Prior to visiting Oakhurst, I had no idea there were so many wineries in Madera, California. As a frequent Anderson Valley, Healdsburg and Sonoma County wine taster, I reveled in the unique varietals and innovative winemakers on the Madera Wine Trail and Yosemite Sierra Wine Road.
Most of the Madera winery tasting rooms on the Madera wine trail are ~40 miles (~50 minutes) from Oakhurst, California. Idle Hour Winery, Westbrook Wine Farm and Karine are the closest. Wine tasting in Madera is one of the best things to do in Madera, California. If you are visiting Yosemite, I highly recommend you enter or exit via Yosemite’s south gate and explore these wineries and Oakhurst before or after your trip.
TOP TIP: To make your life easy, I’ve listed the eight Madera wineries below from closest to farthest from Oakhurst in my Madera winery itinerary. If you are visiting these Madera vineyards on your way from San Francisco to Oakhurst, you’ll want to reverse the order.
FUN FACT: When wine tasting in Madera, California, you’ll typically be served and educated by the winemakers, making for a more intimate and immersive wine tasting experience.
Madera Winery #1: Idle Hour Winery
Anna Marie Dos Remedios, Idle Hour Winery’s owner and winemaker, crafts 2500 cases of aromatic single varietals using only native yeast and neutral barrels. Given how rarely we’ve encountered female winemakers, it’s quite the treat to learn firsthand from Anna Marie.
FUN FACT: Idle Hour is named after a “Chinese Junk” boat Anna Marie’s grandfather owned when she was growing up in Hong Kong.
We relished tasting and pairing Tannat, Tempranillo and Vin Rouge, a delicious blend of Petit Verdot, Tempranillo and Petite Syrah and a late harvest Viognier, with a cheese and charcuterie plate. The carbonated grapes on the cheese plate are a delightful surprise. The late harvest Viognier dessert wine is on point as well.
TOP TIP: Make sure you stop in Idle Hour Winery’s market to purchase their flavorful and addictive creations including a spiced honey, red chili olive oil (we wish we’d bought a case!), and a whole grain viognier mustard. I also appreciate that the market sells other female proprietors’ soup mixes, sauces and dried fruits.
Despite my sustainability focus, I hadn’t realized until our discussion with Anna Marie that wine bottles are not recyclable in California! To combat the waste associated with wine bottles, Anna Marie opted to offer some of her wines in 1.5L recyclable bags with spouts.
Madera Wine Trail #2: Karine
Winemaker, Nicholas DeHart, describes Karine wines as a “lIquid expression of a time, place and state of mind.”
Nick’s complex and elegant wines are complemented by artistic labels created from his wife Karine’s oil paintings.
TOP TIP: Try Karine’s Rose of Primitivo, Accomplice – a Zinfandel wine, and The Storm – a Petite Syrah with a label that transports you.
Madera Winery #3: Westbrook Wine Farm
Ray Krause searched for 10 years to locate the ideal spot for Westbrook Wine Farm, ideally situated below the snow line and above the fog at a 1400-foot elevation. This allows his dormant vines to get sunlight during the winter.
Ray is a masterful wine maker who “bevels the sharp edges” of the wines he creates.
FUN FACT: He uses a different yeast on each wine since they impart distinctive flavor profiles like a sourdough or wheat starter does.
Interesting Facts about Westbrook Wine Farm
Westbrook Wine Farm is one of two California vineyards that grows all eight red Bordeaux varietals, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Gros Verdot, Carmenere and Saint Macaire.
After wine tasting in Tuscany, we relish any opportunity to taste Barbera wines. We are excited to try Ray’s new Madera Barbera Blanc de Noir, which he describes as “sassy and crisp, yet satisfyingly rich,” when he releases it in April 2022.
As an indicator of how much we like his wines, we bought a case on our first visit and four cases on our second visit! Westbrook wines have been deservedly recognized with awards from Wine Enthusiast and Sunset International Wine competition.
FUN FACT: Ray crafts his wines by co-fermenting grapes. Many winemakers opt to blend wines after they create single varietals. We love that he “celebrates vintage variations each year.”
While touring this Madera vineyard, Ray will show you the original 120 square foot wine making building where he began crafting his award-winning wines.
Our Favorite Westbrook Wine Farm Wines
The Fait Accompli is Westbrook’s flagship wine. This complex wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Carmenere.
Do yourself a favor and purchase a bottle or two of this exquisite wine to enjoy for special occasions.
FUN FACT: Did you know that wax protects a cork, preventing the cork from oxidizing? Since corks are only good for 15 years, wines need to be re-corked every 15 years.
TOP TIP: To remove the wax covering on the Fait Accompli or any other wine, run the bottle under hot water for one minute. The wax will come off like butter when you work a blade around the bottle. This helpful tip from Ray will save us lots of future frustration!
Our two other favorites are: the Museum, which includes nine different clones of Cabernet Sauvignon, and Malmsey Dearest, a dessert wine made from Malvasia Bianca. This delightful sweet wine has a roasted carmelized pecan character. Since our friends have loved this one so much, we bought a case from Ray during our second visit.
TOP TIP: Visits to Westbrook Wine Farm are by appointment only, so be sure to call or email Ray prior to your visit to set up a time. I guarantee you will love the wines and appreciate Ray’s humor and passion for educating people about winemaking.
