When we took over the ranch June 30, 1990, we had no contracts in place for the grapes. Stewart had previously begun negotiations for a 10 ton sale of Zinfandel to Conn Creek Winery and he had me follow up with it, but for the rest we were on our own. We subsequently sold additional Zinfandel to Heitz. The rest of our Zinfandel was sold to Beringer as white zinfandel, but we did this through Dave Rose, who took a big cut.
Through the assistance of a wine broker we were connected with Fetzer Vineryards. I arranged to pick up Robert Fetzer, who flew his own plane, at the Angwin airport and drive him to the ranch to look at our grapes. He described our vineyard as a “hippy” vineyard because of its very minimal farming and trellising. It was not a negative in his mind since his family’s vineyards in Mendocino were organic and our unpretentious vineyard appealed to him. Fetzer ended up buying most of our Cabernet crop.
We retained much of our Riesling and all of our Sauvignon Blanc. We sold our Chardonnay to Buena Vista, Mary Hall was the grower relations person, one of the few women who held this role in any company in 1990, and it was a pleasure doing business with her.
We made a late harvest Riesling with all of our Riesling grapes without having any idea of the market for this wine and we ended up with a lot of wine that took years to sell out. Luckily it was a wine that kept well and got better in the bottle.
When we went north to visit Fetzer winery and taste our wine the following February 1991, Robert Fetzer told us our Cabernet was as good as it gets and he signed us on for another year. Unfortunately, he was not as happy with the grapes in 1991 year and likened the fruit to watermelon. We brought a sample of our own wine made from that harvest to our annual meeting at the Fetzer estate in winter of 1992 and he had to admit it was better than what they had. I had my suspicions about the wine he claimed to be ours, I felt it had to be mismarked. How could it be so different from ours. Unfortunately, he did not seem to be that interested in renewing our contract and after that meeting, I had a difficult time reaching him on the phone. Finally, his younger brother Joe returned my numerous calls and informed me they would buy my Cabernet for $1000/ton.
I rejected the offer, they had paid me $1500 in 1991 and I felt it was an insult. Two things were going on that year that I was unaware of, Fetzer was in the middle of negotiating with Brown Forman to be bought out; and the wine world along with the economy had weakened and Cabernet prices had softened. I ended up selling most of my Cabernet to Beringer for $700/ ton. We felt fortunate that they took it.