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Chatom Vineyards

February 18, 2010 Fifty-Two Weeks, Other Counties 5 Comments

As a boy I spent a lot of time in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. My Grandma, an aunt, and uncle called it home. The Aunt and Uncle still do, Columbia and Oakhurst respectively. My roots are in the Southern California coastal town of Ventura, but when I was five I my family and I moved to a sleepy agricultural town in the Central San Joaquin Valley. The valley is a hell of a place, literally. Hot and dry in the summer, cold and foggy in the winter. I remember playing hide and go seek in open fields using only the blanket of fog for cover. But the mountains on the other hand were glorious. With my sisters, we could pan for fools-gold, fish for small-mouth bass, or feed raccoons grapes. We played in the creeks of my Aunt and Grandmother’s place, marveled at large group of deer, and on evening walks with my father and uncle, I would watch enthralled as a family of quail dashed across the roads and into Manzanita bushes. I played in the snow for the first time, caught my first fish, rode a bike with no hands, and ate my first rattlesnake (long story). The Sierras are a part of who I am and they will always be a second home.

When I was 13, I returned to my coastal home. Once regular visits became infrequent, then stopped. Mid-last year, after an absence of ten years, I returned with my father to visit my aunt.

She now calls Columbia home, which is neighbor to Sonora. Columbia like all of its surrounding neighbors was a gold town in a region rich with American history. A cabin once occupied by Mark Twain still stands in the area. It is also the kind of place with street names like “Cowhide” and “Gun Club Road”, no seriously. There is a State Park there, Columbia State Park, to be precise. It’s more of a preserved gold mining town than a park, in fact, that is exactly what it is. You can pan for gold, watch a blacksmith work, or eat some ice cream. You can even enjoy a beer or two with the youngsters, as the children drink a lot in the mountains. No…no, I’m just kidding, there is no ice cream. It’s the 1850’s with Passats and cell phones.

On a Saturday, after learning that “socialism is not all that bad” at a delightful farmer’s market in down-town Columbia, we went to the local swap meet up the street in Sonora. It was basically a local yard sale in a parking lot, but people met and things were indeed swapped. An excited Hispanic man in his early fifties excitedly showed off his new 1930’s SS Swastika arm-band to all who would listen, including a very elderly man in full camouflage regalia. The offensive arm-decoration was purchased for $35.00 and he hoped to re-sell it for as much as $650.00. Apparently Nazi’s have a lot of money. I wonder if he has Prince Harry’s Twitter address, he might be interested. These are things you learn at a swap meet in the mountains. I bought a cap gun, as seemed appropriate for the event.

In the afternoon, after a lunch at a popular local diner, where most patrons lack shirtsleeves and the eclectically decorated walls have weapons aplenty, we headed to Murphys, a small historic town to the North West of Sonora. There were more than a dozen tasting rooms on the quaint town’s main strip, which feels like a step back in time. After visiting a very large winery and tasting room, which includes a vault with a locally harvested gold nugget valued at $3.5 million dollars, we stopped in at a small winery we had passed on the side of Highway 4 on our way up to Murphys. It was a smaller kind of winery, the kind I am used to visiting in the Santa Ynez Valley. A beautiful garden area with places to relax and take in the glorious scenery of the Sierra Foothills. There was also wasn’t a giant parking lot with space for several tour buses, I was happy about that.

The winery, Chatom Vineyards, is the vision of the proprietor Gay Callan, who moved to the Esmeralda Valley in Calaveras County in 1980. A native of San Francisco, Gay has helped establish a name for both herself and the Sierra Foothills, even when others thought she was nuts. Chatom’s website comments that “the majority of the local ranchers thought she was completely crazy for planting a vineyard in the Esmeralda Valley”. Like John Sweazey of Anaba Wines who we profiled two weeks ago, Gay has a background not in agriculture, but technology and marketing, making here solo move to the remote region even more intriguing. However, over the years, the region has gained recognition with wine enthusiasts and Chatom has risen as one of the finest names in Sierra Foothill wines.

The road has been a long but rewarding one for Gay. The vineyard was first planted in 1981, but it was not until 1990 that she decided to add a tasting room and winery on the premises. A full winery facility would not be completed until 1998, allowing all of Chatom’s wines to be produced on the estate. Judging from what I tasted at Chatom’s quaint tasting room, the results were worth the efforts. My only regret with Gay’s wines is that I did not buy more.

The prominent role of women at Chatom has been a point of distinction and it was with this in mind that Chatom’s She Wines line was released in the early 2000’s. Starting with a white blend and later adding a red (of which I bought several bottles of the 2005 vintage), part of the proceeds go to breast cancer research as well as the fight against women’s heart disease, the number one killer of women in the US. The 2005 Red blend, was a masterful blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon, syrah, petit syrah, and sangiovese and was full of fruit goodness and spice.

Over all, I was highly impressed with the region and am anxious to return. The long history of the region, the sweeping hills and majestic oak trees make for a wonderful tasting experience.

Currently, Chatom Vineyards works with 13 varietals planted on 65 acres, including Chardonnay, Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel, Syrah, Sangiovese and others.

Chatom Vineyards

1969 Highway 4
Murphys, CA 95229
(209) 736-6500

Currently there are "5 comments" on this Article:

  1. Rachel Wendt says:

    Wayne, thank you for the positive review. We are glad that you enjoyed your experience here at Chatom and hope that you are able to return to the area…and come visit us at the winery again!

  2. Wayne says:

    I will be back up that way for sure! I love the She Wines and it was a
    great value too. I only regret I was not able to make contact with you
    for the story. But hey, we can always do a second edition and re-post

  3. Sarah says:

    I love Chatom Wine! Best in the area by far!!

  4. Wayne says:

    You are right Sarah!

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