you market a wine region? Wineries of the Mendocino Winegrowers
Alliance on the North Coast of California think theyve found
a way. They formed Consortium Mendocino and launched a regional
wine blend theyre calling Coro Mendocino.
Marketing a wine blend that is tied to a specific place and made
by several producers is not a new idea. Sometimes, its successful
as Chianti is in Italy but lacking government-regulated
direction for such a project, can a community of winemakers accomplish
the task on its own? The ultimate determination of success is down
the road, but the consortium can claim initial triumph with the
release in June 2004 of the first (2001) Coro Mendocino, Zinfandel-based
red wine blends.
Mendocino County has less than 50 wineries operating within its
borders, but 18,000 acres are planted to grapevines. So the majority
of Mendocino fruit is going to other wineries for bottlings not
carrying the Mendocino Appellation. Mendocino County loses
out when only people inside the wine industry know how good our
grapes are, says Sally Ottoson, owner and winemaker of Pacific
Star Winery (Fort Bragg, CA). Coro was conceived as the way
to communicate our pride of place.
The eight participating wineries, from among the nations biggest
to one of its smallest, include Fetzer Vineyards (2.5 million cases),
Brutocao Cellars, Eaglepoint Ranch Winery, Gabrielli Winery, Graziano
Family Wines, Pacific Star Winery, Parducci Wine Estates, and Golden
Vineyards (about 225 cases).
Coro started out as a winemaker roundtable that asked the
question: What do we do the best here in inland Mendocino?
says winemaker Sam Gabrielli, Gabrielli Winery (Redwood Valley).
We conceded Cabernets to Napa, and Pinot Noirs to Russian
River and Anderson [valleys], and came upon Zinfandels, Petite Sirah,
and other Mediterranean varietals.
This program represents Americas first appellation controlleé
wines, adds winemaker Greg Graziano. Our group believes
that Zinfandel is one of the best wines in the world and that Mendocino
is blessed with many diverse climates and soil types that showcase
the quality of this grape. We also believe that blending of compatible
varieties with Zinfandel will overcome any shortcomings that Zinfandel
may have with any given vintage.
Coro Mendocino production protocols
Each winerys blend contains a foundation of Zinfandel (40%
to 70%), according to production protocols. Members of the Consortium
Mendocino, under the auspices of the Mendocino Winegrowers Alliance,
developed those protocols and agreed to follow them as a group.
There is plenty of room for individual expression with the second-tier
blending varietals, which include Syrah, Petite Sirah, Carignane,
Sangiovese, Grenache, Dolcetto, Charbono, Barbera, and Primitivo.
No other varietal in the blend may exceed the percentage of Zinfandel.
In addition, up to 10% of the blend may be wild card varietals of
the winemakers choice.
The consortium established a generous chemistry and ageing range
for Coro Mendocino blends as well, hoping to establish guidelines
that would lead to the best quality wines to represent Mendocino.
Guidelines must be met for alcohol level (12.5% to 16%), pH (3.2
to 3.8), total acidity (0.4 to 0.9 g/ 100ml), glucose/fructose enzymatic
(less than 700mg/ 100ml), volatile acidity (less than 0.1g/ 100ml),
and malic acid (less than 35mg/ 100ml).
The wines are judged twice by a panel that includes participating
winemakers, before each winerys blend can wear the Coro Mendocino
label. If a blend misses any production parameter on the first judging,
there is time to adjust before the final decision on whether to
accept it as a Coro wine. All eight 2001 Coro wines are between
14% and 15% alcohol, between 3.49 and 3.79 pH, with total acidity
between 0.61 and 0.70 g/100ml.
Ageing must be at least one year in barrel, minimum of 25% and maximum
of 75% new oak, and a minimum of six months in bottle before release.
Coro, a word meaning chorus in both Italian and Spanish,
was chosen to represent the image of a chorus of winemakers blending
their skills and wines into a whole greater than the sum of its
The idea of the Coro project appealed to me instantly,
says Ottoson. My fondness for Italian-style wine has really
guided my winemaking path. I studied old European winemaking techniques
and knocked on doors to talk to as many of the old timers as I could
Ottoson says that the 2001 Pacific Star Coro Mendocino contains
40% Zinfandel, 25% Petite Sirah, 15% Charbono, 10% Barbera, and
10% Pinot Noir. While Pacific Star Winery is on the edge of
the ocean [in a Mendocino coastal town], I can access grapes from
vineyards all over the county. I was amazed to find so many wonderful
old varieties Carignane, Grenache, Barbera, and of course,
Charbono, which has become something of an obsession for me.
