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John On Wine ­ – Three events for wine (and fun) lovers

John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal on Thursday, May 29, 2014

A Taste of Redwood Valley

The 23rd annual A Taste of Redwood Valley wine weekend is coming up Saturday, June 14 and Sunday, June 15, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day. Tickets are $30 online at http://www.ATasteOfRedwoodValley.com and include wine tasting at seven wineries as well as my favorite distillery location — all in the Redwood Valley just north of Ukiah — gourmet food tastes to pair with the wines, a collectible event logo glass, gift drawings at each spot, music, and more over Father’s Day weekend. You can also show up at any participating winery or distiller and pick up a ticket during the event for $35.

Barra of Mendocino/Girasole Vineyards, Brown Family Wines, Frey Vineyards, Germain-Robin/Crispin’s Concoctions, Giusepe Wines/Neese Vineyards, Graziano Family of wines, Silversmith Vineyards, and Testa Vineyards will all be pouring their best wines, pairing them with yummy treats, running sales, and making visitors happy to be spending a weekend in Mendocino County.

There will also be a Winemaker Dinner on Friday, June 13 at 6 p.m., with Brown Family Wines playing host to dinner attendees. If you attended last year’s Friday night Winemaker Dinner at Testa Vineyards, then you remember how delicious the dinner was. With Tia Satterwhite returning to cater the event again this year, folks that attend will be sure to have an enjoyable evening. Tickets are $60 each, also available online. Buying a ticket for both the weekend wine tasting and the dinner saves you a little, with an $85 price for all three days of fun, wine, and dinner.

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Coro Release Party

On Saturday, June 28 at 6 p.m., a lucky few will gather at the Little River Inn on the Mendocino Coast for the 2011 Vintage Coro Release Party.

Seating is limited, and reservations are required for this $500 per couple experience.

The evening kicks off with a welcome reception cocktail hour and a pouring of each participating winery’s white and sparkling wine selections paired with passed appetizers. Moving inside, Chef Marc Dym’s multi course gourmet dinner is served and features dishes created to highlight the wines, which are the stars of the evening.

The 2011 vintage saw eight wineries create Coro Wines to the exacting quality standards which set this program apart in the wine industry; they are Barra, Brutocao, Clos du Bois, Fetzer, Golden, McFadden, Parducci, and Testa.

Each couple will take home a full set of the 2011 Coro Mendocino collection, and one lucky couple will have their collection upgraded to a set of Magnums.

There are only 20 or so couple tickets left; call the Little River Inn directly to secure your seats at (707) 937-5942.

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Annual Party at McFadden Farm

This was originally a Wine Club BBQ, but has grown over the years and is more inclusive with many attendees who aren’t wine club members coming up to McFadden Farm in Potter Valley for a spectacularly enjoyable party.

Always held on the second Saturday of July — July 12, 2014 this year — tickets are limited to the first 225 who grab them, and with a 500 acre farm as the setting for the party that number seems intimate.

Tickets are $60 each, McFadden wine club members get two tickets at $50 each, and children 12 and under are welcome at $20 each. Tickets are available online at http://www.McFaddenFarm.com or by calling the tasting room in Hopland at (707) 744-8463.

Guests show up at 5: p.m. (or earlier if they want to set up a tent and camp overnight, after the festivities), park and take a hay ride to the event location on the bank of the Russian River where it begins, quickly checked in, then enjoy a welcome glass or two of McFadden wine. Guinness gathers folks who are interested and gives them a walking tour of the farm. The Kelly McFarling Band will play folks into a delicious Mendo simple dinner of grilled Magruder pork and Guntley lamb, with farm to table vegetable, salad, and dessert dishes prepared by CCA graduated chef Anne Fontaine McFadden and her team of chef friends from San Francisco.

Dinner will be served with a collection of award winning, highly rated wines, and the first ever McFadden Brut Rosé will be released for the evening, from the highly acclaimed 2012 vintage.

Raffle prizes are given away, and special sale prices are extended the evening’s guests so everyone can feel like a winner whether they take a raffle prize or not.

