It took nearly one century for the wines of Mendocino County to become recognized for their quality. Grapes have grown in Mendocino County since at least 1880. The vineyards survived and perhaps even expanded during Prohibition as demand for home wine-making spread beyond San Francisco to the east coast. After Repeal grapes made their way to Napa and Sonoma Counties to be used in blends. It was not until the 1970s that the wines became recognized. This was first due to the efforts of Parducci and soon by those of the Fetzer family.
At our most recent dinner with Sudip and his wife Melanie, I brought up two bottles of Fetzer wine from the 1978 and 1979 vintages. We would first spend the afternoon tasting the wines in the living room where a fire burned for hours and a Mercury Living Presence reissue of Saint-Saëns Symphony No. 3 spun on the turntable. The 1978 Cabernet Sauvignon was produced from purchased fruit coming from Lake County. The 1978 Cabernet Sauvignon was sourced from the Home Vineyard originally planted by the Fetzer family in 1958.
It was a year prior, in 1957, that the lumberman Bernie Fetzer and his wife, moved their family of 11 children from Oregon to the sawmill region in Mendocino County some 120 miles north of San Francisco. Here the family purchased an abandoned 720 acre ranch where they found an old 70 acre vineyard. The family worked the land and in planting vines chose to include Cabernet Sauvignon, the first in the county.
As demand for varietal grapes reduced in the mid 1960s, the Fetzers began to sell grapes to amateur winemakers throughout the country. In 1968 the winery was bonded. The timing was impeccable. It is from this legendary 1968 vintage that Fetzer’s first Zinfandel earned a reputation which lasted for many years.
Nearly the entire family worked for the business. They constantly reinvested in the latest winemaking equipment, developed their own sales force, and sought expansion by purchasing fruit instead of land to develop vineyards on. They earned a reputation for producing pleasing, yet inexpensive premium wine. Even Robert Parker found the entire range “above average to very good” and priced below the “absurd” levels of other wineries. Eight years of nearly 20 percent annual growth in sales allowed them to avoid the cycles of the American wine boom which saw preferences oscillate between American and French wines. Fetzer went from being considered a small winery to the 25th largest Californian winery in 1983. Volume rose from 2,500 cases in 1968 to half a million cases in 1983.
Fetzer built their reputation on red wines including Zinfandel, Petit Sirah, and Cabernet Sauvignon in part through winning medals at the Los Angeles County Fair. Bernie Fetzer planted Cabernet Sauvignon on the Home Vineyard against the recommendation of UC Davis. He did so because he valued soil and sun exposure before science.
Both bottles had fills where the neck meets the shoulder. The short corks were sound. The 1978 Fetzer, Cabernet Sauvignon, Lake County is mature and herbaceous. Despite rallying after half an hour by taking on some firmness it largely did not hold interest. The 1979 Fetzer, Cabernet Sauvignon, Home Vineyard proved different. There is both more fruit and body with integrated acidity that gave it a bit of zip in the end.
Several LPs and burning logs later we sat down to dinner. I brought out a third bottle of wine this time from the southern half of California. Like Mendocino, San Luis Obispo County has been home to the grape vine since the 1880s. It is the York Mountain Winery that was responsible for the wines of the region until the early 1970s. Zinfandel was their specialty but new money and the wine boom meant several enormous new vineyards were being planted by 1973.
These new vineyards were planted with Zinfandel but the focus appears to be on Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay. Estrella River Vineyards was one of these new ventures. It was founded in 1973 by Gary Eberle who went on to found Eberle Winery in 1979, co-found the Paso Robles Appellation, and recently return to Estrella.
Little is written about the early years of this winery but they were one of the new wineries to catch attention at the 1978 Los Angeles County Fair. Their 1977 Chardonnay won a gold medal. When one journalist visited the winery during the winter of 1979 he found the winery but no tasting room. It had not yet been built so with no wine for sale he had to purchase his bottles in town. The Estrella River Vineyard name soon made the pages of the New York Times when Frank J. Prial listed it as one of many award-winning wineries few people had heard of.
It is one of these passing references which caused me to originally pick up the 1978 Estrella River Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon. In perfect condition and again with a solid, short cork the wine first greeted me with an annoying amount of bottle stink. I moved on to find a surprising amount and quality of ripe fruit with fresh acidity. After half an hour the stink was still around, perhaps muted but unwilling to fully clean up. It is a shame as it is quite lively, sporting robust fruit in the mouth. It was ultimately Sudip’s favorite wine. I preferred the 1979 Fetzer, Cabernet Sauvignon, Home Vineyard for it is clean, balanced all around, elegant, and easy to drink.
1978 Fetzer Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Lake County
The herbaceous flavors mix with vintage perfume in this finely textured wine. It is acidity driven, crsip and bright. Though surviving the flavors are ultimately uninteresting before it falls apart. Past.
