MCNAB RANCH is a single vineyard in Mendocino County owned by Fetzer Vineyards. Certified Biodynamic by Demeter, it produces grapes for Fetzer Vineyards’ Bonterra range. McNab was originally founded by Jimmy Fetzer as Ceago Vinegarden.
LOCATION | 5.5 miles (8.8 km) north of Hopland and 7 miles (11.2 km) south of Ukiah.
BACKGROUND | The McNab Ranch was formed in 1844 by a land grant procured by one Fernando Feliz at the time when this part of north America belonged to Mexico (California was proclaimed the 31st state in the Union only in 1850, two years after the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill sparked the California Gold Rush). At the time McNab covered 3,440 hectares (8,500 acres) and was used for raising sheep and gave its name to the McNab sheepdog. In the 1990s McNab Ranch became known as Ceàgo Vinegarden under Jimmy Fetzer. On January 26, 2001 Fetzer Vineyards Brown Forman announced the purchase of the 378-acre McNab Ranch in Hopland in southern Mendocino County, then known as Ceago Vinegarden.
TERROIR | McNab Ranch is decribed as occupying a box canyon at the foot of the Mendocino County Coastal Range.
VINEYARDS | 2001 When Fetzer Vineyards Brown Forman purchased McNab (Ceago Vinegarden) from Jimmy Fetzer in January 2001 there were 51 hectares (127 acres) of vineyards and 101 hectares (251 acres) of non-vineyard land. Jimmy Fetzer and his wife Christine retained over 41 hectares (100 acres) of wilderness and their private house, a bungalow dating from 1920 that they had renovated pre-1996. / 2003 51 hectares (127 acres). / 2004 51 hectares (127 acres) of bearing vineyard, mainly Merlot, plus Cabernet Sauvignon, minor amounts of Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot, Chardonnay and Viognier, as well as Petite Sirah.
SOIL TEXTURE | This ranges from heavy clay to sandy loam with both textures occasionally in the same block. The percentage of gravel ranges from 12% to 30%. The 1996 plantings by Jimmy Fetzer were laid out in the blocks whose size was determined by soil texture, and with all irrigation zoning by soil texture as well.
HABITAT BREAKS | In Biodynamic Wines (2004) Monty Waldin wrote: ‘The habitat breaks (or ‘insectories’) at McNab were planned originally by Michael Maltas [and later Alan York], the Biodynamic gardener who also planned the herb, fruit and vegetable garden at the Fetzer Vineyards Valley Oaks facility in Hopland for Jimmy Fetzer when Fetzer Vineyards was still family owned (Maltas and David Koball also created the first habitat breaks at the Fetzer Home Ranch in the early 1990s). These habitat breaks contain the six plants used in the biodynamic compost preparations, plus companion plants for beneficial insects. Examples include Butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii), Bronze Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), Bowles mauve wallflower (Erysimum linifolium), Thyme (Caraway and Coconut) which collectively attract pirate bugs, lacewings, spiders, wasps, and flies which control vineyard pests like Pacific Mites, grape leafhoppers and grape thrips. The insects then also bring in insect-eaters like toads, and birds. Koball makes the point that one must be careful as to exactly how one attracts beneficial insects into the vineyard. ‘First it makes sense to grow plants that require minimal intervention like irrigation. Second, there was a fad a few years back in California to plant or encourage wild blackberries as these encourage the Anagrus wasp by providing a host insect for the Anagrus called the blackberry leafhopper. The tiny Anagrus wasp parasitises the blackberry leafhopper’s eggs over winter, which keep it going into spring when it can feed of the grape leafhoppers which damage vines by eating their leaves. Unfortunately the blackberry bushes also act as host for the Blue Green Sharp Shooter, which vectors a disease fatal to vines called Pierce’s Disease via theXylella fastidiosabacteria. Pierce’s is devastating parts of the south and central Californian vineyard, so obviously we don’t want to encourage it. So we run goats to graze the wild blackberry bushes, to take away this potentially negative habitat. Other potential habitats for the Blue Green Sharp Shooter include alfalfa, so obviously we never use this as a cover crop, either.’ Now that they are maturing Koball is replanting some of those plants which work less well. ‘We find Yarrow, which we use to make the Biodynamic Compost Preparation , gets out-competed in a dedicated habitat break, and tends to thrive in a more wilderness environment. It prefers to be neglected.’
