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February 2005

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Wine Country Personality — Paul Dolan (Full Article)

In His Own Time, A Legacy Moving Forward

Paul DolanAt once effective environmentalist and successful businessman, Wine Country luminary Paul Dolan spearheaded fundamental changes that affect the wines we drink every day. Grower and winemaker, he opened his mind to sustainable farming practices being developed in his community. His pragmatic approach took organic and bio-dynamically grown grapes beyond small production wines and into mainstream winemaking. Changing the rules as he went along and importantly, proving financial viability, he has profoundly influenced vineyard management and winemaking throughout the industry, whether organic or not. He has also fostered a growing recognition of the quality and value of Mendocino County wines.

Paul holds 30 years of experience growing grapes and making wine in Mendocino, most notably as the longtime winemaker and later, President of Fetzer Vineyards. During his time at Fetzer, he also brought sustainable agriculture to the big company that eventually purchased Fetzer, Brown-Forman, all before these homegrown practices became trendy. The example set at Fetzer proved that business fundamentals could be matched to quality and social responsibility. Thus Paul delivered a positive, practical reflection of local culture as he added value to the Mendocino wines he cultivated. Paul’s book True to Our Roots has been widely read, influencing the greening of industry beyond wine and even agriculture.

As Paul likes to say, the grape is a product of its surroundings. The importance goes beyond rich, pure fruit flavor in socially progressive Mendocino. In an area where advertisements for bio-diesel fuel can be heard on the radio, new ideas about farming are mainstream. Nowadays, wetland and riparian restorations, along with fish-friendly farming, are common vineyard activities. Cover crops replace nutrients in the soil while harboring beneficial insects and reducing erosion of valuable topsoil. Conservation of water and power, along with waste management practices, have been dramatically improved. Many of these techniques have been adopted widely throughout the industry thanks to Paul’s visionary influence.

The use and costs of using pesticides also have been considerably reduced, while creating more work for local people. Younger vineyardists in the county are seeing a broader benefit, a “new look” matching the intense rich flavors, which these healthy vineyard practices impart to their wines. This appearance, along with taste, becomes ever more important as a new generation of wine enthusiasts comes to the table.

Paul’s legacy has never been more important, as he has recently taken on a project with tremendous promise. In May 2004, the venerable Parducci Wine Estate was purchased by the Mendocino Wine Group (MWG), a partnership between Paul Dolan and the Thornhill family. Both have deep roots in Mendocino County.

Parducci Wine CellarsParducci Wine Cellars was established in 1932 in Mendocino’s Ukiah Valley by Italian immigrant Adolph Parducci and his family, the first vintner to promote Mendocino as a premier wine appellation. MWG has ambitious plans for building upon Parducci’s rich heritage and long-standing reputation for excellence. While currently at least 25% of the fruit grown and used by Parducci is organic, this is below average in this county! Now an organic conversion process is in full swing to include the entire Estate, as well as Parducci’s grower partners. Paul’s farming, winemaking and business acumen are key assets as MWG enhances the venerable Parducci brand.

A new Tasting Room opens this month in downtown Mendocino, expanding the reach of these excellent Ukiah Valley wines to this popular coastal tourist destination. Along with refreshing the appearance of the current offerings—Parducci, Parducci Reserve, Zingaro, Sketchbook and Hidden Cellars—MWG has five new brands under development which will eventually reside here.

Paul’s enthusiasm as he talks about this work is reflected in proofs for new labels cluttering his desk. Inventive new appearances are coming as the brands are reinvigorated, connecting the joy of these wines to a new, fun-loving generation of wine consumers. Long-term marketing plans include communication with customers underserved by the wine industry, for instance women and people of color…again using a practical approach rooted in research, yet informed by vision.

Not one to rest on his winemaking laurels, Paul’s name will appear on a new series of biodynamic wines. He is also involved with Sauvignon Republic Cellars, an innovative project producing wines only with Sauvignon Blanc from different locations around the world. The aim is to demonstrate the characteristic taste of terroir from each nation, and to expand food-pairing possibilities with focus on this under-appreciated varietal.

Now that the Parducci winery is again under such talented local ownership, committed to the people, land and grapes of Mendocino County, its future is bright. Though Mendocino is the northernmost California appellation, the inland Ukiah Valley enjoys long summer days with a surprising amount of heat, and tremendous cooling at night. These are terrific conditions for growing quality wines. As Paul continues development of Mendocino brands, he stresses a theme familiar to fans of Central Coast or Sierra Foothill wines -- exceptional value and quality can still be found in California. And that organic, sustainable vineyard practices bring a depth of flavor to the wines, making them truly remarkable.

Paul Dolan’s resounding achievement is that he integrated the environmental values of his community into sound business practice, all along making wines that an increasingly large public loves. This fourth generation winemaker is a talented industry veteran who remains young in deed. He has carefully rethought and retooled the industry, turning it sideways rather than upside down with evolutionary new solutions. Bringing what he preached into mainstream practice has benefited growers, investors, society and most importantly, those of us who enjoy his wines. Paul has personally added important new layers of meaning to the toast “to your health” that will last for generations to come.

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