To celebrate the upcoming fall harvest, Oakhurst's Idle Hour Winery saw 24 wine loving teams participate in the 2nd Annual Grape Stomp competition Sept. 10.
There were six heats with four teams competing per heat. Each half wine barrel had a five-gallon bucket of mouvedre grapes placed in it prior to participants bare feet entering the barrel. The first team to fill a 750 ml bottle from the spigot at the bottom of the barrel was the winner.
After winning two heats, the championship stomp-off came down to Julie Zeller of Mountain View and Lorie Nilsen of Grass Valley. Zeller's partner was Scott Whidden of Petaluma and Warren Dale of Glendale held the bottle for Nilsen.
It only took Nilsen about two minutes to fill her wine bottle and walk away with the title of 2011 Idle Hour Grape Stomp Champion.
Her partner Dale said they just saw the Idle Hour winery sign on their way to Fish Camp and decided to stop in for some wine tasting.
"We just stumbled across this and thought it would be fun to participate," Dale said. "What a great find. This is what you dream about when you think of visiting a small town. Nice people and a fun day."
Second place went to Zeller and Whidden of Petaluma. Zeller was visiting her mother Carol Zeller of Coarsegold and thought entering the contest would be a good way to celebrate her Sept. 12 birthday.
"It was very slippery in the barrel and was like walking through a marsh," Julie Zeller said. "It's not as easy as it looks."
Bass Lake realtor Theresa "Lucy" Wilson participated in the event in a bright red wig and polka dot dress in honor of Lucille Ball and the classic grape stomp episode from the 50s television classic "I Love Lucy." Her partner was Tami "Ethel" Myers.
"This is hard work ... I had no idea," Wilson said after her turn in the barrel.
The crowd of about 150 enjoyed the classic rock music provided by guitarist/singer Dave Henderson.
"We hold the event in celebration of the 2011 harvest," said winemaker/owner Anna Marie dos Remedios. "It's also a fun event to bring the community together."
With an ear pressed to the opening of a barrel, Anna Marie dos Remedios listens to a crackle and pop. By her side, and waiting a turn, is Deb Payne. For the two, the sound its sweet because it marks a dream coming to fruition: Oakhurst now has it's very own winery.
The story, or perhaps more accurately, the message in the bottle, converges somewhere along the path of a queen and a Chinese junk sailor.
The name's Queen, not granny
In 1963 Naomi Ashby and husband, Nelson, purchased a motor lodge off Highway 41; a riverfront gem, the property had unrealized potential. The two leased it out and it became a group home. Years later, after the property fell vacant, an idea came to breathe new life into the empty rooms. Naomi's granddaughter, Payne, would help renovate and run the property as an inn with Naomi's blessing. The new name was chosen to honor Naomi, who, not to be called grandma, would only answer to "queen." In 2003 Oakhurst welcomed the Queen's Inn with eight contemporary, yet cozy, rooms.
How to spend your Idle Hour
More than a decade after Naomi's purchase, in Hong Kong, a little Portuguese girl drifted weekends away on her grandfather's boat.
Though dos Remedios moved from Hong Kong at 4, her clearest memories of home then, were on the Chinese junk, the Idle Hour.
Much later, as dos Remedios' life path turned to her to winemaking, she would develop a label in honor of her grandfather, Augusto Henrique dos Remedios. His Idle Hour was sailing, hers, wine making.
Several years later, the stories of both would meet on a crush pad.
Dos Remedios was working as an independent winemaker in San Benito County when she met Payne and the two developed and bottled a wine to honor Queen.
A couple of years after that, dos Remedios relocated to the Mountain Area and had a vision to bring her winery and new label, Idle Hour, with her to the Queen's Inn.
Early two weeks ago, the Madera County Planning Commission made that a possibility and allowed the Queen's Inn to the be the site of Oakhurst's first winery, crush pad and all.
The riverside property and its naturally cool temperatures make it an unusually ideal spot to ferment barrels of wine. From crush (pressing the grapes to make juice) to fermenting and bottling, the entirety of the process is at its simplest and it now happens just down the road.
Idle Hour, once bottled, will be a full-fledged Madera County wine and is already establishing a firm place among the budding boutique wineries in the area.
"I think anytime you have the opportunity to pay attention to a single barrel you get a different quality," said dos Remedios.
Payne added that the advantages outweigh the work. "It's a labor of love, but a blast to watch the stages of the process," she said.
The wines, which are processed in what dos Remedios says is the least manipulative manner of winemaking, are hearty and, though sipped, consuming them is more like taking a bite out of the fermented fruit itself.
"They definitely have their own characteristic," said Payne as she stood in the "construction zone" of what will be the wine cellar, the recently crushed Viognier bubbling out of the barrels behind her. "They're rich."
