August 2013


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John On Wine

Join me for two wine events on September 7th

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal on August 29, 2013 By John Cesano
John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

Saturday, Sept. 7 is going to be a spectacularly full and fun day for me, with wine flowing from early in the day into the night, as I will help celebrate Mendocino County’s wine industry at two events. I hope you can join me at one, or both, of the day’s events.

First up is Winesong, a benefit for the Mendocino Coast Hospital Foundation, in Fort Bragg. This year marks the 29th Winesong Auction & Tasting, and the previous 28 annual Winesong wine events have led directly to lives saved as the next closest hospital is at least an hour away.

“The generosity of past guests, donors and volunteers have allowed the Hospital to purchase new equipment such as an ambulance, echocardiography system, Nuclear Medicine Camera and provided essential funding for our Elwin Cox Memorial Cancer Care Fund,” explains this year’s auction catalog, allowing the hospital to provide “many specialty practices including oncology, cardiology, obstetrics, general surgery, orthopedic surgery and wellness” for “everyone who lives, works, or vacations on the Mendocino Coast.”

Saturday starts with Mendocino County’s best wineries (plus some stars from outside the county) and food purveyors providing a wonderful tasting with tables set up throughout the breathtakingly beautiful Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens. A $100 donation allows guests to wander through the gardens from 11 a.m. -2 p.m., tasting the wines of over 100 premium producers and the taste treats from more than 50 top food purveyors, while bidding on a dazzling array of silent auctions.

A $200 donation adds a reserved seat under the tent for the live auction with a three course lunch by James Beard award winning celebrity chef Bradley Ogden, and a Winesong tote bag, all following the three hour wine and food tasting through the gardens. Narsai David, KCBS radio’s food and wine luminary, will be the event’s Master of Ceremonies.

The live auction items are a collection of 75 jealousy inducing wine, restaurant, hotel, event, and vacation packages, while the silent auction lots include stays at vineyard guest houses, art, library wines, and more.

The auction items are truly awesome, and I hope if you attend Winesong that you will bid and wish you luck, hoping you win. That said, I am a simple man, and the opportunity to choose from among so many highly rated and award winning wines paired with bites of the most delicious foods, while surrounded by the verdantly lush Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, and then a Bradley Ogden meal with wine, well, that is what I imagine Heaven must be like.

I will be pouring a variety of Gold Medal, Double Gold Medal, and Best of Class awarded wines for McFadden Vineyard, wearing my figurative McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room manager hat, while sporting a literal broad brimmed straw hat. Tasters will have fun as I try to impart a little story with each wine poured, definitely more fun than the folks pouring for whatever winery shares my table as they hear a non-stop three hour live commercial for all things McFadden.

To get your tickets to this Heaven on Earth charity event, visit http://www.winesong.org

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After Saturday’s early pouring on the coast, I will drive back over the hill to attend the 3rd annual BBQ and Blending Barn Party at Testa Ranch and Vineyards in Calpella, just north of Ukiah on North State street, from 5 ­ 10 p.m. that same day, Saturday, Sept. 7.

I attended the first Testa BBQ and Blending Barn Party and found it virtually impossible to blend the component wines, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignane, and Petite Sirah, and not have the result taste great.

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John Cesano at the first Testa Barn Blend BBQ

Each table will get to create, through trial and tasting, their favorite blend which will help Maria Testa find the perfect blend percentages for her fifth flagship red wine, the Testa Black “Cinque.” To help lubricate the blending work, there will be wine poured to inspire your creativity. This year, for the first time, each table’s blend will be entered in a blind tasting by judges who will select a winner!

The three judges are John Buchenstein, Rosemary Eddy, and John Cesano, which explains why I am happily driving back to Testa instead of staying overnight on the coast.

As I would be impressed by a blend that wasn’t delicious, I’m predisposed to award gold medals to all entrants with one wine chosen Best of Class by John, Rosemary, and me.

Appetizers served at your table, then a barbecue dinner with Italian pasta and salad and bread to follow, before the desert and dancing begins. Additional wine will be sold by the glass or bottle.

Rusty Martinson works the grill like a master, and I have enjoyed oysters to chicken in the past. I’m looking forward to this year’s food off the grill, and of course the pasta and salad.

Local music sensation and Nashville recording artist, McKenna Faith will perform this year.

