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Monday Manifestos
How Mendocino County Can Get Ahead

By Charles Olken

Poor old Mendo Co, sitting there in the shadow of its more famous neighbors to the south. It clearly needs a shot of Red Bull to get itself going. Oh sure, we all know that there are grapes up there near the coast—Anderson Valley anyone? And some of us have actually heard of Potter Valley and Redwood Valley and Ukiah and Talmage, which are not near the coast.

I’m sure Mendocino County has some famous wineries, but I am hard pressed to think on one at the moment not in the Anderson Valley. I mean, whatever happened to Parducci? John Parducci was running a perfectly fine old-fashioned joint with honest, not too expensive wines that competed head to head with such other famous names as Christian Brothers and Weibel. Come to think of it, whatever happened to those folks?

I like Mendocino County, and not just so I can visit some redwoods or wander out to Mendocino Village for my annual journey to the one of the world’s greatest isolated villages. Hey, I even like Fort Bragg. What is not to like about a wine country that is unspoiled by tourist busses and multimillionaires building Frank Gehry-designed wineries. Even the rich folk up in Mendocino are unspoiled.

But, clearly Mendocino County’s place in the wine world is lagging behind and needs more than an energy drink to reinvigorate its sagging reputation. I have been giving this problem some serious thought and have come up with some solutions.

First of all, Mendocino needs to hire a couple of consulting pros like Steve Burns and Mark Chandler. These are the guys who put Washington State and Lodi on the map. They had a lot to work with in those efforts, but the thing they lacked was recognition. Messrs. Burns and Chandler will get Mendocino started. And then maybe the rest will fall into line.

What Mendocino really needs is a bunch of new and significant winery startups to reinvigorate all those other areas in the county where grapes grow but wineries of note no longer exist. Take Redwood Valley, for example. It was put on the map by Fetzer, Lolonis, Fife and others, but where are those names today? And, thus, where is the Redwood Valley today? Still there presumably, but not often seen on labels in this neck of the woods.

There are ten overlapping small area appellations (AVAs) in Mendocino County. Take this test. Name them. Then look to the end to find out who they are.

Mendocino has a problem alright, and it will not be easily fixed. There is not a lot of there there. For sure, and I do not mean this in any but the most polite way, there are wineries and vineyards that deserve attention—just not enough once one gets beyond counting the important players in the Anderson Valley.

I like Mendocino County. When Earl Singer and I started Connoisseurs’ Guide back in the dark ages, it was one of the first places we visited outside of our usual haunts. We discovered beauty and tradition, and we discovered potential. Anderson Valley has realized its potential. The Mendocino Ridge area to the west and south of the Anderson Valley and closer to the coast but also at higher elevations has produced some fine Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs lately, but aside from one lone Zinfandel that the Anderson Valley’s Handley Cellars sourced in the Redwood Valley, we are hard-pressed to think of any significant wines from other Mendocino locations that have showed up in our tastings in the last several years.

Good luck, Mendocino. You are still beautiful, you are still unspoiled and you are still full of potential.


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Mendocino County AVAs: Anderson Valley, Cole Ranch, Covelo, Dos Rios, McDowell Valley, Mendocino, Mendocino Ridge, Potter Valley, Redwood Valley, Yorkville Highlands.


No Subject
by Wine Harlots
Posted on:3/26/2012 11:51:29 AM

I'm taking my first trip to Mendocino in May, any "must-do's" in your opinion?

All the best,

Nannette Eaton

by Mike Dunne
Posted on:3/26/2012 1:04:01 PM

I'd say some gewurztraminer, pinot gris and riesling out of Mendocino also has been showing exceptionally well over the past decade or two.

by David Rossi
Posted on:3/26/2012 1:12:03 PM

Petite Sirahs can be world class like Eaglepoint Ranch and others on the Talmage Bench.

You mention Anderson Valley as a side bar, but it is already among the pantheon of great California Pinot AVAs along with RRV, Sonoma Coast, SLH, SRH, and Chalone.  Through in the Alsatian varietals and it is really pretty well represented.

