I rarely post press releases, but I have attended these events, the big ones sell out, and I have a great fondness for the vineyards, wineries, wines, and people who make up the wine scene in Anderson Valley, so please give this one a read, make note of dates and be sure to grab your tickets early, and I’ll see you at each. Of course, I’ll post notices of each event in advance and recap each event after for my weekly wine column in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper.


Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association Announces 2016 Alsace Varietals, Pinot Noir Festivals & More
Four festivals will showcase the best of Anderson Valley 

October 26, 2015, Philo, Calif. – The Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association has announced that it will hold its 11th annual International Alsace Varietals Festival on February 19-20, 2016 and the 19th annual Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival May 20-22, 2016. Other events will include the Anderson Valley Barrel Tasting Weekend July 23-24 and the Winesong! Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Celebration September 9-10.

Alsace 2015 Poster Final low res_opt(1)

2015’s Alsace Fest was a highlight of the tasting events. Grab your tickets for 2016’s event before they sell out.

The International Alsace Varietals Festival will feature wineries from both near and far, pouring Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Muscat. Delectable bites like fresh oysters, pork belly, artisan cheeses and more will be on offer throughout Saturday’s grand tasting. Wineries will attend from California, Oregon, Washington, Alsace, Germany, New Zealand, Michigan, Vermont, New York, and more.

The Alsace Festival technical session on Saturday morning will include a talk by John Winthrop Haeger (his book, “Riesling Rediscovered,” will release in March 2016); a session on grand cru grapes with Sommelier Evan Goldstein; and a food and wine pairing with Chef Francois de Melogue. Saturday evening winemaker dinners will be held at Scharffenberger Cellars and The Philo Apple Farm, and participating wineries will host open houses on Sunday.

Casual BBQ at Lula Cellars (photo by John Cesano)

Casual BBQ at Lula Cellars, part of 2015’s Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival, was a highlight for attendees. (Photo by John Cesano)

The Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival May 20-22 focuses on just one variety from one appellation: Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, in all its forms. More than 50 producers will pour Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, Pinot rosés and Blanc de Noirs at Saturday’s grand tasting. Other events include a full-day technical conference, various winemaker dinners throughout Anderson Valley and the Mendocino Coast, and open houses on Sunday.


Joe Webb pulling barrel samples at Foursight Winery during the Anderson Valley Barrel Tasting Weekend. (Photo by John Cesano)

Now in its fourth year, the Anderson Valley Barrel Tasting Weekend allows consumers to taste soon-to-be-bottled wines from approximately 20 local producers, and not just Pinot Noir! Held at the end of summer, the wines are final blends, and are drinking beautifully. Attendees can taste with the winemakers, purchase futures of select wines and enjoy food pairings and activities.

The Winesong! Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Celebration highlights Anderson Valley Pinot Noir and small bites by The Little River Inn – all with a stunning ocean view above the town of Little River, Calif. A fundraiser for the Coast Hospital Foundation, this event is a great way to kick of a weekend of charitable festivities.

Additional information about all these events can found at the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association Web site at www.avwines.com, or by contacting the Association via e-mail at info@avwines.com, or by phone at (707) 895-WINE.


Charlie Barra at 2014’s Barra Winemaker Dinner featuring Barra wines and mushroom dishes.

Barra of Mendocino and Crush Italian Steakhouse are proud to present their five course mushroom themed dinner on Saturday November 7th at 6pm. This Winemaker Dinner is in association with Visit Mendocino’s Mushroom and Wine Festival. This event will include exclusive Barra wine paired with unique dishes prepared by the culinary staff of Crush Italian Steakhouse. As in the past these events were sold out long in advance so we encourage you to contact Barra at (707) 485-0322 for tickets. Limited seating is available at $75 per person.

I have visited Barra of Mendocino often and they appear in my weekly newspaper wine column with some frequency, and I have attended every Chef’s Wine Dinner held at Crush Italian Steakhouse and the recaps of those dinners have been among the most favorably commented on pieces that appear in the newspaper. This dinner combines two of my favorite things, and will absolutely sell out early, so call now – not later – to try to secure your tickets. I will be happily attending and there is a decent chance that I will be sitting next to Chef Jesse Elhardt, the chef behind each of Crush’s successful Chef’s Wine Dinners.

Even though not strictly a Chef’s Winemaker Dinner, but Barra’s own dinner at Crush, look for a future recap in the Ukiah Daily Journal.

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, October 22, 2015

More and more, I find myself driving over Highway 253 from Ukiah to the Anderson Valley to taste wine. Most recently, I made the trip over the mountains to attend the Knez Wine Luncheon at their Demuth Vineyards winery location.

