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(Note: Information Originally Published In 1955 - Presented For Historical Perspective!)
FRESNO-SAN JOAQUIN VALLEY DISTRICT
This great district coincides with the lower San Joaquin Valley. It is famous especially for yielding wines of the sweeter dessert types, some of which have achieved great excellence. Table wines and bulk-fermented sparkling wines are also produced.
The district takes in the following counties, from north to south: Madera, with the city of Madera the main sector;
Fresno, with its many famed wineries located in the city of Fresno and in the surrounding towns, with other famous wineries to be found in Sanger, Reedley, Parlier, Fowler, Selma and Kingsburg;
Kings, with its Hanford area;
Tulare, with the main winery centers in Dinuba, Cutler, Tulare, Lindsay, and on the Kern County line right across from Delano; Kern, with Dclano and the sector east of Bakersfield down to Arvin the wine-production areas.
A number of well-known wineries located in this district do not produce wines directly for the public under their own brands and are, for that reason only, not discussed in this Guide.
Ficklin Vineyards, Madera
A small and unique operation, the only California winery to produce no other wines than port and the first time in the United States that port wines made entirely of choice Portuguese grape varieties became commercially available. The Ficklin Ports rate as the finest produced in California, being unsurpassed in quality and character with a full richness of flavor.
The Ficklin wine concern is still a young one, being founded in the middle of the nineteen forties, but is rapidly and deservedly making a great name for itself throughout the nation wherever fine dessert wines are consumed. It is a family enterprise, the principal owners and operators being David (Dave) B. Ficklin, the wine maker and a well-known wine judge, and his brother Walter C. Ficklin, Jr., the vineyardist. Their father, Walter C. Ficklin, Sr., a charming gentleman familiar with all the better things of life, has an interest in the winery and vineyards.
The senior Ficklin first came to California as a young man in 1911, making his home in Fresno County and planting his first vineyards and orchards in 1912. For many years he farmed grape and fruit ranches. In the early forties the family became interested in the idea of producing red dessert wines of top quality. They closely studied the Portuguese wine grape varieties which were being tested by the University of California under local growing conditions. The decision to establish a completely specialized vineyard complex and winery was the next step. Four of the finest Portuguese varieties were selected, Tinta Cao, Tinta Madeira, Alvarelhao, and Touriga, and the vineyards planted to them exclusively. A small but modern adobe winery was built by hand and 1948 saw the first vintage harvested.
The greatest care is taken to produce the very best wines possible. The vineyards are meticulously tended to yield a limited crop of the choicest grapes. At harvest time the grape clusters are individually cut with small hand shears and all imperfect fruit is left on the vines. The grapes are left in the vineyards in wooden boxes to cool off overnight and brought to the crusher the first thing the next morning. They are first lightly crushed in stainless steel crushers, breaking the skins and separating them from the stems. The crushed grapes are transferred to small open vats where pure yeast culture is added. As soon as fermentation starts a wooden hand plunger is used to submerge and mix the skins with the juice, extracting thereby the full color and flavor of the grapes. The free-run juice is drawn off and the skins are given a further light pressing in a basket-type press, the resulting juice being added to the free-run for further flavor. At the proper stage of fermentation the juice is transformed into port wine by the addition of pure grape brandy. The wine is clarified naturally by gradual settling and racking in small oak puncheons or barrels. It is aged in oak for three years or longer and at least a further year in the bottle. Owing to this process, the Ficklin Ports, like those from Portugal, will throw a slight sediment, a sign of maturing and of age. The wines, therefore, should be poured carefully, so as not to disturb the deposit, or be decanted before serving. If disturbed, the bottle should be placed upright until the wine has had a chance to settle.
The main variety of Port available is the so-called "Tinta Port," a blend of the four varieties grown. All wines are full Ruby Ports and are marketed under the Ficklin Vineyards brand.
Limited cuvees of both Tinta Madeira Port and Tinta Cao Port have also been produced, named after the particular varieties from which they were made. It is planned also to produce vintage ports, both from blends of the four varieties and from the single varieties.
