Mead On Wine

© 1997 JDM Enterprises
All Rights Reserved
Vol. I No. 25


by Jerry D. Mead

    Some of my favorite California winery visits are
probably some of yours, and chances are they are in the North Coast Counties
of Napa or Sonoma. Ferrari-Carano with its Italianate villa and formal
gardens fit for royalty is near the top of the list. Also in Sonoma, Korbel's
historic winery on the Russian River with its own famous rose gardens is also
right up there.

Over in Napa, who can resist the tram ride at Sterling? And Beringer has the Rhine House, the Limestone Caves and special "library" tastings of older wines.

There are dozens of others, if one starts counting great winery visits, large and small, all over the state.

You may have never heard of one of the very best winery visits anywhere. By this time next year, it may have earned the title of "number one destination winery" in California.

Ironstone Vineyards, Winery & Caverns is owned by the Kautz Family, who are really big in lots of different kinds of agriculture, which provided the wherewithal to get really serious about the wine business in a relatively short period of time.

John Kautz is the family patriarch, who inherited a small family farm at the age of 22. Kautz, with the help of his wife and children, has built that original 100 acre farm into a family business that involves close to 8000 acres of a variety of crops, including cherries and apples, and more than 4000 acres of winegrapes.

Kautz first became a serious grapegrower during the first modern day wine boom in the early 70s, planting premium varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay in the currently fashionable Lodi-Woodbridge region. Lodi is now one of the largest sources of premium varietal grapes in California, but in 1970 a lot of people thought John Kautz had lost his mind.

When the family started growing grapes in the Sierra Foothills, near historic Murphys, on an old cattle ranch the family owned, they started seriously thinking about having their own winery, to produce their own wines from their own produce.

Ironstone Vineyards was born in 1989, and gets its name from the impossibly hard schist and limestone formations from which the winery's foundation and companion caverns were blasted and drilled.

I visited Ironstone about five years ago when it was still mostly a dream, and when the tasting room consisted of a board suspended between two barrels in the newly blasted aging caverns.

Steve Kautz, winery president and one of four Kautz children involved in the family businesses, and winemaker Steve Millier, told me of their plans and what the property was going to be in just a few short years.

I frankly thought they were "blowing smoke" (or had been smoking something funny), or had more money than brains, or perhaps both. The plans were so grand, so costly, and so out of keeping with the style of the typical Foothills winery, that it just didn't seem possible...and where the people would come from?

Well, Kautz and company did everything they said they would, and even added a few extravagances not even thought of back in 1991.

So what has impressed and excited this jaded old wine scribe who has seen it all?

First there's the winery itself, a state of the art operation with all the tanks and barrels and fancy crushers and such. Yawn! I've seen it before...lots of times. But not in a seven story high, blasted out of the rock foundation, with an "ironstone" facade and landscaping that keeps ten gardeners busy.

The tasting room sets on the top level, has an art gallery, a 32 foot antique bar that traveled around the horn, a deli, dining area inside and out, gourmet shopping and, just outside, shaded picnic areas alongside the winery's own creek and pond, with flocks of a variety of birds from geese to swans to ducks and more.

I just skimmed right past the mention of the deli, but we're not talking pre-wrapped sandwiches brought in from outside with manufactured salads out of giant plastic tubs. An elevator level down, Ironstone has a hotel-quality kitchen, its own executive chef and the capability of doing world class banquets for hundreds.

Oh! I didn't mention the "music room" with the historic pipe organ saved from Sacramento's Alhambra Theater, which looks out over the gardens, the creek and the soon to be finished amphitheater. The room seats 300 for small indoor concerts, weddings, fancy dinners or cooking demonstrations from visiting celebrity chefs. There's also one of those fancy demonstration kitchens with overhead tv cameras, mirrors and all that.

Next door there's a museum and conference center with a 44 pound crystalline gold leaf on display that is described as "priceless." Lots of goldrush memorabilia too, plus a very classy jewelry and gift shop and several smaller conference rooms.

All that's really left to be completed this fall is the amphitheater which will accommodate up to 5000 folks and which will feature top name entertainment. And there's talk of a new hotel on a nearby ridge in a year or so.

Where will the people come from? There's already a constant flow and the word isn't really out yet. Kautz says there are 3.5 million people within a 90 minute drive, and add another 90 minutes and you take in the Bay Area and the eastern side of the Sierras.

I'll have to tell you about the wines, the brandies and grappas, next week, which are the real reason to visit. Ironstone Vineyards, 1894 Six Mile Rd., Murphy, CA 95247 (209) 728-1251; E-mail:

Murphys is due east of the San Francisco Bay near such other goldrush towns as Sonora, Columbia and Angels Camp. Take Highway 4 east from Stockton. From the eastern Sierra, take Hwy 89 to Hwy 4 going west.

Hwy 49, which runs from one end of goldrush country to the other, crosses Hwy 4 a few miles outside Murphys.


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Latest Update: July 19, 1997