John On Wine – Hopland Passport is this weekend!

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaperon Thursday, April 30, 2015

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Spring Hopland Passport 2015 is this weekend, Saturday, May 2 and Sunday, May 3, from 11:00am-5:00pm each day. Tickets are available at the door at each participating winery for $55. For $55, you get a wine glass, wristband, and Passport to collect stamps in for prize drawings and to take notes of your favorite wines. Each winery will offer up wine and food pairings, and many will have their best sale prices of the year for attendees. Here’s what each winery promises, in their own words:

Brutocao Cellars – Spring is in the air and so is “fun” here at Brutocao Cellars. Join us for another Passport full of friends, family, bocce and of course award winning Estate wines. We’ll be dancing on the deck, enjoying scrumptious eats, rolling bocce balls, barrel tasting and sipping some new release deliciousness. Come by and kick off “Merlot Madness in May” at Brutocao!

Campovida – Campovida is a family owned and operated certified organic farm and working vineyard. We offer, wine tasting, olive oil tasting, live music and food pairings from our restaurant the Piazza de Campovida. Not to be missed during passport is our garden tour an experience of your own organic immersion with our master gardener, Ken Boek, awaken the five senses and enjoy an educational experience in plant and insect diversity.

Cesar Toxqui Cellars – Cesar Toxqui Cellars will be doing traditional Asian delicacies. We will greet you with our traditional Filipino appetizer called “lumpia” and an array of fruit infused cheeses paired with our Pinot Gris and Immigrant Chardonnay. Also we will be serving our traditional Roasted pig paired with our 2012 Organic Zinfandel , 2012 Immigrant Pinot Noir and Heirloom Cinco. Finish it off with our Port and a special ordered chocolate cake.

Frey Vineyards – Come Join us at the beautiful Solar Living Institute, inside the Real Goods Store and taste our delicious USDA Organic and Biodynamic wines. No Sulfites added. We are offering: Hawaiian-style Lamb Meatballs; with mango, pineapple, garlic and ginger. Herbal Polenta Diamonds; with tarragon, thyme, onions and asiago. Frey Ranch Assorted Cheeses; with sourdough baguettes (gluten free options). Artichoke Olive Dip; with raw veggie platter and Seasonal Berries.

Graziano Family of Wines – Welcome to Graziano Family of Wines where we offer four distinct wine brands, with a focus on Italian varietals, Pinot Noir, and old world wines with a long tradition in Mendocino County, like Chenin Blanc and Zinfandel. Come try a dry white wine with imported aged cheeses, or a red with Tri Tip. We will have a variety of dips, and tapenade to pair with wines from dry to sweet.

Jaxon Keys Winery & Distillery – LumberJax salute Mendocino history! Come sit a while on our veranda! We will be in our best plaid and dungarees serving you up hearty beef stew made with local ingredients and paired with our delicious estate wines. The LumberJax will show you old-fashioned hospitality at our historic Farmhouse Tasting Room. Red wine, white wine, dessert wine, brandy – we have something for every taste!

Jeriko Estate – Upper Russian River Grilling will be happening at Jeriko for the May Passport. Experience a wild display of mixed meats, cheeses and condiments to complement Jeriko’s Upper Russian River Pinot Noir, Anima Mundi Pinot Noir and Pommard Pinot Noir, along with classics like Sangiovese. Don’t miss out on the barrel sampling, music and special wine prices that are discounted for Passport weekend only.

McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room – Enjoy Hopland’s top awarded wines, McFadden’s California State Fair Best of Show Sparkling Wine, two Wine Enthusiast Magazine ‘Editors’ Choice’ wines, and many new releases, paired with McFadden organic grass fed beef, grilled to perfection and served with a red wine reduction mushroom demi glaze, with assorted salads and sliced baguettes. McFadden Wine Members get 40% off cases of wine during Passport. Guinness McFadden will be on hand to hand sign purchased bottles.

McNab Ridge Tasting Room – McNab Ridge will be featuring Tri-tip on crostini with a chimichuri sauce and a Farro Summer Salad – with fresh squashes, red bell pepper, onion, pistachios and dried cranberries with citrus vinaigrette, perfectly prepared by S’Wine Country BBQ. Sample over a dozen gourmet dips & spreads and get a bottle hand painted by artist Leslie Bartolomei. And of course, we’re pouring our whole line up of Rich Parducci’s award-winning wines!

Milano Family Winery – We’ll feature our scrumptious red-wine-infused oak smoked, marinated Tri-Tip, fresh veggies, a variety of Cabot Creamery cheeses and decadent chocolate raspberry brownies. Enjoy live music on the lawn with the Linda Ferro Trio playing jazzy rock and dance music on Saturday and the incomparable 12-string guitarist Michael Hantman on Sunday. Join us and eat, sip our medal winning wines, groove to the tunes and peruse the wares of several vendors selling fashion and crafts!

