I love Zinfandel. Growing up, Zinfandel was used in the kitchen to flavor foods and served at the table to complement those dishes. Hanging just outside my office at the tasting room I manage, there is a framed photograph taken in 1972 of my brother and me crushing Zinfandel grapes by foot for a family wine.

A little too long for my newspaper wine column at over 4,400 words, I wrote an online recap of January’s Zinfandel Experience, produced by Zinfandel Advocates & Producers (ZAP), in San Francisco. Last year, I attended the inaugural ZAP’s Simply Summer Celebration and recapped the experience here in the paper.

Living in Mendocino County, I am fortunate as a Zin lover; Zinfandel is the county’s most planted grape and the county’s flagship cooperative wine program, Coro Mendocino, focuses on the many possible expressions of heritage Zinfandel blends.

On Saturday, Aug. 15, from 1 to 3:30 p.m., the second ZAP Simply Summer Celebration (of Zinfandel) will be hosted on Seghesio Family Vineyards’ Home Ranch in Alexander Valley at 24400 Rich Ranch Road, Cloverdale. Sixty-five wineries will pour their Zinfandel wines, including Seebass Family Vineyards and Edmeades from Mendocino County, plus Carol Shelton Wines and Artezin Wines, among others, who make Zinfandel using Mendocino County grapes.

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Great wine needs great food to pair with, and Seghesio is one of my favorite Passport to Dry Creek Valley stops because they always bring it with their food offerings. For this Simply Summer Celebration, ZAP shares, “Seghesio’s custom mobile Jedmaster smoker, with the capacity for 320 pounds of pork butt, Blaze, is equipped to smoke for a huge crowd. Seghesio’s resident pit master, Executive Chef Peter Janiak loves to fire Blaze up any chance he gets and has become quite famous for his hand-made salumi, sausages and smoked meats.” On the menu: Pulled Pork Sandwich smoked for 14 hours and topped with a Zinfandel based BBQ sauce, Feta & Watermelon Salad, and even a Vegetarian Option for the pork averse among you. Healdsburg’s Moustache Baked Goods will provide dessert samples, “baked from scratch and by hand without preservatives and only in small batches.”

Tickets are $65 each, or $50 for ZAP members, and include a commemorative tasting glass, tastes of wines from 65 producers, BBQ food dishes made to pair perfectly with the wines you’ll be tasting, and dessert bites.

ZAP Heritage Club members get a bonus tasting in the hour before the main public tasting; “In collaboration with Seghesio Family Vineyards, ZAP has arranged for an exclusive Zinfandel tasting at the historic Seghesio Home Ranch Vineyard in northern Alexander Valley. Hosted by Seghesio, ZAP Heritage Club members will learn about the history and heritage of this continuously operating 120 year old vineyard. The tasting will focus on the Home Ranch Zinfandel, which still uses founder Edoardo Seghesio’s original 7-acre 1895 vines as the foundation of this wine. Seating is very limited and RSVP is required.”

For more information about ZAP’s Simply Summer Celebration, or to purchase your tickets before they sell out, visit http://www.Zinfandel.org.

Thanks to Glenda Cunningham and Rebecca Robinson of Zinfandel Advocates & Producers for inviting me to your summer event, again.
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No one should have to take the blame but me when my writing goes off the tracks, but Ron Washam deserves a little credit for making it better. Ron writes satirically about wine, online wine writing, and wine marketing for his popular Hosemaster of Wine blog. Ron also writes some of the best written wine reviews and winery features under his Ephemera banner on the site as well.

Years ago, I had the opportunity to pour for Ron, and things were going great until I described one of our wines as, “authentic,” which earned a sad shake of the head from Ron. It does not matter whether a wine is estate grown, organically, made with minimal intervention, exhibits varietal correctness, and is an expression of both terroir and vintage, or if that wine is mass produced, conventionally farmed with a liberal application of Round Up, and is absolutely vile in all sensory aspects; they are both authentic.

I have tried not to use meaningless descriptors like authentic, natural, or sustainable since that day. Recently, I sent Ron a note, because I sensed he was tired or down, such being the lot of a writer sometimes. I wrote, “I have appreciated your writing for years, have read all your posts, and appreciate the pin you bring to the overinflated pretentiousness that pervades the marketing of wine.

Rather than allow the sense that wine is serious stuff, unknowable to the regular man, only to be appreciated by those who have devoted a lifetime to tasting, and alienating a huge segment of the potential market for wine, I wish that more people would demystify the fermented juice of grapes, point to it as a terrific component in a larger meal, make it approachable.

Heralding inexpensive wines, as opposed to cheap wines, and suggesting food pairings, driving new consumers to seek out these easily found wines in the market to try, trusting that once the door has been opened many of these new converts from milk, soda, or beer at the dinner table will seek out more expensive bottles, visit tasting rooms, or attend wine events, is what I wish more folks did.

