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John Cesano and Brigette Seebass enjoying a moment at the recent Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush (photograph by Tom Liden)


John on wine – Crush Chef’s Wine Dinner featuring Seebass Family Wines

Dinner at Crush Italian Steakhouse, a Chef’s Winemaker dinner, featuring the wines of my friends Scott and Michelle Willoughby, their Seebass Family Vineyard & Winery wines. You knew something would end my hiatus and inspire a new wine column for the Journal, and the food, wine, and people gathered on a Wednesday in January has me hunt and pecking, one finger typing, once again.

Seebass wines starts with Brigitte Seebass, a lovely woman who made her way from Germany to Ukiah and bought 100+ acres of Talmage vineyard land and has successfully grown sought after premium wine grapes for roughly thirty years, and is one of Mendocino County’s first female grape growers.

Brigitte’s daughter and son-in-law, Michelle Myrenne Willoughby and Scott Willoughby, joined Brigitte an the farm in 2010 with an eye to making great wines from the grapes Brigitte had been selling to other wineries.

Together with third generation Aidan Willoughby, parents Scott and Michelle, and grand mother Brigitte, Seebass Family Vineyard & Winery is a vital part of the Mendocino wine scene, and a family affair.

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Scott Willoughby told the story of each Seebass Family Winery wine                        (photograph by Tom Liden)

Crush came up with a new traffic plan for the meet & greet reception that allowed attendees a bit more room to mingle comfortably, a smart and welcome change, and offered up a sampling of seasoned meats, cheeses, and peppers to pair with the 2015 Seebass Rosé of Grenache ‘Fantasie,’ made by winemaker Stéphane Vivier.

I like rosé wines, all of the previous Seebass offerings have all been good, but this is far and away my favorite version, which is great because as a barrel sample, unfiltered, not yet released wine, it was already drinking great, showing strawberry, cherry, and citrus peel, and will only be better when bottled and released next month.

Remarkably, fortuitously, wonderfully all four of the Seebass wines poured were my favorite versions from all of the vintages I have tasted, which set the stage for a very enjoyable dinner.

The first seated course brought a trio of dishes to each table: Shrimp Louis salad with traditional dressing, cucumber, tomato, and avocado; Yellowfin Tuna with sesame, chili, mint, garlic, and pear; and Dungeness Crab Cakes with avocado, red pepper, and cilantro.

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2014 Seebass Grand Reserve Chardonnay (photograph by Tom Liden)

The 2014 Seebass Grand Reserve Chardonnay, which recently took a unanimous among the judges Double Gold Medal at the 2016 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, the largest judging of American wines with over 7,100 entered, was the perfect wine to accompany the first course of food offerings.

The Seebass Reserve Chardonnay is crafted by winemaker Stéphane Vivier from the best Dijon clone grapes from the Seebass estate vineyard, held in oak, about 20% new, resulting in a Burgundy meets California wine, with lemon peel citrus flavored apple and pear notes, and oak and cream from barrel and fermentation providing a round mouth feel.

The three dishes were each delicious. The crab cakes were a nod to the second place award that Crush took at the Mendocino Crab Cook Off last year, and the crispy outside and delicious Dungeness crab inside these not really cake but balls were made even more delicious with a sip of the Chardonnay. The tuna dish was a diced tartare with the additional supporting ingredients only highlighting the flavor of the tuna, again made more delicious through pairing with the Chardonnay. Yes, the Chardonnay made the shrimp Louis salad yummier too, although big shrimp in a great dressing with avocado adding richness is pretty darn great by itself.

The second course brought Seared Scallops with leeks, butternut squash, and risotto; Cedar Planked Wild Salmon, spice crusted, with a Seebass red wine reduction; and Chef’s Vegetables.

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Seared Scallops with risotto (photograph by Tom Liden)

The wine for this course was the unreleased 2013 Seebass Romantik, a Rhone style, unique GSM Blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Merlot. This wine, made by winemaker Greg Graziano, was absolutely a spot on wine to pair with this course, with the multi red and black fruited notes of the wine working perfectly with the caramelization of perfectly seared scallops and spice crusted salmon. The asparagus and broccolini in the chef’s vegetable dish were hearty flavored choices, perfect for the soft but flavorful Romantic.

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Wood Plank spice crusted Wild Salmon and 2013 Seebass Romantic                        (photograph by Tom Liden)

The Crush chefs showed incredible sensibility in making a lighter risotto, with butternut squash and leek, wonderfully delicious, but allowing the scallop to be the star of the dish.

Dessert was Crush’s Tiramisu, served parfait style, many layered and light as a pillowed cloud, with more of a light dusty cocoa note than the strong espresso note expected.

Seebass’ dessert wine wasn’t strictly a dessert wine, but their 2011 Seebass Old Vine Zinfandel, another Greg Graziano made wine, and was another perfect choice for the dinner, with the light brambly raspberry and pepper notes melding with the chocolate and cream notes of the tiramisu, sip to spoon in the mouth.

