Murphys, Ironstone Vineyards and Columbia…footprints in history

Wells Fargo stagecoach offers rides to Columbia State Park guests.

Kids pan for gold and agates at Columbia State Park.

Murphys Hotel, in operation since 1856, anchors historic Main Street in Murphys.

44 pound sample of crystalline gold, on display at Ironstone Vineyards, is priceless!

Entrance into Ironstone's wine caves, where 60 degree temperatures make for fine wine fermentation.

Ironstone Vineyards 14 acres of manicured grounds are stunning as fall changes colors of the trees.

Bob Hall, Tasting Room Host at Ironstone Vineyards, shares history of the winery while offering samples of white and red wines.

Our daytrip was to feature a tour of the historic town and famous wine-making region, in and around the town of Murphys, California. With leaves in the foothills starting to change to their autumn colors, the one hour drive provided marvelous scenery.

One of our party suggested starting with a tour of Ironstone Vineyards. We met and chatted with Tasting Room Host Bob Hall, who noted “the vineyard was formerly Kramer Ranch, a 1500 acre cattle ranch owned by John Kautz’s spouse’s family. Kautz, a second generation Lodian with several thousand acres of vineyards in the valley, aimed to make a showplace vineyard and winery in the foothills”. The winery begin construction in 1990, opened in 1994, and is one of the grandest wineries in all of the west.

In the center of the cattle ranch, hard-rock minors blasted wine caverns into the rock formation. Miners declared the rock was “like iron” – from this came the name “Ironstone”. The caves maintain a constant 60° temperature for proper wine fermentation.

The grounds contain 100 acres devoted to vineyards, and 14 acres maintained as gorgeous gardens (home to many weddings). Flowers, including 500,000 daffodil bulbs, bloom from February through the late fall.

The outdoor amphitheater can seat up to 6000, with a summer concert series running May through September, and the Concours d’Elegance (a fine auto show) showcased at the end of the season. On weekends, youngsters can pan for gold – with gold discovery almost guaranteed!

The winery itself is a showplace. The tasting room features a huge main bar, built by the Brunswick Bowling Company of New York in 1907 and features a 42 foot tall, 16 foot wide fireplace. With an on-site restaurant, one could spend a good part of the day here.

Other floors feature demonstration kitchen, the 3800 square-foot Music Room complete with a Robert Morton theatre organ built for Sacramento’s Alhambra theater in 1927 and an adjoining bar and reception area.

Make a special stop at the museum and jewelry shop. In addition to artifacts, pictures and good explanation of Native American culture in the area and the early prospectors – tourists will also gaze in awe at the 44 pound specimen of crystalline gold. The largest known in the world, it was mined in the 1990s by the nearby Sonora Mining Company and is priceless in value.

Murphys Diggins began as a miners tent encampment in the early days of the gold rush, 1848. Within three years, Murphys numbered 3000 residents! The Sperry and Perry hotel opened in 1856, burned, was rebuilt and renamed the Mitchler Hotel in 1882, then renamed the Murphy’s Hotel in 1945. The hotel is one of the longest in continuing operation in the state and is a registered California historic landmark; along the town’s shady Main Street are several score other buildings dating back to the Gold Rush days.

We had planned to have lunch at the well-known Alchemy Restaurant, but found it closed on Wednesday. We retraced our steps to the old hotel, and enjoyed a hearty lunch on the shady patio.

The town is both a history lover and wine aficionado’s dream. Inside the hotel, we picked up a map directing the way to 24 nearby tasting room. A favorite is Zucca Mountain Vineyards, with the tasting room a block east of the old hotel at 431 E. Main Street (the winery itself is in Vallecito). Pick up a brochure with winery map and addresses for the Calaveras Winegrape Alliance, or consult their informative website,

Frommer’s Guides named Murphy one of the “top 10 coolest small towns in the US”. It keeps its vibe by staging such annual attractions as the Holiday Open House, the first Friday in December, with Santa and Mrs. Claus on hand to cater to the kids, join the parade and light the town’s tree. In October, Moaning Caverns stages Halloween at the Cavern and leading into the holidays, most all the wineries stage special events. While visiting Murphys, take the time to see the Old-timers Museum, Murphys Pokey and stop for a break in Murphy’s Community Park on Murphys Creek, just off Main Street.

Nearby attractions include the Ebbetts Pass National Scenic Byway, connecting Calaveras Big Trees State Park, the Stanislaus National Forest and Bear Valley Mountain Resort. Also close are Moaning Caverns Adventure Park and Columbia State Historic Park – all within easy driving distance.

History buffs will also be entranced by Columbia State Historic Park, just 13 miles from Murphys. Columbia was founded March, 1850 by Dr. Thaddeous Hildreth and others who settled and began prospecting. Soon, Hildreth Diggin’s had found the precious metal and more than a 1,000 miners descended on the area. Renamed Columbia, the Park preserves the town as a museum of living history!

Columbia’s business district is closed to cars – foot- and horse-traffic only – and businesses, shops and volunteers bring the town to life, much as it appeared in 1855!  Pan for gold, take a stage coach ride, visit blacksmith and livery shops, get a free tour led by period-dressed docents, grab lunch or an ice cream and take in life as it was more than 150 years ago!

How to Get There: From Stockton, reach Murphys by heading east on Hwy. 4 about 60 miles; it’s about 1.3 hours.

For more information, Ironstone Vineyards,; 1894 Six-mile Road, Murphys 95247; phone (209) 728–1251; for Murphys,; PO Box 2034, Murphys, CA 95247; Columbia,, phone (209) 588-9128.

Contact Tim Viall at Follow him at Happy travels in the west!

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