If there is any question about how much I love doing what I do, inside my tasting room or outside, pouring my wines or any of the county’s best wines, this picture captured by Aubrey Rawlins of Mendoicino Winegrowers Inc should answer that question amply. I love pouring wines for folks.

John Cesano pours wine at an event focused on Mendocino County's organic, biodynamic grown wine grapes and the wines made from those grapes. (Photo by Aubrey Rawlins)

Here’s the column that was born at this incredibly fun wine press event, enjoy:

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John On Wine – Mendocino County’s Green Wine Growers

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal on Thursday, September 25, 2014

On a sunny Tuesday not long ago, I had the opportunity to pour wines at Danny Fetzer’s Jeriko Estate dirty dog river bar over an alfresco taco bar lunch for a group of influential wine writers and buyers in place of my boss, Guinness McFadden, who was at McFadden Farm for his 24th consecutive annual certification inspection as an organic grower of wine grapes, herbs, and beef.

His absence was understandable to all assembled, as the event was focused on Mendocino County’s organic and biodynamic grown wine grapes and the wines made from those grapes; all of the winery owners present had been through similar inspections.

Upfront, I want to thank Mendocino Winegrowers, Inc, our membership based wine and grape marketing group, for putting on a three day series of tastings; and I want to thank the attendees: Wine Enthusiast Magazine’s Jim Gordon, San Francisco Chronicle Carey Sweet, CIA Greystone’s Robert Bath, Huffington Post’s Mary Orlin, Ferry Plaza Wine Bar’s Peter Granoff, BevMo’s Jim Lombardo, 7×7 Magazine’s Courtney Humiston, Wine Business Monthly’s Mary Collen Tinney, Gary Danko’s Andrew Browne, and Writing Between the Vines’ Marcy Gordon (who once hosted me at her home for a tasting of Virginia’s best wines).

I also have to thank Ann Krohn of Frey Organic Wine; Ann either asked me a question or offered a kind comment that inspired me to launch into a monologue on what, to me, makes the Mendocino County wine scene special. When finished, I knew I had delivered a wine column.

In a previous job, I visited hundreds of winery tasting rooms in 42 California counties and saw the good and bad, but too rarely did I see the great. Too often, winery tasting room personnel would silently evaluate the worth of a visitor, judging based on the car you drove up in or the color of your credit card, and try to extract your money in the least amount of time while pouring the fewest number of wines.

I love being in a place that celebrates complimentary pouring, I tell folks they are at a tasting, not a bar, and explain what the dump bucket is used for, and give visitors an experience, an hour long tasting of 12 or more wines, with a story for each wine, and when finished I hope our guests feel a connection to the farm our grapes come from.

I would love to believe that I am the best tasting room manager on the planet, but the love that I feel for the grapes and wines that come from my farm is echoed in the presentations by my counterparts at winery tasting room after winery tasting room throughout Mendocino County.

Fully 75% of the wine grapes grown in Mendocino County end up bought and made into wines by wineries in Napa and Sonoma Counties. Mendocino is a farm county. Our county is also home to the greatest concentration of certified organic and biodynamic wine grape growers, which is important to consumers who wish to avoid Monsanto Round Up grown wines (often misleadingly labeled “sustainable”).

Being a farm county with an emphasis on green growing practices, the wines are more closely tied to the land, and a land that has been farmed proudly.

Tasting room managers feel that pride, and we share a similar passion as we share remarkably similar stories with our guests.

Personally, I get to see the vintage play out on Guinness’ face, good or tough. Everything is tied to the land, the farm. I am pouring a direct extension of that farm. These are not wines made from bought grapes; the connection between grapes and wine is far more visceral for me and, after a shared wine experience, I hope the folks who taste with me feel a sense of that connection as well.

At the river bar lunch, I poured the 2014 California State Fair Best of Show Sparkling Wine for the day’s tasters, and a Pinot Gris that attendee Jim Gordon had rated 90 points and designated an Editors’ Choice wine, before inviting them all to stop by and taste all the other wines at the tasting room another attendee, Carey Sweet, had rated the highest in over five years of tasting reviews in the San Francisco Chronicle.

I am not shy, and made use of the opportunity I had, but I could have just as easily been pouring the wines for any of the other wineries present that day, and my message would have been just as passionate, just as compelling. The other wines made from organic grapes, biodynamic grapes, poured were from some of the county’s most iconic growers and wineries: Barra of Mendocino, Frey Vineyards, Handley Cellars, and the day’s host Jeriko Estate.

