By Ann Tatko-Peterson
RISMEDIA, Sept. 26, 2008-(MCT)-The intoxicating smell of fresh-roasted glazed nuts sweeps down from a nearby hillside. Glasses clink against carafes filled with Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and other varieties of wine.
Hundreds of people mill about grassy slopes surrounded by tall trees that seem to stretch forever. Some sit on blankets, others on low-back lawn and stadium chairs. Some wear jeans and T-shirts, others sport ties and jackets.
The unmistakable strains of rock, blended with jazz and blues, rise from the five-tier, horseshoe-shape outdoor Amphitheatre as Steely Dan takes the stage.
For a moment, it’s easy to forget that I’m sitting in the shadow of a winery and acres of grape vines at Ironstone Vineyards in Murphys.
In 1989, the Kautz family brought miners here to its cattle ranch. The family wanted to blast through 10,000 square feet of limestone and schist rock to create wine caverns. The rock was so hard that the miners said it was like blasting through iron-hence, the winery’s name.
But this is not your traditional winery, relying on just a well-appointed tasting room and gift shop to draw tourists to this small town tucked in the Sierra foothills. The Kautz family proclaims how it wanted a winery that was an “approachable, artistically and culturally rich environment.” It wanted Ironstone to be a true destination.
Creating a destination winery is not a new concept, but certainly one that more and more wineries in California and throughout the country are embracing. From restaurants and inns to museums and concerts, even a medieval castle, wineries are transforming into must-see stops for wine lovers, history lovers and art lovers alike.
Ironstone Vineyards catches the eye in so many ways. The 1,100-acre winery features gorgeous grounds with a lake, a picnic area in a grove of trees, the winery’s name carved into a hedge, a walkway arbor covered in wisteria and hundreds of flowers planted in old wine barrels.
The winery’s real gems are in the treasures acquired by owner John Kautz. A pair of MGM lion statues stand outside the door of the music room, which was designed to house a 1927 pipe organ once used in Sacramento’s Alhambra Theatre. (The organ is played for special events and on silent-movie nights.) The tasting-room bar, built in 1907, was formerly the centerpiece of A.J. Bumps Bar in Freeport, before Kautz bought it in 1992.
But none of Kautz’s acquisitions is more impressive than the 44-pound crystalline gold leaf specimen, the largest in the world. Discovered in 1992 just 15 miles from Ironstone, the gold nugget was about to be sold to France when Kautz stepped in to ensure it remained in Calaveras County. Today, it sits behind glass in a special vault.
The vault is part of the Heritage Museum, which highlights the Gold Rush and the area’s native Miwok Indians. A giant mural depicting miners in the field covers one wall. Display cases are filled with artifacts, including mining maps, letters and newspaper articles.
The museum shares space with the Heritage Jewelry Shoppe, where unique designs include gold-in-quartz and Oro-Cal gold nugget jewelry, hand-blown glass vases and 24-carat gold and colored lacquered roses.
Also on a grand scale, the winery has a working waterwheel and replica miner’s shack that add authenticity to a special sluice, where Mario the miner teaches visitors to pan for gold. There’s an on-site, 1,560-square foot Culinary Center, where chef James Lehman oversees wine pairings and cooking demonstrations. A 42-foot-tall rock fireplace dominates the tasting room and gift shop, which also has a gourmet deli, serving soup, sandwiches and salads. And the cavern, with its own natural spring waterfall, borders a large breezeway containing a permanent stage built into the rock walls.
The showpiece stage sits at the back of the winery. Built in 1998, the outdoor Amphitheatre has seen top performers such as Sheryl Crow and Willie Nelson entertain during the summer concert series. This year’s series concludes Oct. 4 with Bonnie Raitt.
Here are a few other destination wineries in California worth a closer look:
- If you want to stay in the Bay Area, plan a visit to Wente Vineyards in Livermore. The winery hosts well-known performers such as Clint Black and Chris Isaak during its concert series and offers occasional “Summer Dinner and a Movie” nights. The Restaurant at Wente serves American dishes reflecting Italian, French and California influences in a fine-dining setting (reservations recommended). The Wine Tasting Cave Experience on weekends combines a brief tour with a sit-down tasting of limited-production wines served with artisan cheeses. And the winery has its own 18-hole golf course, designed by Greg Norman, which hosts the annual Wine Country Championship on the PGA’s Nationwide Tour. Details: 5050 Arroyo Road, Livermore, 925-456-2400; www.wentevineyards.com.
- Just south of Calistoga, Castello di Amorosa takes wine lovers deep into a replica medieval castle. V. Sattui Winery owner Daryl Sattui sank $30 million into making the seven-level, 121,000-square-foot castle as authentic as possible. It contains 107 rooms, a moat, drawbridge, fresco-lined walls, and a torture chamber with a real “iron maiden.” The castle opened for public tours in April 2007. The 50-minute walking tour is followed by a 30- to 45-minute private tasting of Italian-style wines in the 2-acre barrel cellar and tasting room. (Children 10 years and older are permitted on the tour with an adult.) Details: 4045 N. St. Helena Highway, Calistoga, 707-967-6272, www.castellodiamorosa.com.
