Town of Madera established

Madera County established

City of Madera incorporated

Wine grapes planted in Madera County

First post-Prohibition wineries established

Inland Valley, including Madera County vineyard acreage expands dramatically

Almaden Vineyards transitions to Madera County from San Benito County

NY-based Canandaigua buys Bisceglia Vineyard in Madera County

Madera Vintners Association founded

Neither Spanish Missionaries, nor gold miners, nor settlers of an agricultural bent were responsible for developing Madera. In 1876, the California Lumber Company built a flume to carry logs roughly 50 miles from the rough mill near what is now Oakhurst, CA, in the vicinity of Yosemite, to an area where they could be cut further, before being loaded onto Southern Pacific Railroad cars. The timber company established the town of Madera and a mill there to facilitate that.

Madera became a town virtually overnight. But it didn’t develop too far. Bankruptcies and fires troubled the timber companies. No other significant industries existed in the area in the nineteenth century, though some vineyards were eventually planted. At the turn of the twentieth century, Madera’s downtown still consisted of just three blocks along an often muddy dirt road.

The local lumber business eventually failed entirely, because the Great Depression slowed building dramatically, thus reducing demand for lumber. That’s when agriculture started to become the dominant economic driver for Madera County.

Significant growth in winegrowing didn’t begin in the county until the 1950s. While wineries had come back in the late 1930s, the industry in general was still held back by unfavorable tax rates and a lack of consumer interest. Both circumstances improved substantially in the mid-1950s.

While some producers such as Ficklin Vineyards, which planted its vineyard in the late 1940s, focused on small production with an eye toward quality, very large companies dominated almost immediately. Among them was Petri, a wine business founded elsewhere in 1886. Post-Prohibition expansion had led it to become the largest American wine producer by the mid 1950s.

Petri was then based north of Madera County, near Modesto, but had vineyards throughout the valley to supply its brands and also bulk sales to E. & J. Gallo. Petri helped found Allied Grape Growers and, in 1952, United Vintners. They acquired Italian Swiss Colony in 1953.  

Over the years, other major producers with strong presences in Madera County have included Canandaigua (which changed its name to Constellation Brands in 2000), Heublein (which eventually became Diageo after various mergers and sales), and Almaden (now owned by the The Wine Group). From the 1950s onward, Madera County has been one of the most important grape sources for this country’s largest wine producers.