by Fred McMillin
for November 28, 1997

Winery of the Week

The Fetzer Midas Touch


Greek Mythology: King Midas found the elderly Silenus wandering in the royal garden. Knowing the old man had once been the teacher of Dionysus, Midas was kind to Silenus and then helped him return to the God of Wine. Dionysus was so pleased that he granted Midas the power to turn everything he touched into gold.

The Rest of the Story: I think Dionysus must have granted lumberman Barney Fetzer that Midas touch in 1968 when he started his small Mendocino winery. Examples:

  1. When Fetzer introduced their Eagle Peak Merlot, in less than one year it became the nation's fifth best-selling Merlot.

  2. Their Gold Medal Pinot Noir recently tripled its sales over the prior year.

  3. The last time I checked, Fetzer was the largest producer of Gewurztraminer in the USA (over 200,000 cases a year).

  4. Twelve years ago Fetzer began experimenting with organically-grown (no synthetic chemicals) grapes. They went commercial in 1993 with their Bonterra ("good earth") label. Today it is the USA's largest- selling organic line with sales exceeding 100,000 cases annually.

  5. In 1981 the winery introduced their bargain Bel Arbor line, named after the road where Barney located that 1968 winery. They include Chardonnay, Cab, Merlot and White Zinfandel, all at only $6. Not long ago America's foremost wine critic, Robert Parker, Jr., saluted Bel Arbor bottles as "the best wines in the world under $10."

  6. Fetzer sales now exceed 2.4 million cases a year. You see what I mean by the Midas touch!

Just the Facts

Name   Fetzer Vineyards
Founded   1968
Founder   Barney Fetzer, assisted by his wife, Kathleen, and in time, eleven children.
Contact   George Rose, (707) 744-1250, Fax (707) 744-9020

Postscript: The basis of the organic wine name Bonterra, or "good earth"? "Bon" is French for "good," and "terra" is Latin for "earth."

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 and is Northern California Editor for American Wine on the Web. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.

Read more articles by Fred McMillin in the eGGsf

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