I’m not knocking wines made with Round Up, although Googling “Round Up Health Risks” might leave you conventional wine averse, or turning to wines labeled organic, made with organically grown grapes, or biodynamic, and I would completely understand. The folks at the river bar on that sunny Tuesday enjoyed delicious wines, and every single person from a winery was as proud of those wines as you can be. The wines were made by wineries that care about the land, and so that care is translated to the wine. I believe this is at the core of what makes Mendocino County wines special.

For more on the subject of genuinely green wines, I recommend Pam Strayer’s wine blog, Organic Wines Uncorked, at www.winecountrygeographic.blogspot.com

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John On Wine – Events, past and present

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, September 18, 2014

Winesong was fun. If you aren’t familiar with Mendocino County’s largest wine event, Winesong is a three hour wine tasting followed by a spectacular auction and lunch, held at the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens as a benefit fundraiser for the Mendocino Coast Hospital Foundation.

These were the wines I poured during the tasting, we also donated wines for the lunch

These were the wines I poured during the tasting, we also donated wines for the lunch

With 1,800 guests tasting wines from over 125 producers and food samples from over 45 top purveyors from 11:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m., the mood was quite happy when the live auction began at 2:00 p.m., and the bidding was breathtaking.

I called Michael Coats, who handled PR for the event. He sent this note in return: “Bidders at the sold-out live auction helped raise significant funds, with a projected gross of over $650,000 coming in from the two-day event.  After covering production expenses, the Winesong net return will be used to assist the Mendocino Coast Hospital purchase needed equipment.  The highlight of the auction was the “Fund-A-Need” lot which brought in $174,000 in a matter of minutes, with nearly every paddle raised to donate a record amount toward the purchase of new and much needed Cardiology equipment!”

Congratulations to everyone involved, especially all of the volunteers, who made this event a spectacular success.

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If you were not at this year’s annual Testa Blending Party, you missed a great time. Maria Testa Martinson is a wonderful hostess, and her husband Rusty is as good as it gets around a barbecue grill. The wine is famously good, and the food, catered by Bella Ciba, paired perfectly. McKenna Faith is a gem, Ukiah raised a genuine star, and with her band she served up a healthy dose of great music.

There were 25 tables full of happy party guests, and each table created their own blend using Testa’s 2013 vintage reds: Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, and Carignane. I sat with judges John Buechsenstein, John Dickerson, and Heidi Cusick Dickerson. Heidi wrote this column before I did, and will be returning to the UDJ (hurray!) to write a new column about Leadership Mendocino.

This was a table filled with talent; I sat there too

This was a table filled with talent; I sat there too

I tasted through the 25 blends with John B. and John D., and we each picked our top seven. Next we found that there were five wines that two or more of us had in common on our top seven lists. Heidi joined us as we retasted those five, we each ordered them from top to bottom, and averaged our results.

My top five order was coincidentally the same order that averaging our judge rankings yielded, which may suggest that I have a spectacularly average palate. Seriously, we agreed on almost all the best, except one notable exception, where a wine I gave a “yes” to was a wine that received a “Hell no” from John B., who had the best palate in Calpella that night.

The 2013 Testa Black SIX, inspired by the night’s winning blend, is going to be delicious. You will also want to make a note to grab up some 2013 Testa Carignane when it is released; light, bursting with strawberry, cherry, and raspberry, all four judges loved it as a base wine, unblended.
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I visited Campovida in Hopland, while owners Gary Breen and Anna Beuselinck were celebrating their 11th anniversary together, and I wandered their property.

The grounds of Campovida, site the old Fetzer Valley Oaks Hospitality Center, were immaculate. I keep forgetting to pick up my prize from a “where is our winemaker Sebastian in this picture” contest win, but I was rewarded with a lovely and calming walk through the restored gardens, around the renovated buildings, and by the remarkably pristine lawns beside the beckoning bocce courts. Of particular visual interest were the teepees set up in an open field behind the winery area, as they made me think of earlier inhabitants of the property.

DO Lecture Teepees

DO Lecture Teepees

Campovida will be hosting The DO Lectures in Hopland again, beginning today, September 18, 2014, and running through September 21, 2014; the property is shining in readiness.