D.J. extraordinaire Hal Wagenet ­ also candidate for Mendocino County 3rd District Supervisor – takes over with the music, and the music continues late into the evening.

Wine and bubbly inspired dancing goes on until 11 p.m., or so. I am usually gone before then, but I have heard that some campers have pulled out a boom box and dancing continued into the early morning hours.

 

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John On Wine – Fantastic February Food and Fun Festival Fare

Originally published on February 7, 2014 in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper by John Cesano

I write what I write, sometimes knowing well in advance what it will be, and other times not knowing until I sit down and the words begin to flow from fingertip to computer monitor. This week, I knew what I was going to write because you, my readers, told me what to write.

I receive the occasional recommendation from readers about which winery I should visit and review, or suggestion for a wine related topic that I should turn into a column, but the number of people who stopped me to tell me that I must write about Uncorked, and the passion they conveyed when speaking about eating there, was persuasively impressive.

Last Thursday, after work, I took my son to Uncorked for dinner.

Uncorked Wine Bistro is located on the north side of the courthouse in downtown Ukiah, between Patrona and Saucy, on West Standley Street.

When Charlie and I arrived, T.J. Elton of the Felt Tips was offering up some dinner music, while owner Kerri Barnett was in near constant motion, making sure everything was going well for the evening’s guests.

I’ve been to Uncorked before, and every time it has been an ‘order several things and share’ experience. This was no different. We ordered the Scrimshaw Shrimp and Bacon-wrapped scallops from the Small & Sharing Plates section of the menu, and a French dip and Roasted Cuban Garlic Chicken from the Big Ol’ Plates side of the menu.

Uncorked offers three flights, that they call Wine Sips, where three half glasses of wine are served and can be paired with different foods, making the night more fun. I passed on the red and rose, choosing white wine; 2010 Monte Volpe Tocai Friulano, 2010 Dom de la Collonge (France) Pouilly Fuisse, and 2012 La Playa (Chile) Sauvignon Blanc.

The Scrimshaw Shrimp, poached in Scrimshaw Pilsner, was delicious, with a lovely bright acid from a spicy lemon sauce allowing the natural sweetness of the perfectly seasoned shrimp to pop.

Bacon-wrapped Scallops? Seriously, two of God’s favorite creations together in one, or more if you’re dainty, big bite. What’s not to love?

The wine flight really was great too. Greg Graziano’s sweet Tocai Friulano was a terrific food wine. The French Pouilly Fuisse, a Chardonnay, had a nice light oak and apple nose, that didn’t quite deliver on the palate. The reverse holds for the Sauvignon Blanc, which was much more delicious than first sniff promised.

The French Dip was a Panini styled sandwich with grilled onions and a horseradish mustard sauce, served with a side of Au Gratin Potatoes. Quite good.

The Roasted Cuban Garlic Chicken was flavorfully spicy and very delicious, as were the Mashed sweet Potatoes it was served with.

Everything we enjoyed was so good, we decided on a pair of desserts, too.

I had the Uncorked Smores, an enormous amount of rich dark chocolate ganache, topped with a toasted sweet meringue puff, and served with a housemade graham cracker. Excellent.

Smaller, but more concentratedly delicious is the Housemade Maple ice Cream with Bourbon Pecan Praline Sauce that my son Charlie ordered. Intensely flavorful. I’m getting one of these on my next visit.

Charlie also had an Abita Root Beer. Uncorked has terrific and tasty beverage selections for folks who are too young to drink alcohol, and a great selection of draft and bottled artisan brews for those who prefer brew to wine.  As you would expect from the name, Uncorked Wine Bistro shines in the wine selection, offering over 40 wines, carefully selected to pair well with food, by the bottle or glass.

The atmosphere invites conversation among tables, and I not only knew what everyone else had ordered, but how much they enjoyed their dishes as well.

