By Kimberly Horg
The Gateway to Yosemite has much to offer visitors. Whether it is dining at a five star restaurant or checking out local up and coming wineries, one of the nations’ largest attractions has a few must-see spots on the way.
A castle hidden right outside Fresno on the way to Yosemite National Park, in Oakhurst, is often frequented by a long list of celebrities. If Robert De Niro, Barbara Streisand or the Osbournes are not staying at Villa Sureau, visitors can book a stay at the private, full-service luxury Villa or one of 10 rooms at the five-star Hotel, Château du Sureau.
Each room has its own fireplace and is named after herbs including the Lavender Room with purple furnishings, the Rosemary Room which is decorated in green and of course, the Elderberry Room.
All rooms have matching fabrics on windows, balcony door and bed drapes with hand painted tiles matching the designs. The furniture is from Provence, art is from the late 1800s and canopy beds, armoires, desks and sofa chairs adorn the rooms.
The main purpose of the round-the-clock staff is to try to make people feel welcome. When visitors check in, classical music plays and a plate of cookies is waiting for them. Guests are served a European style breakfast with freshly squeezed orange juice, meat, cheese, vegetables and fruit with croissants, made fresh every morning.
Adjacent is world renowned Erna’s Elderberry House. It has three dining areas, designed and decorated with European elegance that founder and former chef, Erna Kubin-Clanin, created in the rooms and gardens located on the nine beautiful acres. Executive Chef Gunnar Thompson prepares six courses with wine pairing and dietary options.
“As with the ever-changing food we present, so too are the wines and wine pairings served. Our philosophy for serving and buying wine is simple; can we learn from it and will it further represent/elevate our cuisine,” Samuel Aguilar, Sommelier at Erna’s Elderberry House Restaurant & Chateau du Sureau in Oakhurst, said.
Erna’s Elderberry House Holiday Menu’s are posted on its website. The restaurant is open for dinner, and brunch is served on Sundays. It also offers travelers the chance for an elegant picnic with a lunch to go.
Christmas Eve with carolers, Christmas Day, and its “Great Gatsby Gala” celebration on New Year’s Eve are just a few of its upcoming events. Each of these unique festivities have become Elderberry House traditions and are personally planned and artfully decorated by the proprietor.
“Over the years I have been many times up at my favorite restaurant but I have to remember way, way back where I have had such a fine dinner,” frequent guest and the proprietor of Fäsi Estate Vineyards, Mr. Ralph Fäsi, said.
Erna’s is nestled in the Sierra Nevada Mountain’s close to town, so it is within walking distance to hiking trails. Guests can relish in a getaway from the hectic pace of everyday life, a place to unwind and enjoy nature while being immersed in luxury and relaxation.
Fäsi Estate Winery, located just down the road on Highway 41 in the small town of O’Neal’s, is open daily for wine tasting from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. The winery released its first vintage in 2003 and officially opened a tasting room in October of 2012.
Fäsi specializes in Syrah and sources the grapes from their own estate (grown in the Madera Appellation), which is organically certified. The 42 acres of Syrah grapes were planted in 1999. Each vintage of its Fäsi Crest Syrah line has won at least one gold medal.
“We are a boutique winery and specialize in quality wines. We provide excellent and personalized service in our tasting room and like the one-on-one approach with our guests. In addition, we are fortunate to have a breathtakingly beautiful venue in the first foothills of the Sierra Nevada overlooking the San Joaquin Valley,” Jane Achermann, Fäsi Tasting Room Manager, said.
Fäsi Estate has two 2012 whites, called Sierra Gold, to be released in spring 2014. Both are blends of different Rhône Varietals. The 2010 Fäsi Crest Syrah and 2012 Organic Fäsi Crest Syrah will be released in 2014 as well.
“I stopped by your winery again today and was again treated like family. I have also thoroughly enjoyed your wonderful wines,” Erica Magarian, Fresno resident and Fäsi customer, said while in the tasting room.
A hop, skip and a jump away, in the same little town of O’Neal’s, visitors can make an appointment to taste the exquisite wine at Westbrook Wine Farm. Ray and Tammy Krause, Vinificators of Westbrook Wine Farm, put more than 51 years of wine making experience into the wines grown at the wine farm. Ray took the first degreed course in wine making offered at Fresno State in 1963.
For the past 40 years he has been a judge at wine competitions. Krause was also the owner of Farview Farm Vineyard Winery in Templeton, Calif. until 1987 when he sold it to find the perfect location to make his flagship wine, Fait Accompli.
“We looked for 10 years to find this spot. We bought this place specifically to make this one wine,” he said.
The couple domesticated five of the 40-acre property they live on in the central Sierra Nevada range of eastern Madera County. It took him years of research to come up with his ideas and start producing wine in 1999.
He sought to find organically challenged soils, southwestern slope, a natural water source, elevation and air drainage. He determined where the sun was going to be and oriented the rows accordingly for grape development, paying great attention to orientation, width and vine spacing. Trellis type and height are also calculated so that both sides of the fruit are exposed to equal amounts of full sunlight during the growing and dormant seasons.
“I want the vines to struggle, survive on little water. It helps accentuate the reproductive cycle of the plant,” he said.
Their Museum Wine has more free-standing grape vines planted on a steeper slope. The Museum wine has nine different clones of Cabernet. It took eight years to accumulate cuttings and some make it, some don’t.
“I am exercising viticulture Darwinism,” Krause said.
The couple harvests all varieties on the same day and never bottle wine that isn’t ready to be bottled. They farm Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Carmenere grapes on their property. Each vintage has its own personality and blend, which according to Krause is exciting. He says he celebrates the differences.
Craig Schub, Westbrook customer and O’Neals resident, has been buying wine from Westbrook for the last three years. “Ray’s attention to detail is phenomenal. I love trying different wines and everything that has come out of here has been spectacular,” Schub said.
Westbrook sells out every year. It produces the same amount annually, (150 cases per year) and doesn’t seek to grow. It only sells at the seller’s door except for one retail store in Fresno, the Sierra Nuthouse.
Krause says making world-class wines from Valley fruits is his mission. He can’t be mediocre. “We have to be world class,” he said.
Call (559) 868-3499 to schedule a tasting or visit westbrookwinefarm.com.
Featured image: The entrance to the five star Hotel Château du Sureau which houses 10 unique rooms with private fireplaces in each. Photo courtesy of Château du Sureau.