Tastemakers: El Dorado’s Founding Families

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In the late 1970s, a group of upstart winemakers and like minded wine lovers, left the confines of traditional winemaking geography, and headed up to the hills.  While winemaking was just coming in to the golden era in Napa Valley during this time period, a few renegades decided that it was time to head to someplace more wild, more unknown, more…diverse. With a long history of agriculture, El Dorado wine business started with the Gold Rush, when immigrants sought land to plant their native grapes.  When Prohibition came, acreage shrank from some 2,300 planted acres in 1900, and vineyards made way for pears and other tree fruit.  When the fruit industry suffered from a pest infestation int he late 1950s, UC Davis moved in and used the area for experimental vineyards.  The commercial wine industry was born out of this, and in the late 1970s, the founding fathers began a tradition that is still strong today. Madroña Vineyards – in 1973, Dick & Leslie Bush fell in love with the beauty and surroundings of Placerville.  Taking a huge leap of faith, as there were no other commercial vineyards and wineries to lean on or learn from, the Bush’s planted their vineyard, which was – at the time – the highest in California. With the vineyard becoming a family project, the Bush’s involved their children and their parents, while Dick’s engineering background helped layout the vineyard and build their future home.  Today, the winery has evolved to include Paul & Maggie Bush, who make the wines and manage the vineyards, as well as Maggie’s role managing the winery operations.  Additionally, David & Sheila Bush purchased some nearby land, the Sumu-Kaw parcel. At Madrona, wine is the family business.  There is a careful focus on artisanal winemaking, sustainable care of the land, and family.  At the winery in Camino, the elevation is perfect for growing the wide variety of grapes that make the Rhône and Bordeaux focused wines.  At 3,000 feet, there are three vineyards that make up the family business.  Madrona, Enye, and Sumu-Kaw.  Each site is unique and has distinct terroir, and with over 26 varietals planted, what might seems as “anything goes” at first, is actually carefully selected for it’s blending potential and sum of the parts. Tasting the wines, I was particularly enthralled by the amazing Cabernet Franc. Paul Bush has a particular passion for this grape, and it shines through in the glass.  His particular verve for balance and expression of terroir is clean in the two different expressions of Cab Franc.  In fact, he made 4 variations of Cab Franc, each one with a specific tweak and unique element.  We were able to taste the very special Grain par Grain (berry by berry) version, and if you are a Cab Franc lover, get yet to Madrona Vineyards! – 2011 Grain par Grain Cabernet Franc – whole berry maceration for 20 days in new French oak puncheons, hand turned and then punched down twice a day.  Aged for 20 months in 3 year […]

Roaming the El Dorado Foothills: Pleasant Valley Wine Trail

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It was a warm Spring weekend, when I took my new car out for it’s first road trip, up to El Dorado County, and some delicious Rhône style wines.  The Pleasant Valley Wine Trail, just outside of Placerville, California, is a sleepy little road, meandering through gold country and rough and rugged mountain landscapes.  The Rocks and Rhône Festival featured 5 wineries, good food, delicious wine, and live music in the heart of old California. Just over 2 hours from San Francisco, without traffic, Placerville is a hop, skip, and jump from Sacramento and is a great place to center your wine experience; this historical main street is full of antique shops, great restaurants, and of course – wine bars.  Fifteen minutes outside of town, you climb from 1800′ elevation suddenly and surprisingly, as you drive along Pleasant Valley Road. Our first stop was Miraflores Winery, where they were dishing up beef stew and onion tarts to go with thier Rhône style wines.  We were treated to a vertical of Viognier, Syrah, and Petite Sirah before meandering out to the patio, with it’s sweeping views of the vineyards.  As were headed out, we were whisked away to meet the owner of the winery, Victor Alvarez, who was generous enough to share some unique wines that were not being poured for the event.  Victor, a native of Colombia, moved to the States to pursue his still active medical career.  Still practicing in Arizona during the week, he commutes to the winery on weekends. Of particular note are the sweet wines that Miraflores is known for.  Known for their Amarone style sweet wines, the grapes are hand picked and dried for several months before the wine is made.  The result is a delicious nectar of the gods, and as precious as the gold in the hills surrounding the winery. I have never been a huge fan of sweet wines, but these were spectacular.  Ranging from the bright and pretty floral freshness in the Muscat Canelli, to the rich nutty tones of the Botricelli, these were a special treat.  Our small group gave up the spitting customary with wine tasting as we tasted these wines, knowing they were rare treats.   After we loaded up some of the delicious Miraflores wine in to our cars, we were off to Sierra Vista & Holly’s Hill, 2 wineries next door to each other facing the beautiful mountains. Holly’s Hill Winery was dishing up cheesesteak that made everyone happy, which paired perfectly with their syrahs.  Tasting through their Rhônes, I was particularly impressed by their Grenache Blanc and Grenache blends, a particular favorite of mine perennially.  The QPR on these wines is exceptional, with most being under $25 and several hovering around $20. At Sierra Vista Winery & Vineyards, owner John MacCready was pouring barrel samples for us.  As we wandered through the 2800′ high plateau where the winery sits, I was particularly impressed by the Roussane and Viognier, as well as the Grenache.  Bucking the tradition of Sierra Foothills zinfandel, Sierra Vista has been […]

Rhône Road Trip

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Ahhh only 2 short weeks to the fabulous long weekend that is the gateway to summer:  We call it, Memorial Day.  It’s been a long stretch since President’s Day, and I think most of us could use an extra day off. I am looking forward to a short road trip, exploring some of the Sierra Foothills wine country.  Specifially, I will be travelling to El Dorado County, where there are several AVAs that are perfect for the delicious Rhone style wines of Grenache, Syrah, Viognier and more. On May 24h & 25th, the Pleasant Valley Wine Trail is hosting the Rocks and Rhône festival and 5 area wineries.  Each of these wineries is known for their Rhône sytle wines, and will rolling out the stops with food pairings, music, and fun along the trail. Here are some more tid bits to whet your appetite!  For $40 at the door (each day) you are sure to have a rocking good time.  I’m going to hang out in Placerville, and check out the history, and learn more about El Dorado wines.  Additionally, I plan to check out nearby Fair Play which also boasts some great wineries. In historic Placerville, you can meander haunted hotels, check out old mining sites, and just wader down main street.  I’ll be touring the old town with Gold Rush Tales & Ghost Tours of Placerville, who was recently featured in AAA’s VIA Magazine! There is plenty to do for a long weekend, and I can’t wait to explore nature, wines, history, and some old…very old…residents! Event tickets for Rocks and Rhônes were provided by Pleasant Valley Wineries (not the one in NY either!) .   Thanks for keeping me from being thirsty! Sleeping quarters provided by El Dorado Tourism, somewhere with ghosts I hope!   Super cool ghost touring sponsored by Gold Rush Tales & Ghost Tours.  With any luck, I’ll meet a nice Miner Forty-Niner.  Wonder if he’s single? Google