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Thursday Thorns
This Was The Week That Was

By Charles Olken

It has been quite a week. In the last seven days, CGCW has told of potential disasters on wine lists, has praised the Mendocino County initiative to put itself more solidly on the wine map and has taken a political stand that, surprisingly, got us in trouble with very few people.

We expected yesterday’s piece on wine lists to be far more contentious than it turned out to be. Both on the blog, and on our usually quiet Facebook page, people lined up in support of our position that wine lists built totally on obscure grapes authored by sommeliers who openly profess their disdain for their “timid diners” are not to be tolerated. Even those who profess great joy at finding new wines did not exactly line up in the camp of eliminated Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from wine lists.

We expected our comments about the war on women that we see being waged in this country to get us in deep trouble with our readers. More than once, they have told us to stick to our last. Not so this time. While I am guessing that some of you gave us a one-time pass for winding up in left field, you did not attack in numbers, and mostly expressed strong agreement with our position.

But, then there was the Mendocino County comments which drew some rather heated barbs from the locals. And it is those latter comments that deserve further examination—even as I leave extended treatment of the new silly style of wine list, as professed by none other than the San Francisco Chronicle’s head wine boy, for another time.

MENDOCINO. In caps because it needs to be. I find Mendocino in need of refurbishment. The wines are often hard to find. Too frequently, they are of mixed quality, and despite a small resurgence in the Hopland area, fueled in part by Fetzer family money, it is only the Anderson Valley that is prospering in my view. That is not to say that everything else is floundering and failing. Rather, what I find is that many of the wineries up in that neck of the woods are operating below the general wine biz radar. To be sure, there are plenty of very good Mendocino wines, but their existence does not change the facts regarding how the larger wine world now views the county and its grapes and wines.

And it is that “could use a boost” sentiment that has landed me in hot water. A number of folks took to the comments section in righteous indignation at the notion that they were being, as one person said, “gratuitously dismissed”. A couple of others, one a noted winemaker and one who must be a winemaker but did not say so directly, suggested that rather than needing refurbishment, what Mendocino needed most was to be left alone.

It is the suggestion that Mendocino is better off being left to its own quiet devices that has caught my attention. The needs to improve, to get more money for its grapes and wines, to make Mendocino as famous as Sonoma and Napa, are to those folks, anathema in the first order and antithetical to the reasons why they like Mendocino in the second. I find that argument hard to counter. Who wants to mess with success and happiness?

But, then the question must arise. Why has Mendocino committed itself to an aggressive campaign intended to upgrade its cachet in the wine world? I don’t have an answer, but I can guess that it is part and parcel of the human need to be bigger, better, more famous and wealthier. In other words, it is the capitalist, entrepreneurial spirit that is now finding itself being buffered by those who like Mendocino just the way it is, thank you. I hear their complaints, and I sympathize, but, being a betting man, I am betting that Messrs. Burns and Chandler will succeed in their mission and that Mendocino will find itself at least partially spoiled by success. It has been ever thus, and I doubt that Mendocino will escape totally unchanged in the process.


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Thanks for another look at Mendocino
by John Cesano
Posted on:3/29/2012 11:52:02 AM


Thanks for revisiting the topic of Mendocino County's wine industry with this balanced and thoughtfully reflective piece.

Greg, Bob, and Margaret are tasting room neighbors of McFadden in Hopland. We each responded to your original post in different ways, objecting to different premises your earlier piece was built on.

I objected to the notion that only in the Anderson Valley existed wines worth consideration. While certainly not as well known, the wines poured in the tasting rooms of Hopland are just as good, often better, with greater variety, and at better prices.

You have acknowledged a small resurgence in the Hopland area, and I appreciate it. I believe Hopland's resurgence will continue to grow with two new restaurants opening soon, April and July, to support the visitors to our area's tasting rooms. Local lodging plus nearby affordable hotels in Ukiah will see Hopland, with continued fair press attention, become a favored weekend getaway destination for the smart wine lover.

I also heard through the grapevine that you are planning a trip our way, and I welcome you to stop in to my tasting room and those of my neighbors in Hopland.