 

John and Juanita (photograph by Tom Liden)

 

Seebass Family Winery wines can be tasted and purchased at their Anderson Valley tasting room, located at 14077 Highway 128 in Boonville, across from the Boonville Hotel, or online at http://www.seebassvineyards.com

The next Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush will feature the wines of Husch Vineyards, with an Anderson Valley tasting room located at 4400 Highway 128 in Philo, and is scheduled for April 20. To reserve your tickets for this sure to sell out dinner, call Crush directly at (700) 463-0700.

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John on Wine – Let’s not say goodbye. How about hello, instead?

This piece originally ran in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, January 7, 2016.

This column is your guide to great wine adventures in 2016, a list of festivals I have attended that I will attend again, these are all must attend events. Cut this column out of today’s newspaper, laminate it, and put it on your refrigerator with kitchen magnets. Refer to it, and buy your tickets to each incredible wine happening, and look for me at each this year. I’ll be the guy with a wineglass and a smile. Cheers!

Jan. 20 – Chef’s Wine Dinner >> Featuring Seebass Family Vineyard & Winery wines at Crush Italian Steakhouse in Ukiah. This will sell out at $75 per person. Seventy very lucky attendees will sit down for a multi-course meal paired with about a half dozen wines from Seebass. I will write a recap of this dinner, with pictures, for johnonwine.com. For tickets, contact Crush directly at (707) 463-0700.

Jan. 30 & 31 – Barrel Tasting 101 >> Buy a ticket online in advance for $20, or at a participating winery during the event for $30, and taste wine from the barrel, before it is bottled or aged, at Barra of Mendocino, Brutocao Cellars, Campovida, Cesar Toxqui Cellars, Graziano Family of Wines, Jaxon Keys Winery, Jeriko Estate, McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room, McNab Ridge, Milano Family Winery, Nelson Family Winery, Rivino, Saracina, Seebass Vineyards, Simaine Cellars, Sip Mendocino, Terra Savia, and Testa Ranch. For more information, visit destinationhopland.com/store

Feb. 20 & 21 – 11th annual International Alsace Varietals Festival >> There is a full day of events in the Anderson Valley, with many DRY Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, Riesling, and Muscat aromatic white wines, starting with an educational session in the morning, the big grand tasting in the afternoon, and a winemakers’ dinner in the evening on Feb 20; and open house tasting at Anderson Valley Alsace varietal producers on Feb 21. For more information, visit avwines.com/alsace-festival.

Feb 25-27 – ZAP’s Zinfandel Experience >> Zinfandel Advocates & Producers (ZAP) will celebrate their 25th annual Zinfandel Experience with three days of events in San Francisco. The weekend includes a 25 Year Tribute Party, Supper Club, Flights Seminar, Winemakers Auction & Dinner, and Grand Tasting. 2016 Zinfandel Experience is featuring more access to winemaker celebrities, more wineries, and two impressive new venues, showcasing the talents of winemakers, chefs, and artisanal food purveyors. I grew up with Zinfandel, there is a picture of my brother and I crushing Zinfandel grapes in 1972 in my office. I attended this event going back into the 90’s with family. This is a must attend event if you love Zinfandel like I do. The fun kicks off Thursday Feb 25 with a 25 Year Tribute Party with over 60 producers, followed by a Heritage Supper Club dinner, at the Banking Hall at the Bently Reserve. Flights is a seated panel tasting at the the Bently Reserve on Feb 26, moderated by one of my idols, Joel Peterson, and will look whether there are California wines that should be consider Great Growths, similar to Bordeaux’s 1855 Grand Cru classification; later that evening at the hotel is the Winemaker’s Reception, Dinner & Auction. Finally, the Grand Tasting with over 100 Zinfandels at the James R. Herman Cruise Terminal at Pier 27 on Feb 27. I have attended previous ZAP events, and if you love Zinfandel, then this is a must event to attend. For more information, visit zinfandelexperience.com

Apr. 23 & 24 – Passport to Dry Creek Valley >> I LOVE this event, and have attended each of the last three years; tickets sell out and Tickets are sold first-come-first-serve starting Monday, February 1st, 2016 at 10 am, so grab your tickets early. For this one weekend each year, since 1990, Passport guests are welcomed into 45+ wineries throughout Dry Creek Valley, each offering a unique pairing of premium wine, gourmet food and entertainment, and these offerings are amazing with each winery location competing with the other to impress you, and impressed you will be! There is also Prelude to Passport on Apr. 22, with vineyard lunches and winemaker dinners. For more information, visit drycreekvalley.org/events/passport-to-dry-creek-valley/

Apr. 30 & May 1 – Hopland Passport >> I have worked every Hopland Passport going back to Spring 2011 at McFadden, and this will be my first chance top attend one in over 6 years, and I am looking forward to it! Hopland area winery tasting rooms, about 15 in all, pour their wines, offer food pairing tastes, with tours, music, and more. For more information, visit destinationhopland.com/hopland-passport

May 20-22 – 19th annual Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival >> This festival is a three day event including a Technical Conference & social BBQ in the vineyards on Friday, Grand Tasting on Saturday with 50+ wineries participating, many elegant winemaker dinners on Saturday evening, and open houses at all area wineries on Sunday. For more information, visit avwines.com/19th-annual-anderson-valley-pinot-noir-festival/

