Food & Drink

The Grapevine: Mendocino has much to brag about

The Anderson Valley gets a lot of attention these days. And why not? Pinot noir has been the darling of the wine world in recent years, and Anderson Valley is the source of some stellar pinot.

But Mendocino County encompasses so much more than the Anderson Valley. The bulk of the county’s more than 17,000 acres of wine grapes are inland. The leading grape varieties grown there are cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay, but some of the most intriguing wines are made from less-widespread varieties, especially zinfandel and Italian grapes like barbera and nero d’avola.

It’s hardly surprising that Italian grape varieties would thrive in Mendocino County. Many of the area’s early growers and vintners were of Italian descent. John Parducci for years was the face of Mendocino County winemaking. More recently, winemaker Greg Graziano—whose grandfather planted vineyards in Mendocino County in the early 20th century — has become known for wines made from Italian varieties under the Enotria and Monte Volpe labels. His 2007 Enotria Barbera ($16) is bright and juicy, with ample dark fruit.

John Chiarito, whose family hails from southern Italy, has also had success with Italian varieties. The 2009 Chiarito Vineyard Nero d’Avola ($32), made from a red grape widely grown in Sicily, is spicy and full-bodied, with ripe berry and firm tannins.

Italians made their mark, but arguably the county’s most influential wine family has been the Fetzers, who founded Fetzer Vineyards in 1968 in inland Mendocino County and began farming organically in the 1980s. The winery was sold in 1992 to Brown-Forman Corp. (which, in turn, sold Fetzer and some related brands earlier this year to Chilean wine giant Concha y Toro), but Fetzer Vineyards for years continued its commitment to organic viticulture under the leadership of then-president Paul Dolan.

Meanwhile, 10 of the 11 Fetzer children continued in the wine industry, mostly in Mendocino County. Some started wineries; others became growers. All farm organically or biodynamically.

The influence of the Fetzers (and of Dolan, who now owns Paul Dolan Vineyards) has been important for organic viticulture in Mendocino County, which calls itself “America’s Greenest Wine Region.” Nearly 30 percent of the county’s wine grapes are certified as organic or biodynamic, and one-third of California’s organically certified vineyard acreage is in Mendocino County, according to the Mendocino Winegrape and Wine Commission.

One Fetzer sibling who founded her own winery is Patti Fetzer of Patianna Organic Vineyards. Her medium- weight 2009 Patianna Zinfandel ($20) offers lively berry and spice flavors and a note of roasted coffee, while her 2009 Patianna Sauvignon Blanc ($16) is bright and citrusy with a creamy undertone. Older brother John Fetzer started Saracina and makes a lovely 2009 sauvignon blanc ($23) that’s lively and rich, with melon and pear fruit.

PICK OF THE WEEK

Tablas Creek 2010 Patelin de Tablas ($20) This affordably priced red offers ample bright raspberry, some nice spicy notes and firm but approachable tannins. It’s a blend of mostly syrah, grenache and mourvedre.

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