Individual tickets are $70, or $55 for Testa wine club members. Reserved tables for eight are $560, or just $440 for Testa wine club members.

Here’s the deal. I love Testa wines, and this event is a blast! To get your tickets before they sell out, call Maria Testa Martinson at (707) 391-7273.

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Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013. Save the date on your calendar for at least one or, even better, two local wine events, and if you see me that day say hello.

 

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John on Wine

Spotlight Winery: Nelson Family Vineyards

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal on August 22, 2013, by John Cesano

The Nelson family grew up farming in Mendocino County midway between Ukiah and Hopland since Herman and Clara bought their home ranch in 1952. Mostly plums that yielded prunes, the farm also had some grapes already planted, French Colombard and Carignane.

Greg Nelson, Herman and Clara’s son, is now the lead Nelson working Nelson Family Vineyards, west of Hwy 101 on Nelson Ranch Road.

Greg Nelson pouring wine made by his son Chris Nelson in the Nelson Family Vineyards Tasting Room

Greg Nelson pouring wine made by his son Chris Nelson in the Nelson Family Vineyards Tasting Room

“I used to tell folks we were 7 miles south of Ukiah but now I just tell them to turn at the strawberries and follow the road back,” Greg told me as he shared how giving directions to the tasting room and event grove has become easier since leasing a front piece of the ranch to the very visible Saecho strawberry farmers.

Over the years, grapes were ripped out and replaced with more desirable varietals. The French Colombard made way for Zinfandel, and in 1974 the Nelsons planted Riesling which is now the oldest grapes grown on the ranch.

Greg told me that today, his son Tyler takes care of the farming, his son Chris is the winemaker, and Greg stays busy selling grapes and wine. “I knock on the door, if they decide to buy, I make the deliveries,” said Greg, as the wines of Nelson Family Vineyards are self-distributed.

While September 11, 2001 was a horrifically tragic day, Greg says the economic downturn turned into a blessing for Nelson Family Vineyards. Unable to find employment post 9/11, Chris moved back home to the ranch and became a winemaker producing his first wine, a Pinot Grigio in 2003.

A few years later, Greg figured 2006 or so, Chris, who played both classical and electrical guitar and had a love of music started promoting concerts at the grove at Nelson Family Vineyards. Now, there is a regular summer concert series, with performances the fourth Friday of each sunny month, plus other events throughout the year from weddings to charity fundraisers.

In addition to leasing land for Saecho’s strawberries, the Nelsons lease land for cattle raising and to Doug Mosel’s Mendocino County Grain Project, which grows wheat, rye, triticale, oats, and lentils. Mendough pizza often shows up at Nelson events and there are times that the pizza dough is made from flour from the grains grown on the ranch, in a wonderful but coincidental circle.

Greg said that Tyler grows grapes both conventionally and organically. Three vineyards are organic, while the others are, “fish friendly, low impact, and sustainable.”

Given the chance to pass on a message to the folks who read this column, Greg said, “we’re very grateful to the community we were all raised in.”

The gardens in front of the tasting room, originally designed and planted by Kate Frey are beautiful. Inside the tasting room Elliot Little photography graces the walls, local pottery, olive oil, and farm goods also offered, beside logo branded clothing and wines.

Greg poured the complete lineup of Nelson Family Vineyards wines for me.

The NV Brut, $28, made at Rack & Riddle in Hopland, tasted of apple cider, pear, and grapefruit. I didn’t ask, but I would guess a 60 percent Chardonnay, 40 percent Pinot Noir blend.

The 2011 Chardonnay, $21, showed light toasty oak and nice fruit, more apricot than apple. Rich.

The 2011 Pinot Grigio, $18, was lemon peel and high acid, wet river stone, and pear.

The 2012 Viognier, $21, was easy to enjoy, with edge free approachability, and light citrus playing against apricot.

The 2011 Pinot Noir, $28, exhibited classic Pinot funk, along with a light earthy cherry note.

The 2008 Zinfandel, $25, was nice. Not overly smoky or overly stripped. Soft, medium light raspberry, herb, and black pepper spice.

Barn Blend 2012, $25, is the wine made from the blend put together at the annual Barn Blend party at Nelson. This blend of Cabernet sauvignon, Zinfandel, Petit Verdot, and Viognier was soft, soft, soft, showing blackberry jam and herb.