Ross Beese, producer of this year’s Do Lecture USA wrote to me and shared more about the event, “The DO Lectures is a four day intimate experience filled with inspirational talks, hands on workshops and long conversations over shared farm fresh meals.  We keep the experience to an intimate 100 folks with only 15 speakers/50 attendees and the rest are volunteers.

It is a volunteer run organization founded in the UK, with events now in the USA and Australia. It has been named one of the top 10 idea conferences in the world by the Financial Times and by Brain Pickings.  So for now we are gathering an incredible group of speakers, athletes, musicians, artists, cowboys, entrepreneurs, poets…in general DOers.

There are some fascinating people speaking and attending this year – from the Award winning local chef John Ash to the Hollywood Screenplay Writer and Director Peter Farrelly (dumb and dumber, There’s Something About Mary) to Tom De Blasis (Design Innovation Director – Nike Foundation) Maria Popova (@brainpickings) and Zach Klein (co-founder of Vimeo, now founder of DIY) plus 12 other inspiring speakers and 40 amazing attendees that could be speakers.”

I wish the Doers a great time when visiting Mendocino County this week. A reminder for the lecturers, In Vino Veritas, and a wish, may all your conversations here in wine country ring with truth.

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John On Wine – Spotlight Winery: Parducci

Originally posted in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on September 11, 2014

I was invited to taste with winemaker Bob Swain at Parducci in March 2010 after writing glowingly about a Parducci True Grit Petite Sirah that I tasted at a Petite Sirah festival in Alameda the month before.

I wrote up my visit with Bob, with tasting notes, for what would be my first Mendocino County wine piece. I have visited and tasted Parducci wines regularly in the intervening four and a half years between then and now, but recently I returned with notebook and camera to taste for a new piece, as my writing in 2010 wasn’t for the local paper yet.

Parducci wines are made by winemakers Bob Swain and Mark Beamon. I got to see Bob again, when I visited this time. He was at work on a weekend, for “the earliest year of [grape] picking in 17 years.”

Tricia Griffin and Bob Swain

Tricia Griffin and Bob Swain

Tricia Griffin, who has been with Parducci for 15 years, poured wines for me. Angelica Jessica Morris was also in the tasting room pouring for a growing number of tasters. As I tasted, there were visitors who bought some simple picnic provisions and a glass of wine to enjoy, picnic style, outdoors, while others were either picking up wine club orders or joining a wine club. Both gals are terrifically talented.

Tricia Griffin and Angelica Jessica Morris

Tricia Griffin and Angelica Jessica Morris

Tasters are invited to taste any four wines for a nominal $5 tasting fee, which is waived with wine club membership or bottle purchase. Picnic friendly glasses are available for purchase at $3 for a small lot blend wine or $5 for a reserve wine.
Here were my tastes:

2013 Small Lot Blend Parducci Sauvignon Blanc, Mendocino County, $13, 13.5% – Pear and apple, lemon, melon, cream. 3 ½% Viognier give this wine a kiss of interesting.

2013 Small Lot Blend Parducci Pinot Gris, Mendocino County, $14, 1.5% – A subdued wine, lighter, not bursting, but inviting. Pear and tropical fruit.

2013 Small Lot Blend Parducci Chardonnay, Mendocino County, $13, 13.5% – Lovely nose, light oak, cream, vanilla, ripe green apple, pear.

2013 Small Lot Blend Parducci Rose, Mendocino County, $14, 13.5% – This dry rose of Syrah is showing delightful crushed strawberry over ice and peach notes.

2012 Small Lot Blend Parducci Pinot Noir, Mendocino County, $14, 13.5% – Dark dry cherry, chocolate, strawberry, raspberry, fabulous funk mushroom, loam and earth.

2011 Small Lot Blend Parducci Merlot, Mendocino County, $13, 13.5% – Lighter, plum, dark cherry.

2012 Small Lot Blend Parducci Zinfandel, Mendocino County, $13, 14.5% – Lighter style, food friendly, drinkable. Chocolate covered cherry with black pepper and dried herb.

2011 Small Lot Blend Parducci Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendocino County, $14, 13.5% – Dark earthy cocoa, blackberry, cassis. Lovely. This vintage got knocked by many writers, especially for Cabernet, but I ended up buying this wine. I really thought it was elegant and would do well with other dishes in a meal.