I just don't see it as being so far behind the curve.

by Sherman
Posted on:3/26/2012 1:21:13 PM

Charlie, you must be psychic! Since the two gentleman have been hired by the Mendocino Winegrape and Wine Commission, perhaps you can fill us in on Megan Metz, the Executive Director? What kind of captain might she be to two capable officers?


And as long as we're duscussing underappreciated wine regions and wineries, how about Monterey? Lots of good wines come from the area and some names that have been around for a while -- but again the topic of relevance comes to mind. I still see Hahn on the grocery store shelves upon occasion and J. Lohr still puts forth some very good efforts in the same arena.


But big names? Seems they need the same "push" you're talking about with Mendocino.

Redwood valley and Parducci
by Ken
Posted on:3/26/2012 11:36:13 PM
Oh, so easy to think back about the Parducci zins and what he produced. But get real here folks, talk to the growers that had to deal with him. I will keep it polite, but he was one buggar of a guy to deal with, and the grower was at his mercy.While years have gone by, was it quality he was after? Or was it beat the grower to smithereens to get their grapes at the least possible price.I will leave it at that.Ken
Up Mendocino Way
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:3/27/2012 12:38:49 AM

True confessions. I did know that the Mendocino wine folk had hired Burns and Chandler. The announcement of that action got me to thinking what it was that might have motivated that kind of action and, perhaps more importantly, what needed to be done.

It is clear that writers like me are going to be offered trips in which we see the territory and visit the wineries and that there will be a greater effort to get Mendocino wines in front of us.

Those are the gambits that are usually tried, and, they are probably going to work well enough in terms of increased publicity for Mendocino County.

But, along the way, I came to realize that, aside from the Anderson Valley, Mendocino had lost some of its most recognizable names. And while the comment about new wineries may have seemed somewhat tongue in cheek, it is also a fact that Mendocino is less prominent to the general public than it once was because its name appears less often on widely distributed wines these days..

by cesar
Posted on:3/27/2012 10:16:40 AM
It is asways easy to point to the negative when it comes to winemaking. I remember a good friend once told me that wine writers are always comparing their taste buds to Napa. In Mendocino we have different flavor profile. It takes a discern pallet to apprecaiate it. Yes, Parducci and Fetzer names are still here but they have a different consumer target, not as the French call it "terroir" the place that is unique for winemaking. Please visit Mendocino again and you will be surprise of the innovation that great winemaker are presenting.
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:3/27/2012 10:31:40 AM

Cesar, thanks for the comments.

There is no questiion that Mendocino deserves more recognition than it gets. But it takes available wines to make that happen.

The existence of a few handful of quality producers outside of the Anderson Valley is well known to me and my comrades in the writing community. But, absent some wider distribution, the good grapes of Mendocino are going to remain in hiding.

Steve Burns and Mark Chandler have been hired to change the current view of Mendocino, and they are experts in doing that. But, ask them both and they will tell you that it takes years, wine and wineries to make it happen.

Good luck, Mendocino. Let's get more of those Redwood Valley Zins and Potter Valley Rieslings out in the marketplace. There is no denying the potential.

by Rusty
Posted on:3/27/2012 10:59:35 AM

Having been part of Mendocino County in the early years ('80s to mid-'90s), it's frustrating for me to see how we've always seemed to take two steps forward and one step back.  In many ways, we're stuck in a time warp.  And it doesn't help the the vast majority of our grapes leave the county to be blended away in non-Mendo appellation wines.  I'm looking forward to the ideas that Burns and Chandler put forward, but implementation will be the key.


Where's the love?
by John Cesano
Posted on:3/27/2012 1:23:28 PM

"There is not a lot of there there. For sure, and I do not mean this in any but the most polite way, there are wineries and vineyards that deserve attention—just not enough once one gets beyond counting the important players in the Anderson Valley."

I would disagree with this gratuitously dismissive statement.

First, as the manager for the McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room in Hopland, thank you for noting the (our) Potter Valley Riesling. Chateau Montelena and Dashe have been making Riesling from our grapes for years, as have we.