The pair uncork the glass stoppers of the new wine Wednesday through Saturday evenings each week at their lively wine and beer garden. A small patio overlooking the river with a small bar inside -- ceiling lit by twinkle lights strung in bare branches -- play host to art shows and live music.
The regulars, a small but established community of friends, joined Payne and dos Remedios for the pressing of the grapes, a process that took 14 hours. Guests at the inn, from Bombay, joined as well.
Other friends, have helped with the remodeling, some with details like a coat hook fashioned from a wine barrel.
"We're becoming a community here and we're thankful to have a core group to rely on," dos Remedios said.
It's the way of the boutique winery: small, intentional and homegrown.
The Queen's Inn, 41139 Highway 41 (turn just before the Hoof 'n' Paw), Oakhurst. (559) 683-4354.
Wine proprietors, from left, Anna Marie
dos Remedios and Deb Payne
Photo by: Ramona Frances
New winery makes holiday debut
Thursday, December 18, 2008
By Ramona Frances
Oakhurst's first winery - called Idle Hour - is open for the holiday season at 41139 State Route 41. Wine tanks are installed at Queen's Inn By The River, which is described as a quaint eight-room inn on the Fresno River that offers a tasting room.
"Our wines are produced in small lots. We use sustainably grown grapes and make wine gently, using gravity flow to pour wine into barrels and other traditional methods," said winemaker Anna Marie dos Remedios, who together with her partner Deb Payne opened the local winery. The land is leased from Payne's family.
The small winery produces a wide variety of wine: Viognier, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc & Touriga Nacional. Remedios ran a winery in Panchoe Valley of California for two years prior to moving to Oakhurst where the same kind of wines were offered.
"I buy some lots of single vineyard designated wines and do not blend from othervineyards. It's kind of fun to make lots of different kinds of wine, rather than a larger amount of one kind," Remedios said. "So, I try to stick with three ton lots," an average of 50 cases per ton.
Toast of Oakhurst
The central San Joaquin Valley's small but growing wine industry has landed another member: the Idle Hour Winery.
Owned and operated by Anna Marie dos Remedios and Deb Payne, the winery and tasting room are the first in the foothill community of Oakhurst.
It joins others in Madera County, including Chateau Lasgoity, Ficklin Vineyards and Quady Winery.
Dos Remedios sharpened her winemaking skills in Hollister where she launched her boutique winery several years ago. She moved to Oakhurst in September after Payne took over operation of the eight-room Queens Inn By the River. The property has been in Payne's family for years, and dos Remedios said it was an ideal spot to relocate her winery and open a tasting room.
"We have been very fortunate and have developed quite a local following," dos Remedios said.
And it isn't just their wines, which include Viognier, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc, that draw the locals, it is the willingness to help. Residents have volunteered to do everything from crush grapes to build the wine bar.
"The town has really taken ownership of this winery," dos Remedios said.
The Idle Hour Winery's tasting room hours are 4 to 10 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday and by appointment, (559) 760-9090. It is at 41139 Highway 41, Oakhurst.
Contra Costa Times
If life is making you crazy, pack your bags and head to the Sierra foothills' Gold Rush-era town of Oakhurst, near Yosemite National Park. Here you will discover the area's newest lodging experience — Queen's Inn by the River.
Located on Highway 41, the Queen's Inn is just 13 miles from Yosemite's southernmost entrance. Built in 1951 as a motor lodge, the motel was purchased in 1964 by Nelson and Naomi "Queen" Ashby and renamed the Cedar Lane Lodge. In 2003, the Ashbys' granddaughter Deb Payne and partner Anna Marie dos Remedios took over the property and did a major renovation; no longer your traditional motor lodge, the inn is now a secluded, upscale riverside retreat with amenities galore.
"We were never allowed to call my grandmother 'Grandma,' or, God forbid, 'Granny,'" said Payne, whose grandmother has since died. "We called her 'Queen' and named the inn in her honor."
Queen's Inn sits at the bottom of a hill next to the Fresno River. The eight elegantly appointed rooms each have a private deck or patio, flat-screen television and high-speed Wi-Fi Internet access. The serenity of the surrounding oak and pine woodland is such that relaxing comes naturally. Even though the inn is just a block from the highway, its out-of-the-way location makes it a favorite destination for celebrities; just recently, the cast of "Saturday Night Live" came for the weekend, as did actress Daryl Hannah.
Another reason celebs and visitors from all over the world frequent the inn is because a winery is an integral part of the experience. The first winery in Oakhurst, Idle Hour Winery is dos Remedios' love. Its name is attributed to her grandfather: born in Hong Kong, dos Remedios spent weekends on his Chinese junk, named "Idle Hour."
But this isn't your typical winery, as tastings take place during the evenings in the inn's wine and beer garden. A favorite haunt for guests and locals in-the-know, the inviting bar is open 4-10 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays. Besides tasting Idle Hour wine — a treat in and of itself — more than 90 other premium wines and a selection of micro-brewed and imported beers are available. Live entertainment and special wine and beer tastings are featured during the warmer months on the expansive outdoor patio, overlooking the river.
