Visit enough wineries, and you will develop some favorites. For me, in Mendocino County, Saracina, about 1.5 miles north of downtown Hopland on the west side of Highway 101, is at the top of my personal favorites list.
I keep coming to Saracina, again and again, because owners John Fetzer and Patty Rock have built something remarkable. In a very short time, they have transformed what was the Sundial Ranch – best known as the original source of Fetzer Sundial Chardonnay (today that wine is made largely from Lodi sourced grapes, a real shame) into Saracina, a source of constantly changing beauty.
John Fetzer is the consummate gentleman farmer and, on my last Saracina visit, John was busy raking the concrete walkways around his tasting room after a windy night. John’s shock of white hair moving in the continuing morning breeze, in stark contrast to his tanned skin, eyes sparkling and smile huge, he shared that he would love to be outside working constantly, and would happily if he could.
Someone once pointed out to me the huge difference between Mendocino and Napa county vineyards. Their vineyards are largely brown, but the earth between Mendocino County grapevine rows is most often green. Cover crops fixing nitrogen and providing competition for moisture so vines are challenged and yield characterful grape flavors, natural grasses and in the case of Saracina, a spring profusion of red-orange color from Italian Red Willow trees, or a summer color block of sunflowers, just lend to the beauty that visitors to our area enjoy.
The tasting room at Saracina is all clean lines – rendered in stone and glass – a lovely environment that allows the sense to focus on the wines, oil, and honey that are born on the ranch.
Cassandra Mortier is the tasting room manager, and together with Kassandra Zaminis, guests at the ranch are sure to feel welcomed and well cared for, as wines are poured and each is made more memorable by having a little story shared about it. Informative and entertaining, the passion of these two women is on constant display.
2011 Saracina Sauvignon Blanc, Mendocino County $23 Bright pear fruit, hay, melon nose. Wet stone mineral crisp meets lemon orange citrus, with enough acid for a Grateful Dead show parking lot. Really like this.
2012 Saracina Unoaked Chardonnay, Mendocino County $18 Delicate multi-noted, fun, orange blossom and peach. Zero malolactic, but not the aggressively lean and crisp style expected with roundness coming from a 4 percent blending of Viognier. Young. Good. Will get better with age.
2011 Atrea The Choir White Wine, Mendocino County $20 46 percent Viogner, 54 percent Rousanne. Light honey, stone fruit nectarine meets bright apple.
2010 Saracina Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, Klindt Vineyard $38 I love this wine! Pretty, feminine. A good, light, Pinot funk in the nose. Gorgeous cherry, strawberry, red fleshy fruit shine.
2011 Saracina Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, Klindt Vineyard $38 Alex, the winemaker, likes this one more than the 2010. Soft nose. Dry. Cherry cola and herb. Young.
2010 Saracina Malbec, Mendocino County, Skid Row Vineyard $28 Cocoa, lush fruit, fantastic wine. Purpled burgundy color. Soft tannin. Blackberry and cassis.
2009 Atrea Old Soul Red, Mendocino County $25 A Coro by any other name still tastes as sweet (but may sell for less). 59 percent Zinfandel, 20 percent Petite Sirah, 14 percent Syrah, 7 percent Malbec. Ahhhh! Best nose yet! Chocolate, rich, leathery. A basket of jammy berry fruit.
Winemaker Alex MacGregor is a superstar winemaker, showing an especially deft hand with Rhone varietals: Viognier in the Chardonnay; Viognier and Rousanne in the Atrea White; Syrah and Petite Sirah in the Atrea Red: and both Petite Sirah and Syrah held separately on limited releases.
Saracina is also where I first fell in love with premium quality olive oil. I grew up in an Italian house, and olive oil finds a place in nearly everything that comes out of my kitchen. I always bought the biggest container of Star olive oil available, when on sale, and thought it was good Š until my first taste of Saracina olive oil. John has planted hundreds of imported Italian olive trees, four different types, and blends the olives for a complex combination of flavors when they are pressed locally into oil. Lively, so much yummier than grocery store oils, I found myself purchasing it years ago, even when between jobs and on a very limited budget. It is just that good.
Saracina takes part in, or hosts, special events almost monthly. For a list of the upcoming Saracina events, contact Cassandra at (707) 670-0199 or visit http://www.Saracina.com.
John Cesano thinks writing about himself in the third person is absurd. For more absurdity, visit his wine blog, JohnOnWine.com