Other whites we grow Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, and Gewurztraminer at McFadden Farm in Potter Valley and have sold these grapes to Mondavi, Sterling, Katherine Kennedy, and Piper Sonoma among many others. Our grapes make great wine for us and for other wineries. Our reds, Pinot Noir and Zinfandel, similarly make great wines for us and others.

Twice each year, Hopland's 16 area winery tasting rooms go all out, offering incredible food and sometimes entertainment to pair with our terrific wines, at a spring and fall Hopland Passport.

Charlie, I've put you on the guest list for the 21st annual spring Hopland Passport wine weekend, set for May 5 & 6, 2012. Just show your photo ID and you'll be handed a glass, wristband, and passport to take notes in.

I look forward to the piece you write after your visit, hopefully you'll find a lot of there here.

Everyone else is invited to join us at the best Passport value in the wine industry, tickets available online.


John Cesano

The Love
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:3/27/2012 2:14:34 PM

John, thanks for stopping by. I think, if you will reread the article, you will find the love smack in the middle of it.

Your comments about grapes leaving the county (often without any attribution as to source) speak to a significant part of the problem. Even the Rieslings, as good as they are, are mostly unreviewed in the press and thus do nothing to let people know about their quality.

I would love to visit Hopland for the Passport Weekend, but will be on vacation during that time. However, I can attest to the pleasure of visiting Hopland and would encourage anyone looking for a wine country visit to head on up.

Thanks for the love
by John Cesano
Posted on:3/27/2012 3:03:23 PM

Thanks Charlie, the Passport invitation stands, simply extended to the fall's 21st annual Hoppland Passport wine weekend, October 20 & 21, 2012.

Dashe and Chateau Montelena clearly vineyard designate the wines they source McFadden Farm grapes for. Chateau Montelena has created gorgeous marketing pieces extolling the quality of our grapes.

I do see love, but working every day to increase tourism for Hopland, the love you give, sandwiched between "I’m sure Mendocino County has some famous wineries, but I am hard pressed to think on one at the moment not in the Anderson Valley," "lagging behind," "sagging reputation," "There is not a lot of there there," and "just not enough once one gets beyond counting the important players in the Anderson Valley," was somewhat hard to see at first look.

I'm not discounting that the wines of Mendocino County, outside of the Anderson Valley, do not get attention; and I agree that our wines aren't prominently on enough wine lists and store shelves, These are very real problems we both see.

That said, Brutocao, Campovida, Cesar Toxqui, Graziano, Jaxon Keys, Jeriko, McDowell, McFadden, McNab, Milani, Nelson, Parducci, Rack & Riddle, Saracina, Terra Savia, and Weibel, all pouring from Hopland tasting rooms, might feel your message wandered into gratuitous dismissiveness.

Sixteen wineries, all making some great wines. Let me know when you can visit us next. We look forward to pouring for you Charlie.

Thanks for encouraging your readers to visit us in Hopland. I believe that is the fastest way to leap forward, reputations bolstered, demonstrating the rich "there" here.

I imagine Burns and Chandler will suggest exactly that to the writers who cover the area.

Your comments on other blogs are incredibly incisive. You have hit the nail on the head here too, and I am glad that once I look beyond the unecessary marginalizing prose, I see your post is filled with love for our area's wineries.

by bob
Posted on:3/27/2012 3:42:50 PM

Poor Old Charlie - stuck in a paradigm, still in the shadow of what used to really need a shot of something new. Mendo moved past cheap blends about,oh, 30 yrs ago. Good farming = good grapes, good grapes = good wine.  We're farmers first, not marketeers. But you're right in one thing - we have no 'famous' wineries here, but what does fame have to do with flavor & quality anyway? How about diversity?  Mendo has more microclimate awareness than just about anywhere, so we've had to learn more about farming than corporate marketing. Sorry - famous don't cut it.