Madera Wine Trail #4: Fasi Estate Winery
Do you enjoy Malbec, an Argentinian varietal? If so, stop at Fasi Winery. When visiting Mendoza, Argentina, we fell in love with this varietal and are ecstatic whenever we find it in the United States.
TOP TIP: Make sure to try the Malvasia Bianca. With its tropical notes, it’s an ideal white wine to sip on a warm summer day.
Madera Winery #5: Toca Madera Winery
Toca Madera Winery is focused on making Tempranillo the premiere grape within the Madera AVA. Tempranillo is a medium to full-bodied grape from Spain. If you enjoy Sangiovese or Cabernet Sauvignon, you will likely be a fan of Tempranillo.
Toca Madera offers one Tempranillo aged 22 months and a Reserve that has been aged for 40 months. Try them both to see which you prefer.
They also offer a Malbec, which is one of our favorite varietals, and a unique Dulce Rojo, a sweet blend of Malbec and Zinfandel. Given my passion for, and commitment to, conservation, I adore the fact that they have a Wildlife Conservation series that benefits the Fresno Chaffee Zoo and a specific conservation project. Within this series, they offer a Rose, a Cabernet/Syrah blend, and a Moscato.
TOP TIP: Since the winery is only open 12-5 Saturdays and Sundays, plan a weekend visit. You can also bring a picnic to enjoy with your wine.
Madera Wine Trail #6: Birdstone Winery
Visting Birdstone Winery, a family-owned operation, treated us to blooming almond blossoms in late February, a delightful scene to be surrounded by as you sip your wine.
Birdstone offers myriad wines including: Rose, Chardonnay, Sangiovese, Pinot Noir, Malbec, Barbera, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Appreciate their wines on the outdoor patio or in the tasting room. I’d recommend the patio to enjoy the lavender and almond blossoms (when blooming mid February to early March).
TOP TIP: Birdstone is only open 11-5 Friday-Sunday. Since it’s just down the street from Toca Madera, it makes sense to visit these together.
Madera Winery #7: Ficklin Vineyards
If you are a tawny or ruby port fan, Ficklin Vineyards is a place you can’t miss. After port wine tasting at Seppeltsfield in Australia, we’ve become huge port fans.
FUN FACT: Ficklin, a family-owned vineyard, has been creating ports with Portuguese varietals since 1946! It’s the oldest and most awarded Port winery in the United States.
Seeing the historic oval casks and wooden basket press while tasting ports in Ficklin’s naturally temperature controlled brick adobe building is a fun experience.
Peter Ficklin, a third generation winemaker, exudes passion and enthusiasm as he pours and proudly shares the stories of their award-winning ports. Neutral barrels at least seven years old are key for creating their 50 port types. Peter describes their younger ports as “exuberant” and the older ports as “rich and smooth.”
FUN FACT: Did you know it takes 7-8 years to develop a tawny characteristic in ports?
TOP TIP: If you have a sweet tooth like I do, make sure to indulge in their port filled chocolates. Ficklin Vineyards also sells a chocolate port sauce to elevate your sundaes, a hazelnut ruby port to spice up your milkshakes or a raspberry port to add decadence to your brownies.
Madera Wine Trail #8: San Joaquin Winery
If you enjoy sparkling or sweet wines, don’t miss San Joaquin Winery. In early 2022, they won silver for their Blanc de Blanc and Rose sparkling wines and gold for their Moscato sparkling wine from the San Francisco Chronicle. The Moscato is my favorite!
If you enjoy sangria, indulge in their Mango Mambo, Raspberry Romance, Peach Passion or Pomegranate Sangria. The Mango and Pomegranate are our favorites.
TOP TIP: For a crowd-pleasing, refreshing summer drink, combine the Mango Mambo and the Pomegranate Sangria and add frozen fruit. You’ll thank me later.
Madera County Almond Blossoms
If you visit Madera County from mid-February to early March, almond blossoms lining the roads will mesmerize you.
FUN FACT: 80% of the world’s almond supply comes from California. One million acres are covered by these delicate and fleeting pink and white blooms that flutter to the ground and blanket the landscape after their short-lived display.
TOP TIP: Almond orchards are private property and the trees and irrigation systems are very delicate. Please respect the orchard owners and don’t enter illegally and wander amongst these almond blossoms without permission. There are plenty of places you can pull to the side of the road and photograph them without trespassing.
I hope my Madera winery itinerary helps you plan a visit to these eight vineyards along the Madera wine trail. Madera wine tasting is a great addition before or after your Yosemite adventures.
Thanks to Yosemite Madera for hosting me – all opinions are my own!
Ooh I had no idea there were wineries so close to Yosemite! Great tip on that cab franc from Idle Hour – we had one from a Walla Walla winery years ago that I still remember and would love to seek this one out as well! Will have to check out the tawny port at Ficklin too (and be at least tempted by their chocolates!) Thanks again for being a great tour guide to yet another region I’ll have to go visit!
Marielena Smith says
The Madera Wine Trail was a new discovery for me during the past year. You’ll love exploring this area before or after a Yosemite trip. We love Cab Francs too and rarely find them as a single varietal. We paired the Ficklin chocolates with the Ficklin port for New Year’s Eve and they were divine. Always happy to help with ideas to complement outdoor explorations with great food and wine!