Personally, I do not love [a common supermarket brand, name masked for this piece] wines, I think they are cheap, they just do not taste good to me. I am amazed, under Concha y Toro, just how good the wines at Fetzer are at about the same price point. Inexpensive vs. cheap.”

Ron replied, generously, “Your letter is very kind, and much appreciated. I agree with all of your sentiments, and I’ve spent a lot of energy on HoseMaster trying to express them. Wine is supposed to be enjoyable and life-enhancing, not snooty, not strictly defined (“natural” or “100 point”), not boring. Reading wine blogs makes wine seem dull and lifeless when it’s anything but. And not just wine blogs, most of the press as well make it seem stupid and mundane.”

For my readers, visit Ron’s site, go into the archives and read every piece in order; the comments are often as good as the piece being commented upon. For the local wine folks who read my column, craft a better message, connect with your customers better, make wine approachable and your customers will enjoy it more and share it with their friends and family more often.

John Compisi is an online wine writer, lives in northern Sonoma County with his wife Linda, and visits Mendocino County often.

John was invited by Consortium Mendocino to sit in on the winemaker blending trials for the 2012 vintage of Coro Mendocino wines.

John produced a four part series of stories from the experience, and here are links to those four stories: Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV

John is a friend, a good writer, and I am happy to share links to his stories about Mendocino County’s flagship wine, Coro, and help spread the word about these wines.

Enjoy!

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John on Wine – A look at competition medals

This piece was originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, July 23, 2015

A lot of folks look at a wine competition Gold Medal in the same way that they look at a Gold Medal from the Olympics, assuming that the wine must have been judged to be the best, the first place, wine of its variety in the competition. They would be mistaken.

A Gold Medal winning wine has received a vote for Gold from the majority of the judges tasting flights of that variety of wine. As an example, if there are four judges tasting flights of Cabernet Sauvignon, and three vote an individual wine Gold and one votes Silver, then the wine would be awarded a Gold Medal; and if two voted Gold for another wine with the other two voting Bronze, then the wine would be awarded a Silver Medal. Unanimous votes for Gold from all judges on a tasting panel are rare, rarer than you might imagine, but when a wine receives a unanimous Gold vote, then that wine receives a Double Gold or Four Star Gold or whatever special designation that competition uses to designate a wine that has taken a unanimous Gold vote from the judges.

There can be more than one wine awarded Gold Medals, and even Double Gold Medals by a judging panel at a wine competition, as excellence is excellence and deserves recognition.

Years ago, I heard the best instruction given by a competition director on how to decide on what medal to vote for each wine tasted. If you would buy a glass of this wine in a restaurant or wine bar, but not a bottle, then vote Bronze; if you would buy a bottle of this wine, but not a case, then vote Silver; and if you would buy a case, or cases, of this wine, then vote Gold. If, however, you would not finish a glass of this wine, or if the wine has winemaking defects, then vote No Medal. Pretty simple, and I use this criteria as my default method of voting on wines when I am asked to judge wines at a competition.

As a buyer of wine, I look at Gold Medals with a healthy dose of skepticism. 99 times out of 100, when a wine takes a competition Gold Medal, no matter how many wine competitions it is subsequently entered into, it never takes another. That suggests to me that Gold Medals are, by and large, random luck based nonsense.

Retired statistics professor Robert Hodgson released a study several years ago which showed that wine judges at a noted wine competition gave dramatically different scores to the same wine when tasting it blind on two different occasions, suggesting a lack of repeatability of results.

If a winery sends a wine to six different wine competitions and gets two Bronze, three Silver, and one Gold Medal, guess which one medal gets pointed to?

For me, medals take on meaning when a wine takes multiple Gold, or better yet Double Gold, medals. Point at three Double Golds for a wine, and I’ll likely be impressed with the wine, as every judge in three different competitions voted unanimously to award that wine a Gold Medal. The rarity of such an occurrence takes the luck based element out of the honor, and pretty much suggests excellence in a wine.

The phenomenon of unrepeatability extends to wines tasted for review and rating by wine publications. The winery I work at has two labels for the exact same wine, one for local distribution where folks might know who Guinness McFadden is or the fame of the grapes from his farm, McFadden; and the other with a more easily remembered name, for distant distribution, Blue Quail. The exact same wine, with different labels, often garners different medals at the same wine competition and, although the notes are strikingly similar, the point ratings from wine publications can differ by as much as four points for the exact same wines when submitted at the same time.

At last years, California State Fair Wine Competition, Mendocino County wineries earned four of the seven Golden Bear Trophies awarded from the California State Fair for wine: Navarro – Golden State Winery of the Year, Navarro – Best of Show Dessert, McFadden – Best of Show Sparkling, and Fetzer – Best Value; 98 points and Double Gold, each and every one of them. This year, not as much love for Mendocino County’s wines. Often with different competition directors, wine competitions will either tighten up or relax year to year; too few golds and there will be fewer entries the following year, too many golds and the award and competition lose some prestige. Results can vary, competition to competition, and year to year.