1979 Fetzer Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Home Vineyard, Mendocino County
This wine was aged for 13 months in American oak barrels. Alcohol 12.3%. There is good fruit and body with better integration of acidity. It remains lively in the middle as polished wood notes come through in the finish. It even has a little zip in the end. It is more in the vein of elegant, clean fruit with good overall balance. It did not fade over two hours. *** Now.
1978 Estrella River Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon, San Luis Obispo County
Alcohol 13.5%. The bottle stink is strong at first but does lessen with air. Some of that stink follows through in the mouth but there is also a surprising amount of mature, ripe fruit with quite the youthful grip. The acidity keeps it lively throughout when it finishes with coffee and sweet cocoa flavors. ** Now – 2020.
1) WINE: STATUS QUO 20 YEARS LATER, THE FETZER FAMILY Balzer, Robert Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Oct 30, 1988;
ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Los Angeles Times pg. N38
2) Santa Barbara? It’s Part of Wine Country Now: Even Actors Get Into Grape Binge on Central Coast Cannon, Carl Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Jul 10, 1977; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Los Angeles Times pg. E1
3) SAN LUIS OBISPO COUNTY: STATE HAS NEW GRAPE-GROWING REGION GRAPES CHROMAN, NATHAN Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Oct 18, 1973; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Los Angeles Times pg. F18
4) VINTAGE YEARS TO COME: THE PURPLING OF MENDOCINO CHROMAN, NATHAN Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Nov 8, 1973;
ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Los Angeles Times pg. F18
5) Coast Winery Bucks Trends: A Rapid Ascent For Fetzer Winery By THOMAS C. HAYESSpecial to The New York Times New York Times (1923-Current file); Dec 23, 1983; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times pg. D1
6) The Fetzer Line By Robert M. Parker Jr. The Washington Post (1974-Current file); Sep 20, 1981; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Washington Post pg. L1
7) Wine Talk: Little-known California wineries winners of many top awards. Prial, Frank J New York Times (1923-Current file); Aug 22, 1979; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times pg. C14
8) Bernie Fetzer: ‘Nonconformist’ With an Award- Winning Vineyard: Wine Notes By William Rice The Washington Post (1974-Current file); Sep 30, 1976; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Washington Post pg. E19
9) A Watch on the Wine Smith, Jack Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Feb 13, 1979; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Los Angeles Times pg. E1
I meant to purchase two bottles of 1999 Domaine Bois de Boursan, Chateauneuf du Pape. Somehow I did not pay attention and the second bottle ended up being the 1997 Domaine Bois de Boursan, Chateauneuf du Pape. I cannot actually recall drinking a Chateauneuf du Pape from the 1997 vintage so at least my bottle provided a new experience! There is a bit of a sweet, Kirsch component with just a subtle amount of extra complexity. The acidity is a bit too obvious at times otherwise this is a respectfully solid wine for drinking now. The 1999 vintage steps things up. It is quite fruity with a notch more complexity and much better acidity. I see no reason to hold on to it any longer so start pulling the corks!
1997 Domaine Bois de Boursan, Chateauneuf du Pape
Imported by J et R Selections. Alcohol 13.5%. There is a rounded start of Kirsch with supporting acidity that noticeably pokes through at times. The sweet flavors mix with subtle wood box and spices. It firms up towards the finish leaving a textured, ripe aftertaste. ** Now.
1999 Domaine Bois de Boursan, Chateauneuf du Pape
Imported by J et R Selections. Alcohol 13.5%. The wine is lively with a mixture of cranberry and ripe red berries. The fruity flavors move on towards the purple and black spectrum, taking on great spices with hints of wood box. The fresh acidity keep the wine taut. *** Now – 2023.
I brought a trio of Greek wines to my brother-in-law’s house a week ago. The two red wines were recommended to me by John Fitter but the 2015 Domaine Glinavos, Paleokerisio, Ioannina was a random grab. Not knowing what a “Traditional Semi-sparkling Orange Wine” from Greece would taste like, I just could not resist my curiosity. It is surprisingly round and complex at first. I would almost swear it is an infusion herbs and flowers with wine. It is quite drinkable but is frustrating short in the mouth. The 2011 Kokkinos, Xinomavro, Naoussa smells great and will tempt any fan of maturing Southern Rhone wines. It is firm in the mouth and did not give up the level of mature flavors promised by the nose. Still, it is a wine to try and if you do so I would try double-decanting it. Finally, the 2013 Skouras, Saint George Agiorgitiko, Nemea is a bright, lively blend of red and blue fruit with some oak hints. It is a wine that should please many. These wines are available at MacArthur Beverages.
2015 Domaine Glinavos, Paleokerisio, Ioannina – $13 (500mL)
Alcohol 10.5%. Imported by T. Elenteny Imports. It is a cloudy, tawny orange color. There is surprising roundness to the sweet, moderately sparkling start. The flavors are immediately complex blending cardamom, sweet orange juice, and floral notes. There is even a mineral bit. Unfortunately the finish is very short. ** Now.
