By Kimberly Horg
The quaintness of Mariposa attracts visitors for its small-town feel and the unique treasures it provides to locals and tourists alike. The gateway to Yosemite is a scenic community filled with artists, craftsmen and vendors who specialize in what is tendered.
Stop One: Casto Oaks, Where You’ll Find Fine Wine and Art
Casto Oaks Fine Wine & Art, located in the midst of downtown Mariposa and offering the best of both wine and art, is a great place to start. Harold and Kris Casto have combined their award-winning wine with fine art in their tasting room so when sampling their wines, visitors can marvel at the creations of local artists.
The Casto’s bought the Mount Bullion winery and vineyard in 2001. The tasting room followed three years ago in downtown Mariposa to make it more convenient for customers to taste their wine and they then released their new label, Casto Oaks. Wine enthusiasts can now try 2009 Mount Bullion Estate Zinfandel, Casto Oaks Estate Zinfandel Port, 2010 Casto Oaks Syrah, 2009 Casto Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon, 2009 Casto Oaks Russian River Valley Chardonnay or its Mount Bullion Sierra Red Wine.
Zinfandel was the first wine Casto made because it does well in the climate. “We get what the vines give us and the Zin is the best. It is not like some Zins that are peppery or fruity, it is complex,” he said.
For the last seven years the Casto’s grandson, Jason Smith, has taken over as the winemaker.
He started helping as the assistant winemaker, and over time has done his homework – including courses at UC Davis and being mentored by a 30-plus year veteran winemaker, friend Tom Bell.
“Tom has recently retired and has spent a lot of his time teaching me a lot of the finer details of winemaking, such as avoiding defects, blending, brand building and style,” Smith said. “I think one of the most important things I have learned is to constantly experiment with fermentation, barrel aging, blending and oxygen reduction.”
Smith says most of his wines have a hint of earthiness and are relatively fruit forward with a dry finish. Their new red blend, Sierra Red, is the newest wine in their family of reds, which was released during harvest of last year. It is blended with 40 percent cabernet, 40 percent syrah and 20 percent merlot.
Casto says his favorite right now is the Cabernet but he also likes the blend because it is an easy drinking wine. The Cabernet has won numerous awards in the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.
The Port is another popular choice; un-aged brandy is added to raise the alcohol levels in the fruit, leaving it strong and fruity.
“Our vineyards are very unique in how our region provides the heat we need during the day for maturation and cooler temperatures in the evening which helps with complexity,” Smith said.
The Casto’s have a six-acre vineyard and also source grapes from a couple other local vineyards. The winery produces 1,200 to 1,500 cases of wine a year. Their wine is sold locally but they ship wines all over the country. Future plans include expanding to sell in Fresno.
Casto Oaks Fine Wine and Art is open four days a week; Thursday through Sunday from 12 to 5 p.m. and is located at 5022 Highway 140. For more information visit CastoOaksWine.com.
Stop Two: Butterfly Creek Winery Where Cabernet is King
A short distance away, at 4063 Triangle Rd. in Mariposa, travelers should seek out Butterfly Creek Winery. They too grow mostly red varietals but have a small amount of Chardonnay grown by the creek on their 200-acre property, which has 20 acres of grapes first planted in 1984.
John and Colleen Gerken founded the winery and in 1994 son, Bob Gerken became the winemaker. Butterfly produces 2,500 cases a year. Merlot is their most popular varietal, and Cabernet and Zinfandel are produced in smaller batches. Their Cabernet is a rich and medium-bodied red wine with the bold flavor of oak and pepper, plus hints of berries.
“I am a Cab guy,” Bob said. “I love Cabernet. If I need a moment to myself I take a walk in the Cabernet vineyards.”
The Merlot is soft with vanilla, oak, and rich blackberry flavors. The Zinfandel has oak complexity and the intense fruit flavors of the Sierra Foothills whereas the Campfire Red is a full-bodied Estate Reserve blend of 85 percent Merlot, 10 percent Cabernet and five percent Zinfandel.
Butterfly Creek’s newest release is their 2013 White Merlot – light and fruity with a cherry finish.
“We make wines the old fashion way. Not too complex. We have a lot of fun and keep it simple,” he said.
The winery has a wedding chapel on site (built in honor of the founders’ brother who was a priest) so they hold a lot of weddings. Future plans include building a bed and breakfast by the wedding chapel.
When visiting the winery, bring a picnic and enjoy the beautiful Sierra foothill location, and tour the winery Tuesday through Sunday from 11a.m. to 5 p.m. or by appointment. Check out www.yosemitewine.com to learn more about Butterfly Creek Winery.
Dinner at Savoury’s Restaurant features Signature Drinks and Fresh Fare
If wine tasting has built up an appetite greater than one satisfied by a picnic, a convenient and delicious choice for locals is Savoury’s Restaurant in downtown Mariposa. Since 2003, owner Mirriam Platto has been creating freshly made American, European and Asian dishes, all crafted daily using the freshest ingredients in the area.
Steak Diane and Ginger as well as Cilantro Shrimp Pasta are a couple popular choices. For starters one can try the Bacon Wrapped Dates or Diablo Shrimp Skewers with Apricot Sauce for something new and unique, followed by a Sesame, Cesar or N.Y. salad. Another top pick is the Porterhouse Pork Chops or Lamb Chops with Casto Cellars Cabernet Mint Sauce. The chops are served with potatoes and vegetables in a light sauce to bring out the flavors and the tenderness of the meat. They serve beef, lamb, pork, seafood and poultry.
Savoury’s has a large wine list for the area and offers signature drinks including the Vanilla Lemon Drop and House Margarita. Platto’s wait staff and bartender are critical to her success; some have been with her for a decade. “Our staff is friendly and knowledgeable, the food consistent and the atmosphere is clean and fresh,” she said. The warm atmosphere can be described as casual fine dining.
Platto was in the restaurant business for more than 20 years before opening Savoury’s, and owned a personal chef and catering business in Mariposa, called “Simply Savoury Personal Chef & Catering” that she operated along with her restaurant in the beginning.
“I am a fortunate woman to be working my dream successfully thanks to my friends, family, and local and distant guests that keep Savoury’s ‘making it,’” Platto said.
Savoury’s is open nightly, 5 p.m. to close (closed on Wednesdays October through April). Call (209) 966-7677 to make a reservation. For more information visit savouryrestaurant.com.
Rest Your Head at Yosemite Bug Rustic Mountain Resort
After a full belly, visitors might want to call it a night at the Yosemite Bug Rustic Mountain Resort. It has 16 private rooms with a bath, eight private rooms with a shared bath, 22 tent cabins and 60 dorm beds.
Owners Douglas Shaw and Caroline McGrath started it as a hostel 17 years ago and it has grown into the Rustic Mountain Resort. They opened the spa for their customers five years ago. The spa has a sauna, hot tub and deck for relaxing. Whether it is a massage, an infusion bath or a mud rub, each is designed to make customers feel good. Both of the therapists are licensed and experienced.
Their restaurant is located in the main lodge and is open 365 days of the year for breakfast, lunch and dinner. A lunch packed for the trail is also available for those on the go. The lodge has guitar, games and books for adults as well as kids, and a craft box for the little ones to tap into creativity. “It’s fun, affordable, great food, great people, clean, well appointed rooms, relaxing,” McGrath said.
Reservations are recommended for holidays three months in advance and three weeks during off seasons. Go to www.yosemitebug.com/spa for details on this mountain getaway.
“There is something about Mariposa. The people love it. The town has an effect on people,” Casto said.
Featured image above: Casto Oaks’ Mt. Bullion Vineyard. Photo courtesy of Casto Oaks.