranquil and leafy retreat, The Cottages at La Honda Park are a fantastic antidote. Once ramshackle and rickety, the cottages and main house are a tribute to recycling. Beautifully restored and utilizing many cast-offs, each of the themed rooms is comfort supreme. The Park sits on the edge of Angels Creek and an old weir - the sound of cascading water is spellbinding. With six secluded acres, the natural setting is home to many birds and wildlife. Old-fashioned and energy-free pleasures include playing bocce ball and pitching horseshoes, or even casting a line in the creek. This quiet respite is just one-mile from the bustle of Main Street. An ideal setting for family gatherings and group events, the Main House includes three bedrooms and 2-1/2 baths, a full kitchen, and cozy creekside porch. The newly-restored barn built from many of the original materials, is a cozy recreation area with fireplace, pool table, foosball, darts, and board games makes. The original barn doors open onto the creek.
If a winery tour is what you desire, Murphys Cab Company will take you anywhere you want to go. A comfortable seven-passenger van and guide are available by reservation. An outing into the greening countryside should include Chatom Vineyards and Twisted Oak Winery. The Barn, circa 1882 and wonderfully rickety, across from Indian Rock Vineyards, sells local organic products including sun-dried tomatoes, roasted peppers, and Vallecito pickled peppers, for which they are famous, and regional crafts.
You can't come to Murphys without visiting Ironstone Vineyards; particularly if you're looking for the best of the green and gold. By reducing water use, maintaining healthy soil, and restoring wildlife habitat, sustainable viticulture is rule number one at Ironstone.
Ironstone Courtesy of Ironstone Vineyards This time of year, the vineyards are flexing their limbs and coming to life, but the real spectacle is the flowers. More than 32 tons of bulbs including 250 varieties of daffodils, tulips, iris and crocus bulbs put on show that will, yes, make you green with envy. The naturalized setting and backdrop of Ironstone gardens provide an ideal canvas for this floral display. Just try to resist a little jig.
A Spring Obsession (March 5-6, 2011) celebrates the release of Ironstone's most popular wine, Symphony Obsession. A juried art exhibit, incredible food, cooking demonstrations, and daffodils are Courtesy Ironstone Vineyards(2) the focus of the weekend. Daffodil Days (March 19-20, 2011) is sponsored by the Northern California Daffodil Society. More than 600 hundred varieties of potted and cut flowers are on display at Ironstone. Mother Nature has the final call on the daffodil bloom. Early spring temps may wake the daffs from their slumber, but a sudden return to winter is just as often Nature's way. If you miss the golden "lent lilies," mid-March through April the Ironstone tulips put on an outrageous display. The gardeners work throughout the summer months on maintaining a fabulous array of seasonal colors.
With or without the floral embellishments, a visit to the winery is a full-day adventure. The gardens, tasting room and wine cave, art displays, Alhambra Theatre pipe organ, world's largest crystalline gold-leaf specimen (44 pounds) and Heritage Museum are just some of the stellar pastimes awaiting you. Free guided tours are offered three times daily.
For such a small town, Murphys has oodles of diversions favoring every possible interest - and the luxuriant spring topography is the treasured gold at this rainbow's end. Murphys' founders would be proud of their Irish legacy. A new generation of locals are finding that the grass is greener on the other side. "The people are awesome!" said Barbara and Alan Hart. "You'll never meet a stranger in Murphys."