It was a weekend full of wine and chocolate throughout Madera County Feb. 9 and 10 as the members of the Madera Vintner's Association got a head start in celebrating Valentine's Day.
The Madera Wine Trail's "Wine & Chocolate Weekend" featured a dozen Madera County wineries including award-wining Idle Hour Winery in Oakhurst and Westbrook Wine Farm in O'Neals. Wendy Eachus, executive administrator for the Madera Vintners Association said more than 3,000 people took part in the event.
Idle Hour's owners, winemaker and assistant winemaker Anna Marie dos Remedios and Deb Payne were busy all weekend greeting more than 250 wine enthusiasts who visited their boutique winery on Highway 41. Saturday entertainment was provided by the Henderson Project and acoustic guitarists-singers Ed and Steve Ramos performed Sunday.
Payne said it was Idle Hour's 8th Wine Trail event and every year it gets better and better.
"We started the winery in 2008 and were called the 'best kept secret' -- something we really did not want to be known for," Payne said. "It's great now because the secret is out of the bag."
Idle Hour recently won seven medals at the largest American wine competition in the world -- the 2013 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, including two gold, one silver and four bronze. The gold medal winners were their hand crafted 2010 Tempranillo and 2011 Cabernet Franc.
Philip Mach and Pat Tanner hit the wine trail for the third time in recent years from their Fresno home and ended up at Idle Hour Sunday afternoon.
"The Wine Trail events are something the Valley has needed to showcase the great wines of Madera County," Mach said. "We plan on returning year after year."
He was impressed with the 2010 Syrah.
"It has a nice body and is very fruity," Mach said.
Tanner liked the 2011 Viognier which is the white wine flagship for Idle Hour made from Rhone grapes from the John Simpson Vineyard in Madera.
Apparently others liked the wine they tasted at Idle Hour as nearly 200 bottles were sold over the two-day event.
Art Palas, who has attended similar events in Morgan Hill, where he lives, said he drove to Madera County to meet cousins from Southern California and Berkeley for the event.
"The wines in Madera County are wonderful," Palas said.
In addition to award winning wines, there were be chocolate pairings, art, live music, gift shopping and a variety of food. Participating wineries had a large selection of wines to sample and many offered special pricing over the weekend.
Also on hand were three one-year-old alpacas from North Fork's LT-Lee Ranch, along with gift items from the ranch's gift shop. Sandy Schaefer of My Garden Lavender was offering lavender chocolate truffles and custom made jewelry was also available for purchase.
Ray and Tammy Krause, owners of Westbrook Wine Farm in O'Neals, said the weekend was one of the most enjoyable wine trail events they have participated in.
"We hosted about 120 guests over the weekend by appointment," Ray said. "Many happy and compatible people of all age groups and levels of wine expertise. We make it a point to spend personal time with each person making the pilgrimage up to our foothill vineyard and winery."
Other wineries participating in the Wine Trail were Birdstone Winery, Chateau Lasgoity, CRU Wine Company, Fäsi Estate Winery, Ficklin Vineyards, Pacific Crest Winery, Papagni Wines, Quady Winery, San Joaquin Wine Company and Sumner Peck Ranch Winery.
For the fourth consecutive year, Payne and dos Remedios will be at the Fort Mason Center in San Francisco 2-5 p.m. Saturday, along with the other gold medal winners from the San Francisco Wine Competition who will be serving their winning wines. Tickets available at wine judging.com.
"We really look forward to this event," dos Remedios said. "Getting out and pouring our wines in San Francisco enables us to introduce Idle Hour Winery to thousands of people and helps draw visitors to Oakhurst."
Details: maderawinetrail.com, (800) 613-0709.