Jun. 17-19 – A Taste of Redwood Valley >> This traditional Father’s Day weekend tasting event kicks off with a Winemakers’ Dinner event Friday night, and tasting at eight local winery and distillery locations throughout Redwood Valley over the weekend. For more information, visit atasteofredwoodvalley.com/events.html

Jun. 18 – Pinot Days SF >> I have been offered tickets each of the last four years, and invariably a last minute conflict prevented me from attending. I will rectify that this year, and look forward to choosing tastes of Pinot Noir wines from over 100 producers. Held at City View at the Metreon, many of Anderson Valley’s best wines will be showcased. For more information, visit pinotdays.com

Jul. 9 – Annual Party at McFadden Farm >> Here’s another event I’ve worked that I’ll simply attend and enjoy this year. Guinness McFadden opens his 550 acre farm at the north end of Potter Valley to 220 paid guests, $85 or McFadden Wine Club $70, for an amazing party, with overnight camping, swimming, farm tours, roast whole pig and lamb, tons of farm fresh vegetable dishes and salads, live music, dancing, and more wine than should ever be poured if overnight camping was not available. This event sells out! Get your ticket by calling the tasting room at (707) 744-8463. For more information, visit macfaddenfarm.com

Jul. 23 & 24 – Anderson Valley & Yorkville Highlands Barrel Tasting Weekend >> I would love to rename this event BT128, but branding is important, and the two growing regions probably like the named recognition. For two days, from 11-4, Anderson Valley wineries and their neighbors in Yorkville Highlands invite you to enjoy unprecedented access to winery cellars, taste yet-to-be-released wines, and purchase futures of your favorites at a special barrel tasting weekend price! For more information, visit avwines.com

Aug. 4 & 5 – Mendocino County Wine Competition >> This is the nation’s oldest continuously held wine competition, and I love attending the awards dinner, where all of the winners are announced, and I can see my friends from throughout the county and celebrate their well deserved recognition. The award dinner is open to the public, and a great way to show your support for the county’s winemakers and grape growers, as well as taste some delicious medal winning wines. For more information, visit mendowine.com

Sep. 10 – Winesong Charity Auction & Tasting >> Tickets go on sale Apr. 1. Stroll through the lush Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens while enjoying vintages poured by about 100 world-class wineries from Mendocino, Sonoma, Napa, and beyond, and food from 50 of Mendocino County’s finest food purveyors, and enjoy various music groups as they play; then head to the Auction Tents with lively bidding for over 200 lots. This is a benefit for the Mendocino Coast Hospital Foundation. The day before, on Sep. 9, there is the Pinot Noir Celebration presented by Winesong and Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association hosted by Little River Inn. For more information, visit winesong.org

There are other events that I will attend, numerous winemaker dinners at Crush in Ukiah and throughout the Anderson Valley throughout the year, the September blending party at Testa Vineyards & Winery in Calpella, October’s Fall Hopland Passport and the World Championship Abalone Cook-off in Fort Bragg, and November’s A Taste of Redwood Valley bring your own glass tasting and sale weekend.

This is it, my last weekly wine column written to deadline. Sure, I’ll still write for johnonwine.com; and I’ll surely send recaps of each of these events, and whatever else demands to be written, to the Ukiah daily Journal, so you might still see me occasionally in the newspaper; but this is it, the final official piece for now. Instead of a goodbye, this list of events allows you to find me easily – I’ll be at them all, so come up, introduce yourself, and say hello. Cheers!

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John on Wine – The Penultimate Column

This piece originally ran in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on December 30, 2015.

If you have been a reader of my wine column over the years, even an occasional reader, you may have noticed that I am almost always glowingly positive about the subjects I write about. This is a choice I made, because there is so much that is wonderful about the Mendocino County wine scene that I can simply choose to not write about wines, wineries, or people who fail to inspire a positive piece.

Recently, I decided to take on a more controversial subject, another county’s wine group had created a county wide marketing sham, and I had lined up notable Mendocino County winegrowers to speak to the issue, as well as solicited comments from two other county wine groups, and I was excited at the prospect of a foray into actual wine journalism, as opposed to the promotional feature pieces I typically write.

With my recent hire to be the Executive Director of the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association, I realized I might need to work cooperatively with my counterpart at the organization I was about to eviscerate, and I came to the conclusion that I could not write the piece I wanted to.

With a choice thrust upon me, instead of being my own, I gave the Ukiah Daily Journal notice that I would write through the end of this year, and one more column at the beginning of 2016. Next week, I’ll write a calendar of events that are ‘must attend’ events for wine lovers.

Bernadette Byrne, the Executive Director for Mendocino Winegrowers, Inc., has been asked to write a column in 2016, and she has agreed to submit a monthly column. While my focus has been about wine, Bernadette will place a greater emphasis on vineyards and grape growing.

