John on Wine: Summer vacation

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, August 13, 2015

The metal band Gundriver visited the McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room and liked it. Photo by John Cesano

The metal band Gundriver visited the McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room and liked it. Photo by John Cesano

Few would choose Yuma, Arizona as a place to vacation in the summer but, as you read this, that is where I am. For those unfamiliar with Yuma in summer, pull out an illustrated Bible and flip to a picture of Hell. Same thing.

My son Charlie leaves for U.S. Army Infantry training at Ft. Benning, GA in two weeks, on Aug. 24, and we made plans to visit my step-father Lyle before Charlie leaves.

Joining the Army, and choosing to be an Infantryman, would not be my first choices for my son, but he follows in a long line of Cesano males who make questionable choices in youth.

I was a U.S. Army Infantry Sergeant. My brother showed up at the Army enlistment office. My father and step-father were both Army. The Cesano clan isn’t necessarily bright, but we serve.

While in Yuma, in an air conditioned house, we will enjoy tastes of Crispin Cain’s Rye Whiskey from Redwood Valley, and Zinfandel from throughout the county to go with meat cooked outside at night after temperatures drop to 90 or so.

Charlie and I will also be visiting my brother Thomas just before Charlie leaves. Thomas is out with Kelly Clarkson, and we’ll see him in Mountain View on the off day preceding Kelly’s concert at Shoreline Amphitheatre. On a previous tour, earlier this year, my brother was out with the Michael Schenker (Scorpions, UFO) Group, and band members ordered wine to go on their tour bus when we caught their shows at Yoshi’s in Oakland.

Afterward, the opening band Gundriver came to Hopland, parked their bus in front of the tasting room, and ended up doing a wine tasting. It was great fun to see and pour for R Ev Jones, Tomes, Tom, Alex, and the whole Gundriver crew. Quite a bit of wine ended up going on that bus too.

Kelly’s production manager is a “wine head” and we’ll take the McFadden tasting room show on the road, with the help of the tour’s caterers, and do a tasting for the crew when we visit.

It is gratifying to spread the message about the quality of Mendocino County’s wines through unconventional outlets, and tastings for popular musicians is just one more way to do it.

While Charlie and I are visiting my brother Thomas, on Saturday Aug. 22, the Yorkville Highlands Growers and Vintners Association will host the Yorkville Highlands Wine Festival at Meyer Family Cellars, 19750 Highway 128, Mile Marker 34.2 between Yorkville and Boonville. The event starts at 1 p.m.

This year’s festival will celebrate 13 years of wines from the Yorkville Highlands. Highlights will include tasting award-winning wines made and grown within the Highlands around Anderson Valley. Tickets are $60, and $30 for designated drivers; the price includes a delicious farm-fresh lunch and dessert, a silent auction, and a grape stomp. Head to Meyer Family Cellars for this year’s celebration of Yorkville Highlands wines.

Yorkville Highlands member wineries include: Bink Wines, Halcon Vineyards, Judson Hale Winery, Le Vin Estate Winery, Lone Oak Ranch Vineyards, Maple Creek Winery, Mariietta Cellars, Meyer Family Cellars, Route 128 Winery, Theopolis Vineyards, and Yorkville Cellars.

Visit http://www.yorkvillehighlands.org to purchase your tickets.

Attend the Pure Mendocino Organic Dinner & Farm Tour on Saturday, Aug. 29, if you can, for a summer evening enjoying the perfect blend of Mendocino County’s bountiful harvest, generously offered by local farmers and producers. This unique celebration honors Mendocino County’s leadership in organics and community health, and is the major fund raising event for the Cancer Resource Centers.

Held at Paul Dolan’s Dark Horse Vineyard at 5341 Old River Road, Ukiah, attendees will enjoy a wine tasting and appetizers reception beginning at 5 p.m. with the farm-to-table dinner at 6 p.m., and, after dinner, dancing under the stars to live music from Mendocino’s talented selection of artists. A silent auction will run from 5 to 8:30 p.m..

Chef Olan Cox and friends will showcase the community’s finest organically grown food and wine. Participating wineries include Barra Vineyards, Bink Wines, Bonterra Vineyards, Frey Vineyards, Golden Cellars, Handley Cellars, Jeriko Estate, Masút Vineyards, McFadden Vineyards, Oster Wine Cellars, and Yorkville Cellars.

Tickets are $135, online at http://www.puremendocino.org.

