John on Wine – Charity and more

This piece originally ran as my wine column in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, October 8, 2015; but has been added to specifically for this longer archived online version.

Barra of Mendocino hosts the annual Let the Fur Fly fashion show to benefit the Humane Society and hosts the Kiwanis Crab Feed to help the group’s revenue stream for their yearly activities.

Nelson Family Vineyards supports the community, having played host to the Ukiah Symphony and Project Sanctuary.

Fetzer holds a regular Community Wine Sale, with spectacular discounts, and the proceeds led to a recent $3,000 donation to the Gardens Project of the North Coast to “help further their commitment to healthy, vibrant communities and community gardens.”


Fetzer’s $3,000 donation to the Gardens Project of the North Coast will help healthy and sustainable agriculture, and feed people, here in Mendocino County.

Every winery in Mendocino County receives hundreds of requests for donations, and choose among those who have made legal requests, holding a California ABC daily wine license for an IRS recognized non-profit organization, to better our community.

The wineries of Coro Mendocino pour at Gala on the Green to benefit Mendocino College, Mendocino County’s organic growers help make Pure Mendocino a successful fundraiser for the Cancer Resource Centers of Mendocino County, Winesong sees 100 wineries donate wine for tasting and auction to benefit the Mendocino Coast Hospital Foundation , and the wineries that pour at the World Champion Abalone Cook-off & Festival in Ft. Bragg help fund the Mendocino Area Parks Association

Mendocino vineyards and wineries are part of the community, and support their neighbors through countless acts of charity.

Now it is your turn to help our vineyard and winery owners, and your neighbors, that suffered calamitous loss in the recent Valley Fire. In the wake of the Valley Fire, our neighbors in Lake County need help, and Beckstoffer Vineyards made a $50,000 donation to the #LakeCountyRising fundraising campaign, in the wake of the horrific devastation affecting up to 25% of Lake County’s grapes. Please visit the Lake County Rising page on Facebook, and make any donation, no matter how small, to help the vineyard owners recover from this tragedy.

Closer to home, Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman and a group of community leaders joined together to create a special fundraiser to allow Mendocino County’s residents to help our neighbors in Lake County who lost homes and property in the fire, a spaghetti feed & auction with music at the Redwood Empire Fairgrounds in Ukiah on October 25, 2015 from 4-8pm, called “Neighbors Helping Neighbors, Mendocino Loves Lake County.” Tickets are just $15 each, children under 6 eat free, and are available at all Mendo Mills locations. I will absolutely be there!

Again, please help our neighbors in Lake County by participating in one or both of these great fundraising efforts.


Recently, I tasted wines in Anderson Valley at the Boonville tasting rooms of Philo Ridge Vineyards and Seebass Family Wines, two of the four Fratty Pike participants. Fratty Pike is Boontling for Wine Trail, and by visiting these two tasting rooms, plus Witching Stick and Greenwood Ridge, tasters can be entered into a monthly drawing to win a $100 wine gift.

At Philo Ridge, manager Jill Derwinski told me that she wished my visit was a month into the future, so I could taste a host of new vintage wine releases. I promised to return for a future winery spotlight column, put my notebook away, and tasted wines for simple enjoyment. The current releases of owners Fred R. Buonanno and Heather A. McKelvey’s wines were uniformly tasty and Jill was a charming host. I look forward to returning.

At Seebass Family Winery, I was blessed to have the fairer half of the ownership duo, Michelle Myrenne Willoughby, pour for me, while her husband Scott was home preparing a vineyard dinner for the pilots and crew of the B-17 that recently visited the Ukiah airport. It is always a treat to see either Scott or Michelle, their passion for their community, active participation in groups that promote our wines and tourism, and the delicious wines that are made from the grapes they grow, have made me quite fond of all they do. On a hot day in Philo, Michelle let me have a vertical tasting, a tasting of successive vintages, of their deliciously crisp yet round and richly flavored Fantasie Rosé of Grenache.

I was in the Anderson Valley to pour the Mendocino County Fair Wine Competition Best of Show White Wine, the Sparkling Cuvee Brut; the Double Gold Pinot Noir; and the Gold Medal Sauvignon Blanc at the Mendocino County Fair for McFadden. I showed up early and helped the fantastically competent Executive Director for the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association, Janis MacDonald, set up. In addition to representatives from Greenwood Ridge and Navarro during my pouring shift, I got to pour next to Bonterra’s Joel Clark, which was a treat as Joel and I were able to reminisce about a previous winery employer in common and talked about a visit for me to taste all of Bonterra’s wines for a future column. That, and Joel was pouring a delicious Merlot. It was surprising to find how few of the tasters knew of McFadden, or where the Potter Valley is, or had not visited Hopland in the previous year. The tasters were definitely Anderson Valley-centric, but hopefully Joel and I poured a few reasons to inspire visits over the hill to explore inland Mendocino’s wine scene.

About a month ago, I wrote that every winery and vineyard in Mendocino County should be members of Mendocino Winegrowers, Inc. (MWI), and followed up with a piece the next week announcing that MWI was looking for a new executive director. That position has been filled by the remarkably perfect person for the position, Bernadette Byrne.


