Food & Drink

Wine Notes: Cold spring helps pinot crop after recent rain

Ironically, poor weather in the spring is helping protect Laetitia Vineyard & Winery’s pinot noir crop as it faces this late harvest and recent rain.

April frosts caused a condition known as “shatter,” as grape buds were destroyed by the freeze.

But that led to looser clusters on the pinot noir vines, said Lino Bozzano, vice president of vineyard operations for Laetitia, located south of Arroyo Grande.

The looser clusters are drying faster, allowing workers to concentrate on picking chardonnay before rot sets in and damages that fruit.

“The chardonnay is getting the most beat up by the weather,” he said. “The pinot is holding up OK. Luckily, we’ve got sunny and windy days.”

An investors’ club

One Paso Robles winery is trying an unusual strategy to get out of its financial jam.

Mondo Cellars, founded three years ago by brothers Doug and Mitch Mondo, is growing. Its first crush produced 700 cases of wine. Now it produces about 2,500 cases a year.

Mondo has attracted almost 500 wine club members. Now the brothers are turning to them as a source of investment to improve the winery for sale in the future.

“We’ve been growing rather significantly,” Doug Mondo said. “We started at a time that was not a good time to start. The traditional funding sources really weren’t available.”

The entrepreneurs have owned other businesses in Southern California, but they weren’t prepared for the differences in the wine industry, Doug Mondo admits. When they needed more capital, their real estate investments couldn’t produce it.

“When we raised money for other companies in technology, it was a different animal,” he added. “We reached out to winery owners in our area. There are some really great business owners in our community who really believe that the success of an individual winery is a benefit to the whole community.”

The brothers took the advice of owners of both small and large wineries, coupled with research on those in Napa Valley and elsewhere that sold rows of vines to club members to raise funds.

They developed their own solution: make its customers its investors.

They are hoping to raise $2.6 million for improvements, debt reduction and other reinvestment, but only from club members. Investors can’t “cash out” until the property sells, Mondo said. In the meantime, the winery promises an 8 percent annual return.

They also get perks such as a 50 percent discount on wine — that’s what distributors pay — and 20 percent off visits to the winery’s three-room bed-and-breakfast.

So far, they’ve received about 20 percent from a handful of investors, Mondo said, including locals and those living as far away as Louisiana and Ohio.

Local award winners

Several Central Coast wines and wineries were recognized Sept. 30 when Sunset magazine announced its Western Wine Awards.

A gala presentation was made as part of Sunset’s Savor the Central Coast event. Winners included wineries from Seattle to New Mexico.

In the Special Occasion category ($41-$60), Villa Creek won for its 2009 Willow Creek Cuvée Paso Robles.Denner Vineyards’ Paso Robles tasting room was deemed “most beautiful.”

Qupé Cellars in Los Olivos was recognized in the Good Value category ($16-$25) for its 2009 Syrah Central Coast.

A Sonoma-based winery, Don Sabastiani & Sons, earned Steal of the Year honors for its Project Paso 2009 red blend.

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