This weekend as I write this and last weekend as you read this, The Press Democrat will host/hosted a trade and public tasting at The Barlow in Sebastopol, California featuring the highest scoring Gold Medal winners from this year’s wine challenge. Mendocino County’s winners were:

2012 Handley Cellars Pinot Noir Mendocino County — 98 Points and Best of Mendocino County

2013 Artezin Zinfandel Mendocino County — 97 Points

2013 Campovida Campo di Rossa Mendocino County — 96 Points

2013 Frey Biodynamic Merlot Redwood Valley — 96 Points

2013 Campovida Arneis Mendocino County — 94 Points

2013 Husch Pinot Noir Anderson Valley — 93 Points

2012 La Follette Chardonnay Mendocino Ridge — 93 Points

2013 Masut Pinot Noir Mendocino County — 93 Points

2014 Navarro Vineyards Pinot Blanc Mendocino County — 93 Points

2013 Navarro Vineyards Pinot Noir Anderson Valley — 93 Points

2012 MacPhail Family Wines Toulouse Vineyard Pinot Noir Anderson Valley — 92 Points

2014 Navarro Vineyards Riesling Deep End Blend Anderson Valley — 92 Points

2013 Paul Dolan Vineyards Pinot Noir Potter Valley — 92 Points

2012 Handley Cellars Pinot Noir RSM Vineyard Anderson Valley — 91 Points

2014 Handley Cellars Pinot Gris Anderson Valley — 91 Points

2014 Handley Cellars Rose of Pinot Noir Anderson Valley — 91 Points

2012 Truscott Zinfandel Mendocino County — 91 Points

2012 Handley Cellars Pinot Noir reserve Anderson Valley — 90 Points

After attending the tasting for John On Wine and The Ukiah Daily Journal, with an intent to taste and write notes on each poured Mendocino County grown wine, next week’s column will be a review of these Gold Medal winners. Congratulations to each vineyard and winery involved. __________

Each year for the last 13 years, Lake County’s amateur wine makers and home brewers have gathered in June to offer the public tastes of their best efforts in the Home Wine and Beer Festival, and they’ll do it again this year on Saturday, June 27.  Along with the amateurs, many of Lake County’s leading commercial wineries and brewers will also sample their products, giving visitors the chance to taste and test some of the best beverages Lake County has to offer, all in one place at one time.

The event takes place from 1 to 5 p.m. at Lakeport’s Library Park, and also includes dozens of vendors offering arts, crafts, agricultural products and food.

The event is sponsored by the nonprofit Lake County Symphony Association as a fundraiser, and all proceeds go to support the group’s music activities, including the acclaimed Lake County Symphony and Youth Orchestras, as well as music teaching and scholarship programs.

Admission to The Winefest — the new and shorter name going forward — is $20 per person. Advance tickets are $20 at Cache Creek Winery Tasting Room, Don Angel Winery Tasting Room, EJ Video, Lake County and available at Wine Studio, Lakeport Chamber of Commerce at Vista Point, Lower Lake Coffee Company, Middletown Florist, Laujor Winery Tasting Room, Rosa d”Oro Winery Tasting Room, Steele Winery Tasting Room, Thornhill Tasting Room, Watershed Books, and Wildhurst Winery Tasting Room. Tickets will also be available at the event for $25. Each ticket includes a commemorative wine glass.

Most of the amateurs will have entered their wines and beers in advance for professional judging — I can disclose that I’m a judge this year — and results will be announced during the Festival.  In addition ticket holders will get the chance to vote for their favorites in the popular People’s Choice awards.

Since The Winefest is sponsored by a music organization, there will be music throughout the Festival provided by the David Neft Duo, as well as a performance by the Konocti Fiddle Club, and noted classical guitarist Travis Rinker. Winefest goers will also enjoy a major raffle and Silent Auction, produced by volunteers from the Symphony Association.

Children and leashed pets are welcome, although tastings are of course restricted to those 21 years and older.