Nelson Family Vineyards – Come relax in the Redwoods at Nelson Family Vineyards – this serene grove is a majestic and magical place with gorgeous views of our terraced Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard. We’ll be pouring our delicious Estate wines paired with Mendough’s Wood-Fired Pizza, deliciously made with organic, local ingredients including chevre, sun dried tomatoes, prosciutto, arugula, Gorgonzola and artichoke atop the most incredible crust. We look forward to seeing you again!

Rivino Winery – Steppin’ back into the 50’s! A fun Grease inspired theme … back when lap belts were the norm and airbags had nothing to do with cars. Stop in and enjoy some fun 50’s style food from Pagan Fire Pizza. Some award winning wines from RIVINO … and a terrific concert of 50’s era music along with some classic cars too! Welcome to the Summer of Love and Beauty School Dropouts!

Terra Savia – Our menu will include grilled Tri-tip steak in a Pinot Noir barbecue sauce accompanied with roasted beets & toasted walnuts with a walnut vinaigrette, bowtie pasta and kale with pine nuts and goat cheese. As dessert we will feature an assortment of specialty cookies from the Pacific Cookie Company in Santa Cruz including dark chocolate cranberry, lemon drop and Dr. Midnight.

I love Passport events, and attended Passport to Dry Creek Valley for the third consecutive year last week (a recap is coming soon, after I get through my own Passport event this weekend). I will, of course, be working Hopland Passport, so if you attend, stop by McFadden and say hello.

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John On Wine – Fans and snoring

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, April 23, 2015

Recently, I found myself in a packed courtroom on a Friday morning in Ukiah. Thankfully, I wasn’t fighting a speeding ticket or doing my civic duty by sitting on a jury; I came to witness Mendocino County Superior Court Judge Richard Henderson hear from the lawyers in the matter of Scaramella vs. the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors.

The plaintiff, Mark Scaramella, is suing Mendocino County and named three farmers as Parties of Real Interest, claiming that wind machines are a noise nuisance which should be banned. The County has replied, among other issues, that the wind machines are an established farming practice protected by the county Right To Farm ordinance.

The three Anderson Valley neighbors of Scaramella named in the suit were Pennyroyal Farm, V. Sattui Winery, and Foursight Wines.

Scaramella was seeking an injunction to stop the use of wind machines immediately, and encouraged opponents of the fans to show up at the hearing, publicizing his request in the Anderson Valley Advertiser.

Fans are used in vineyards to mitigate damage from frost, and effectively replace the use of water to do the same job, which is a responsible vineyard management tool, especially in these times of critical water shortage owing to the continuing drought in California.

The case was a battle of competing interests, the right to be free of noise pollution and the County’s Right to Farm ordinance.

Mendocino County has a noise ordinance in place, prohibiting sound in excess of 40 decibels (dB). 40 dB is roughly equivalent to the sound produced by a babbling brook, a refrigerator hum, a library, or the lowest ambient sound of an urban area.

Because of the size of the crowd gathered Judge Henderson made a few introductory remarks to the assembled crowd, noting that many were likely Anderson Valley residents opposed to the fans, which drew an audible dissent from the majority of those gathered, before he went on to note that it seemed there were many farmers who were there to support the use of the fans, and then asking that only the lawyers speak and that the courtroom remain silent throughout the remainder of the proceedings.

I took advantage of an offer from the court clerk and moved to the jury box to sit, rather than continue to stand, and enjoyed a great view of the participants.

Judge Henderson noted that his tentative ruling had taken into account all filings thus far, but the ruling he referred to had not yet been shared with the lawyers, so a brief recess allowed copies to be made and lawyers to read the ruling.

The Ukiah Daily Journal’s Justine Frederiksen reported on April 10 that the tentative ruling read, “The court finds that the interim harm that (Mark Scaramella) may suffer, (estimated to be) 10 nights of sleep interruption of deprivation, is clearly outweighed by the probable damage that would be caused to grape vines,” and that prohibiting the use of agricultural fans during frost events, which can “kill all actively growing parts of a grape vine and will reduce yields from between 50 percent to 100 percent, could result in losses measured in the tens of millions of dollars.” Frederiksen ended her piece noting, “Judge Henderson [had] said Friday he was inclined to favor his tentative ruling, but would be releasing a formal ruling in writing soon.”

I have deep empathy for those vineyard neighbors throughout California’s wine valleys missing sleep on some nights, but I feel this is a good tentative decision. Wineries attempting to use wind instead of water during this drought to prevent catastrophic crop frost damage should be afforded every reasonable accommodation. I feared that this suit about fans could lead to further Right to Farm erosions, possible battles regarding water use and other farming practices in the future.
The judge noted that the plaintiff had not presented any real evidence of a noise ordinance violation, no certified dB readings had been taken or offered.