The other reason for my departure as a regular weekly wine columnist is that my focus, in my new job, with be much more narrow: I will be working in the Anderson Valley, Mendocino County’s premier growing region; tasting Anderson Valley wines, the county’s best wines; and mounting Anderson Valley’s wine festivals, the county’s best festivals. My writing would reflect my experiences in the Anderson Valley, almost to the exclusion of Mendocino county’s other growing regions, and that would be unfair to those wine producers, and to you, my readers.

I will continue to write about wine, but not to a deadline, and will continue to archive those new pieces online at johnonwine.com. Of course, many of those pieces will be about the wines where I work, but not all of the pieces I write will be about the Anderson Valley.

I love Zinfandel, and I love the Zinfandel Advocates & Producers (ZAP) Zinfandel Experience. I will attend and I will write it up. I grew up in Sonoma County, and spent most of my time in the Dry Creek Valley; I will attend Passport to Dry Creek Valley, and I will write about it too. I’ve worked at McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room in Hopland, and this year I will get to attend, instead of work, my first Hopland Passport in over six years. The Ukiah Crush chef’s winemaker dinner series are some of my favorite wine and food pairing  bacchanals, and I’ll continue to attend and write recaps.

With Bernadette writing one column per month, I will probably send some words and pictures to the Ukiah Daily Journal, and perhaps my focus on wine, and recaps of tasting events both in and out of the Anderson Valley, balanced by Bernadette’s vineyard focused writing, will find occasional placement here in the newspaper. Before I agreed to write a weekly column, the folks at the Journal found space for my occasional column length piece; perhaps they will again.

I have loved writing a weekly column, it has been great fun, and opened the door to many opportunities I might never have been able to experience otherwise. I have been forced to marvel frequently at your response to the pieces I write, as you have given me feedback throughout. My teeny tiny picture next to the week’s column title, in black and white, has made me recognizable. I’ll be honest, while the attention has been flattering, it kind of freaks me out. I write to write, I have to write, I love to write, and I love wine, so I combined two passions, and accidentally became a wine columnist. I didn’t write to become better known, I just wanted to share my love of wine, more broadly, and hope to inspire people in Mendocino County who read the newspaper to go winetasting, attend events, buy bottles and cases, and serve wine with meals, especially holiday meals with family and friends. Getting to know you, having you come up and introduce yourselves, that has been an unexpected bonus. Thank you, kind readers.

There are pieces I didn’t write, pieces that I wanted to, but somehow never got around to. I wish I had written tasting room features on both Graziano Family of Wines and Terra Savia in Hopland. Greg Graziano makes about three dozen wines, under four labels, and by the time I figured out how to write a piece about the man who couldn’t say no to just one more varietal wine, I was gone. Similarly, Terra Savia is more than wine, but olive oil, and art too, and I’m not good about self editing, so a piece about this triple threat venue would have filled two columns. I also never got around to visiting Leroy and Mary Louise Chase’s vineyard in Redwood Valley, although they graciously invited me. I really wanted to visit, and write a piece. Sorry to everyone I didn’t write about here in the newspaper column. If I kept writing for another five years, I promise, I would have written about each and every one of you.

With my last paragraphs in this penultimate column, I’ll ask you one more time to get out and take advantage of the amazing resource in your own backyards: nearby winery tasting rooms; many, many tasting rooms. Don’t wear perfume or cologne, don’t chew gum, don’t bring a cup of espresso in, come in ready to taste wine. Tasting rooms are not bars, and there are no taste buds in your throat, so let your host pour an ounce into your glass, then give it a swirl, a sniff, a sip, and then pour the rest in a dump bucket. A sip will tell you if the wine is yummy or yucky, or allow you to pull notes if that’s your thing, and by using the dump bucket you will be making sober choices about the wines to purchase, and avoid very expensive tickets on your drive home. When you get your wine home, don’t save it for a special occasion, but make an occasion special by opening, sharing, and enjoying the wines you chose at our local tasting rooms. Attend our wine events, attend winemaker dinners, take every opportunity that living in the Mendocino County wine country provides.

Feel free to visit johnonwine.com, subscribe to my blog feed, and leave your messages for me there…and look for the occasional possible future column length piece here too, in the future.

Thanks everyone, it’s been a blast.

-John

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John On Wine – The Christmas Column

This piece originally ran in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on December 24, 2015.

As I write this, it is uncertain whether my son, Charlie, will be home for Christmas. He completed training to become a U.S. Army Infantry soldier, graduating from Fort Benning, GA on Friday, December 11, 2015, and was on a bus the same day to Fort Campbell, KY for in-processing with the 101st Airborne (Air Assault) Infantry Division.

Charlie could be in-processing for weeks, and is slotted to attend Air Assault school, before joining his unit with the 2nd Brigade, and deploying to the Middle East as early as February.

A holiday block leave is uncertain, and we hope he may be allowed an extended pass to come home, before deployment.

Whether he is home on Christmas day or substantially later, his presents are under the tree and will remain so until he is able to come home for a visit. Needless to say, his mother and I are very proud of Charlie.