Wine Submissions will need to be delivered the day of the event. A 750-milliliter bottle of each varietal to be judged must be delivered to the drop-off location at the tasting room of Bell Hill Vineyards at 125 Park St., across from Library Park and next to Biggs 155 restaurant. Please deliver your entries between 8:30 and 9:30 a.m. the day of the event. Visit HomeWinemakersFestival.com to download an entry form to bring with your submission.

Visit the same website to download a booth application if you would like to be a vendor at the event, and mail your completed application to Home Winemakers Festival at CLPA, P.O. Box 974, Lakeport, CA 95453.

For more information about Lake County’s The Winefest 2015, contact Ed Bublitz at edandcharb1@att.net.

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John On Wine – Recap of a great three day wine weekend

Last week, I mentioned that I was attending some wine events and promised a recap of tastes of the eighteen gold medal winning wines made using Mendocino County grapes that were at the Barlow on Sunday in Sebastopol for the 2015 Press Democrat North Coast Wine Challenge grand tasting.

Upon arriving, I was instantly reminded of Prussian Field Marshall Helmuth von Moltke the Elder’s quote, “no plan of operations extends with any certainty beyond the first contact with the main hostile force,” which could be paraphrased and shortened, “no plan survives first contact.”

At check in, my badge could not be found, but I was saved by fellow writer and wine ambassador Thea Dwelle who recognized me and secured two wristbands for me and my tasting companion, Susan Johnson. Thank you Thea!

List in hand, ready to taste the wines in a planned order, I found that the wineries were not alphabetically ordered, but by wine type, whites and bubblies in one group, light reds and blush wines in another, and finally big reds in a last group. The problem, for me, is that a number of wineries won medals for more than one wine type, and the significant crowds made the tasting I had planned nearly impossible.

Instead, I decided to put my notebook away and simply taste what I wished, and enjoy myself. That new plan was a smashing success as there was much to enjoy.

I lived and worked in the Sonoma County wine industry for far longer than I have lived and worked here in Mendocino County, and saw many friends; the event was very much like a reunion for me. The wines were top notch, as you might expect from a collection of gold medal winners, and the food was beyond good, the food was great. Special thanks to all of the wine judges, including Christopher Sawyer who shared some of his event photos for this piece.

Two Michelin Star Cyrus' chef Doug Keene with Foie Gras for Late Harvest and Caviar for Bubbly at The Barlow (photo by Christopher Sawyer)

Two Michelin Star Cyrus’ chef Doug Keene with Foie Gras for Late Harvest and Caviar for Bubbly at The Barlow (photo by Christopher Sawyer)

I tasted Foie Gras and Caviar from Michelin two star awarded chef Doug Keene, spectacular pork treats from Food Network celebrity Duskie Estes and husband John Stewart, salmon, truffled mac and cheese, pork belly, tuna tataki, and so much more. Every bite was an absolute delight but some were so intensely flavorful that finding a wine that could pair well was a challenge – a challenge I accepted.

Duskie Estes of Zasu at The Barlow (photo by Christopher Sawyer)

Duskie Estes of Zasu at The Barlow (photo by Christopher Sawyer)

Wines, well that’s why I attended, right? I loved Carol Shelton’s new 2014 Wild Thing Chardonnay, Mendocino County, with oak but not so much as to mask the abundant and flavorful fruit notes. Navarro’s 2014 Pinot Blanc and Campovida’s 2013 Arneis were also drinking great. Handley’s 2014 Rose of Pinot Noir was bright and flavorful, a good match for many foods, and their Best of Mendocino County awarded 2012 Pinot Noir was especially delicious with gorgeous cherry berry fruit and depth, matched to oak and herb. Campovida’s 2013 Campo di Rossa, a Rhone blend, and Masut’s 2013 Pinot Noir rounded out my day’s favorite local red tastes. I finished my day with a taste of the 2013 Merriam Vineyards Chardonnay, Bacigalupi, Native Fermentation $56, poured by the multi-talented Toni DiLeo, and was well pleased with the choice. Toni and I sold a 1994 Bacigalupi Chardonnay made by Carol Shelton many years ago, and it brought the event full circle for me, with ribbon and a bow.

