Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Mario Bazán Cellars

A Tasting With a CDABC Type 17 & 20 License Holder

By John Olney, February 11, 2009

Copyright February, 16, 2009, all rights reserved by Wine Country Marketing and Promotions,
1325 Imola West, #409, Napa, CA Web site: Phone: 707-299-9548 E-mail:

CDABC License Allowances and Restrictions
Before going any further, let me explain what CDABC stands for - it’s the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. Their website is /. “The mission of the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control is to administer the provisions of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Act in a manner that fosters and protects the health, safety, welfare, and economic well being of the people of the State.”

The federal agency, Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (referred to as “TTB”), issues licenses for facilities to be bonded wineries. Their web site is . Then CDABC applies additional rules and regulations to these facilities. In simplistic terms, a Type 17& 20 license holder means that a facility has no winemaking equipment and thus uses the services of an individual winery or the services of what is a relatively new entity called a “Custom Crush House” to process grapes and/or its juice into a finished wine product for the client.

A CDABC Type 17 license is called a “Beer and Wine Wholesaler.” A CDABC Type 20 license is called an “Off sale Beer and Wine License.” This licensing combination comes with a number of curious restrictions, the most disturbing of which is that possessors CANNOT have direct, face-to-face contact, or sell their wine directly to the wine consumer EXCEPT if contact with the wine consumer is transacted via the Internet, telephone or fax. They can, however, have direct, face-to-face contact with representatives “in the trade,” such as brokers, wholesalers, retailers, media (which is where I come into play), etc. Because of this restriction from the wine consumer, the CDABC Type 17 & 20 license holders became known as “Virtual Wineries.” They are only wineries in terms of cyberspace!

There is another important exception to the wine consumer contact restriction. CDABC 17 & 20 license holders were just recently approved by the state legislative bodies to be allowed to contribute their wine to qualified charity events and they can even pour their wines at such events directly to the wine consumer in attendance at such events.

Tasting Bazán Wine and the Owners & Winemaker Backgrounds
But I don’t want to go any further about this licensing process and its restrictions before informing you of the wine tasting experience I had with growers, Mario and Gloria Bazán, ( ) who came to Napa in 1973 from Oaxaca, México. After I report on our tasting meeting, I will fill you in on the licensing plight of this lovely winegrowing couple and their consulting winemaker, Ms Victoria Coleman, a complete new and fresh discovery for the future of Napa wines.

Upon his arrival in Napa, Mario first worked for Joseph Phelps Vineyards and then Vyborny Vineyard Management Co. He then moved on to the Robert Mondavi Winery Company where, in in 1982, he was placed in charge of outside vineyard management for Opus One, Sonapa and To-kalon Vineyards. After 16 years at Mondavi, he moved to Stag's Leap Wine Cellars where he meet and worked with Michael Silacci, winemaker, and Julia Winiarski, owner. It is also during this timeframe when he met his winemaker-to-be. He remained with Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars until 1997 at which time he started his own business, “Mario Bazán Vineyard Management.”

Victoria Coleman is the winemaker. She began working with Mario Bazán in 2004 at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars where she received her initial winemaking training under the supervision of winemaker Michael Silacci. Victoria graduated UC Davis in June, 2008.

The 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon is the first vintage of this winemaking venture. They produced 250 cases from grapes picked on the 1.25 acre vineyard of the Bazán’s located near the intersection of Monticello and Atlas Peak in the eastern hills of Napa.

On Wednesday afternoon, February 11, the Bazán’s, Victoria and I met to experience their first vintage Cab at the very comfortable downtown Cuvee Napa Restaurant lounge ( . Cuvee waives corkage fees on Wednesday so it was a great way to meet and taste a small winery’s product. Victoria insisted that we decant the bottle to bring up its fruit and smoothness. She’s the winemaker, so who was I to disagree with her? About 10 to 15 minutes passed after the bottle was transferred when she allowed me to start my tasting process. The nose proved to be delightful and the color deep cab red. I took a very small taste just, wetting my pallet waiting to see how it would hold up and finish, as I pushed the wine back in my mouth. I liked it right away as the tannin was not overwhelming and neither was the oak influence (55% new/45% used French).

I like a Cab that is still on the back of my pallet when I go to try a second taste and this wine had that as I started swirling the wine to try and drive even more of the 14.6 alcohol off to see if the fruit would come up yet more. The alcohol went down and the fruit came up! I truly enjoy wines in which I can taste the fruit and not just oak and tannins. The Bazán Cab did just that!

Victoria and I discussed the opium date for this wine to be at it its best. Although very drinkable now we basically agreed that about five maybe eight years out might really bring out the quality of the fruit.

Now, regarding my recommendation to the consumer, here is where we run into a problem: the consumer cannot taste the wine unless it is presented by a broker/wholesaler/retailer before buying it. Mario Bazán Cellars is offering the 2005 Cab at the hefty price of $72/btl retail. None of the normal wine writer’s - all of which conduct many more tasting events than I - have tasted the wine and compared it to other Cabs similarly priced to measure up it‘s value. It’s all right that it suits my pallet just fine l but I am not every consumer.

So what is the consumer to do? For now, I recommend the consumer watch the Bazán web site and look for a charity event at which they may be pouring and then go to that event to experience this very pleasing wine. Also watch the Bazán web site to read any new reviews they may have received on their wine from other wine writers. Meanwhile, I’m going to e-mail my wine writer contacts and request that they review Mario’s wine and add their report to their own web site readers with copy to Mario.

The Future for Mario Bazán Cellars
While we were tasting I sought information about how they were marketing their product. Probably the greatest concern was the number of trade tasting events in which they could possibly participate given a production output of only 250 cases. At this production level, there will be few distributors interested in representing their wine as there will be little commission for the salesperson or profit to be gained for the company. Obviously they cannot conduct too many charity donation events and have much product remaining to sell.

So, the optimum marketing tool is the Internet where they can legally reach out to the consumer and sell their product directly at full retail price. Under this marketing strategy they could thus save money to eventually build their own winery facility. We then discussed how they were going to be identified and found among the over 5,000 winery Web sites on the Internet in just the USA. As I explained to them, there are a number of varietal advocacy groups and appellation advocacy associations that they should attempt to join and cross link with so that both the winery member and the advocacy agency can receive expanded exposure.

As Mario Bazán Cellars is located in Napa County, it has significant advocacy group possibilities to consider but some of the most important groups will not let a CDABC License Type 17 & 20 join them, or their membership fees are too great an amount for such a small operation to absorb.

Sadly, the CDABC License Type 17 & 20 are not known among themselves as evidenced by the fact they have not formed their own advocacy group to lobby for CABC Act and CDABC Rules & Regulations changes to allow them to compete on a level playing field basis with all the other winery/cellar license types.

For Mario Bazán Cellars I see only two ways to truly market their wine: first and foremost is that they bite the wholesale versus retail dollar bullet and hit the restaurant circuit to get their wine placed in front of the consumer and second that they start contacting the other CDABC License Type 17 & 20 wine producers and convince them to join forces as their own advocacy group. Neither one of these are going to be easy tasks!

I am in the process of drafting a point paper on the subject of CABC Type 17 & 20 license holders and how they are being unfairly discriminated against. I will also address the fact that they are suffering from restraint of trade conditions legislated against them by governmental agencies that, knowingly or unknowingly, are possibly being influenced by others in the commercial wine production industry of California.

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