2010 Small Lot Blend Parducci Petite Sirah, Mendocino County, $14, 13.5% – This is Parducci’s flagship wine variety. Peppery, plummy blackberry, meaty, cocoa.

Double Gold Medal

Best of Class

2010 Reserve Parducci Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, $33, 13% – Super supple, drinkable, funky. Dry candied cherry and berry.

2010 Reserve Parducci Grenache, Estate, $27, 14.8% – Strawberry jam. Soft and supple. Sexy wine.

2007 Reserve Parducci Syrah, Mendocino County, $35, 14.5% – This is a library wine. Rich, smooth, a beautifully balanced wine from a wonderful vintage that is drinking great. Meaty cherry, violet, oak, and vanilla.

2010 Reserve Parducci Cabernet Franc, Estate, $32, 13.5% – Just 13 barrels produced. Soft, woody, remarkably soft tannin. Spiced red berry.

2009 Parducci Coro, Mendocino County, $38, 14.5% – 45% Zinfandel, 30% Syrah, 20% Petite Sirah, 5% Grenache. Soft. Bright cherry, raspberry, and plum.

2007 Parducci Coro, Mendocino County, $38, 14.5% – 47% Zinfandel, 45% Syrah, 8% Petite Sirah. Pungent whiff of prune, blackberry, black licorice.

2010 True Grit Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, $30, 13.5% – Gorgeously rich, lush and lovely, supple blackberry and dusty currant.

2011 True Grit Reserve Petite Sirah, $29, 14.5% – Black pepper spice, violet, blackberry. Big.

I might have gone past the standard four wines, but I did use the dump bucket. I also thought that ending my tasting with the first wine that brought Parducci and me together was fitting. I did not taste a Brut, Port, or Muscat that were available.

Nicely displayed shopping opportunities

Nicely displayed shopping opportunities

Parducci is pretty, the tasting room is well appointed with many smartly displayed shopping options available, and the property beckons for a walk or tour. Special events are held throughout the year, but the Acoustic Café summer concert series is a standout music event that brings people flocking to Parducci.

Parducci Cellars is located at 501 Parducci Road, Ukiah, CA 95401, and the tasting room is open daily from 10-5. For more information, visit http://www.parducci.com.

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John On Wine – Spotlight Winery: Simaine Cellars

Note: This is an expanded version of the column that ran on September 4, 2014 in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper.

John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

Picture a winery, set amidst endless acres of rolling grapevine rows, more a castle than an ordinary structure, covered in ivy, with European supercars parked in front, fountains spraying water with misted droplets creating rainbows, trees carefully carved into topiary wine bottle shapes, a helicopter tied down beside the castle, and a sign welcoming visitors inside to enjoy a wine tasting for a nominal $20 tasting fee per guest. Haughty hosts judging your worth with practiced eye, pouring perfect half ounce pours with practiced hand. The wines, too often ultimately disappointing, unsurprisingly each an extension of style over substance. Not for me, thanks.

Simaine Cellars Wine Tasting & Gift Shop is gloriously the opposite of that; located at 3001 South State Street in the Redwood Square industrial park on the south end of Ukiah, one property north of the Redwood Health Club, in the rear row of businesses, where the Simaine signage at units 41 and 42 let you know you’ve arrived at the right place.

Simaine Cellars Doorway

Stepping through the door, you enter the gift shop, filled with colorful, handmade jewelry. Both Victor Simon, owner and winemaker, and Max, the winery dog, greeted me, and we walked through the gift shop and into the winery.

Simaine Cellars is all about function, and is a local example of a growing movement where wineries locate in urban industrial parks rather than in rural vineyard settings. Victor buys his grapes, then crushes, ferments, barrel ages, bottles his wine, pours it at tastings, and sells it, all from an intimate ‘no frills’ environment. The focus is squarely on the wines and with reduced overhead, they are made more affordable.

The large one room winery has barrels stacked high, wide and deep along one wall, a tasting bar on another wall, and cases of wine for tasting and sale on a third wall. The fourth wall is where a roll up door allows grapes to be delivered at harvest time. In the center, a table or two are available to sit, and if your timing is good, Victor will share a homemade lunch with you as you wine taste.

A Simple Bar

While you can find Simaine in shops and restaurants in Mendocino County, “the best wine sales happen in tasting rooms. Stores allow bigger sales, but tasting wines is always better, that’s why I do my special events” shared Victor. Once a month, Victor hosts a dinner concert in his winery, with a local restaurant providing the food. On September 13, Paula Samonte will sing before traveling to Rome, Italy to perform. Paula’s concert is called “Leaving Notes” which she literally does as a singer.