Not related to wine, but of note: on my drive, I saw a porcupine, a deer and a covey of quail, which is just one more reason why wine tasting in Mendocino County is worlds better than wine tasting in more built up Disney-esque wine regions.

The Knez winery facility is 2.5 miles up a dirt road, and when I say up, I mean UP, off road 150A, just east of the town of Boonville, off Highway 128. The setting was lovely, a beautiful blue sky day and perfectly warm temperatures, with a long table set up under the tented crush pad, right outside of the winery, atop the vineyard property.

I love attending events, rather than working them, but having shown up a little early, I helped set the tables and then made a quick run to the Knez tasting room, at the Madrones in nearby Philo on Highway 128, and back in Knez Director of Retail Goddessing (I am not certain this is the title on her business cards) Margaret Pedroni’s car with flappy paddle transmission. I must confess that rolling through the gears in her car was a genuine treat and, if not for the speedometer warning lights, the trip might have ended before it began as I am pretty sure her Lexus can bend time.

First, thanks to Margaret and Jennie Stevens from the tasting room, Vineyard Manager Ryan McAllister and Winemaker Anthony Filiberti from Knez for a wonderful wine experience.

Ryan led a tour of Demuth Vineyard. We looked down from the Demuth, past the Knez Vineyard, to the drop off leading to the steep Cerise Vineyard. Limited by time, and lacking Sherpas, we did not walk down to Cerise and back. Ryan talked about the organically grown grapes, in all ways except certification paperwork, the growing choices, the challenges, and the vintage. 2015 saw an earlier harvest, and “smaller crop, more skin to juice, high quality, but less juice.”

Knez vineyard manager Ryan McAllister. Photo by John Cesano

Knez vineyard manager Ryan McAllister. Photo by John Cesano

Ryan explained the drought led to smaller crop yields, but anticipated that with the vintage’s smaller grapes, and less inner pulp to skin, the flavors for the wines would be outstandingly flavorful, intense representations of both the vintage and vineyard.

Demuth Vineyard. Photo by John Cesano

Demuth Vineyard. Photo by John Cesano

Next: more thanks, this time to Julia Kendrick Conway, owner and chef of Assaggiare Mendocino, for catering a delicious lunch, and to your entire team for exemplary service. Lunch started with the 2013 Knez Demuth Chardonnay, paired with a Romaine salad with a pecorino vinaigrette and crispy chicken cracklings.

All salads should have chicken cracklin's (or pork). Photo by John Cesano

All salads should have chicken cracklin’s (or pork). Photo by John Cesano

Winemaker Anthony introduced the Chardonnay as, “structure and brightness well suited for food, from one of the most distinctive Chardonnay sites in California. Could age 15 years, look forward to three years from now. Acid goes with California’s fresh acid foods. 30 percent new oak and 100 percent malolactic.”

The apple, lemon and minerality of this Chardonnay saw it pair well with the vinegar dressing of the salad, and the rich mouthfeel worked nicely with the chicken cracklings.

Up next was grilled Noyo wild King salmon with roasted Meyer lemon relish, served over toasted Israeli couscous infused with saffron and fresh rosemary, and farm carrots roasted with Moroccan spices. Two wines were served with this course.

Salmon paired with two Knez wines. Photo by John Cesano

Salmon paired with two Knez wines. Photo by John Cesano

Of the 2012 Knez Demuth Pinot Noir, Anthony shared it was an “elegantly styled Pinot for the Boonville area; partly for elevation and partly for older vine age. We don’t get a lot of fruit, higher elevation just doesn’t set fruit well,” and the wine was all, “elegance and structure.” I picked up notes of forest, earthy, rose petal floral, and woody spice. And fruit. Lots of cherry-berry fruit.

A very happle table filled with good wine, food, and friends. Photo by John Cesano

A very happle table filled with good wine, food, and friends. Photo by John Cesano

Anthony described the 2012 Knez Cerise Pinot Noir as, “other older vine stuff, more robust. Same exact winemaking, you get more weight, structure, fruit; the style is dictated by what happens on the site; deeper red fruit, earthy, savory, structured.”

2012 Knez Cerise Pinot Noir. Photo by John Cesano

2012 Knez Cerise Pinot Noir. Photo by John Cesano

This was the bigger, deeper, more concentrated of the two wines. Both were delicious, but this was the one that paired better for me with the varied flavors of the food. Pinot Noir and salmon works, it always works, but the way the bright Meyer lemon notes in the meal, or the earthy herby notes of the rosemary and saffron couscous, or the heavier accented Moroccan spices in the roasted carrots played against these two wines, and especially the Cerise Pinot Noir, was a delight.

