John on Wine – Full of Thanks

This piece ran originally as a wine column in the Ukiah Daily Journal on Wednesday, November 25, 2015

This is my favorite column of the year to write, and I so much love giving thanks for the overabundance of blessings that come my way that I wrote a May column of thanks this year to keep this piece from overflowing into thousands of words.

First, a little news; I have been hired by the Board of Directors of the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association (AVWA) to be their new Executive Director. My job will be to promote the member wineries and vineyards, and associated lodging and restaurant members, of the area, to help mount four wonderful events each year, and to tell the story of Anderson Valley. I am a storyteller, and this is a story I can’t wait to share, the beauty of the valley, and redwood forests, and Mendocino coastline along Highway 128, the incredibly focused attention on world class Pinot Noir and Alsace varietal wines in Anderson Valley’s vineyards, and the breathtakingly soul shuddering wonder of the wines made by some of California’s best winemakers. Thank you to the AVWA Board for your trust and confidence, I can’t wait to begin.


Thanks also to Janis MacDonald, the current AVWA Executive Director, who will work alongside me, for all of your support and kindness. I have written before that I think Janis is the most competent Executive Director a wine area could hope for, and I look forward to learning from you. You will help me achieve similar competence and I am so appreciative that you will be staying and helping me. Together, our shared passion and hard work will benefit Anderson Valley, and Mendocino County’s larger wine scene. We will make a terrific team.

For almost five years, I have been Guinness McFadden’s tasting room manager, and working with Guinness has been one of the greatest honors of my professional career in the wine industry. For the past five years, Guinness has trusted me with his retail operations, wine clubs, event planning, marketing, and promotion; thank you Guinness for allowing me an incredible amount of freedom to help build your brand.

Guinness was an officer in the U.S. Navy and I was a Sergeant in the U.S. Army, and our military pasts helped define how we worked together; Guinness would tell me what he wanted, I would make it happen. Guinness didn’t micromanage me, or tell me how to do my job, he simply told me what he wanted, and allowed me the freedom to execute his wishes. Our working relationship has been spectacular.

I look up to Guinness, and have learned so much from him. Working for the county’s premier organic and biodiverse farmer, I know so much more about growing than I did five years ago. Guinness also gave me opportunities unique for a tasting room manager; he let me set the dosage on his sparkling wines, and influence the blend of his Coro wines.

Guinness McFadden is my friend; I love McFadden wines, I love what I have come to think as my tasting room, and I will be available, and come back for events and wine club runs, and help out on my off time, as Guinness wishes, until my successor is up and running, trained and confident.

Thank you Guinness, for everything you have done for me these last five years, and for your support and blessing as I embark on my new adventure. I am looking forward to attending your Annual Farm Party next year on Saturday, July 9, 2016 in Potter Valley, without working.


I have had a number of folks I’ve worked with in the McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room, and I want to thank the three who have been here the longest; thank you Eugene Gonsalves, Ann Beauchamp, and Juanita Plaza. I’ve never thought of you as my employees, and asked you not to refer to me as your boss; we are a team, and you are as responsible for our successes as much as I am. I love each of you, you are my friends, and I thank you for your support.

Having a retail shop 45 minutes away from our farm means that I have relied on a whole other team of incredibly competent people to serve the visitors to our tasting room; our team at McFadden is bigger than just my crew in Hopland. I have to thank everyone, from the folks who tend our grapes, herbs, and beef to the folks in the office who cut paychecks, provide me accurate inventories, and handle my orders for fulfillment.

Of you all, special thanks go to my counterpart in the farm office, Guinness’ manager Shana Estes. Shana and I have talked almost daily for five years; I adore you, and thank you for all of your help and support of our retail operation, while managing a Herculean work load at the farm. You amaze me.

Finally, thanks to the folks at the Ukiah Daily Journal who run my column, for giving me the opportunity to share my love of wine with your readers, hopefully influencing some to come out wine tasting, attend wine events, or join me at a winemaker’s dinner; and, of course, thank you to you, the readers, for your support, feedback, and kind words about pieces I have written.


I may be the most fortunate person in all of Mendocino County’s wine industry, I love my life, and I thank all of you for every opportunity you have granted me.

Oh, here’s the answer to the question of the day, “what wine goes with turkey?”

I recommend either a Pinot Noir from McFadden Farm or any Anderson Valley producer, or a dry Gewurztraminer from…you guessed it…McFadden or an Anderson Valley producer.