The 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, $28, had nice chewiness, tannin, oak, blackberry, briarwood, herb, and spice.

The 2009 Riesling, $19, comes off the oldest vineyard on the ranch. Light honey on a medium heavy body, petrol, and nectarine.

The 2009 Orange Muscat, $21, is a nice fruit basket of a wine with white pear and white peach providing balance for the sweeter orange and floral notes.

We finished up with the 2009 Ice Riesling, $25. At 16.2 residual sugar against 12.5 percent alcohol, this is a really nice dessert wine with concentrated honeyed pear, peach, apricot, and caramel marzipan. The finish narrows down to a clear apple note.

Greg shared that 2011 was a challenge in the vineyards, with a little botrytis here and there; and by contrast, “2012 was a lot easier, it was a cakewalk, it was the perfect growing season.”

Visit the Nelson Family Vineyards tasting room, at 550 Nelson Ranch Road, off Highway 101, down the road behind the strawberries. Open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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John Cesano has more than 200 posts about wine archived at JohnOnWine.com

Writing a post after 10 pm is not the way to get a ton of readers. Heck, writing an online piece doesn’t carry the same weight that writing a column for the local newspaper does. That said, I should do this more often, write a piece just because, small, for you and, as much as I love you, more importantly, for me.

Tonight I attended the second Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush in Ukiah, and it was fantastic. Again.

Owner Doug and Manager Dave are terrific, but they allow their staff the opportunity to shine and that is their genius.

Chef Jesse banged out some scallops that were, in a word, perfect. Want two words? Way perfect.

Chef Zack served up some little puff pastry and magic bacon things, I don’t know what they were, other than orgasmic, but I could have eaten another hundred, I’m sure.

For the second Chef’s Wine Dinner in a row, oysters were served as an appetizer. Feel free to serve them again at the third Chef’s Wine Dinner. They are great!

The rabbit was so good. If only more people would think of cute bunnies, I could have had more of the very popular and oh so yummy rabbit.

There was veal tartare with tuna in a mini cannelloni and an Insalata Nichoise, but there just wasn’t enough of the Nueske pork wrapped veal sweetbreads with porcini tortellini on our end of the table. Oh, what a dish!

Did I forget to mention the lobster creamed corn, or the lamb with saffron and breadcrumbs? Yeah, I ate those too.

Dessert was a homemade 100 proof lemoncello and vanilla Semifreddo.

I go on about the food, but I love food. I am not on a diet. If there is any good in being fat, then it is not having to be moderate in enjoyment of great food.

No Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush is possible without wine. This time, the wine came from Charlie and Martha Barra’s Barra of Mendocino and Girasole labels.

The Barra wines spend time in expensive French oak. I had the Chardonnay with scallops and lobster corn. Note: all corn should be lobster corn, let’s pass a law.

I had a Barra Cabernet Sauvignon with the lamb, rabbit, and a ratatouille that didn’t suffer for being a vegetable only dish. This growing boy loves his proteins.

The Girasole line runs to stainless steel and neutral oak. I enjoyed the Pinot Blanc with the oysters and Insalata Nicoise, and the Pinot Noir with the veal tartare and veal sweetbreads.

Charlie and Martha poured their Muscat Canelli with the dessert.

The best food and wine pairing of the night, by a mile, was the Girasole Pinot Noir with the bacon in puff pastry appetizer things. I do not know what they were, but they weren’t regular bacon. Imagine God made a pig pregnant, you can call the pig Mary if you want, but you do not have to if it makes you uncomfortable. Anyway imagine that a chef does magic chef things to God bacon, and sticks it in little bread bites, and that is what I ate, washing it down with gorgeous Pinot Noir.

I sat between Martha and Frank. Martha is Martha Barra. Frank is the father who brought his daughter, granddaughter, wife and friends to the dinner for his daughter’s birthday. She was 60, but she looked much younger. Good on you, young looking birthday girl!

Owen Smith, winemaker for Barra was at the dinner. It is always good to see Owen. Also attending was superstar marketer Gracia Brown. Gracia helped Crush, along with Martha and the Barra team, almost double the seats sold for this Chef’s Wine Dinner. Gracia and I last sat at the kid’s table at the Mendocino County Wine Competition awards dinner, and that is probably where I belong most often. Tonight, I mostly behaved and sat with the adults.