I think Bob and Greg took issue with your premise that fame equalled success in the wine industry. The notion that a winery must be a major player, a Napa, Sonoma, or Anderson Valley behemoth, to be judged worthy or successful probably seemed irksome to them.

I pointed out that McFadden is more a farm than a winery. We, like many in the county, like Greg, are growers first and then wineries. I believe Guinness, my boss, is justifiably proud of his role in the community as an organic farming leader.

We can have successes as rural, genuine, earthy folks and don't have to take on the mantle of superstars or iconic personages to warrant respect.

Margaret pointed out that a winery you suggested was absent was indeed still here, with a tasting room right in Hopland, and is doing better than ever.

As a 3-4,000 case winery, we would love you to focus your attention on our very good wines and lift us to be noticed on the wine biz radar. That doesn't mean we want to become a grotesquery. Increase attention, increase traffic, increase sales, increase grape prices? YES. Become Napa? No.

You seem to write in absolutes, all or nothing, black or white. We are a wonderfully weird, sometimes contradictory, area of rugged indivualists who welcome success, but on our terms. The way we measure success may not be how you have been trying to.

I welcome Burns and Chandler, they will help MWWC bring the attention of writers like you to the lesser recognized parts of the county. You can help focus the publics's attention on great wines they should come visit and try.

As Chandler and Burns help you help the public to our wines, we will see increased shelf space for our wines and increased ton rates for our grapes. 

MWWC is doing for our nearly 400 winegrape growers exactly what they should be doing. I am grateful for their efforts, and grateful to you for coming to appreciate we value our uniqueness and measure success by metrics other than fame.


Mendocino Wines...
by TomHill
Posted on:4/1/2012 10:08:32 AM

Not read your earlier post on Mendocino wines yet...but I have some opinions/thoughts on the subject.And, best of all, they're free. And probably worth every penny.

   Having followed those wines from the early '70's (by crackey), I will flat-out state that MendocinoCnty (and I mean all of it, not just the AndersonVlly) is the equal of any growing area in all of Calif. Absolutely the equal of any...including the NapaVlly.

   They can grow/make truly great Calif wines up there. They've done it in the past a lot more frequently than they do now. There are a lot of rather mediocre/ordinary/unthrilling wines coming from Mendocino, with only occasional flashes of brilliance. There should be much more. Why aren't there??? Haven't a clue.

   Those early Zins/Petites/Cabs from BarneyFetzer were as good as any of that era. The Zins/Cabs from JedSteele up at Edmeades were some of Calif's best ever. His CortiReserve CS '78 (?) was one of the greatest Calif Cabs I ever had. The Zins/Cabs/Petites from JimMilone and Grazie in the late '70's were as good as any...truly great wines. All world-class wines. Some of those Eaglepoint wines from CaseyHartlip in the late '90's-early/mid-'00's, were, and are, as good as any in Calif.  Alas...that era has gone. Many of BillyCrawford's/McDowellVlly  early Syrahs were the equal of any made in Calif (alas...they don't seem to be anymore).

   Certainly, the Pinots coming from the AndersonVlly are superb...truly world class. Oftentimes...being made by winermakers outside of Mendocino. The Syrahs from YorkvilleHighlands and MendocinoRidge are the equal, in most cases, of any others in Calif.

   MikeDashe's Riesling from the PotterVlly is the equal to any made anywhere in Calif...or HunterVlly or elsewhere.

   Down in the UkiahVlly area, there are some fantastic old-vine vnyds. When I drive thru that area, I'm sometimes compelled to stop and admire them in awe. They should be making some truly great wines...even from Carignane. Alas..they often are not.

   So what's the problem up in MendocinoCnty, particularly down in the Ukiah Vlly?? Sure the heck wish I knew. They are, as a grape-growing area, the equal of anywhere in Calif. Alas...their wines don't always reflect that fact...and it is a fact. Whenever I taste  anotherr dull/ordinary wine from the Ukiah; I just want to take somebody and shake them by the scruff of their neck and say.."Come can do better than this".

I do know one thing...if I gave up my day job and were a gadzillionaire wanting to get in the wine biz, MendocinoCnty is exactly where I'd head for.



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