John on Wine – A Taste of Redwood Valley…and bourbon…and mushrooms!

This piece ran originally as a wine column in the Ukiah Daily Journal on Thursday, October 19, 2015

This weekend, on Saturday, November 21 and Sunday, November 22, the wineries and distilleries of A Taste of Redwood Valley will host their 13th annual Holiday Wine Sale & Artisan Faire.


A simple, bring your own tasting glass complimentary wine and spirits tasting event, you’ll find live music, great discounts, arts & crafts, and holiday cookies, light fare, and more as you go from location to location throughout Redwood Valley.

Participating both days, visit Barra of Mendocino/Girasole Vineyards, Brown Family Wines, Frey Vineyards, Giuseppe Wines/Neese Vineyards, Silversmith Vineyards, and Testa Vineyards on either Saturday or Sunday.

Participating on Saturday only, visit American Craft Whiskey Distillery, Germain-Robin Distillery, and Graziano Family of Wines on Saturday or miss out.

Again, this is a free event, just grab your tasting glass and visit Redwood Valley for a great time, and stock up on wines for Thanksgiving dinner and beyond, at a great savings.


The Nation’s Best Bourbon might not be made anywhere near Bourbon County, Kentucky

Recently, I tasted Crispin Cain and Tamar Kaye’s new straight bourbon, and it was stunning. What a wonderful alternative to mass produced crap. Clean, pure, candied sipping heaven. I also got enough quotes for a stand-alone column around that one taste, so look for that in the future. In the meantime, remember American Craft Whiskey Distillery Low Gap Bourbon; find it, buy it. If visiting American Craft Whiskey and Germaine-Robin Distilleries on Saturday, November 21 during the 13th annual Holiday Wine Sale & Artisan Faire, bring a glass for complimentary tasting, and a credit card for a one day sale!

If you miss Saturday’s tasting and sale, you can still make an appointment to taste and purchase at the distillery’s retail location, by calling (800) 782-8145 to set a time and get directions.

After my bourbon tasting, I attended the Barra Vineyards winemaker’s dinner at Crush Italian Steakhouse in Ukiah, as a guest of Charlie and Martha Barra. Thank you!

The five course mushroom themed dinner was held in association with Visit Mendocino’s Mushroom and Wine Festival.

The Crush Chef’s Wine Dinner series recaps are among the most commented upon, a favorite among those who read my column, and this is not one of those dinners. Instead of being Crush’s event, featuring a winery, this was Barra’s event, held at Crush, and a brilliant choice as Crush has amply demonstrated an ability to prepare and serve a meal to highlight a winery’s wines.

Crush manager Kevin Kostoff welcomed the fortunate guests to Barra’s winemaker’s dinner, introduced his brilliantly able staff. Owners Doug and Debbie Guillon were introduced, and Doug explained that the wine dinners at Crush are served ‘family style’ with wine, food, and conversation passing freely. Charlie and Martha Barra were introduced, and Martha told the guests, “we are just very pleased that Charlie, at almost 89, is here with us, and we want to commemorate his 70th year in the vineyard tonight.” Winemaker Owen Smith introduced the six wines served, and Chefs Steve and Jason introduced the food dishes, almost too numerous to count.

The reception meet and greet appetizer course paired the 2014 BARRA of Mendocino Pinot Noir Rosé with a Mushroom Pâté.

One of four tables filled with happy Barra Winemaker's Dinner guests

One of four tables filled with happy Barra Winemaker’s Dinner guests

The seated first course paired two wines, the 2010 BARRA of Mendocino Pinot Grigio and 2014 BARRA of Mendocino Chardonnay with Dungeness Crab Lettuce Cup – Thai influenced flavors complemented by pickled shiitake mushrooms; Wild Mushroom Bisque – with thyme, roasted garlic, Parmesan; Porcini Mushroom Arancini – with tomato reduction sauce and fresh basil; and Kobe Beef Mushroom Tartare – accompanied by crispy shallots, toasted popover boats and Dijon drizzle.

2013 Barra of Mendocino Pinot Noir

2013 Barra of Mendocino Pinot Noir

The second course had two more wines, the 2013 BARRA of Mendocino Pinot Noir and 2011 BARRA of Mendocino Petite Sirah, for Braised Mushroom Shepherd’s Pie – made with onion reduction, chive, potato purée; Slow Roast Veal Shoulder – served with a mushroom Marsala reduction; Heirloom Polenta – mascarpone, fontina, rosemary; and Haricots Verts – with cippolini onions, portobello, and sea salt.

