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The Luck of the Irish Paving the Way for Calaveras Wine Country

The Irish Wine Geese

Irish people have a long history of wine consumption. In fact, they were the top importers of wine up until the 1800s (4 times the amount of wine imported than the Brits). After the Willamite-Jacobite wars, Irishmen fled and were given the name "Wild Geese". Many immigrated to France and flocked to wineries where they honed in their winemaking skills and excelled as winery workers. They were known as the "Wine Geese". They combined their passion for wine with a hard work ethic and were influential in wine regions across France, especially the Bordeaux region.

Murphys and the Irish

In 1848, Daniel and John Murphy first arrived in California in search of gold and landed in a ranching area that would later become the town of Murphys. The Murphy brothers, originally from Southern Ireland, were the largest immigrant family to succeed in bringing wagons over the Sierra mountains in 1844. Having made the treacherous trip from illness-plagued Missouri and before that Canada, where luck had not been on their side, they arrived in California and quickly saw a change in their fortune as soon as they arrived in Calaveras County.

The father, Martin Murphys was a trader and his sons were some of the earliest miners and traders following along the California gold trail. On their trek up the hill from Angels Camp, which was already being mined, they encountered an Indian tribe near the town of Murphys. John Murphys was quite experienced with the Indians and quickly noticed that the tribe had gold jewelry and gold ornamentation on their clothing. Upon inquiring as to the origin of the gold during that early encounter with the Indian chief, John Murphy traded a 5 pound gold nugget for a blanket. John was rumored to be very good at trading with the Indians however his methods were certainly frowned upon. He even later married the Indian chief's daughter!

John resided in Murphys for less than two years and left with almost 2.5 million dollars at 23 years of age (over $60 million in todays' value) . Daniel left six months prior to John at age 22 with 1.5 million but not before the brothers had a fist fight over who the town was going to be named after. The story is the fight was a tie and they decided to name it Murphys’ for the both of them.

Gold Mining and the Founding of a Wine Country

Apart from Murphys Camp founding and its' Irish heritage, the area was first settled primarily by Italian and French immigrants. As part of the initial wave of newcomers from the Old World to the U.S., the immigrants had landed on the east coast and traveled across the country to stake their claim among the fortunes sifted out of Californian soil. The early settlers also brought a way of life from the old country that included a love of wine and a knack for winemaking. As a result, a number of vineyards and wineries were planted and built in the area.

Winemaking roots run deep in Calaveras County as the first vineyards were planted in the early years of the Gold Rush, with the first 1,000 vines set out on the lower Calaveras River in 1851. The earliest grape growers to have settled were impressed by the healthy abundance of the native grape, Vitus Californica, that grew along the banks of the rivers and streams in Calaveras County. Although never confirmed, the vines planted must have been the Mission grape with origins that date back to the old world for over 500 years. Mokelumne Hill was the first big wine area in the county and settlers here from Chile, Mexico, France, Germany, England, and the Eastern United States, were quick to develop vineyards in the surrounding areas.