Some patrons told me that they read my words in the restroom, and I was surprised because I did not remember putting my phone number on the stall wall, but it turned out that the Crush crew posted my newspaper column reviewing their first Chef’s Wine Dinner for folks to read. Works for me.

Anyway, another spectacular evening. Happy diners, many new to a Chef’s Wine Dinner, eating, drinking laughing, talking, just plain having a great night. Before I wrap this post, kudos as well to the hostess and servers too. Everyone worked together to make tonight work for all.

I definitely love living where I do, and doing what I do, allowing me to share with you some of the best of it.

 

 

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John on Wine –

Spotlight Winery Distillery: American Whiskey and Greenway Distilleries

John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal by John Cesano

Walking into Germain-Robin’s distillery during June’s A Taste of Redwood Valley event, the aroma of apple and pear fruit, as brandy distilled, perfumed the air in a way different than the gorgeous aroma of a winery’s barrel room – richer and more pungent – these were aromas so big they penetrate beyond mere smell sense, but touch your soul.

On that day in June I met Crispin Cain.

Crispin Cain

Crispin runs the American Whiskey Distillery, Craft Distillers, and Greenway Distillery, all distilleries within a distillery, co-located at Germain-Robin. Passionately answering all questions and proud of his products, Crispin poured his pre-prohibition styled clear malted rye whiskeys. Gins, absinthe, and rose liqueur.

Crispin applies the handcrafted cognac method, improved by Hubert Germain-Robin and Ansley Coale in Mendocino County, to distilling his whiskey and the result is breathtaking.

From the craft distillers website, “Whiskies are spirits distilled from grain: barley, rye, corn, wheat. The grains are prepared in various ways, including malting and drying, to convert starches into sugars. Water is added to create a mash,’ which is fermented to convert the sugars into alcohol. Distillation can be on either potstills or column stills.”

I tasted the 2010 single barrel malted wheat, 84 proof and single barrel #1-100 proof whiskeys.

I bought a bottle of Crispin’s Russell Henry London Dry Gin, distilled from wheat. It tasted of sweet candied juniper berries, with notes of lemon peel, cardamom, and iris.

Crispin also served up a bowl of Absinthe ice cream, homemade using the Germain-Robin Absinthe Superieure, which is made by Crispin.

That 20 minute visit led to a subsequent longer visit with Crispin where he gave me a tour, tasting, and did his best to expand on the frighteningly rudimentary knowledge of distilling I had gleaned from television’s Moonshiners, aired on the Discovery Channel.

Crispin told me he jumped at the chance to interview with Hubert to be his assistant, and worked in that capacity from 1989-92, moving to Redwood Valley winery Gabrielli in 1993 and 94, before coming back for most of 1995 through 2000. A back injury in February 2000 set Crispin back “really bad” and unable to work, he went through his savings until with just $500 and an idea, he convinced Ansley to let him come in to Germain-Robin and set about making what would become Crispin’s Rose Liqueur.

“It took until 2003, three years, to get what we have now,” explained Crispin, as he poured a taste of his rose liquor for me. Not perfumy, not sugary sweet, but an intense infusion of old David Austin and Don Juan rose petals in an apple honey mead brandy, with underlying notes of raspberry and chocolate.

When I told my friend Margaret Pedroni that I had tasted Crispin’s Rose Liqueur and was undone by it, she described it as “sex in a glass,” which is the perfect description. Both the dictionary definitions of “lovely” and “delicious” feature a picture of a Crispin’s Rose Liquor bottle.

“I intended the Rose and Absinthe to be a part-time job,” Crispin said, before adding, “this is where my passion is.”

Today, the role of distiller consumes Crispin full time, and his wife and children also work in the business.

Making whiskeys, liqueurs, gins, vodkas, absinthe, and more, Crispin engages in a blend of science and art that to me seemed a little like the potion and concoction making of a wizard or magician.

 

Barrel of aborted alien fetuses

Happening upon a vat of gnarled Buddhas Hand citron fruit, used for flavoring a vodka to be released this fall, did nothing to dispel the impression. The tools of his trade, the cognac stills, one as old as 1830, round copper pot stills, and many windowed column stills, further lend a mad scientist feel to his endeavors.