WEEDS | The most significant change on the McNab Ranch between the Jimmy Fetzer/Ceàgo era and the Bonterra regime under Koball is how the vineyard looks. “Jimmy had high aesthetic values,’ says Dave ‘because this was very much a flagship vineyard at the time, so it had to look neat. This meant clean cultivation or ploughing was practiced in blocks with low vigour. We don’t feel that it is justified to use that tractor diesel, and the potential loss of topsoil that ploughing can entail, so we tolerate more weeds and cover crops are left to grow even beyond their flowering period. If a block is very vigourous it makes sense to maintain the cover crop by mowing it, to compete against the vine and to slow it down. Of course aesthetically people want to see flowering clovers between the vines and not cut clover stems which look spiky, but we cultivate for vigour, not looks. And you can also slow high vigour blocks down by irrigating less, at the pain of lower yields. There is always a temptation when growing grapes for a third party to push yields. We are growing grapes here for ourselves now. And in low vigour blocks we can irrigate the vines a little more, while maintaining the cover crop, even if occasionally it looks at bit ugly to purists.”
YIELDS | Under Jimmy Fetzer cropping was adjusted on individual plants by hand thinning to create an open atmosphere with approximately 60% light interception on the fruit. Vineyard practices were worked backwards from pruning weights. Present pruning weights range from .75 pounds to 6 pounds per vine (ideally we would like to leave 15 buds per pound of pruning weight, spaced at 5 – 6 buds per linear foot of vine row). At 8’ x 6’ spacing the ideal weight would be in the range of two pounds per vine. Vine pruning weights are taken into the late fall to early winter. Under Koball, there is more thinning and less irrigation than under Jimmy Fetzer (as Bob Blue said ‘Jim just had different goals according to if he was making his own wine – lower yields – or selling grapes – higher yields’). Dave Koball says they are paying more attention overall and not just to the weaker areas; in 2002 Koball feels he should have thinned more as the clusters were large. Yields at Ceago have been good with third leaf blocks at approximately 4-5 tons per acres. Bob Blue says yields are lower now as Jimmy was growing (mainly) for volume/sale.
BIODYNAMIC CERTIFICATION | 1996 Certified Biodynamic in conversion by Demeter. 2017 Certified Biodynamic by Demeter.
CABERNET FRANC | 1% in 2003.
CABERNET SAUVIGNON | 9.7 hectares (24 acres) in 2003. Clones #7 and #15 on 3309 rootstock.
CHARDONNAY Dijon clones planted from 1996. Clones #76 & #96; spacing 8’ x 6’; rootstock 5C with a small amount of the Chardonnay on SO4 and 3309 rootstocks. VSP training system. Drip irrigation, overhead frost protection. 2003 was was a good year for Chardonnay but some high sugars before physiological ripeness.
MERLOT | Merlot was the main grape here with hectares 32.4 hectares (80 acres) in 2003. New plantings had been made from 1996: Clones #3 & #181; spacing 8’ x 6’; rootstock 5C; VSP training system. Drip irrigation, overhead frost protection. In 2003 Dave Koball said Merlot needed to get to 26-27 Brix to get it physiologically ripe, as at 26.2 Brix it was not physiologically ripe.
PETIT VERDOT | 0.2 hectares (0.5 acres) in 2003.
PETITE SYRAH | 3.4 hectares (8.5 acres) in 2003, spacing 12’ x 8’. Southern slope, located north-east/east of the barn. Petite Sirah is ‘in many ways is the shining star at McNab,’ says Dave Koball. ‘The Petite Sirah vines date from 1975 and are ungrafted. They exactly suit the little patch of deep, red sandy clay loam soil they occupy, the only patch of soil like this at McNab, and can handle dry farming [being unirrigated] to give a perfect level of vine vigour and yield. We would look to thin the crop to just 4 tons per acre, but the vines give us 5-6 tons of outstanding quality, even with the gradual onset of phylloxera in the blocks [dead vines are replaced with new ones on the drought-tolerant 110 Richter rootstock. The rootstock is planted first, then budwood from a clean vine was used to graft to maintain the mother vine selection].’ The wine produced, says Dave, is liked by wine drinkers when they try it, and it is a little bit different. It has rich, smooth tannins, and is a generous wine without being big, harsh or overbearing, especially when fermented in small lots in open topped barrels by Bonterra’s winemaker Bob Blue.’
MALBEC | 1% in 2003.
VIOGNIER | Planted 1975. Clone #1. 2.4 hectares (6 acres). Spacing 12 foot x 8 foot; ungrafted vines, T-budded onto Sauvignon Blanc in 1993; no indication of phylloxera; irrigation.
THE MCNAB 2013 Mendocino AVA | 66% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, 4% Malbec, 3% Petite Sirah. Picked and fermented apart, as each variety ripens, then blended. 15.0% alcohol.