- In 1939, the California Mission Models debuted at the World’s Fair. Fifty-nine years later, the Cline family acquired the scale replicas of 21 missions to save them from being auctioned off individually. Today, the missions can be seen, along with paintings and stained-glass panels from Mission Dolores, at the California Missions Museum at Cline Cellars in Sonoma. Admission is free.
Details: 24737 Arnold Drive, Sonoma, 707-940-4000, www.clinecellars.com.
- Garre Vineyard and Winery in Livermore features live music on its patio, with the Michael Robinson Band playing Friday and Nova Jazz Trio performing Sept. 27. The winery also offers Mediterranean-inspired wine country cuisine at Cafe Garre and “Bocce Ball and Italian Dinner” every Wednesday night through Oct. 1 (reservations required). Details: 7986 Tesla Road, Livermore, 925-371-8200, www.garrewinery.com.
- Wilson Creek Winery in Temecula hosts the “Sunset Jazz in the Vines” concert series, with Marion Meadows and Nick Colionne set to perform Saturday. Also visit its restaurant, Creekside Grille (reservations recommended). Details: 25960 Rancho California Road, Temecula, 951-699-9463, www.wilsoncreekwinery.com.
- Just up the road in Temecula, Thornton Winery also pays homage to jazz with its concert series. Upcoming performances include Peter White on Sept. 27 and Wayman Tisdale & Jessy J on Oct. 11. The winery features a restaurant, Cafe Champagne, serving contemporary French fusion cuisine. Details: 32575 Rancho California Road, Temecula, 951-699-0099 (restaurant at 951-699-0088), www.thorntonwine.com.
- In addition to dual-competition bocce courts, Primus Vineyards in Camino has an amphitheatre for concerts with performers such as the Blues Brothers, a playground area for kids, an outdoor kitchen and a large deck with seating.
Details: 2875 Larsen Drive, Camino, 530-647-9463, www.primusvineyards.com.
- Brutocao Cellars in Hopland ups the ante with six regulation bocce courts on its 7.5-acre complex. Tastings feature wines and olive oils. It also has an Italian restaurant, the Crushed Grape, with outdoor deck seating. Both the tasting room and the restaurant are located in the original Hopland High School building.
Details: 13500 S. Highway 101, Hopland, 800-433-3689, www.brutocaocellars.com.
- The Hess Collection in Napa has a gallery displaying a portion of the art collection of owner Donald Hess. The collection ranges from bronze sculptures to oil paintings and features artists such as Anselm Keifer, Andy Goldsworthy and Francis Bacon. Details: 4411 Redwood Road, Napa, 707-255-1144, www.hesscollection.com.
- The winery Artesa Vineyards in Napa is like a work of art. To reach the tasting room, visitors ascend a staircase that neighbors a cascading waterfall. Fountains, sculptures and reflecting pools make up the outside; a modernist blend of wood, glass and columns make up the inside. And to top it off, the winery has an artist in residence, Gordon Huether, whose glass and sculpture installations have been displayed at the winery since 1992. Details: 1345 Henry Road, Napa, 707-224-1668, www.artesawinery.com.
- The Gallery at Cliff Lede Vineyards in Yountville features four exhibits each year, curated by I. Wolk Gallery of St. Helena. Until Dec. 30, “On Beauty” showcases contemporary artists interpreting “beauty.” Details: 1473 Yountville Cross Road, Yountville, 800-428-2259, www.cliffledevineyards.com.
California doesn’t exclusively own the rights to destination wineries.
- Cave B Estate Winery in Quincy, Wash., is like an all-inclusive vacation in the vines. The winery is carved into a hillside, with walls made of volcanic basalt deposits from the land. It includes 30 guest rooms, 15 “cliffehouses” and a pool at the Cave B Inn, surrounded by vineyards and overlooking the Columbia River 900 feet below. The on-site restaurant, Tendrils, serves Northwest cuisine and offers outdoor seating. Also on the winery property are a spa, golf driving range, vineyard tours, hiking trails, bicycle rentals from April to October, croquet, a culinary program and music in the cellar. Details: 348 Silica Road, Quincy, Wash., 509-785-3500, www.caveb.com. (The inn is at 344 Silica Road, 888-785-2283.)
- Although technically the winery was an add-on, anyone visiting in or near Asheville, N.C., should make time for a visit to Biltmore Estate. The 8,000-acre estate houses the 250-room family home of George and Edith Vanderbilt, which looks like a cross between a castle and French chateau. Admission to the house also gives visitors access to the incredible gardens, winery, replica 1890 River Bend Farm and several restaurants and cafes. Outdoor activities include carriage rides, horseback riding, biking, hiking, fly-fishing school and Land Rover driving school. For overnight guests, the Inn on Biltmore Estate has 204 rooms and nine suites.
The winery features wine tasting, daily culinary demonstrations, self-guided and behind-the-scenes guided tours and daily red wine and chocolate seminars.
Details: 1 Approach Road, Asheville, N.C. (The inn is at 1 Antler Hill Road), 800-411-3812, www.biltmore.com.
© 2008, Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.).
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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