Noted wine writer, Heidi Cusick Dickerson, shared, “What a dinner… Crush chef and crew get a high five and more for amazing flavors and combinations. Not fussy and so mushroomy… exquisite combinations. Well done and I am so happy to have been there to taste Barra of Mendocino wines with such thoughtful creative dishes. I thought the mushroom bisque with the Pinot Grigio would be my favorite and then there was the Pinot Noir and Arancini and then melt in your mouth veal with mushroom sauce, polenta and the Petite Sirah… Heavenly… Thanks to all.”

I’m a sucker for Arancini, stuffed risotto balls, and loved the wild mushroom bisque and the Kobe beef and mushroom tartare when put in the popover boats, but my favorite dish was created at the table by putting some of the rich mushroomy sauce from the slow roasted veal on top of the wonderfully creamy polenta made with chicken stock, cream, truffle oil, and butter.

As for the wine and food flavor combinations, I especially liked how the depth and flavors of the 2014 Barra Chardonnay paired with the richness of the mushroom bisque, and how the richness of the 2011 Barra Petite Sirah went with the rustic and richly flavored shepherd’s pie, but unsurprisingly, to me, it was the 2013 Barra Pinot Noir that paired most beautifully with the broadest array of mushroom based dishes, and especially well with the veal sauced polenta.

The dessert paired the 2014 Girasole Vineyards Muscat Canelli with Truffled Honey Panna Cotta – orange cookie, pear, vanilla bean; this was another wonderful pairing.

Martha and Charlie Barra

Martha and Charlie Barra

At dinner’s end, Martha presented Doug and Debbie with a wood boxed assortment of Barra’s finest wines, in recognition of the incredible job, above and beyond all expectation, done by the Crush crew, both front of house and in the kitchen. I must confess that I was very well stuffed after this incredible dinner.

Barra of Mendocino will be open both days of Redwood Valley’s 13th annual Holiday Wine Sale & Artisan Faire, so visit either day this weekend for complimentary wine tasting and fantastic sale prices.


The next Winemaker’s Dinner at Crush will be held Wednesday, January 20, 2016, and feature the wines of Seebass Family Winery. Contact Crush directly at (707) 463-0700 to get on “the list” as these dinners sell out early.




John on wine – Spotlight Vineyard: Halcon Vineyard

This piece ran originally as a wine column in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, November 12, 2015

Paul Gordon sent me three wines for review last year, and I loved them so much that I was able to craft a pretty solid column around a review of three wines, that’s how good his Halcon Vineyard wines are.

After the piece ran, Paul invited me to visit the vineyard, and recently, well over a year after that initial invitation, I did just that, and the timing was great as I was able to taste a new, larger, lineup of current release and future wines, and see where they were born.

To get to Halcon Vineyards, you exit Highway 128 between Boonville and Yorkville, at mile marker 37.92, through a padlocked gate, and slowly climb north over four miles up a graded dirt road, taking a series of right or left choices at forks, always upward, until you reach what seemed like the top of the world.

Driving through the gate at Halcon Vineyard, at about 2,450 feet in elevation, I was met by Paul, Jackie Bracey, David Campbell, and Cookie the vineyard dog. Although the day was sunny, ever present winds, which reached over 90 mph this year, keep things cool. Paul told me he believes he has “probably the coolest Mourvedre planting in the world,” and we toured vineyard blocks where the first rows were dried into near permanent dormancy by constant wind.

Halcon Vineyards, atop the Yorkville Highlands AVA

Halcon Vineyards, atop the Yorkville Highlands AVA

The very cool climate of Halcon Vineyards in the Yorkville Highlands saw bud break come in March and April this year, a full month or more later than in other parts of Mendocino County. Halcon was planted ten years ago, in four distinct blocks, in serpentine and schist “s*** soil,” with lots of elevation changes, and south facing exposures.

The continuing drought, and cool climate, saw Syrah yields down about 25% this year with, “tiny berries, thick skins.” While certainly not a farmer’s dream, especially an organic farmer like Paul, the result is expected to be concentrated flavorful wines. Paul also shared that Pinot Noir is called the, “heartbreak grape,” only because those farmers don’t grow Grenache; “Grenache is the real heartbreak grape!”

