Q&A with Chris Parker of Courtwood Wine Tasting Tours
Chris Parker of Courtwood Wine Tasting Tours received the 2012 Innovations in Tourism Award from the Calaveras Visitors Bureau. We caught up with her to chat a bit more about her business, why she loves the area, and what’s on the horizon for her in the next few years that will add another great lodging option to Calaveras County.
Q: What prompted you to start Courtwood Wine Tasting Tours?
A: We are in the process of building Courtwood Inn, a 5-bedroom bed and breakfast in Murphys. I wasn’t even thinking wine tours. Two years ago I was at a conference in Charleston, SC and I was talking about Murphys. I was bragging about the area and how we love it. This couple sat me down, and they proceeded to tell me exactly how to do it. It sounded really fun. I decided that doing wine tasting tours was going to be way more fun than trying to do weddings at the Inn. So that’s where the idea came from. I had no background in wine or winemaking. I didn’t have a clue other than in my hospitality management program at college where I took a class on wines of the world and took food and wine pairing as part of the curriculum. So they kind of inspired me.
Q: Why Murphys?
A: We were looking for property. We had never been here. A realtor brought me to Murphys—this was maybe six or seven years ago—and dropped me off on Main Street. I walked up and down the street and thought, “Ok, this is it.” So it took me an hour to make up my mind. It was an attractive vacation area that would draw people here. There were cute little shops. It wasn’t just a location; it was a destination for people to come have fun for the weekend.
Q: What makes Murphys stand out as far as wine?
A: It’s kind of like the Napa of a long, long time ago when it just started out. Everyone seems to really like the hands on experience. We get out into the vineyards and look at the grapes. And a lot of times meet the winemakers. I try to get clients connected with the actual people who are making the wine. I think they appreciate the quaintness and the smallness and also the attention.
Q: What does your typical tour look like? What can people expect?
A: The best tour is probably five wineries. It changes every single time. A lot of times I’ll take clients to one or two and I’ll pick up on what their preference in wine might be and I might choose another tasting room downtown I know they’ll like. Or, it depends on who is available to take us behind the scenes so they see how wine is made. I go to Ayrael Vieux and whenever possible we get out in the vineyard. We usually have lunch at Chatom. I set up a really nice spread for lunch with table clothes and napkins and fun little things. People are pleasantly surprised.
Q: What do you think sets Courtwood Wine Tasting Tours apart from other tours in other regions
A: It’s usually one or two couples or up to six people. It’s small and quaint. It’s not one of those mini buses with 14 or more people. It’s not a limo with 10. Usually it’s a special occasion or our clientele is really interested in the wines and the wine tasting. It is about the wines. I give them information about each winery, tips on wine tasting, and I give them a background on the area.
Q: When you’re sitting down to unwind after a tour, what local wine are you uncorking? Got a favorite right now?
A: It’s almost like I can pick and choose here and there which ones are my favorites. Along the way I’ve picked up my favorite Viognier from Val du Vino. My favorite Sauvignon Blanc is from Newsome-Harlow. I have a Zinfandel that I love at Milliaire. And then there are always so many new ones. I discovered Renner and Villa Vallecito Vineyards. So, it’s fun to expand your horizons too.
Q: Tell me more about Courtwood Inn?
A: It’s a mile from the end of Main Street off of French Gulch Road on Ponderosa. We have 5 acres and there’s a view almost all the way around. You can see all the way to the valley. We’re building a custom log home. It will have that lodge feeling. The rooms will have balconies, decks or patios so they all look out at that view. And we’re planning on two tennis courts. We’ve been working on permitting for several years but everything is settled and we’re ready to go full blast. (Chris hopes that things will be moving full speed ahead very soon and that Courtwood Inn will be complete 12 months from the start of construction. We’ll be the first to let you know when they’re open for business.)
Q: Besides great wineries, what do you think is one of Calaveras’ best kept secrets?
A: It amazes me how many people don’t know about the area. People don’t know that there are the wineries and the wine. And they don’t know how wonderful the food is. It’s historic and that’s fun to explore. And they may know Arnold and Bear Valley, but I don’t think they put it together that there’s the caves and the lakes. I think the whole area is a little bit of a secret.
Look for more great posts about Murphys’ Wineries in September in celebration of California Wine Month.
*Pictured above: Courtwood Wine Tasting guests tour vineyards at Ayrael Vieux Winery.