I thought, absent any real evidence to the contrary, that a dB level above allowed might not be owing to any one farmer’s practices, but cumulative, and while the would be sleeper is impacted, no one grower might actually be in violation of noise ordinances. It is also entirely possible that each farm exceeds noise restriction with their fans, and cumulatively it is a nightmare. I do not know. My position as a wine guy has me on the side of growers, surprising no one, I expect. This suit, to me, could be seen as an attack on Mendocino County’s largest legal industry.

I used to snore like a chainsaw, definitely well in excess of 40 dB, and more than one partner could well empathize with Scaramella. My high school best friend told me she actually thought about killing me to end the noise. I gave her my iPod and ear buds, and dialed up some music for her, and she was able to sleep. Major dental work last November ended my frightful snoring, but I well remember the murderous look in her eyes over her sleep deprivation.

I have other friends who live near vineyards and tell me that the fans are loud, but that they would rather live near healthy and profitable vineyards than not, and find ways to counter the occasional use of fans, from ear plugs to noise cancelling headphones.

I hope that Judge Henderson’s tentative ruling remains intact when crafting his final ruling. I also hope that Scaramella reads this: Walmart sells Panasonic noise cancelling headphones for $31, Best Buy sells Sony noise cancelling headphones for $50, and top of the line Bose earbuds or headphones, the Cadillac of noise cancellers, are $300 direct from Bose. I used to have a pair of Bose when I flew each week for business to wine tradeshows, and even the sound of propellers right outside the passenger cabin were masked into absence. I think an old girlfriend might have stolen mine, to make living with a new snoring boyfriend tolerable.
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Tomorrow, Friday, April 24, 2015 is International Sauvignon Blanc Day. Originally created by social media marketer Rick Bakas while at St. Supery, the world wide celebration of Sauvignon Blanc has grown, and countless wine lovers will buy and taste the variety, tweeting and posting words and pictures online using the hash tag #SauvBlanc to be part of a one day global social media trend.

Locally, McFadden will pour for the public a new Sauvignon Blanc release, from the 2014 vintage. It is the best Sauvignon Blanc I’ve tasted from McFadden, and I hope you can visit Eugene tomorrow in McFadden’s tasting room in Hopland for a complimentary tasting between 10am-5pm, bringing your cell phone or other mobile device to post while you are tasting #SauvBlanc – and if you can’t make it to Hopland, then grab a bottle from any producer in a local store and join the fun.

Jon Bonné was the wine editor of the San Francisco Chronicle and wrote a wine book, “The New California Wine.” Recently, Bonné has left the Chronicle and is heading east. He also intends to write a new book, “The New French Wine.”

During his West Coast tenure, Bonné championed wines of finesse, wines with lower alcohol, wines with lower sugar, wines with higher acid. These wines were, by and large, food friendly wines.

The wines that received less favor from Bonné were made from over ripe grapes, high sugar leading to notably high alcohol wines, over oaked, over tannic, huge fruit bombs, with overpowering winemaking notes. These wines, by and large, beat up food, destroying it.

Since his departure, several wine writers have celebrated his leaving, and more quietly some wineries have as well. Perhaps, the fairest criticism I read was that instead of finding and reporting on trends in California wine, Bonné tried to create those trends.

Overall, I liked Bonné’s writing, and found little to find fault with; I also like food friendly wines, although the wines I find so might fall in a broader range than his. McFadden, where I work, produces exactly the wines Bonné would favor, and if I didn’t love Guinness’ wines then I wouldn’t have applied to work for him. Simaine Cellars’ wines are, by contrast, huge; Victor makes incredibly deep wines, often with some damn high alcohol percentages, but every single one is solid, and they all pair well with food.

The wines chosen by Bonné for his Top 100 Wine list each year were also not monolithic in style. On the one hand, you would find the delightful Dashe Cellars Les Enfant Terribles Old Vine Zinfandel from McFadden Farm, a lighter, almost Beaujolais-esque wine, while on the other hand wines from Knez Winery repeatedly showed up on the list, and no Knez wine could be called a shrinking violet style wise.

Robert Parker Jr. is the most influential wine writer/critic in the industry. Parker does seem to award his highest ratings to some pretty gargantuan wines. The intensity of some of those wines seems to me to make them more of a meal by themselves than a suitable companion to other components of a full course meal.

At Jim Gordon’s Symposium for Professional Wine Writers at Meadowood Napa Valley, Bonné and Parker got into it a bit. Parker had written a thinly veiled attack on Bonné and his preferences, and Bonné called out Parker during a Q & A following Parker’s keynote address. While warranted, and entertaining in a “is this really happening” way, the only people who really benefited were the wine writers who wrote detailed accounts of the exchange or posted video to their blogs — their view numbers were as stratospheric as the alcohol levels in a Parker 99 point rated wine.

