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Mazzocco Winery - Dry Creek - Alexander Valley


Mazzocco Winery was named ‘Winery of the Year”

In 1998, for the second time this decade, Mazzocco Winery was named “Winery of the Year” by Wine & Spirits magazine. This prestigious honor, which Mazzocco also won in 1991, recognizes the top wineries in the country each year. Wineries are chosen and recognized for this award due to their consistent excellence, wine after wine, year after year. It is certainly no surprise to us that Mazzocco continues to gain this kind of attention. As you’ll soon learn though, Mazzocco Winery as we know it today almost didn’t survive.

Tom Mazzocco never wanted to have a big winery. That’s why he sold his. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, virtually everyone was predicting the extinction of the small winery. The huge number of wineries that started in the 1980s, the proliferation of wines in the marketplace and aggressive marketing tactics used by the big wine conglomerates created a shaky business climate for small family-owned wineries. Conventional wisdom was that unless you were a large operation or had very deep pockets your demise was inevitable. Tom just wasn’t interested in growing the winery any larger so he sold it!

At the time, Mazzocco winery was producing around 10,000 cases per year. Rule of thumb was that 40–50,000+ cases was the minimum production needed to survive in the long run. “I had no interest in running anything but a small family-owned winery–making only the wines I wanted to make and selling them myself,” Tom Mazzocco stated. So, after evaluating the direction of the industry, he decided to sell the winery to Vintech Winery Group in 1990. Vintech was a Santa Rosa based investment group, which owned several other wineries. They had observed Mazzocco Vineyards as a rising star, and made an offer Tom found difficult to refuse.

Sure enough, wineries continued to go bankrupt left and right. In fact, Vintech itself fell victim to the industry woes, declaring bankruptcy only 13 months after its acquisition of Mazzocco Winery. During that 13 month period, Tom rejuvenated his determination to make his small winery prosper, and was able to buy back Mazzocco Vineyards in July of 1991.

The road was not always this wild of a ride for Mazzocco Winery. For almost ten years prior, Tom made outstanding wines ever since acquiring a small vineyard in Sonoma County named River Lane. For several years, Tom leased facilities at nearby Trentadue Winery to make his wine. In each of the first few years, Mazzocco produced 4-500 cases of Cabernet from the best grapes on the property, and sold the rest on the bulk market. Meanwhile, he planted Zinfandel and Chardonnay vines and searched for additional property to plant more vineyards and build his winery. In 1984, he purchased land on Lytton Springs Road, just north of Healdsburg, close to Simi Winery and Jordan Winery. There he built his winery and planted the 13½ acres of Bordeaux- varietals Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot, and Malbec.

Twenty-five hundred cases of Chardonnay were produced from the first crush at the winery in 1985. During that same year, he ripped out the Cabernet and Zinfandel vines at River Lane and planted the entire vineyard to Chardonnay. In 1989 Mazzocco bought a third parcel, this one in the Dry Creek area of Sonoma County and planted 10 more acres of Chardonnay.

When Vintech took control in 1990, the Mazzocco winery was quickly dragged down by their inherent financial problems. After Tom Mazzocco regained control the following year, he wasted no time putting the operation back on track. That same year he released a cluster of award winning wines that thrust the winery back into the limelight. At the end of 1991, Mazzocco Winery was voted one of America’s best small wineries, by Wine & Spirits magazine. An honor that is bestowed on just 10 to 15 American wineries each year who have attained the highest tasting scores across the board on all their wines. Tom also hired wine industry veteran, Phyllis Zouzounis, to take over the winemaking duties. Her expertise from over 12 years of experience at Dry Creek Vineyards has been a key ingredient to the most recent chapter in the Mazzocco success story.

Mazzocco today produces three main varietals, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and several different bottlings of Zinfandel. Two other very limited production wines are also offered—a Merlot and a proprietary wine he called Matrix, made in a Bordeaux-style blend comprised of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. There are enough grapes harvested from the estate vineyards to produce 17-20,000 cases of wine per year. However the grapes which do not meet the quality standards Mazzocco has set, are sold on the bulk market to other companies. To fill the void, he in turn buys premium quality grapes from other growers to keep production as steady as possible from year to year. The winery’s award-winning Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon wines are produced from grapes grown in Dry Creek and Alexander Valleys.

