Join us in Bordeaux!

Cruise Only: November 15-22, 2018
Paris Pre-Cruise Tour + Loire Valley Post Cruise Tour: November 13-25, 2018

Chateau Kirwan 1996 labelBORDEAUX CITY

Our Madroña Bordeaux Cruise travels next November and still has some space.  The ship is about 50% full right now (filling faster than expected).  This voyage aboard the good ship AmaDolce begins and ends in Bordeaux city, a wonderful town that has been reinvented and shaped in a positive way by tourism.

If you haven’t visited France yet, or this is your 12th time, there is no better way than to experience the history while enjoying the fruit of vine!

Chateau Lynch Bages vineyardBordeaux is second only to Paris in the number of buildings that have historical monument status in France.  Most of the historical buildings here were constructed in the 18th century. Once black and sooty, these architectural buildings are now clean and gleaming. Resplendent arches, towers and facades are interspersed with carefully designed open spaces.

The Place de la Bourse, a magnificent square framed by graceful 18th-century buildings, is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.  Across the road and bordering the river is the vast, shimmering Mirror d’Eau, a thin sheet of reflecting water built in 2006. On a calm day with no wind, the mirror perfectly reflects the buildings. The area around the square is delightful, with cafes, shops, bridges and open river vistas. For shopping, don’t miss Rue Sainte Catherine, a long street of busy shops that was once a Roman road.

The fame of Bordeaux as wine center began two millennia ago. In the time of Julius Caesar, Bordeaux wines were shipped all over the Roman Empire. Commencing during the English rule of Aquitaine, Bordeaux subsequently enjoyed 300 years of prosperity, primarily by shipping wine to England. Bordeaux wines are still considered some of the finest in the world. The University of Bordeaux is rightfully one of the world’s great viticulture and enology learning centers.

BORDEAUX - Jean d'Alos cheesesWith wine, cheese naturally comes to mind.  Bordeaux is home to one of France’s foremost cheese purveyors, Monsieur Jean d’Alos. His caves and shop are located at 4 Rue Montesquieu.  M. d’Alos buys his raw milk farmstead cheeses, directly from the makers. He then stores and ripens them in his caves underneath the city to peak perfection before sale.

Restaurants in Bordeaux are abundant.  The narrow streets of the old St. Pierre district, located behind the must-see Place de la Bourse, are packed with bistros and fine-dining options. Specialties include duck, foie gras, oysters from Arcachon Bay and crispy-fried baby eels.  Canneles, a famous Bordeaux treat, are little ridged cakes with a distinctive caramelized exterior and a creamy soft interior.

BORDEAUX - LaTupina kitchenLa Tupina is one of the top restaurants for authentic Southwestern France country fare, where lamb and beef roasts are cooked and turned on spits.  This restaurant’s extraordinarily delicious potatoes are cooked in duck fat.

Recommend this special holiday to any friends or relations who would appreciate a vacation focused on culture, fine cuisine and world class wine.  Book and deposit by December 31st

NOTE: November is off-season, usually with mild weather in southwest France. There is a $1,500 per cabin ($750 per person) discount for our group.  A $500 per person deposit will hold your cabin.  You must book through our tour operator Expanding Horizons to be part of the Madroña Vineyards Group. 

To see complete information and register online visit:

With questions contact Marie Cradle at our tour operator Expanding Horizons of Tustin, CA:  Tel: 1-714-975-9943

So come along and absorb the history, savor the foods, taste the wines, and enjoy the company with a hint of California (Madroña) wines splashed in (just in case you’re homesick!). Learn, Live and Laugh!

See you in France mes amis!

Paul & Maggie Bush  

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February 2018 Club Shipment

Dear Madroña Wine Club Members,

Another winter is upon us (although it’s a balmy 65 degrees outside today), and our work in the vineyards with pruning and tying is taking much of our attention. But that’s not to say there isn’t excitement in the cellar where we have just finished bottling some of the 2017 vintage: Hillside Chardonnay and Hillside Riesling to be exact.

These first glimpses of the wonderful ’17 vintage are hints of what is to come…bold, beautiful and balanced. To be sure, we were one of the luckier wine regions in California throughout 2017. The intense heat throughout the state in early September didn’t spur us to pick early, and we had no fires in our area. Thus, when you taste the Chardonnay and/or Riesling in your February shipment, you’ll be tasting the extended hangtime in the vineyard with a complexity and richness showcasing in the wine.  And then just be ready for the ’17 Grenache and Zins later in the year!

