BY RICK RIOZZA
When I think of Mendocino wine country—I smile, feel a thirst coming on, reminisce on the rusticity of the land back in the day, and then I realize so much of the coastal region is still wild and untamed. Thank God it’s still a community for artists, romantics, and lovers of all things fresh, clean and …let’s just say—tasty!
We all love Napa; we all love Sonoma; but, there’s something about the Mendocino wines that we quietly, it seems, reserve a classic respect for. We think about the great brews out of Hopland; the great Ridge Zins from Yorkville; the Pinot Noirs from the thick and low hanging fogs of Anderson Valley that also provide us with the famed Navarro Vineyards Alsatian twins, Riesling & Gewürztraminer. And were we not impressed that the French Roederer Champagne House set roots and vines in this valley for their sparklers?
Mendocino wine country begins about 90 miles north of San Francisco in the inland valleys of Mendocino County. I think the oldest winery in Mendocino is Parducci. And I’ve written about their delicious Zins and Petite Sirahs that just bespeak the terroir. But right now, I thought we would vault into the famous Fetzer family wine celebration where they are commemorating five decades of shaping Mendocino’s thriving wine culture.
Mendocino County has the most acreage of certified organic vineyards and biodynamic vineyards not only in California but in the entire U.S. But back in 1968, most of the world hadn’t yet heard of Mendocino County; however founder Barney Fetzer knew he’d found an extraordinary place to grow wine grapes and possessed a feistiness to maintain a clean earth footprint. As the early pioneer of sustainable farming, he helped shape the quality and environmental consciousness of California wine.
Fetzer is now the largest Certified B Corp winery in the world. Barney Fetzer was often quoted with his line, “What’s good for the earth is good for the grape.” And because of the company’s continued belief in transparency and accountability, they’ve publicly reported their greenhouse gas emissions to the Climate Registry since 2005—before any other winery anywhere!
Check out their website, fetzer.com, where the winery states, “Through sustainable farming practices, we’ve eliminated the need for synthetic, fossil fuel-based chemicals in our vineyards.”
Here again we find the first TRUE Zero Waste certified winery in the world. The company states, “It takes steadfast commitment and incredible teamwork. And we’re not stopping there. We’re striving for near–perfection with a target of 99.9% waste diversion by 2020. That means keeping virtually every material we use out of the world’s landfills.”
Reminiscing again, I remember hanging out at Berkeley’s Chez Panisse, where the likes of Timmy Mondavi and the young chef Mario Batali would come by to munch & drink and tell stories of the Big Dog Saloon up in Mendocino where the Fetzer winemakers and staff would come after working hard at the winery to party hard there. It was kind of the stomping grounds for so many young winemakers, agriculture groupies, and foodie-types around the area to glean and share ideas—and drink!
Indeed, it prompted the Fetzer family to build and open the Valley Oaks Food and Wine Center which was a vital locale for more than 20 years, inciting the farm to-table movement, with visitation from food celebs such as Julia Child and the like, before it became a widely valued spirit and philosophy.
Most California wine drinkers have seen the Fetzer brand on the shelves everywhere and forever. And they are some of the most reasonably priced wines for the quality.
So as you’ve gathered, this year marks the 50 years of a feisty commitment to sustainable and regenerative winemaking practices by the historic winery. To celebrate, the winery is releasing a limited-edition 50th Anniversary
Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. At only $12.99, this is perhaps the best “Anniversary Cab” for the price to come out of California wine country.
This is a rich, full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon offering red fruit aromas layered over notes of cassis and spice. The 2016 vintage was yet another stellar California growing season and this wine exhibits that. It was aged in both stainless steel—thus the bright fruit flavors, and French and American oak giving the wine its mocha, vanilla and toffee notes.
To boot, it has bold tannins and a juicy finish to round out the blend, which features a touch of Petit Verdot, Syrah and Merlot. Geez—selling for less than thirteen bucks, who isn’t celebrating Fetzer’s fifty years!
In addition, the 50th Anniversary sticker will also be added to the entire Fetzer line of award-winning wines for everyday enjoyment, including the winery’s 2016 Echo Ridge Sauvignon Blanc, $7.99, 2016 Sundial Chardonnay $9.99, 2016 Eagle Peak Merlot, $9.99) 2016 Shaly Loam Gewurztraminer $9.99, and 2016 Goosefoot Road Riesling, $11.99.
And now, some tasting notes to consider:
The Echo Ridge Sauv Blanc is definitely Californian: it has the classic aroma of Kaffir lime and citrus blossom. On the palate, the medium-bodied wine is bright, with pips and squeaks of melon, grapefruit, pear and pineapple, and a lingering finish.
The Sundial Chardonnay is bright and balanced, as one would expect from a Fetzer Chard, along with fruit-forward flavors. I like the baked apple, pear, citrus blossom and crème brûlée on the nose. It’s medium-bodied with flavors of pear and lemongrass balanced by hints of caramel and harvest nuts—a nice long finish.
The Monterey County Goosefoot Road Riesling owns inviting aromas of dried fruit, lemon, lavender, jasmine and rose petal. Then we have a crisp palate of peach, pineapple and pear with bright acidity. A tasty dessert wine.
The Shaly Loam Gewürztraminer is off-dry style, with its subtle sweetness balanced by crisp acidity. The nose carries exotic layers of melon, peach, apricot preserves, candied ginger and a touch of warm cinnamon spice that follows into the palate with pineapple. A fun Gurvurst!
Cheers! Here’s to another 50 years!