For reservations, call (707) 463-1523.
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February Events:

The International Alsace Varietals Festival – Saturday, February 8, 2014, 8:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. – Mendocino County Fairgrounds in Boonville, CA. Tickets range from $45 to $100 for educational sessions to the grand tasting, or the complete package, and the focus is on Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Muscat. Participants include Balo, Barra, Breggo, Cutruzzola, Esterlina, Goldeneye, Greenwood Ridge, Foris, Handley, Husch, Lazy Creek, Left Foot Charley, Lula, McFadden, Navarro, New Zealand Winegrowers, Philo Ridge, Phillips Hill, Domaines Schlumberger, Toulouse, Robert Sinskey,  Stoney Hill, Thomas Fogarty, Tatomer, Valckenberg, and more. For more information, or to buy tickets, visit http://www.avwines.com/alsace-festival/

Fifth Annual Chocolate and Wine Festival – February 8, 2014, 11:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. – $20 admission gets a special glass and tastes throughout the Redwood Valley of Mendocino county. Participants include Frey, Oster, Giuseppe/Neese, Silversmith, Brown, Graziano, Germain Robin/Craft Distillers, Barra/Girasole, and Testa. http://www.atasteofredwoodvalley.com/

Second Saturday in Hopland – February 8, 2014, 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. – Hopland winery tasting rooms offer complimentary food pairing treats for special wines, and a special one day discount on those wines every Second Saturday of the year. Participating wineries include Cesar Toxqui, Graziano, McFadden, McNab Ridge, Naughty Boy, and Ray’s Station. http://www.destinationhopland.com/all-events

San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition Public Tasting – Saturday, February 15, 2014, 1:30 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. – Every Gold Medal, Double Gold Medal, Best of Class, and Sweepstakes awarded wine from the largest judging of American wines in the world will be poured; that is several hundred wines to choose from. Participating Mendocino County wineries include Alder Springs, Bliss/Brutocao, Campovida, Cesar Toxqui, Handley, Husch, Kimmel, McFadden, Naughty Boy, Navarro, Parducci, Philo Ridge, Seebass, and more.  $65 in advance, $80 at the door. http://www.winejudging.com/event_tickets.htm

Eighth Annual Dark & Delicious Petite Sirah – Friday, February 21, 2014, 6:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. – 46 wineries pour their big and bold Petite Sirah wines, including Artezin and Parducci from Mendocino County, alongside knock out food pairings, at Rockwall Wine Co in Alameda, CA. $65 ticket. http://www.darkdelicious.brownpapertickets.com/

 

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John On Wine – Location, location, location

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal on November 14, 2013 by John Cesano

Tasting wine. It is important to do. Last weekend, I ventured south to taste wines in Sonoma County with a friend from the Sonoma Valley. I tasted more Cabernet Sauvignon wines than I do in a month of tasting in Mendocino County, which, if only for the novelty was a treat. I also reconfirmed that, by and large, the wines grown, made, poured in Mendocino County are just as good as I find anywhere else. It is also entirely possible that by tasting the wines of Mendocino County so frequently, so overwhelmingly, that I am developing a county-wide house palate.

A house palate is what you get when you work for, taste, and drink the wines of one winery. I completely admit to having developed a house palate for the wines made by Carol Shelton when I worked at Windsor Vineyards in the 90s and now I have the same thing going on for the completely different wines grown by Guinness McFadden.

I came to love Carol’s wines for their sexy, feminine, soft, lush, rich fruit forwardness. Now, I look for the food-friendly balance that Guinness’ cool, climate grown, high acid fruit yields in the wines I pour every day. That said, I am just as pleased by wines that are different.

Even though I tend to lean toward the wines I pour daily, I am beyond open, I’m excited to taste new wines. I love finding delicious wines made by wineries I might have dismissed after less than stellar tasting experiences years earlier. The only way to find out what great wines are out is to taste wines.

I’ve been tasting wines for 30 years and can describe the differences that the place a grape is grown can have on flavors, how varietally correct wines from one area differ greatly from varietally correct wines of another area, and how with these differences they can both be varietally correct. I remember when I first fell in love with Pinot Noir, exploring the mineral complexities of a genuine French Burgundy, the candied cherry and rose petal of a Russian River William Selyem, the meatiness of a Monterey Chalone, the Carneros gravel, the way different areas flavored the same grape.