2011 Kokkinos, Xinomavro, Naoussa – $17
Imported by Oenos. The light volume of maturing aromas are attractive but do not prepare one for the firm red and black fruit in the mouth. There is good flavor, almost like a rather firm Southern Rhone wine. It wraps up with polished wood notes and focused ripe flavors. ** Now – 2020.
2013 Skouras, Saint George Agiorgitiko, Nemea – $17
Imported by Diamond Wine Imports. This wine is 100% Agiorgitiko aged for 12 months in used oak. Alcohol 13.5%. The good nose offers up red and blue fruits with a hint of vanilla. In the mouth is a bright, linear delivery of flavor driven by nearly lively acidity. The structure imposes the linearity but it drinks well right now. ** Now – 2020.
I often spot the wines of Sineann in Seattle but until recently, never in Washington, DC. The 2013 Sineann, Abondante, Columbia Valley is a Bordeaux blend with a dose of Zinfandel thrown in. This is a forward, generous wine with a flavor profile you might find hard to place your finger on. The Pacific Northwest can readily produce these hearty, juicy blends for everyday drinking. Priced at $18 this is a good opportunity to try this Oregon producer’s non Pinot Noir wine. It is available at MacArthur Beverages.
2013 Sineann, Abondante, Columbia Valley – $18
This wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Merlot. Alcohol 14.8%. This is a forward wine with an unusual fruit profile. It is a little puckering with both black fruit and a mixture of ripe, powdery berries, only to become black fruited by the end. It has fine grained tannins. ** Now – 2020.
There is no denying that the 2015 Cave Roquebrun, La Grange Des Combes, Saint-Chinian-Roquebrun provides ample volumes of flavorful black fruit and minerals. Though there is some bitterness it is generally a ripe, powdery, dense wine. It is a not my style of wine but I imagine it is a crowd-pleaser. Priced at $13 per bottle you can supply that crowd. This wine is available at MacArthur Beverages.
2015 Cave Roquebrun, La Grange Des Combes, Saint-Chinian-Roquebrun – $13
Imported by Monsieur Touton. This wine is a blend of 50% Syrah, 30% Grenache, 20% Mourvedre raised in stainless steel. There are ample flavors of ripe, powdery, black fruit and minerals with an almost bitter, black fruited start. The wine is grapey in a way with some black pepper and ripe texture from the long-grained tannins. With air plenty of good, ripe and grapey black fruit flavor remains. In the end this is a dense, modern style of wine. ** Now – 2020.
I am in need of inexpensive, tasty wine. With kitchen work in plan for this Spring I need every cent for cabinets, stone, and labor. Priced at $11 the 2015 Domaine Pere Caboche, Cotes du Rhone is more generous than the other pair of 2015 Cotes du Rhone for daily drinking. You get mouth filling, grapey flavors yet there is a serious quality lurking in there. With lower acidity this is a smooth wine for drinking this year. This wine is available at MacArthur Beverages.
2015 Domaine Pere Caboche, Cotes du Rhone – $11
Imported by Monsieur Touton Selection. This wine is a blend of 60% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 10% Carignan, 5% Mourvedre, and 5% Cinsault. Alcohol 14%. There are serious flavor undertones to this generally youthful and grapey flavor wine. It is mouth filling with smoothed edges and just enough acidity to match the density. The flavors turn riper and bluer towards the finish. ** Now.
The 2015 Thierry Germain, Saumur Champigny and 2015 Bernard Baudry, Les Granges, Chinon are fun to taste together for they are different expressions of the Cabernet Franc grape. Since I last tasted the Germain in the fall, it has opened up in flavor as well as shed weight and roundness. This is a light, ethereal wine that manages to move in flavor from red to black fruit. The wine reminded Jenn of a rose which I think is the best, single word description of this wine. The Baudry offers a bit more strength as well as lively zip from acidity and attractive texture as if extract were floating about. It is a bit dry and structured making me think it will drink better in the fall. These wines are available at MacArthur Beverages.
2015 Thierry Germain, Saumur Champigny – $20
Imported by Elite Wines Imports. This wine is 100% Cabernet Franc sourced from 25+ year old vines, fermented with indigenous yeasts then aged for seven months in tank. Alcohol 13%. There are herbaceous aromas supported by bright red fruit. In the mouth this wine is lighter in body with cranberry and strawberry flavors, and watering acidity. The light body conveys delicate flavors, which are ethereal and gently ripe, as they move from red to black fruit flavors. It picks up floral notes with air. **(*) Now – 2019.
2015 Bernard Baudry, Les Granges, Chinon – $18
Imported by Louis/Dressner. This wine is 100% Cabernet Franc sourced from young vines that is both fermented and aged for 7-10 months in cement tanks. Alcohol 12%. The nose reveals finely textured herbaceous aromas. The dry, linear entry of black fruit has strength picking up good zip in the mid palate. With air this becomes an inky and herbaceous wine with a cool ripeness and texture from extract in the end. **(*) Now – 2019.