Paul and Jackie plan to plant two white Rhone varieties, Marsanne and Rousanne, at Halcon, to complement the red Rhone varieties they grow, Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvedre. Until they grow their own white grapes, they buy fruit from Alder springs for their Prado white Rhone blend. Halcon also makes two Pinot Noir wines with fruit sourced from Anderson Valley’s Wentzel Vineyard and Oppenlander Vineyard near Comptche.

We ate as we tasted, and the day was made more lovely by the food, wine, and conversation

We ate as we tasted, and the day was made more lovely by the food, wine, and conversation

Wonderful hosts, Paul, Jackie, and David prepared pork, a cheese plate, salty olives, and an incredible fresh vegetable salsa to go with the wines we would taste. Very much surrounded by unspoiled wilds, as we ate and tasted, we saw red tails, kites, and harriers.

The lineup of Halcon Vineyard wines

The lineup of Halcon Vineyard wines

2013 Halcon Prado Alder Springs Mendocino County – 50/50 Marsanne and Rousanne, had a good malolactic mouthfeel, butterscotch on top of lemon, pear, and apple, was barrel fermented using 20% new oak, and was a great food wine.

2014 Halcon Pinot Noir Wentzel Vineyard Anderson Valley – 1/3rd whole cluster, a little under 20% new oak, mixture of Dijon clones, bright forward fruit, rich concentrated sweet tart cherry, earthy, a Goldilocks of wine balance…just right. Young, lots of ageing potential, but drinking great now.

2014 Halcon Pinot Noir Openlander Vineyard Mendocino County – there are many wineries producing Pinot Noir wines from Oppenlander fruit, but as every single one is delicious, I’ll never complain. Pretty much made in the same way as the Wentzel Pinot, but the fruit yields a plumier, deeper, touch of funkier wine of black cherry, and supple but evident tannin.

2013 Halcon Alturas Halcon Vineyard Yorkville Highlands – 100% Syrah, 1/3rd whole cluster, a little new oak, from a frost year yielding only one ton per acre, and the first year some Viognier stems were added for bright vinous notes and depth. I have to be honest, listening to Paul, with great food on a plate in front of me, and wine in my glass, enjoying the comradery of fellow wine lovers, I forgot I was tasting critically, and just put some in my mouth behind a bite of pork and salsa, and the result was an eyebrow raising, “ohhhh!”

Upon regaining my senses, I noted a dark berry perfumed, smooth and supple, f’ing gorgeous wine, made up of bright notes, dark notes, and tons of notes in between.

2014 Halcon Alturas Halcon Vineyard Yorkville Highlands (barrel sample) – Same wine grapes of the Shaw Block, made the same way, with much the same notes. It is drinking great, and could be bottled right now. So sexy, so supple. Touch of vine met by spice and fruit.

2014 Halcon Esquito Halcon Vineyards Yorkville Highlands – About 65% Grenache, 30% Mourvedre, and 5% Syrah blend. No new oak, 25% whole cluster. I love a Chateauneuf du Pape style GSM, or in this case a GMS, Rhone red blend, and this is a wonderful example of what a Rhone blend can, and should, be with spicy, dry, dusty, earthy, concentrated multi fruit notes.

The wines are currently made, and made well, in San Francisco, but Paul and Jackie are looking to build a winery on site in the future.

Paul Gordon and Jackie Bracey...plus Cookie the vineyard dog

Paul Gordon and Jackie Bracey…plus Cookie the vineyard dog

I admire Paul and Jackie, and everything they have accomplished with their Halcon wines. I see them as exuberant risk takers, buying 162 acres at an elevation guaranteed to result in a short growing season for the 15 acres they have planted to grapes, cold, frost, wind, and as remote as it gets; choosing to plant to Rhone varietals, hard to grow and hard to sell. To me, the risks are paying off, and I think of Halcon’s wines as Mendocino County’s cult wines, sought after by knowledgeable wine lovers if unknown to the general public.

Halcon’s wines are available for purchase, and occasionally open for tasting, at Sip Wine shop in Hopland, and can be ordered directly at http://www.halconvineyards.com.


Congratulations to Margaret Pedroni and Jennie Stevens of Knez Vineyard in Anderson Valley. Over the Halloween weekend, Margaret and Jennie were in San Francisco and sat for the Introductory Sommelier Course & Examination. Both passed their tests, and can now sport the red lapel pin of the Guild of Sommeliers.