My experiences tasting and judging have found me both in accordance with other judges, or wildly diverging in opinion with other judges. I’ve sat with John Buechsenstein, John Dickerson, Heidi Cusick-Dickerson, and Rosemary Eddy in evaluation of blends at Maria and Rusty Martinson’s blending party at Testa Vineyards. Last year, I was one of three Johns, John B., John C., and John D., and our favorites, and least favorites were almost exactly the same. Recently, I tasted and judged Lake County amateur wine entries at The Winefest in Lakeport. My fellow judges were all frequent tasters of Lake County wines, and my scores probably varied from the other four the most. They all had good palates, but were tasting against a more ideal Lake County norm, where I am perhaps less wedded to expectation and more open to what a wine can be; I am fine with lighter style reds, even if they are unusual, if they are balanced, delicious, and could pair well with food, as an example.

The "Fest" in The Winefest, Lakeport's celebration of the county's amateur and commercial wines features wine, food, art, crafts, and music

The “Fest” in The Winefest, Lakeport’s celebration of the county’s amateur and commercial wines features wine, food, art, crafts, and music

That said, there were wines so excellent, that there was complete agreement, and the dessert wine category yielded three wines, all of which were Double Gold worthy, and superior in quality to many commercially made and sold wines. Here were some of my favorite winemakers from The Winefest: Doug Moore, Michelle Shultz, James Celozzi, David Hicks, Conn & Marcia Murray, and the LCSA Wine Club; you all made some delicious wines!

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John on Wine – Barrel Tasting Weekend along Highway 128

This piece originally ran in the Ukiah Daily Journal weekly wine column on Thursday, July 16, 2015

Barrel Tasting 128, or BT128, the Anderson Valley and Yorkville Highlands Barrel Tasting Weekend is coming up on Saturday, July 25 and Sunday, July 26, from 11:00 am – 4:00 pm each day. A $20 ticket gets you advance tastes of wines, primarily but not exclusively Pinot Noir. I was a guest, last year, of the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association, and heartily recommend the event to anyone wanting to enjoy a great weekend of wine. Tickets are available online at http://www.avwines.com

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Here is what each participating winery is offering ticket buyers:

BALO – Join our Winemaker in the Barrel Room for samples of our 2014 Estate Pinot Noirs including the critically acclaimed, Avenging Angel.  Enjoy gourmet pizzas from our wood fired oven and play a game of Bocce or walk the vineyard, glass in hand. Enjoy 20% savings on your wine purchase and sign up for our Wine Club to reserve futures.

BAXTER – Claire Baxter (winemaker’s wife) will guide you through barrel samples of upcoming wines, including her personal favorite. Taste current vintage Pinots and sign up for futures with complimentary shipping. Our mid-century modern tasting room is on the West side of 128 in downtown Philo. (707) 895-3173.

BINK is offering barrel samples of 3 different Pinot Noir clones and a daily raffle for a bottle of Reserve Thomas Vineyard Pinot Noir.  There will be summer wine specials as well.  Join the Wine Club and receive 25% off.

BRUTOCAO invites you to be a “king for the day”. All tickets holders will receive a 25% discount on wine purchases. Taste a barrel from the 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon, Contento Vineyard.

DOMAINE ANDERSON WINERY – Join us for an exceptional opening of the Domaine Anderson French Art-Deco tasting bar with small bites and a special 15% discount on select wines. Lounge on the patio, picnic in the gardens, or stroll through the vineyards at our certified organic Dach vineyard surrounding the winery.

EDMEADES and CHAMP de REVES – Explore the amazing flavors of Mendocino County shaped by winemakers Ben Salazar of Edmeades and Eric Johannsen of Champ de Reves. Begin the journey with a barrel sample of Pinot Noir from Champ de Reves high elevation vineyard. Then discover the diversity of Edmeades with three single vineyard Zinfandels. We will also be offering small bites and special wine pricing.

ELKE VINEYARDS – Look for special offers.

FOURSIGHT will offer a special preview of the fantastic 2014 estate Pinot Noirs out of barrel, alongside current releases and small bites. Futures of the 2014 Pinots will be available at a special barrel tasting price.

GOLDENEYE WINERY invites you to sample 2 different blocks of Estate Grown Pinot Noir from our Confluence Vineyard.  We will be offering small nibbles and a special tasting complimentary for Barrel Tasters.

GREENWOOD RIDGE – In addition to 2014 barrel samples, we will pouring our 2012 Hundred Point Pinot Noir along with other current releases and a selection of local cheeses.

HARMONIQUE – Meet Winemaker Bob Klindt and owner Moira Conzelman. Preview 2013 Vintage Pinot Noirs and taste the newly released 2009 un-oaked Chardonnay. Karina Lyons of Heritage Oak Barrels will also be on hand to discuss the art of the barrel. Finger foods served.

