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Copyright © 2018
Forkmedia LLC


by Fred McMillin
for September 4, 2000


Your Chardonnay For Labor Day


Since it's Labor Day, here's a quote from Bernard Fetzer.

    "You don't make fine wine with people who at ten minutes to five look at their watches and say, 'Let's start rolling up the hose, boys, it's five o'clock.' You have to have dedication."

    "We harvest all of our grapes by hand. I wouldn't consider picking grapes by machine."

The Rest of the Story

Sounds like Barney Fetzer did not get away from plenty of hard labor when he left the lumber business in Oregon and started growing grapes in California's Mendocino County.

Initially, in the 1950s, there was the job of planting 150 acres of Bordeaux varietals and then selling them to winemakers. It was too much work to make wine out of them.

Enter Nuclear Scientists!

"We sold grapes to amateur winemakers, most of them scientific people—nuclear scientists, engineers, doctors, etc. They believed wines from this far north had special qualities, and returned each year with samples." Barney was convinced, and decided to build a winery. More work! The first year he made about 2,500 cases.

Fetzer Visitors Center

Fetzer Visitors Center.

The Outcome

Today's production is not 2,500 cases, but rather 2,500,000. In the midst of the rapid growth, the wine world was shocked by Barney's abrupt death (1981). His wife and eleven children carried on. Two years later a second-tier brand was introduced, titled Barrel Select. and one of them is our...

Wine of the Day

1998 Fetzer Barrel Select Chardonnay
Appellation—Mendocino County
Oak—100% French oak; 3/4th of the barrels were made by Fetzer on-site.
Rating—My panel thinks Fetzer will have no difficulty selling all 44,000 cases. RECOMMENDED.
Food Affinities—Shellfish, chicken and fish pair with this medium-intensity Chardonnay.
Contact—Sara Cummings, (415) 444-7426, FAX (415) 444-7483
Price—Good value at $12

Postscript—Take the Money and Run

What has the Fetzer property to do with the California Gold Rush? Well, the first vines were planted on the land by Anson Jebidiah Seward. The source of his wealth to buy the property and develop it? He struck gold right away (1849) and decided to take the money and run! (to Mendocino County)

Pat Latimer's California Wineries, Vol. 2
Robert Benson's Great Winemakers of California


About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers. For information about the wine courses he teaches every month at either San Francisco State University or San Francisco City College (Fort Mason Division), please fax him at (415) 567-4468.


This page created September 2000