Pure Mendocino is a memorable celebration of the uniqueness of this community, its people and our bounty. Nationally recognized, Cancer Research Center Mendocino County is the only direct-service organization of its kind in Mendocino County, and 100 percent of all donations stay in the county to provide information, support and advocacy services free of charge to those facing cancer.

CRCMC’s vision is that no one in Mendocino County faces cancer alone, and the funds raised at this dinner will help provide support services to over 300 people.

Please join Pure Mendocino in a commitment to the sustainability and care of our community. The feeling you will get helping fight cancer, making someone’s fight a little easier, will make you feel pride for having helped in your way. Again, please attend if you can.

mwc gold

Over 250 wines were entered for judgement at the 37th annual Mendocino County Wine Competition, the oldest continuous wine competition in the nation, and 43 Gold Medals and 12 unanimous Double Gold Medals were awarded at a dinner held at the Mendocino County fairgrounds in Boonville on Friday, August 7, 2015. Two of the Double Gold Medal winners were also chosen for the competition’s Best of Show honors. Here are the big winners this year:

NV McFadden Vineyard Sparkling Cuvée Brut, Made with Organically Grown Grapes, Estate Grown & Family Owned, Methode Champenoise, Potter Valley $25

2012 Panthea Winery & Vineyard Single Vineyard Selection Pinot Noir, Klindt Vineyard, Anderson Valley $42


Blush and Rosé
·2014 Handley Cellars Rose of Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley $22

Late Harvest (Dessert) White
·2014 Husch Estate Bottled Late Harvest Gewurztraminer, Anderson Valley $25

·2013 Bonterra Vineyards Made with Certified Organic Grapes Merlot $15

Petite Sirah
·2011 Barra of Mendocino Petite Sirah $22

Pinot Noir
·2012 Handley Cellars Estate Pinot Noir, RSM Vineyard, Anderson Valley $52
·2012 Lula Mendocino Pinot Noir $45
·2013 Blue Quail Estate Grown & Family Owned, Made from Organically Grown Grapes, Pinot Noir, McFadden Vineyard, Potter Valley $24
·2012 Panthea Winery & Vineyard Single Vineyard Selection Pinot Noir, Klindt Vineyard, Anderson Valley $42

·2014 Navarro Vineyards Riesling Deep End Blend, Anderson Valley $29

Sauvignon Blanc
·2014 Handley Cellars Sauvignon Blanc, Anderson Valley $22

Sparkling Wine
NV McFadden Vineyard Sparkling Cuvée Brut, Made with Organically Grown Grapes, Estate Grown & Family Owned, Methode Champenoise, Potter Valley $25

·2012 Navarro Vineyards Old Vine Zinfandel $27



Blended Red
·2011 Brutocao Family Vineyards Estate Bottled and Produced Quadriga, Hopland Ranches $24
·2012 Monte Volpe Barrel Aged Primo Rosso $11
·2013 Navarro Primo Rouge $15

Blended White
·2014 Navarro Vineyards Edelzwicker, Anderson Valley $16
·NV Testa Vineyard White Blend $20

Blush and Rosé
·2014 Seebass Family Wines Rose Fantasie, Seebass Vineyards $28

Cabernet Sauvignon
·2013 Barra of Mendocino Organically Grown Grapes Cabernet Sauvignon $20
·2013 Parducci True Grit Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon $30

·2013 Moniker Wine Estates Chardonnay $25
·2014 Navarro Vineyards Chardonnay $19
·2013 Parducci Small Lot Blend Chardonnay $13

·2014 Navarro Vineyards Gewurztraminer Cuvee Traditional, Anderson Valley $16

Italian Red
·2012 Monte Volpe Aglianico $28
·2012 Monte Volpe Barrel Aged Primitivo $28

Late Harvest (Dessert) White
·2013 Greenwood Ridge Vineyards Late Harvest Riesling, Mendocino Ridge $36
·2012 Stephen & Walker Botrytis Chardonnay, Mendocino Ridge $75

Other Red Varieties
·2013 Saint Gregory Barrel Aged Pinot Meunier $20

Other White Varieties
·2013 Bonterra Vineyards Made with Certified Organic Grapes Viognier $13
·2014 Enotria Moscato $11
·2013 Enotria Barrel Fermented Arneis $15
·2014 Husch Chenin Blanc $12