The 2001 Coro Mendocino from Graziano Family of Wines (Redwood Valley,
CA) has 55% Zinfandel, 15% Sangiovese, 15% Dolcetto, and 15% Barbera.
There are many old plantings of Zinfandel and other compatible
varieties in Mendocino County, which occupy many different soils,
Graziano notes. With all of the new plantings of varieties
like Syrah, Grenache, Petite Sirah, Dolcetto, Barbera, and Sangiovese,
we have many blending options to show what can be done in creating
a unique wine with great distinction.
Many Mendocino growers, and Coro winemakers, are third and
fourth generation Italian families who chose Zinfandel and the other
grapes for the Coro blends because theyve learned over decades
that those varietals grow best here, agrees Ottoson.
Gabrielli Family Wines first Coro blend is 56% Zinfandel,
22% Petite Sirah, 11% Syrah, and 11% Sangiovese. Sam Gabrielli used
all Mendocino County oak barrels to age the wine.
Winemaker Bob Swain at Parducci Wine Estates (Ukiah) blended 67%
Zinfandel, 22% Petite Sirah, and 10% Syrah for his 2001 Coro Mendocino.
Fetzer Vineyards (Hopland) used 49% Zinfandel, 38% Syrah, 8% Petite
Sirah, and 5% Grenache Noir in its blend, made by consulting winemaker
Dennis Patton, who also made the Coro blend for Golden Vineyards.
Goldens 76 cases of Coro Mendocino will be the very first
wine for sale by this new winery.
Fetzer had a big part in the early development of the Coro Mendocino
concept. The idea was originated by winemakers Dennis Martin, Patton,
and former Fetzer President Paul Dolan, who took the notion to the
Winegrowers Alliance, where it became a full community effort. Fetzer
marketing and public relations professional Jim Caudill helped hone
the brand image and nomenclature for Coro Mendocino, and Rick Roese,
a packaging designer at Fetzer, developed the name and designed
the Coro package.
I was pretty skeptical when the realization came that the
Coro branding needed to express our unity of purpose which
meant that eight ferociously independent winemakers had to agree
on a common label design, muses Ottoson. Hours of lively
meetings found us finally doing the democratic thing we voted.
Those who dissented came into the fold gracefully, and Im
grateful to Rick Roese for hanging in there with us through the
painful design process.
Roese claims this was actually one of the most enjoyable design
experiences he can remember. These winemakers are very straightforward
and comfortable with each other as a group, he says. Once
the group decided what we wanted the brand to do for Mendocino,
the package really came together.
Each Coro Mendocino wine will use identical bottles, labels, capsules,
and shippers. The only differences will be the names of individual
wineries and winemakers on the front label, and the list of grapes
comprising the blend identified on the back. Building a unified
brand identity was vital to the design process. The idea, as with
Chianti wines, was to build an instantly recognizable look for consumers
to identify with the blend.
The 2001 Coro Mendocino blends will be small releases for each winery
(ranging from 76 to 500 cases) but nonetheless represent a significant
commitment on the part of each winery toward a marketing ideal
marketing their unique place, an ultra-premium blend, and their
community as a brand. Suggested retail price of the 2001 Coro wines
With only a small production of 2001 Coro blends, the wineries kept
marketing local to Northern California with the June launch. Tastings
for local media, an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, and
a Wine Affair weekend invitation to the mailing list of the Winegrowers
Alliance comprised the modest marketing efforts. The wines will
not be sold to wholesalers and the usual distribution networks,
but at each winerys tasting room and on the new Coro
One of the interesting things about this wine and this project
is that everybody blended a very small quantity, so nobody has to
sell this wine tomorrow to survive, concludes Patton. This
gives the winemakers the rare freedom to build structure into the
wine, to ensure that this wine has a shot at being great not just
next year, but possibly for the next 20 years.