Campovida's Sebastian Donoso with two Press Democrat North Coast Wine Challenge Gold Medal winners (photo by Christopher Sawyer)

Campovida’s Sebastian Donoso with two Press Democrat North Coast Wine Challenge Gold Medal winners (photo by Christopher Sawyer)

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2015 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival (photo by Tom Liden)

2015 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival (photo by Tom Liden)

Before the Barlow event on Sunday, came 2015’s Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival. Once again, another amazing event put on by Mendocino County’s best organized appellation. I might be the largest cheerleader for inland Mendocino’s wine scene, but credit where credit is due, Janis MacDonald and her team at the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association do the very best job reaching out to the press, marketing and promoting, and staging first class wine events within Mendocino County. Kudos go to Janis, Kristy Charles, and all of the amazing volunteers, for another memorable and worthwhile event.

Pizza is served by Stone & Embers at Balo Vineyard's Welcome Dinner for the press (photo by John Cesano)

Pizza is served by Stone & Embers at Balo Vineyard’s Welcome Dinner for the press (photo by John Cesano)

The event kicked off for me Thursday night with a Welcome Dinner at Balo Vineyards. There were more wines than I could taste, more winemakers and winery owners than I could chat with, but I said my hellos and tasted some delicious wines. Favorites of the night included the 2014 Avenging Angel Pinot Noir Blanc, a 2013 Philo Ridge Viognier with Greg Nelson’s grapes, the 2012 Waits-Mast Wentzel Vineyard Pinot Noir, the 2012 Donkey & Goat Broken Leg Vineyard Pinot Noir, 2012 Williams Selyem Ferrington Vineyard Pinot Noir, and a 1994 Husch Pinot Noir which I would describe as ‘faded glory’, a wine from a great vintage, a little beyond its prime, but filled with memories of other wines from that year. The appetizers, salads and pizza by Stone & Embers were excellent.

Friday morning’s Tech Conference featured a look at the state of Pinot Noir by Glenn McGourty, who shared that Pinot Noir acreage in the state has doubled, at least, since 2000, and that the variety is the most valuable grown per ton, on average. Nancy Smith and Jennifer Carah from The Nature Conservancy returned to update attendees on water flow and proposed efforts to balance the needs of fish and humans in the Navarro watershed. Andy Walker discussed rootstock and Jean-Jacques Lambert talked about soil in the two tech sessions aimed well over my head, but undoubtedly of value to the vineyards and winery owners attending. My favorite sessions included a panel tasting of Pinot Noir produced from different soil types, another panel tasting focusing on various Pinot Noir wines produced using Charles Vineyard grapes, and the lunch session with various Anderson Valley Pinot Noir wines and the best conference food ever served at a tech conference, prepared by Boont Berry Farm. I’m a simple taster, and my favorite sessions involve wine and a story. My favorite quote of the day came from Bill Hill of Expression 39 wine, on terroir (soil and climate), “there are a few places in the world that make wines that are really interesting, there are places in the world that make wines that shouldn’t.” The day’s conference amply demonstrated that Anderson Valley is a place to make Pinot Noir.

Casual BBQ at Lula Cellars (photo by John Cesano)

Casual BBQ at Lula Cellars (photo by John Cesano)

That night’s Casual BBQ at Lula Cellars catered by The Q was a blast. Lots of people gathered to enjoy the best event BBQ food served at one of these events, fantastic wine, great heartfelt country folk music, and the company of one another.