Victor generously poured through all of his wines. I believe all of the wines I tasted were made from grapes that came from Venturi Vineyard.

Tasting Simaine Cellars' Wines

2012 Simaine Sauvignon Blanc, Venturi Vineyard, $18, 14.6% alc. – Served pretty cold. White peach, pear, apple, vanilla instead of oaky, nice acid.

2010 Simaine Sangiovese, Venturi Vineyard, $25, 15.0% alc. – Dark color. Plum, coffee, dark rich cherry, chocolate. Lush, anise herb, all spice. The tart cherry on a cheesecake or jubilee dessert.

2010 Simaine Zinfandel, Venturi Vineyard, $25, 16.3% alc. – Dusty cocoa, Lush fruit, fruit, fruit. These wines are the exact opposite of light wines, but no high alcohol flavor. Balanced ripeness. Cherry. jammy berry, pepper spice.

2010 Simaine Syrah, Venturi Vineyard, $25, 15.7% alc. – Coffee and cherry and raspberry and bright cherry fruit meet purple dark plum and cassis fruit.

2010 Simaine Primitivo, Venturi Vineyard, $150, 16.4% alc. – Available only to wine club members and in the tasting room. Deep dark cherry, berry. Remarkably smooth. I loved this wine; sadly it is nearly sold out.

2010 Simaine Carignane, Venturi Vineyard, $40, 15.6% alc. – 105 year old vines, dedicated to grower Larry Venturi’s mom: Elvie’s Block on the label. Victor told me, “low yield, not too many tons per acre, gives so much character for the wines,” and I agree. Cherry, rose, and vanilla played really well against the notes of Victor’s salsa at lunch. Light, but full of flavor.

2010 Simaine Merlot, Venturi Vineyard, $40, 15.1% alc. – Soft mouth, dusty spice, blackberry, cherry, rhubarb. A touch of mint. The finish is long and lingering. Good acid, food friendly

2010 Simaine Petite Sirah, Venturi Vineyard, $40, 15.1% alc. – Nicely not overpowering. Smooth, soft tannins. Rich on palate. Tannins this soft on a wine this rich is remarkable. “All my wines are free run juice, so full body but smooth,” was Victor’s explanation. Dense blackberry, anise, pepper.

Victor Simon of Somaine Cellars

There was cherry accented or cherry leading the way notes in practically every red wine. They were all big wines, but smooth. They all were delicious, but would be made more so with food. I really liked the wines, and the overall style shown by Victor Simon at Simaine Cellars.

Simaine wines are made from fry farmed and organically grown grapes, using only free run juice, the juice that comes simply from the weight of grapes on top of grapes, and not pressed grapes for additional juice. Victor returns the skins to the vineyard they came from to be used as compost. Simaine wines are French oak aged and made from one varietal, not blended; and each wine is from one vineyard, which receives vineyard designation on the finished wine bottle.

Victor works at the winery every day, and to make that tolerable, enjoyable even, he makes himself lunch every day, and makes enough so he can share with you, if you are there at the time. If you miss lunch, there is always homemade fresh salsa and chips available because, as Victor explained, “I make salsa and beans every day, my wines are full body and go really well with spice.”

I enjoyed Tillamook peppercorn and crushed red pepper cheddar cheese quesadillas; fresh beans made with whole beans, red onion, jalapeno; and salsa made with Roma tomatoes, red onions, garlic, jalapenos, and cilantro – all made fresh by Victor.

Lunch with Wine Tasting at Simaine

Over and over again, one wine after the next, without exception, I found Victor’s Simaine wines to be rich, deeply flavored, but smooth and incredibly well integrated. These were wines of weight but remarkably soft tannin. Each wine delivered on the promise made in the smelling of it; the nose leads seamlessly to the mouth, and on to the finish. They also paired spectacularly with food.

Visit Simaine Cellars to taste and talk with Victor, or peruse www.Simaine.com for more information.

Victor and Max
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I had a visit at work from a reader, not to taste wine, but to tell me that she reads my column each week and, even though she isn’t really much of a wine drinker, I write so everyone can understand what I am writing about and she likes the column. I wanted you to know I appreciate your kindness and was humbled that you sought me out to share it. Thank you, and thank all of you, my readers.