Bernadette has previously served as the President of the Mendocino County Vintners Association and Executive Director of the Mendocino County Winegrowers Alliance, two groups with a similar mission to today’s MWI. Bernadette has lived and worked in the county for 28 years, including stints at Fetzer Vineyards and Saracina. Most notably. Bernadette opened and owned Sip! Mendocino, and carried wines from wineries and vineyards from throughout the county. Bernadette has long standing relationships with wine industry stakeholders from throughout the county, and is aware of the unique challenges in forging cooperation from the varied rugged individualists that make up that wine scene. No one is better positioned to increase the reputation of the county’s wines and the prices paid for the county’s grapes. These positive improvements will not come overnight, but initiative by initiative, story by story, year by year, Bernadette will oversee and usher in a new and better age for Mendocino County’s wines and winegrapes. Cheers to Bernadette!



Hopland Passport is coming up soon, in just nine days, on Saturday, October 17 and Sunday, October 18. This is an opportunity to taste wines, paired with food, at 15 local wineries, over two days. For more information, or to pick up your $45 tickets, visit HoplandPassport.com.

EDITED TO ADD: I am limited by space restrictions in my column, but not here online, and I have a few more notes about winery charity:

First, more about the Valley Fire Fundraiser on October 25

Neighbors helping Neighbors is the theme of Mendocino County’s Valley Fire Fundraiser on Sunday, October 25 from 4:00-8:00 pm at the Redwood Empire Fairgrounds in Ukiah.

Sheriff Tom Allman pulled together a group of local leaders, businesses and service clubs to organize a community-wide dinner, auction & music event raise money to support the long term rebuilding efforts of our Lake County neighbors.

Bands such as the Ford Brothers and the Funky Dozen plus one or more Latino groups will be playing. Spaghetti and taco dinners are on the menu. Local 4-H Club members will be selling desserts and local wineries and breweries are providing libations.

McFadden Farm has donated an assortment basket of wine and farm goods for auction.

McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room's donation to help victims of the Valley Fire. Photo by John Cesano

McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room’s donation to help victims of the Valley Fire. Photo by John Cesano

I, also, pulled a special assortment case from my own collection, including four different reds from the amazing 2007 vintage, for another auction item.

A Valley Fire auction donation from my collection. Photo by John Cesano

A Valley Fire auction donation from my collection. Photo by John Cesano

Tickets are $15 per person in advance, $20 at the door. Children six and under are free. Tickets are available at Mendo Mill Stores in Ukiah, Lakeport, Clear Lake, Willits, and Fort Bragg, and at Chavez Market on South State Street in Ukiah.

All proceeds from the benefit go directly to the Lake County Wildfire Relief Fund created by North Coast Opportunities with the support of Mendo Lake Credit Union and the Savings Bank of Mendocino County. All administration costs are being waived which means one hundred percent of donations go directly to benefit those who have been affected by the fire damage.

To volunteer or donate an item to the raffle and auction, contact lm@ncoinc.org. Auction items may be dropped off at the Redwood Empire Fairgrounds office from 9-5 Monday through Friday. For more information call Heidi Dickerson at 467-3230.

Both Sutter Home Family Vineyards and Little Black Dress Wines each have initiatives aimed at helping fight against breast cancer. This is especially heartwarming as our Congress seeks to defund the nation’s largest screener for breast cancer.

Speaking of Sutter Home Family Vineyards, they have launched an initiative that is very close to my heart, Sutter Home for the Holidays, helping deserving American troops home to their own families this holiday season.

Sutter Home has paired with the Veterans Business Outreach Center to unite active duty military personnel with their families for the holidays.

“Family is at the heart of our business, so we understand how meaningful it is for our troops to spend the holidays with their families,” said Sutter Home CEO and Vietnam veteran Roger Trinchero, “It is an honor to support our troops and give back to those who sacrifice so much every day.”

Now through the end of the year, eligible active duty, reserve, and national guard  U.S. Military service members may apply at http://www.vbocix.com to win a trip home anywhere in the continental U.S., with up to 25 winners selected based on financial need, outstanding service, and creativity in answering the question, “What does home mean to you?” Sutter Home for the Holidays will provide round-trip airfare, ground transportation, and hotel accommodations for up to five nights.

Okay, I served honorably as an U.S. Army Infantry Sergeant, and my son is in basic training at Ft. Benning, GA to become an Infantry soldier as well. We will get my son home for the holidays if his new permanent duty station allows him leave, although sadly I can’t do that and attend his graduation “turning blue” ceremony as well on what I earn. There are other military families who earn less than I do, and a trip home on leave is outside their financial ability, so Sutter Home’s generosity and support for our troops really strikes a chord for me. I will be stopping at Trinchero Napa Valley on my next trip to the Napa valley to show my appreciation for their good works by purchasing one of their company’s top end red wines.

Thank you to everyone inside the industry and out for your acts of kindness and charity.