Just some of the wines at the Press Tasting at Scarffenberger Cellars (photo by John Cesano)

Just some of the wines at the Press Tasting at Scarffenberger Cellars (photo by John Cesano)

Saturday morning, at 8:50 am, I started working through tasting wines, taking comprehensive notes for each, at the Press Tasting at Scharffenberger Cellars. I took over 2 ½ hours to taste through about 55 wines, but it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience as John and Linda Compisi and Christopher Sawyer were also tasting and there were great conversations and cross talk over wines being tasted.

My favorite wines of the press tasting, in reverse alphabetical order, were the 2012 Waits-Mast Pinot Noir, Wentzel Vineyard, Anderson Valley; 2012 Witching Stick Cerise Vineyard Pinot Noir; 2011 Philo Ridge Vineyards Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley; 2013 Phillips Hill Anderson Valley Pinot Noir; 2013 Navarro Vineyards Pinot Noir, Deep End Blend, Anderson Valley; 2012 Husch Reserve Anderson Valley Pinot Noir; 2012 Handley Cellars Pinot Noir, Helluva Vineyard, Anderson Valley; 2012 Goldeneye Anderson Valley Pinot Noir; 2012 Fathers & Daughters Pinot Noir, Ella’s Reserve, Ferrington Vineyard (not a consensus choice, light, but stand out interesting); 2013 Drew Pinot Noir Fog-Eater Anderson Valley; 2013 Bink Anderson Valley Pinot Noir; and 2012 Baxter Pinot Noir Anderson Valley (tasted at the Grand Tasting).

Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Grand Tasting wines (photo by Tom Liden)

Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Grand Tasting wines (photo by Tom Liden)

The Grand Tasting at Goldeneye Winery was indeed grand, with smiling winemakers pouring for smiling attendees. The smiles were easy to come by, bought with some of the best wine and food imaginable, from among many of the county’s best producers.

Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Grand Tasting food (photo by Tom Liden)

Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Grand Tasting food (photo by Tom Liden)

Tom Liden, Mendocino County photographer extraordinaire, was on hand and his photos are as gorgeous as the wine and food served. Thanks for sharing, Tom.
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Next week, I’ll be recapping the Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush Italian Steakhouse in Ukiah, featuring the wines of Graziano Family of Wines.
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NOTE: This piece is scheduled to run in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, May 28, 2015 and, instead of waiting for publication there before archiving here, I am running it here first for timeliness. The early reference to last week’s column will actually be a column that runs tomorrow, and be archived out of order shortly after, here.

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John On Wine – An early Thanksgiving


Susan Johnson and John Cesano at Passport to Dry Creek Valley

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Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, May 14, 2015

I know I am supposed to save up all my gratefulness for the year and post it in a cliché Thanksgiving post toward the end of November, but Thanksgiving is coming early this year.

During the recently passed Hopland Passport event, one of our visiting tasters told me that she wished she could have my job. Everybody sees greener grass outside their lives; I would love to have Anthony Bourdain’s job, but I do recognize how blessed I am.

The Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley invited me to attend the Passport to Dry Creek Valley for the third consecutive year, and I am extraordinarily grateful. This year, I was accompanied by my good friend, Susan Johnson. Susan and I used to travel the country doing tradeshows, winemaker dinners, and corporate events for wineries, and then moved together to work for the Wine Appreciation Guild where we visited hundreds of wineries and tasting rooms throughout California.

Susan now works for a company that provides winemakers the tools to make great wine, and of course I pour great wine at one job and write about great wine in my other job. Although we came at each wine tasted from a different perspective, Susan looking at what could have made a wine better and me taking each wine as it is, we both were absolutely impressed front to back with the line ups at media check in host winery DaVero, Gustafson Family Winery, and Seghesio. Talty did the best job amplifying social media marketing, Selby had the best single bite of food, and Blanchard had the best ‘story’ wine.

DaVero produces organic or biodynamic wines from Italian varieties, and I shared the names of some Mendocino growers when asked by winemaker Evan, but if you grow grapes in the county, certified organic or biodynamic, and they are Italian varieties, then Evan wants to hear from you. Terrific wines that you will not taste anywhere else, plus they have farm goods for sale — and you know how much I love an organic farm stand & tasting room!