Edible spoonfuls of yum for dessert. Photo by John Cesano

Edible spoonfuls of yum for dessert. Photo by John Cesano

Speaking of delights, Julia served up five-spice crème brulee in edible spoons, one chocolate and one spiced cookie. The cookie spooned crème brulee was fantastic and I could have, and would have, eaten a half dozen happily. The only thing better was when the dessert was paired with the 2014 Knez Vineyard White Blend wine, a blend of Pinot Gris, Malvasia, and Friulano, a super Italian white blend; exotic, aromatic, and, “southern Italian in its styling,” according to Anthony. I got loads of citrus, spice and bright floral notes.

Anthony then led us on a winery tour and dipped a large cup into a bin of two thirds whole cluster Syrah, offering us tastes communion chalice style. With only 40 percent of the normal yield, for the 2015 vintage, this was richly flavored juice. Anthony then indulged my request for some barrel tasting, with the wines only in barrel for mere days.

Inside the fermenting bin of Syrah at Knez. Photo by John Cesano

Inside the fermenting bin of Syrah at Knez. Photo by John Cesano

Tasting different clones of Pinot Noir showed how completely different wine flavors could be, and tasting wine held in new oak showed how impactful the barrel flavors could be when compared to wine held in oak barrels used just once or twice previously.

Margaret and Jennie were busy at event’s end, as happy guests placed wine orders, many choosing to sign up for the Knez wine club to enjoy discounts beginning immediately. Visit the Knez tasting room at the Madrones in Philo, across Highway 128 from Balo; taste wines, sign up for the wine club and save money, and get on the mailing list so you can attend next year’s wonderful lunch at the Knez winery site at their vineyards.

Hopland Passport is just two days away, on Saturday, Oct. 17 and Sunday, Oct. 18, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day, and will offer up wine and food tasting at 15 local spots. Many wineries offer up their biggest discounts of the year for attendees.

Hopland Passport visitors enjoying the wines at top attraction, McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room (Photo by Pam Strayer)

Hopland Passport visitors enjoying the wines at top attraction, McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room (Photo by Pam Strayer)

You’ll find music, tours, and this year there will be seminars too. For more information, including how to get tickets for the two-day event, visit HoplandPassport.com. Here is some of what you can expect this weekend:

Join Brutocao Cellars at the Historic “Brutocao Schoolhouse Plaza” for another fun-filled, educational wine weekend. They’ll be pouring their award-winning Estate wines from both bottle and barrel, rolling bocce balls, dancing to live music and of course eating great food.  In the spirit of the Schoolhouse, Brutocao will be hosting “blending seminars” both days.  Sign up early, to learn the secrets of great wine making.

Seminar: Blending Seminar


Join Campovida this Hopland Passport for an exploration of white Rhône varietals with winemaker Sebastian Donoso.  Campovida will be pouring Marsanne, Roussanne, and Viognier as well as Campo Di Blanca, a blend of all three, accompanied by food pairings crafted by their restaurant, the Piazza de Campovida. Finally, don’t forget to try Campovida’s biodynamically farmed Grenache.

Seminar: White Rhone Varietal Exploration


Cesar Toxqui Cellars will be serving delectable cheeses with a new sparkling wine and Viognier as a starter. CTC will have fall-themed food: seasonal corn and black bean salad, plus a mixed-grill medley of barbecue grilled tri-tip, wild boar sausage, and chicken — which will pair well with new release 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, organic and sustainable, along with Zinfandel. Complete your experience with delicious cake paired with port.

Frey Vineyards invites you to taste 100 percent organic award-winning wines at the Solar Living Center, inside the store. Organic Menu:  Apricot glazed chicken breast strips marinated in ginger, garlic, tamari, and local apricot jam; Marinated Frey Ranch Goat Cheese; Roasted root vegetables with olive oil and Herbs; Homemade Hummus; fresh raw vegetables; crackers, baguettes; and Acorn Meyer lemon bars sweetened with local honey on a buttery crust.

Graziano Family of Wines with four distinct wine labels will be offering wines from Aglianico to Zinfandel. Specializing in Italian varietals, they also make several different Pinot Noirs and old Mendocino varietals like Chenin Blanc and Petite Sirah. Greg Graziano will be doing a seminar on Italian influence in Mendocino County on Saturday. Come taste Greg’s wines and enjoy Italian Sausages, aged cheeses, olive tapenade, and more.