Parker, for as long as he wants to be, will always be the king of wine writers. Bonné has a different voice, and I found it to be a worthwhile one. I would offer Bonné one suggestion, and that is to write about the wines, review them, rate them, list them, as he finds them, rather than to try to remake the industry to suit his preferences. As for me, that’s pretty much what I do, I take them as I find them, whether they are review samples sent to me, or wines I taste at dinners, or wines poured for me in a tasting room; each is different, and I simply ask myself, “do I like it?” For those wines I do like, I try to share here, with a note or two, and sometimes a food pairing suggestion. Anyway, I wish Jon Bonné good luck in his future endeavors and look forward to his next book.
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I have been asked to help judge wines at the Lake County 14th Annual Home Wine and Beer Makers Festival on Saturday, June 27, from 1 to 5 p.m., at Library Park in Lakeport.

There will be tastings of amateur wine and beer, as well as premium commercial Lake County wines. In addition to the wine and beer, there will be music, food, and auction, raffles, and art & craft vendors. Presented by the Lake County Symphony Association, tickets are $20 in advance or $25 at the door. For vendor information and advance ticket outlets, call (707) 277-8172 or (707) 277-7076.

I am honored to be tapped as a judge, and the invitation will undoubtedly lead to Lake County winery tasting room visits and a spotlight winery feature or two — long overdue. __________

A few weeks ago, a completely baseless — scientifically — scare about arsenic in wine was irresponsibly reported by CBS on their morning show, and spread like wildfire to many other news outlets. I had more than one customer ask me about it, and I wrote a piece for my blog at Johnonwine.com and posted it there because it needed to be addressed right away. Feel free to go to my blog, and scroll down to find the article.

More recently, the horribly unscientific and downright dangerous tripe of Vani Hari, the “Food Babe” blogger, received a thorough takedown by Yvette d’Entremont on Gawker, which has gone viral on Facebook and elsewhere.

While I prefer a wine made with organically or biodynamically grown grapes, that preference is more political than health based. I simply prefer supporting organic growing practices to the use, and overuse, of Round Up and other herbicides, and arsenic loaded fertilizers and insecticides, that many “conventional” or “sustainable” (a term that means nothing) growers indulge in.

That said, there are endless examples of delicious conventionally grown wines, and I am confident that they are no less “healthy” than organically grown wines.

The Ukiah Natural Foods Co-op has a spectacular selection of wines, sourced locally, and grown organically, priced terrifically. The Co-op buys in quantity and passes the savings on, clearly. For those who share an organic leaning preference, their wine selection is definitely worth browsing.

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John On Wine – Get your tickets now

This post will be published on Thursday, April 9 in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper

Every so often, I use my column as an event listing for my readers. Today is one of those days. While certainly not a complete list of wine country events, here are some incredibly worthwhile things to do, and most will sell out in advance, so do not dawdle, get your tickets now.

Saturday, April 11 – The annual Celebration of Mendocino County Sparkling Wines – Mendocino County’s best sparkling wines from Elke Vineyards, Graziano Family of Wines, McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room, Parducci Wine Cellars, Nelson Family Vineyards, Roederer Estate, Scharffenberger Cellars, Signal Ridge Cellars, Terra Sávia Winery, and Yorkville Cellars, paired with fresh oysters from Tomales Bay with Mignonette or Somendo ranch lemons, paella Valenciana, assorted cheeses with fresh bread from Schat’s Bakery, strawberries with melted Swiss dark Chocolate, Meyer lemon almond cake, and live music. Tickets are $55 online in advance and TODAY IS THE LAST DAY FOR ADVANCE TICKETS! GET YOUR’S HERE, $65 at the door. This is THE Event to go to if you love sparkling wine and great food, and is happening this Saturday – get your tickets NOW!

Saturday, April 18 – Earth Day at Barra of Mendocino – Join the Barra family in a celebration to honor Mother Earth and the rich bounty of Mendocino County, from 10-5. Be the first to taste Barra’s organic olive oil made from olives grown on the family farm of Bella Collina.  Translated as, “Beautiful Hillside,” this area provides gravelly soil for these trees to thrive right alongside Barra’s prized Petite Sirah and Zinfandel vines.  While you’re at it, taste newly released vintages of organic wines, and enjoy the gardens and scenic surroundings.  For more information:  (707) 485-0322

Saturday, April 25 & Sunday, April 26 – Passport to Dry Creek Valley – Over one weekend, Passport guests are welcomed into nearly 50 wineries throughout Dry Creek Valley, each offering a unique pairing of premium wine, gourmet food and entertainment. Take a vineyard tour for a grape-to-glass look at Dry Creek Valley wine. Sample exclusive vintages, rarely available to taste. Meet winemakers and grapegrowers – the generations of people behind the wine and magical ‘Dry Creek Valley spirit’. Savor exquisite food and wine pairings from acclaimed chefs. I LOVE Dry Creek Passport, will be attending for the third year in a row, and with so many wineries participating, no two Passports are the same. Enjoy! Tickets are $141.38 and available online at www.drycreekvalley.org

