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Estate William Baccala

Mendocino AVA

Estate William Baccala producing World Class Merlot

William Baccala is a firm believer that quality does not have to be expensive. He could easily sell his Estate William Baccala premium wines for much more than he does. Evidence the fact that his 1990 Merlot was rated in the top three of all California Merlots as ranked by the Wine Spectator last year (90 point rating), and placed in the top "100 Merlots in the world".

This month’s featured 1991 Merlot from William Baccala was rated an 86 by the same publication, an outstanding score in its own right. When asked about the differences in the two wines Bill Baccala stated, “The 1991 is every bit as good as the fabulous 1990 vintage. We released the 1991 earlier than usual so when it was sampled it did not have as much age on it as its predecessor. It was a great wine then and it’s drinking even better now.”

Bill Baccala’s strategy has always been to focus on value. His second brand of lower priced Zellerbach wines consistently make the “Best Buy” lists of the major wine publications. “We run our operations very efficiently,” offers Bill. “We have an extremely low overhead. Our facilities here in Mendocino County are modest sized and less expensive than in Sonoma or Napa. And we only need 6 to 8 employees to make it all happen,” he adds. The fact that they buy all of their grapes from other producers too allows them to focus strictly on winemaking and provides greater flexibility. “We source grapes in different areas of California that have the best growing conditions for each varietal,” says Bob Baccala, Bill’s son and President of the William Baccala wine operation. “The Merlots originate from the warmer climates and hillsides on the northeast side of Napa Valley. The Chardonnays come from the cool climates and sandy soils of the Russian River Valley in Sonoma county.”

Locating the William Baccala operation in Mendocino County was the fortuitous result of several upheavals throughout its 15 year history. Bill Baccala, at the peak of his highly successful 30 year career in the insurance business, fell in love with a 1,500 acre ranch site in Mendocino County. As a young boy he grew up on a small farm and was fascinated with the process of growing things. While working in southern California during the 1970s, Bill often visited a friend who was growing grapes in Sonoma county. Through these visits the idea of someday growing grapes caught his fancy. And in 1978 that day had finally come.

Bill immediately planted 150 acres of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc on the Mendocino ranch land that was once used for cattle grazing. In the beginning he planned simply to be a grower of wine grapes. However through the encouragement of others in the wine industry, most notably Barney Fetzer, Bill decided to complete the cycle and start a winery as well. In 1982 he built a small winery facility on the property and crushed grapes for his first wines under the newly formed William Baccala label.

Observing the growth of wineries located in Sonoma and Napa counties in the early 1980s, it occurred to Bill that if for no other reason than perception, he might best relocate to that area. In 1986 he leased a 50 acre Sonoma county vineyard and a winery from Stephen Zellerbach (heir to the Crown Zellerbach paper company in San Francisco), who had grown tired of the wine business. He also secured the rights to the Zellerbach brand name and the existing inventory. He simultaneously sold his Mendocino property and winery to Robert Jepson of Jepson Winery, and moved to Sonoma.

Under Bill’s guidance the Zellerbach label began to take off. So much focus was put into his new brand that he decided to suspend production for the time being on his higher quality, more time consuming William Baccala wines. Through the late 1980s the Zellerbach label continued to grow and solidify its position as a value priced, quality wine. The growth in fact outstripped the location’s ability to handle the fast increasing production volume. In 1988 Bill sold the lease option for the site to Kendall-Jackson.

While searching for more adequate facilities, the Zellerbach/Baccala operation moved into a larger space vacated by Parsons Creek Winery back in Mendocino county. At the larger facility the winery finally had a chance to catch its breath and resume production of their original William Baccala wines. In 1991, the wines were re-introduced to fill a growing consumer demand for ultra-premium wines.

Finally in 1993 Bill Baccala found a permanent home for his winery nearby in Mendocino County. The Tijsseling family who was selling their facilities, had erected separate winery buildings to house their two brands, Tyland Vineyards and Tijsseling Vineyards. The fit was perfect. Like the Tijsselings, Bill could separate his two brands and both buildings were large enough to handle the planned future growth of the business.

The larger Zellerbach winery is producing over 50,000 cases a year. The size is still modest by most industry standards but growth plans have the output tripling to 150,000 cases within 5 years. The William Baccala label will always remain much smaller in size. “It’s much more time consuming to make the William Baccala wines,” says Bill. “We want to keep production low and concentrate on making the best wines possible,” he adds. Production of the William Baccala wines hovers around 8,000 cases today. “In 5 to 10 years we may take it up to 20 to 25,000 but we are in no particular hurry,” reports son, Bob Baccala.

Only Merlot and Chardonnay are currently being made. Next year they will bottle a few hundred cases of Old Vine Zinfandel from a small vineyard on the Tijsseling property. Former Parsons Creek Winery owner, Jess Tidwell, has been the winemaker for both Zellerbach and William Baccala wines for several years. Under his tutelage we should expect nothing but great wine coming from both brands.

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Bill Baccala - Proprietor

Picture of Bill Baccala - Proprietor

‘Growing up on a dairy farm was not fun,” Bill Baccala started to explain when asked how he got interested in growing grapes. ‘Every morning no matter what, the cows had to be milked and the animals fed,” he continued. ‘But it did instill a love and respect for the land. And I was particularly fascinated by things that grew.”

Bill’s desire to grow things had to wait though. He attended the University of California at Berkeley where he studied Business before hopping into the insurance field in the early 1950s. His sister had a few friends in the business and helped Bill get started with a firm in San Francisco. His career flourished there for the next twenty years. In 1972 he saw an opportunity to start his own insurance firm in southern California. His newly formed company took off like a rocket, specializing in high risk property and casualty. Many of his clients were Fortune 500 companies with the likes of Chrysler, Ford, Boeing and Shell Oil.

For ten years he built up his business until selling it in 1982. Several years earlier he had already taken his first step back to the land by purchasing a 1,500 acre ranch in northern California’s Mendocino County. ‘While I lived in southern California I used to visit a friend who grew grapes up here,” recalls Bill. ‘I was really caught up by the whole idea of buying land and growing something,” he recalls.

Bill was determined to follow through on his dream. He even wrote letters to wineries asking them what he should grow on his property. He met Barney Fetzer during this time who later became a close friend. For several years Bill grew grapes on a contract basis for Fetzer Vineyards before Barney convinced him he should give it a go with a winery of his own.

Bill’s son Bob has been involved in the winery for years now, working his way up to take the reins of the entire William Baccala operation. Bill lives on the property in Mendocino, and spends his time overseeing both branches of his flourishing businesses. ‘We’re very happy with the way things turned out,” reflects Bill. ‘I’d like to see the winery keep growing—and it likely will, but our whole goal is to offer the best quality wines for the best possible price,” he stated.