Barney and Kathleen Fetzer had 11 children. The ranch encompasses 720 total acres and included a century old vineyard planted with the Mission varietal. The family gradually began to convert their vines to Vitis vinifera varietals. They initially sold these grapes to small, local winemakers.
In 1968, Fetzers produced their first vintage of 2,500 cases. The Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel were both an instant success. From the beginning, their philosophy was to produce quality wines at affordable prices. The family’s first production facility was a converted barn on their property.
In 1976, Barney Fetzer hired Paul Dolan as winemaker and the two expanded into white wines. Unfortunately, Barney Fetzer passed away in 1981. A tribute to his foresight was his purchase of the 1,130 acre Sundial Ranch immediately before his death. His plan to plant the emerging Chardonnay grape was carried out by his children. America fell in love with the varietal during the 1980s.
The family began producing the hugely popular Fetzer Sundial Chardonnay in 1982. They also started a second, fighting varietal label named Bel Arbor. The Fetzers bought the 1,300 acre Valley Oaks Ranch in 1984. They built a state of the art winery on the property which was completed in 1988. It focused on producing their red wines.
The Brown-Forman Corporation bought the Fetzer and Bel Arbor labels in 1992, but the family continues to own much of the vineyard acreage. Paul Dolan became president of the company after the sale.