The math and methodology of cognac style distillation was a little more complex than what the television show hillbillies go on about. A first distillation of grain mash results in the brouillis, which Crispin hesitated to show me because it is somewhat off-putting, a blue blend of alcohol and water with sugars and fats not wholly resolved. The brouillis reduces the original mash volume to just 25 -30 percent, and that is reduced in a second distillation in a separate still to just 25 percent again. Barely over 8 percent of the original mash volume is left, but this is the heart of the heart, with barely 3/10ths of one percent sugar left. Cutting the high proof spirit with collected rainwater can lower stratospheric alcohol levels. Move the spirit to a barrel, perhaps new oak, for a year or more, and we’re talking some amazing whiskey.

Occilation Overthruster - Early Model

While most whiskey is colored by the oak barrel it is held in, Crispin has some clear whiskeys. Crispin’s Low Gap Clear Wheat Whiskey was named the Whisky Advocate’s 2012 Artisan Whiskey of the Year and his absolutely clear malted rye whiskey spent just 204 minutes in a used neutral barrel so it could legally be called whiskey. These are incredibly smooth and flavorful spirits.

Crispin took me through his whiskey barrel room, where some of his spirits are aging and picking up color. A great variety of barrels were assembled; Bourbon, Limousine, Cognac, and Minnesota were well represented. Crispin shared that his dairyman grandfather got barrels from the same barrel maker in Minnesota for his (illicit) distillations of grains, fruit juices, honey, and whey; the dairy smells, butter and cheese, hid the smell of whey fermentation and distillation.

For the second time, we tasted two finished whiskeys that have graduated from barrel to bottle, Low Gap Single Barrel No. 1, an incredible 100 percent malted wheat whiskey running at 100 proof, and Low Gap Single Barrel No. 2, that made me say “yum” and running at 84 proof. These are drier whiskeys with very little sweetness, but amazing for their cleanness or clarity of flavor.

Crispin pulled a sample of 94 proof gin that was being barrel aged. It blended the bright flavors of gin with the color and weight that comes from time in a barrel. Barrel color for a gin was unusual for me, but really no more unusual than clear or uncolored whiskeys.

Another barrel sample, of rye whiskey, was smooth and oh so tasty, the rye flavors were almost like candy. Crispin opened a container of the rye malt and it was wonderful to smell the aroma both before and after distillation. Crispin’s rye whiskeys were far and away the best rye whiskey I’ve tasted.

Promised future tastes include a candy cap mushroom liqueur, barrel aged seven years, in apple honey spirits.

Visiting with Crispin and tasting through his spirits is worth the price of any A Taste of Redwood Valley event. The next ATORV event will be their big holiday weekend sale, the weekend before Thanksgiving, Nov. 23-24, 2013. Look to this column for ticket information as we get into the fall season.

For more information about Crispin’s many spirits, or to try to schedule a tasting appointment, call (707) 468-4661.

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John Cesano writes about wine and reposts his columns to JohnOnWine.com

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John on Wine

Spotlight Winery: Albertina Vineyards

Originally Published in the Ukiah Daily Journal on August 8, 2013 by John Cesano

Along with my friend Gracia Brown, I spent a wonderful afternoon with Fred and Alberta Zmarzly at their remote, terraced-hillside vineyards tasting wine, eating some salami and cheese on crackers, and getting to know each other a little better.

Fred and Alberta met in Belmont at a nightclub called the Swiss Chalet, the band playing that evening was the Warlocks. The Warlocks would shortly after change their name to the Grateful Dead. Alberta also changed her name, taking Fred’s, Zmarzly, when they married.

For those keeping score at home, Gracia has previously graced columns both here in print and my online blog, for having been the talented and hardworking representative of the county’s wine industry when she worked for the Mendocino Winegrape and Wine Commission, and more recently as Martha and Charlie Barra’s current marketing superstar.

Together, Gracia and I left Hopland as we first traveled west, and then south and up, up, upward until we came to the cabin home of Fred and Alberta. Fred met and welcomed us, wearing relaxed farmers garb; blue jeans, a faded blue polo shirt, brown work boots, and a ball cap emblazoned “SIP! Mendocino” ­ which is where Albertina’s wines can be purchased in Hopland.