The Baxter tasting room in Philo. Photo by John Cesano

Lovely. The word I kept writing, as I tasted wines at Baxter’s tasting room in the Anderson Valley of Mendocino County, was lovely.

The Baxter tasting room at 8660 Highway 128 in Philo is as clean and modern as a Scandinavian Design showroom, and there is little to distract visitors from the wines created by Phillip T.G. Baxter, poured by his wife, Claire Baxter.

Claire Baxter pours wines at the Baxter tasting room. Photo by John Cesano

Phillip T.G. Baxter grew up in Napa, the son of winemaker Phillip L. Baxter, attended the UC Davis School of Enology and Viticulture, and interned in Burgundy, France where he was influenced to make the single vineyard wine choices for Baxter wines today. Claire Baxter described Phillip’s winemaking as, “really natural,” using a basket press, neutral oak, hand punch downs, wild yeasts, and traditional methods to craft his wines.

Claire Baxter is English, and her voice is the first bit of lovely that tasters experience, as her lilt makes everything she says sound, well, lovely. Passionate and proud, she described each wine poured, sharing information about the individual vineyard that each wine comes from, and her husband’s choices made in making it.

2013 Baxter Oppenlander Vineyard Chardonnay Mendocino $38 – Light oak, lemon peel and crisp minerality on the nose, a mouth of mineral, pear, and rip apple, and a long lingering tapering finish where the apple fruit stays forever.

2013 Baxter Valenti Vineyard Pinot Noir Mendocino Ridge $48 – The grapes for this wine come from a vineyard just five miles from the Pacific ocean that sits atop the Greenwood Ridge. Lovely. 100 percent neutral French oak. 30 percent whole cluster for texture and depth. Delicate, savory, layered. Deep, herbaceous, cherry, and mineral nose, nuanced and integrated. Lovely mouthfeel, soft supple, ripe but not overly jammy cherry, herb and mineral. Bright sweet tart fruit and acidity on finish.

2013 Baxter Ferrington Vineyard Pinot Noir Anderson Valley $52 – Valley floor grown grapes from sandy loam and clay soil. Dark rich earthy black cherry and floral notes, with a little cola. Young, but drinking great now; this wine is going to be so much greater still with more aging.

2012 Baxter Langley Vineyard Pinot Noir Anderson Valley $48 – Langley is a small vineyard, planted over 30 years ago, just north of Boonville. Claire Baxter said that this vintage, “came ready early, while it usually takes more age,” and the result is that the wine is almost gone, with fewer than four cases left. Dark and brooding nose of herb, licorice and Bing cherry. The mouth is filled with darker fruit, black tea, earthy mushroom, and a strawberry jam note comes and sticks around for a long finish.

2012 Baxter Oppenlander Vineyard Pinot Noir Mendocino $60 – My first note: “Oh (expletive deleted), that’s unfairly good!” Oppenlander is located near Comptche, in the middle of nowhere, but their fruit is exceptional, with a number of Anderson Valley’s best wineries sourcing the fruit for their wine, and this wine shows why with abundant clarity. This wine received extra barrel aging, was tight, and is just opening up now. Lovely warm cherry, strawberry, herb and mushroom. Still young, and already amazing, this wine is going to be frightfully good for those with the patience to lay it down. As great as this wine is in the glass by itself, it cries for food, and pairing it with duck and a reduction of cherries and this wine would be the pinnacle of deliciousness. Firm tannins, but they do not get in the way of enjoyment.

2013 Baxter Weir Vineyard Pinot Noir Yorkville Highlands $48 – Weir vineyard is largely planted on rocky sloping terrain to gravelly and rocky soil, and the vines are stressed leading to characterful wine grapes. Tea, cherry, light, delicate, and – again – just lovely.

At the recent Winesong charity tasting and auction, Baxter offered an auction lot in conjunction with Ferrington Vineyard, Herdell Printing, Anderson Compliance Services, MA Silva Glass, UPS, and others where the winning bidder would get to make one barrel of Ferrington Vineyard Pinot Noir with Phillip T. G. Baxter as the winemaker, and everything included to see that barrel turned into professionally produced wines, complete with burgundy bottles, TTB approved labels, and shipping. The auction lot sold for $19,000, in very heavy bidding. Asked if he could offer a second barrel, the answer was yes, although the winner would have to wait one vintage, and another $18,000 was raised. In all, $37,000 was raised to benefit the Mendocino Coast Hospital Foundation, through Baxter’s generosity, and that too is lovely!

Baxter is a winery tasting room to visit if you love wine, and particularly if you love Pinot Noir. Each wine is delicate, feminine, soft and delicious. There is remarkable restraint shown each wine, and each wine is a discernably distinct representation of the vineyard it comes from. These are not high alcohol fruit jam bombs, but each has depth, layers of flavor, and nuance; they show varietal, vintage, and geographic correctness, and each is a lovely delight. I can’t urge you strongly enough to make Baxter a tasting destination in your very near future; your nose and taste buds will thank me.