Margaret Pedroni and Jennie Stevens' sommelier pins

Margaret Pedroni and Jennie Stevens’ sommelier pins



John on Wine – Windsor Vineyards reunion mini tour

I worked at Windsor Vineyards in Sonoma County from January 18, 1993 through the end of January in 2001. I started as one of 100 telemarketers, and moved to create and direct a very successful tradeshow program for the winery. In the nearly 15 years since I left Windsor, many others have left as well, but we all seem to have stayed in the wine industry, and seek each other out or run into each other frequently.

I have written about Carol Shelton, who was the winemaker for most of my time at Windsor, and now makes wines under her own eponymous label, often from Mendocino County fruit. I have written about Susan Johnson, who was my partner at the tradeshows for Windsor, and who I worked with after Windsor when we both left for the Wine Appreciation Guild. Mark Friedrich managed Windsor’s tasting room on the Healdsburg town square, back in the day, and now pours at some of the Anderson Valley’s best tasting rooms today, and Mark has also appeared in this column. I have been visited in the McFadden tasting room by an old married couple, great friends Hans Dippel and M.J. Dube, long after I was present at their first date way back in my early days at Windsor.

Recently, I visited former Vice President of Sales at Windsor, Howard Smith, who was a huge advocate and supporter for the tradeshow program I put together way back when, at the Roadhouse Winery tasting room in Healdsburg, where he pours on Sundays at Tuesdays, and then went on to visit Toni DiLeo, who I dated for a while thanks to our shared time at Windsor, as she poured at Merriam Vineyards, between Healdsburg and Windsor. As I was visiting old Windsor Vineyards friends, Gordon Harsaghy (still at Windsor) and his wife Dale visited my tasting room looking for me, and left a sweet note. We all really were far more a large family than co-workers, and the bonds and friendships continue to this day.

Howard Smith (Photo by John Cesano)

Howard Smith (Photo by John Cesano)

The Roadhouse Winery tasting room is located at 240 Center Street, just a couple of doorways south of the Oakville Grocery, in Healdsburg, and specializes in red wines. Each of the wines has a distinctive label, to make finding your favorite, vintage to vintage, easier.

Roadhouse Wines

Roadhouse Winery wines (Photo by John Cesano)

2012 Roadhouse Winery Yorkville Highlands Pinot Noir Platinum Label $75 – Weir Vineyard – Bright color, multilayered, deep dark cherry and tea, and that classic loamy earthy undernote

2012 Roadhouse Winery Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir Green Label $59 – Sangiacomo Vineyard – Lush and lovely, again dark cherry, with lots of spice, and tea notes.

2013 Roadhouse Winery Russian River Valley Pinot Noir Black Label $57 – Nunes Vineyard – Darker color, softer wine, intensely ripe cherry and raspberry fruit, with supporting herb and spice, nice oak, soft tannin, and good balancing acidity.

2012 Roadhouse Winery Dry Creek Zinfandel Red Label $34 – Rossi Road Vineyard – Unsurprisingly, the Zin is darker and bigger than the trio of Pinots, with raspberry, cocoa, and a light pepper note, met by oak and oak’s vanilla.

2012 Roadhouse Winery Dry Creek Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 3 Ball Label $69 – various vineyard blend – Holy licorice, Batman! Blackberry, current, earth, and wood. Terrific balance, integration, and flavors.

The entire line up of reds was delicious, and in a rare occurrence, after writing notes on each wine I found identical descriptors on the winery’s tasting sheet for nearly all of the wines. The wines were great, but seeing Howard, after too long not seeing him, was the biggest treat of the visit.

Similarly, the highlight of my tasting at Merriam Vineyards, located at 11650 Los Amigos Road between Healdsburg and Windsor, was not the stellar line up of wines – and they are stellar – but visiting with Toni DiLeo. We are incredibly comfortable with each other, and our shared professional and personal experiences allow us almost shorthand when talking about wine.

Toni DiLeo (Photo by John Cesano)

Toni DiLeo (Photo by John Cesano)

Merriam Vineyards, owned by Peter and Diana Merriam, has ten certified organic acres of vines, and another ten acre vineyard less than a mile up the road, all in the Russian River Valley AVA, so every instance where winemaker David Helzberg’s wine is identified as an estate wine below, it means the wine is a Russian River Valley wine and from Merriam Vineyard’s own fruit.

