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Jim Fetzer Sets Up Biodynamic Vineyard in California's Lake County

Daniel Sogg
Posted: June 6, 2001

Jim Fetzer, former president of Fetzer Vineyards in Mendocino County, is moving his Ceago Vinegarden biodynamic winemaking and vineyard operation to California's Lake County, north of Sonoma and Napa counties.

In January, Fetzer purchased a 270-acre parcel on the northern shore of Clear Lake, which contains about 50 acres suitable for vines and will be planted with several grape varieties, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Syrah.

"I'm pretty excited with some of the grapes coming from new plantings in Lake County, so I think there's huge potential," said Fetzer, 50, who cited Steele Wines as an example.

This past January, Fetzer sold his former Ceago Vinegarden property, 370 acres located on the McNab Ranch in Mendocino County, to the Brown-Forman Corporation, which also purchased Fetzer Vineyards from Jim and his family in 1992.

Brown-Forman plans to build a winery on the McNab site, which is currently planted to 133 acres of Petite Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay and Viognier. The company also hopes to expand the vineyard and develop a conference center that will host meetings about organic-farming practices.

It was Jim Fetzer's success with biodynamic farming on McNab Ranch that intrigued Brown-Forman, which believed the site would be an ideal showplace for Fetzer Vineyards' organic Bonterra label. "We felt for a long time that the Bonterra brand needed a home of its own," said Sid Goldstein, vice president of marketing communications and services at Brown-Forman. "After 13 years of success with farming grapes organically along our own vineyards in Mendocino, the purchase of the McNab Ranch gives us a new resource to explore the world of biodynamic grapes."

While organic farming forbids the use of industrially synthesized pesticides or fertilizers, biodynamic viticulture also demands a variety of carefully timed vineyard and soil treatments thought to maximize the benefits of lunar and cosmological cycles.

Armed with a good foundation of biodynamic experience, Jim Fetzer plans to tweak his viticultural practices while learning the character of his new site. He will test a variety of clones (seven Cabernet and six Merlot) and will also use longer rootstock so that the vines can subsist on less irrigation.

Jim Fetzer is currently negotiating to buy a nearby abandoned spring-water bottling plant, which would be converted into a winery. "If that doesn't work out, we'll start building next year," he said. He is also considering developing a resort alongside the vineyard.

Although Fetzer has not yet determined a price range or total production for the wines, he expects the first Ceago Vinegarden bottlings from the Clear Lake site to reach the market by 2007.

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Learn more about Jim Fetzer:

  • July 31, 2000
    Ahead of the Curve: After three decades of winemaking, the Fetzer family sees Mendocino ripen

  • Oct. 15, 1998
    Grapegrowing by the Stars: Biodynamic Farming Takes Root in California
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