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, September 24, 2015

Grapes on the vine at Yorkville Cellars. Photo by John Cesano

Yorkville Cellars in the Yorkville Highlands on Highway 128, between Cloverdale and Boonville in Mendocino County, is a certified organic grower of Bordeaux variety grapes.

Yorkville Cellars grows six red wine grape varieties; Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, and Carmenere; and two white grape varieties; Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon.

I visited Yorkville Cellars and tasted through a large line up of wines with tasting room host Gary Krimont.

I met Gary in May 2010 at a TweetUp event hosted by Parducci Wine Cellars where I cooked up some dishes for International Chardonnay Day. Gary sat at a table with some of my friends who came up from Santa Rosa to support me and the event, and I liked Gary immediately. Gary is knowledgeable about wine, gregarious, and is plugged into the Mendocino County wine scene.

Yorkville Cellars’ tasting room host Gary Krimont spinning magic for guests. Photo by John Cesano

When I was hired to manage the tasting room for Guinness McFadden, Gary was my first hire to join the team, and Gary remains on call at McFadden. Gary has worked for Fetzer, Bonterra, Weibel, McDowell, Phillips Hill, Knez, Cesar Toxqui Cellars, and Topel. Currently, in addition to working for Yorkville Cellars, Gary is part of the McNab Ridge Second Saturday in Hopland crew.

As much as I loved having Gary pour for me, the real star of the day is the lineup of wines produced by owners Deborah and Edward Wallo from the organic fruit they grow on their estate. Here are my notes:

2011 Yorkville Cellars Cuvée Brut $40 – Cuvée means blend, and this celebratory bubbly represents a blend released for Yorkville Cellars’ 20th anniversary of roughly 50% Semillon, 25% Sauvignon Blanc, and 25% Cabernet Sauvignon. Judged Best of Class at the Orange County Fair Wine Competition, this sparkling wine spent two years en tirage, on yeast and lees (spent yeast), before disgorgement. There are yeasty toast notes and bright lemon, ginger, and green apple flavors. Made from Bordeaux varieties instead of the classic Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay grapes typically used for Champagne and other sparkling wines, this wine allows for food pairings with slightly heavier foods than is ordinary with other sparkling wines.

2014 Yorkville Cellars Sauvignon Blanc $19 – Grassy, sunshiny hay, oak, pear, bright and crisp.

2013 Yorkville Cellars Semillon $23 – Creamy, white peach, floral, herbal.

2013 Yorkville Cellars Eleanor of Aquitaine $28 – This white wine blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon shows oak, toast, cream, vanilla, butter, with apple and lemon fruit in the mouth than follows through on a long lingering finish. Round.

2014 Yorkville Cellars Vin D’Une Nuit $22 – This is a 100 percent Malbec rosé wine. Vin D’Une Nuit translates roughly to the wine of overnight, which Yorkville Cellars playfully calls the one night stand wine, and is how long the skins sat on the juice, yielding a beautiful color and light creamy soft strawberry flavors with a touch of herb.

2013 Yorkville Cellars Amber Folly $28 – Red wines are red because after the clear, or white, juice is pressed at crush, the skins are put back in contact with the wine, and often there are pump overs or punch downs, to impart the red wine color. Rosé wines are pink because there is just a limited amount of skin contact for some, but not full, color with the juice of red wine grapes. White wines are white because they are simply the pressed juice of white wine grapes, without skin contact. A small number of wineries make an orange wine, where the white wine skins are added back to the juice after pressing, to impart weight and color, and Yorkville Cellars’ Amber Folly is an orange wine, where their Semillon spent 10 days of skin contact.

2012 Yorkville Cellars Hi Rollr Red $19 – The name Hi Rollr Red comes from Boontling, the language spoken by the residents of Anderson Valley’s Boonville, and referred to visitors from nearby Yorkville Highlands, who traveled in wintertime by horseback for Saturday night revelry, with high rolled pant legs to decrease mud splattered clothing. Yorkville Cellars takes organically grown Zinfandel from Ukiah and blends it at 62 percent with their own Malbec at 38 percent to make a wine I really like, with earth and cedar notes supporting dark raspberry and blackberry notes.

2012 Yorkville Cellars Richard the Lion-Heart $44 – Yorkville Cellars’ reserve red is a blend of 50 percent Merlot, 35 percent Malbec, 9 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 3 percent Petit Verdot, 2 percent Carmenere, and 1 percent Cabernet Franc. Supple, leathery, black fruit basket, deliciously integrated, the nose leads to the mouth, and on to the finish seamlessly, reasonably soft tannin, and well worth laying down.

Yorkville Cellars is, to my knowledge, the only winery in America to make separate wines from each of the six red Bordeaux grape varieties. A fun aspect of their tasting is the opportunity to play “name that variety,” with a pouring of all six wines into glasses and a sheet to write down your guesses. Don’t be alarmed if you come up with zero correct guesses, the most common result, but use the blind tasting as an opportunity to rank the wines without prejudice to make choosing your favorite to purchase and take home easier.