Thursday, April 30 – Thirsty Thursday at SIP! Mendocino in Hopland – Tickets are $20, or one free ticket per SIP! wine club membership. Each month offers a different terrific tasting. Last month I enjoyed a tasting of five wonderful Sake paired with delicious Sushi from Oco Time, this month could be anything from a pairing of the County’s best Alsatian whites with the foods of Alsace, or Pinot Noir with mushroom risotto. For more info, and to grab your tickets, call (707) 744-8375.

Saturday, May 2 & Sunday, May 3 – Hopland Passport – Closer to home, Hopland’s Passport event is manageable, and just the right size to be able to visit all the participating wineries without rushing. I’ll be working at McFadden, of course, and think we offer up the event’s best wines and food from our certified organic farm, but there is also proudly offered food and wine pairings at Brutocao, Campovida, Cesar Toxqui, Frey, Graziano, Jaxon Keys, Jeriko, McNab Ridge, Milano, Nelson, Rivino, and Terra Savia. Two day ‘early bird’ tickets are $45 and available at www.destinationhopland.com or $55 at participating wineries during the event. This is probably the best event value of the bunch.

Sunday, May 10 – Mother’s Day Brunch at Barra of Mendocino – Honor the special women in your life this Mother’s Day with a brunch celebration at BARRA of Mendocino Winery.  Enjoy a scrumptious brunch buffet with friends and family. Take in the sounds of a three piece jazz ensemble, stroll through blooming gardens and take family photos. Honor the women in your life with this special day of pampering! Brunch will be served from 10:00 am – 1:00 pm. Reservations are required and children are welcome. $35 for adults/ Special Pricing for Wine Club Members (limit two tickets per member) and $12 for children under 12 years of age. To purchase tickets, please call Katrina at (707) 485-0322, or drop by Barra’s tasting room at 7051 N. State Street in Redwood Valley. My son Charlie took his mother Lisa last year and both reported that it was a lovely event. Do this for Mother’s Day.

Friday, May 15 through Sunday, May 17 – 18th annual Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival – Taste the world-class Anderson Valley Pinot Noirs of more than 50 producers from around California and savor perfectly paired foods designed to complement the exceptional Anderson Valley Pinot wines. I had a spectacular time last year, and look forward to attending again this year. If you love Pinot Noir, or even like it, you will be impressed with the incredibly high quality of the valley’s flagship variety. Various tasting, technical conference, and winemaker dinner tickets are available, ranging from $50 to $135 for each event, online at www.avwines.com

Wednesday, May 20 – Graziano Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush Italian Steakhouse – Greg Graziano makes terrific, well priced wines. His tasting room is right next to mine, and I know he has legions of fans for his wines. I’ve written many times about how great the chef’s winemaker dinners at Crush are; they operate like a well-buttered machine. I do not need to see a wine list or menu to know how good this is going to be. I’ve got my ticket already. Tickets are $75, dinner, wine, tax and tip inclusive; call Crush at (707) 463-0700 for tickets.

Friday, June 19 – 2012 Coro Vintage Release Party – Join the Coro winemakers for a gourmet dinner for two paired with our wines and take home a complete set of the 2012 vintage. Seating is limited. Reservations required. $700 per couple. Includes the full collection of the 2012 vintage ($320 value) and complimentary valet service. The 2012 vintage consists of 8 wineries: Barra of Mendocino, Brutocao Cellars, Clos du Bois, Golden Cellars, McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room, Parducci Wine Cellars, Ray’s Station, and Testa Vineyards. Coro Mendocino 2012 Vintage Release Party Friday, June 19th 2015 6:00 – 10:00pm at Dogpatch WineWorks, San Francisco. For the most fun, ask to sit with Guinness McFadden or me, John Cesano; we tell great Irish stories or perform stupid magic tricks, and I’ll leave it to you to guess who does which. Tickets are available at SIP! Mendocino in Hopland; or call (707) 744-8375. Do this for Father’s Day.

