Sonoma County region
The Mazzocco Commitment, Eyeing the Future
Tom Mazzocco never wanted to have a big winery. That's why he sold his. In the late nineteen eighties and early 90's, all the experts were saying that small winery operations were doomed to extinction. The huge number of wineries started in the 1980's, the proliferation of wines in the marketplace and aggressive marketing tactics being used by the big wine conglomerates, created a shaky business climate for small family-owned wineries. Conventional wisdom was, unless you were a large operation or had very deep pockets, your demise was inevitable.
At the time, Mazzocco winery was producing around 10,000 cases per year. Rule of thumb, 40-50,000+ cases was the supposed minimum production needed to survive. "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 proclaimed. So, after evaluating the direction of the industry, he decided to sell the winery to Vintech Winery Group in 1991. Vintech, was a Santa Rosa based investment group which owned several other wineries. They had observed Mazzocco Vineyards fast becoming a rising star, and made a very generous offer–an offer Tom found impossible to refuse.
Sure enough, wineries were going 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 bumpy for Mazzocco Winery. For almost ten years prior, Tom had been making outstanding wines since acquiring a small vineyard in Sonoma County called, River Lane, in 1981. The 20 acre parcel had just 5 acres of vineyards at the time, all planted to Cabernet Sauvignon. 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 13.5 acres of Bordeaux varietals Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot, and Malbec.
The first crush at the new winery was in 1985. Twenty-five hundred cases of Chardonnay were made with a blend of grapes from his River Lane vineyard and several other premium Sonoma county vineyards. 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.
Mazzocco today produces three main varietals, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel. A fourth, smaller production wine he calls "Matrix," is made in a Bordeaux-style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. He also makes very small lots of several other varietals to sell only at the winery tasting room. There are enough grapes harvested from the estate vineyards to produce 12-15,000 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 Chardonnay wine is usually always produced from Mazzocco estate. From year to year, Mazzocco will use varying amounts of his own grapes with portions from other vineyards to make his Cabernet Sauvignon. The Cabernet Sauvignon is usually a blend but retaining at least 75% Cabernet grapes to label it as such. Among the Cabernet vineyards used, Hoot Owl (planted in the 1960's), and Del Rio vineyards in Sonoma, are Mazzocco favorites. The highly acclaimed Mazzocco Zinfandel is always made with grapes from other vineyards.
When Vintech took control in 1990, the winery was quickly dragged down by their financial problems. After Tom Mazzocco regained control the following year, he wasted no time putting the operation back on the right track. That year he released a cluster of award winning wines that thrust the winery back into the limelight. By 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 ten to fifteen wineries each year who have attained the highest tasting scores across the board on all their wines. He also recently hired winemaker, Phyllis Zouzounis, who has over 12 years of experience at Dry Creek Vineyards (see winemaker story in this publication).
"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.
Judging from this months featured wines from Mazzocco, we have no reason to doubt him! The featured 1991 River Lane Chardonnay, ". . . is perhaps our best Chardonnay to date," says Tom proudly. He adds that, "The 1989 Cabernet Sauvignon is a wonderful wine that is certainly the exception for a difficult growing year. It is very enjoyable."
We're confident you will be pleased with the Mazzocco wines you are about to taste!
Phyllis Zouzounis - winemaker
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 - Winery owner
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!”