2012 Yorkville Cellars Cabernet Franc $34 – Chocolate covered dark cherry, soft but evident tannin.

2013 Yorkville Cellars Merlot $30 – Round cherry, earthy, pungent.

2013 Yorkville Cellars Malbec $32 – Terrific nose of rose petal, chocolate, blackberry and cherry, mouth of blackberry and dried herb.

2013 Yorkville Cellars Petit Verdot $32 – Dark, plum, violet.

2013 Yorkville Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon $36 – Blackberry, cassis, earthy, oak, tannin. Lay it down.

2013 Yorkville Cellars Carmenere $32 – Wine Club Exclusive. Vinuous, sexy, red fruit, raspberry and cherry sweet tart candy.

2014 Yorkville Cellars Sweet Malbec $22 – Early stopped cold fermentation at 6.6 percent residual sugar and 9.5 percent alcohol. Sweet raspberry chocolate candy bar nose, mouth of bright creamy raspberry coulis, mouth coating goodness.

2013 Yorkville Cellars Sparkling Malbec Brut Rosé $36 – Produced every other year, this vintage shows bright and lively berry fruit.

Note for online archived post: Tonight is date night, and I have a McFadden organic grass fed top sirloin roast, with cream of mushroom soup and more than a splash of 2012 Yorkville Cellars Richard the Lion-Heart red wine, cooking in a crock pot all day today, with more of the 2012 Richard the Lion-Heart ready to go into wine glasses. These are delicious wines, and a visit to their tasting room is more than warranted. For more information, visit http://www.yorkvillecellars.com or the tasting room at Mile Marker 40.4 on Highway 128 in Yorkville.


John on Wine – The wine wheel keeps turning

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, September 17, 2015

Following the column two weeks ago about what Mendocino County’s wineries can do to increase the reputation of their wines and the county’s vineyards can do to increase the prices paid for their grapes, and outlining what we are doing well and not well, I had a tremendous amount of feedback, all positive, and I thank folks for reading and for reaching out.

Following the piece, I was a guest speaker for the Rotary Club of Ukiah, and as the piece, out of all the pieces I have written over the years, was mentioned, I led off by reading it aloud. Then I spoke about wine tasting in general, McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room in particular, and some of the other wine growing areas of the county, before taking a look at what we can do cooperatively, using the Coro Mendocino as a shining example of various county wineries working together in a way that benefits the whole county wine scene, moving forward.

Following my talk, I took questions, and the two asked both dealt with the challenges unique to our county in making our case to the general public, the trade, and the media about the quality of our grapes and the wines they make.

In response to those questions, I explained that Mendocino County has a strong streak of rugged individualism that runs through it, and that is a defining characteristic of our county’s wine scene and the many characters that make up our vineyard and winery owners. In the past, people were hired from outside the county to try to help lead the various promotional wine organizations that have existed, and none fully appreciated that unique maverick spirit, and many initiatives that should have been implemented may have failed because forging cooperation among so many different folks is made more difficult by that lack of appreciation for the unique character of the county. The key to forging cooperation is awareness of the differences, meeting each of the county’s stakeholders, listening to their unique viewpoints, genuinely appreciating them, and asking for participation – in spite of some small objections – for the general overall betterment of the larger group. There has been too much talking at, instead of listening and talking with, in the past, and in a voluntary group there will not be complete agreement or participation, but it can be better. Realistic, pragmatic, consensus building, and a long term dedication that will span decades, can see the wine world at large appreciate the quality of our wines more and that will inevitably lead to higher prices for our grapes.

Among the Rotarians were two members of the county’s wine scene; Monte Hill, a board member of Coro Mendocino, and George Phelan, winemaker for Dunnewood, Mendocino Vineyards, and the Coro wine of Clos du Bois. Also present were two McFadden wine club members; Michael Laybourn, who invited me to speak, and Jon Ferguson, who asked me to tell folks about Second Saturday in Hopland, where half a dozen wineries offer complimentary food and wine pairings and a sale on the featured wine, for visitors. As an example, on Saturday, September 12, McFadden offered up an asparagus and avocado salad to pair with the county’s (state’s, nation’s ?) top awarded bubbly. Other participants include Graziano, Jaxon Keys, McNab Ridge, Cesar Toxqui, and Milano, and there may well be more. I’m sure the professional marketers for Destination Hopland comb over the Facebook and Twitter posts, and subscribe to the newsletters, of each member winery and pull the info about Second Saturday, and other events, and post it to their constantly updated event calendar at DestinationHopland.com; I know I did when I handled some of their marketing.

Thank you very much to the Rotary Club of Ukiah for your invitation, for the opportunity to share my love for Mendocino County wine and those who make it, and for donating to ShelterBox disaster relief in my name, and for allowing me to increase that donation with a donation of my own. I look forward to your visits to my tasting room, and to those of our neighbors throughout the county. Tell them I sent you.

My son Charlie is at Fort Benning, Georgia for U.S. Army Infantry basic training. As I write this, I saw him off just over two weeks ago, and since then I have heard his voice for less than two minutes, and am still waiting on his first letter to arrive with a return address that will allow me to send him letters from home to help brighten a less than completely fun, and oftentimes wholly un-fun, experience. I would love to fly out for his graduation and put my own Infantry blue cord on his dress uniform; we’ll see how that goes, getting away from the tasting room at all in December is always difficult.