2014 Merriam Vineyards Estate Rose of Pinot Noir $20 – Strawberry, a touch of rose, light cream, and light herb.

2014 Merriam Vineyards Estate Sauvignon Blanc Danielle $20 – Named for daughter Danielle – Held in neutral oak, the nose is classic lemony grass and pear, with a tiny touch of gooseberry, and becomes lusher in the mouth with notes of melon, pear, and lemon.

2012 Merriam Vineyards Chardonnay Bacigalupi $56 – Toni and I differed on whether Bacigalupi translates as kiss of the wolf or galloping kisses, but we agree strongly that Chardonnay from Bacigalupi Vineyard is about as good as it gets. Oak, toast, cream, vanilla, and light butter come through from the barrel, and are met by apple, peach, pear, and a touch of clove spice.

2013 Merriam Vineyards Pinot Noir Cuvee $28 – Four Pinot clones, 667, 777, 23 and 115, grown organically at Merriam Vineyards, make up this wine. Toni calls this Merriam’s, “$60 Pinot for $28,” and it certainly drinks bigger than the $28 price tag. Deep, dark, rich, concentrated. Dark cherry, other red fruit, oak, and spice.

2013 Merriam Vineyards Pinot Noir Estate $40 – Two Pinot clones, 667 and 777, make up this wine. Unfined, unfiltered, hand harvested, hand sorted. Mouth-fillingly round rich spicy cherry cola character.

2012 Merriam Vineyards Pinot Noir Three Sons $75 – The top two barrels of 667 and 777 Pinot from Merriam’s Windacre Vineyard make up this wine, named for the owners three sons, Stefan, Nicolas and Evan – the name does not reflect wine made from grapes taken from the Fred MacMurray’s ranch, as I had hoped – Up front Bing cherry and strawberry met by dark dusty spice notes.

2011 Merriam Vineyards Estate Merlot Windacre Vineyard $30 – The Windacre vineyard is named after Peter and Diane Merriam’s property in Maine, Windacre by the Sea. Soft, light, very nice and eminently quaffable. In a world of weak and boring Merlot, Toni summed it up nicely, “it’s likeable.”

2011 Merriam Vineyards Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Windacre Vineyard $32 – Reading my mind as I put nose to glass, Toni said, “I like that nose.” Yes I do. Unmistakably Cab. Cedar, cherry pipe tobacco, blackberry, blueberry nose; soft in mouth yet firm backbone providing structure for violet berry fruit.

2009 Merriam Vineyards Miktos Bordeaux Blend Sonoma County $50 – 57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot, 19% Cabernet Franc, 5% Petite Verdot. Raspberry coulis and chocolate nose, reinforced in the mouth. None of the grapes suggest the exact flavor, so it is a bit surprising, but absolutely delicious.

2013 Merriam Vineyards Malbec Lower Pond $38 – Only 50 cases made exclusively for wine club. Dark chocolate covered berry candy nose; and black cherry, blackberry, and currant fruit in the mouth with a dry earthy, cedary, spice note.

Relax while enjoing the wines of Merriam Vineyards (Photo by John Cesano)

Relax while enjoing the wines of Merriam Vineyards (Photo by John Cesano)

If visiting Merriam, consider bringing a picnic lunch to enjoy with your favorite just purchased wine, while relaxing in comfortable yellow Adirondack chairs, with scents of nearby lavender, overlooking vines surrounded by olive trees.

Note: This piece ran originally as a wine column in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, November 5, 2016.


This Saturday, November 7, 2015, I’m attending the BARRA of Mendocino Wines winemaker’s dinner at Ukiah Crush, a five course mushroom themed dinner held in association with Visit Mendocino County‘s Mushroom and Wine Festival. Limited seating is available at $75 per person, contact Barra at (707) 485-0322 for tickets. Call now.

Of all the newspaper wine columns I write, the Crush Chef’s Wine Dinner series recaps are among the most commented upon, a favorite among those who read my column, and this dinner is sure to be another stellar experience. Again, call Barra at (707) 485-0322 now and grab your tickets, and tell ’em John sent you.


Now through December 31, you can show your support for our troops by texting HOME to 89800. For every valid text received, Sutter Home will donate $5, up to $20,000, to help send care packages to active duty military personnel.