Wine isn’t Kool-Aid or soda, wine is different depending on where it is grown. Of course, vintage and winemaker also play a huge role in how wines taste, but today we’ll stick to place.

Compare Sonoma Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, and the same wine made from grapes grown in the Dry Creek Valley, Napa Valley, Paso Robles, and inland Mendocino County. Heck, compare the wines made by Rosati Family Vineyards using Ridge estate budstock and the same wine made by Ridge using grapes from the same budstock. Paul Draper and Zelma Long are both great winemakers, the wines of both are great, and for all their similarities the Cabernet Sauvignon of Rosati grown in Mendocino County will taste different than the Ridge grown Cabernet Sauvignon grown on the mountain ridges above Santa Clara.

Look, I know that not everyone is wine geeky enough to appreciate subtle differences between wines made from grapes grown in two different northern California wine regions, but try this: imagine tasting Chardonnay made from grapes grown in the dry desolation of baking hot Texas or the wet fetid swampiness of Louisiana. You don’t have to be a Master Sommelier or your crowd’s own Frasier Crane to know that grapes grown in many places outside of California’s wine regions could be horrible.

If you can accept that there are places that grapes shouldn’t be grown, then accepting that we live in a pretty magical area for grape growing should not be too hard a leap of faith. Just look around, there are grapes grown everywhere. Right out in the open, legal, not in hiding, no nasty cartels. Grapes are the real heart of a healthy Mendocino County agricultural scene. We are home to the greatest concentration of green growers. Our grape growers are family farmers, organic, bio diverse, biodynamic, fish friendly, carbon neutral. Seventy-five percent of the county’s grapes end up in the more famous and more expensive wines made in Sonoma and Napa Counties.

We are a farm county and our grapes are highly sought after, offering buyers incredible quality and ridiculously low prices. The wines we make in our county, from the grapes we keep are the bomb. I go on about inland Mendocino County almost every week, heaping deserved praise on wines made by wineries along the Highway 101 upper Russian River corridor, but the Pinot Noir from Toulouse and the Rose of Pinot Noir from Navarro in the Anderson Valley, or Yorkville Cellars’ Late Harvest Semillon grown in the Yorkville Highlands, are wines as good as you are likely to taste anywhere. How do I know? Because I try to taste wines from everywhere.

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A Taste of Redwood Valley, the group who would love you to come taste wines in Redwood Valley, just north of Ukiah, with greater frequency, will be holding their Holiday Wine Sale and Juried Art Faire on Saturday, Nov. 23 and Sunday, Nov. 24 from 11 a.m. ­ 5 p.m., which will provide you a great opportunity to pick up wines for Thanksgiving at savings of up to 40 percent off. Different wineries will have different hours and offers, and some will be open just one of the two days. For more information, visit ATasteOfRedwoodValley.com, and to find me visit Germain-Robin where I will be stocking up on Crispin Cain’s Rose Liqueur and his Absinthe.

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John On Wine ­ – Alphabet soup (VMC, MWI, AVWA, ATORV, DH, YHGVA)

Originally published on November 7, 2013 in the Ukiah Daily Journal by John Cesano


Last week was remarkable for inland Mendocino County’s wine scene. In a perfect example of “when it rains, it pours,” after I had complained that the wineries of inland Mendocino county receive scant attention when compared to the folks over in the Anderson Valley, all of a sudden we started getting noticed.

First, of course, was the San Francisco Chronicle’s tasting room reviewer for the Sunday travel section giving a three star review to the lovely Campovida and then a three and a half star review to the small but mighty McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room, both located in Hopland.

The impact, the number of first time visitors who came because of the write up, was astonishing.

Next, Visit Mendocino County (VMC) brought professional photographers for all of last week, and in addition to capturing photographs in Anderson Valley and on the coast, the Vintage Marketplace building, which houses four winery tasting rooms, in Hopland was one of the locations chosen. Any promotional efforts by VMC on behalf of the winery tasting rooms, restaurants, and places to stay here along the 101 corridor from Hopland up to Willits, will be greatly appreciated.