One week before he left, Charlie helped me move across town in Ukiah, to a lovely townhouse that met my needs better, with a laundry room to save me trips to the laundromat, where I am allowed to cook at my outside patio on my ridiculously large grill, and can have a kitten to keep me company now that my son has moved out.

So many boxes to unpack, so much to organize, but enough done that I can take a break from unboxing and get back out and do some wine tasting. Look for a winery spotlight piece on Yorkville Cellars in the next couple of weeks, a long overdue visit there is next.

Here’s a terrifically delicious and simple recipe with wine to try: An old Navy buddy of Guinness McFadden, artisan potter Dick Lumaghi, throws his beautiful culinary pottery at the Farm, and this recipe is made using one of his Yunnan Steamer pots, available for sale in the McFadden tasting room, with similar steamer pots available in kitchen shops and online. I can attest that this steamer is awesome…..whether cooking a dish from the start or heating leftovers.

Dick Lumaghi Yunnan Steamer Pot

Dick Lumaghi Yunnan Steamer Pot

Place chicken pieces inside the Lumaghi steamer pot, add a half cup any of Mendocino County’s top awarded Sparkling Cuvee Brut wines and three slices of fresh ginger. Place two or three strips of green onion on top of the chicken. Cover, place the steamer on top of a pot of boiling water and let steam for 45 minutes.

Note: the boiling water in your pot, under the pottery steamer pot vessel, may likely need to be replenished once or twice during the steam cooking of this dish. Enjoy!



John on Wine: Myriad musings

Grape harvest throughout Mendocino County has begun, and will continue variety by variety, and appellation by appellation, through the month and possibly into October.

Last week, Sarah Reith wrote a terrific piece for this newspaper about this year’s harvest being earlier than ordinary, with grape grower Bill Pauli quoted as saying, “everything is earlier than normal…where we normally would start in the first week of September,” speaking of harvesting champagne grapes, “we’re finishing up [mid August].”

Reith also reported a 9 percent to 20 percent decrease in tonnage this year, due to low pollination. Devon Jones, executive director at the Mendocino County Farm Bureau, shared with Reith that in most years there is “a little bit of a break between white and red,” but this year, some growers “have to pick everything at once.”

My boss, Guinness McFadden, confirmed this as well, “on Thursday August 13th we picked our first grapes of the 2015 vintage, Chardonnay for a future Sparkling Brut. This is the earliest we’ve ever picked in my 45 years here. Everything seems to be ripening at once, so we’ll be pretty busy frantically trying to get each variety into fermenters at the optimum ripeness. It’s a challenge every year but this year will be even more so.”

Compact harvest seasons can lead to difficulties, as more growers are dependent on a limited seasonal harvest crew at the same time, and more trucks are showing up at wineries in a shorter time window. Smaller harvests are a bitter disappointment for growers, who make more money when they have more fruit to sell, but often lead to delight for wine consumers, as each of the fewer grapes on a vine receive more vitality and flavor than in plentiful years.

My two favorite times of the year are spring and fall. Spring, for the abundance of color, the visual delight that a vineyard presents; green vine shoots, yellow mustard between the rows, blue skies, white puffy clouds, and perhaps white or pink fruit tree blossoms nearby. Fall, for the rich scents, the aromatic delight that a winery presents; driving at midnight, windows down, breathing in the scents of freshly pressed juice during crush. I love living and working in the wine industry, acutely aware of the climate, and how weather can affect the wines that will come from each new vintage’s wine grapes.


Last week, I urged any vineyard or winery owners who were reading my column to visit MendoWine.com and then call executive director Aubrey Rawlins of Mendocino WineGrowers Inc, to join the group. My message about the value of cooperative marketing to improve the reputation of Mendocino County wines and increase the prices our growers see for their grapes was timely, but asking that folks call Aubrey was less timely.

I found out several days later that Aubrey and MWI had an amicable parting, with Aubrey pursuing opportunities in San Francisco, and MWI looking for a new executive director. Mendocino WineGrowers Inc. should have a wealth of qualified candidates apply for the position, as the best candidate chosen from many can help increase funding for the organization and meet the needs of the board and the member wineries and vineyards they represent.


If you think you have the skill set to achieve cooperation from rugged individualists, Mendocino Winegrowers Inc. wants your cover letter and resume. Visit MendoWine.com to find out more about the organization, and then send your cover letter and resume by email to info@mendowine.com soon. The larger the applicant pool, the better for the Mendocino wine industry as a whole.

This weekend is Winesong, the wine immersive charity event benefiting the Mendocino Coast Hospital Foundation. Visit Winesong.org for more info and to get last-minute tickets, if any are still available; $150 tickets for Saturday include full access to the wine and food tasting from 11-2 and live/silent auction after, commemorative Winesong tasting glass and tray, and festival seating at the live auction. $250 reserve tickets get all of the above, plus Reserve Seating under the Live Auction Tent, catered gourmet lunch, commemorative Winesong tote, and 2015 Artist of the Year note cards.