Petite Sirah
·2012 McNab Ridge Petite Sirah $18
·2012 Navarro Vineyards Petite Sirah $27

Pinot Gris/Grigio
·2014 Navarro Vineyards Pinot Gris, Anderson Valley $19.50

Pinot Noir
2013 Drew Limited Selection Pinot Noir, Valenti Vineyard, Mendocino Ridge $45
·2013 Greenwood Ridge Vineyards Estate Bottled Pinot Noir, Mendocino Ridge $30
·2012 Handley Cellars Pinot Noir Mendocino $25
·2009 Harmonique Elegance’, Anderson Valley $48
·2012 Maggy Hawk Hawkster Anderson Valley Pinot Noir $66
·2012 Maggy Hawk Stormin’ Anderson Valley Pinot Noir $66
·2012 Spell Estate Pinot Noir, Alder springs Vineyard $50
·2012 Spell Estate Pinot Noir, weir Vineyard, Yorkville Highlands $50

·2014 Greenwood Ridge Vineyards Riesling, Mendocino Ridge $19

Sauvignon Blanc
·2014 Brutocao Family Vineyards Estate Grown, Produced & Bottled Sauvignon Blanc, Feliz Vineyard $14
·2014 McFadden Vineyard Estate Grown & Family Owned, Made from Organically Grown Grapes, Sauvignon Blanc, Potter Valley $16
·2014 McNab Ridge Unoaked Sauvignon Blanc $12
·2014 Navarro Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc $18

·2012 Handley Cellars Syrah, Kazmet Vineyard, Redwood Valley $25
·2012 Seebass Family Wines Grand Reserve, Estate Grown, Syrah, Mayacama Bench Block $42

·2012 Parducci Small Lot Blend Zinfandel $12
·2012 Navarro Vineyards Zinfandel $19.50
·2012 Woodenhead Unfined & Unfiltered Zinfandel, Guido Venturi Vineyard $34
·2013 Woodenhead Unfined & Unfiltered Zinfandel, Mariah Vineyard, Mendocino Ridge $42

The results are spread throughout the county, and evenly; of the 55 wines taking Gold or better from wineries with a Mendocino County tasting room, the results were split right down the middle between Hwy 128 and Hwy 101 wineries. Another competition I always look at is the one between two of the county’s most prolific producers; this year Greg Graziano took six Gold or better to Navarro’s five Gold or better, but three of Navarro’s awards were Double Gold., so pretty much another draw.

The awards dinner was a treat. The food was terrific. Janelle Weaver served up McFadden organic grass fed beef, grilled corn, potato salad, and a green salad, with French bread. I got to sit with a lovely couple visiting from Philadelphia who read of the event in my column, we talked about wine, delicious places to eat in Philadelphia, and the Grateful Dead. I saw many wine industry friends, winery owners, winemakers, tasting room staff, and competition judges, and was already in a great mood, applauding medal wins for friends, before the Gold, Double Gold, and Best of Show honors were announced for Guinness McFadden’s Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, and Sparkling Brut, respectively. The great news made an already lovely night even more magical, and I am grateful to the incredible team of volunteers and wine judges who made it all happen.

NEW NV McF  Cuvee Brut

Congratulations to everyone involved, winery participants, competition crew, chef team, consumer attendees, and to all the lucky tasters who will visit our county’s winery tasting rooms to sample these top medal winning wines.

Ron Washam is the subject of legal threats after writing a satirical piece about Georg Riedel and his stemware

Ron Washam is the subject of legal threats after writing a satirical piece about Georg Riedel and his stemware

Recently, I wrote about one of my favorite online writers, Ron Washam, “Ron writes satirically about wine, online wine writing, and wine marketing for his popular Hosemaster of Wine blog,” and about the pin Ron brings to “the overinflated pretentiousness that pervades the marketing of wine.”

Three days ago, Ron wrote a satirical piece about Riedel stemware, Riedel me this, which was posted to Tim Atkin MW’s site.

Georg Riedel has made a fortune with his wine glasses, creating differently shaped stemware for nearly every existing varietal, and convincing a large population of wealthy oenophiles that his very expensive (one single Sommeliers Black Tie Bordeaux Grand Cru wineglass will set you back $171.23 if ordered from RiedelUSA’s website – including tax but excluding shipping!) stemware is absolutely essential to proper enjoyment of wine. How about a set of four, or eight, or twelve of these? Now you need the proper glasses for Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel, Syrah, Sparkling…it doesn’t end!

