Daffodils first came to Ironstone Vineyards by chance; they were a bargain that winemaker John Kautz couldn't pass up.
Larry Ringland recalls the day the daffodils arrived.
"We were buying grapevines from a nursery in Sonoma," said Ringland, who has worked with Kautz for 42 years. "They had daffodils. It was late into the season and they had two tons of bulbs that were ready to pop. They needed to get rid of them fast and they offered them to John at a very inexpensive price."
So Kautz brought home to Murphys 36,000 bargain bulbs and told Ringland: Plant 'em.
That was 18 years ago. Those first beds still bloom along Six Mile Road as it winds its way into the 1,500-acre winery.
Now, 48 tons of bulbs later, Ironstone has become a daffodil destination.
"People come from miles around to see them," Ringland said. "People put it into their calendars."
Daffodils one of the few things deer won't eat have become a favorite flower of the Sierra foothills. More reliable than wildflowers, they consistently offer a show each spring.
"People go looking for lupine or poppies, and sometimes they can't find any," Ringland said. "We're part of the daffodil trail. It starts down in the Valley and out at Filoli (in Woodside). Then as the weather warms, our flowers bloom up here at 2,000 feet (elevation). Then, Daffodil Hill (at 3,000 feet) opens. It's all about the flowers."
Ringland, Ironstone's "garden guy," and his staff of 11 make sure visitors aren't disappointed. A two-hour drive from Sacramento, Ironstone features more than 14 acres of gardens amid the grapes. When the daffodils aren't in flower, the gardens boast hundreds of blooming shrubs, trees and perennials.
Since that original hillside of daffodils, Ringland and his staff have planted more than 800,000 bulbs. They added two tons last fall including 1,000 pounds of tulips and other spring flowers.
"Don't hold me to an exact count," he said with a chuckle. "We average 17,500 bulbs to the ton; not all of them come up every year. Plus they divide and multiply. But I'm pretty confident more than 400,000 flowers are open at any one time."
The best varieties for naturalizing? Ringland picks Ice Follies, Dutch Masters and Barrett Browning. Those are the varieties that come up every year along Six Mile Road.
"People think they're King Alfred," Ringland said. "That's the big all-yellow daffodil people grew up with. But that variety isn't available any more. Instead, we have Dutch Masters."
The paths leading to the winery tasting room are lined with wine half-barrels stuffed with bulbs. Ringland planted 540 half-barrels for this spring.
"People ask me how they look so good," he said. "I plant 75 to 100 bulbs per barrel; that's why."
Clearly labeled, each barrel is devoted to a single variety, including several new hybrids developed by daffodil breeder Bob Spotts. Including the barrels, Ringland planted 130 daffodil varieties and 102 assorted other bulbs including tulips, hyacinths and fritillarias.
Ironstone's barrels are favorites of bulb expert Charlotte Germane, who writes the Daffodil Planter blog.
"The labeled varieties in half-barrels there are a boon for the home gardener," she said. "That way you know what to plant in the fall."
Among the stars this spring: Jet Fire, Holland Sensation, Lemon Beauty, Precocious, Professor Einstein, Intrigue and Yellow Cheerfulness.
Loaded with bulbs and soil, the barrels weigh more than 150 pounds apiece. Whenever there's a threat of rain during bloom season, they're all moved under cover to protect the daffodils' fragile stems.
"I learned the hard way and suffered the consequences," Ringland said. "I watch the forecast and every time the weather man predicts rain, we're scrambling."
Snow is worse. On Feb. 20, the winery was blanketed with several inches.
Before that big freeze, Ringland already had his barrels protected.
"If you let the snow fall in the barrel, it forms a solid cap of ice," he said. "You don't want that."
Less than a month later, the daffodils looked like poured sunshine along the winery's paths and roads. The display usually lasts four weeks.
"As long as the weather doesn't get too hot," Ringland said, "we should be blooming well into April."
Flower lovers as well as wine sippers drive hours to see the daffodils at the winery outside Murphys in Calaveras County.
A group of about two dozen master gardeners recently toured the massive display and surrounding gardens.
"The really cool thing about this kind of garden it's woodsy," Ringland said. "A few weeds are OK. They look natural."
Through spring, azaleas, snowballs and dogwoods follow the bulbs in a steady march of flowers. By summer, thousands of daylilies and roses will be in bloom.
"It's overwhelming," said Lynn Darmsted, who organized the field trip. "I worked here for 11 years before I retired. I can't believe how much the plants have grown. When I worked here, it still looked a little sparse. Now, there's color every single season.
"But the daffodils," she added, "they're breathtaking."
Where: 1894 Six Mile Road, Murphys
When: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sundays
Details: www.ironstonevineyards.com, (209) 728-1251.
Nearly half a million daffodils greet visitors to this 1,500-acre foothill winery, but it looks gorgeous year-round with more than 14 acres of gardens.
Where: 18310 Rams Horn Grade, Volcano
When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily through April
Details:http://www.suttercreek.org/daffodil (209) 296-7048
Daffodil planters since 1887, the family-owned farm boasts about 300,000 bulbs in more than 300 varieties. Call for updates before you drive.
Highway 49 through Grass Valley and Nevada City: "The master gardeners of Nevada County have planted thousands of daffodils for decades throughout the county," said Charlotte Germane, who writes The Daffodil Planter blog. "They are most visible along Highway 49 and are at their blooming best right now."
Filoli Gardens, 86 Canada Road, Woodside: Although already past its peak of bloom, this famous preserve celebrates daffodils with about 1 million flowers in an American Daffodil Society official display garden. Hours are 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays; closed Mondays. General admission: $15. www.filoli.org, (650) 364-8300.
Paradise: Daffodils decorate public spaces throughout this Butte County town. Volunteers planted more than 100,000 after a fire destroyed several homes in their valley.
www.daffodil.org: The Northern California Daffodil Society's website is a hub of information, including regional events from the Bay Area to the Sierra. Lots of basic bulb know-how, too.
Daffseek.org: Sponsored by the American Daffodil Society, this useful Web database features more than 22,000 named and wild daffodils and more than 23,000 daffodil photographs.
Call The Bee's Debbie Arrington, (916) 321-1075. Follow her on Twitter @debarrington.