I love the Testa Barn Blend Party, folks always procrastinate and try to get tickets last minute. There will be folks who will be too late this year. Get your ticket now, you won’t hear “I’m sorry, we’re sold out,” and I’ll see you there this Saturday, September 6, 2014.

Here’s a note from Maria, taken from her Testa September newsletter:


UPCOMING EVENTS

4th Annual Blending Party

“A True Blending of Wine and People”

Saturday, September 6, 2014

6-7pm – Wine Blending and Appetisers -We will be working on our Black Sei – our Sixth Bottling of our Black! Our Judges to determine our Blend Winner are John Buechenstein , John Cesano and John Dickerson and Heidi Cusick Dickerson.

7-8pm – Family Style Dinner – Bella Cibo Catering and BBQ by Rusty and Joey!

8 -10pm  Get your boots on & lets dance!  Music by Mckenna Faith!

Reserve your tickets now. Testa Wines Members receive a 25% discount

Pre-Sale tickets only – (not available at door)

***  I hope you have reserved your tickets/tables We have 3 tables/24 tickets available if you have not yet done so… call 707-391-7273  or email maria@testaranch.com  quick!

 

-Maria Testa Martinson

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John On Wine – A New Zin Tradition

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal on Thursday, August 28, 2014

John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

On a sunny Saturday in August, I spent some time in Sonoma County’s Dry Creek Valley at the ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates & Producers) Simply Summer Celebration, an inaugural event billed as “a new Zin tradition.”

A large white tent was set up in the center of Ridge Vineyards’ Lytton West Vineyard and over 125 Zinfandels were poured by the 50 wineries set up underneath the canopy, with Petaluma’s Pizza Politana set up just outside the tent and serving wood-fired artisan pizzas and a mixed green salad for the over 400 assembled wine lovers that day.

I love Zinfandel, but it can be a pretty big varietal, often tending toward high alcohol and massive dense fruit jam bomb flavors. On a hot day, outside, with plenty of sun, surrounded by other tasters, I was pleased to be writing for the Ukiah Daily Journal, as I could focus on the few wines made from Mendocino grapes and sensibly limit my tastes.

First up, I tasted the wine that won the John Parducci Best of Show Red Wine award at the recent 2014 Mendocino County Fair Wine Competition, the 2012 Artezin Wines Zinfandel, Mendocino, $17. Pouring it was winemaker Randle Johnson.

Artezin is a Napa winery, part of The Hess Collection, and the grapes for this top medal winning Zinfandel come from all over inland Mendo, including from Laviletta Vineyard on Mill Creek Road in Talmage, Seebass Family Vineyard and Paul Dolan’s Dark Horse Ranch on Old River Road near Talmage, Brown Vineyard in Redwood Valley, and Eddie Graziano’s Rovera Ranch near Calpella, among several others.

The wine was lush, showing clear berry, cherry, spice and herb notes up front, leading to red and purple fruit, including pluots. There is a lot happening in this wine, well integrated, marked by balance and finesse. 14.5% alcohol but doesn’t drink hot, feels like 13.9%.

Randle asked about the Mendocino Wine Competition, and if his award meant that the judges chose it above the best Cabernet Sauvignon, best Syrah, best Petite Sirah, best Carignane, over the best of all of Mendocino County’s red wine varieties, and not just above all of Mendocino County’s Zinfandels – which would be an impressive feat by itself. I told Randle that, yes, his Zinfandel was chosen best of all red wines entered into competition. Randle responded, “this award means more to me than a 95 in Wine Spectator.”

Josh Wagner, an employee at one of Kendall Jackson’s other wine concerns, poured three wines for Edmeades of Philo, between Boonville and Navarro, in Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley. I tasted a 2012 Edmeades Zinfandel, Mendocino, $21, a blend of Zin, Petite Sirah, and Syrah, a decent weight wine at 14.7% alc but a little soft in the mouth, without discernable oomph. Next, Josh poured the 2012 Edmeades Zinfandel, Perli Vineyard, $31, a Zin, Merlot & Syrah blend, that tasted like a walk through the black pepper forest, with oak, anise, and plummy meaty raspberry. Finally, I tasted the 100% Zinfandel offering from Edmeades, a 2011 Shamrock Vineyard, with fruit taken at 2,800 feet in elevation. Lighter mouth feel than the Perli, but not dismissible at all. Plenty of flavors, and a wine that begs to be paired with food, where herbs and fruit would pop.

