Being in the exact center of California places Madera County in an enviable position as “gateway” to almost every destination in the state.
But there’s also a good reason to stay in the area: wineries that produce delicious fortified elixirs.
Stretching across three California tourism regions from the Central Valley to the Gold Country and into the High Sierra speaks to the diverse number of experiences from which visitors can choose beyond wine tasting.
Additional agriculture is showcased at various locations, including historic Cobb Ranch, home of the famous Pizza Farm. One of North America’s largest fossil finds, in the north county near Chowchilla, has prompted plans for a Discovery Center-style museum.
Travel amenities – lodging, restaurants, gas stations, etc. – are readily available at nearly every exit on State Highway 99 in Madera County.
The eastern part of Madera County continues to set the bar for adventure and family activities. Just follow the Southern Yosemite Highway 41 from Madera to the foothill communities of O’Neals, Raymond and North Fork. Historic communities such as Coarsegold, Oakhurst and Ahwahnee – with museums and sites that dot the landscape – are monuments to Madera County’s rich heritage.
Bass Lake has been recognized as one of the “West’s Best Lakes” by Sunset magazine. Historic Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad, with its authentic steam-powered Shay locomotives, is both educational and entertaining.
American Indian culture also is an important part of the regional experience. Numerous gatherings happen each year as the resident tribes celebrate and educate. Two tribes in the region are involved in gaming enterprises as a means of economic development. Chukchansi Gold Resort in Coarsegold is celebrating its second year, and a new facility by the Mono tribe is planned for a site in the north county.
Madera County, while sometimes referred to as the “southern gateway” to Yosemite National Park, also is the gateway to locations in the magnificent Sierra Nevada. Bordering the Sierra National Forest, with access to the famous Ansel Adams and John Muir Wilderness Areas as well as the Sierra Vista National Scenic Byway, has spawned the phrase, “Passageway into the Range of Light,” to more fully describe the experience of the region.
Madera County also is known for producing internationally recognized, world-class dessert wines and Ports. In recent years, a handful of small, family-owned wineries have opened to complement these flagship premium wineries.
This renaissance is driven by the recognition that Madera County is a unique grape-growing region. The region is bounded and cooled by the San Joaquin River to the southwest and the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the east. Warm summer temperatures, combined with varied soil types, provide a foundation for the full development of the grapes. In recognition of these distinctive characteristics, Madera was recognized as an American Viticultural Area in 1985.
Set unobtrusively on a back road in Madera County is the home of Ficklin Tinta Port. Ficklin’s Port is widely acclaimed as one of California’s finest wines created in the Portuguese tradition.
The Ficklins use a time-tested “solera” process to produce a blend that is consistent in character year after year. They never bottle all of a single year’s crush. Some is held back as needed with each succeeding vintage. In theory, there is some of the first wine ever produced in each bottle of Ficklin Tinta Port.
In very exceptional years, Ficklin bottles a vintage-dated Port in limited quantities of about 1,000 cases. A new addition to the portfolio is the Aged 10 Year Tawny Port. Winemaker Peter Ficklin has also set aside a group of special barrels for a 20-year-old Tawny Port.
The Quadys are another renowned winemaking family in Madera. Andrew and Laurel Quady left crowded Southern California and their jobs in pyrotechnics and merchandising to pursue their dream: a non-urban way of life making wine.
Returning to school, Andrew graduated with a Masters in Food Science-Enology from U.C. Davis, and Laurel became a licensed CPA. In 1975, at the urging of friend Darrell Corti, they made their first Port from Amador County Zinfandel grapes at the now-defunct Lodi Vintners, where Andrew was working as an assistant winemaker.
In 1977, the Quadys settled in Madera, and while Andrew was working at Heublein, they built a small winery behind their country home and made Port during evening hours and over weekends.
In 1980, they decided to add a fortified white dessert wine to their line. The wine, from the obscure Orange Muscat grape variety, was named Essensia and became a major success. In 1983, opportunity knocked when the Quadys were offered a crop of Black Muscat grapes, which became the first bottling of Elysium.
By 1984, the expanding business needed space, and Andrew and Laurel needed help. Fresno State graduate Michael Blaylock, now the winemaker, joined the family business and a new winery was completed and additional wines were added to the lineup.
For those who enjoy sweet and/or fortified wines, Madera County is a “must-do” destination.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION
Madera County Lodging: www.madera-county.com
Ficklin Vineyards, Madera; 559-661-0075
Quady Winery, Madera: 559-673-8068