World class wine with a healthy dose of community
The clinking of glasses and the murmur of voices drew us up the stairs and along the hall toward the event room. This year’s Coro Mendocino Grand Release party was underway, pulling us in with the promise of truly fine wines and savory nibbles. This was our first experience with Coro, and we were excited to get to see what it was all about.
The first table we stopped at was manned by Hoss Milone, winemaker at Brutocao Family Vineyards. He greeted us with a big grin and an upraised bottle of Brutocao’s newest vintage of Coro. “Come taste!” We couldn’t say no to his infectious enthusiasm, and as we sipped his offering to the day’s event, we found ourselves getting pretty enthusiastic as well – this wine was amazing! “So what exactly IS this delicious Coro that we’re all here for today?” we asked him. He started to answer us, but as he was quickly overrun with other eager tasters all vying for his attention (and his wine), we wandered off through the crowd to check out some of the other wineries’ tables and see what all we could discover.
Chatting with other winemakers, perusing the various displays, and listening to the general conversation, here’s what we learned.
Coro Mendocino, the first codified wine appellation in the USA, is all about community. Yes, it has a long and technically detailed set of requirements for any winemaker that wishes to take part in it. Yes, it is modeled off the European method of defining appellations. Yes, a large part of its purpose is to gain Mendocino international recognition as an upper-tier wine region. But when you get down into the heart and soul of the organization, the driving force behind it all is the camaraderie that holds these people together.
Indeed, the community aspect was the running theme through all our brief conversations with each different winemaker. We heard mention a couple of times how the idea for Coro grew out of friendly chats around Dennis Patton’s (of DNA Vineyards) kitchen table in 2000, how it developed through lengthy give and take conversations and debates. When they began to put their ideas into practice with the first vintage in 2001, that element of communal discussion continued with the rigorous peer review the wines had to undergo. In fact, these peer reviews were the one thing that pretty much every single winemaker at the release party talked about, some saying it could be a bit nerve wracking, but all agreeing it was actually their favorite part of the whole process. They gather around a table together at least three times during the prescribed 2 ½ -year vintage cycle to do a blind taste test of all the wines submitted. As a group they go over each blend in detail. “What’s great about this particular one? How could that one be improved? Does this one pass…. or fail?” They sip and ponder. They laugh and share jokes. They encourage each other, spurring everyone on to make the best possible wine they can.
When we finally caught up with Hoss from Brutocao again to chat a little more about Coro, he agreed wholeheartedly with what everyone else was saying. “It’s such a learning experience to participate in Coro and walk through each year’s special challenges with the other winemakers. And because we’re allowed to be creative within the bounds of the agreed-upon protocol, we get to learn from the unique artistic process that each person brings to the bottle. It’s just a ton of fun!”
Even the chosen name of this appellation – Coro – is all about coming together in unity. It speaks of unique individuals joining in rich harmony to create a beautiful experience. Those lovely red blends from each distinct winemaker we swirled in our glasses were absolutely beautiful – truly world class. And they were beautiful because of all the love and camaraderie that went into them. We raised our glasses in toast at the end of the event’s closing speech, cheering this wine that so wonderfully celebrates the Mendocino community.
Written by Laura Hockett