Half the wine in California is now made by three companies; add three more, and you have two-thirds of the wine produced in the Golden State. These companies are large, multinational beverage conglomerates that have been steadily buying up small family-owned wineries since 2007. In this environment, the surviving independent operations seem like national treasures.
Fetzer was once one of those treasures. Founded in the Redwood Valley by Barney Fetzer in 1968, their motto was (and is) “Pioneers in Sustainability.” They took the lead in promoting organic grape farming as well as conservation and environmental design. Even after the winery was sold to Brown-Forman in 1992, Fetzer remained committed to crafting a clean, natural product for consumers.
In 1994 Barney’s son Robert purchased a 1200-acre property in Mendocino, in the area now known as the Eagle Peak AVA. The first Pinot Noir vines were planted in 1997, and the vineyard became a source of fruit for leading wineries in the area. After Robert perished in a rafting accident in 2006, his sons Jake and Ben founded the Masút Wineryin his honor, named for a Native American term for “dark, rich earth.” They produce one wine, a meticulously grown and hand-crafted Pinot Noir.
The nose of the 2014 Masút Estate Pinot Noir ($45) is rich and plummy, with aromas of black fruits balanced by whiffs of new oak. The wine enters the mouth effortlessly, expanding in the mid palate with tart flavors of black cherry, red plum, fresh herbs and anise. It is fresh and poised on the palate, intense yet graceful, and drinks like a hypothetical New World version of Nuits St. Georges. Echoes of black fruits emerge again on the crisp finish.
In the current climate of the wine industry, one of the inevitable effects of the past decade’s consolidation is that money begets advertising, which in turn breeds reputation and consumer recognition. Wineries such as Masút are definitely swimming against the tide, and wine lovers would be wise to help make them a new national treasure.
Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History (Lyons Press, 2012) and Moonshine Nation (Lyons Press, 2014); his first novel, Friend of the Devil, is forthcoming from Black Opal Books in May. For more information, go to amazon.com