Last Fall I attended an excursion to Mendocino with fellow wine bloggers where I learned about this small, but mighty wine region in northern California. Click HERE for more detail on this excursion, whereas today we delve into Bonterra Vineyards.
Bonterra, a brand in the Fetzer portfolio is America's #1 organically farmed wine. They have over 1,000 acres of vines, of which 100% are farmed organically and 25% are farmed biodynamically. The land has been farmed organically for over 30 years and they are currently producing 500,000 cases annually.
In my opinion, the role Bonterra plays in the marketplace is to provide accessibility of organic wines to the larger market. Even if you are not a fan of large production wines, Bonterra is doing amazing things and deserves our attention. And I assure you, the wines are good. Don't believe me? In 2016, Wine Enthusiast named Bonterra: American Winery of the Year. See HERE. There’s something to be said about scale. Big is not always bad. As I witnessed firsthand, a tremendous amount of care goes into everything they do.
Our day in Mendocino started with gloomy, foggy, and wet weather. It was cold and rainy, but that didn't stop us! We were transported to Bonterra Vineyards property, McNab Ranch in Ukiah where we met Joseph Brinkley, Bonterra's Director of Vineyards. Note that McNab Ranch is not open to the public. Joseph is a handsome young guy with dreads and he manages 1,000 acres of vines plus 1,000 acres of wild land. I cannot convey to you (nor can my photos do justice) of how beautiful this property is. We chatted in the barn, chatted in the rain, walked through puddles, and strolled through the vineyards. This morning, with the weather in plain sight, I was reminded that a vineyard (and even a bottle of wine) is a living, breathing thing. WE as humans are at the mercy of the land. Not the other way around. This was a good reminder as I continued my deep dive into all things organic and biodynamic.
Part of the day included a biodynamic prep workshop where we were lucky enough to stuff cow manure in cow horns. <insert sarcasm> These are buried in the vineyards in the fall to decompose throughout the winter. I was happy to participate in this workshop and see a biodynamics up close and personal. But I'd be lying if I said that I wanted to do it again. Handling manure is not what I thought of when I envisioned working in the wine world!
After the property tour and biodynamic prep workshop we enjoyed a bountiful local lunch prepared by Chef Alan Cox. It was to die for and included: local greens with goat feta and a 4-vinegar dressing, white turnips and carrots with pomegranate and lemon rice wine vinegar dressing plus fresh dill and coriander, local chicken with preserved lemon beurre blanc, and roasted heirloom delicato and butternut squashes. Chef Cox explained each dish to us and gave us a bit of a Mendocino history lesson. There is a community of Native American people in the area. His goal is to create bridges instead of walls, and he does this through food. Food brings an energy and connectedness. What a mindful, conscious guy he was.
The lunch was paired with local wines....too many to mention! I believe we tasted over 30 wines before lunch! What I did love is that we got to meet the local winemakers. Especially poignant was hearing from Jeff Cichocki, the Bonterra head winemaker, who had just lost his home in the fires. He was still here. There was an energy in the room and we felt it. I felt a tremendous amount of love and community. Jeff's integrity and humility was apparent.
Spending time in Mendocino enriched my understanding of terroir, and not just in regards to wine. A sense of place. Our sense of place and why we are here and what our role on the planet is. I felt more present to our responsibility as humans while in Mendocino because I met so many people who have such a strong connection to the land. Something I don't always get in Los Angeles.
I'd be remiss if I did not mention Courtney Cochran who works in PR and Communications at Fetzer. Courtney was our host and cruise director for this overnight excursion and she rocked it. And she had a bun in the oven! She was a pleasure to be with, extremely knowledgeable, and had a strong relationship to time and to our schedule, which I appreciate as an event planner. Thank you Courtney!
Finally, here are the Bonterra Wines we tasted. Most of these wines have wide distribution and can be found at many grocery stores, including Whole Foods. I can say, from having experienced the Bonterra land, that with your purchase, you are doing something good. Good for the land and good for Mendocino. Bonterra is taking corporate social responsibility to another level with their careful and thoughtful use of the land.
A pure, fresh nose for a Zinfandel. No prunes or raisins here. An example of a cooler climate Zinfandel. Restrained with a nose of red fruit and spice.
This wine was GREAT on its own. Strong red fruit notes, plus ripe plums. Good spice characteristics plus floral (violets). This wine surprised me, and in a good way.
The blend for this wine varies annually. It is a single vineyard Rhone blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre. Red + black fruit, spice box, and dried meat.
We tried this one in the field and with the panel. A good Kim Crawford alternative if you want to expand your horizons. They even do this wine on tap at some on-premise locations. A good balance of sugar and acid. I get a lot of stone fruit.