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Wine in central to a Cesano family Christmas

I mention this by way of asking you to hold dear the family and friends you are able to bring together, to join, this holiday, and to love them.
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McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room, together with Steep Organic Coffee & Tea, held a very successful Toys For Tots toy drive & wine tasting in Hopland on Friday, December 11, 2015. I want to personally thank everyone for your generous donations of new toys, and cash to buy more toys. Tonight, there will be children here in Ukiah, and over the hill in Lake County after the Valley Fire devastation, who will know a little extra Christmas cheer, because of your kindness. Thank you.
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Winter’s cold temperatures, and Christmas’ gathering of family and friends at the table, call out for red wine, and Mendocino County’s various growing regions provide many different choices.

I heartily recommend Pinot Noir from Anderson Valley, Charbono from Redwood Valley, Cabernet from Hopland, Zinfandel from Potter Valley, Malbec from Yorkville Highlands, or one of the many excellent blends, from the county’s flagship Coro Mendocino wines, produced by several different wineries, to a Rhone style blend from Halcon or Campovida.

Of course, some folks only drink white wine, and similarly there are abundant choices, from the aromatic Alsace white varieties of Anderson Valley to Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc grown inland.

If looking for bubbly, again, there are some of the nation’s best sparkling wines being made right here, from Roederer Estate and Scharffenberger Cellars in the Anderson Valley to Graziano and McFadden, with tasting rooms side by side in Hopland. Be sure and pick up some in the next week for New Year’s Eve too.

Some folks like it pink, and you can’t swing a cat by the tail, because that would be wrong, but if you did then you would likely hit a winery with a great blush wine for your efforts, they are available from every part of our county.

If you are looking for a beverage a little more spirited, I would point you to the many excellent spirits of Germain-Robin and American Craft Whiskey Distillery in the Redwood Valley.

Wine was always a part of holiday gatherings, growing up. Not an intoxicant, so much as the lubrication to make food, friends, family, conversation, fellowship, gatherings more merry.

I hope you will have wine, and wine from Mendocino County specifically, at your table this Christmas holiday.
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It is a bit late to be offering Christmas gift ideas, but for the one or two men who haven’t begun to shop yet, here are some gifts that will save you from shopping at a gas station or convenience store, or worse yet facing the stores crowded with other glazed eyed last minute shopping men:

Tickets to the next Crush Winemaker Dinner. Crush Italian Steakhouse will be building another incredible multi course feast around wines on Wednesday, January 20, 2016; this time featuring the wines of Seebass Family Winery. I already grabbed two tickets, and hope to see you there. Call (707) 463-0700 or visit in person to get your tickets.

Another event ticket: attend the International Alsace Varietals Festival at the Mendocino County Fairgrounds on February 20 & 21, 2016 in the Anderson Valley. Taste aromatic Alsace whites – Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Muscat, Gewurztraminer, and Riesling – from around the county, nation, and world. Tickets are available online at http://www.avwines.com.

Wine. Visit any open tasting room, many will be open this morning, and buy bottles or cases of joy. Grab a couple of extra and put them under your tree for when a guest brings a surprise friend to your home. Wine makes a great ‘emergency’ gift.
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Writing a weekly column for you over the last few years has been a blast. For me, I ask from you one thing this Christmas; although you may not know him, please keep my soldier son in your thoughts. Thank you, from Charlie’s mother Lisa, girlfriend Ophelia, and me.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

EDITED TO ADD FOR ONLINE ARCHIVED BLOG POST:

My son, Charlie, did make it home for a ten day leave at Christmas. It was wonderful to see my soldier son at the holiday.

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Spotlight Winery: Goldeneye

This piece originally ran as a column in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Goldeneye winery tasting room at 9200 Hwy 128 in Philo, the town between Boonville and Navarro, in the Anderson Valley, is set in a gorgeously warm and richly appointed building, surrounded by grounds of perfectly trimmed hedges, herb gardens, roses, full to bursting tall planter boxes, stone water fountains and comfortably inviting chairs in front, and wooden tables and chairs overlooking estate vineyards in back.

Tasting Room

Prior visitors, leaving online reviews, described Anderson Valley’s Goldeneye tasting experience as Napa-esque, and I agree that tastings are conducted in a decidedly unique to Mendocino County manner.

Visitors to Goldeneye are treated to a seated tasting of 5 or 6 current release Pinot Noir wines at a tasting fee of $15. Elevated tasting experiences are available, from foods served to pair with the wines, to additional reserve wine tastes, for a fee.

Seated tasting experiences and tasting fees do stand in stark contrast to many Mendocino County tasting room experiences where instead you belly up to a tasting bar and often there is no tasting fee, but I loved my tasting at Goldeneye and the experience is well worth the money. Some of my favorite past tastings include a seated salon tasting with food pairings at Swanson in Napa County and a paired food and wine tasting with Kendall Jackson CEO Rick Tigner, when he was disguised as a Texas grocery store manager during filming of the Undercover Boss television program, in Sonoma County. I love having wines in front of me, and the opportunity to explore each one, comfortably and over an extended period of time. I enjoyed doing just that at Goldeneye.