— Dahlynn McKowen, CorrespondentTake a Peek
Friday, August 28, 2009
Somewhere in every wine lover's mind is a fantasy about opening a winery. But the reality is a nail-biter of cash outlays, permit wrangling, contract negotiations and harvest logistics that fray the nerves of the stoutest soul.
Now imagine holding steady through that while the economy tanks and your wine competes with an ever-growing sea of California bottles.
But winemakers are a devoted lot. Despite a grim climate, a number of wineries have opened their doors in the last year. In fact, statistics for the last four years from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau show that each year, more wineries open than opened the previous year: 2,843 wineries of various forms were operating in 2008, up from 2,687 in 2007.
Some of these new ventures are keeping a positive outlook despite a grim economy. "Every bottle we sell is one we didn't sell before," says Kathleen Maas, co-owner of Pear Valley Vineyards in Paso Robles.
Other wineries diversify their income to balance out the cash flow. Idle Hour Winery, started by Anna Marie dos Remedios, is the latest addition to a property that already includes an inn and a wine and beer bar.
These five new wineries show that passion and dedication can overcome anything. There are new pioneers in California wine emerging every day.
Idle Hour Winery, Oakhurst
When speaking with Anna Marie dos Remedios, you can't help but think of Zuni Cafe's cooking motto: "Stop. Think. There must be a harder way."
Dos Remedios uses native yeasts instead of the much more common commercial yeast, set up her winery as a gravity flow system for gentler handling of the wine, and does everything by hand to maintain quality. On top of that, her Madera County winery, which she owns with partner Deb Payne and which she named after a boat her father owned when she was young, isn't exactly in a tried-and-true wine country. But the off-the-beaten-path location proved popular with locals.
"The community rallied around the winery," she says. "Lots of volunteers worked on the buildings, and 50 to 55 people show up each weekend for wine tastings."
She produces small lots - 50 to 150 cases each - of single-vineyard wines sourced mainly from local plots, such as the John Simpson vineyard in Madera, but also from more far-flung ones such as the Pessagno vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands.
41139 Highway 41, Oakhurst (Madera County). queensinn.com/winery.htm
Pear Valley Vineyards, Paso Robles
Tom Maas, co-owner of Pear Valley, fell in love with wine while stationed in Germany in the late 1960s. After 30 years of owning an asphalt paving service in Santa Ana, Maas and his wife started producing wine through a custom crush facility, which makes wines for multiple clients.
But this year the winery itself opened, producing wines from the 113 acres on their estate, east of downtown Paso. The Maases produce about 4,000 cases in total of wines ranging from Chardonnay to Rhone varieties to Bordeaux varieties to Zinfandel.
4900 Union Road, Paso Robles (San Luis Obispo County). pearvalley.com
Jason McConnell has a key benefit for a new winery: an established estate vineyard along the Russian River near Ukiah that his family has owned since the 1980s. For McConnell, its small size is a benefit to his sales.
"This wine isn't created by someone else," he says of his sales message, "it's created by me, and people can ask me any questions about it."
Rivino produces 1,000 cases total of an eclectic mix of wines, from a Sangiovese to a Viognier to a blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Viognier.
4101 Cox Schrader Road, Ukiah (Mendocino County). rivino.com
Thomas George Estates, Healdsburg
If you don't happen to have a family vineyard, you can always buy one - or three. That's what Jeremy Baker, a successful Canadian restaurateur, did when he started Thomas George Estates.
"What we felt from day one," he says, "was that being able to control the whole flow was the way to make the best product."
His first vineyard shares a border with Rochioli's famous vineyards in Russian River Valley, but Baker's vineyard needed a massive replanting: It only has 7 acres of productive plants. To ensure that he had enough fruit to make the wine, he also purchased the Cresta Ridge and Starr Ridge vineyards from Gary Farrell. The winery, on the site of the old Davis Bynum property, produces Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier.
8075 Westside Road,
Venge Vineyards, Calistoga
It might sound odd to hear a brand-new winery use its history as one of its major selling points. But Kirk Venge, owner and winemaker, is the son of Nils Venge, owner of Saddleback Cellars. The elder Venge's resume includes a stint at Groth, where he became the first California winemaker to receive 100 points from wine critic Robert Parker.
Kirk bought the label from his father and set up shop in 2008 on the Benson Ranch vineyard in Calistoga. Though only 33, the younger Venge likes to say he has 25 years of winemaking experience, because his dad taught him the craft from an early age. The winery offers a wide range of wines, from proprietary white blends and Chardonnay to Zinfandel, Syrah and an Oakville Cabernet.
4708 Silverado Trail,
This article appeared on page W - 4 of the San Francisco Chronicle