Carol Shelton poured her eponymous wines, and I tasted her 2012 Carol Shelton Wines Wild Thing Old Vines Zinfandel, Mendocino, $19. Carol’s Zinfandel showed brambly bright raspberry and darker blackberry, with herb and black pepper. I worked with Carol from 1993 to 2001, and have an affinity for her wines. Not too big at 14.5%, but certainly not too light. This would be a Goldilocks’ choice wine. 83% Zinfandel , 15% Carignane , and 2% Petite Sirah; the 92% of grapes coming from Mendocino County are from the Cox Vineyard, just north of Ukiah.

Not Mendocino County, but close, I tasted a wine from Chacewater Wine from over in neighboring Lake County’s Kelseyville. The 2012 Chacewater Zin, Sierra Foothills, $20, ran 14.5% alc and had dusty rhubarb, cherry, and oak notes throughout.

Bonus non-Mendo Zinfandel tastes: I tasted the 2012 Barefoot Cellars Zinfandel, Lodi, $7, because winemaker Jennifer Wall had done such a good job with social media marketing, inviting those who ZAP indicated would be attending to come and taste her wines. The Barefoot Zinfandel had smoky, woody, darker color and flavors without being heavy, with a dominant dark strawberry jam note.

Beltane Ranch winemaker Kevin Holt poured their inaugural 2012 Beltane Ranch Estate Zin, $44. I visited Beltane Ranch in the Sonoma Valley’s Glen Ellen with my friend Serena Alexi earlier this year. A blend of Zin, Alicante Bouschet, Carignane and Petite Sirah, the wine drank young, with intense flavors of black raspberry jam, herb, and oak supporting the fruit in this 15.5% Alc wine.

I tasted the 2012 Ridge Lytton Springs, as a good guest should always taste the host’s wine. At just 70% Zinfandel with 21% Petite Sirah, 6% Carignane, and 3% Mourvedre, this wine is technically not a Zinfandel, although it is sufficiently Zinny to me and, if grown and made one county north, could be called a Coro. 14.4% in alc and loaded with flavor, plenty of brambly ripe berry and a little firm. This is a wine that can lie down and improve with cellaring.

I recognized plenty of other wine writers, and saw that some of my favorite other Zinfandel producers were pouring, but as the attendance grew to over 400, counting winemakers, I decided to call it a day, and headed home to relax in an air conditioned room. That night, I baked spicy chicken wings and paired them with the 2012 Artezin Zinfandel, the Mendo Best of Show red, and that pairing may have best defined a simply summer celebration and new Zin tradition, as it was perfect.

Here’s a link to the Zin friendly baked chicken wing recipe.

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John On Wine – 4th annual Testa Blending Party and Winesong

Two great wine events on one day

John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

 

I’m giving you a touch over two weeks notice, so I hope to see many of you, because on Saturday, Sept. 6 there are two of my favorite Mendocino County wine events.

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 4th annual Blending Party from 6 to 10 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 fifth Black blend would rely heavily on the blend put together by the wine blend judged best at the 3rd 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, Charbono, 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.

I know I like wines that are well integrated, where nose leads to mouth and on to finish seamlessly, with a food-friendly touch of acid to balance an abundance of cleanly discernible fruit notes. Of course, this year’s other judges may prefer high-alcohol fruit-jam-bombs that obliterate food flavors, so finding a way to make a blend to please all palates might be a better road to victory than trying to please mine alone.

After dinner, from 8 to 10 p.m., there will be dancing as McKenna Faith and her band perform. McKenna is a Nashville recording artist, a genuine star, from right here in Ukiah, and incredibly talented. I’m an old Deadhead, not really a Country Western kind of guy, but enjoyed every moment McKenna played last year; quality transcends genre. 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 $70, Testa wine club members get a 25 percent discount, and with limited seating you’ll want to get your tickets early; this event sells out and no tickets are available at the door.

Visit TestaRanch.com/order, or call Maria at (707) 391-7273 to get your tickets now.

The second Sept. 6 wine event is Winesong, a charity auction and wine tasting, enjoying its 30th year, and is 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 benefitting 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. 6, 2014.

NOTE: This poster did not run in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper version of my wine column today, but I added it here for my online archived copy:

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