There is absolutely nothing wrong with spending the equivalent of a year at a fine university for your children on wine glasses, and the addition on your palace to house that assembled stemware. More power to you if you are as wealthy as Georg Riedel; but this is clearly appropriate material for satire.

Yesterday, Georg Riedel responded, through lawyers, threatening Ron, demanding the satirical piece be “immediately be removed from public circulation,” and a retraction be posted, while holding over Ron a threat of a libel law suit for defamation, claiming “immense harm.”


This seems a dick move. Georg Riedel seems to be a humorless dick. Personally, I couldn’t drink wine from a Riedel glass and think the wine is not tainted by dick at this point.

Seriously, Georg, you could have merely sat on your incredible mountain of money, read and dismissed Ron’s piece, been flattered that your aggressive marketing of expensive wine glasses has made you worthy of a momentary pin prick of satire, and ignored it. A couple of thousand people would have seen the piece and it would have been over. Instead you chose to unleash your lawyers, making demands, and threaten a satirist. All you have accomplished is to ensure that many more people will see the piece, as your action is much more newsworthy than the original article; that, and engender a hugely negative impression among the community of wine writers who hear about what can be described as a dick move.

I have a host of different Ultima wine glasses, at just $10 each, that are excellent. Incredibly durable, and shaped well. I am incredibly pleased with them, and I can attest there is nary a whiff of dick when used for wine enjoyment.

John on Wine – Mendo’s own wine competition, and more

This piece will run in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, August 6, 2015; I am posting it online earlier to urge locals to get tickets to this Friday’s Mendo Wine Comp Awards Dinner before they sell out.

Tomorrow, Friday, August 7, wine judges will assemble here in Mendocino County. Wine writers, wine buyers, sommeliers, and various other critical tasters will judge the wines of Mendocino County for our 37th annual wine competition, the oldest continuously held wine competition in the United States. I’ll share the results for a column in two weeks.

Today, I’ll point you to the link to get tickets to tomorrow evening’s award announcement dinner: http://www.mendowine.com/events/awardsceremony.php


The Awards Dinner and Ceremony will be held at the Mendocino County Fairgrounds’ Redwood Grove in Boonville at 6:30 pm, Friday August 7, 2015. Tickets are $60.

This year’s awards dinner features The Bewildered Pig, who will also debut this year with their namesake restaurant in Anderson Valley. The locally-sourced menu of The Pig’s unique, refined yet rustic comfort food will be a dual celebration, showcasing the best wine and food Mendocino County has to offer.

Join the esteemed judges, winery owners and winemakers, sample from among over 200 Mendocino County wines and toast the winners! The dinner is fun, with the crowd jeering mispronunciations of grape varieties, winemaker names, and winery names, and cheering wins by their friends and favorite appellations. A few years back, I sat with a table of Potter Valley winery folks, and we cheered wildly for every medal awarded a Potter Valley winery, with equal gusto for Bronze, Silver, Gold, or unanimous Double Gold. We dubbed ourselves ‘the kids table’ and I was worried we might have gone overboard, but the night’s announcer, Heidi Cusick Dickerson, said afterward that she wished every table had been as enthusiastic.

Come out and join us tomorrow, it really is a fun way to celebrate the best of Mendocino County’s wines.

Eugene Gonsalves pours wine at both McFadden and Graziano in Hopland, and is a joy to work with. Eugene also takes time off to travel the world, and sends notes from his travels, often writing in my voice, in the style of my wine columns, in a jestful satirizing of those pieces.

Most recently, I heard that Eugene was with family in Santa Barbara, and I pointed him toward nearby Ventura and Spencer Makenzie’s world famous fish tacos. Initially, Eugene thought I was pointing him to Ventura because of the great past shows by the Grateful Dead, and although I had indeed seen Bob Weir there, this tip was all about the food. Here’s his review:

“Spencer Makenzie’s, the Irish/English Mexican restaurant, with a New York diner flair! We were met with “un-naked hospitality” by our waitress.

The boys had grilled shrimp with grilled veggies, grandpa style – not spicy.
Jason and Sandra indulged in all the sauces and broke in song, “Hot, Hot, Hot!” Not a Grateful Dead hit, but perfectly appropriate for their fish/shrimp burrito, which they gave a 5 star rating.

Given that it was so close to the ocean, one would expect rip off tourist prices. Unlike some European countries where there are 2 menus – one for locals and one for tourists, these were all local prices.

