|David B. Ficklin outside the adobe building under construction in 1947.|
Resting unobtrusively on a back road in Madera County is the home of Ficklin Tinta Port. As it was from the beginning, Ficklin's Port is widely acclaimed as one of California's finest port wines created in the Portuguese tradition.
Walter C. Ficklin and his wife Mame purchased the present acreage in 1918, initially growing fruit and raisin grapes. Not until after World War II did the transition from raisins and fruit to wine production begin.
During the 1930's and 1940's the University of California at Davis was testing the grape varieties used in the production of Portugal's premium red dessert wines under California's growing condition. The San Joaquin Valley showed promise for the propagation of these Portuguese varietals, and Walter Ficklin, Sr. became interested in growing wine grapes.
In 1946, Walter and his sons Walter, Jr. and David decided to move into wine production, making two decisions which would greatly affect the winery's future success. They decided that the winery would produce only Port, in the tradition of great vineyards of Portugal's Duoro Valley, using the finest Portuguese Grape varieties. They also decided to keep the operation small so each step could receive the personal attention of the family. Ficklin Vineyards was incorporated on September 30, 1946.
When the long process of establishing a quality winery began, Walter, Jr. became the vineyardist. In the spring of 1944, he obtained 20 cuttings from the University of California Davis and grafted them to the family's established nematode resistant root stock. That fall, buds were taken from the growth of those first 20 cuttings and budded to the existing 1613 rootstalks that were planted in 1945. This marked the beginning of what would soon become the finest Portuguese grape varietal vineyards in America.
|Walter C. Ficklin (left) and David B. Ficklin (right) taste a barrel sample of port with Christiane Latour of France and her guest. (circa 1952)|
Over the next three years about 15 acres of Souzao, Tinta Cao, Tinta Madeira, Alvarelhao and Touriga, the best Portuguese varietals for their vineyards, were planted. While Walter, Jr. tended the young vines, his brother David was studying Fermentation Science at U.C. Davis.
David's first responsibility as vintner was to build the winery. Forty years ago temperature control was a matter of construction. Large adobe bricks were handmade and dried in the scorching sun. These bricks formed thick walls and, with the heavily insulated roof, shut out the summer heat, providing a relatively uniform temperature in the cellars. Casks and puncheons were accumulated. A used crusher was purchased, and bottling equipment and racks for bottle aging acquired. Meanwhile the vines were maturing.
At the first crush, the grapes, fully ripened and heavy on the were acquired vines, were carefully hand cut into 50 pound lug boxes. The family and crew gathered about for this moment of high drama. The heavy box was lifted from the field wagon and the deep purple grapes were dumped into the crusher. Instantly the mangled fruit flew back in the face of the worker. A moment's silence and then laughter...the necessary adjustments were made so the crusher no longer ran backward and the initial crush of Ficklin Tinta Port continued.
Marketing those first few hundred cases in the early fifties was largely a matter of capturing buyer's interest. Walter, Sr. had many connections in the fruit market and, with his sons busy in production, he took over the sales and marketing of the new wine. His task was made easier by the early critical acclaim accorded the wine by the experts of the day.
In the mid-sixties David added a second building to expand cellar space, bringing the aging capacity from 43,000 to 51,000 gallons. A third building was added in 1978. The winery slowly added vineyard acreage over the years.
In the early 70's the third generation of Ficklins joined the family business. Steven took over as vineyardist when his father, Walter, Jr., retired. In 1984, Peter, David's son, became the master vintner and in 1991 he became the President as well. David remained active as a consultant until his death in 1998. David's wife, Jean, continued to serve as a director of the corporation until her death in September 2002.
The Ficklins do not usually vintage their port, but use an age-old "solera" process to produce a blend that is consistent in character year after year. They never bottle all of a single year's crush. Some is held back as needed with each succeeding vintage. In theory, there is some of the first wine ever produced in each bottle of Ficklin Tinta Port sold.
Today, Ficklin Vineyards cover some 35 acres planted to the same varietals that were planted in the 1940s. Annual production is just under 10,000 cases of the non-vintage Tinta Port. In very exceptional years, Ficklin bottles a vintage-dated Port in limited quantities of about 1,000 cases. A new addition to the Ficklin family of California Ports, is the Aged 10 Year Tawny Port. First released in the Fall of 1995, this wine is currently showing the full potential and character of a fine wood-aged Port. Winemaker Peter Ficklin has also set aside a group of special barrels for a 20 year old Tawny Port.
At one time the wine was sold only from the winery and the Ficklins did their own marketing. Today, Ficklin Port is distributed throughout the United States. It is also available for purchase through this website.
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