Lack of availability?  Another definition of quality?  Specious. Mendo is about family-owned, not corporate, & can't play the game with the big boys & big dist houses, so we don't get in the 'book' of big houses. An 'available' winery is available because it can produce a btl for $6 & can sell it for $60 & can drop margin to play the distributor's game; we can produce a wine just as good for $4/btl & sell it for $20 - no margin drop there, hence no availabilty.

Lack of media exposure? In most major media, exposure is directly correlated to $$ spent in that media in ads.  We're not in that $$ league & so we get few reviews.  That's how the game is played.

Really care?  Come up & taste. 


by Diane Davis, WinestyleLiving
Posted on:3/27/2012 4:05:08 PM

It is always great to see Mendocino get attention, though I beleive it could have been a bit better rounded.

Hopland, specifically, is a facinating place full of generous winemakers, winery owners, and tasting room managers.  It is distinct in that in just about every winery you can go in an feel like you are sitting in your best friends living room talking wine.  

The Fetzers are there represented by Jerkico Estates and Saracina, both wineries are a treat for the eyes in individual ways as you taste their magnificent wines.  McNab Ridge winemaker is Rich Parducci, grandson of John Parducci, and their tasting room manager, Denise, always has something happening- and she is skilled at making great events with great food happen.

I hope you take John up on his offer.  In his own right, John is a one man show of information on wine and entertainment, well worth the hours you will choose to visit him.

Here's a write up of the Fall Hopland Passport 2011 with images and stories, perhaps it will be helpful as you develop a bigger picture of what is there.

AND we agree, Mendocino County is FULL of potential waiting to be discovered.

Poor Old Me
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:3/27/2012 4:52:56 PM

Bob, it is Mendo. Co, not me who has just hired two of the biggest and best PR guns out there to publicize all those great wines.

Apparently, some folks up your way would like to see more exposure for their wines. My job is describe the landscape. I personally miss some of the wines that came out of the Redwood Valley and other places up there. Today, those wines are nowhere to be seen.

And Lolonis, Fife, Fetzer single-vineyard Zins were not cheap.

by Gregory
Posted on:3/27/2012 6:34:30 PM

As a winemaker here for the last 35 years in Mendocino and whos family has been growing grapes here for 94 years, many of us are satisfied with what's happening in our grape and wine comunity. We sell our wines in 40 states and 5 counties other than our own. Our wines get very good write-ups and are in good demand. Our wine and grape prices are fair and going up slowly. We can actually afford to drink our own wines. Our county is not filled with movie stars or other extremely rich people, jacking up the price of our land, our homes and our businesses. Our children hopefully will still be able to live and work here when they grow up.  Sure we could use a little more publicity and recognition for our wines and grapes but as my mother always said "be careful what you ask for, you just might get it." I would not be caught dead in certain parts of Sonoma County or anywhere in the Napa Valley on any given weekend because of the traffic jams. Anderson Valley has already turned into a mini Napa Valley which many of the locals are not happy about. Mendocino will get what it eventually deserves, just give it time.


by Charlie Olken
Posted on:3/27/2012 6:57:00 PM


What are your feelings about the hiring of Burns and Chandler to accelerate the process?

Is any success too much or is there a path towards expansion and exposure that you would find acceptable?

Hiring experts?
by wine lover
Posted on:3/27/2012 7:30:13 PM

Perhaps the rush to hire some "experts" has more to do with the upcoming election on whether to even continue the Mendocino wine commission - a vote demanded by Mendocino County growers and vinters who felt the commission's efforts weren't matching their financial contributions.

As for Mendocino wines, it's fine for you to condescend to care about our reputation and value in the marketplace, but this county has no desire to be Napa or Sonoma County. Would we like more of our grapes to be made into wine right here? Of course, but we are not, as you seem to think, hankering for the good life "down south."