A glass of McFadden 2013 Gewürztraminer would have made the experience extraordinary!

Thanks for the recommendation. We all enjoyed the food.”

First, I have to say that I am thrilled that the simple but spectacularly flavorful food was as delicious when Eugene visited as when I last ate there many years ago. It always saddens me when a place you once had a spectacular meal falls in quality over time. Second, note that Eugene thought about what wine would make the food sing as beautifully as Jerry Garcia on Stella Blue. Next time you are grabbing food to go, and taking it home, crack a bottle of wine open, and make your meal more delicious, more special.

I’ve written before about Saracina’s stunning grounds with an array of picnic tables, tables & chairs under big umbrellas, weeping willows with seating underneath.


Well, now Saracina has a fully stocked deli case in their tasting room, along with hampers, cutting boards/knives and napkins for guests. The new deli fridge has all the provisions needed to pair with a bottle of wine for a wonderful afternoon, including: brie, camembert, salami, assorted flavors of jack cheese, olives, crackers and fruit. All these items are also available for sale to go, for folks heading to the redwoods or the coast, but just taking a little time out at Saracina with wine, food, and comfortable places to enjoy it all seems like the best choice to me.

The next time that you come to Hopland for wine tasting, visit Steep Organic Coffee & Tea in the big two story yellow Vintage Marketplace building for an affogato. Now my grasp of the Italian language is shaky at best, so I may be wrong in my belief that affogato translates into English as buttface cat, and I am confident that if you order an avocado they’ll figure out that you wanted an affogato, but I am 100% certain you will love this treat after summer wine tasting. An affogato is a scoop of ice cream with an espresso poured over it. Oh my, is it good. Stop in next door, at McFadden, to tell me if you agree after you try one.

I love Zinfandel. Growing up, Zinfandel was used in the kitchen to flavor foods and served at the table to complement those dishes. Hanging just outside my office at the tasting room I manage, there is a framed photograph taken in 1972 of my brother and me crushing Zinfandel grapes by foot for a family wine.

A little too long for my newspaper wine column at over 4,400 words, I wrote an online recap of January’s Zinfandel Experience, produced by Zinfandel Advocates & Producers (ZAP), in San Francisco. Last year, I attended the inaugural ZAP’s Simply Summer Celebration and recapped the experience here in the paper.

Living in Mendocino County, I am fortunate as a Zin lover; Zinfandel is the county’s most planted grape and the county’s flagship cooperative wine program, Coro Mendocino, focuses on the many possible expressions of heritage Zinfandel blends.

On Saturday, Aug. 15, from 1 to 3:30 p.m., the second ZAP Simply Summer Celebration (of Zinfandel) will be hosted on Seghesio Family Vineyards’ Home Ranch in Alexander Valley at 24400 Rich Ranch Road, Cloverdale. Sixty-five wineries will pour their Zinfandel wines, including Seebass Family Vineyards and Edmeades from Mendocino County, plus Carol Shelton Wines and Artezin Wines, among others, who make Zinfandel using Mendocino County grapes.


Great wine needs great food to pair with, and Seghesio is one of my favorite Passport to Dry Creek Valley stops because they always bring it with their food offerings. For this Simply Summer Celebration, ZAP shares, “Seghesio’s custom mobile Jedmaster smoker, with the capacity for 320 pounds of pork butt, Blaze, is equipped to smoke for a huge crowd. Seghesio’s resident pit master, Executive Chef Peter Janiak loves to fire Blaze up any chance he gets and has become quite famous for his hand-made salumi, sausages and smoked meats.” On the menu: Pulled Pork Sandwich smoked for 14 hours and topped with a Zinfandel based BBQ sauce, Feta & Watermelon Salad, and even a Vegetarian Option for the pork averse among you. Healdsburg’s Moustache Baked Goods will provide dessert samples, “baked from scratch and by hand without preservatives and only in small batches.”

Tickets are $65 each, or $50 for ZAP members, and include a commemorative tasting glass, tastes of wines from 65 producers, BBQ food dishes made to pair perfectly with the wines you’ll be tasting, and dessert bites.