My simple morning text meant Sutter Home is donating $5 to send care packages to our troops. Having pledged up to $20,000, at $5/text received, please send your text of HOME to 89800, and thank you Sutter Home.

My simple morning text meant Sutter Home is donating $5 to send care packages to our troops. Having pledged up to $20,000, at $5/text received, please send your text of HOME to 89800, and thank you Sutter Home.

Here’s the press release I received this morning, in it’s entirety:


Iconic American Winery Supports Military with Care Packages

St. Helena Calif., November 2, 2015Sutter Home® Family Vineyards, an iconic American winery, is working to make the holidays brighter for U.S. military personnel and their families.  Through its Sutter Home for the Holidays initiative, Sutter Home has partnered with Operation Gratitude to send care packages to deserving troops around the world.

Now through December 31, Sutter Home fans can show their support for this worthwhile effort by texting HOME to 89800. For every valid text received, Sutter Home will donate $5, up to $20,000, to help send care packages to active duty military personnel.

“In the spirit of giving thanks this holiday season, we want to show our military heroes and their families how much we appreciate the sacrifices they make each and every day,” said Wendy Nyberg, Vice President of Marketing for Sutter Home. “We are especially thrilled that Sutter Home fans can participate in this effort and make a difference in the lives of those who serve.”

In addition to the texting campaign, every weekend this November, Sutter Home’s historic winery in St. Helena, CA, will double as a care kit assembly outpost. Sutter Home wine club members are invited to stop by the wine club member lounge at the tasting room to help assemble care kits of essentials, including toothpaste, tooth brushes, hot compresses, and more. In keeping with Operation Gratitude’s tradition of adding handwritten letters to every care package, volunteers will also have the opportunity to write messages of support and thanks to military personnel.

“We depend on volunteers and partners like Sutter Home to help us deliver more than 100,000 care packages around the world each year,” said Carolyn Blashek, CEO and founder of Operation Gratitude. “The simple act of sending a text to support this effort can make a meaningful impact on someone who is stationed away from home this holiday season.”

In addition to its partnership with Operation Gratitude, Sutter Home also has joined forces with the Veterans’ Business Outreach Center to help bring military personnel home to their families.  Eligible members of the U.S. Military, Reserves and National Guard can apply online, now through December 31, at www.vbocix.org to win a trip home to anywhere in the continental United States.

About Sutter Home Family Vineyards

When the Trinchero family bought the Sutter Home Winery in 1948, they had a vision, a passion, and an insight into consumer tastes. In the early 1970s, Sutter Home started a trend when the company created White Zinfandel, introducing a new, sweeter flavor profile that changed the way Americans enjoyed wine by offering high-quality varietals at an affordable price. By the 1980s and 1990s, Sutter Home became a household name and the second largest independent, family-run winery in the United States. In 2005, the winery was the first to produce the groundbreaking single-serve, 187ml in light-weight plastic bottles, and was one of the first wineries to produce Moscato over 60 years ago. With a fresh new label in 2013, Sutter Home continues to reflect the evolution of the brand and its consumers with 20 different varietals to choose from. For more information visit www.SutterHome.com.

About Operation Gratitude

Operation Gratitude is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that sends 150,000+ individually addressed care packages to Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines deployed overseas, to their children left behind, and to New Recruits, Veterans, First Responders, Wounded Warriors and their Care Givers.  Each package contains food, hygiene products, entertainment and handmade items, as well as personal letters of support. Operation Gratitude seeks to lift spirits and meet the evolving needs of our Military and First Responder communities, and provide volunteer opportunities for Americans to express their appreciation to all who serve our nation. Learn more at www.operationgratitude.com



John on Wine – Spotlight Winery: Foursight Wines

Another perfect day in the Anderson Valley, made more perfect by a visit and tasting with Kristy Charles and winemaking husband Joe Webb at their winery tasting room, Foursight Wines, in Boonville, right on Highway 128.

Foursight Wines' tasting room and winery (Photo by John Cesano)

Foursight Wines’ tasting room and winery (Photo by John Cesano)

I am fortunate, and attend many wine events in the Anderson Valley, and see Kristy and Joe often, as both are active members, having each taken a turn as President, on the Board of the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association. Both have been helpful to me as a local wine writer.