On Friday evening, I get to pour the Mendocino County Fair Best of Show White Wine, the McFadden Sparkling Brut, at a pre-event VIP reception at a residence just north of the Mendocino Village, and the next day I get to pour a larger selection of medal winners from the Mendo Wine Comp, including McFadden’s Double Gold Pinot Noir and Gold Sauvignon Blanc. There will be 100 wineries, each pouring wines they are equally proud of, which means an incredible wine tasting opportunity, and a great chance to help raise funds for a very worthy cause. I hope to see you there.

This Saturday is also the evening for Testa’s sold out Blending Party in Calpella. I’m going, and will again get to join some judges much better than me, and I hope to see you there too.




John On Wine – State of the Disunion

This piece was originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, September 3, 2015

With roughly three quarters of all the grapes grown in Mendocino County bought and used to make wine by Napa and Sonoma County wineries, why is it so hard to bring greater awareness of the quality of our wines to the greater wine drinking public?

The Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival is outstanding, and features what many consider to be the county’s most focused appellation and their best wines. In 2014, the dinner held the night before the event was well attended by wine media; this year, I found myself alone with the gathered winery owners and winemakers.

Taste of Mendocino, an event held in San Francisco to introduce restaurant and wine shop trade, distributors, and wine media to the bounty of the county, our wines and food, saw underwhelming attendance this year.

Hopland Passport attendance numbers have dipped in recent years, although the best wineries continue to increase their sales numbers from the event.

Too often, I see money wasted on marketers who promise the moon but can’t deliver the basics.

In Sonoma County, all of the wineries and vineyards belong to a single organization, are taxed and the resultant pool of money is used to increase the demand for Sonoma County wines and prices for their grapes. Two initiatives of note for the Sonoma County Vintners: conjunctive labelling and sustainable certification.

All wine produced in Sonoma County carries the name Sonoma County on the front label, with more precise geographic information allowed additionally, such as Dry Creek Valley or Murphy Ranch. County wide sustainable certification, even when it is a farcical sham, with (allegedly) cancer causing Monsanto Round Up, and even more egregiously toxic chlorpyrifos grown fruit receiving such certification, will allow greater market penetration for Sonoma County’s wines in health conscious outlets such as Whole Foods.

Lodi was once a name that winemakers would not put on a wine label, choosing California instead, as the general impression of Lodi grapes and the wines they produced was not favorable. Again, Lodi’s vineyards self-taxed and over the last twenty four years, the Lodi Winegrape Commission has done a great job, working with grape growers to improve viticulture, and wineries to make better wines. Lodi has a sustainability program that is not a sham, and worked with their growers to certify. Public relations and marketing efforts, constant and thoughtful, have led to increased grape prices and an acceptance of Lodi as a respected area for wine production.

Mendocino County once had a similar organization, the Mendocino Wine and Winegrape Commission (MWWC), but no longer. The group started poorly, with a scoundrel for a director embezzling funds from the group, and another directing business to their own company. It took a while, but eventually the group hired Megan Metz who did a good job promoting Mendocino County’s wines, but it was too little too late for the county’s vineyard owners and they voted MWWC out of existence after only five total years, and just two functional years, in operation, in a fit of myopic selfishness, over unrealized unrealistic expectations.

Megan Metz now heads up the Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrowers Association and is bringing a ton of the bay area’s consumers and trade to taste wines at the area’s wineries and events.

Lodi didn’t turn around their wine reputation or increase wine grape prices in two, or even five, years, but closer to twenty.

Our county is incredibly shortsighted and, worse, it is fractured. The Mendocino County wine scene isn’t just Hwy 128 vs. Hwy 101, but in each area there is division, with Yorkville cut off from Anderson Valley and Ukiah cut off from Hopland. Within the Anderson Valley, there is the Philo clique, and for Hopland there is the downtown crew. Meetings of each area’s local tourism group are often contentious.

Many wineries will not send wines for review or enter competitions, because of cheapness, and then complain that the county does not receive wine media coverage.

Out of the ashes of MWWC, the much smaller Mendocino Winegrowers, Inc. (MWI) was born, a voluntary dues paying collective of wineries and growers. Every winery and every vineyard should be paying members. If you own a winery or vineyard, and want to join and help increase the profile of our wines and prices for our grapes, visit MendoWine.com and then give Aubrey Rawlins a call at (707) 901-7629.


Here are some more recommendations to improve the county’s reputation for wine and prices for grapes: Anderson Valley wines, along with all other wines made in county from our grapes, should have Mendocino County included on the label. Every winery should submit all of their wines to all major publications for review, and enter all of their wines in at least four major wine competitions each year. Every winery should be involved in public relations, marketing, and communications for each event they participate in. Best practice marketing should be introduced.

Bringing people to taste and buy our wines, wines labelled Mendocino County, and creating a genuine, not sham, county wide sustainability program, will increase demand, bring media attention, and yield higher prices for our grapes.