ZAP Heritage Club members get a bonus tasting in the hour before the main public tasting; “In collaboration with Seghesio Family Vineyards, ZAP has arranged for an exclusive Zinfandel tasting at the historic Seghesio Home Ranch Vineyard in northern Alexander Valley. Hosted by Seghesio, ZAP Heritage Club members will learn about the history and heritage of this continuously operating 120 year old vineyard. The tasting will focus on the Home Ranch Zinfandel, which still uses founder Edoardo Seghesio’s original 7-acre 1895 vines as the foundation of this wine. Seating is very limited and RSVP is required.”

For more information about ZAP’s Simply Summer Celebration, or to purchase your tickets before they sell out, visit http://www.Zinfandel.org.

Thanks to Glenda Cunningham and Rebecca Robinson of Zinfandel Advocates & Producers for inviting me to your summer event, again.

No one should have to take the blame but me when my writing goes off the tracks, but Ron Washam deserves a little credit for making it better. Ron writes satirically about wine, online wine writing, and wine marketing for his popular Hosemaster of Wine blog. Ron also writes some of the best written wine reviews and winery features under his Ephemera banner on the site as well.

Years ago, I had the opportunity to pour for Ron, and things were going great until I described one of our wines as, “authentic,” which earned a sad shake of the head from Ron. It does not matter whether a wine is estate grown, organically, made with minimal intervention, exhibits varietal correctness, and is an expression of both terroir and vintage, or if that wine is mass produced, conventionally farmed with a liberal application of Round Up, and is absolutely vile in all sensory aspects; they are both authentic.

I have tried not to use meaningless descriptors like authentic, natural, or sustainable since that day. Recently, I sent Ron a note, because I sensed he was tired or down, such being the lot of a writer sometimes. I wrote, “I have appreciated your writing for years, have read all your posts, and appreciate the pin you bring to the overinflated pretentiousness that pervades the marketing of wine.

Rather than allow the sense that wine is serious stuff, unknowable to the regular man, only to be appreciated by those who have devoted a lifetime to tasting, and alienating a huge segment of the potential market for wine, I wish that more people would demystify the fermented juice of grapes, point to it as a terrific component in a larger meal, make it approachable.

Heralding inexpensive wines, as opposed to cheap wines, and suggesting food pairings, driving new consumers to seek out these easily found wines in the market to try, trusting that once the door has been opened many of these new converts from milk, soda, or beer at the dinner table will seek out more expensive bottles, visit tasting rooms, or attend wine events, is what I wish more folks did.

Personally, I do not love [a common supermarket brand, name masked for this piece] wines, I think they are cheap, they just do not taste good to me. I am amazed, under Concha y Toro, just how good the wines at Fetzer are at about the same price point. Inexpensive vs. cheap.”

Ron replied, generously, “Your letter is very kind, and much appreciated. I agree with all of your sentiments, and I’ve spent a lot of energy on HoseMaster trying to express them. Wine is supposed to be enjoyable and life-enhancing, not snooty, not strictly defined (“natural” or “100 point”), not boring. Reading wine blogs makes wine seem dull and lifeless when it’s anything but. And not just wine blogs, most of the press as well make it seem stupid and mundane.”

For my readers, visit Ron’s site, go into the archives and read every piece in order; the comments are often as good as the piece being commented upon. For the local wine folks who read my column, craft a better message, connect with your customers better, make wine approachable and your customers will enjoy it more and share it with their friends and family more often.

John Compisi is an online wine writer, lives in northern Sonoma County with his wife Linda, and visits Mendocino County often.

John was invited by Consortium Mendocino to sit in on the winemaker blending trials for the 2012 vintage of Coro Mendocino wines.

John produced a four part series of stories from the experience, and here are links to those four stories: Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV

John is a friend, a good writer, and I am happy to share links to his stories about Mendocino County’s flagship wine, Coro, and help spread the word about these wines.



John on Wine – A look at competition medals

This piece was originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, July 23, 2015

A lot of folks look at a wine competition Gold Medal in the same way that they look at a Gold Medal from the Olympics, assuming that the wine must have been judged to be the best, the first place, wine of its variety in the competition. They would be mistaken.

A Gold Medal winning wine has received a vote for Gold from the majority of the judges tasting flights of that variety of wine. As an example, if there are four judges tasting flights of Cabernet Sauvignon, and three vote an individual wine Gold and one votes Silver, then the wine would be awarded a Gold Medal; and if two voted Gold for another wine with the other two voting Bronze, then the wine would be awarded a Silver Medal. Unanimous votes for Gold from all judges on a tasting panel are rare, rarer than you might imagine, but when a wine receives a unanimous Gold vote, then that wine receives a Double Gold or Four Star Gold or whatever special designation that competition uses to designate a wine that has taken a unanimous Gold vote from the judges.