With a cooler filled with wine tasting and picnic provisions, we walked from Fred’s home, past a water pond, and up into the Albertina vineyards, a nudge over 400 acres around the side and up Duncan Peak.

As we walked, Fred shared that having moved from Buffalo, NY to California, and then on to Santa Rosa, he and Alberta were looking for a place to raise cattle and farm when they found a real estate ad offering a “pond, hunting, and lodge.” The ad stretched the lodge part, but they bought the place in 1983, rebuilt the cabin home and refurbished the other two “lodge” buildings in 1985 and 1986, decided to go into grapes in 2000, took care of water needs in 2001, and actually planted their Albertina vineyards in 2002.

Albertina means “little Alberta” in Italian, and is what Alberta’s father called her as a child. Now the name allows Fred to share his love for his wife with each bottle of wine made from their grapes.

On a knoll with 25 mile views, under the shade of oak trees in the center of the vineyards we tasted the 2009 Albertina Cabernet Sauvignon ($26). Made by Penny Gadd-Caster, who made Jordan’s Cabernet for 13 years, at Rack & Riddle in Hopland, this was a supple and smooth red, rich and redolent, with powerful blackberry fruit against a backdrop of leather, chocolate, and violet, with lighter supporting fruit notes of cherry and strawberry. A gorgeously integrated wine, there is a terrific nose to mouth to finish continuity of notes.

Fred sells 40 tons of fruit to Constellation, a giant in the industry with more than 50 wine brands in the U.S., and splits the rest between Rack & Riddle and Greg Graziano for turning into Albertina wines.

Fred next poured us some of his 2009 Albertina Cabernet Franc, Meredith’s Reserve ($24).

Outdoors, comfortably seated with friends, new and old, I tasted Fred’s Franc. Layers of flavors, red raspberry fruit, licorice, herb, pepper, and red plum played in a fruit forward styled enjoyable drinkable, soft, medium bodied wine.

Fred told us a bit about farming grapes and said there are really 12 things a farmer needs to do to make good grapes, irrigation being one of those things. Joking that his endeavors might be saintly, like Jesus he turns water into wine, but he’s not as good at it because it takes Fred 1/2 million gallons of water to make 3,000 gallons of wine each year.

After walking through the vineyard and seeing where a small portion came through a recent fire started by a tractor exhaust spark, we returned to the cabin home and met Alberta who had been resting during the hottest part of a very hot summer day.

The Zmarzly home is comfortable and charming, with a lovely antique stove and oven that definitely caught both Gracia’s and my eyes. We were also impressed with the casts of bear prints and the bear tales Alberta and Fred shared.

Paired with salami, cheese, and crackers, we tasted the 2009 Albertina Merlot, Lorelei’s Reserve ($24). Perfumed plum in a glass, the Merlot was the third of three Bordeaux varietal reds grown on the Zmarzly Family Vineyard to impress and please. Supporting notes included warm candied cherry and herb.

The four of us alternately sat and stood, conversations were weaved, stories told. We got to hear about the liquor stills that Alberta’s family had on the ranch where she grew up, and how the Feds blew the stills up, and while some folks got prosecuted, her father got off.

We heard about how the town of Hopland has changed over the years, since the Zmarzlys first came to town in 1983 until 2011 when I started managing a tasting room in town.

We talked about farming, conventional and organic ­ the Albertina vineyards are sustainably farmed.

Four hours passed and three wines were tasted. This was a standout experience for me, a wonderfully enjoyable and relaxed day chatting over wine. Fun.

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John Cesano, an ardent Deadhead, listened to the almost 24-year-old, October 9, 1989 Hampton Coliseum “Warlocks” show while putting this column together, in honor of Fred and Alberta’s meeting at a show by the band 24 years earlier still.

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Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal on August 1, 2013

John on Wine

Spotlight Winery: Brown Family Wines

By John Cesano

During this summer’s A Taste of Redwood Valley, I found that one of my favorite turns was west off of Uva Drive onto Bel Arbres Drive, down a lovely quiet tree-lined residential street with well-cared for homes set back from the road, and then beyond the homes into a trio of delicious stops: Brown Family Wines, Germain-Robin, and Graziano Family of Wines.