Paula

I was attended to by Goldeneye retail and hospitality manager Paula Viehmann, and she could not have been more welcoming. Paula and I worked together briefly when she managed the tasting room for Saracina and I managed the McFadden tasting room, and we both volunteered our efforts to Destination Hopland, the local wine group for many Hwy 101 wineries. Full disclosure: Paula was recently elected to the Board of Directors of the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association, where I now serve the Board and membership as the new Executive Director. This tasting occurred before I was hired.

Paula poured me two ‘bonus’ wines before the seated tasting:

2012 Goldeneye Anderson Valley Brut Rose $55. 71% Pinot Noir and 29% Chardonnay, spent 10 months in barrel and 20 months en tirage, is a beautiful salmon color, delicate yet flavorful, ethereal, soft fruit and rose petal, and begs to be paired with salmon.

2013 Migration Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, $38. Green Valley and a lot of Dutton Ranch fruit. Strawberry color; light strawberry, herb, candied cherry, and caramel nose; light, very drinkable, accessible.

Next, Paula set me up at my own table in the back patio area and poured some more wines for me:

2012 Goldeneye Anderson Valley Pinot Noir $55. This is a blend of four estate and one sourced Anderson Valley vineyards. 16 months in barrel. Brilliant vibrant red-pink burgundy color; darker cola vinous strawberry-cherry fruit nose; soft mouth, richly fruited flavor of raspberry, current, cherry; long lingering finish.

Flight

2012 Goldeneye Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Confluence Vineyard $82. Named for the place the Anderson and Rancheria rivers come together and Navarro river begins. Goldeneye’s warmest vineyard. Another gorgeous brilliant red-pink colored wine; nose of meaty bacon, black cherry, clove and cardamom; dark full mouth, but not really dry, dusty earthy, black cherry, oolong tea, and dried herb.

2012 Goldeneye Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Gowan Creek $82. Big temperature swings of 50-55 degrees with coastal fog at night mark this vineyard located two miles north of the tasting room and yield gigantic black fruit throughout. Black cherry and cola, blackberry, strawberry, rose, and herb nose; the mouth is richer still, but wonderfully accessible, black cherry jam and a kiss of rhubarb. Full body with acid that pops the fruit. I would love to have this with food, and the list of foods it would pair with is near endless.

2012 Goldeneye Anderson Valley Pinot Noir The Narrows $82. Eight miles north of the tasting room, just ten miles from the coast, surrounded by forest, the vineyard is ten degrees cooler than Confluence. The color is the same, all of the Pnot Noir wines poured are brilliant of clarity and gorgeous of color, burgundy red with a touch of pink. Smoky rose and mushroom, preserved red fruits, floral, herb, butterscotch-caramel nose; sexy mouth with a ton going on, this is definitely the forest floor Pinot with loamy, earth, mushroom notes underneath strawberry and cherry fruit jam.

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Paula then brought out and poured another ‘bonus’ wine, the 2012 Goldeneye Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Ten Degrees $115, named for the temperature difference between the Confluence and Narrows vineyard, a cuvee – or blend – of the best 25 barrels out of 1,300, as chosen by winemaker Michael Fay. Paula pulled the old Jedi mind trick, practiced by the best tasting room managers everywhere, telling me, “you will love it.” I am an old Jedi, at least that is what my Army dog tags said on the line for religion, and am immune to the Jedi mind trick, but Paula was right, oh so right. I loved this wine very much. The color was the perfect patented Goldeneye red-pink burgundy; the nose was deeper, richer, more concentrated; the mouth bigger, deeper, supple, with floral rose meeting smoky meaty blackberry, cherry, earthy sweet fruit, fall spices, so incredibly muti noted, and thoroughly enjoyable.

A common thread for all of these wines is that the tannins are supple and the oak does not get in the way of clearly discernable fruit expression.

Goldeneye is a rare and different treat in Mendocino County, and their seated tasting experience is definitely a worthwhile way to spend an afternoon in the Anderson Valley.

For more information about Goldeneye winery, visit www.goldeneyewinery.com, or call (800) 208-0438 to set up a tasting between 10:30 am and 4:30 pm daily.

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John on Wine – Bonny Doon is in my house!

This piece originally ran as a wine column in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, December 10, 2015

One of my favorite wineries is Bonny Doon, and one of my favorite winemakers is Bonny Doon owner Randall Grahm. Years ago, I traveled 42 California Counties with wine books and accessories for the Wine Appreciation Guild, and regularly I would visit all of the wineries and tasting rooms on the Santa Clara side of the Santa Cruz mountains, head over to Santa Cruz and grab a hotel for the night, so my first visit at 10:00 am the next morning would be at 10 Pine Flats Road, up the mountain off Hwy 1, into forests, to make the tasting room of Bonny Doon my day’s first visit, and to taste the new releases. I love Bonny Doon!

I was sent a review copy of Randall Grahm’s book, “Been Doon So Long, a Randall Grahm Vinthology,” by Amy Cleary, of the book’s publisher, U.C. Press, and wrote a glowing review, because I loved the book, for my online wine blog, johnonwine.com, in February 2010 (wow, I was shocked to find, looking back, that I’ve been writing about wine for more than six years). Randall Grahm included review excerpts in his marketing of the book, and the book appeared in my December 2010 list of top Christmas gifts for the wine lover in your life.