Mendo recmmdtns
by Donn
Posted on:3/28/2012 11:19:02 AM

To Wine Harlots:  I am prejudiced toward Greg Graziano.  he is in the old Fetzer palce in Ukiah.  I sold his wines for several yrs in the SF area.  He makes a wide variety.  Several Zins, some Carignan, and a wide spread of Italians, incl Dolcetto, Montepulician, Moscato, and Friuli, and too bad his Nebbiolo source went away, he made some very good Nebb, hard to do in Calif.  If I were still wkg whlsl I would want his book in my bag.  I assume the post above frm Gregory is his?  And MUST is Sharfenberger,  I opine them one of the best values in all Calif fizz.  Cheers,

by margaret
Posted on:3/28/2012 1:51:59 PM

Mendocino’s grape famers and winemakers always strive for excellence and have historically attained a unique stance in the industry. The interior of Mendocino is laden with fabulous fruit which is used for individual varietals and in blends, notably, Coro Mendocino. Coro, as you know Charlie, is predominately inland Mendocino fruit and showcases the diverse appellations of Mendocino. Coro is a true representation of Mendocino wine at its finest. The Coro 2009 Vintage Release Party is June 23rd at the Little River Inn, Little River Inn. We invite you to taste with us.

by margaret
Posted on:3/28/2012 3:58:30 PM

Weibel continues to be prominent in Mendocino’s wine industry. Not sure how you missed us Charlie? With over 500 acres of grapes situated in Potter, Redwood and Ukiah valleys and a winery in Hopland's McDowell Valley, Weibel is definitely present…. We have focused our energy on private labels and custom crush facets of the wine business. Our multi-award winning estate wines can be tasted in our tasting room located in Hopland. for more information.

Thanks for the Recommendations
by Wine Harlots
Posted on:3/28/2012 4:09:35 PM


Thanks for the tips.
I can't wait for my first visit.






by Kristy Charles
Posted on:3/30/2012 2:28:17 PM

Hi Charlie,

Nice to see you posting about Mendocino. As a vintner here and representative of the Anderson Valley contingent, I do agree that Mendocino has a challenge in building it's reputation with the trade and consumers alike. One of our problems is our diversity. We are a vast county with grapes that range from Riesling to Petite Sirah, plus many sub-AVA's that all specialize in various wines. It's simply difficult for people to wrap their heads around all the various regions and their wines. Mendocino doesn't often "mean" anything to people when you talk with them. Hopefully that will change in the future.

In Anderson Valley, we've had our own association since 1983, which has been made up of winemakers and grape growers continuously pushing to create a name for our Pinot Noirs, sparkling wines and Alsatian varietals. That's why we have the reputation we do today, with two festivals to highlight it: the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Fesitval in May and the International Alsace Varietals Festival in February. I know we've had CG's own Steve Eliot up for our Pinot Noir Festival recently, and your invitation to both these festivals is in the mail twice a year. We actually host 25-30 wine, travel and lifestyle journalists for each festival, and have set up 3-4 media trips per year for other writers. So, it's simply an effect of the wine community coming together and putting in the effort, year after year.

We're also very lucky here in Anderson Valley that we have a very limiting climate. Being so cold, only a handful of grapes grow well. That makes us able to focus on just a few varietals when promoting ourselves. A narrow focus is more easily grasped by consumers and trade alike.

I do contest the comment that Anderson Valley is like Napa. I worked in the heart of Napa Valley for a number of years, and although it has its own charms (I miss some of the restaurants), we absolutely do not see the traffic or crowds they do. Nor are any of our wineries, barring perhaps Roederer Estate, even approaching the size of most Napa wineries. The vast majority of our wineries, just like the rest of Mendocino County, are small, family-owned operations that produce less than 5,000-7,000 cases per year, and the winemakers or owners (often the same person) are on-site in the tasting rooms to greet customers.

I think everyone here agrees that great wines are made all over Mendocino County. An inroad has already been made by branding the county as "America's Greenest Wine Region" (supported by the data), but beyond that much more work is to be done.

My final say: I know many of our customers are very happy Mendocino hasn't been "discovered" by the vast populus yet. It guarantees them access to some world-class wines and to the winemakers that produce them. I think all the vintners here agree that some discovery beyond what we already have would be good, but we're agreed that we never want to have backed up traffic and three people deep at our tasting bars. Somewhere in the middle has to be the answer.

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