Seminar: Greg Graziano Family Tradition (held at Brutocao Cellars)


Scottish Highlanders invade Mendocino Wine Country. The girls of Jaxon Keys Winery & Distillery will put on their finest kilts and sporrans to explore their Scottish roots on Burnee Hill. Join Jaxon Keys and taste amazing Estate wines paired with traditional Scottish fare. The Highland Games are taking place in the meadow, bagpipes are sounding in the farmhouse and America’s Best Brandy will be showcased in an expertly guided distillery tour. Slainte! Cheers!

Seminar: Distillery Tour and Seminar


Upper Russian River Grilling will be happening at Jeriko Estate for the October 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.

At the McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room, enjoy Hopland’s top awarded, rated and reviewed wines. Guinness McFadden will be cooking up a Beef Bourguignon styled stew, which McFadden is calling Irish stew because Guinness is cooking it, using his organic grass-fed beef from McFadden Farm, perfect for the fall weather, and sliced baguettes. McFadden Wine Club Members get 30 percent discounts plus 1 penny shipping on cases of wine during Passport. Pick up farm fresh premium garlic braids, wild rice, beef and herbs, as well. Guinness McFadden will be on hand to hand sign purchased bottles.

Seminar: Chat on Organic Farming (with the possibility of additional topics: Notre Dame, the U.S. Navy, and a joke about an Irish priest and a bicycle) with Guinness McFadden



McNab Ridge Tasting Room will be featuring Pollo Ricky Tacos — Perfectly prepared by S’Wine Country BBQ. Marinated chicken grilled to perfection, sauced with a sweet and savory chile sauce, topped with a fresh pico de gallo cabbage salsa, finished with a roasted chipotle peanut salsa, chipotle crema and chopped roasted peanuts. Bottle painting by Leslie Bartolomei. And of course, McNab Ridge will pour the whole line-up of Rich Parducci’s award-winning wines.

Milano Family Winery will feature a scrumptious red-wine-infused oak smoked, marinated Tri-Tip, fresh veggies, a variety of cheeses and decadent chocolate raspberry brownies.  Enjoy live music on the lawn both Saturday and Sunday noon to 4 p.m.  Learn about Red Winemaking at Milano’s seminars — Saturday at noon and 2 p.m., Sunday at noon.  Eat, sip medal-winning wines, groove to tunes, and peruse the wares of several vendors selling fashion and crafts.

Seminar: Red Winemaking with Deanna Starr


Relax in the Redwoods at Nelson Family Vineyards with gorgeous views of their terraced Cabernet vineyard. Nelson will be pouring Estate wines paired with Mendough’s Pizza. Roots of Wine Tour, Viticulture 101, Saturday 1 p.m. and 3 p.m., Sunday 2 p.m. Walk the vineyards with Greg and Tyler Nelson. See first-hand how to prune, sucker, tie, and leaf pull to yield top quality wine grapes.

Seminar: Viticulture 101


Relax and enjoy the grandest view in the valley at RIVINO Estate Winery, where with every wine you get to savor in your glass, you can also view the vines they came from, from where you’re perched. Along with award winning estate wines, you will get to enjoy wood fired food creations by Pagan Fire Pizza. Rivino may have some delicious fermenting winery juices to try too.

Join Seebass Vineyards and Family Wines on the vineyard for a traditional German Oktoberfest. Seebass’ best wines will be accompanied by authentic German tastings prepared by their family and served in historic barns overlooking a 100+ acre vineyard. Seebass will be featuring their favorite Chardonnays as well as a selection of award winning reds. Prost!

Located in downtown Hopland, SIP Wine Shop is a wine shop and discovery center for anyone interested in learning about and buying Mendocino wines. With over 100 different wines from local producers, SIP is sure to have something to please every palate. Stop by and enjoy a glass of wine, cider or craft beer on a beautiful garden patio. SIP will be pairing fine wines with tasty treats all weekend long.

Seminar: Cooking Demo & Seminar on Grass-fed, Heritage Meat by Mendocino Organics


Find the grill of your dreams at Terra Sávia, with a Passport menu featuring a trio of glazed grilled kebobs of beef, fresh shrimp, or chicken along with marinara, cashew ricotta, or pesto gnocchi paired with local seasonal vegetables., pleasantly topped off with a refreshing Meyer Lemon Cake. Back by popular demand, Coffee Zombie Collective will fill the house with their raucous acoustic cover tunes. Bring your appetite and dancing shoes.

Seminar: Olive Oil Seminar


John on Wine – Charity and more

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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



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

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

First, more about the Valley Fire Fundraiser on October 25

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Baxter tasting room in Philo. Photo by John Cesano

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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