Friday, June 19 through Sunday, June 21 – A Taste of Redwood Valley – The weekend kicks off with a Friday night winemaker’s dinner at Barra, tickets are $65, and the fun continues with two day weekend tasting tickets at either $30 in advance or $35 at the event. Three day tickets are discounted at $90. Participating wineries and distilleries include Barra/Girasole, Brown, Frey, Germain-Robin/Craft Distillers, Giuseppe/Neese, Graziano, Silversmith, and Testa. Get your tickets in advance online at www.atasteofredwoodvalley.com

Saturday August 22 – Yorkville Highlands Wine Festival – This family-friendly festival and auction is at Meyer Family Cellars this year. Festivities start at 1pm. Highlights will include tasting scores of award-winning wines made and grown within the Highlands around Anderson Valley.  The price includes a delicious farm-fresh lunch and scrumptious desert, a tempting silent auction where you can bid on rare bottles and hundreds of bargains galore. There’s always the riotous grape stomp along with other wild and wacky games. Advance tickets are $45, or $60 during the event, and available at www.yorkvillehighlands.org

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John On Wine – Coro, Crush, Coro and Crush

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, April 2, 2015

Crush Italian Steakhouse in Ukiah, Coro Mendocino, Crush, Coro, sometimes it seems that I am writing my column about one or the other with a frequency that squeezes other worthy subjects out. There are other great restaurants in Ukiah; Patrona, Ritual, and Oco Time come immediately to mind; but Crush is uniquely suited to host spectacular chef’s wine dinners, with their private dining room and top notch kitchen and front of house team. Anderson Valley is well known as a place where premium Pinot Noir and Alsatian variety white wines are born; inland Mendocino grows some terrific Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc, Bordeaux varieties; but Coro Mendocino is the county’s flagship wine, and the cooperative element to the program has me writing about these Zinfandel-centric blends made by different great winemakers with deserved prevalence.

Guinness McFadden makes a Coro wine and, fortunately for me, he was overwhelmed with meetings and sent me to sit with the Coro winemakers to taste barrel samples of the 2013 Coro wines being produced by Barra, Brutocao, Clos du Bois, Golden, Graziano, Parducci, Testa, and, of course, McFadden, on March 18.

I tasted through the wines in January, for the second of four blind tastings, with the winemakers, each giving notes of unvarnished constructive criticism on each wine, so adjustments could be made. I tasted them again yesterday, for the third group Coro winemaker blind tasting, and the tweaks made in the intervening two months had every one of the wines positively singing. As an example, Guinness reduced the blend of his wine from 70% Zinfandel to 67%, and increased the Syrah in his blend from 20% to 23%, with the remaining 10% unchanged and given over to Petite Sirah. That small change improved the wine remarkably, providing balance and integration.

Doubly fortunate, I was also able to blind taste the finished, bottled, but not yet released, 2012 vintage Coro wines, to help judge their weight, in advance of the multi course 2012 vintage Coro Release Party at dogpatch WineWorks in San Francisco on June 19 (tickets would make a perfect Father’s Day Gift). Again, the wines of Barra, Brutocao, Clos du Bois, Golden, McFadden, Parducci, Ray’s Station, and Testa all tasted wonderful, each their own unique wine, and vintage different from the just tasted 2013 Coro wines.

Triply fortunate, that same evening, I attended a Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush Italian Steakhouse in Ukiah, featuring incredible dishes prepared by Chef Jesse Elhardt and his team, and the lineup of 2011 vintage Coro wines.

Rusty Martinson of Testa, Owen Smith of Barra, Hoss Milone of Brutocao, and Dennis Patton of Golden. (photo by John Cesano)

Rusty Martinson of Testa, Owen Smith of Barra, Hoss Milone of Brutocao, and Dennis Patton of Golden. (photo by John Cesano)

The evening started off with passed Gazpacho Shooters of San Marzano (the best) tomato, olive oil, sherry vinegar, and Malden salt; which were the best gazpacho I have ever tasted, and paired perfectly with the McFadden Sparkling Cuvee Brut.

After the ‘meet & greet’ appetizers, the lucky 70 attendees at the sold out dinner moved into the private dining room and took seats. Four Coro wineglasses, appetizer, and main course plates were in place, and the first course wines were poured, all 2011 vintage Coro wines, from McFadden, Parducci, Clos du Bois, and Testa. These four ‘lighter’ 2011 Coro wines were substantial, as was the food from the kitchen: Crush Antipasto with four assorted cured meats, four assorted cheeses, cornichons, olives, peppers, crostini, olive oil, and course mustard; Spicy Lamb Balls with Calabrian chili from Italy, romesco with toasted almonds and hazelnuts, feta, mint, and micro basil; and Seared Day Boat Scallops with a rosemary fig jam, bacon couscous, and a baby kale salad topped with white Champagne vinaigrette.

I Love the lamb meatballs, they were incredibly flavorful, and paired beautifully with sips of each of the four Coro wines from the flight. One of the cheeses, a Parmigiano-Reggiano, also was a particular delight when paired with the wines. The scallops, fresh from San Francisco the day before, was a spectacular dish, but honestly would have paired better with the lighter ‘meet & greet’ wines served earlier, as the Coro wines overpowered the delicious but delicate flavors of the dish for me, but easily resolved as I just ate the scallop without the wine, and loved them.