Having said all this, the February shipment is packed full of exciting and expressive wines. The 2015 Hillside Merlot with opulent texture and dark brooding fruit is an amazing example of a drought-year Merlot. The 2013 Signature Zinfandel with its tighter tannin structure and complex fruit highlights the difference a year can make (remember both the 2012 and 2014 vintages).

And then there’s the ’13 Signature Quintet. Having just poured this wine all weekend at our annual Quintet Blending events, it has brought up the question of how to serve wines to maximize their potential. I spent a fair amount of time over the weekend explaining the concept of integrating oxygen into wine. Of particular note for this club shipment are the above-mentioned ’13 Quintet and the ’06 Quintet in the ROC’s shipment.

I will try to write this succinctly with focus. Just because a wine is older does not mean you should decant it. And just because a wine is younger does not mean you shouldn’t decant it.

Decanting wine (or letting a wine breathe) is slowly (or sometimes rapidly) adding air to the wine. This addition of oxygen can soften the tannins and blow off undesirable characters. However, you will lose some amount of character. On a young wine, this loss of fruit doesn’t really matter since the wine already has lots of fruit. But on an older wine, this loss of character may be damaging to the wine.

Take the ’06 Quintet in this shipment. The wine is already 11+ years old with a softened palate (due to the micro-oxygenation through the cork over time). Upon opening the wine, I smell it to determine if there are any off-putting characters in the nose. To be honest, undesirable aromas can develop over time simply because the wine has been “trapped” in the same container for so long. It’s a living product, but a hint of air can help these transient notes disappear.

However, if the cellared wine smells great, then there is no need to add oxygen to the wine. Decanting (or God forbid, using an aerator) will only make the wine lose unique and interesting fruit subtleties that you’ve spent years cellaring the wine to get.  And it’s amazing how quickly some of these aromas can be lost even just sitting in the glass.

I can tell you that our 2006 Quintet smells amazing poured straight from the bottle, and decanting the wine only diminishes the experience.

Now take the ’13 Signature Quintet. The wine is young with youthful tannins, but the fruit, spice and smoky characters are plentiful. This is a wine that can handle a hint more oxygen in the palate (to soften the tannins). So either I age this Quintet out for several years (for the slow micro-oxygenation through the cork), or I can decant this wine before serving in order to absorb a bit more oxygen (strictly for the tannins). Because the wine has so much youthful fruit/spice character, I’d be willing to give up a hint of that in order to make the wine more approachable. And of course, serving the wine with something rich (like braised short ribs in a wine sauce) will only make the experience more exciting.

So I’ve digressed off this month’s incredible wine club shipment in order to give a little more background on serving the wines, but I think that’s important to understand (and a bit counter-intuitive to what we’ve always learned).

Remember, decant when necessary and always taste the wine first!

Enjoy the shipment!

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Quintet Blending Event 2018

2017 Quintet 52018 Quintet Blending—A Must Attend for Those Interested in Understanding and Enjoying Wine More!

Do you ever wonder how we come up with the percentages for our Bordeaux blends? As much as I may joke about using a set of dice, it really comes down to delegating time tasting, blending, retasting, reblending (ad nosism) of small lot trials.  Generally, it takes a full two days of uninterrupted work to come up with our Quintet and all the subsequent varietal blends. But seriously, you want to know what this has to do with you and your wine knowledge.

Essentially, learning about and enjoying wine is all about doing! It is the experience of doing it yourself that really drives home the tasting and thought process behind making and blending wine.

Event Photo 2012b (Tim)Our annual Quintet tasting (the last weekend of January) is all about education, and you experience the same tasting with the same wines we do for our Quintet. The thought is that by learning to blend with well-made wines, you will become a better wine taster.

Now understand that this event is not a “bottle-your-own” event where a winery is simply trying to sell wine by the case. Instead, the Quintet blending is a chance for us to show our best wines (from barrel) and have you understand blending (with pipettes and graduated cylinders) under guidance of our winemaking team (Paul, Tim and Ryan). Basically, it’s like a college wine course but with premium components to taste!

But once again, what do you really get out of this?

Here’s the list:

  1. You learn and appreciate the difficulty of blending in a relaxed environmentGeneric Wine Blending Picture
  2. You learn to appreciate the importance of blending in a relaxed environment
  3. You start to map your own individual palate and what you like
  4. You begin to grasp the final “goal” of wine with concepts of ageability vs. approachability
  5. You learn that there is always a measure of faith in elaborating exceptional wine
  6. Most importantly, you’ll know more than your pretentious wine friends!

