Masút… the name comes from a native American language and means dark rich earth. I had a chance to visit this winery which is located in a newly AVA registered appellation called Eagle Peak, in the northern part of Mendocino County. Young Jake Fetzer, owner, grape farmer and vintner gave generously of his time as he showed us around the rolling hills of his expansive private ranch.
Jake, a third generation winemaker from the Fetzer wine family, grows Pino Noir in this newly AVA registered area. He is a grandson of Barney Fetzer, the original founder of Fetzer Wines and Vineyards. Although Jake is only 33 years of age, he and his family have been cultivating grapes and making fine wines for a very long time. For him farming is a labor of love and as he refines his winemaking process year on year, he continues to develop a deep, rich, subtle wine, one with just the right balance of flavors and characteristics. His is an artisan's approach, where many of the steps are done by hand.
Located atop a ridge line that commands a few of the entire area, is a moderate sized, state of the art facility that includes a lab, wine production and storage equipment. After giving a brief tour of the winery, we picked out a few crystal glasses and a bottle of his Masút 2013 then went out to do our tasting at the top of a hill with a 360 degree panoramic view. As we sat on a wooden picnic table he explained that the winery covers roughly 1200 acres and that he plans to preserve nearly 80% of it in its natural state, converting only small, ideally suited sections for his vines. He wants his children, and his children's children to be able to enjoy the beauty of the landscape and to be able to appreciate it as much as he does.
Fetzer Wines, one of the most successful family owned wineries in the area, played a big role in the prosperity of California wine. The family legacy started when grandfather Barney Fetzer bought 720 acres of land at Ukiah Mendocino in 1945.
Barney Fetzer started as a grape farmer with his wife and 11 children and decided to set up his own winery after providing fruit to surrounding vintners for several years. The family's first release was 2,500 cases.
By the time Fetzer Vineyards was acquired by Brown-Forman in 1992, owners of Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey, the family's annual wine production had grown to 3,000,000 cases per year. As part of the sale of the winery, Barney's sons and daughters were forbidden by a non-compete agreement to be involved in the wine industry for 8 years.
As soon as the period of non-compete had passed, Jake's father Bobby bought new land in Mendocino, at a hillside site with fast draining soil, desirable sun exposure and marine influenced winds. Bobby chose to plant Pinot Noir in this special location, a varietal that thrives in this slightly cooler region of California. With the help of his sons Jake and Ben, Bobby started a new legacy. Unfortunately, Bobby passed away unexpectedly in 2006, but his sons inherited his passion for winemaking and his desire to grow the finest fruit in the region.
Taking the utmost advantage of his Fetzer family connections, and their extensive knowhow and experience, Jake works the area he grew up in. "Things haven't change too much around here. It's all pretty much the way it was when I was a kid." he says.
The Masút vineyards are beautifully trained and manicured, and Jake clearly spends a lot of time and energy to make it this way. He has built earthen ponds to provide water for irrigation and to control frost during some of the cooler nights of Spring. These features beautifully complement the landscape while providing habitat for wild birds and animals. We saw deer, and other wild animals on the estate. Control gates remain closed, but only while the buds are shooting. After this critical phase has passed, the grounds are open again to allow the deer to roam freely.
Jake personally maintains much of his land, proudly stating that he is an expert with grass cutting equipment. He once tried introducing sheep to maintain the weeds in the vineyards, but coyotes destroyed them after only a few days.
Jake currently produces 5000 cases of Masút Pino Nior per year. A modest amount of wine when you consider his grandfather's legacy. But Jake's goal is to produce a superior Pino Nior, one that leaves a lasting impression in the mind and on the tongue. He puts his best effort into what he is making. He is not interested in pushing his wine aggressively into the market, rather he wants his wine to be pulled by those who can truly appreciate it.
The fruit is harvested at night when temperatures are cooler. The grapes are hand sorted and most of the process is hand crafted. Dry ice is used during some of the process to avoid oxidation. Pigeage techniques are used (mixing and punching down the cap manually using oar shaped long sticks) rather than remontage (automatic mixing with machines). The traditional techniques are very physical and require a lot of heavy lifting work. Barrel maturation is 15 months at Masút which doesn't match with 12 month grape growing cycle. This extra 3 months of maturation requires extra barrels for storage, but Jake says it is worth the additional cost in barrel inventory. He told me that barrels play a very important roll in how they affect the flavor of a wine and that he is still searching for the ideal oak for his Pino Noir.
Jake was born into a family of pioneering organic and biodynamic viticultural growers, but his way of grape growing may not fit perfectly into that category. His approach is aimed more at sustainable viticulture, one that is earth friendly, a coexist-with-nature-method of wine making. Spend anytime on this land and you'll immediately understand this sense of harmony. It took 9 years to register Eagle Peak as a AVA appellation, but Jake was patient with the process. Jake is one who appreciates his life and the ability he has to wake up every morning to new possibilities.
In Masút he has created a sort of heaven on earth and is living there with his family.
This Pino Noir reflects the spectacular land on which the fruit is grown and Jake's Fetzer's passion for farming and wine making. Please check out their website at www.masut.com.