Gracia Brown of Visit Mendocino, Inc. (photo by John Cesano)

Gracia Brown of Visit Mendocino, Inc. (photo by John Cesano)

First plate cleared, wines dumped, new wines were poured, the 2011 Coro wines from Brutocao, Barra, Fetzer, and Golden, and the second food course to impress was brought out; Roasted Whole Filet Tenderloin with spiced crust, roasted mushrooms, a board sauce, and red wine demi-glace; One Hundred Layer Lasagna of fresh pasta, ten hour ragu, béchamel, tomato, reggiano, and fresh herb; Roasted Zucchini Ribbons with garlic chip, basil pesto, cherry tomato confit, and olive oil; and Potato au Dauphinoise with herb infused cream and cheddar bread crumb.

Sips of each of the five wines, I held onto some McFadden Coro, with bites of each food creation, were spectacular. The tender tenderloin of certified Angus beef, a perfect medium rare, cooked in butter, with a peppercorn medley crust was as good as meat gets; The lasagna was 100 layers of red, white, and green, representing the colors of the Italian flag, with the Bolognese ragu providing the red, béchamel bringing the white, and every third layer made from a basil infused pasta for the green; the roasted zucchini ribbons were delicious and provided a bright note for the second course; with the potatoes, made from a 1906 recipe, featuring sliced potatoes infused overnight in an herb cream, a must have seconds dish for me.

Dessert was a Flourless Valrhona Chocolate Cake served with house made toasted almond gelato, chocolate crumb, and spun sugar; and paired with a choice of McFadden Late Harvest Riesling or Brutocao, Dunnewood, or Parducci port. This might just be the best dessert I have tasted at Crush yet. I went with the Riesling, which paired perfectly, once again, with Jesse’s food.

All of the night’s wines were wonderful, and there was quite a bit of talk about how good the 2011 vintage Coro showed. Initially thought a ‘weak’ vintage, every Coro was a stellar food wine, and a testament to each winemaker’s skills and a great showing for the Coro program. Without exception, the 2011 Coro wines were delicious, lovely, and showed great finesse, balance, and flavor, each showing differently that intensity of flavor is not limited to over oaked, high alcohol, fruit jamb bombs. These were elegant wines, all.

The next Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush will feature the wines of Graziano, and will be held on Wednesday, May 20; for tickets call (707) 463-0700.

The next Coro dinner will be on Friday, June 19, at dogpatch WineWorks in San Francisco, when the 2012 vintage Coro Mendocino wines are released. Tickets are $700 per couple, and include a gourmet multi course meal, paired with all eight new Coro wines, and each ticket includes the full collection of 2012 vintage Coro wines to take home. There will also be complimentary valet parking for the dinner, which in San Francisco is a huge bonus. For tickets, call Sip! Mendocino in Hopland at (707) 744-8375, and tell them you want to sit at a McFadden table if you would like to hear Guinness tell a five minute story about an Irish priest and a bike, or be less than dazzled by stupid magic tricks by me. Seriously, I have attended two of these dinners and they are the best wine dinner events you can attend, if you love red wine or Mendocino County. With Father’s Day falling on June 21 this year, tickets to this June 19 dinner really are a perfect gift for any wine loving dads.

It isn’t every day that you get to taste a lineup of an entire Coro vintage, doing so with a great dinner makes it all the better experience. Getting to taste three entire vintages in a day, 24 great wines in all, pretty much makes me the most fortunate tasting room manager and wine writer in California.

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John On Wine: Mendocino County’s annual celebration of sparkling wines

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, March 26, 2015

Sparkling wine, whether French Champagne, Italian Prosecco, Spanish Cava or a California bubbly is not just for New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s Day and weddings.

The relatively high acidity in a sparkling wine means it can positively sing and dance with a wide variety of foods, cutting through fatty foods like foie gras or roast chicken, or riding parallel to higher acid foods like citrus and tomato. While oysters, salmon and duck are natural pairings, pop the cork on a bubbly the next time you have scallops, chicken, rabbit, short ribs or a strawberry dessert.

Sparkling wine producers have enjoyed the benefit of consumers shopping for bubblies for special occasions, but allowing that notion to stand, the notion that sparkling wine is for special occasions, is bad marketing and does consumers a horrible disservice. Rather than waiting for a special occasion to open a bottle of sparkling wine, and far too many folks have a bottle in their refrigerators for years unopened just waiting for that occasion, consider making the day special by opening bottles of sparkling wine more regularly.

