The Madera Wine Trail: Sweet Wine Paradise

Madera Wine Trail - Wine Glass in Vineyard

Located in California’s Central Valley, a small collection of 9 wineries call the Madera Wine Trail home. 

Each year, my two besties from NYC and I take an annual girls’ trip. We initially met while working in the Buying Office at Bloomingdale’s, but have since moved to California for various career reasons. This year (July 2019), in an effort to explore more of the state, we ventured inland to Madera County to see what this Central Valley wine region is all about. 

And what an adventure it was!

Note: This post was originally published July 27, 2019 and was updated August 29, 2022.

Madera Wine Trail: At Home in California’s Central Valley

First, some info on Central Valley: known as California’s agricultural heartland, the Central Valley forms a huge trench carved down the middle of the state. 

The valley is surrounded by mountains (the Sierra Nevada to the east, Coast Range to the west, Klamath and Cascade Mountains to the north, and Traverse Ranges to the south), trapping in heat and bathed in endless sunshine. The valley was initially formed by two rivers, meaning there are deposits of alluvial soil that left the land incredibly fertile. 

The Central Valley is now home to the largest source of grapes in the United States, accounting for 72% of all the juice that goes into California-made wine. The main issue with the area, however, is that the Central Valley is HOT. 

During our visit, the temperature hovered around 100 degrees. At this temperature, grapes ripen easily, losing much of their acidity and failing to develop complex flavors. Brilliantly, however, the winemakers in Madera have adapted to this, seeking out grapes known to thrive in hot temperatures and skewing their wine production towards wine styles that thrive in this type of environment: sweet dessert wines and port-style fortified wines. 

Madera Wineries

As previously mentioned, the Madera Wine Trail is home to 9 wineries, most of which are family-owned. Just south of Yosemite National Park, Madera is one of the oldest grape growing regions in the country. In fact, they’re also one of the oldest designated American Viticultural Areas (AVAs)  in the country, designated in 1985 (comparatively, the first US AVA was designated in 1980). 

Today, they remain very low-key, with uncrowded tasting rooms and lots of personalized attention for visitors. Check out the details on the Madera Wine Trail below!

Idle Hour Winery Tasting Flight

Idle Hour

Boasting the title of Oakhurst’s first winery, owner & wine-maker Anna Marie dos Remidios skillfully crafts beautiful single-vineyard wines just outside Yosemite. She carefully utilizes native yeasts, gravity-flow racking, and neutral French oak, aiming to maximize the grapes’ expression. 

Anna Marie is a very intelligent woman with a lot to say about the way wine should be produced, and her wines are elegant and fresh in a way that other wines may be lacking. She sources her grapes from around California, seeking out high-quality fruit with lots of potential. This Madera winery is one you can’t miss!

Idle Hour Tasting Experiences

Fasi Estate

Pronounced in a way that rhymes with “crazy”, as in “I’m crazy for Fasi”, Fasi Estate Winery offers a beautiful Madera tasting room surrounded by vineyards. I loved the striking way the green vines stood out against the golden grass and rolling hills. 

The winery’s owner, Ralph P Fäsi, came here from Switzerland and fell in love with Fresno’s agricultural side. Through a series of events, he eventually bought the property with a vineyard and hired a talented winemaker to produce wines on his behalf. 

He also now owns a winery in Mendoza, Argentina, and you can taste wines from both locations in their Fresno tasting room. They are most known for their Syrah, which has won numerous awards.

Fasi Estate Tasting Experiences

Quady Winery in Madera, CA
Quady Winery Frose in Madera Wine Trail

Quady Winery

Quady is a sweet-wine specialist, most known for their Moscatos, fortified Muscadets, Vermouth, and Ports. We sampled a large percentage of their long line-up (including the Vermouth, which I’ve never had straight!), and found they had sweet wines of immense quality. 

Their Electra Moscato line was one of my favorites, offering a sweet wine with slight effervescence at a 4.5% abv. It’s absolutely perfect for summer sipping! 

They even offer wine slushies made from this lineup and recommended an easy way to replicate at home (simply pour into a large tub and place in the freezer, stir periodically until desired consistency is achieved). 