Gustafson is a long drive from any other winery, but absolutely worth the time to get there. Best winery views ever, fantastic wines, whimsically wonderful presented tasty food creations, and a dream property for vacation rental. Gustafson joins Preston and Truett-Hurst as one of my three favorite Dry Creek places to spend an afternoon with wine and food.

In spite of my desire to visit new wineries each Dry Creek Passport, Seghesio pulls me in year after year. Between wine, food, and music this is probably the most dependably solid stop for complete satisfaction.

Within seconds of a #DCVPassport post by me, about any participating winery, Talty was sharing or retweeting it. Visit them if you like Zin, Zin, or Zin. Selby’s duck and andouille sausage gumbo with crayfish cornbread was the best food I tasted all weekend. Blanchard had the best music with the Rosetown Ramblers covering Grateful Dead tunes, and each bottle sold of their “Helicopter” blend sees a donation to help the families of our military’s special operators.

Two days before our own Hopland Passport, I attended a general meeting of Mendocino Winegrowers Inc. at Barra of Mendocino. I would love to sit at a table with Charlie and Martha Barra, George Lee, Ed Berry, Leroy and Mary Louise Chase, and just shut up for a change. Listening to these, and other great growers, is so wonderful, and helps me in my education about Mendocino wine. I gratefully accepted an invite to visit the Chase Vineyard on a future date, and am thankful for the opportunity to tell a future story about wine from a great vineyard.

Hopland Passport. For me, it is a week of preparation, two days of intense energy output, and nearly a week of putting my tasting room back together afterward. Although people have reported that attendance may have been lighter than in the past, you couldn’t tell it by our numbers. I have everyone to thank, all of the team at the farm, the tasting room team, our chef team, and especially all of our visitors for more than doubling our numbers from last spring’s Passport event.

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Passport is truly a team effort, and we all work hard to make it as fun as possible; I think we succeeded. Now, if you’ll all come and pick up all of your paid for wine, I’ll be even more thankful.

Thanks to Tom Liden, Mendocino winery photographer, for your kind words of encouragement about the words I write weekly. Thanks also to all of my other readers for your words of support; I confess that I am still a little freaked out when I’m recognized for my writing and the compliments about individual pieces I have written, but I am enormously grateful. Within the last two weeks, three different people have told me they enjoy the recaps of the Chef’s Winemaker Dinners at Crush; that makes the piece I’ll be writing about the May 20 Graziano dinner all the easier to write.

Thanks to Aubrey Rawlins, executive director of Mendocino Winegrowers Inc., for recommending me for a winery writing gig. The funny thing is I already loved the wines and winery involved, had planned a visit for a future spotlight winery piece here, and this might be the easiest gig ever, a two for one opportunity.

Thanks to Janis MacDonald and Kristy Charles of the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association for invitations to all of your events, and for treating the Ukiah Daily Journal wine guy the same as the folks from Wine Enthusiast, San Francisco Chronicle, and Wine Spectator; it is appreciated, if a little surreal and humbling.

I will next be attending the 18th annual Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival on May 14-17; with a welcome dinner on Thursday (tonight) at Balo Vineyards, the Technical Conference on Friday at the Fairgrounds in Boonville (seriously, it may sound boring, but the tech conferences that Anderson Valley puts on are a highlight of each event) and a Casual BBQ at Lula Cellars that evening, a Press Tasting at Scharffenberger Cellars on Saturday morning followed by the Grand Tasting at Goldeneye Winery.

On Sunday, May 17, I’ll be headed to The Barlow in Sebastopol to taste Mendocino County’s Gold Medal awarded wines from the recent 2015 Press Democrat North Coast Wine Challenge. Friday, June 19, I’ll be at the Coro Mendocino 2012 Vintage Release Party & Multi-Course Dinner at Dogpatch Wine Works in San Francisco (tickets available at Sip Mendocino in Hopland, ask to sit at the McFadden table), and the next day, June 20, I’ll be at the Metreon in San Francisco for the 11th annual Pinot Days.