The cool climate areas of Mendocino County are perfectly suited for growing grapes that make ultra-premium quality sparkling wines, and at a fraction of the cost of other world class sparklers. In 2013, at years end, Wine Enthusiast Magazine published its list of the Top 100 Wines, and Roederer Estate L’Ermitage 2004 took the #1 spot, the top wine of the year. McFadden Farm took the top honors at the 2014 California State Fair Wine Competition with their Best of Show NV McFadden Sparkling Cuvée Brut, and took a Double Gold with their NV McFadden Sparking Cuvée Brut Rosé. McFadden has taken a dozen Gold, Double Gold, Best of Class, or Best of Show awards with their bubblies in the last two years. Graziano’s Saint Gregory “Cuvee Alexandra” Brut Sparkling Wine was chosen the Best of Show white wine at the 2014 Mendocino County Fair Wine Competition. Yorkville Cellars was just one of the 16, out of 2,323 wines entered in the 2014 Orange County Wine Competition to take a Four Star Gold and Best of Class honor, and they did it with their Cuvee Brut. Anderson Valley to Potter Valley, the county’s sparklers are among the best you can taste anywhere.

On Saturday, April 11, from noon to 4 p.m., the Annual Celebration of Mendocino County Sparkling Wine will take place at Terra Sávia in Hopland. There is no better way to taste our county’s bubbly bounty, than having the best gathered in one place, with food pairings and live music.

2014's bubbly tasting at Terra Sávia.

2014’s bubbly tasting at Terra Sávia.

In addition to Roederer Estate, McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room, Graziano Family of Wines, and Yorkville Cellars, there will be stunning sparkling wines poured by Elke Vineyards, Nelson Family Vineyards, Parducci Wine Cellars, Scharffenberger Cellars, Signal Ridge, and, of course, the host winery, Terra Sávia.

There will be an incredibly diverse spread of delicious food to pair with the many sparkling wines being poured: oysters with mignonette sauce or Somendo ranch lemons, paella Valencia, fresh strawberries with dark Swiss chocolate, assorted cheeses and artisan Schat’s bakery breads, and Meyer lemon almond cake.

Oysters being shucked for bubbly pairing.

Oysters being shucked for bubbly pairing.

Not all sparkling wine is the same. Different grapes, different blend percentages, different growing sites, different time spent in the bottle before disgorgement, different winemaker choices. With roughly two dozen sparkling wines, from dry Brut sparklers with crisp apple and grapefruit notes to Rosé sparklers with cherry, strawberry, and watermelon ripe red fruit notes, no two will be the same, and the opportunity to experiment with different sips paired with different foods, will make this a ‘must attend’ event.

Tickets are just $55 in advance online at http://sparklingwinefest.brownpapertickets.com/ or $65 at the door on the day of the event.

The cost of traveling to each of these top producers, and paying tasting fees, would easily be twice the ticket price, and come without the wonderful food pairings and live music. This is a festival you will want to attend.

After last year’s event, with every attendee talking afterward about how much fun it was, the number one comment I heard from others was, “why didn’t I hear about this? I would love to have gone!”

You have your chance now; call your friends and get your tickets today for Mendo Bubbly Fest 2015. I’ll see you there.

Terra Sávia is located at 14160 Mountain House Road, Hopland, CA 95449. For more information, call (707) 744-1114.

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The online ticket store for Spring Hopland Passport 2015 is also open.

Brutocao Cellars, Campovida, Cesar Toxqui Cellars, Frey Vineyards, Graziano Family of Wines, Jaxon Keys Winery and Distillery, Jeriko Estate, McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room, McNab Ridge Winery, Milano Family Winery, Nelson Family Vineyards, Rivino, and Terra Savia will participate. Enjoy wine and food pairings — and get your passport stamped — at each stop.

Each winery does what they do best; some offer up a fun themed weekend experience, some bring in live music, some offer guided garden tours, while others serve up delicious farm fresh food; while each pours their best wines and offers amazing sales.

Online tickets are $45 through March 31, $50 from April 1 to April 30, and available at any participating winery on the weekend of the event for $55. Online tickets can be purchased at http://www.eventbrite.com/e/hopland-passport-spring-2015-tickets-15912646153

For more information, visit http://www.DestinationHopland.com

Thirsty Thursdays SIP! Mendocino Thirsty Thursdays

Sake & Sushi Tasting

Thursday, March 26th  |  5:00 – 7:00pm  |  SIP! Mendocino

To celebrate the arrival of spring and the local cherry tree blossoms, SIP is hosting a sake & sushi tasting on Thursday, March 26th from 5-7pm. SIP will also have an assortment of local wines open and available for purchase by the glass.

I’m going; join me for an evening of good taste: a chance to educate your palate and deepen your understanding of sake paired with an assortment of sushi from Oco Time.

Cover charge is $20 for non-wine club members and free for one person per each SIP! Mendocino wine club membership.

SIP! Mendocino is located in downtown Hopland at 13420 S. Hwy 101. For more information, call (707) 744-8375 or visit the shop’s online page for the event.

 

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