"Madera--There is a lot to see and taste in this wine appellation"

.. By Joe Hilbers

We were in Madera to take part in the Vintners Association annual '2008 Holiday Spirit Wine Trail Weekend'. On this weekend event one $20 ticket permits two days of wine tasting, food goodies and entertainment at the member wineries of the Madera Vintners Association.

Our joining in this event proved to be a great way to experience and taste the Madera appellation's best wines. Madera County is one of California's oldest wine vineyard regions and was granted its own appellation in 1985. It now grows ten per cent of California wine grapes. Almost without exception all twelve members of the Association are family owned wineries. In our conversations it soon was apparent that once settled in Madera county its early immigrants from counties surrounding the Mediterranean stayed. The result is that its grower and winery families go back several generations.

Upon arrival in Madera we met with Michael Leven, Vintners Association president; and KC Pomering, executive secretary. The Holiday Weekend is one of three presented by the Madera Vintners each year. The next one will take place the second weekend in February entitled 'Wine and Chocolate" A Spring Wine Trail Adventure is held the third weekend of May. Michael Leven heads Mariposa Wine Company which offers high quality table wines under three different labels. Premium wines are marketed under the Carmichael Vintners label. We tasted and were much impressed with the Carmichael 'Satisfaction' Cabernet Sauvignon. Moderate priced wines are marketed under the Yosemite View label. Blended wines like the Yosemite Caprice Rose and Muscat are popular selling wines at Mariposa. The third brand "Cru" are wines made from Monterey county grapes for Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs.

Michael Leven is a fifteen year veteran of the industry and worked some of California's best known wineries before moving to Mariposa.

While Madera has long been acclaimed for its dessert wines in recent years many of the family wineries have moved from volume wines to concentrating on quality bottlings of well known red varietals like Zinfandel, Barbara, and Cabernet Sauvignon and white wines like Viognier. Sauviginon Blanc, Muscat and Grenache.

The Madera Vintners Association has published a handsome brochure depicting the name and location of every winery member on the Madera Wine Trail and a map that is so simple to follow that even we could do it. We easily visited six of the wineries in one day.

Two of the wineries, Ficklin Vineyards and Quady Winery have achieved both national and international reputations for their dessert wines. We visited Ficklin Vineyards and learned the story of how David Ficklin, father of now winery proprietor, Peter Ficklin, first planted Portuguese grape varieties in the 1940s with the concept of making Port wines using traditional methods. Those plantings from the 1940s still exist 60 years later and still producing quality fruit for Ficklin Ports.

At Quady Winery we chatted with Cheryl Russell. She has coordinated events with leading chefs nationwide who delight in using Quady's most unusual dessert wines in innovation culinary creations. In fact we attended one such competition a few years back in Beverly Hills. Quady always seems to come up with new exciting wines and flavors and we tried two, Esensia and a new one called Purple

We might add that we were not alone at any of the wineries we visited. Identifying wrist bands on display and glass in hand each winery was thronged with eager and interested wine tasters. At Birdstone Winery which opened a new facility just a few years ago we tasted a prize winning Barbara and also an excellent Zinfandel.

A brother and sister, John Lasgoity and Michele Lasgoity own Chateau Lasgoity located on property established by their great grandparents in 1903. There we tasted and were much impressed with a 2005 Rouge du Val which is a Rhone style blend of 40 per cent Grenache, 40 per cent Syrah and 20 per cent Alicante Bouschet. We also enjoyed, as did the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, the 2004 Merlot which is a blend of both Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon . It was a Silver Medal winner.

Here we also had a bowl of a wonderful Sheepherder soup that has been a Lasgoity family recipe for generations. With such a soup we figured the sheepherders lived well.

San Jaoquin Wine Company is a new player on the Madera wine scene. It is owned and operated by the Schafer family and we had the opportunity to meet with two brothers. They are now producing a full line of varietals including Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Viognier and Silver Necter with two labels, Chumelia Vineyard and Moody Press Cellars. Writers live to meet people with interesting stories and that was certainly true when we traveled to Oakhurst to visit the newest member of the Madera Association, Idle Hour Winery and to stay at the adjacent Queen's Inn.

In Oakhurst the Queen was Naomi Ashley who acquired some property alongside Oakhurst Creek in 1963. Pretty, posed and always remarkable Naomi would only answer to being called Queen all her life.

When her Granddaughter took over the property in 2003 it became the Queen's Inn. Earlier Deb Payne had met another most interesting woman named Anna Marie dos Remedios. She is Portuguese and as a small girl remembers her grandfather's Hong Kong Chinese Junk named Idle Hour. Anna Marie left Hong Kong at an early age and as an adult became a winemaker in San Beneto County. The Winery became the Idle Hour and when Deb Payne wanted a wine labeled Queen the two met and developed a partnership.

So now Oakhurst has its first winery and the adjacent Queen's Inn Wine Bar and Beer Garden have become popular attractions in this legendary Sierra Foothill community for both locals and visitors alike. At the time of our visit the Idle Hour had just completed its first Oakhurst crush. This year Anna Marie wines will include Madera Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.

Not many resorts can boost having an adjacent winery. We toured the Idle Hour with Anna Marie and then adjourned to the Wine Bar to taste some of her vintages made at the San Benito facility. They certainly proved that Anna Marie knows how to make good wine.

We then settled in one of the well appointed rooms of the Queen's Inn. It was too late in the day to lounge on our private deck, overlooking the Creek, with a few glasses of Idle Hour Pinot Noir but the king size bed and bright decor and ambiance were very welcome after a rigorous day of traveling.

The Idle Hour Winery and Queen's Inn are located in the center of Oakhurst, one of the Sierra Foothill communities that date back to the gold rush days. It is also the gateway to Yosemite National Park. Address is 41139 Highway 41. Oakhurst, Telephone 559 683-4354. A Continental Breakfast is served guests and the Wine Bar is open Wednesday through Saturday.

If planning to visit Madera and tour some of its wineries contact the Madera Vintners Association, P.O. Box 697, Madera, Ca 93639. Telephone 800 613-0709, on the web at www.maderavintners.com.

Back to Table of Contents..

Last Update:12/1/08

© 2008 Joe Hilbers All Rights Reserved.
Graphic Design by Impact Graphics