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John On Wine ­ – Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, May 22, 2014
By John Cesano

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For me, this year’s Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival started last Thursday at Champ de Reves, which translates as Field of Dreams, in Philo. Dr. Edmeades planted the first Pinot Noir grapes in the Anderson Valley 50 years ago, and started making, selling wine from his grapes in 1972. In 1988, Jackson Family Wines, the empire Kendall-Jackson built, bought Edmeades and now it has been rechristened Champ de Reves. The location and the view of a big chunk of the valley was gorgeous. The wines were selected by winery owners from throughout the valley and the dinner of carved roast beef and plank salmon was made spectacular by both their wines and their company.

I was fortunate and sat with Allan Green of Greenwood Ridge; Mary Elke of Elke; Douglas Stewart of Lichen; John Osborne, an event volunteer; and Laura Barnard, who works in marketing for Jackson Family Wines’ West Burgundy Wine Group, of which Champ de Reves is just one winery. After dinner we were also joined in conversation by Paula Viehmann of Goldeneye.

Friday morning started early with coffee and a selection of quiches prepared by Julia Kendrick Conway, as winemakers, press, and consumers gathered at the fairgrounds in Boonville for a technical conference. Greg Walter, publisher of the Pinot Report, introduced the morning’s sessions, which featured The Nature Conservancy’s Jason Pelletier sharing the results of an incredibly detailed study on water flow and water use throughout the year. The study focused on grape growing water demands within the Navarro watershed and then segued into a similar talk by Jennifer Carah, but with a focus on marijuana growing water demands. Unsurprisingly, marijuana growths use much more water — 19 to 50 times more — for production, and do not share the same land and water stewardship ethos as many grape growers. This is especially significant in drought years ­ like this year.

Glenn McGourty gave a talk on best practices for grape growing during a drought year, or years. Winemakers in attendance were certainly leaning forward during this session. Lunch was delicious, prepared by Boont Berry Farm and paired with a huge selection of Pinot Noir from the Anderson Valley. After lunch, there were two tasting sessions. The first focused on the many faces of Pinot Noir and featured Arnaud Weyrich’s zero skin contact Pinot Noir, picked early, and briskly acidic for Roederer’s bubbly; Alex Crangle’s White Noir for Balo; the Dry Rose of Pinot Noir by Jim Klein of Navarro; the round, rich red Pinot Noir by Anthony Filiberti of Knez; and the purple dark version made by Michael Fay of Goldeneye.

Next, we looked at the fruit of Angel Camp Vineyard and how different winemakers used it to make distinctly different wines; the winemakers and wineries featured were Brian Zalaznik of Angel Camp, Dan Goldfield of Dutton Goldfield, and Anne Moller-Racke of Donum. The technical conference ended with a sharing of accumulated extensive knowledge by Clark Smith on the arcana of winemaking.

Friday night’s dinner was a barbecue at Foursight Winery with grilled lamb from Bone Daddy of Bones Roadhouse and music by Dean Titus & The Cowboys. Relaxed, fun, another delicious event with enough Pinot Noir to fill an Olympic sized swimming pool, I sat with folks from Southern California and Washington who heard about the event from someone they ran into in the Middle East. It turns out I knew who they were talking about, John Gaudette. The world of wine is close and doesn’t need a full six degrees of separation to connect us all, I’m convinced.

Saturday morning, Margaret Pedroni, Mendocino County wine personality, joined me at Balo in Philo for an early private press tasting. The Ukiah Daily Journal was represented beside tasters from Wine Enthusiast, Wine Spectator, Wine & Spirits, Connoisseurs’ Guide, San Francisco Chronicle, Examiner, Pinot Report, Pinot File, and more. Heads down, no talking, serious tasting. I’ve done it before, but I preferred the fun and conviviality of the Grand Tasting that followed at Goldeneye.