But why is an educational class necessary to get deeper into wine enjoyment?

Ok, here’s this list:

  1. Most wine consumers have really only tasted finished wines in the bottle, and this is totally different
  2. It’s important to look (taste) past just soft and ready to drink
  3. It’s important to look (taste) past just a fruity palate
  4. Small percentage changes in wine blending make huge flavor changes in the finished wine
  5. Balance in wine is just as important as balance in life. It’s something to be learned and experienced rather than brushed aside for immediate gratification

MADRONA_QUINTET_2012-044-Edit_HRBut why come experience the Quintet blending this year?

Ok, here’s this list:

  1. The 2016 vintage of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec are some of the nicest we’ve produced
    1. Cab Sauvignon—Big structure and dark berry fruit
    2. Cab Franc—Ultra complex but with tamed tannins this year
    3. Merlot—Dark cherry and plum with a softer finish
    4. Malbec—Black as night with more blueberry this year
    5. Petit Verdot—Blackberry and cherry, a complete wine almost on its own
  2. Continuing education for your palate is paramount to exploring wine
  3. Practice makes perfectish (there’s no perfect in wine, just perfect for you! It’s subjective)
  4. And lastly, as for our work here, I don’t plan to do our work blending until February. I’m expecting to glean information as to potential blends from all of your palates’ work. Smart, eh1!?!

The tasting is this Saturday and Sunday, and we have a few slots still open. Call the winery at 530/644-5948 or go to under events to sign up.

Honestly, do I believe this is the best and most educational tasting of the year? You betcha! But then again remember that I believe that doing is the only real way of learning!

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How to Enjoy the Holidays from the Point of View of Wine

madrona-solsticeOK, here’s a real question. How many of us stress out with the upcoming holidays as we try to shop, entertain, write Christmas cards, put in a seasonal movie or two, cook, be with family and still breath? I’m thinking maybe 99.2% of us.

And then we harken back to the days of being kids where running the electric train around the tree or finding a new pair of slippers by the side of the bed was the pentacle of our stress.

What is the secret of enjoying the month of December? In my book, it’s slowing down and smelling the holly and mistletoe!!!

As adults, we do need to balance the fact that we have responsibilities this time of the year. Marking off these responsibilities early in the season is one way to reduce the stress later in the season. “How?” you may ask!

So, here is the secret.  Wine!

Bear with me as I endeavor to explain.

Situation #1!  Uncle Bethusela and Aunt Kim in North Southern Nebraska are your favorite relatives. They deserve the best, most thoughtful, gift out there. You think of giving a cheese grater or maybe a raccoon, but neither gift really says what you want to say (and what if they already had a cheese grater!). And here’s where wine fits in perfectly. Everybody loves wine!

Knowing that Aunt Kim loves special wines, I’d do the “no-brainer” gift of The Cabernet Collection. This is a trio of our 2007, 2010 and 2014 Signature Cabernet Sauvignons. We put this exquisite collection together precisely for the intense oenophile (wine lover), and they don’t need to know that you only paid $100 for it ($95 for Wine Club Members)!

Now they’re happy because they have an amazing set of wines to enjoy over time, and you’ve already found them the perfect gift (and it’s not even December yet!).

Situation #2!  Like the 12 days of Christmas, you know that you have at least 12 holiday parties to attend this year because you’re that awesome! But with this awesomeness has come a packed schedule that leaves little time to find the perfect gift for the hosts.

So, here’s the question. Knowing that you are already late for the party, and you look around your house for something to bring, which of these items would be most appreciated by the hosts?

  1. A pound of hamburger from your refrigerator
  2. Two rolls of toilet paper
  3. A bottle of Madroña’s 2014 Hillside Collection Zinfandel

The answer is #3! And that is why you, as a clever person wanting to simplify your life, had already purchased Madroña’s Holiday Stock-up! For just $130 ($123 for our Wine Club Members), you get 4 bottles of our 2014 Hillside Zinfandel, 4 bottles of our 2014 Hillside Merlot, and 4 bottles of our El Tinto Lot 37.  Normally, this would cost $200, but your quick thinking and reactions by getting up to the winery for this special now means every perfect host gift is a mere pick out of the selection of Madroña wines right there next to the door.

Situation #3!  Your daughters have chosen to watch “The Mistletones” (their favorite holiday movie) for the seventh time this season. It’s true that you now can sing all the songs even when the volume is down, but it might just take a bit more patience this time. Luckily you had been up to the winery to pick up The Californian. This is a two bottle selection of “California’s” Variety, Zinfandel* with a bottle each of our 2014 and 2015 Hillside Collection Zinfandel ($32, and $27 for Wine Club Members).

