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Brutocao Cellars - Mendocino county


Brutocas Cellars On The Mark With New Wine Offerings

In a small town called Treviso near Venice, Italy, the Lion of St. Mark is prevalent wherever you go. The lion has been a symbolic figure in the cathedral of St. Mark in Venice for generations. So ingrained in the heritage of Venice and the surrounding area, it has become a symbol for the city of Venice itself.
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n America, that symbol has become synonymous with Brutocao Cellars, a small, family-owned winery in Mendocino county. It is a perpetual embracement of the Brutocao family’s Italian heritage which originated in Treviso.

We doubt that many of you have heard of Brutocao (pronounced brut´-oh-co), even though they’ve been around since 1974. Leonard Brutocao’s father-in-law, Irv Bliss, originally bought the 500 acre property in the early 1940s. It had 60 acres of grapes and figs back then but the land was used mostly for raising livestock. Irv retired in 1969 and sold the ranch to Sonoma Vineyards. They in turn developed 200 acres of the land into vineyards of Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc and Zinfandel. Five years later it returned to the family when Sonoma Vineyards sold it to brothers, Albert and Leonard Brutocao.

The vineyards were not in good shape and the two brothers had never before been involved with grape growing. They recognized the opportunity though, and as with their other entrepreneurial ventures, they were determined to make it work. The idea was to nurse the vineyards back to health, sell the majority of the crop to other wineries and make a little bit of wine in the process.

By 1980 the plan was well on its way. The vineyards were back in shape, the grapes were sold to local area wineries like Beringer and Fetzer and the Brutocaos made several hundred cases of Cabernet Sauvignon using the facilities of neighboring wineries. Throughout the 1980s not much changed. Al Brutocao ran most of the day-to-day vineyard and winery business until his death in 1989.

At that point, Len Brutocao, who up until then had been directing the family’s other enterprises in southern California, became actively involved. Len counted on Tony Stephen, who was the grape grower and vineyard manager, to continue handling that aspect of the business. He also made the decision to get serious about being in the winery business. Building a winery and making a real impact with their wines was something the two brothers had talked about for years and Len was finally going to make it happen.

His search for a winemaker didn’t take him far. Tony’s wife, Nancy Walker, was ready to step out of her job as assistant winemaker at Clos du Bois and readily fit into the Brutocao equation. The winery building on the Brutocao property was ready by mid-1991. A small, no-frills, metal building was built, equipped with all the modern winemaking equipment necessary to make high quality hand-crafted wines.

The “new” Brutocao Cellars was quickly off and running with the 1991 harvest. That first year a mix of 1,200 cases were made, composed of Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. The wines hit with immediate critical success. The Wine Spectator rated the 1991 Sauvignon Blanc 90 points, its highest rating of the year. Needless to say it didn’t take long for the 1,200 cases to disappear. The ensuing years brought steady increases in overall production. Thirty-five hundred cases were made in 1992, 8,000 cases the following year, and 11,000 cases were produced in 1994.

The original five varietal wines of Brutocao Cellars remain the strength of the line today. Len purchased 7 acres of vineyard land in the Anderson Valley which is being used to produce small amounts of designated Anderson Valley Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The winery is also currently planting Italian grapes, Sangiovese and Barbera, to integrate the varietal offerings with the Brutocao family heritage.

Brutocao Cellars is now setting the stage for their next phase. In March, 1995, they will break ground to build a brand new, larger winery. “Our comfort level will eventually reach 25,000 to 35,000 cases,” Len Brutocao reveals. “We’ll get there eventually but we don’t want to overproduce in any given year,” says winemaker, Nancy Walker. With 250+ acres of vineyards and only 11,000 cases of wine being produced, they will continue to sell 70%-80% of the fruit to other wineries.

We are pleased to bring you an excellent example of one of Brutocao’s flagship wines, their 1993 Sauvignon Blanc. The wine was released in mid-1994, too late to be entered into most of the wine competitions. In the only judging it was entered into, the wine promptly earned a Silver medal. It is certainly destined to be a major award winner in next year’s competitions. Here’s your chance to buy more now, because by next year the wine will surely be sold out!



Len Brutocao

Times were tough in Italy at the turn of the century and distant lands were calling all comers with the hopes of new prosperity. In 1910, Leonard and Albert’s father, Leonard Brutocao Sr., left Italy with his family, at the age of one, to settle in Canada. He and his two brothers, Louie and Angelo, grew up in Ft. Erie, Ontario, across the border from Buffalo, New York.

As adults, the three Brutocao brothers took the opportunities of their new homeland to heart, involving themselves in a myriad of entrepreneurial businesses. They started companies that manufactured everything from grass mats to stove radiators. But at the heart of their enterprises was their construction business which specialized in building houses and apartments.

Leonard’s sons, Albert and Leonard Jr., also grew up in Ft. Erie. In 1949 while the two were still teenagers, the entire Brutocao clan emigrated to the U.S. They moved to the town of Covina, in southern California, and continued to prosper in the construction business. Their entrepreneurial spirit persisted, starting new enterprises such as the first modern bowling alley west of the Mississippi. They also dabbled in real estate and chicken farming!

Meanwhile, son Leonard went to college at U.C. Berkeley to obtain an engineering degree. Out of college he worked for the Federal government for a while before joining brother Al at an engineering company in Merced. In 1967, the two brothers struck out on their own to form Brutocao Engineering. Their company specialized in heavy construction projects, building bridges and highways throughout California and Arizona.

True to the Brutocao tradition, once the engineering company was established as the backbone of their operations, they began numerous other ventures among which even included starting a pasta store! When the opportunity came to buy back their family’s Mendocino property, Al and Len jumped at the chance. They both liked the thought of owning a farm and being outdoors; and someday they hoped to build a couple of houses on the land to retire there with their families.

Al decided he would manage the vineyard while Len continued to run the construction and other businesses in southern California. However, his untimely death in 1989 changed everything and accelerated Len’s timetable to spend his time at the vineyard.

Len is now busy fulfilling both his and Al’s dreams. The winery is making serious inroads as they had both hoped it would someday. Len retired a year and a half ago and is building a house on the Mendocino property which he and his wife Marty will move into sometime in 1995.

Meanwhile, their five kids are busy carrying on the family enterprises. Eldest sons, David and Leonard are running the construction business. Daughter, Rene Ortiz is handling the winery’s sales efforts in southern California. Son, Steven is learning the ropes of the winery business. And to throw in a little more diversity, son, Daniel, is practicing medicine in Spokane Washington.

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