Paul Dolan is part of a partnership purchasing Lovers Lane, a vineyard property in the northwest corner of Ukiah that was developed by Robert Mondavi Winery and has been producing grapes since 1999.
—With a hearing looming in a Mendocino County court June 9, former winery colleagues Paul Dolan and Tom Thornhill spoke with Wines & Vines
this week. Since January, Dolan’s sudden dismissal from the Mendocino Wine Co.
(MWC), co-founded in 2004 with Thornhill and his brother Tim Thornhill, is yet to be resolved.
In the meantime, both sides are taking significant steps. An announcement this week revealed that Dolan’s company, H.D.D. LLC, secured a cash injection of $2.5 million from Daniel A. Carroll, managing partner at TTP Newbridge Capital, a San Francisco venture capitalist. H.D.D., a partnership of Dolan, his son Heath, Phil and Sylvia Hurst, Bill Hambrecht, Virginia Marie Lambrix and CFO Mark DeMeulenaere, reportedly will use the funds to bolster its direct-to-consumer and direct-to-retail marketing strategy. H.D.D. claims growth from 2,500 cases in 2008 to a projected 250,000 cases for 2012.
Earlier this week, Dolan confirmed to Wines & Vines that he had just purchased a 144-acre vineyard in Ukiah.
Yesterday, MWC announced that after a brief search, it hired Gary Glass to replace Dolan as president. Glass is a wine industry veteran with 20-plus years of experience, notably with the Jackson Family
empire and most recently Francis Ford Coppola Winery
Thornhill and Dolan now communicate only through their attorneys, but both talked with Wines & Vines
this week about their diverging trajectories.
Dolan takes Lovers Lane
Dolan said escrow closed last week on a prime vineyard property in the northwest corner of Ukiah. Locally known as Lovers Lane, the vineyard was initially developed by Robert Mondavi Winery
and has been producing grapes since 1999. Later sold to an investor group, it was on the market for a number of years before Truett-Hurst
, the “small, community” partnership of Dolan, his son Heath, brother Peter and partners Phil Hurst and Zach Schotz acquired it “from the bank” at about $30,000 per producing acre.
“We saw the opportunity was there. It was sitting on the market for some time. Suddenly there was a lot of competition, an indication of the market changing for vineyards,” Dolan reported.
“We’ll be harvesting this year and selling to a number of wineries, but we’ll keep some for ourselves,” Dolan said. Currently planted mostly to the 338 clone of Cabernet Sauvignon, there is also a little Zinfandel, a little Petite Sirah and some Petite Verdot. “It’s deep, red wine soil: Pinole soil, red soil with gravel, water-holding soil,” he said with evident relish.
“We have irrigation, although for the most part it doesn’t take a lot of water. We have a beautiful catchment pond as well,” Dolan said. Starting this year, the vineyard will begin undergoing the three-year process required for organic certification, and it will later graduate, Dolan said, to full Biodynamic status.
“We’ll do the whole property without chemicals this year, and add the Biodynamic preparations starting this fall,” Dolan said. “We have to make them ourselves; it takes some time.”
Biodynamic (BD) farming has taken hold in eastern Mendocino County, Dolan said, “We have a BD consortium,” including Truett-Hurst vineyard properties in the four corners of Ukiah. “This ranch kind of rounds it out,” he said.
In keeping with the Biodynamic principles, the Dolan family continues to develop the eco-system of its hillside Dark Horse Vineyard southeast of town. “We now have a bull on the property, two more cows. Our new pigs arrived and 20 new sheep,” Dolan said.
He plans to continue for the third year his popular BD Boot Camps, in which wine trade, distributor and media invitees get down and dirty in the vineyards. “It’s one of my favorite things to do,” said Dolan, a tireless presence at the weekend workouts.
“There’s no shortage of creative opportunities,” he concluded.
MWC: New leader, familiar path
Following the announcement of Gary Glass as MWC president, Tom Thornhill affirmed the company’s continued commitment to sustainable, organic and Biodynamic principles.
“The whole culture of the company is built on sustainability,” Thornhill told Wines & Vines
, citing its 90-plus Demeter-certified Biodynamic vineyards, the wetlands installed to reclaim all water used in the winery for irrigation and frost protection, and another new staffer, organic farmer Jess Arnsteen.
MWC’s flagship Parducci Winery, which last year produced an estimated 90,000 cases, this year marks “80 years of continuous (legal) winemaking,” Thornhill said. To commemorate the milestone, Arnsteen is charged with planting an organic garden at Parducci
, to provide produce for the company’s employees and eventually, winery visitors.
Thornhill noted that the average tenure of Parducci employees is more than 15 years; some, he said, are second generation. “Our employees are one of our greatest assets,” he said. “There’s not much turnover.” The organic garden demonstrates MWC’s adherence to the “third E” of sustainability: soc ial equity.
“One of the reasons we’re so excited about Gary Glass is his strong reputation for a collaborative, team approach,” Thornhill said. He’s also an advocate of agriculture education for young people: Volunteering at a 4H Fair in Dixon, Calif., he was unavailable for comment this week.
Thornhill said MWC is currently focused on its new line of Parducci small-lot vineyard blends. Winemaker Bob Swain and assistant winemaker Mark Beaman take advantage of Mendocino’s many micro-climates “to create varietally correct wines at a reasonable price,” $10.99-$13.99 retail. “We’ve had great acceptance with distributors,” Thornhill said.
Despite potential confusion, MWC has no current plans to discontinue the Paul Dolan Vineyards brand, which the company owns. “We’ve won several new brand placements in the last several months, and sourcing for the fruit remains 95% the same,” Thornhill said. The Thornhill family also grows Demeter-certified BD grapes in its La Ribera vineyard along the Russian River: 145 acres of vines with a 90-acre riparian area under conservation easement.
At the Parducci home farm, “Sheep are coming on right now, and we’re exploring other things. We’ll have a couple of cows, we have chickens and turkeys,” Thornhill said.
“It’s all about balance, and it makes for better quality fruit,” Thornhill said. “I believe these are very tightly related.”