Passport to Calaveras County

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calaveras.jpgBest known for its jumping frogs (courtesy of Mark Twain) and the once-bustling gold mines dotting the region, Calaveras County is a historic Gold Country outpost nestled into the foothills the Sierra Nevadas. And though each year, the county holds its jumping frog festival and eager tourists still pan for gold in the hills, Calaveras has another attraction bringing eager tasters from near and far--wine.

Nearly 20 wineries operate in the region, best known for big, zesty Zinfandels. But visitors may be surprised to find out that vines are hardly a newcomer to Calaveras. In fact, the county's first gold medal for wine was awarded at the 1872 California State Fair. By the 1880's Calaveras County was noted as one of the top wine producing regions in California. The oldest vines in the county are 110-year-old Zinfandel, organically dry-farmed in the old Italian tradition by five generations of the Ghiradelli family in the Burson-Wallace area.

Today, there are nearly 700 acres of vines and a yearly production of about 275,000 cases--still small compared to many other wine growing regions in California, but growing.

What makes the region so tourist-friendly are the family-owned wineries where you're just as likely to meet the winemaker in the tasting room, who also happens to own the winery, press the grapes...and do just about all aspects of production. It's a great way to really find out how small winemaking operations run. Also, many of the tasting rooms still offer free tastings of their wines.

One of the best ways to experience the wines of Calaveras County is during their annual Passport Weekend in June when the wineries open their doors for tasting, food and wine pairings, along with other special events. More information about purchasing tickets and the event are available at www.calaveraswines.org.

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