HUSCH VINEYARDS is excited to preview a barrel sample of our 2014 Estate Pinot Noir. We will also be offering an additional 10% case discount on all current vintages of Pinot.  Enjoy a complimentary tasting from our collection of award-winning wines paired with home-made olive tapenade on the back deck. Relax at one of our picnic tables amongst the vineyard and winery.

KNEZ will be tasting 2014 Estate Cerise and Demuth Vineyard Pinot Noir.  10% off all purchases.  25% off all purchases upon joining the Knez Wine Club.  Artisanal cheeses and local breads.

LAZY CREEK – Look for special offers.

LICHEN ESTATE will be offering up to 20% savings plus free shipping (on full case purchases) on 2014 Pinot Noir from the barrel.

LULA CELLARS – This year we will be tasting barrel samples of our 2014 pinot noir.

MAPLE CREEK / ARTEVINO will be sampling out of barrel our 2014 Pinot Noir’s (Weir Vineyard, Yorkville and Anderson Valley vineyard) and our 2014 Estate Chardonnay along with various library wines. We will offer a 20% discount on all wines to the ticket holders and we will have some artisan cheeses to sample as well.

MEYER FAMILY CELLARS invites you to sample our latest barrels of Cabernet and Syrah. On Saturday we’ll have wood-fired pizzas from our earthen oven and on Sunday, local gourmet food-pairings in the tasting room.  Enjoy our grapevine shaded picnic tables, green grass lawn and bocce court. 15% discount.

PHILLIPS HILL – Join the winemaker for a tasting of 2013 barrel samples and current releases paired with some amuse bouche. Futures of 2013 Pinot Noir will be offered at a special price.

PHILO RIDGE VINEYARDS tasting room will be serving barrel samples of 2013 Pinot Noir, 2013 Zinfandel and 2014 Viognier. This weekend save 15% on 6 bottles, save 20% on 12 bottles or more. Wine club members will receive an added discount. Enjoy a cool watermelon gazpacho and crostini bites while you taste.

SEEBASS offers a discount of futures and two pairings: one with cheese and one with chocolate. Also all ticket holders will receive a 10% discount on purchases.

YORKVILLE CELLARS will be tasting barrel samples and offering discounted futures for 2013 Richard the Lion-Heart, our unique proprietors’ blend of the six Noble red grapes of Bordeaux, which we grow in our certified organic Rennie Vineyard: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Carmenere. You can also taste each of these wines as a separate varietal too and enjoy special pricing on selected current releases. Bountiful appetizers will be served.

WITCHING STICK will be barrel tasting our 2014 Zinfandel Port, 2014 Perli Vineyard Pinot Noir, and 2014 Durell Vineyard Chardonnay, with small plate appetizers.

THANK YOU

Thanks. I usually write a newspaper wine column giving thanks around the end of November, and sometimes another piece for the paper when my need to thank people is overwhelming and the list of people deserving of thanks is so long that it can’t wait until Thanksgiving’s column.

Today, I’m writing a long note of thanks, not for the paper, but for my website, because I have many people to thank, and instead of folks throughout the Mendocino wine scene – my normal ‘beat’ – this is a piece all about the annual party at McFadden Farm, just held over the weekend, on Saturday, July 11, 2015.

I manage the McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room in Hopland for Guinness McFadden and his family; I am the tasting room manager, wine club manager, marketing manager, and event manager. There is no way that someone can wear so many hats and not rely on a team of folks to help make things happen. I am blessed to have several teams who do an amazing job, helping me provide great products and service to the folks who visit and become customers.

Each year, we have a party at McFadden farm on the second Saturday of July. The name of the party is malleable; some call it the Wine Club Party, others the annual McFadden Farm BBQ Dance Party, while many others simply call it Fontaine’s party. It is all of those things and more.

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McFadden Farm is a 550 acre organic and bio diverse family farm located at the very north end of Potter Valley in Mendocino County. The Russian River begins on McFadden Farm. In addition to highly prized organically grown grapes, McFadden Farm raises organic grass fed beef, organic air dried herbs, and many more organic farm fresh and healthy goods. McFadden Farm has a hydroelectric plant and over 300 solar panels and is far beyond energy independent, providing excess energy to power much of Potter Valley. McFadden Farm has an artist in residence who throws culinary pottery at the farm. McFadden Farm is an amazing place, and breathtakingly gorgeous, but it is located 45 minutes northeast of the tasting room in Hopland (Oh, how I wish the farm and vineyard were right out my back door in Hopland for daily tours).

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Once each year, all of the folks who visit the tasting room and buy wine and other farm goods, and the folks who join our wine club to get the best savings on wine (15-35% discounts and 1 penny shipping on cases), get a chance to see the Farm. This second Saturday of July party is our version of a Wine Club Dinner, and our Wine Club members get a $15 discount on tickets to the party. Guinness has many friends and they want to come too, so the party isn’t a wine club exclusive event, and the public buys tickets too. I wrote about the event for a column in the newspaper and my readers bought tickets; all that said, Guinness’ daughter Anne-Fontaine has a ton of friends who buy tickets and come to the party.