In between all this, I’ll be visiting vineyards, wineries, and tasting rooms for future pieces, or simply my own further education and enjoyment.

None of my opportunities would be possible without invitations from others, and those invitations come because I write for you, my readers, here in the Ukiah Daily Journal and online at JohnOnWine.com and you are the reason I have a life worthy of gratitude, of thanks, and of appreciation. I’m not waiting until Thursday, November 26, Thanksgiving day 2015; let me say it now (and possibly again then): Thank you!

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John on Wine – Spotlight winery: Fetzer

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, May 7, 2015

On a cool and overcast morning, I met with Fetzer winemaker Charlie Gilmore, at 8 a.m., for a tour and tasting at the Fetzer winery on Old River Road in Hopland. Joining us were Kelly Conrad, the public relations magician who managed to find a day and time when Charlie and I were both free, and Adam Reiter, Fetzer’s global brand manager.

Adam Reitner, Kelly Conrad, and Charlie Gilmore, Winemaker of Fetzer

Adam Reitner, Kelly Conrad, and Charlie Gilmore, Winemaker of Fetzer

Fetzer is the largest winery in Mendocino County, producing 1.5 million cases of Fetzer wine annually, and 3.5 million cases for all associated brands, which include Bonterra, Jekel, and Little Black Dress.

The winery was started in 1968 by the Fetzer family; acquired by Brown-Forman of Louisville, Kentucky – better known for Jack Daniels whiskey than wine – in 1992 for $82 million; and more recently was bought by Chile’s Concha y Toro in March, 2011 for $238 million. Today, Concha y Toro is the fourth largest wine company in the world.

I asked Charlie about the best thing about Concha y Toro as owners, and he shared, “The CEO of Concha y Toro is from a wine family. Concha y Toro allows a recommitment to the quality of our wine, a premium California heritage brand.”

Fetzer is a green winery, considering the environmental impact of every business decision. Through reuse, recycling and composting, Fetzer has decreased waste sent to landfills by 96 percent since 1990; last year Fetzer became the first Zero Waste Certified winery in the world, and next Fetzer is looking to become only the second B Corp winery in the world – guaranteeing social sustainability and environmental performance standards into the future.

Our morning started with a tour of the tank room, with jacketed tanks that allow wines to be super cooled for cold stabilization. The room was insulated, and engineered to make cost-effective wine in the most energy efficient way. We tasted two ice cold tank samples, both from Monterey County fruit, a 2014 Riesling showing peach and fleshy fruit notes, and a 2014 Gewurztraminer showing spice and fruit; and, shortly after, a 2014 Lodi Sauvignon Blanc, with grass and gooseberry nose, and crisp flavors of lemon peel, grapefruit, apple and pear. A little young, a little (okay, a lot) cold, these are wines of the future and this taste just gave a glimpse of that future, tasty but not fully developed.

Within seconds of being in the tank room, I couldn’t express adequately the degree of happiness at having chosen a warm heavy jacket to wear that morning; Kelly did not bring one and Adam was a gentleman and gave up his light jacket to her.

We toured the settling room, where wine sits 24-48 hours after being pressed and before moving to fermentation. As we walked from the settling room to the red wine side of Fetzer, Charlie told me that when Concha y Toro took over, they asked the Fetzer team, “where do you want to go?,” and he said he wanted to make the, “nicer wines that we felt we could do here,” and received more resources to allow that to happen.

We toured giant blending tanks, micro-oxygenation tanks, and tasted another sample, a 2014 Colusa Zinfandel, with briar, deep red fruit, and herb notes.

Stylistically, Charlie is returning Fetzer from European to California style wines, with a greater emphasis on discernible fruit notes.

