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Seductive Saracina
Saracina's "bistro wine," 2006 Atrea "Old Soul Red."

The label “Saracina” may not be a household name, but if I mention “Fetzer,” most wine drinkers would recognize the name. But the Fetzer family, particularly former CEO John Fetzer, has not been involved with their namesake since selling the brand to beverage giant Brown–Forman in 1992.

The brand is a New World success story. Fetzer was named CEO in 1981 and immediately pushed the 1,000–acre property into monumental production – from 200,000 cases in 1981 to more than 2.5 million cases in 1992. Wine and Spirits magazine named it “Winery of the Year” five consecutive years.

A lengthy non–compete clause kept Fetzer sidelined for nearly a decade, but he spent those years tending remaining vineyards and assembling what would become his new project – Saracina – launching in 2001.

Now, along with his wife, Patty Rock, he guides a project that is in many ways the antithesis of what Fetzer wines became. With more than 6oo acres teeming with wildlife and enjoying footage on the famed Russian river, Fetzer nurtures only 300 acres of prime Mendocino County land that is either certified organic or grown bio–dynamically.

He spent two years having the county’s first wine caves carved from native rock. And, he says, he has boxed himself into a project where production can never exceed a few thousand cases.

I met the couple in the very casual setting of Sugar Daddy’s Wine Bar, joining them, wine merchant Tom Huffstedler, and bar manager Brian Torres for my first ever sip of the wines.

This is where wine maker Alex MacGregor gets to show his skills. Additionally, Fetzer tapped MacGregor’s mentor, David Ramey – a pioneer in the art of crafting California Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon – to help give Saracina an edge.

An edge was exactly what I found in 2007 Saracina Sauvignon Blanc Mendocino County. This bright, citrusy wine kicks the grassy New Zealand counterparts to the curb. Balance is the watchword here: fruit, minerality and acidity walk hand–in–hand. It’s luscious and refreshing.

2007 Saracina Pinot Noir Anderson Valley is so silky that even a newbie would distinguish it as something of importance. Careful handling of sensitive Pinot grapes is evident in this nuanced wine. Spicy notes of fruit and oak rise to the nose, then that wonderful mouth feel gets a boost from flavors of fresh fruit and perfectly balanced tannins and acidity. It’s great alone and will shine as a food wine.

A Zin, Syrah and Petite Sirah were delicious, but I gravitated to what Rock calls Saracina’s “bistro wine,” 2006 Atrea “Old Soul Red.”

The tiny splash of Malbec in this blend of Zin, Syrah and Petite Sirah caught my nose first, but quickly gave way to a market basket of dark plums, blackberry and just a teasing hint of oak. This may be Saracina’s lowest cost red, but it drinks big and luscious. I suspect it may even stand a few years in the bottle with this classic combination of grapes.