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And so the thanks start with Fontaine. The measure of a person’s wonderfulness isn’t how many good things they say about themselves, but how many people say good things about them. Even then, words are cheap. Fontaine is such a spectacular person that about 100 people pay $85 each and then drive over two hours from San Francisco, Oakland, and elsewhere in the Bay Area, to come to what could fairly be called the Fontaine Party at McFadden Farm.

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Fontaine brings a team of chef friends from San Francisco to cook all of the farm fresh vegetable, salad, and dessert dishes. Thanks to chefs Anne Olson and Kristene Loyaza. Fontaine arranges for all of the tables, linen, plates, glasses, and silverware, and gets it all set up. Fontaine arranges with local food growers for organic whole pork and lambs. Fontaine takes care of the music. Fontaine is a dynamo. The ultimate reflection on how terrific Fontaine is, is how nice all of her friends are. It is said that you are judged by the company you keep, and if applied to Fontaine then this would be the ultimate compliment, because everyone of her friends is friendly, cheerful, helpful, happy, and kind.

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Fontaine brought the Kelly MacFarling band back to play again this year, and a band I already loved was even better this year, and all who attended loved her, getting up and dancing, and applauding each terrifically rendered song. When Kelly and her band finished their last song, the dance mix piped through the sound system was well chosen to keep the fun going, and the fun and dancing continued late into the night. Great music! Thank you Kelly.

Adam Gaska provided the pork from Mendocino Organics, and it was opened, the bones were removed, it was stuffed full of fresh McFadden herbs, closed up again, and cooked whole by Mac Magruder. Mac also provided the whole lambs which were marinated and cooked by McFadden’s own grill masters, Benny Alvarez and Isidoro Gonzalez. Thanks to team meat!

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Thanks to Ernesto Medina, who ordinarily packs a lot of wine for shipment throughout the year, but was your tractor driver, pulling a flatbed trailer with blanket covered straw bales, shuttling you from parking up by the farm office down to the party site next to the river, for the event. Guinness, himself, gave folks rides back to their cars later as the party wore down.

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Wine. When I left the party, we had poured 276 bottles, and Fontaine was going in for more. I handle wine, but not alone, and have some folks on my team to thank. Thanks first to Ann Beauchamp. Ann worked in the tasting room Saturday, and then raced up to the Farm and was beside me as we poured a line up that included our 2014 Chardonnay, 2014 Sauvignon Blanc, 2014 Pinot Gris, 2013 Gewurztraminer, 2012 Old Vine Zinfandel, 2013 Pinot Noir, and NV Sparkling Cuvee Brut. My date for the night, and former McFadden bookkeeper, Heather Shafer, and our gal Monday at the tasting room, Amanda Bewley-Clark, also poured. Thank you Heather and Amanda.

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When it came time to sit for dinner, I had two new wines that had to hit 20 tables at once, our new 2012 Coro Mendocino and 2014 (dry) Riesling, plus our 2011 Late Harvest Riesling for dessert, and a random assortment of other current release bottles. I pointed fingers and ‘volunteered’ folks to help me, among them Gracia Brown. Thanks to all of you.

The wine didn’t show up at the party by magic. Shana Estes is my counterpart at the farm, the McFadden Farm office manager, and like me wears many hats. I would not be able to do my job without Shana and I adore her. Shana and I went over and over inventory, making sure we were stocked at the tasting room to meet post-party wine sale needs, and ensuring that all of the night’s wine would be on hand and stored in our giant walk in cooler beneath the power plant. Shana is assisted by Shannon Smith, who helped before and during the event, and Andrea Caldwell, our bookkeeper, who took care of payments for all of the increased spending a party like this entails. Thanks Shana, Shannon, and Andrea.

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Anthony Bewley and Cody Simpson are my muscle. Together, they bring the weekly resupply from the farm to the tasting room, and for the party they moved all of the wine to the coolers and then to the tables where we would pour from. Anthony and Cody also iced the white wines and bubbly, and helped me remove 108 corks from bottles before the guests arrived so service could be seamless and timely. No one knows how much I rely on you two, well they didn’t until now. Thank you Anthony and Cody!

Thank you, Guinness McFadden. I started working for Guinness in March 2011. Each year, each month, each week, each day, we find new things for me to do. Whatever the job description may have been when I first chatted with you has certainly changed. Today, my job defies description, but I love working for you. You are a man of vision, having created the most amazing business, place to live, and farm from pure imagination and hard work. We work well together, you a former Navy officer and me a former Army Sergeant; you tell me what – not how – you want, and I execute, usually with help from other members of your team. I thank you for the freedom to do my job well for you. I respect you, like you, and want to see your business continue to succeed and grow. Cheers!

