Stateside: Make way for Mendocino

Norm Roby, Mendocino People & Places Articles
  • Thursday 15 February 2007

Make way for Mendocino

Zig Zag Zinfandel, which sold out a few weeks after release, may be the tipping point that puts Mendocino on the wine map. The Mendocino Wine Co was so overwhelmed it has decided to take pre-release orders for the 2004 follow-up vintage ($17.99).

Despite the whimsical name, the creators of Zig Zag are serious and willing to take risks to bring Mendocino grapes and wines up to par with those from neighbouring Napa and Sonoma.

In 2004 Tim Thornhill and Paul Dolan bought the historic Parducci Wine Cellars in Ukiah and created the Mendocino Wine Co. They are retaining the Parducci label and, as Dolan said, ‘Our focus is Mendocino grapes because we want to make a difference in Mendocino County.’ Under his direction, many old vineyards are being converted to organic farming, and the winery will add a line of wines made from his biodynamic Dark Horse Ranch. During his long tenure at Fetzer Vineyards as winemaker and president, Dolan keyed in on organic and sustainable farming. Today, he and a few others are leading the way for biodynamics.

Meanwhile, Thornhill has been the driving force behind the recently formed Mendocino Winegrowers Commission. Made official in May, the commission is the first in the state to represent growers and wineries. Getting each group to overcome their mutual distrust and agree to anything is usually impossible.

But Thornhill argued the virtues of such a commission and, as a result, 85% of all growers and wineries voted to adopt it and thus agreed to a mandatory assessment per ton. The revenue will be used to promote Mendocino grapes and wines, and to fund research projects.

So in less than two years Dolan and Thornhill have started to turn things around in Mendocino. Now they are coming online with wines to sustain the momentum. In addition to Zig Zag Zin, they came out with Yellow Cab, a super-value Mendocino Cabernet whose art nouveau label depicts a yellow taxi. For the summer of 2006, they released a fine Syrah rosé named Roselle. There is also a Chianti-style blend: Tusk ’N Red.

The Parducci label is also a big part of the plan to make Mendocino a household name. It now includes a lovely, value 2004 Pinot Noir and a 2004 organically grown Sauvignon Blanc. Dolan will soon unveil a $15-20 line of Signature wines from Parducci. My favourite – a real collector’s wine given Parducci’s history with the grape – is the 70th Anniversary Home Ranch Old Vines Petite Sirah 2002.

Norm Roby is co-author of Knoppf’s New Connoisseur’s Handbook of Californian Wine

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