The wine industry of Mendocino County, and indeed the broader Northern California region, has lost one of its most influential figures. Paul Egan Dolan III, a trailblazer in sustainable winemaking, passed away on June 26, 2023, leaving behind a legacy that will continue to shape the region’s viticulture for generations to come.

Born in Oakland, California, in 1950, Dolan’s roots in winemaking were deep, tracing back to his family’s Asti Villa in Sonoma County. His journey into the world of wine was ignited by the legacy of his great-grandfather Pietro Carlo Rossi and grandfather Edmund A. Rossi, both of whom served as Presidents of The Italian Swiss Colony.

Dolan’s career blossomed in Mendocino County at Fetzer Vineyards, where he became a fourth-generation winemaker. Under his leadership, Fetzer Vineyards saw a dramatic expansion, growing from 25,000 to two million cases annually. Dolan’s vision extended beyond production numbers; he was a pioneer in sustainable winemaking, launching Bonterra Wines as the first national brand made from 100% organically grown grapes.

However, Dolan’s influence was not confined to Mendocino County. He co-founded Truett-Hurst Winery in Healdsburg, Sonoma County, creating a space for wine lovers to gather and celebrate the joys of life. Truett-Hurst also owns VML Winery, a testament to Dolan’s commitment to quality, recognized for producing some of the finest Pinot Noir in Sonoma County.

Dolan was more than a winemaker; he was a visionary who saw the potential of every vineyard. A devoted student of Rudolf Steiner, the father of the biodynamic movement, Dolan believed that every piece of land has its unique expression. This philosophy was embodied in his Dark Horse Vineyards, a 63-acre biodynamic property that stands as a testament to Dolan’s commitment to sustainable farming.

In recent years, Dolan became involved with the Regenerative Organic Alliance, an organization that champions soil rehabilitation, animal welfare, and improved conditions for farmers globally. His work with the alliance underscores his belief in a holistic approach to farming, one that respects the land and the people who cultivate it.

Paul Dolan’s passing is a significant loss, but his influence will continue to reverberate through the vineyards of Sonoma and Mendocino Counties. His commitment to sustainable farming practices, his mentorship of fellow winemakers, and his creation of award-winning wines have left an indelible mark on the region. As we raise a glass to his memory, we also celebrate the lasting impact of his vision on the landscape of Mendocino County’s wine industry.

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