Joe Webb and Kristy charles of Foursight Wines (Photo by John Cesano)

Joe Webb and Kristy Charles of Foursight Wines (Photo by John Cesano)

The tasting room is a cozy place to visit, and dog friendly, and the wines come from grapes grown on the Charles Vineyard, established in 2001 by William and Nancy Charles. This is a family operation from grape to glass, the grapes are grown sustainably and the wines are vegan made and with only that intervention required to make great wine.

Vegan wine? Yes, most wine is fined, to remove sediment and enhance clarity, using egg whites or gelatin. Vegan wines are instead typically fined, if they are fined at all, with bentonite, an absorbent clay.

Joe poured for me, and told me the story of each wine, in a moderately wine tech heavy way, which I enjoyed immensely. I’m not going to share sugars or acid or overly specific barrel regimen info, because what most folks care about is how the wine tasted and if I liked it. I will confess to near wine geek-gasm, and thought the presentation was tailored just for me, but Kristy shared that Joe loves sharing what goes into each of Foursight’s wines with each visitor to the tasting room. I love getting a story with each wine, and too few tasting room folks provide that level of care, so this was a real treat, a treat that makes each visitor feel special and cared for.

2013 Foursight Semillon Charles Vineyard Anderson Valley $28 – Wooden side basket pressed, no fining, no filtering, full malolactic fermentation, aged in stainless steel and French oak, drinks dry. Round, fleshy pear and apple fruit and floral and honey notes. Great mouthfeel. Delicious.

2013 Foursight Unoaked Pinot Noir Charles Vineyard Anderson Valley $25 – Native yeast, 40% whole cluster, finished at 14.1 with a touch of sediment. Joe told me this wine was born of four influences: “1. During wine club blending trials, people loved the topping wine; 2. There is a growing number of people seeking Alsace style Pinot and loving the price point for unoaked reds; 3. Vegans and vegetarians love genuinely vegan wines…no trees were harmed in the making of this wine; and 4. Red wines rock!” This wine is all about fruit without tannin, cherry and berry all day long. I’ve tasted it twice, and it is SO much better now, benefitting from a little bottle age.

Joe went on to tell me he thinks, “the only way to do a press cut is with a basket press,“ and 2015 is, “so inky, not wanting to be over tannic,” but the compact harvest of 2015 will lead to, “little logistical things with winemaking in 2015,” as so many things need to be done at once, or nearly so.

2012 Foursight Zero New Oak Pinot Noir Charles Vineyard Anderson Valley $38 – Great mouth, round and rich in discernible bright cherry fruit, herb and spice, with a kiss of wood.

2012 Foursight Pinot Noir Charles Vineyard Anderson Valley $46 – Beautiful nose. Rose petal, soft herb, chocolate, lovely cherry and raspberry fruit.

2012 Foursight Clone 05 Pinot Noir Charles Vineyard Anderson Valley $49 – Pommard clone grapes. The first word I wrote was “ripest,” and Joe told me this wine is, “always the ripest.” Rhubarb, berry, cherry; darker, great balance. Joe said the balance comes from, “the different blocks, three different fermenters, picked on at least two different dates.” Larger berry, larger clusters, touch lower tannin, can take a little more new oak.

2013 Foursight Paraboll Pinot Noir (Charles Vineyard) Anderson Valley $54 – Foursight purchased the trademarked Paraboll label from Londer, to continue the wine’s production. I loved the Paraboll, lushly forward rich cherry and strawberry fruit and caramel, with earthy spice notes to complement the fruit. Joe told me his favorite thing about the 2013 Paraboll is how, in a near endless sea of Pinot, this wine stopped tasters in their tracks at the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival earlier this year.

Foursight's Paraboll Pinot Noir (Photo by John Cesano)

Foursight’s Paraboll Pinot Noir (Photo by John Cesano)

The Foursight Wines tasting room is open Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., closed January and the third weekend in June, and located at 14475 Highway 128, the first winery tasting room on your right as you head into Boonville from Ukiah or Cloverdale.

I enjoy Joe and Kristy immensely, and they have terrific single vineyard wines. Kristy summed up the charm of a visit to Foursight perfectly, “The important thing is we’re all family owned and operated, local, estate wines, and we love to pour our really good…great wines for people.”

Make plans to stop in and taste through the line up; you’ll find they are terrific drinkable snapshots capturing variety, vintage, and place. If you like the wines as much as I do, consider joining their wine club for spectacular discounts on delicious wines.

Note: This piece originally ran as a wine column in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, October 29, 2015.


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