I revere Randall Grahm, he is an iconoclast, an original Rhone Ranger, and a man almost completely divorced from convention, yet dedicated to stellar wine. His labels are created by artists, and a signed and framed reproduction of one hangs in my home. I was thrilled to accept a recent email offer from Randall to have him send some of his wines to me for me to taste. For me, that’s hitting the big time as a wine writer, and an incredible honor.

Margaret Pedroni is one of my favorite people. Margaret worked two doors down from my McFadden tasting room, and was the manager for both Weibel and Ray’s Station, before heading over the mountain to become the National Brand Manager for Knez wines in the Anderson Valley…where I am headed soon. Margaret recently sat for the introductory Sommelier exam, passed, and was awarded her red pin from the Guild of Sommeliers.  I invited Margaret to join me for a tasting of these wines, and our combined notes follow.

2010 Sparkling Albariño $36  – label by Grady McFerrin

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Appearance: brilliant pale gold deep straw, slight reflective quality, volatile effervescence, great bubble structure, nice mousse; nose: dry caramel, fig, honey, cantaloupe melon, light moist hibiscus; medium full weight mouth feel, heavier and darker full fruited that classic Champagne grape variety based sparkling wine. Notable acidity providing structure; mouth: lemon-lime, grapefruit, ripe guava, herb; finish: long, graham (Grahm?) cracker and honeycomb notes.
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2013 Le Cigare Blanc Réserve $45 – label by Chuck House

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55% Rousanne, 26% Grenache Blanc, 19% Picpoul Blanc white blend.

Appearance: clear pale gold medium straw, very clear rim, bright medium clarity; nose: dense, deep, but muted. Honey, dried white rose, herb, white peach, vanilla, reduced pear, bruised nectarine, waxy floral white gardenia; balanced acidity with warm fruit notes; mouth: salty wet rock minerality, savory butter, pear, stone fruit, candied honeycomb, flint; finish: a touch short, cherry pit note
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2014 Cuvée “R” Grenache $48 – label by Gary Taxali

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Appearance: semi translucent light garnet cranberry rose color, light rim variation; nose: sexy, strawberry jam, strawberry pie complete with buttery crust, ripe cherry, light violet, candied rose petal confection, cardamom spice, slight watermelon; medium light bodied with favorable acidity to fruit; mouth: fruit forward, strawberry, bright cherry, rhubarb, watermelon, a little stemmy, dried herb blend; finish: long tapering notes of herbal rhubarb and sweet tart candied fruit. I enjoyed this wine greatly, as I love both Grenache and strawberries.
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2014 Cinsaut Counoise $35 – label by Grady McFerrin

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Cinsault 67% Counoise 33%

Appearance: Clear, bright light garnet rose, clear at rim, reflective; nose: seductive cocoa dusted cherry, strawberry, clove, vanilla, tiny bit of exciting gamy animal funk, nuance of rose, a light cola; level acidity, balance, with fruit, structured body; mouth: mineral, red ripe strawberry fruit, toffee, dried Italian oregano herb, raspberry, red currant, spice; finish: long with candied red fruit notes. Great acidity, great food wine; a truly delicious wine that will appeal to lovers of Syrah or Pinot Noir, sharing some characteristics with each. For both Margaret and me, this was our favorite wine of the six tasted.
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2012 Syrah “Le Pousseur” $26 – label by Bascove

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Appearance: dark, deep ruby, purple burgundy violet color; nose: the aromatics leapt out of the glass when inspecting for color. Dark plum, licorice, dark berry fruit, oak, gamy wet leather, Chinese 5 spice, floral, dusty bramble berry, mint undertone; tannins are noticeably evident, but soft. The wine is dry, astringent. Could benefit from being cellared for a couple of years; mouth: black cherry, ripe plum, blackberry, dark shading to blueberry, herb, pepper, spice, floral; finish: herbal eucalyptus and spice dark fruit.
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2011 Le Cigare Volant Réserve $79 – label by Chuck House

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37% Mourvedre, 34% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 9% Cinsault red blend

Appearance: lovely deep red ruby garnet with little rim variation; nose: multi-noted! Plush, strawberry, cherry, rhubarb, herb, violet, dried rose, spice, leather licorice, and it just keeps going, note after note; evident acid to fruit balance; a touch astringent but not overly so, owing perhaps to a cooler vintage; mouth: strawberry, cherry, briny cranberry, raspberry, stem, crushed stone, herb, rose, mint; finish: tapering sweet reduced red strawberry, cherry, berry, and oak; this wine would pair beautifully with flavorful game meat, like venison.
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This was an incredibly enjoyable tasting experience, made more so by sharing it with a friend, and I urge you to seek out, buy, and enjoy the 2014 Bonny Doon Cinsaut Counoise, a perfect wine to introduce you to the vinous talents of Randall Grahm.

For more information about Bonny Doon, or to order wine, visit http://www.bonnydoonvineyard.com.

