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Gold Medal Wine Club
5330 Debbie Road, Suite 200
Santa Barbara, California 93111
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Madroñ,a Vineyards - El Dorado foothills

Madroña Vineyards takes winemaking to a higher level in the El Dorado foothills

Who says you can’t find great wines outside of Napa and Sonoma counties? For years now, wine enthusiasts have been traveling to places like Mendocino, Santa Barbara, and Santa Cruz counties to discover California’s secret wine spots. However, many have not yet found one of the lesser publicized areas that has emerged from the shadows of Napa and Sonoma—that of the Sierra Foothills and, more specifically, El Dorado county. The Gold Rush of 1849 encouraged thousands of fortune seekers to settle in the Sierra Foothills, including entrepreneurs to supply the miners with the goods they valued back east and in the old country. By 1895, almost 100 wineries were operating in the Mother Lode area, more than Napa and Sonoma combined.

Consider this—there are twenty eight or so small, family owned and operated wineries located in El Dorado County, accounting for less than 2% of all wineries in California. In the dozen or so most important wine industry competitions, these wineries collectively earn greater than 10% of all Gold Medals awarded virtually every year—and that’s no easy task. And if you’re into statistics, also consider this—in last year’s California State fair, the granddaddy of all competitions, El Dorado County wineries took home 22 Medals. That total figures out to be a ratio of 2.15 medals per 100 acres.

A large part of El Dorado County’s success is due to this month’s featured Madroña Winery. Owners Dick & Leslie Bush and Family have been hard at work perfecting their craft for many years. They started from scratch in 1972, purchasing 52 acres of land in the Sierra foothills. “Foothill” is a bit of a misnomer, though, because at a 3,000 foot elevation, Madroña vineyard is thought to be the highest in the country. “We started out looking for land simply to build a house. But the more we looked and learned about the area, we saw an opportunity for grape growing,” says Dick. “We had absolutely no agricultural background when we started,” he continues. “And certainly had no visions of starting a winery either!” The Bushes carved out 32 acres of vineyard land over the next two years, planting Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel, and Riesling. They later added Gewürztraminer and Cabernet Franc, to round out their cool-climate varietal mix.

They named their winery, Madroña (pronounced ma-drone-ya), after the huge tree bearing the same name, situated smack dab in the middle of the vineyard. By 1976, they were able to begin selling their harvest to other wineries. “After a couple of years, we realized we didn’t like being at the mercy of other wineries to make a living,” says Dick. So in 1978 the Bushes started using their grapes to make their own wines. The first two years they made a couple of thousand cases of Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel at another facility until their own winery building was completed. Dick was able to craft these first wines by hiring a winemaking consultant, taking wine courses at U.C. Davis, and a lot of on-the-job, learn-as-you-go training. The winemaking task turned into a family affair as two of his sons and daughter-in-law all pitched in to help throughout the next decade. In the mid-1990s, Madroña bought another 45 acres nearby their existing vineyard to expand their varietal mix and wine offerings for the future. There varietals such as, Syrah, Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne have been producing medal-winning wines for several years.

“Our latest plantings of Italian varieties Sangiovese and Barbera has expanded our range of offerings,” says Dick’s son, Paul. From the 70-acres of family owned vineyards, Madroña is producing twenty-two or so different wines. Half are produced in such small quantities that they are available only at the winery’s tasting room. The largest percentage of the 12,000 case production is devoted to Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Zinfandel. Even so, just one to two thousand cases of each wine are made yearly.

In November of 2003, Dick’s son Paul took sole responsibility for the winemaking duties. Even though Paul’s formal education was in economics at U.C. Davis, he grew up on the vineyards and has worked in the winery since he was a kid. In 1991, Paul began managing the winery and has called the shots ever since. “I never planned to become the full time winemaker,” says Paul. “But as a family we felt that this was the best way to refine the style of classic dinner wines we enjoy.” His philosophy of winemaking is to show the characteristics and fruit of the region, as well as making wines that showcase a variety of food. “It was once said to me that a farmer should never plant a crop that he doesn’t enjoy eating, otherwise he’ll never know when to pick it. I think it’s the same with wine—produce what you like.”