Their wines have won numerous awards and are distributed around the country, making it easy for sweet-wine lovers to find in their hometowns.

Quady Winery Tasting Experiences 

Ficklin Winery in Madera, CA

Ficklin Vineyards

Fickling Vineyards boasts the title of America’s most awarded Port Winery, and the title is well-deserved. They also happen to be America’s oldest port-style producer in America. Make sure you visit this Madera winery!

Ficklin Vineyards produces a wide range of port-styled wines, including my favorite, the old Vine Tinta Port. Utilizing traditional Port production methods, such as the Solera method, Ficklin is devoted to detail in their production. 

The Madera tasting room is also set up beautifully, perfect for events with old barrels decorating the space and romantic twinkle lights.

Ficklin Tasting Experiences

Papagandi - Madera Wine Trail Winery

Papagni Wines

Everywhere we went, people had additional recommendations for us to try. Papagni was a last-minute add-on to our trip, encouraged by Anna Marie from Idle Hour. 

Nurturing a family tradition of great wine-making that started in Italy, Papagni is renowned for wines crafted from Alicante Bouchet, which they source from the local area. For those unfamiliar with the varietal, it’s a deep dark wine with spice, rich fruit, and a gentle earthiness. At one time, Alicante Bouchet was the most popular wine grape in America, accounting for nearly 1/3 of all grapes grown in California, but that has since been overtaken by other varietals (Chardonnay now holds that number one spot).

Papagni Wines Tasting Experiences

Birdstone Winery in Madera, CA
Image via Birdstone Winery

Birdstone Winery

Birdstone Winery is a can’t-miss stop along the Madera Wine Trail! A true family and friends operation, Birdstone was established by Madera-local Tony Kirk and his wife, Kimberly. Today they craft wines from 100% Madera fruit and work tireless to promote excellence in winemaking and help direct the growth of the Madera wine region. 

Birdstone Wines Tasting Experiences 

Image via San Joaquin

San Joaquin

Surrounded by the opulent local agriculture of Madera, San Joaquin offers guests a variety of red, white, and sweet wines at their family-owned Madera winery. It’s the perfect place to unwind and sip some wine. Expect great hospitality here!

San Joaquin Tasting Experience

Westbrooke WIne Farm - Madera Winery
Image via Westbrooke Wine Farm

Westbrook Wine Farm

Westbrook Wine Farm is open by appointment only, but it’s well worth planning ahead and setting up a tasting with them! 

Their mountain vineyards are sustainably farmed and planted to field blends of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Gros Verdot, and Carmenere. They’re one of the only grower-winemakers along the Madera Wine Trail. 

Relax in their gorgeous earth-bermed Foothill Barn style winery, complete with a stone fireplace. Sit back and sip world-class wines. Set the mood with a walk through their rustic wooded hillsides. Westbrook is a can’t-miss Madera Winery!

Westbrook Wine Farm Tasting Experiences

Toca Madera Winery in Madera, CA

Toca Madera

If you’re looking for a beautiful Madera winery to take your Instagram shots at, Toca Madera is the choice location! Their tasting room overlooks beautiful undulating hills, covered with radiant vines. 

Wine tastings are by appointment only, and they host live music every Sunday. 

Toca Madera Tasting Experiences

 

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Other Madera Wine Trail Recommendations:

If you want to make a whole weekend out of your Madera winery trip, here are some additional planning destinations and accommodations:

The Vineyard Restaurant & Bar

At The Vineyard Restaurant & Bar, expect great food and great service. 

I had their Beef Marrow Stroganoff, and it was amazing. They also give complimentary bread with olive tapenade, and I’m still dreaming about it. When we were there on a Saturday night, they had live music, so be sure to check their event schedule! They also offer a nice assortment of local wines on their wine menu, which I greatly appreciated. I love drinking local!

Southgate Brew Co
Boasting a great assortment of beers when your tastebuds need a wine break, Southgate Brew Co also features Kombucha on their drink menu (my fave!) as well as a large assortment of American food. Their fish tacos were great and I loved their pretzels with beer cheese. It’s a great stop while you’re out and about in the area and came highly recommended by locals.

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