Recently I have written several articles on my new explorations and fascination with Mendocino County. While many are familiar with the great Pinot Noir and Alsatian varietals of Anderson Valley, there are other great wines and wineries on the 'other' side of the County in Hopland, Ukiah and Redwood Valley, something not all county members even seem to have explored.
While there is some Pinot grown here, you will find a broader range of warmer climate reds including Sangiovese, Carignane, Grenache, Charbono, and Zinfandel, to name a few. White varieties also range from Rhone whites to others. I took a few days to explore and tour at a leisurely pace. (Unfortunately, last week I lost my notebook with my last 8 weeks of touring and tasting notes, so am going by memory.)
Thanks to Jan Mettler of Boss Dog Marketing, I have been growing my relationship with Parducci and Paul Dolan Vineyards. I was extended an offer to come visit and tour, and happily did so, making this the debut of my 3 day adventure.
Parducci is one of the oldest wineries in the County, and Paul Dolan's history is iconic, the original winemaker of Fetzer in its infancy, through President after its acquisition by Brown-Forman (now acquired by Concha y Toro in March of 2011) – Paul played a leading role in making Fetzer, Mendocino, and California leaders in organic farming, moving away from chemical industrial farming. (I highly recommend his book 'True to Our Roots'. )
Stop One: Parducci Wetlands Tour
My first stop was to ride with Tom Thornhill, a partner in Parducci with brother Tim, and Paul Dolan. Each of the three partners brings a unique focus to the team; Tom is the finance guy and a Stanford MBA. Tom's history as a steward of the land runs deep and includes being a Board Member of the California Land Stewardship Institute (CLSI). Tom and his wife Melissa own La Ribera Vineyards, a 250-acre ranch overlooking the Russian River just north of Hopland in Mendocino County.
As both a steward of the land as well as making sure the winery is run both economically sound and environmentally friendly , Tom was concerned about their dependance on water. Wineries use an immense amount of water and Parducci has a pretty sizable operation. To be less dependent, as well as more green, a water reclamation wetlands project was established. Natural plants are passively used to help restore the water to usable form. In addition to reducing costs and being more environmentally friendly, the amount of wildlife, especially birds, that has come near devoid before, is amazing.
Best of all – the return on investment (ROI) on this project to break even….a scant two years. I had to ask myself…why aren't the majority of wineries, at least the larger ones, investing like this…..even if you are capital restrained, what bank wouldn't give you a loan for an ROI like that? Why isn't the State of California, given our water concerns, or the Federal Government making low cost loan money available?
We also visited the original Parducci tasting room, checked out massive Redwood tanks, from 1890 years still in operation, and then tasted through the Parducci and Paul Dolan line up. Unfortunately, I don't have my tasting notes, but I have already reviewed a number of their wines, and am impressed at how wines of this quality are made at these price points. All wines express the vintage and fruit, and were pleasing to my more Old World like palate.
I was supposed to meet and tour with Paul Dolan in the morning, but due to unforeseen circumstances, we had to cancel . My disappointment was consoled knowing in a few weeks I was going to be with him (and a team of writers) for a special two day Bio-dynamic camp. (More later.)
Two – Saracina
I had time to fit in one more, and was excited to visit Saracina, so I headed to Hopland. I have had a few of their wines before, and we also run into some of the crew on occasion at the Thursday night wine geek tastings at the Wine Annex in Healdsburg. (Which under new ownership, has turned into quite the wine shop.)
As I read and explore Mendocino, more of the puzzle pieces come together, and how much history stems from this part of the county and Fetzer, where Paul Dolan was head winemaker, and then President. The Fetzer family have now almost all gone back into the wine industry, with their own labels, continuing their heritage of high quality wine making. John Fetzer is the eldest of the clan of eleven, born to Kathleen & Barney Fetzer, and was the CEO of Fetzer in 1981, overseeing its growth from 200,000 cases to 2.5 million, and lead the way in organic, sustainable wine growing practices.
Saracina is a 600-acre bio-diverse property encompassing three ranches located in Hopland, with 300 acres in vineyards. John was busy working in his office, but was nice enough to come down to the wine cave (the first in the area, which serves as their tasting room, until the official one opens, shortly. ) I had just started tasting through the wines – there was a steady flow of traffic, given it was the end of the day.
First up, was the Saracina Sauvignon Blanc 2009, which John says is the reason he returned to the wine industry. I am fatigued with most CA and NZ Sauv Blancs these days, but this was a joy. Fresh, bright, with good acidity and minerality, and wonderful texture, from extended lees contact. A keeper. Another of my top faves was Atrea The Choir 2010, a white Rhone blend. I went home with these as well as one of the last four bottles of their Rose'.
Tasting through the reds I liked their Pinot, and really loved their Saracina Syrah Rodgers Creek Vineyard 2007 , which the Rhone Ranger in me was very sad to hear the Syrah program will likely be discontinued. John sells much of his wine through distribution, not a surprise given his history and relationships, and unfortunately resale partners often seek a path of least resistance, so Syrah often get's overlooked for something easier in the portfolio to push.
I also got to meet and spend some time with his lovely wife, Patty Rock. John and Patty took time to engage with everyone who came through the tasting room – these young wine discoveries having no idea the history and legacy talking to them. But then John doesn't appear to have a pretentious bone in his body. You immediately like and respect him.
Impulsively John said, “lets grab a glass, and go outside” so we did. He pointed out parts of the property, and the many ongoing developments, and how much transformation had occurred, as we sat, and sipped. He shared his interest in helping Ukiah and Hopland maintain it's laid back approach as a wine destination, although the region needs more restaurants and lodging, and he is involved in some projects to that affect. We chatted about various nuances of wine and the wine industry, and I thought to myself how wonderful the wine industry, and it's passionate people are. I also am bless to be making friends with icons like John, Randall Grahm, and others who future generations will read about, and whom I have got to know.
John invited me back to spend a few days during harvest – I love harvest and am very hands on, and said I looked forward to it. My stash and a smile in tow, I headed back to Ukiah, where Parducci was graciously housing me for the night, in part making this media weekend trip possible. (Given the new 'sabbatical from my non wine job that funds the lifestyle.
I had two more great days of tasting and meeting great people, ahead of me. Time for an early night and some rest. (Or so I thought…yet another life impacting event was to occur….a story for another time.)
Cheers and thanks for reading Simple Hedonisms!