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Thanks also to your better half, Judith Bailey, for making you a happy man, which certainly makes my job easier than if you were a grumpy man. Judith’s love and wise counsel makes McFadden Farm a better place.

To the 200 people who came to our party to enjoy wine and appetizers, to tour of the farm with Guinness, to sit down for a family style dinner of local organic farm fresh food and more wine, to get up and dance – fueled by more wine, and finally to crawl into your tents for overnight camping at party’s end sometime early Sunday morning, THANK YOU. We couldn’t have a party if you didn’t buy tickets.

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This year’s party sold out. Next year’s party will sell out sooner, so I will thank you for picking up your tickets for the best party thrown in the wine industry earlier next year than you did this year so you won’t be one of the people I have to tell that all the tickets are gone next year.

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Fontaine said after it was over that this was the best farm party yet, and we all agree, but we took notes and there will be improvements next year because we believe in making it better and better for you.

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Open up your calendar app, or open your day planner, and circle Saturday, July 9, 2016 on your calendar and write, “McFadden Farm Party” on the date, so you remember to come join us next year. We’ll open up the online ticket sales for next year in about a week.

Thanks all for reading, and for attending our annual farm party at McFadden Farm…or for considering attending one in the future.

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John on Wine – Mendocino County’s best wine party is this Saturday!

This piece was originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, July 9, 2015.

In two days, on Saturday, July 11, 2015, my favorite winery party is happening again; once again, it is time for the Annual BBQ Dance Party at McFadden Farm, and yes it is open to the public, not a wine club member exclusive event. Before reading too much farther, pull out your cell phone and call the Hopland tasting room at (707) 744-8463 to get your tickets.
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Yes, I work at McFadden, and touting our own event in the column may seem self-serving, but if I didn’t work for Guinness then I would still attend every year, happily buying my tickets to attend; the party is just that good.

Held the second Saturday of July every year, the party is at McFadden Farm, at the very north end of Potter Valley, and officially runs from 5:00 pm until 11:00 pm, but the reality is that folks show up as early as 10:00 am and set up tents or park a camper and then either swim in the Russian River, where it starts, on McFadden Farm, or head out and explore Potter Valley, Redwood Valley, and Ukiah, before returning to check in at 5:00 pm and enjoy the wine and appetizer reception or tour the farm and vineyards with Guinness McFadden himself.

Guinness’ daughter Anne-Fontaine McFadden is a California Culinary Academy graduated chef, and brings a team of San Francisco chef friends to the farm to prepare farm fresh vegetable dishes, salads, and desserts. I never get an advance menu, because each year, they decide what to make after checking what is tasting best, and the farm to table freshness is only matched by the deliciousness of each dish.

The sit down dinner is Mendo simple, but extraordinary. Mendocino Organics is providing the pigs this year, and Mac Magruder is supplying the lamb. Wach year, for the best barbecue you’ve ever tasted, Mac opens up a couple of whole pigs, takes the bones out, and stuffs them full of fresh organic McFadden herbs, sews them shut, and cooks them whole; the result being deliciously flavored meat and herbs, nose to tail. Mac also places a couple of lambs in huge buckets with McFadden red wine and dried McFadden herbs, to infuse delicious flavor into the meat before grilling it.

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Of course, no McFadden BBQ dinner would be complete without McFadden wine on the table. Each table gets an assortment of bottles, and there is plenty of trading table to table, which just increases the sense of party and community. This year, among the handful of new wines that will be poured first at the party, count on enjoying both the new 2012 McFadden Coro Mendocino release and our new dry (0.4 residual sugar) 2014 McFadden Riesling. As always, McFadden bubbly will flow, no party should ever be held without the top awarded sparkling wine available anywhere.

The Kelly McFarling Band will perform live, with a dance floor set up, and after dinner folks definitely take to the dance floor. Does wine make people dance better? You be the judge, but I can assure you that there is wine, and a little sugar boost from dessert, to get folks moving and grooving.

Each attendee has the opportunity to take advantage of special dinner exclusive wine prices, with order sheets available, and there is a raffle drawing of McFadden Farm goods and treats from the tasting room that folks can win.

Every year, after the band stops for the night, someone jacks an iPod full of music into the sound system, and the fun continues, usually well beyond the official 11:00 pm end time, and into the early morning hours, before the last folks call it a night (or morning) and head for their tents and overnight camping. With the music going late, if you are camping overnight and want to get to sleep early, set your tent up somewhere on the 500 acre farm that is away from the party.

Tickets are $85 each for the general public; McFadden Wine Club members can pick up two tickets per membership at $70 each; and children, 12 and under, are just $20 each.