Ah, with a glass of our spectacular Zinfandel, the meaning of “The Mistletones” becomes clearer, you relax, and life is better!

Situation #4! You’re hosting a party at your house. There’s a hint of stress in the house as the turkey went in the oven an hour late, the green beans with the mushroom soup and fried onions were done an hour ago, Aunt Freta is bringing her new politically opposite boyfriend, Frank, and Sparky (your dog) has made friends with a skunk.

This situation warrants screaming and crying, but you calmly remember the The Santa Special ($28) you picked up at the tasting room. With a half-bottle of our 2008 Signature Cabernet Sauvignon and a full bottle of our Non-Vintage Port—Lot 21, you have everything covered. The split of the ’08 Cabernet Sauvignon is aging perfectly, with smooth sultry palate just perfect for taking the edge off the beginning of the evening.

It turns out that Frank (who can’t smell anything since the operation) loves dogs and volunteered to wash Sparky with tomato juice. Aunt Freta had her deep-fryer in the car, and the turkey was done in 25 minutes.

And just after everyone had left the house, you relaxed into your leather chair in front of the fireplace with a glass of Non-Vintage Port while waiting for Santa to come after this perfect evening.

Situation #5The Stocking Stuffer is exactly that. Do you want to surprise your spouse with something wonderful? The above-mentioned ’08 Signature Cabernet Sauvignon is tasting spectacularly right now with rounded fruit and rounded tannins. And a half-bottle fits beautifully into a stocking hung (well) by the chimney with care. With only 10 cases left of this wine, this will go very quickly at the special $18 per bottle holiday price.

Ok, so I know that this blog is pretty much a blast of shameless promotion. But the original thought is still valid and important. The holidays are a time to enjoy, celebrate, and smile. And to do this with our busy American lives takes some real effort to relax.

So, treat yourself and your friends to the best gift of all, and that is time! (Wine actually comes in second!)

Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas!


*Zinfandel is actually from Croatia, not California. But we’d like to claim it if we could!

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The Fires of October, 2017

As I sit here trying to write this blog about the devastation in the coastal wine country, I’m finding it hard to even start. It all still seems so unbelievable.

Although we here in the Sierra Foothills seem to have more “experience” with wildfires, the speed, heat and sheer destructive force with the fires in Napa and Sonoma is not something we’ve seen here. And with this series of fires since Monday, we have so far been spared any impact.

I suppose I really need to start by saying that we at Madroña are far removed (80 miles or more) from these October fires. The major fires are concentrated in the counties of Sonoma, Napa and Mendocino, or what we think of as the coastal range of mountains. We are located across California in the Sierra Nevada range of mountains.

But that doesn’t mean that we don’t look every morning at the weather conditions and fire maps trying to discern where the fires are burning. We have friends who have lost houses and others who have been evacuated. And with the wine industry being as closely connected as it is, we know many of the wineries damaged or destroyed.

The fires are the topic of our conversations, even as we continue to harvest, and also the topic from consumers in the tasting room.

In the tasting room, I’ve tried to answer questions from purely an agricultural point of view (not trying to include the loss of homes, schools and businesses, as I personally can’t even absorb this myself). The challenges farmers and wineries face are huge. To be honest, harvest is probably the worst time for such fires to occur.

Please put yourself into the shoes of the farmer. We work all year long, investing our time and money into a crop, counting on the pay-out at harvest. What that means is that there can literally be one day of picking grapes that pays for the entire year and our subsistence. Luckily we’ve heard that the majority (up to 3/4) of the crop had already been picked. But for the other farmers in the burned areas, it could mean losing the crop.

Now losing the crop this year doesn’t necessarily mean losing the vineyard. Had you asked me last week how easily vineyards burn, I would have laughed since it’s hard to get even dead vines to burn. In fact, vineyards are often considered firebreaks, low density of vegetation with hydrated (green) plants.

However, these fires in Napa and Sonoma were so hot that even some vineyards sustained damage. Which then brings about the question of insurance. A farmer might consider getting crop insurance with rainy/cold weather in mind, and I imagine this covers all damage to grapes. Personally, even though we run the risk of frost in spring damaging our crop, we have never gotten crop insurance.  But would a farmer have fire insurance for the vineyard (with replanting costs being $10K-$15K+ per acre)? That would be akin to getting flood insurance up here in the foothills. That’s now something that we are looking at!

