El Dorado AVA
A pioneer in high-elevation winemaking in El Dorado County, Madroña Vineyards embraces their mountain terroir and produces a range of distinctive, estate-grown wines.
For years now, wine enthusiasts have been looking beyond the popular wine country destinations of Napa Valley and Sonoma in the hopes of discovering California’s secret wine spots and up-and-coming producers. 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.
A large part of El Dorado County’s success is due to this month’s featured Madroña Vineyards. Owners Dick and 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 Vineyards is thought to be one of the highest in the country.
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. By 1976, the Bushes were able to start selling their fruit to other wineries, and by 1978, they were crafting small amounts of their own wines.
The Bushes named their winery 'Madroña' (pronounced Ma-drone-ya) after the huge tree bearing the same name, situated smack dab in the middle of their estate vineyard. Dick and Leslie had noticed the Madrone tree was an indicator plant that seemed to be present in various regions where premium quality grapes were grown. Madrones grow in Sonoma, Mendocino, parts of Napa, and in this very narrow band across the Sierra Foothills.
In the mid-1990s, the family purchased another two properties (Enyé Vineyards and Sumu-Kaw Vineyard) near their estate vineyard in order to expand the varietal mix and wine offerings for the future. Located in the Pleasant Valley, these sites had similar high elevations with varying slopes, exposures, and microclimates and were planted to such varietals as Syrah, Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne, Barbera, and Nebbiolo – just to name a few. Overall, Madroña now farms more than 25 different varietals!
At one point, Dick and Leslie’s son, Paul Bush, and his wife Maggie, took the baton from Dick and have now been at the helm of Madroña Vineyards for over two decades. They are true believers in the quality of wines from their home region and enjoy being cheerleaders for everything El Dorado County offers in tourism and lifestyle. As Paul Bush puts it so perfectly, “I could not be more excited about the future of this region. I would not want to be anywhere else.
We hope our Gold Wine Club members enjoy this wonderful selection!
Map of the area
About the Vineyard
The foothills of the Sierra Nevada have a history steeped in the winemaking heritage of the early settlers who first discovered this unique place. In search of gold and fortune, they set up thriving communities, planting grapes for some of the first wines made in California. Today, El Dorado County holds true to its agricultural and pioneering heritage offering visitors an authentic, unhurried wine tasting experience unlike any other. Located just about an hour from Sacramento or South Lake Tahoe, El Dorado’s wineries beckon visitors with a wide diversity of award-winning wines and idyllic vineyards of snow-capped mountains and oak-studded foothills.
El Dorado is home to more than 2,000 acres of vines, approximately 50 wineries, and it produces some of California’s most sophisticated wines. The county was designated an official AVA in 1983.
Situated at 3,000 feet, Madroña consists of three family-owned vineyards – their estate vineyard, located in Apple Hill, and their Enyé and Sumu-Kaw vineyards, located in nearby Pleasant Valley. These three unique vineyard sites are planted with nearly 30 varietals, carefully selected for their unique winemaking characteristics and blending qualities.
Paul Bush - Winemaker
Even though he holds a degree from heralded UC Davis, Owner/Winemaker Paul Bush is unique in that his degree is in International Macroeconomics and not in the popularized Enology study field that has propelled UC Davis into the elite universities of America.
Paul Bush feels he has been in the wine business for most of his life. “I literally grew up in the wine industry,” he related, “and the funny thing is, that I never wanted to be a winemaker.” However, when he and his wife Maggie took the reins of the business, Paul felt compelled to do what was best for the family, and that meant stepping in as winemaker. When describing his style, Paul puts emphasis on wanting to taste the vintage, the region, and the variety in his wines. He picks his grapes at maturity, and often at lower Brix than other winemakers, in order to showcase the terroir and character in his varietals.
Paul is excited by the diversity that El Dorado County offers. While some regions have one variety that dominates, El Dorado grows a large number of varietals that all do well, making it a great place to be a winemaker.
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 (the study of the physical and chemical behavior of metal) 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.
Today, Madroña Vineyards is a passion that has been passed on through generations, beginning with Dick and Leslie Bush, and ending with their grandchildren from sons Paul and David. The Madroña family is dedicated to continuing the tradition of artisanal craftsmanship, care of the land and love of family and friends so well set by Dick and Leslie.
A visit to the winery reveals the Bush family's respect of the land and commitment to sustainable farming. Madroña is 100% solar powered and maintains a permanent native cover crop between vineyard rows. This care and commitment to vineyard management is the cornerstone of Madroña's grape growing philosophy and results in grapes that are of the highest quality, the perfect fruit from which to make their award-winning El Dorado wines.