Wine of the week: Vision Cellars, 2019 Sonoma Coast, Sonoma County Pinot Noir
Mac McDonald was born the son of a Texas moonshiner. When he was 12, he tasted a bottle of Burgundy and it sealed his fate — he knew then he wanted to be a winemaker.
McDonald is behind our wine of the week winner — the Vision Cellars, 2019 Sonoma Coast, Sonoma County Pinot Noir at $40. It’s a complex pinot weighted to black fruit with feisty blackberry and savory notes in the mix. Balanced, it has bright acidity, a supple texture and a lingering finish. It’s well-crafted and edged out its competitors by over-delivering for a pinot noir at this price.
Today, McDonald is known for his lineup of pinot noirs. Even though the grape is well known for being temperamental, he remains undaunted.
The winemaker said pinot noir is a tough grape to grow in the vineyard with pruning, sun exposure and a range of clones to consider. It’s also a challenging varietal to craft in the cellar, he added. There’s a multitude of yeasts to choose from when fermenting the juice and that really affects flavor. But McDonald said he was determined to master the grape of Burgundy so he could “play with the big dogs.
“My parents taught me if you want to be successful, you have to be persistent and learn as much as you can,” McDonald said. “My high school coach said if you want to be a winemaker, you need to go to California.”
After moving to the Golden State, McDonald met many growers and winemakers, ultimately crossing paths with the Wagner family of Rutherford’s Caymus Vineyards. Those ties remain strong after more than three decades.
After mentoring McDonald for many years, they suggested he get into the wine business. When he said he didn’t have the kind of money necessary to craft wine, the Wagner family helped back him financially, and McDonald and his wife Lil cofounded Vision Cellars in 1995.
“We crafted wine in 1996, but we didn’t release it because it didn’t meet our standards,” McDonald said.
When they bought their land in Sonoma County, they planted a variety of clones of pinot noir in their vineyard.
“My vision of becoming a winemaker was a reality,” McDonald said. “Our first bottling was 1997 pinot noir, and Vision Cellars was born. ... Every year I learn something different. It’s an exciting adventure I look forward to.”
The winemaker again revealed his visionary gift when he founded the Association of African American Vintners in 2002. In 2019, the association decided that wineries don’t need to be owned by people of color to become members, as long as they support diversity and inclusion. With a nod to supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, a growing number of member vintners are not Black.
Championing diversity in the wine industry, McDonald said, is a day-to-day endeavor that deserves to be fought for every day of the year.
Wine writer Peg Melnik can be reached at email@example.com or 707-521-5310.
Wine, The Press Democrat
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