Bonterra produces 140,000 cases of this wine annually. The nose had me worried. I thought it was going be an oaky, buttery Chardonnay, but the palate was well-balanced.
This is a 100% single vineyard Chardonnay. Their version of "Reserve". Only 250-500 cases are made annually. A nice wine. Very enjoyable. 100% MLF with frequent lees stirring. More purity of fruit, than the 2016 Chardonnay. All free-run juice, no press. Light and ethereal.
Last fall I attended the annual Wine Bloggers Conference in Santa Rosa, CA. The area had just been hit hard with the wildfires only a month earlier, but the resiliency of the community was apparent, as they welcomed us with open arms and leaned on us to help spread the message that Napa and Sonoma were open for business. As we’d hear throughout the week in Sonoma/Napa, in Mendocino, smoke taint was a non-issue since most of the fruit was already harvested when the fires hit. Though two wineries were lost in the fire.
Just before WBC began, I attended a pre-conference excursion called the “Inner Mendo Odyssey” which took us to various properties in Mendocino. I had never been to Mendocino and was blown away. It felt like I was transported to a land far, far away. Mendocino felt wild and untamed. In fact, it made Sonoma look fancy!
Mendocino is the epicenter of organic farming in California. In terms of wine, there are 17,000 acres under vine in Mendocino County and 11 AVAs.
Our first stop of the day was Fetzer Vineyards in Hopland, CA (population 817!). Fetzer is one of America’s founding wine families and has since been acquired by Viña Concha y Toro. They are considered a certified zero waste and carbon neutral brand. They also operate on 100% green power. Here our group shared a toast and engaged in a conversation about sustainability and carbon farming with people from both Fetzer and North Coast Brewing Co.
Biodynamics refer to the process with which grapes are grown and wine is made. Biodynamics were developed by Rudolf Steiner using his own formulas as well as referring to the astrological and lunar calendars. Organic wine is wine in which the grapes were not sprayed with chemicals (making the grapes certified organic) and the wine was made with no added chemicals (i.e. sulfites). Both are very sustainable and have their own pluses and minuses. The beauty of nature, is that there is no waste in nature. Nature is a naturally sustainable system. Biodynamics closes the fertility loop because everything the system needs is within the system. I heard an interesting quote at this panel: there isn’t too much carbon, it’s just in the wrong place. This has always been something I’ve said about resources. It feels that we (aka the planet) have enough water and food. It’s just that those resources are misallocated. This is evident every time we throw away food in our fridge that has gone bad or throw away leftovers just because we don’t
Fetzer is the largest winery in the world to be named a Certified B-Corp. B-Corps meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability, and aspire to use the power of markets to solve social and environmental problems. This certification allows the board to make decisions not solely on profit. Profit is still a factor, but not the only factor.
This wine has been produced for over 30 years and comes at a whopping $9 pricepoint. What a value! I was floored by how much I enjoyed this.
This is the ONLY beer I have ever liked, except for cider. In fact, I’d consider it a good crossover beer for the rosé wine drinker. It actually tastes like a cross between beer, juice, and cider.
After the sustainability conversation, we had an opportunity to engage in a wine blending competition with Bob Blue, winemaker of 1000 Stories, a Fetzer brand. 1000 Stories is a new brand. The wine is matured in both new and used, charred Bourbon barrels, which are plentiful as each barrel can only be used once to make bourbon. To continue on the sustainability train, 1000 Stories supports the Wildlife Conservation Society and American Bison Society in their efforts to help restore natural habitats and reintroduce bison to healthy environments.
In the blending competition, we tried different component wines including Zinfandel, Alicante Bouchet, and Petit Sirah from Mendocino, Lodi, and Paso Robles. From there we got to play winemaker and create our own blend for submission into the contest. It was a fun exercise, but who the hell really knows what they’re doing…..probably none of us!
We were then bused to the Fetzer 50th Kick-Off Reception & Dinner at Campovida. Fetzer was about to celebrate their 50th harvest that following week. Campovida is an organic farm, winery, and event space. Chefs such as Alice Waters, Emeril Lagasse, and John Ashe learned here. Gary Breen and Anna Beuselinck are the proprietors and the Campovida brand makes 3000 cases annually (24 different varietals)!
Here is a peek at the menu we enjoyed. The food (and wine!) was plentiful, hence I didn’t get too many tasting notes!
With this menu we enjoyed an Arneis, Tocai Friulano, Rosé di Grenache, Nebbiolo, Syrah (this was my standout wine!), and late harvest Viognier.