Driving in California has always been a surprising joy in my life. I find that depending on who you are and where you’ve learned to drive, you find that you are better equipped to drive in the city or along the countryside. I’ve lived in several states and I always find the drives in the country of California amazing. It feels like there is just always something to look at around you. Driving up highway 5 in the heart of the state, you see farm after farm all around you. The coast and US1, you get the amazing coastline that constantly shows you flora and fauna. Along 580, you get the random cities and the Altamonte Pass. Driving towards the Sierras, it’s plenty of farm land, but also that elevation that takes you up and above for wonderful views of the sprawling countryside. I won’t add in the craziness of SF or LA area traffic, that really doesn’t come across as serene to me!
Our day started on Saturday as any normal relaxing day off might start. Everyone slowly got up, grabbed some food and coffee and sat around talking to each other. The glare of the TV in the background to add a distraction when there is a lull in the conversation. After talking for a bit, we started to think through things to do for the day. It was supposed to be a family weekend, but for different reasons, we ended up placing the plans on hold. After a random discussion of what to do, we decided that maybe a little wine tasting would do the trick! When the list of options came across our google results, Murphys popped onto our list. Being that we were in the valley of California, it was an easy hour drive from Turlock to Murphys. We normally would make our way over to Lodi as we love the whole area, but decided to try something new.
The drive to Murphys was full of twists and turns through the farm land. We made our way through Oakdale and saw the famous site of their rodeo each year and the quaint downtown area. Then we made it up around the hills into Coperopolis. This little town always stands out in my mind. If you’ve ever traveled through the area, you might have noticed a small turnoff for this town. If you have never stopped into the area, it’s worth just a brief drive through as it’s not large in size. In my mind when I look at the town, I picture the original settlers talking to each other about starting a new town somewhere. Brand new buildings, away from anything else and a wonderful suburb that their families can live in. Far from any distractions of city living, but also different than any other town in the Sierra foothills. Then let’s give it a really neat name that everyone will be proud to say when asked the question of where they are from. I’ve never actually looked up the history of the area, but in my mind, this is how Coperopolis came into existence!
Passing Coperopolis, we continued on past a small town of Angels camp and into the Murphy’s area. As we made our way into town, we started to notice we were in the thick of wine country. Small wineries with unique names all around us. People that have waited far too long to start offering their delectable wines to patrons. I can only imagine the pain that these wine makers went through as we traveled back and forth on the COVID highway for the entire year of 2020. Open, not open, open with restrictions, open to take out only, and so on. I know it felt like you had to watch the news every week to see if there were changes to the jurisdiction in the counties. As we drove through Murphys, my initial thought was that this was such a cute little downtown area. Looking both to your left and right as you drive through, you see scattered wineries all around you. Caught in the middle of the mix were quaint shops that had a little bit of something for everyone. I actually don’t think I’ve ever been downtown anywhere that had this amount of wineries that you could just walk to. Lodi, Santa Rosa, Napa, all areas that have wineries all around them, but not tasting rooms in the downtown area.
Driving into the first area that had a sign for parking, we passed by Murphys historic hotel. The hotel had been there since 1856 and has had many notable figures visit. The dated look of the hotel was perfect for the area. The gentleman sitting on his tailgate smoking a cigar also added a unique attraction. We parked our car in the backside of Main street fairly easy. We crossed a bridge with a small river with people having a birthday party at it. A small park that seemed like it would be a perfect place to go on a beautiful sunny weekend. Bocce ball courts in the horizon, made me question why we didn’t bring our bocce ball set on our cruise into the area! Either way, we walked past and made our way up the street to the wineries we came for.
Lavender Ridge Vineyard was our first stop on our walking tour of the downtown area. It was a small winery that had lavender mixed into their theme. We were trying to figure out what door to come in as one of the workers gently pointed the way. As we walked past the gift shop area that was heavily accented with many types of lavender products, we came to our seats outside of the tasting room. Sitting next to a bridal party, we often heard wedding banter back and forth. We came to realize that this seems like a Mecca for bridal parties as we passed many throughout the day. The wines at Lavender Ridge were paired perfectly with a cheese board. As we made our way through the different types of wines, we enjoyed being out and wine tasting again! Going through the whites and then on to the reds, we cleansed our palates with some amazing cheeses along the way.
Making our payment for our first tasting, we quickly found that we weren’t the only ones with the idea of wine tasting. Walking down the street we passed many people feeing carefree after getting their vaccinations (or so we would think) going maskless. The streets were actually quite packed! As we walked back and forth between the wine tasting rooms, we stopped at small shops along the way. An ice cream parlor with an over abundance of people waiting in line had delicious choices to choose from. A dog shop that seemed to also store a decent amount of hats confused us a little while we shopped. Either way, people were enjoying the downtown area and all that it had to offer.
Stopping next at Irish Vineyards we sat next to several couples with a flight of wine in front of them. The unique story of the father who owned the deli inside had partnered with his son the wine maker. The father created delectable charcuterie boards and various sandwiches, while the son perfected his wines. Moving out to Murphy’s from the Bay Area, I can only imagine the delight they had with the change in cost of living! They had some good samples of wine and many sparkling to try. They had a unique flavor to their wine making and was enjoyed by many as we sat down.
Jazz Cellars was our final stop of the day, a tasting room that was somewhat off the beaten path. As we strolled down the side street and got to Jazz cellars, we came across their sign that said they’ve had over 110 medals with their wines. That was enough for us. along with the fact that they had Don Maclean, “American Pie” playing in the background. We were really impressed as we talked with our waitress. There were not a lot of people at the time, so she took even more time with us explaining wines and reviewing the tasting notes. She was so friendly and told us about her history in Murphys and how she had came to the winery. Then the owners started making their way around the area. It was nice to see the owners speaking with the patrons as they tried their wines. Two friends that made their way out to Murphys and decided to make wine together. Their story was wonderful and we were glad to support them on their venture. After trying a bit too much wine and going back and forth on revisiting a couple, I knew it was time to go when I started to lose my taste buds!
Our Saturday visit came to an end as we had decided we probably had enough wine for the day. Being it was our first time wine tasting in the area, I was impressed by the down home feel. It felt like you were wine tasting with friends at times. It wasn’t so much the wine that intrigued me about the city of Murphy’s. It was the overall feel of the experience. You can go wine tasting in Napa and barely share a conversation with the person pouring you the wine. It felt different here. The wine tastings never went over 15 dollars and it was often waived if you purchased a bottle. There’s something about just having a casual conversation with a person and enjoying a good laugh. Those times when you can just have a random conversation tend to add up to so much more in life. We didn’t visit before the pandemic started nor did we when it was going on, but I’m sure it felt different. I’m sure that these wine makers came out of the pandemic with a different outlook on the business. The wines are great and anyone will tell you that a slight buzz of wine gives anyone enjoyment in itself, but the joy of seeing these people making good wines and celebrating the fact that people are out again is beyond the buzz of a good wine. If you get a chance to travel the road up into the Sierras, stop into Murphy’s and support these fine people for what they do. It’s not the wine that binds us, it’s the support we give to the people around us that continue to make our world great. Cheers!