  1. Madrona
    2004 Merlot
    El Dorado Region
    Sierra Foothills


    id: 35
  2. Madrona
    2003 Cabernet Sauvignon
    El Dorado Estate
    Sierra Foothills


    Mulitple Medals
    id: 36

The Bush family.

‘It just seemed like a good idea at the time,” explains Dick Bush about why he started Madroña Winery. ‘We had a perishable commodity on our hands and we were at the mercy of other wineries to hopefully buy our entire crop within a very narrow window of time each year.” So Dick and Leslie Bush took control of their own destiny and began producing their own label in 1978. Dick Bush underscores the fact that he had absolutely no idea he would end up being a grape farmer, let alone a winemaker and winery owner. Most of Dick’s life was spent growing up in the Sierra foothills area of northern California. His father was an engineer for the Navy in their hometown of Vallejo. But as a young boy, Dick’s interest was in the physical sciences more than engineering. His primary attraction was to the field of geology.

While attending college at Stanford University, he became aware of the field of metallurgy and ultimately earned his degree in that study. His focus on metallurgy continued into graduate school and his expertise turned from extractive metallurgy (the process of getting the metals out of raw materials) to physical metallurgy (dealing with the properties of metals after extraction, such as with blending or heat treating). He then followed up grad school with a Ph.D. in Material Science. ‘Up until the time I attended college, the metallurgy field had a fairly narrow scope and limited opportunities,” he says. ‘But with the advent of ceramics being used as components in manufacturing, all of a sudden that whole area of study broadened.”

Out of college in 1961, Dick was immediately recruited by Ford Motor Co. to work at their headquarters in Detroit. He stayed there for almost seven years until an opportunity arose to come back to northern California. Back home again, he teamed up with his brother-in-law who had started a consulting firm specializing in hydrologic studies. Knowing he and his family wanted to stay in California, Dick began looking for property to build a home. As he searched for land in the familiar Sierra foothills, he figured it was logical to buy enough property to do something else with besides just building a house. That something turned out to be prime vineyards and a superb winery.

Blue Cheese Madroña Cabernet Butter


8 Ounces Madroña Cabernet Sauvignon
2 Ounces Butter
2 Garlic cloves, minced
4 Ounces Roquefort (or other creamy Blue Cheese)


Over medium heat in a small saucepan reduce the wine to approximately one-ounce. Set aside. Sauté garlic in butter until fragrant. Add wine reduction. Remove from heat. Immediately before serving bring back to a low simmer, add the blue cheese, remove from heat, and serve over steak.

Chicken Parmesan El Dorado


4 Chicken breasts, boneless, skinless
4 Slices Mozzarella
1/2 Cup Parmesan Cheese, grated
1 Tablespoon Basil, fresh, chopped
Salt and Pepper to taste

Madroña Marinara Sauce

Serve over Chicken Parmesan and pasta

1 Small Onion, diced fine
2 Garlic cloves, minced
2 Tablespoons fresh Basil, chopped
1 (28 ounce) Can crushed Tomatoes with added puree
2 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Cup Madroña Merlot
Salt and Pepper to taste


Pound the Chicken breasts until they are approximately half the original thickness. Dredge in a mixture of Parmesan, Basil and salt and pepper. If this is sautéed instead of grilling add 1/2 cup dry bread crumbs. Grill over a hot fire 5 minutes on one side turn and grill 5 minutes more. Place Mozzarella on each breast for final 2 or 3 minutes. Serve over linguini with Madroña Marinara Sauce. Preparation of sauce
Sauté onion and garlic in olive oil until transparent. Add tomatoes, wine and basil and
simmer until thick.