By Kimberly Horg
A hot spot for wine lovers that is growing in popularity is conveniently situated off of Highway 99 in Madera but is also surrounded by the perfect serene setting of grape vineyards and oak trees.
Appellation California Wine Tasting and Visitors Center (ApCal), offers the best wines from more than 20 local wineries in Madera, Fresno, Sanger and Kingsburg.
Half of the wines served do not have tasting rooms so ApCal is the only place people can taste certain wines only made in the Central Valley. The wineries bring new wines for ApCal to sample and it buys the best ones to serve to its customers.
“The one thing that is unique about us is that we brought all these wines under one roof,” ApCal Owner Darren Schmall said.
The property itself was built in 1928 as a private residence. Schmall took the facility over at the beginning of 2011. He thought the building would be a great place for a regional tasting room since it is surrounded by 200 acres of Thompson seedless grapes and is conveniently located right off the highway.
Schmall has a background in not only wine making but also in agritourism. He is the fourth generation of grape farmers in his family. He is using his knowledge to help spread the word about wine in the Valley.
“I want to introduce customers to new wines,” he said. “People want what tastes good and drinkable, friendly wines.”
ApCal is modeled after “A Taste of Monterey,” a tasting room in Monterey, which serves various wines made in that area of California.
Schmall thinks the Monterey Peninsula is geographically diverse, similar to the Central Valley, but since Madera or Fresno doesn’t have a tourist attraction like Cannery Row, Schmall thought having it off the freeway was the best bet.
Schmall says it is perfect for locals and travelers who are looking for something to do and is a convenient location to buy wine and unique gifts. He has resident “tasters” and relies on his wine pourers to help him decide which wines to serve, which he rotates in and out.
One topnotch wine produced in Madera by winemaker Ken Post is the 2008 Cru Pinot Noir, which won numerous national awards including the 2011 top 12 “Annual Dozen” wines of the year in the Wall Street Journal.
Schmall says winemakers can’t successfully grow certain varietals of grapes in the Valley because of the high temperatures, so winemakers are now growing grapes that do well in the heat. Grenache, Sangiovese and Syrah all do well in the hot climate.
“Wine tasting is really starting to grow in reputation here. We want to be a resource for local wine guys and gals,” Schmall said. “I am pleased with the public’s response.”
Atwater residents Kristi Boesch and Laurie Habel were on their way to the Fresno airport when they saw the sign off the freeway for ApCal. Both agree that their pit-stop was a great way to start off their vacation.
It has a gift shop that offers dried fruits and olive oils. According to Schmall there are 25 tasting rooms in the area currently but as the quality continues to improve, there will be more wine makers in the future.
ApCal holds charity events, fundraisers, weddings, private parties and more. Every Friday night during the summer until September 30 it hosts live local bands and dinner plates. People can buy wine by the glass or bottle and eat and drink under the stars. The tasting room hosts their local winemakers from time to time for tasters to meet. It also gives artists exposure by hanging art pieces in the tasting room.
“It is a nice relaxing stop where people can taste wine, get a meat and cheese plate and play bochi ball. It is hard to beat,” Schmall said.
ApCal’s tasting room is open daily. For more information visit www.ApCalwine.com.