On Halloween Day, a relative and I drove down to hike the low forested meadows of Yosemite Valley. The weather screamed, "Clear blue skies with warmish breezes all day long," while the trails warned, "Enter at your own risk—you might never want to leave."
With luminous autumn colors lining the Merced River, we spent the good part of the afternoon leisurely following a 7-mile loop course. On this hallowing day, during an off-season time of year, we practically had the trails to ourselves. The absence of people in this national park was actually quite eerie.
We worked up quite an appetite on our trek and the next celebratory day—All Saints Day—went in search of regional food and libation. On Highway 41, located about 45 minutes from Yosemite National Park's south gate entrance, lies Fäsi Estate Winery. Set amidst the golden hills, mooing cows and serpentine oak trees of the lower Madera County Foothills, this stellar establishment offers a taste of local terroir.
The tasting room opened just last year, but since 2003, Swiss proprietor Ralph Fäsi has been producing syrah from the winery's nearby 42-acre organic vineyard in the San Joaquin Valley. A member of both the Madera Wine Trail and the Yosemite Sierra Wine Road, this boutique winery attracts Yosemite visitors who travel far and wide.
When our small party of three arrived, tasting room manager Jane Achermann greeted us outside with a big smile and a warm welcome. She escorted us inside where we explored four of their wines.
First up: 2012 Fäsi Crest Chardonnay. Made from locally sourced grapes that benefited from both barrel and stainless fermentation, this dry white with mineral notes went down nice and crisp; quite a sharp contrast to the fruit forward chardonnays I usually drink on the Central Coast.
The next pour: 2005/07 Fäsi Crest Syrah. A blend of two vintages of the winery's flagship varietal, this nicely aging, dry syrah—heavy on blackberry and mineral—was an equally big hit with our tasting group.
Then came a surprise: 2011 Fäsi Crest Malbec. According to Jane, Fäsi has ownership in an Argentine winery, where this big, easy-drinking malbec hails from.
And last but not least: 2008 Fäsi Crest Sweet Syrah. We savored this sweetly restrained dessert wine that left a lasting impression without any cloying syrup or stickiness.
I've been on the wine tasting circuit for several years now and Jane—who is originally from Switzerland and speaks several languages—is hands down one of the most pleasant, knowledgeable tasting room hostesses I've ever encountered. She went above and beyond to educate us about this boutique winery and make us feel welcome. Our first visit to Fäsi Estate Winery will not be our last.
Then our palates diverted us to handcrafted beer and seasonal local pub fare. We headed up Highway 41 to Oakhurst, located at the southern end of California's gold country, and less than 20 miles from Yosemite's south gate entrance. Sometimes referred to as the gateway to Yosemite, this small town also boasts a new eating and drinking establishment: South Gate Brewing Company.
Surrounded by the Sierra Nevada foothills and filled with a warm interior, friendly service and a welcoming menu, we started out by indulging in a few suds. Crafted on site, South Gate's current selection includes golden ale, American pale ale, English-style porter, IPA, as well as a seasonal amber Oktoberfest beer.
We needed something to wash down with our beers and ordered the crunchy, tasty blonde ale beer battered fish and chips as well as a few of their delicious artisanal brick oven pizzas. "The Mountaineer," topped with alfredo sauce, fennel pork sausage, bacon, mushrooms, red onion, fresh basil, and mozzarella and parmesan cheeses is my new favorite pizza. Utilizing many local, seasonal ingredients, I can't wait to visit this brewpub again to experience more of the tasty, regional flavor combinations.
There's much more to the Yosemite region than just spectacular granite cliffs and glacier-carved valleys. When in Yosemite, eat, drink and hit the local trails.
Not necessarily in that order.
Not necessarily in that order.