I’ve attended wine club dinners that cost as much, but charge for each glass of wine after the first, or don’t have a live band, and none I’ve been to offer overnight camping. One price, and everything is included; we want you to fall in love with McFadden Farm, and you will if you come to our party,

Again, the party is this Saturday, so call today or tomorrow, between 10:00 am and 5:00 pm, to get your tickets through the tasting room. The phone number is (707) 744-8463. Cheers, and see you there!
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I attended the Taste of Downtown in Ukiah, as a guest of the folks who put it on, and I wanted to report that the event was fantastic. Always an opportunity to taste wine and beer for three hours, after work, on a Friday, this year there was food bites offered by several local restaurants and food purveyors. The day was over 100 degrees, so my tastes were white and light.

I started at KA Salon, where owner Karina Andrade put out a table of food treats from chocolate covered strawberries to crudités and watermelon to charcuterie, all to pair with the offerings of her winery partner, Jason from Rivino. I’ve been on a Viognier kick lately, and Rivino’s Viognier is a pleaser; tasty, layered, flavorful.

In front of Schat’s Bakery, I tasted the 2013 McNab Ridge Sauvignon Blanc Mendocino County; aromatic, with grassy juniper met by melon, pear, and peach notes.

Chop Chop had a booth on the street and was serving up hoison chicken bao sandwiches with a wild green salad and herb mix, and the bite was so tasty that I went into the new restaurant to get some food to take home after the festival. Pho has come to Ukiah! Oh, by far, the presentation on the bao was the best at the event, tasty and beautiful!

Jim poured me a taste of his dry Naughty Boy rose, it tasted like crushed strawberries over ice, and tasted great paired with the June harvest vegetable tapenade of squash, carrots, onion, and garlic with electric lemon vinaigrette and goat cheese on a potato crostini from Saucy’s booth.

The folks from the Hopland Sho-Ka-Wah casino couldn’t have been nicer, giving away free chicken wings and fun prizes. I got a free dinner for two. Thanks!

Tahto served up a Sauvignon Blanc, made more complex with a little Semillon and Grenache Blanc blended in; rounded, nice weight, and a perfect summer sipper. Bonterra’s Sauvignon Blanc was lush, yet restrained, with a brightness on the finish.

There were panko crusted potato spinach garlic croquettes served up at the Ocotime booth, the sauce is the bomb, but might have overpowered the more subtle flavors of the croquet, not that it mattered much as I paired it with one of my new recent favorite wines, the 2014 Jaxon Keys Viognier.

I got a pretty decent pour of the Jaxon Keys Viognier and also tasted it with the lamb stuffed mushroom caps with onion, garlic, parmesan and cream cheese, topped with bread crumbs from Stan’s Maple Café booth, and the fresh June harvest empanada with parsley chimichurri from the Tango Foods booth, and the wine worked with everything.

Involving the local restaurants in this year’s Taste of Downtown, and tasting instead of pouring, made this the best one I’ve been to. Kudos to the entire team that put on this fun and tasty event.

Recently, Sip! Mendocino in Hopland played host for the release of the 2012 vintage of Coro Mendocino wines, the uniquely Mendocino Zinfandel-centric cooperative wine program, with the 2012 Coro Mendocino blends of Barra of Mendocino, Brutocao Cellars, Clos du Bois, Golden Vineyards, McFadden Farm, Parducci Wine Cellars, Ray’s Station, and Testa Vineyards each being unveiled.

2012 was a terrific vintage for reds, a warmer than average year, with near perfect growing conditions, yielding richly flavorful wines. Each winery produced their own version of Coro, with notes from each of the participating winemakers during pre-bottling blind barrel tastings to guide them.

If there was a ‘typical’ Coro in 2012, which there wasn’t, it would have been made with 50 percent Zinfandel, 17 percent Petite Sirah, 16 percent Syrah, 6 percent Carignane, 4 percent Primitivo, 3 percent Charbono, 2 percent Barbera, 1 percent Grenache, and 1 percent Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend — that’s what I get when I averaged the components for each of the eight wines poured at Sip.

All of the wines were tasty, with the stellar fruit of 2012 showing well. Each individual winery will sell their wines at about $40 through their tasting rooms, and all eight will be available for purchase at Sip in Hopland, beginning in the next week or so. Look for the Coro wines grown organically to show up at the Ukiah Co-op soon.

McFadden will release the 2012 Coro at their Annual Farm Party on Saturday, July 11 (call 744-8463 for tickets), and each of the other seven wineries will find the right time and way to release their new wine. When you see them, taste them, you’ll enjoy each.
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One of the folks I work with invited me to join her large family on the coast for a camping weekend, which allowed me the opportunity to see some of our county’s more rural, and beautiful, areas; that, and I got to enjoy lots of delicious authentic Mexican food, paired with McFadden’s Late Harvest Riesling, 2011 Coro and award winning Sparkling Cuvee Brut. Thank you to Juanita Plaza and all of her family for making me feel so welcome.

While on the coast, I visited Sally Ottoson’s Pacific Star Winery, located on the west side of Highway 1, 12 miles north of Fort Bragg at the 73.58 milepost. Open daily from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Pacific Star is a popular destination for tourists visiting Mendocino’s coast.

