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Tasting notes from California

© 2013 Tom Cannavan

These notes accompany our in-depth feature on California.


Tim Just south of Redwood Valley in Ukiah, Parducci has just celebrated 80 years of making wine. It is Mendocino's oldest winery, and a rare wine business that survived prohibition. But a series of legal and business tussles with investors in the 1990s meant that the Parducci's finally lost control of the business, and there followed a period of declining sales and declining quality.

Step up another family, the Thornhills, who in 2004 bought the business. Texan brothers Tim and Tom Thornhill along with their father, have since been steadily improving and significantly growing the business, whilst at the same time adopting an all-out push for sustainability. I met up with Tim Thornhill (right) and long-serving winemaker Bob Swain for a tour of the property. From the moment Tim Thornhill strode into the room complete with Wrangler jeans and Stetson, it was clear that this operation does very little by chance.

Tim sat me down for a well-rehearsed slide show that explained where he had come from, and just how seriously he is taking the task of turning Parducci completely green. He didn't start out in wine, but had been "A glorified landscaper," he says. In fact his landscape gardening business was hugely successful, with Walt Disney World in Florida becoming his largest account and the business developing into creating extensive botanical gardens for some extremely rich private clients. A specialism in "moving very large trees," developed too, and some of the photographs Tim showed me, with his team of 300 men moving enormous trees across the country, were truly mind-blowing. "I built fantasies for other people," says Tim.

Tim tells me that it was a wish to reunite his family spread around the US from New York to Texas to California, that was a motivation to put down roots, and which led to the family purchase of Parducci. Today, 18 members of his extended family live on the farm next door to Parducci, with eight working in the business. I asked if he'd had qualms about taking over an ailing, if well-known business: "We saw that Parducci was going through a series of poor ownerships and poor decisions," he says. "It had run down from 300,000 cases per year to 100,000 cases." But he is clearly a man whose life experience has given him the confidence to take on the challenge: "I left school at 13," he says, "and I don't believe in 'can't' - there's no such thing as 'can't'."

Bob Today, production is back at 200,000 cases and the workforce has doubled from 35 to 70 employees. But it is his environmental success that obviously brings Tim most satisfaction: "We are growing the business whilst minimising its consumption," he tells me. "Water use has reduced by three million gallons per year, purely by watering when it's needed, not according to a schedule." He has also cleaned up ponds that had once run red with winery effluent, via natural organisms that eat the waste. Many clever ideas obviously borrow from his landscape and horticultural experience too: "Water is re-oxygenated by waterfalls that mimic what goes on in the rocky mountains," he enthuses, "and we've constructed a wetland that emulates the everglades."

Tim Thornhill is a force to be reckoned with, but winemaker Bob Swain, left, is just the man for this job. Having survived many tribulations in his 16 years at Parducci and years at Clos du Val before that, he gets on with the wines in a quiet, assured way.

Below: an ingenious water-oxygenating waterfall built by Tim Thornhill from the recycled remains of an old concrete mixer truck.

the wines

UK importer of Parducci is Forth Wines. See world stockists on wine-searcher.

Parducci Cellars, Mendocino Small Lot Sauvignon 2012, California
Apple and lemon, a little bit of citrus rind character, with a big, pithy dry palate, the grapefruit has a squirt of juiciness that is very food friendly. 86-87/100.

Parducci Cellars, Mendocino Small Lot Pinot Gris 2012, California
Limpid, expressive fresh pear nose, a touch of Muscat and Sauvignon Blanc tweaks the aromatics, the palate has fresh pear, with good acidity and a nice stripe of acidity, a grapefruity, fresh and pithy finish. 86/100.

Parducci Cellars, Mendocino Small Lot Chardonnay 2011, California
Orange and oatmeal, a good sunny ripeness to this, with lots of nectarine, ripe apple and pear and an oatmeally, richness. Very sweet mid-palate fruit, perhaps a touch too sweet as it finishes, but has a lovely juiciness and clarity that makes it attractive and very easy to drink. 86/100.

Parducci Cellars, Small Lot Pinot Noir 2011, California
Nice, delicate Pinot, a touch rhubarb, a touch of beetroot, with good bramble and berry fruit beneath. Very nice palate too: juicy and fresh, with a smack of cherry and rose-hip freshness, this punches above its weight for a $12.00 wine. 87/100.

Parducci Cellars, Mendocino Small Lot Merlot Mendocino 2010, California
A touch of Cabernet and of Syrah in the blend. Good Merlot nose, a touch of tomato, but very nice red plum fruit. Very nice palate with good, ripe and creamy sweet fruitiness. Easy to drink, with a dryness in the finish that I like. 86/100.

Parducci Cellars, Small Lot Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, California
Touches of Merlot, Cab Franc and Petit Verdot. Nice touch of ashy, lifted smoke and cedar edged brightness to this, with very nice fruit, a bit of sinewy structure, with a juiciness and very good cabernet character - cassis and a note of cedar again in the finish. 87/100.

Parducci Cellars, True Grit Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2010, California
Almost all Cabernet with a touch of Petit Verdot. A vineyard selection, this has a creamier and deeper profile, a little more concentration obvious, with a touch of liquorice and a touch of blackcurrant juiciness. A nice medium-bodied Cab, very pure black fruit too, the tannins more refined, more supple. 89/100. $20 locally.

Parducci Cellars, Small Lot Petite Sirah 2009, California
Beautifully blue-black fruited, a touch of cedar and a touch of tobacco, with a little floral lift too, it has plenty of dry substance, a lot of drying cedar and good acidity. Lovely wine, big but not overpowering. 87-88/100.

Parducci Cellars, True Grit Petite Sirah 2009, California
A selection of fruit, better barrels. Huge, deep, coffee and mint nose, of deep and plummy fruit and chocolate rich. An incense wreathing smokiness. On the palate good fruit: the tannins are big but resolved and this has huge, delicious wine, with massive tannin presence but the copious fruit with its abundant sweetness copes with it. Delicious. 90/100.

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