My editor, the fantastic gal who makes me seem a better writer than I am, Kelly Hancock, sent me an email following Taste of Downtown in Ukiah asking if I had tasted the wines of Brown Family Wines yet, and suggested I consider doing so for a possible column.

Already on my list of things to do, it was easy to say yes.

Scott and Michelle Brown first arrived on the Mendocino County wine scene in July of 2011. The first thing you may notice about Scott and Michelle Brown, if you get a chance to talk with them, is that they are from England; they speak with an accent that makes words sound melodious. Both possess an easygoing, open, affability that helps make time spent with them enjoyable.
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Their wines will largely be estate wines, made from grapes they grow on their grapevines, and plans are drawn up for a combination barrel and tasting room building in the future.

The vineyards of the 125 acre Brown Family Wines estate have been grown organically for more than 40 years.

For now, wines are poured al fresco, at a covered outdoor bar, with nearby tables for groups to relax at. My visits to Brown Family Wines have been on hot summer days, and afternoon breezes are a blessing. Well, breezes and chilled white wines.

The first wine I tasted, the 2009 Brown Family Wines Sauvignon Blanc, California ($10) is made from Sonoma County grapes. I thought the wine was both varietally correct and tasty, approachably enjoyable, round and weighty without harsh edge, with notes of light sweet hay, flowers, and pear on the nose, and apple and pear flavors. This Sauvignon Blanc has a long lingering finish; 14.7 percent alcohol.

The NV Brown Family Wines Rhone ($12) is a blend of vintages and varietals: 37 percent Rousanne, 30 percent Grenache Blanc, 18 percent Marsanne, 13 percent Sauvignon Blanc, and 2 percent Viognier. Speaking about the blending process of making this wine, Michelle shared, “this one we played about with; one of the nicer aspects of the job.”

The result of Scott and Michelle’s play, this Rhone white blend has lovely mouth feel, round and slightly honey coated, and shows pear, hay, herb, a little veg, and lush full pear fruit balanced by a touch of acid. The blend yielded a rounder white than their Sauvignon Blanc; 14.0 percent alcohol.

Onto the reds, the 2011 Estate Merlot, Redwood Valley ($15) is made from the Brown’s own hand-picked and hand-sorted grapes. Full berry fermented and held 14 months in French oak, 2-3 years old, on lees, the Merlot has a rich nose of leather, cocoa, strawberry rhubarb, anise, and bell pepper. The mouth had rich plummy cherry, boysenberry and herb. This Merlot was round, yet soft, with a touch of oak. Food friendly, I imagined pairing this wine with a duck breast; 14 percent alcohol.

The 2011 Brown Family Wines Meritage ($17) is a blend of 72 percent 2011 Estate Merlot and 28 percent Cabernet Sauvignon. This was my favorite of the wines I tasted, with licorice, blackberry, cherry, and herb running seamlessly from nose to mouth to finish. The wine started a bit closed, but opens in the mouth; 14.2 percent alcohol.

2007 Brown Family Wines Red, California ($12) is another blend, and again uses Sonoma County grapes, roughly 88 percent Zinfandel and 12 percent Petite Sirah, and while lighter is dry, really dry, with an acid edge. The greatest part of this blend comes from two Zinfandels, both done in barrels for 22 months.

The longer hold in oak led to this 2007 red being noticeably drier in my mouth than the 2011 reds; that and 2011 fruit is generally lighter, brighter, and more elegant than the big, rich, and dense fruit of 2007.

This red blend has a powerfully perfumy, sherry pungency. There are caramel, chocolate, red vines, cherry, and berry notes in profusion. Did I mention cherry? If you missed it in the nose or mouth, you’ll definitely catch it on the finish; 14 percent alcohol.

The 2007 Brown Family Wines Syrah, California ($12) is also a noticeably drier wine than the 2011 reds. Firm tannin dominates a wine of chocolate syrup, green herb and both red and black fruit; 14.1 percent alcohol.

Rather than tiered discounts for different wine club obligations, the Browns keep things simple; join the wine club and receive a 25 percent discount on all purchases.

Open Friday and Saturday, noon – 5 p.m., for tastings, Brown Family Wines is located at 1106 Bel Arbres Drive in Redwood Valley. For more information, call (707) 234-4236 or visit their website at http://www.BrownFamilyWines.com

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John Cesano writes and posts on his wine blog at JohnOnWine.com

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