Mirassou can lay claim to being one of California's great family wineries. Not only have five generations of this French immigrant family worked the vineyards and produced wine, they have often struck out in new directions and pointed the way for others to follow.

Most notable in recent years has been the Mirassou's effort to establish Monterey County as a mojor league wine region. The family planted its first grapes in the county back in 1961 and been touting Monterey ever since. Of course the most effective publicity came from the Mirassou wines s themselves, particularly varietal whites such as chardonnay, riesling and chenin blanc and their successful blends of "white burgundy" and "dry chablis." c

Making successful red wines in Monterey has been more difficult. Connoisseurs detected a strong vegetable odor in the wines and frowned. Some growers threw in the towel and grafted their vines over to white grapes, following the popular trend toward white wines. The Mirassous were stubborn. fThey experimented with different methods of vinification and felt confident that as their vines matured -- particularly cabernet sauvignon -- the unpleasant odors could be eliminated. Their 1975 cabernets showed well and they are happy with the 1977 and still-unreleased 1978 cabernets.

Meanwhile Mirassou's gamay beaujolais has been very successful, as has their generic burgundy, and the winery also produces a line of well-regarded sparkling wines. Steve Mirassou was in Washington last week conducting a series of tastings for the trade, the result of which should be even more exposure for these very reasonably priced wines.