This is new situation, and we will see how resilient the vines are.

From the winery side, harvest is also the worst time to have these fires. For one thing, the grapes still out on the vine can absorb some of the smoke into the leaves and berries. Called “smoky taint”, this was an issue with the Mendocino fires of 2008. Since then, many other regions have experienced the impact including a small amount here in 2013 with the smoke from Rim Fire near Yosemite. (Ironically, the King Fire in 2015 was a mere 3 miles away, but was no impact for us due to favorable wind conditions.) Essentially, smoky taint can give wines a character that ranges from a hint of smokiness to old campfire to dirty ashtray. There are ways to lessen the impact with winemaking, and it can even be filtered out, but the challenge exists in areas layered by smoke.

The other main issue that some wineries are facing is electricity. There are still sections of the region that are without electricity, and it’s almost impossible to do winery work without it. And remember that during crush, the wines are fermenting. Our job as winemakers is to take care of them by regulating temperatures, pumping the wines over (to keep the skins wet), and pressing when the wine has the perfect balance (to get the wine away from the skins and control the tannins). Without electricity, this is all a challenge, and that’s assuming you’re not picking.

Lastly, working (such as picking and crushing) in smoky conditions is difficult. Work days should be shorter if at all. This has the personal impact as well as the crews picking are counting on this payday of work just as much as the farmer growing the fruit.

Having said all this, there are a couple of points that need mentioning. Although the fires are some of the worst California has seen, not all vineyards and wineries in Sonoma, Napa and Mendocino are impacted. Most continue to harvest and work with only a few wineries having been damaged. And the regions are rallying together finding generators for electricity, sharing harvesting equipment and helping each other out with processing at different wineries. These difficult conditions bring out the best in people, and be sure that the wines of 2017 will reward their efforts.

These are just a few of my thoughts, being a winery far removed from the fires but close in concern for those in the thick of it.

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Early Pick Riesling by Tim Wright

Tim RieslingIn the summer of 2013, I attended the Riesling Rendezvous in Seattle, Washington. The Riesling Rendezvous is an international event co-hosted every three years by Chateau St. Michelle and Dr. Loosen (of Germany) that brings together producers, wine and food experts, and Riesling aficionados, for tastings and seminars. (You can find my gonzo reporting of the event here.)

Tasting Rieslings from bone dry to sweet, from months to decades old, from Australia to Zealand (New, of course), paired with the widest imaginable range of foods, I learned a lot about the potential of Riesling. One of the revelations was about how fresh, bright and texturally rich a dry, or very nearly dry, Riesling could be. Many of these Rieslings were also relatively low alcohol, having been picked at a much lower brix level than what I assumed was necessary to achieve fruit character of mature ripeness, yet did not sacrifice complexity of fruit or spice. This was my inspiration for attempting an early-pick Riesling.

The goal was to achieve the balance and intensity of fruit character we expect from our Dry Riesling, while perhaps accentuating the minerally aspects of the texture by having slightly lower alcohol than our traditional Dry Riesling. This was not really a risky proposition; we do frequent sampling of the vineyards in the run-up to harvest, so that we can hit exactly the ripeness, brix and characters that Paul wants for each variety. If the profile of the samples didn’t meet our standards at the early-pick brix level, we could always just let it continue to ripen to the normal levels. But, we decided that the characters in the sample at 20 brix was worth picking and doing the experiment…you be the judge of the result.

2015 Riesling – Single Vineyard Fact Sheet


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What Does All This Rain Mean?

Sprocket in the Rain croppedI’d have to say that the number one question I’m getting right now in the tasting room is, “So what does all this rain mean for the vineyards?” With over 80 inches of the stuff this last winter, I wish I really knew what it all means.

I can certainly give you things I have noticed from empirical data. The first would be that the weeds (excuse me, I “meant” cover crop) just keep growing and growing and growing. And every time we finish mowing, it rains again for another generation of these guys!

I’ve also noticed that although our vines budded out normally (in mid-April), the post cooler cloudier weather has actually put them behind a bit. We’re in the latter part of May, and some vines still only have a few inches of growth. (Still, it’s amazing how a few warm days it takes for a vine to catch up!)  We’ll see when we flower, and then we’ll know more.

If, however, I were asked to prognosticate as to what all this rain will mean for the grapes this year, this is what I would say.  “It’s going to be a good crop!”

Now, first remember that wineries, no matter what they are talking about, are always thinking about marketing. Accentuate the positive and glaze over the challenges.

Continue reading

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