Goldeneye has a breathtakingly beautiful tasting room and the Grand Tasting event was held behind the tasting room under the shade of a huge white tent in their vineyards. About 750 ticketed guests Pinot Noir based wines; bubblies, blancs, roses, and full on reds; from all of the producers in Anderson Valley and a few producers from farther away who make one or more wines exclusively from Anderson Valley Pinot Noir grapes. Not too big, not too small, but just right, with opportunities to place silent auction bids on donated Pinot-centric items to help the Anderson Valley Health Center, plenty of exceptional food bites, water and soda to remain hydrated, and the fermented juice of Pinot Noir grapes from 45 producers to experience.

I tasted more than 100 wines over the course of the weekend, one was corked ­ and poured at the press tasting ­ but I had tasted it elsewhere already, one didn’t really make me love it, but the vast majority of wines I tasted, over 99 percent, were good at least and great at best. The 2011 vintage wines were brighter and more elegant, coming from a cooler year and the 2012 vintage, being warmer, yielded wines of greater weight and intensity. All of the wines taste of cherry, that is Pinot Noir, but the expressions were varied: black cherry, red cherry, candied cherry, dried cherry, and the supporting notes ranged the gamut from rose petal to cedar, and mushroom to barnyard funk. Some of the Pinot Noir I loved included the 2012 Fel Wines, Ferrington Vineyard; 2007 Elke Pinot Noir, Donnelly Creek Vineyard; 2011 Witching Stick, Cerise Vineyard; 2011 Williams Selyem, Ferrington Vineyard; 2011 Donum, Angel Camp Vineyard; 2012 Baxter, Anderson Valley; 2011 Goldeneye, Gowan Creek Vineyard; 2012 Waits-Mast, Deer Meadow’s Vineyard; and both the 2012 Lichen, Estate and Solera Lichen, Estate. That’s my unordered top 10 for this past weekend.

I urge you to visit the Anderson Valley, taste their Pinot Noir, and their other wines, notably Alsatian varietals like Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, and Riesling, and find your favorites. Also mark the third weekend of May next year on your calendar and plan on attending the 18th annual Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival next year. Huge thanks to my hosts, the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association, and Janis MacDonald and Kristy Charles specifically, for the kind invitation and warm welcome. I had a terrific weekend because you present a first class festival.

 

John On Wine ­ – Events, future and past

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, May 8, 2014
Written by John Cesano

Mother’s Day Brunch ­ I wish my mom was alive. I would love to get her a corsage and take her to a lovely Mother’s Day Brunch; my son with us and grandson and grandmother spending time together; a glass or two or three of bubbly, or bubbly mixed with orange juice. I really miss my mom.

If you have the opportunity to take your mother or grandmother – or best of all, both – out for brunch this Mother’s Day Sunday, May 11th, consider Barra of Mendocino at 7051 North State Street in Redwood Valley, just minutes north of Ukiah. Enjoy a lovely brunch from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m., with a glass of wine while a three piece jazz ensemble plays, and then take pictures together in Barra’s colorful gardens bursting in bloom.

Brunch tickets are $35 each, although Barra Wine Club members get a $25 price, and children 12 and under are $12; and you can secure your tickets today, or by noon tomorrow, by calling the winery at (707) 485-0322. Tell Katrina that John sent you.

Love your mom, and enjoy your Sunday!

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The Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival is coming up quickly on Friday, May 16 and Saturday, May 17, and tickets for several dinners are sold out; while the remaining dinners, technical conference, and the grand public tasting event are nearly sold out. If you love Pinot Noir, then go to http://www.avvwines.com for more information and to get your tickets before you can’t.

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CigarBQ 2014 ­ I attended the first CigarBQ back in 1998, which makes the 2014 edition the 17th annual event. CBQ is the premiere cigar, wine and golf fundraiser in the Sonoma County wine country and the main event ­ the mouth watering barbecue – will be held at Robert Young Estate Winery in Geyserville from 4 to 8 p.m. on Saturday, August 16th. This year, 10 cigar brands will be on-site along with more than 40 of Sonoma County’s best wineries, beer, food, music, and friends.

Guests will enjoy an afternoon of cigars provided by Davidoff, Camacho, and Cusano, premium wines, Lagunitas Brewing, music, and friends; all while raising money for the Council On Aging and Meals on Wheels. A $150 ticket price includes barbecue, wine, cigars, and a limited edition wine glass. Buy your tickets at http://www.cbqwinecountry.org.