Fetzer's Barrel Room

Fetzer’s Barrel Room

The barrel room is huge, a cavernous humidity controlled space built with a round Hobbit hole entrance, surrounded by insulating earth, and holds 55,000 wine barrels, most 55 gallons, and a mix of French and American oak.

Multiple presses lined up, most large – and one mega – on an empty pad, but during harvest constantly operating. One small five ton basket press, dwarfed by the larger presses, is used for the ultra-premium grapes used in the Sanctuary wines, and for fruit off McNab and Butler ranches for Bonterra.

Open top fermenters for Pinot Noir, with a track and pulley system to allow punch downs – punching the floating cap of skins and must down into the juice to impart color and flavor – to be more easily accomplished, also stood ready for fall.

Charlie, Kelly, and Adam had prepared a tasting of six current release Fetzer wines, the first full release under Concha y Toro.

2013 Fetzer Echo Ridge Sauvignon Blanc California $9.99 – brilliant white color, round mouthfeel, pear, grapefruit, herb. Charlie said he wanted to, “respect classic Sauvignon Blanc notes, but with more fruit forward expression, mouthfeel, and light acid.” He succeeded.

2013 Fetzer Sundial Chardonnay California $9.99 – white gold color, light oak, 20 percent new split between French and American, 35 percent older neutral oak, 45 percent stainless steel held. 14 percent malolactic fermentation, “takes the edge off acidity,” explained Charlie. Vanilla, coconut, apricot, peach, tropical fruit.

2012 Eagle Peak Fetzer Merlot California $9.99 – plummy red color, smoky, supple, black cherry and blackberry dark fruit, tannin, tobacco, leather, lush. A little Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Verdot, and Malbec blended in for color and flavor.

2013 Fetzer Valley Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon California $9.99 – deeper red color, rich Cab perfume on nose, meaty, deep dark berry. Oak (40 percent new – for Merlot too), mix French and American. Fleshy mouthfeel married to tannin. Red volcanic soils.

2013 Fetzer Goosefoot Road Riesling Monterey County $9.99 – Ahhh! I taste a lot of Riesling and love great ones. This is delicious, and very much a California style wine. You’ll never confuse this with a Grand Cru Alsace Riesling, and that is okay. Light gold color, soft, peachy, apricot, drinking drier than the 2.7 residual sugar would suggest, nice balancing acid. Simply lovely.

2013 Fetzer Shaly Loam Gewurztraminer Monterey County $9.99 – 67 percent of the Gewurztraminer sold in the US is made by Fetzer, they are #1 in the nation for Gewurztraminer wine production by many miles. Charlie is working to bring more of the spicy aromas to the variety, and this Gewurztraminer had a wonderful rose petal nose. Light argent color, orange blossom, spice, fruit, fruit, fruit. Apple, peach, nectarine. Mellow, long, delicious. The finish was so long, I could still taste this wine as I was driving away five minutes later.

$9.99 for a solid bottle of wine, often lower in a California store or higher in a New York store, for wines this good, made in this quantity, is a genuine testament to the entire team, from individual growers to cellar workers and winemakers to owners with a passion for quality wine. Everyone reading this has seen Fetzer wines at $6.99 in a local store, with an additional 10 percent or 15 percent taken off six or more bottles. Simply, you will not find a better wine value today. These are good wines, solid, much improved over recent years, and spectacularly priced.

Locally, Fetzer has a monthly Community Wine Sale with, “crazy good discounts,” where buyers choose from wines offered in an email newsletter and pick them up at the Hopland winery the following Saturday, and Fetzer donates 5 percent of all proceeds to the Gardens Project of North Coast Opportunities to develop and maintain community gardens in Ukiah, Hopland and throughout Mendocino County. To take advantage of this monthly sale, email winesale@fetzer.com and ask to be added to the list.


John On Wine – Hopland Passport is this weekend!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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John On Wine – Fans and snoring

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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