McNab Ridge Winery

McNab Ridge Winery: Next Generation of a Legacy

Wine Notes by Heidi Cusick Dickerson

Rich Parducci, grandson of Mendocino County’s winemaking patriarch John Parducci, takes the reins of the family legacy with his own style. Rich Parducci is confident, unassuming and absolutely at ease carrying on in his grandfather’s footsteps.

"I started working the bottling line at Parducci when I was 12," says Rich Parducci, now 43. At the time his grandfather John was the winemaker and his uncle George was the manager of the winery founded by great grandfather Adolph Parducci in 1932.

After graduating from Ukiah high school in 1984, Rich Parducci headed to Santa Rosa Junior College but not to learn more about wine. He became a certified welder. He then went back to Parducci Winery where he constructed metal catwalks in the winery warehouse. "It was backbreaking work," he remembers and headed back to college. This time he took SRJC’s viticulture and vineyard management classes before transferring to Fresno State University, where he switched to winemaking.

After graduation with a degree in enology in 1992 Parducci was offered a job at Gallo in the Central Valley. At the same time Parducci Winery’s assistant winemaker was leaving to go to another winery. Rich Parducci went home. "I got to go back to where my heart was," he says.

He worked at Parducci Winery with his grandfather as mentor. In the 1990s both John and Rich Parducci left and the winery changed.

Upon leaving the namesake winery, Rich Parducci took a winemaking position at McDowell Valley Vineyards. A year later his grandfather, along with Jim Lawson and Bill Carle formed a partnership and purchased the old Zellerbach Winery in McNab Valley. The late highly regarded winemaker Jess Tidwell was hired and Rich Parducci joined his grandfather’s new winemaking team to further the family winemaking.

"Grandpa was familiar with McNab Valley, where he used to go hunting over the years," says Rich. The valley is named for Alexander McNab, a sheep rancher who emigrated from Scotland in the 1860’s. McNab brought in a couple of border collies that were bred with other sheep dogs and became a unique breed, the McNab Shepherd. The McNab Valley is now home to acres of vineyards, including neighboring Fetzer’s Bonterra and Napoli, which is owned by Napoli and Rena Lehnert.

"We buy Pinotage, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah grapes from Napoli," says Rich adding that, "Grandpa brought his vineyard connections to McNab." Some of the growers they contract with include Ed and Donna Berry of Cononiah Vineyard in Talmage, Mary Louise and LeRoy Chase in Redwood Valley, Bill Crawford in McDowell Valley, and Alvin Tollini, proprietor of Niemi vineyard in Calpella. Niemi is home to French Colombard, a once popular grape that now is in limited supply. John Parducci first made French Colombard in 1945 from grapes grown in the Niemi vineyard. In 2008, McNab’s 2006 French Colombard won best of show and double gold at the Mendocino County Wine Competition.

While making other white wines including Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and this year the first release of Roussane, a French Rhone varietal, McNab Ridge Winery carries on the Parducci affinity for red wine. "The family favorite is Petite Sirah, a big, bold jammy mouthful of wine," says Rich, who remembers Petite Sirah always on the table at his grandparents’ house when he was growing up.

"I like Zinfandel," says Rich, who has just been nominated to be on the Zinfandel Advocates and Producers (ZAP) Board of Directors. Right now he has four, soon to be five separate Zinfandel bottlings. One of the most fun is Zinzilla, "a California monster Zinfandel." The label features a cartoonlike Zinfandel vine rising out of spooky vineyards under a full moon, "wreaking havoc on vines that aren’t Zinfandel," laughs Rich, adding it’s pretty popular around Halloween.

McNab’s vineyard designate Zinfandel from the Berrys’ Cononiah Vineyard in Talmage just won a four-star gold medal at the prestigious Orange County Fair. In addition Rich makes Mendocino County Zinfandel and, for the Ohio market, Zincinatti. McNab also makes Coro Mendocino, which includes a little over half Zinfandel. (See Wine Notes 7/5/09.)

Other McNab red wines include Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and a Family Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon from Ulysses Lolonis vineyard in Redwood Valley. McNab was the first Mendocino County winery to produce the South African varietal Pinotage, which grows at the neighboring Napoli ranch. Pinotage came about in the 1920s when South African vintners crossed the finicky Pinot Noir with the more hearty Cinsault. "It makes a delicious, earthy, fruit-forward flavor that people love," says Rich. Its sales are limited to small wine shops, restaurants and wine club members.

Port is another family tradition that McNab Ridge is continuing. John Parducci made Port for decades and McNab Ridge has a bounteous Zinfandel Port. Now, with the support of Ukiah grapegrower Brian White, McNab will produce a bonafide Port wine. White planted a vineyard block to the traditional Portuguese varieties of Touriga Nacional, Tinta Barroca, Tinta Cao, Tinta Roriz (known as Tempranillo in Spain) and Touriga Francesca.

John Parducci still checks in regularly at the winery, says Rich, who keeps his grandfather informed on "what’s going on." He is assisted in the day to day operations at the winery by a longtime employee of John Parducci’s, Barbara Thurston, who brings a historical as well as progressive perspective to sales and marketing at McNab Ridge. Known as "Mom McNab" or the "Queen Bee", Thurston has been working with the Parducci brands since 1977. "I started with John and George Parducci," she says." Married to Norm Thurston, who works for the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Department, and raising two grandchildren, Thurston is one of those energetic upbeat people who is ageless and indispensible.

"Everyone who works here has been here or in the industry for a long time," says Rich proudly. In addition to Thurston, the crew includes Alejandro Sanchez, Charlie Morris, Brenda Pulido and Marlene Sanderson. Ukiah native Jennifer Turner who has a long history in the Mendocino wine industry is also now on board.

McNab’s tasting room in Hopland is adjacent to Lawson’s Station. Its focal point is the custom made 1880s mahogany reproduction bar designed and made especially for McNab Ridge. Managed by Denise Whitaker, the tasting room is a buzz of activity. On the second Saturday of each month McNab offers a special evening of food and wine pairings. On August 8th, McNab will commemorate its tenth anniversary with a celebration at the tasting room.

As the Parducci family winemaking legacy evolves, Rich juggles family and winemaking duties. Married to Melinda, a first grade teacher at Frank Zeek School in Ukiah, they have three children, Julia, 11, Madeleine, 9, and Joseph 4. When Rich isn’t checking on the grapes in vineyards around Mendocino County, he’s taking the kids to sports events, or going on short vacations with the whole family. He also takes the kids swimming at their great-grand parents’ house. There he can spend time with John.

Now in his 90s, John Parducci can sit back and reap the fruits of many decades of the family labor. Feisty and influential, John is proud of his grandson. "Rich has a good personality and is very cooperative with my growers," says John, who with his wife of 72 years Margaret, live overlooking vineyards in Ukiah Valley. He adds, "And his palate is good."

TASTING NOTES: One for the old generation and one for the new, I tasted the 2006 McNab Petite Sirah and the 2006 Zinzilla with grilled T-bones from the Calpella Superette. The Petite Sirah delivered its promise, a big spicy mouthful with a hint of pepper and aromas of blackberry and the Zinzilla was a monster I could have every night—smooth and luscious it will go with many foods.

For more information on McNab Ridge Winery contact the Mendocino County Winegrape and Wine Commission at www.truemendocinowine.com or the Mendocino County Promotional Alliance at www.truemendocinowine.com or www.mcnabridge.com.

Heidi Cusick Dickerson writes Wine Notes on behalf of the Mendocino County Winegrape and Wine Commission.

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