Picnicking on the Mendocino Coast is possible at Pacific Star Winery. (Photo by John Cesano)

Picnicking on the Mendocino Coast is possible at Pacific Star Winery. (Photo by John Cesano)

When I visited, Holly poured me six wines for a $5 tasting fee. The glassware was INAO (Institut National des Appellations d’Origine). The egg shape bowl of INAO glassware is designed to fully enhance the concentration of aroma and allow the wine to be swirled without spilling. Noted wine critic Robert Parker called INAO glasses, “The finest inexpensive tasting glass in the world,” and I was pleased to taste from them.

Holly attends to several tasters at family-friendly Pacific Star Winery. (Photo by John Cesano)

Holly attends to several tasters at family-friendly Pacific Star Winery. (Photo by John Cesano)

First up was the 2013 Pacific Star Orange Muscat, a sweeter, but not too sweet at less than 1 percent residual sugar, white wine. An apricot and floral nose gives way to a mouth of ripe stone fruit, herb, and mown hay.

Sally holds her white wines in stainless steel, rather than oak, for brighter fruit expression, and many of the wines are poured through an aerator to further accentuate the fruit notes.

2012 Pacific Star Viognier — grassy peach and pear with a touch of astringency

In 2006, Sally found there were fault lines under the property, and that was the inspiration for Pacific Star’s NV It’s My Fault, a non vintage red wine, made from a “secret blend” of six varieties. Sally used to make a Coro wine, so this is like that…sort of.

The nose gave up notes of raspberry, cola, herb, cherry, blackberry, mint and light oak. The tannins were a little tight, the oak was evident, and there were sweet tart black cherry, raspberry and darker berry notes in the mouth taste.

2012 Pacific Star Tempranillo, with fruit from Lake County, chocolaty, blueberry, and blackberry, with supple tannin, was really nicely balanced, and had good mouthfeel.

Holly told me that Charbono was Sally’s flagship wine, and the grapes came from Eddie Graziano’s farm in Calpella.

2012 Pacific Star Charbono — Really lovely wine nose of deep full multi-noted blackberry, cassis, oak, and dusty cocoa earthiness. The mouth showed medium firm tannin, and there was plenty of aging potential for this wine. I picked up berry fruit, earthiness, leather, and tart blackberry.

2012 Pacific Star Cabernet Sauvignon — I picked up slightly greener, more vegetal, vinous notes with herb supporting a nose of raspberry and blackberry fruit, and a mouth of bright, slightly tart blackberry.

On the coast, Pacific Star Winery is a lovely place to visit, taste wine and enjoy a picnic lunch. Don’t fret if you show up without food, as there are packages of meats, cheeses and crackers available for purchase in the tasting room.
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I finished up my weekend with a visit to see Crispin Cain and Tamar Kaye at their American Craft Whiskey Distillery to pick up a bottle of their two-year Rye Whiskey as a gift for my stepfather. While there, I sampled the latest barrel sample of the Bourbon, cut from last tasting’s 60 percent alcohol to 41 percent with collected rain water, and it tasted great. I also tasted their son Devin Cain’s 1850 Cocktail, based on the Sazerac, and ended up buying a bottle for myself.

In 1838, the first cocktail was created in New Orleans featuring French brandy and Peychaud bitters, and by 1850, that first cocktail, the Sazerac, had achieved popularity. Over the years, the recipe has been tweaked, with the addition of absinthe and sugar, and American rye whiskey replacing French brandy.

I love Devin’s 1850, and I love the absinthe ice cream that Crispin and Tamar make for events, but I don’t like absinthe. Crispin told me that similarly most folks would not drink straight vanilla, but enjoy vanilla ice cream, as both vanilla and absinthe are powerfully flavorful on their own. Thanks for helping me understand my own confusing and seemingly contradictory tasting experience.
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Devin, like his father, worked at Germain-Robin Alambic Brandy and learned the art and science of distilling there before making use of that knowledge to craft the craft whiskeys, gins, vodkas, liqueurs, absinthe and bourbon I have enthused about here previously.

Devin’s version of the 1850 cocktail, or Sazerac, is informed by his time with Alambic, tasting aged and new brandies, and noting their differences; Devin’s 1850 Cocktail is made from newer brandy aged and colored by French oak barrels, made more flavorful by infusion of sassafras, vanilla, dried fruit, and other exotica, and clear wheat whiskey instead of the rye I expected, plus absinthe in a 1 part per 500 parts ratio.

Creating each individual element, and then finding the perfect blend of those elements, involved nearly 100 tasting trials over the course of a full year, but that level of attention to detail is something that I have come to expect, and appreciate, from everything coming out of the family’s American Craft Whiskey Distillery.

This is a perfect cocktail, a whole glorious bottle of perfectly blended cocktails, and an improvement on the standard Sazerac, bringing a welcome memory of my last New Orleans visit home to Ukiah.

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