Huge thanks go out to Jen Filice from VMC, who shepherded photographers and models all over the county, and to Margaret Pedroni from Ray’s Station, who was instrumental in helping the Vintage Marketplace location be chosen as the new hot spot for tourism promotion.

Speaking of Margaret Pedroni, Margaret also handles marketing for Coro Mendocino and has been busy working with Dave Richards, the manager of Crush restaurant in Ukiah, to see the 2010 vintage Coro Mendocino wines be the featured wines for the next Crush Chef’s Wine Dinner, on Wednesday, Dec. 11.

All 10 producers will be featured, Brutocao, Claudia Springs, Fetzer, Golden, Mendocino Vineyards, McFadden, McNab Ridge, Parducci, Philo Ridge, and Ray’s Station, but with eight of the 10 wines being made at inland wineries, hopefully this dinner will bring a little more attention to the area.

You may have noticed a sign or two, or read an ad, or heard about events while listening to local radio; we are smack dab in the middle of the Mendocino Mushroom, Wine & Beer Fest. It started last weekend, and runs through this weekend.

Many wineries throughout the county take advantage of the opportunity this festival, organized and promoted by VMC, provides. For two weekends, mushroom appetizers are available to taste with wines at dozens of winery tasting rooms. I, as an example, spent four hours preparing enough mushroom risotto to feed an army, and maybe a navy and some marines too, for my tasting room.

Restaurants team with wineries to feature mushroom and wine pairing meals, like Tuesday’s delicious dinner two nights ago at Uncorked in downtown Ukiah that featured the wines of winemaker Deanna Starr of Milano and Uncorked’s magical mushroom menu.

The big event is the mushroom train, where guests travel on the Skunk Train from both Willits and Fort Bragg to Camp Mendocino in a benefit for the Mendocino County Museum to taste culinary delights paired with the best local wine and beer.

A group of celebrity judges, members of the travel, food, or wine media, take part in the mushroom train event, taste the creations, and announce their favorites.

Last Friday, the members of the press and folks from throughout Mendocino County, kicked off their weekend at a reception put on by VMC and hosted by the four winery tasting rooms of Vintage Marketplace in Hopland; Ray’s Station, Graziano Family of Wines, McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room, and Naughty Boy Vineyards.

Again, it was a treat to play host to visiting press, and also to our counterparts from around the county. Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association (AVWA) Executive Director Janis MacDonald was among the visitors and, always gracious, was very complimentary about one of our wines, sharing a story about how well it went over with a group recently. Poorly kept secret: I don’t only taste and drink wines from inland Mendo, and although I may not write them up, I love scores of wines made in the Anderson Valley.

Thanks to VMC’s Scott Schneider, Alison de Grassi, and Jen Filice for all you did to make the reception happen, and for making sure it was such a delightful success.

Lastly, but absolutely not leastly, the Mendocino Winegrowers, Inc. (MWI) brought all of Mendocino County’s grape growers, winemakers, tasting room managers, everyone in our industry, together for a wonderful night of fellowship and celebration at a Harvest Party BBQ Dinner at Seebass Family Vineyards on Old River Road about a mile and a half north of the Buddhist Temple in Talmage. All hands were on deck for this one.

Thanks to Zak Robinson and Aubrey Rawlins of MWI, and all the folks from A Taste of Redwood Valley (ATORV), Destination Hopland (DH), Yorkville Highlands Growers & Vintners Association (YHGVA), and Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association for bringing so many of your folks to this special night. Hosts Scott and Michelle Willoughby could not have wished for a more perfect evening for Seebass, for inland Mendocino County, and for the county’s wine community as a whole.

Glenn McGourty, University of California Cooperative Extension farm advisor to Mendocino and Lake County, was presented with a richly deserved award for his many years of service to the entire county’s grape growing success; MWI announced the receipt of a grant from the USDA’s Risk Management Agency; the Mendocino Winegrowers Foundation, the non-profit organization raising resources for the Winegrowers’ Scholarship Fund, presented past recipients and fundraised for future recipients. All in all, a great night for Mendocino County’s wine industry, in the midst of a period of great promotional promise for the wineries of the inland county.

 

 

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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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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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