by Fred McMillin
for April 25, 1997

Winery of the Week

The Line on Cline

Prologue: "Ten years ago I was ready to throw in the towel"...Fred Cline.

The Cline Time Line:

The 1960's—Fred dine spends his boyhood summers on his grandparents' ranch near the town of Oakley, 50 miles east of San Francisco. Grandpa teaches him how to grow grapes and make wine.

1973—Grandpa passes away, leaving Fred a small inheritance.

1982—Having graduated in wine science from U.C.-Davis, Fred uses the money to purchase the Firpo Winery and vines at Oakley. He quickly parleys the inheritance into a three million dollar debt.

1986—Three years younger than brother Fred, Matt Cline also graduates from U.C.-Davis and joins what has been a one-man firm. Matt will become the winemaker.

1987—Demand is low for his off-beat Rhone varietals. Fred doesn't even have the funds to bottle his 1987 vintage, when suddenly an infusion of family money saves the day.

1989—The Rhone Ranger thing has caught on, and sales are busting out all over...in 35 states and Japan. Fred and wife Nancy retain their Oakley vineyards but move the winery to Sonoma's prestigious Carneros Distict. They purchase 350 acres of land as well as an 1850 farmhouse (tasting room). There are picnic grounds and a sweeping view of the valley.

1997—When I last checked, Cline wines had reached Canada and nearly all the rest of the U.S.A. An awful lot of Rhone varietal fans are glad Fred hung in there 10 years ago.

Just the Facts

Name Cline Cellars
Location Carneros District, Sonoma County, CA
Founded 1982
Winemaker Matt Cline
Capacity  25,000 case range
Vineyards 250 acres planted in Oakley and Carneros, including California's largest supply of the Rhone red Mourvedre, alias Mataro.
Recommended Wines My current white favorite is the zesty Rhone Marsanne. My red selection is a blend of Rhone varietals with Cline's well-respected Zinfandel. It's a sturdy mouthful at a bargain $8.50 called Cotes D'Oakley.
Contact Nancy Cline, Ph:(707)935-4310, FX:(707)935-4319. She did a terrific job on a picnic for one of my classes.

Postscript: About Fred's 1973 inheritance from grandfather... grandfather's first name was Valeriano, which doesn't mean much, but his last name was Jacuzzi, which means a lot if you like his whirlpool bath invention.

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.

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