Mission Bell Wineries, Madera
Mission Bell Wineries are, like the Petri Wineries at Escalon (see there), an operating and production name for Allied Grape Growers, the co-operative winery association of some three hundred member growers which purchased both wineries from the Petri family, giving the latter the exclusive marketing rights to its total output.
The Mission Bell Winery, with its complex of beautiful buildings in the Spanish Mission style, is a monument to that colorful American of Armenian origin, K. Arakelian, who became one of the most successful figures in the California wine industry and made his Mission Bell wines known through the country. Louis Petri acquired the winery in 1949 and operated it some two years before selling it to Allied Grape Growers.
The Mission Bell brand enjoys a large distribution, mainly in the Eastern part of the United States. A full line of table and aperitif and dessert wines is marketed under this brand, covering the lowpriced field.
Aperitif and Dessert wines: Pale Dry Sherry, Cocktail Sherry, Sherry, and Cream Sherry; Port, Ruby Port, and Tawny Port; Muscatel, Tokay, White Port, and Angelica; Dry and Sweet Vermouth;
Sparkling wines (bulk-fermented) : Champagne and Sparkling Burgundy;
Table wines: RED: Burgundy, Zinfandel, and Claret; WHITE: Sauterne, Rhine Wine, and Chablis.
A red table wine of the "vino rosso" type is marketed under the Mission Bell Viva label and called Vino Rosso Amabile.
Yosemite Winery Association, Madera
A scant mile west of the city of Madera is to be found the towering building of the Yosemite Winery Association, said to be the largest unaffiliated co-operative in California and the only independent co-operative situated between the Lodi and Fresno areas.
In 1946, when the nation was still in the throes of immediate postwar shortages of men and materials, a group of determined Madera County growers met and decided to form their own winery. In spite of all obstacles the winery was built and ready to operate within seven short months. The organization is now owned by some i6o grape growers, producing wines maintaining a continuity of quality, the grapes being derived from the same San Joaquin Valley vineyards each year.
Carl W. McCollister has been the able president of the winery since its founding. Renald Mastrofini is the general manager and Thomas Oliver the wine maker and plant superintendent. Dessert wines, as to be expected in the San Joaquin Valley, are the specialty. The higher-quality wines are marketed under the Yosemite Grower's Select brand and include:
Aperitif and Dessert wines: Palomino Pale Dry Sherry, Golden Sherry, and Cream Sherry; Ruby Port; Muscatel, Tokay, and White Port;
Table wines: RED: Pinot Noir, Cabernet, Burgundy, Zinfandel, and Claret; WHITE: Sauterne, Riesling, Rhine Wine, and Chablis; ROSE: Grenache Rose.
The featured brand for wines of sound standard quality is Yosemite, with Mariposa, Old Rose, and Carina the better-known secondary brands.
Under the Yosemite label the following wines are marketed:
Aperitif and Dessert wines: Palomino Pale Dry Sherry, Golden Sherry, and Cream Sherry; Ruby Port; Muscatel, Tokay, and White Port; Dry and Sweet Vermouth;
Table wines: Burgundy, Zinfandel, and Claret; Sauterne and Rhine Wine.
Light Sweet wines, including Light Sweet Red and Light Sweet Muscat (white), are available under some of the secondary brands as is a Vino Rosso of the mellow red table wine type.
The Yosemite Winery Association is the first California winery since before the Second World War to engage in the canned wine business. The idea was prompted by a brain storm of the general manager, Renald Mastrofini. Commercial advantages are described as savings in freight, no danger of discoloration from light, no breakage, quick chilling, less required storage space, dripless containers, and ease of handling. A start was made with dessert wine types, marketed in twelve-ounce cans with a crown top furnished by the Continental Can Company.
Canned wines, marketed under the Carina brand with the Kan-OWine trade-mark, include: Sherry, Port, Muscatel, Tokay, and White Port.
The results of this new-or renewed-adventure in the wine industry will be awaited with interest.