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John on Wine – Redwood Valley’s Low Gap Bourbon

This ran originally as a weekly wine column on Thursday, December 3, 2015 in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper

On a beautiful fall day in Redwood Valley, with burnt red maple leaves, golden green-yellow grape leaves on head pruned grape vines, and a gorgeously blue sky, I met two of my favorite people, Jack Crispin Cain and his wife Tamar Kaye, at their American Craft Whiskey Distillery for my first taste of their newly bottled Low Gap Bourbon.

“When we started making whiskey with Ansley Coale, the plan was to make four,” Crispin told me. “We started with wheat, then the malted corn & barley blend, and the rye was next. As I got more and more experience with whiskey, I found there wasn’t a bourbon I liked, and by the time I got to our bourbon, we really had everything down.”

Bourbon

Congress sets the identity for spirits and at the Federal level it was decided that a spirit can be called straight bourbon if it is a blend of three or more of corn, barley, wheat, and rye, with one of the grains accounting for at least 51% of the blend, and spends two years in 200 liter new white oak barrels at 60% alcohol by volume.

Crispin and Tamar’s Low Gap Bourbon is 55% corn, 30% malted barley, and 15% malted rye; all three get combined in the mash, fermented to dryness into what is essentially a dense malt wine.

This bourbon is outstandingly good, so much better than the bulk produced crap that you find in stores, making Mendocino County, California the home of bourbon superior to that made in Bourbon County Kentucky, to my taste, and I asked why it is so good. Crispin shared that “one of the reasons this is so good is my son climbed into the pot between every run and scrubbed it clean.”

The bourbon finished at 43.2% alcohol by volume, and Crispin would probably tell me that the purest collected rain water was used to bring it down from 60%, but this bourbon is so magically delicious that I believe the collected tears of joy from a dozen leprechauns were used instead.

Crispin shared a lovely family anecdote, “my maternal grandfather, Ted Ultsch, wouldn’t drink [the amazingly delicious] Germain-Robin brandy [Cognac, in all but name] because riverboat gamblers drink brandy; he’s a bourbon man. This is Ted’s bourbon.”

Here are my first tasting impressions: richly multi noted and just lovely, exciting, caramel-vanillin wrapped malted grain. Smooth beyond any Bourbon previously tasted. Simply the best bourbon I’ve ever tasted.

All of Crispin and Tamar’s spirits, from the vodkas and gins to the whiskeys, including his new bourbon, have candied notes. The bourbon tastes of candied malted grain, smooth, rich and pure. I asked why candy throughout, and Crispin explained that his, “sour mash goes into a copper pot still and when it gets hot catalytic action transforms complex organic molecules into smaller molecules including alcohol sugars,” that present themselves in a way that is different from spirits using different stills, and he thought his bourbon was, “one of just two, maybe three, copper pot still bourbons in the country.”

“The copper pot still and the way we are using it, very careful with the fire, the temperature, the method…a combination of the two,” is why Crispin and Tamar’s bourbon (and other spirits) are, “naturally sweet,” Crispin said, and offering reasons for why I found it vastly superior to other bourbons, “all in house, far more cleaning, no outside bulk grain distilled bought and added, the method, no additives, no caramel coloring, no simple syrup, no glycerin, no citric acid – just grain, water, yeast and enzymes.”

Crispin and Tamar sent me home with a review sample bottle for “additional research” and I’ve diligently done my research. I have a wonderful glass, specifically designed to enhance the tasting experience for whiskeys, and as good as the first taste was, an ounce in my glass, swirl and nose, swirl and nose, just the tiniest sip, repeated slowly and savoringly, over about forty minutes, at home on my couch, is the way to enjoy this beautiful bourbon. Two one-ounce tastes, and I have already purchased another bottle. When she visited, I offered my girlfriend a sip, because I am a good man, but she detests bourbon, so I will get every sip in each bottle, which means I am a lucky man as well.

In addition to Crispin and Tamar’s new bourbon, I have tasted and reviewed their 2011 Malted Corn & Malted Barley Blended Whiskey, 2011 Malted Bavarian Hard Wheat Whiskey, 100 Proof Malted Bavarian Hard Wheat Whiskey, 2 Year Malted Rye Whiskey, Single Barrel #1 Whiskey, Malted Rye (Clear) Whiskey, Germain-Robin Absinthe Superieure, Russell Henry London Dry Gin, Russell Henry Dark Gin, DSP CA 162 Straight Vodka, DSP CA 162 Vodka Citrus Reticulata var. Sunshine (tangerines and tangelos), DSP CA 162 Vodka Citrus Medica var. Sarcodactylis (Buddha’s-hand citrons), and DSP CA 162 Vodka Citrus Hystrix (Malaysian limes and their leaves), and Crispin’s Rose Liqueur, as well as son Devin Cain’s 1850 Cocktail, based on the Sazerac. Visit JohnonWine.com and enter “Crispin” in the search bar to find and read those archived reviews.

To make an appointment to taste and purchase at the distillery’s retail location, call (800) 782-8145 to set a time and get directions. You – or the recipients of amazing Christmas gifts – will be immensely glad you did.

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