Golfers will enjoy taking part in the CBQ tournament the day before, on Friday, August 15, with a 10:30 a.m. shotgun start. The cost is $79 per golfer. Contact hans@cbqwinecountry.org for more information, or to get your golf tickets.

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Hopland Passport ­ Another successful Hopland Passport is finished and in the books. This is the one event that I have to work and do not get to attend. I know that the folks who did attend, and visited us had a great time. Every now and again, I use the column to throw out a thank you or two, or 10. The rest of the column will give you a glimpse nto what goes into putting on an event like Hopland Passport as I spread thanks.

Thanks to all my Hopland winery neighbors, owners and workers alike; together, we make Hopland Passport happen, we shape what it is that our guests experience. Thanks to the folks up at the farm, from Shana and Andrea in the office, who keep track of my requests and make sure my expenses and revenue are accurately tracked; to Jose, Ernesto, Benny, and everyone else who does the hard work, the farming of all that I am able to offer in our farm stand & tasting room. With Guinness driving a huge truck and a team of workers, you move a shipping container worth of items from the farm in Potter Valley to the shop in Hopland, and then make it all disappear again. There aren’t thanks enough for me to give to adequately express my appreciation and gratitude for what you do.

In the back yard, we cook the organic grass-fed beef from our farm, and make up our wild rice and artichoke heart salad, plus toss a green salad, and our two contract chefs did a terrific job. I love knowing food is being taken care of, because I can’t leave the tasting room bar. We received a ton of compliments on perfectly cooked medium rare beef. Thanks to my son Charlie and his longtime friend Grey. We missed Mark, and look forward to his return if he is free in the future. Of course, we couldn’t cook unless someone went shopping. Thanks to Judith for picking up everything we needed for the weekend, and for having an eye for making things look better, more attractive, and making us all better.

In the tasting room, I lost my right hand gal, Ann, who attended Passport after working the last six beside me. Ann did come in early Saturday morning, before Passport to help set the tasting room, and I thank her. I looked to my staff to step up and be the team that makes losing Ann for the weekend a less than catastrophic loss. Thank you Juana for not only working your scheduled shift, but for shouldering more of the responsibility for our success, for ensuring our guests had an enjoyable time.

I also had two first time behind our bar helpers, Kellie and Tina, who poured for the many tasters and kept our ship afloat. Thank you to both of you. Thanks to Guinness for providing me the opportunity to do what I do, what we all do. Thanks for chatting with visitors, for signing their bottles, for all this and so much more. Finally, thanks to the folks who came to Hopland Passport, a week after Dry Creek Passport and while the Beerfest in Boonville was going on. Your support makes what we do possible, and I can’t thank you enough. Let’s do it all again this fall, on Saturday, October 18 and Sunday, October 19. See you then!

 

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John On Wine ­ – Spirits, dinners, passports, festivals, and a movie

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, April 24, 2014, written by John Cesano

John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

Jack Crispin Cain is the man behind Greenway Distillers, Inc. and American Craft Whiskey Distillery, co-located with Germain-Robin in Redwood Valley. Cain invited me to taste two new Low Gap whiskeys. Crispin also creates Crispin’s Rose Liqueur, Absinthe Superiure, Fluid Dynamics Barrel Aged Cocktails, Russell Henry Gins, and DSP CA 162 Straight Vodka.

Very much a family affair, Cain’s two sons Devin and Crispin Dylan were working on the next lime vodka when I arrived for a private tasting, and wife Tamar is involved in growing the roses for the Rose Liqueur and the herbs for the Absinthe. Tamar will also be the editor of a book due this fall, “Rural Cocktails of Mendocino County” that will be collaboratively written by Brian and Kate Riehl, as well as Jack Crispin Cain, and feature cocktails built around Cain’s spirits.

First up for tasting was a new Low Cap 2 Year Bavarian Hard Wheat Whiskey made from malted wheat and aged in used Port, Cognac, and Minnesota barrels. The color was natural, from the barrels, and not the darker color you find from whiskeys produced with caramel flavor and color additives. The new Whiskey has a natural perfume of butterscotch and cereal grain, candied wheat, and is incredibly smooth.

