by Fred McMillin
for April 16, 1999

 

Winery of the Week

All In The Family


Prologue

"Fine winemaking is ideally a family enterprise."

...Bernard Fetzer (1920—1981)

1984: Kathleen, Bernard's widow, is particularly proud that ten of their eleven offspring are running the business.

...Leon Adams, Wines of America, 3rd Edition


The Rest of the Story

How did the family do, in spite of Bernard's sudden death at age 61? Well, the first vintage (in 1968) produced 2,500 cases. Some 25 years later annual sales were about three million cases. Not bad. Here are some highlights of the Fetzer saga.

Beginnings—Young Barney Fetzer is taught winegrowing by his father and German grandfather who had a vineyard of native American grapes in Nebraska.

1954—Lumberman Fetzer moves his wife and 11 children from timberland in Oregon to timberland in California (Mendocino County). He plants 150 acres of Bordeaux varietals. Their home is an early-day stagecoach stop on the property. Later they will convert a former high school gym to a spacious visitors room.

1973—Sunset magazine describes Fetzer as a "small cellar."

Thereafter, nearly everything the winery tries turns to gold. (See the November 28,1997 WineDay article titled "The Fetzer Midas Touch.") Let's take their Organic Wine program as an example. Author James Halliday points out that not so long ago "organic viticulture was regarded as a quirky pastime of social dropouts. Today, the large-scale organic program is one of Fetzer's most enduring and important contributions [to the industry.]" The brand name is Bonterra, and sales just went by 80,000 cases. Recently, the '97 Chardonnay at $11 did well in my tastings. Hence, if you want a wine with no pesticides or added sulfites in its dossier, buy Bonterra.

Other important Fetzer innovations include making their own barrels, introducing a higher-priced RESERVE line (which have scored VERY well) ,etc.


Dennis Martin

Just the Facts

Fetzer Vineyards, Mendocino County
Owner—Brown-Forman beverage corporation bought Fetzer in 1992 but pretty much left grape and wine production in place. They've added overseas markets which now take about 20% of the product. Sales increased another 500,000 cases annually. Looks like Brown-Forman bought that Midas touch, too.
Fetzer Chief Winemaker: Dennis Martin (pictured).


Postscript

To get your Fetzer questions answered, phone the office of Sara Cummings, (415) 444-7426, FAX (415) 444-7483.

 
About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.

 
 

WineDay Annex

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Welcome to WineDay, the electronic Gourmet Guide's daily update. Monday through Thursday, WineDay presents a wine profile. Then on Fridays we present the Winery of the Week to take you through the weekend.

 

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