With a more robust MWI, events like Taste of Mendocino can be brought home and marketed to consumers, with invitations going out four months in advance, with follow ups three months, two months, one month, two weeks, one week, and two days out; and the marketing materials should be provided to each participating winery or food vendor, to send out the invitations to each of their email lists. Taste of Mendocino could be, should be, as successful as Winesong, but it would take increased participation from all of our wineries.

I would love to see wine writers asking us to come taste our wines, because of the disproportionate number of awards taken by Mendocino County wines in competition and staggering number of 90+ rated wines in review, because we created must-attend events through planning and cooperative marketing following best practices, because over and over wine labels carry Mendocino County’s name, because we defended and enhanced our claim of being “America’s greenest grape growers”, because we grew up and behaved like adults for the betterment of all instead of like petulant selfish children with no thought or plan for the future.

Until we start acting responsibly, in larger numbers, in a cooperative participatory manner, Napa and Sonoma County wineries will be happy to continue to buy our grapes on the cheap, and wine writers will continue to dismiss us as the county that couldn’t get along.



John on wine – Two upcoming local wine events

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, August 27, 2015

John Cesano holding down the McFadden tasting table at Winesong! 2014. Photo by Linda Compisi

On Saturday, Sept. 12, two of my favorite Mendocino County wine events are being held. One may be the county’s largest wine event for the year, the other is smaller but more dear to me. First, let’s start with my favorite: Testa Vineyards is having their 5th annual Blending Party from 6 to 11 p.m., and it is at Testa Ranch in Calpella, right here near Ukiah. Before making a Coro red blend, Maria Testa Martinson and husband Rusty Martinson had their Black wine, a blend of wines made from the different red grape varieties grown on Testa Vineyards.

The wine changes each year as different wines and percentages find their way into the mix and become the finished wine. I attended the first Testa barn blend party and sat with local industry luminary Kelly Lentz, and although we each had different ideas about what blend would yield the best wine, we came to find that it was nearly impossible to blend a bad wine from Testa’s juice. Last year, Maria announced that Testa’s sixth Black blend would rely heavily on the blend put together by the wine blend judged best at the 4th annual Testa Blending Party. I was honored to be one of three judges and, together with my fellow judges, we reconfirmed that there are many paths to a delicious Testa blend as we tasted through 25 different wines created by folks sitting at 25 different tables. This year, from 6 to 7 p.m., guests will enjoy appetizers and try to unleash their inner winemaker, blending Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignane, Zinfandel, and Petite Sirah into a possible winning blend.

From 7 to 8 p.m., it is scrumptious dinner time, with catering champs Bella Ciba returning. During dinner, the judges will pick this year’s Blending Party wine winner. Don Willis returns with his accordion to play early in the evening.

A hint to blend a winning wine: last year, the judges tasted each of the four blending wines and independently found we agreed upon our favorite, and unsurprisingly the winning blend was the one relying most heavily on that favored variety.

After dinner, from 8 to 10 p.m., DJ Bob will have the party guests up and dancing. Of course, this being Mendocino County, and a wine event, times may be flexible a bit, so show up on time, and roll with the flow.

The food is great, the blending is fun, the wine is terrific, the music is fantastic, and the Testa Family — Maria and Rusty, their kids, their aunts and uncles — they are all just the nicest people. Tickets are $80, Testa wine club members get a 25 percent discount, and with limited seating you’ll want to get your tickets early; tickets are nearly sold out. Visit TestaRanch.com/order, or call Maria at (707) 391-7273 to get your tickets now.

The second Sept. 12 wine event is Winesong, a charity auction and wine tasting, enjoying its 31st year, held at the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens located in Fort Bragg. More than 100 wineries will pour tastes, over 50 food purveyors will offer bites, and nine different musical groups will perform and entertain from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. during the Winesong wine and food tasting.

A charity auction runs from 2 to 5 p.m., with a special gourmet lunch additionally available. “The centerpiece of Winesong weekend is our Charity Auction, featuring both a silent and live auction.  Excitement builds in the Auction Tents with lively bidding for over 200 lots, featuring spectacular wines from the world’s most prestigious wine producers, rare vintages, large format bottles plus special vertical and horizontal collections.

Other auction highlights include original art from acclaimed California artists, vacations packages and highly coveted international wine getaway packages to Tuscany, South Africa, France, Spain, South America the Caribbean, and other enchanting parts of the world.  Rounding off the travel offerings are one and two night getaway trips to the West’s most romantic inns, resorts, and spas.  Coupled with the Wine & Food Tasting, the day can’t be beat…” is how the event website describes the most exciting part of the day’s events.

Winesong is presented by the Mendocino Coast Hospital Foundation with proceeds benefiting the Mendocino Coast District Hospital.

Tickets are $150 for the entire day, wine and food tasting, silent auction, and live auction, or $250 for reserve seating and a three course meal prepared by a celebrity chef to enjoy during the auction. To purchase tickets, or for more information, visit Winesong.org.

That’s it, two great events, just over two weeks away. Pick one, or the other, or — like me — both and I’ll see you on Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015.


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