“I am more committed than ever,” beams Tom. “I still believe, that in the long run there will be only large wineries left in this industry, but also a handful of small ones who have managed to carve out their own little niche in the market place. Regardless of what happens, Mazzocco is in it for the long run,” he asserts.



Phyllis Zouzounis

Phyllis Zouzounis came to Mazzocco Vineyards as winemaker in March of 1993, bringing with her a wealth of winemaking experience, a close familiarity with the Dry Creek Valley region, and a passion for her craft.

The San Francisco native moved to Guerneville in western Sonoma County in 1970, and with her husband, went into business making and selling jewelry. During this time, Zouzounis made wine as a hobby and enjoyed tasting and collecting fine wines. In 1980 she decided to turn her passion for wine into a profession, and took a job in the tasting room at Dry Creek Vineyard, one of Mazzocco’s Dry Creek neighbors.

Once she got her feet in the tasting room door, it took Zouzounis just six months to ‘step into the cellar”. This was in 1981, when only a handful of women worked in the production side of the business in California. At that time Dry Creek Vineyard was producing 28,000 cases of wine a year. Zouzounis grew with the winery, working her way up to cellarmaster, and then assistant winemaker (1987), of what was a 125,000-case facility when she left for Mazzocco in 1993.

Zouzounis has built solid working relationships with numerous Dry Creek Valley and Sonoma County grape growers, and has made wines from a wide range of grape varieties. She is known for her superb palate, as well as her dedication and hard work.

While many winemakers make wine using specific formulas or recipes, Zouzounis’ style is based more on instinct, experimentation and taste. She is truly a hands-on winemaker, overseeing every phase of the production from vineyard to bottle.

‘My focus has always been in the cellar, on being with the wines every day,” she says. ‘Experimentation, tasting the wines as they progress, knowing what is going on at all times, having a good memory and a good palate—those are the keys.”

Dr. Tom Mazzocco

It started with a can of Chianti concentrate. Dr. Tom Mazzocco, was already a well-known eye surgeon in 1974, when he received a home wine making kit as a gift. During the production of his first batch, he dropped and broke the container full of wine. On his second attempt, instead of concentrate, he was advised to try fresh grapes. Ironically, he ended up buying Zinfandel grapes grown in the same Dry Creek area of Sonoma County, where he would buy vineyard land more than fifteen years later.

Tom fell in love with the creative process involved in bringing wine from juice to the completed product. He has always enjoyed creating, making things work better, fixing things. In fact, years ago Mazzocco invented a foldable intraocular implant lens, which allows eye surgeons to make smaller incisions for cataract extraction and lens implantation. He also developed an overlapping, self-sealing incision, which led to today’s no-stitch method of cataract surgery.

He is also the inventor of Teleshaft, a USGA-approved golf club with a collapsible shaft designed for travel. He might have invented it out of necessity. He carries his golf clubs with him on his small private plane as he pilots back and forth from Sonoma to Van Nuys in southern California. There he heads the Valley Eye Center and the Mazzocco Ambulatory Surgery Center, specializing in cataract surgery.

Tom was born and raised in Canyon, West Virginia. He attended school at West Virginia University in Morgantown, where he earned A.B., B.S. and M.S. degrees. After completing two years of medical school there, he transferred to Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, earning his medical degree in 1957. He interned at D.C. General Hospital in Washington, D.C., and completed his residency in ophthalmology in the early 1960s, at the U.S. Public Health Service Hospital in San Francisco.

Long before he founded his winery, Mazzocco had been a lover of wine. ‘In Los Angeles, where I lived in the early and mid-1970s, it seemed like everyone bought grapes and made home wine. It was almost a cult thing,” he recalls. ‘I began looking for a little piece of property with a idea to make a few hundred cases of wine and enjoy retirement with my wife, Yvonne, and our three daughters,” he continued. ‘But I just got swept along with the tide!”

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