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Mario Bazán Cellars - Atlas Peak - Napa Valley

92 Points, Robert Parker

The story of Mario Bazán and his Mario Bazán Cellars is not too dissimilar from a number of new wineries that have cropped up throughout Northern California during the past decade. These wineries are owned by Mexican immigrants that migrated to California and began working in the fields for established wineries and later opened their own companies in various facets of the wine industry.

In the case of Mario Bazán Cellars, the odyssey began in 1973 when Mario Bazán, now 57, left his native Oaxaca State (called the culinary capital of Mexico), in extreme southern Mexico. Bazán came to Napa Valley on the advice of his uncle who lived in Oakland. In Napa Valley, he first worked for Joseph Phelps Vineyards and other wineries until finally landing at iconic Robert Mondavi Vineyards in 1979. Working his way up the ladder, Mario Bazán was eventually made a foreman three years later and put in charge of some of Robert Mondavi’s most prestigious vineyards including the famous Opus One Vineyard in Oakville. Mario Bazán looked and listened to everything around him and an entrepreneurial spirit emerged in 1997 after he left Mondavi and worked two years for Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars. Then, Bazán left Stag’s Leap and formed his own vineyard management company that soon became widely regarded as among the finest in Napa Valley. But the urge to own his own winery was still at the core of Bazán’s development goals and in 1999 Bazán noticed that several of his vineyard clients had extra wine grapes to sell. The thought of his own winery beckoned once again, and this time, Mario Bazán decided to do something about it. He scouted the area for a potential vineyard site and finally settled on a small 1 ½ acre location in the foothills surrounding Atlas Peak.

“I had several clients around the land I found and their grapes were wonderful,” he recalled. “At first I bought the property as only an investment, but we have really fallen in love with it and will probably stay there for some time.” After planting the acreage to Cabernet Sauvignon, Mario Bazán began looking in earnest for a wine maker. A long-term friendship made at Joseph Phelps with an African American assistant named Victoria Coleman proved to be a winning combination that has been hard to match. Coleman started in the wine business as a receptionist at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars and worked her way into the cellar of noted winemaker Michael Silacci who took her under his wing. Coleman eventually enrolled at UC Davis and graduated in 2008.

Meanwhile, she worked to produce Mario Bazán Cellars’ first two award-winning Cabernet Sauvignons, thereby establishing herself as a definitive up and coming winemaker for the small winery. The first release of Mario Bazán Cellars’ Cabernet Sauvignon was a microscopic 290 cases, but earned major kudos from none other than wine guru Robert Parker. To the modest winery owner Mario Bazán, the impressive ratings and high scores came as a surprise.

“I felt that as a winery we were really unique,” he continued. “Both Victoria and I were unknowns in the winery business and our philosophy was to take the ball and run with it. Needless to say, we were both extremely happy with the results.” Winery production has risen to more than 500 cases and Bazán hopes to one day produce a good deal more wine. He is in negotiation to lease another vineyard in the Coombsville section of Napa Valley and says that he will always keep his eyes open for a good vineyard site. In 2003, Mario met his now wife Maria (a dentist in Mexico) who moved to Napa. Maria is currently attending college and will enroll at UC Davis within the near future to study enology. At present, she serves as Mario Bazán Cellars’ general manager as well as the mother of the pair’s 3-year-old twins, Antonio and Alexander.

It is undoubtedly an understatement that Mario Bazán and his winery have exceeded even their wildest expectations. Few wineries hi t the jackpot so early in their development due to the fact that the wine business is so fiercely competitive in so many aspects. Only the thoroughness and expertise of the self-made grower turned vintner and his faith in an unproven winemaker made it all possible. Mario Bazán Cellars is a remarkable success story that will be hard to match, particularly in this difficult time for many California wineries.

  1. Mario Bazan
    2006 Cabernet Sauvignon
    Mario Bazan
    Napa Valley
    Napa Valley


    92 - Robert Parker
    id: 673