When Barney Fetzer died in 1981, at 62, he'd shown
the rest of California that its northern county of
Mendocino was good for more than redwoods. He
was a pioneer, one of the first to plant grapes in
1968. Now there are 20 wineries in Mendocino and the Fetzer vineyards cover 500 acres. Barney Fetzer had big ideas. Fortunately, he also had a big family. Of the 11 Fetzer children, 10 are actively involved in the business.
Having established a reputation for reds, especially zinfandels, Fetzer is now expanding its white wine production. New releases include a trio of fruity '82s: Chenin Blanc and Gewurztraminer, both at $5, and Johannisberg Riesling, $7. All three are thirst-quenchingly low in alcohol, at 10 percent, fresh, lively, and with a light touch of their various varietal characteristics. The '82 Sundial Chardonnay, $7, is another early bottled white, drier than the others, crisp and tart, a match for lighter foods. All widely available.
Wagneriana--Fond as I could become of East Coast white hybrids, particularly those from seyval, vidal and ravat grapes, I'm still at arm's length with the reds. But we're getting along better since I tasted those of Wagner Vineyards of Seneca Lake, N.Y.
Wagner's nonvintage blend of de chaunac and rougeon, called Capital Red, $3.75, is a soft, pleasant, everyday wine. And the '80 De Chaunac, Lot 2, $4.50, purple (as are all de chaunacs), is unlike most that I've tasted because it actually delivers some body and finish to match the promise of the color.
I have few reservations about New York State rieslings. Wagner's '81 Johannisberg Riesling, $8, is delicious, fruity and kabinett-like. Wait for the '82 Individual Bunch Selected Johannisberg Riesling, a dessert wine with a heavy dose of natural botrytis. Give it a few years to reach full apricot-tasting richness, but buy it as soon as it's released this fall. There are only 80 cases, all in half-bottles. The price has not been decided. Stores selling Wagner include Morris-Miller, Georgetown Wine & Cheese and Watergate.
In Vino Equitas--America's wine producers want a fairer deal in foreign markets. An alliance of the Wine Institute of California and the Association of American Vintners came to Washington last month to find backers for their Wine Equity Bill. Their proposal tackles the long-standing complaint that American wines are subject to a "Byzantine patchwork" of higher duties, paperwork and regulations abroad that far outweigh those imposedon wines imported into the United States. As the bill does not ask for protectionism or reciprocal barriers on imported wines, that sounds reasonable enough. But assuming its successful passage through Congress, how are we going to persuade France or Italy or Japan to drop those trade barriers? No matter how highly you or I may think of wine, it's a small item compared to steel or cars or wheat.
I think there's a more important issue within the United States. Lingering Prohibition. In the District we're okay. We have a comparatively free liquor trade. But what about those counties and states that still have restrictive liquor control systems? Those are the real barriers to the growth of the American wine industry--and ones which the Wine Institute is addressing as actively as state laws permit. If May's visit to the Hill was intended to do a bit of "consciousness-raising," let's hope it hit some home as well as away targets.