There can be more than one wine awarded Gold Medals, and even Double Gold Medals by a judging panel at a wine competition, as excellence is excellence and deserves recognition.

Years ago, I heard the best instruction given by a competition director on how to decide on what medal to vote for each wine tasted. If you would buy a glass of this wine in a restaurant or wine bar, but not a bottle, then vote Bronze; if you would buy a bottle of this wine, but not a case, then vote Silver; and if you would buy a case, or cases, of this wine, then vote Gold. If, however, you would not finish a glass of this wine, or if the wine has winemaking defects, then vote No Medal. Pretty simple, and I use this criteria as my default method of voting on wines when I am asked to judge wines at a competition.

As a buyer of wine, I look at Gold Medals with a healthy dose of skepticism. 99 times out of 100, when a wine takes a competition Gold Medal, no matter how many wine competitions it is subsequently entered into, it never takes another. That suggests to me that Gold Medals are, by and large, random luck based nonsense.

Retired statistics professor Robert Hodgson released a study several years ago which showed that wine judges at a noted wine competition gave dramatically different scores to the same wine when tasting it blind on two different occasions, suggesting a lack of repeatability of results.

If a winery sends a wine to six different wine competitions and gets two Bronze, three Silver, and one Gold Medal, guess which one medal gets pointed to?

For me, medals take on meaning when a wine takes multiple Gold, or better yet Double Gold, medals. Point at three Double Golds for a wine, and I’ll likely be impressed with the wine, as every judge in three different competitions voted unanimously to award that wine a Gold Medal. The rarity of such an occurrence takes the luck based element out of the honor, and pretty much suggests excellence in a wine.

The phenomenon of unrepeatability extends to wines tasted for review and rating by wine publications. The winery I work at has two labels for the exact same wine, one for local distribution where folks might know who Guinness McFadden is or the fame of the grapes from his farm, McFadden; and the other with a more easily remembered name, for distant distribution, Blue Quail. The exact same wine, with different labels, often garners different medals at the same wine competition and, although the notes are strikingly similar, the point ratings from wine publications can differ by as much as four points for the exact same wines when submitted at the same time.

At last years, California State Fair Wine Competition, Mendocino County wineries earned four of the seven Golden Bear Trophies awarded from the California State Fair for wine: Navarro – Golden State Winery of the Year, Navarro – Best of Show Dessert, McFadden – Best of Show Sparkling, and Fetzer – Best Value; 98 points and Double Gold, each and every one of them. This year, not as much love for Mendocino County’s wines. Often with different competition directors, wine competitions will either tighten up or relax year to year; too few golds and there will be fewer entries the following year, too many golds and the award and competition lose some prestige. Results can vary, competition to competition, and year to year.

My experiences tasting and judging have found me both in accordance with other judges, or wildly diverging in opinion with other judges. I’ve sat with John Buechsenstein, John Dickerson, Heidi Cusick-Dickerson, and Rosemary Eddy in evaluation of blends at Maria and Rusty Martinson’s blending party at Testa Vineyards. Last year, I was one of three Johns, John B., John C., and John D., and our favorites, and least favorites were almost exactly the same. Recently, I tasted and judged Lake County amateur wine entries at The Winefest in Lakeport. My fellow judges were all frequent tasters of Lake County wines, and my scores probably varied from the other four the most. They all had good palates, but were tasting against a more ideal Lake County norm, where I am perhaps less wedded to expectation and more open to what a wine can be; I am fine with lighter style reds, even if they are unusual, if they are balanced, delicious, and could pair well with food, as an example.

The "Fest" in The Winefest, Lakeport's celebration of the county's amateur and commercial wines features wine, food, art, crafts, and music

The “Fest” in The Winefest, Lakeport’s celebration of the county’s amateur and commercial wines features wine, food, art, crafts, and music

That said, there were wines so excellent, that there was complete agreement, and the dessert wine category yielded three wines, all of which were Double Gold worthy, and superior in quality to many commercially made and sold wines. Here were some of my favorite winemakers from The Winefest: Doug Moore, Michelle Shultz, James Celozzi, David Hicks, Conn & Marcia Murray, and the LCSA Wine Club; you all made some delicious wines!


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