Cain’s 2010 Low Gap Whiskey earned a 5 star review and a 100 point rating. Reviewers will need to add another star and a few more points to their rating systems. The flavors of all of Cain’s spirits are pure, clean, with delicate identifiable notes. Cain explained that by using no artificial flavorings, only real fruit and other pure ingredients, and careful distilling techniques with direct fire and a copper onion shaped still, fermentation enzymes and yeasts leaving no sugars, and a host of other refined decisions, the quality of his spirits, already high, will continue to improve and then be maintained indefinitely.

I also tasted a 2011 blended Corn and Barley Whiskey, running 43 percent alcohol by volume (ABV). The flavors are not as direct as the Bavarian Hard Wheat Whiskey, but more layered at a very subtle level with a little bite on the end; the classic corn whiskey flavor definitely comes through.

I tasted four vodkas from Cain’s DSP CA 162 label. The unflavored vodka has a super clean taste with light wheat notes. The lime vodka, made from an infusion of Malaysian lime and leaf was delightful for the pure candied lime note. The tangerine was a touch lighter in the mouth, delicate, and again showed candied fruit ­ this time tangerine. The citron vodka was bright and round with intensely concentrated sweet fruit.

Cain poured a barrel aged gin, 47 percent ABV, not yet released but gorgeous with a taste between gin and whiskey. The gin was aged in two new Bourbon barrels and one used Cognac barrel. There is a natural sweetness from both the cereal and the oak. Look for this to be bottled and sold as “Russell Henry Dark Gin” toward the end of the year, hopefully before Christmas. Spirits are often blended to make a tasty cocktail. I find that every spirit Cain makes is already cocktail delicious, sipping sweetly straight.

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I attended a Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush featuring the wines of Yorkville Cellars last night. For a recap of the meal, visit my online wine blog http://www.JohnOnWine.com where I will post a stand-alone story with every bite and sip getting its due.

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This weekend, I am attending Passport to Dry Creek Valley, the sold-out event in Sonoma County. Together with my girlfriend, June, I will be an appreciative guest of the Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley. The event is sold out. This event always sells out. Next week, my wine column will be a recap of the travels by June and myself through the Dry Creek Valley.

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For those who want a Passport experience, Hopland Passport in Mendocino County is two weekends away, on May 3 and 4, and a $45 ticket online in advance (tickets are $55 if you procrastinate) will allow Passport holders to visit 17 winery tasting rooms — tasting fees waived — to taste wines paired with scrumptious food offerings at each stop. For $2.65 per winery attendees will enjoy wine and food tastes with many tasting rooms hosting live music or fun tours, and with some wineries offering their best sale prices of the year, as well as 30 prizes given away in drawings. Hopland Passport is a must attend wine event. For tickets, go to http://www.DestinationHopland.com/store.

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Individual events at this year’s Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival are selling out. If you love Pinot Noir, then this is a series of events, a festival, for you. Dinners, tastings and more on May 16 and 17. Tickets available at http://www.avwines.com/anderson-valley-pinot-noir-festival.

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If you have Netflix, I highly recommend the movie SOMM, a documentary following candidates attempting to become Master Sommeliers. The single-minded devotion to a subject, to a goal is impressive, as is the sheer narcissism of most of the candidates. Not always attractive, this glimpse into the highest levels of wine geekdom is nonetheless educational and entertaining.

 

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John On Wine ­ – Four “must do” wine events

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, April 3, 2014
By John Cesano
John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

The best wine events I attend are those where an area wants to impress you with what they do. Individual winery events are nice, but they rarely rise to the level of “wow” that an area-wide event reaches. There are several area-wide events that I hope you will consider attending.

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First, there is this weekend’s Celebration of Mendocino Sparkling Wines at Terra Savia in Hopland on Saturday, April 5, from noon to 4 p.m.

An even dozen local producers will pour their bubblies, paired with perfect food bites, to the accompaniment of music, and attendees will walk away impressed as heck with how good Mendocino County sparkling wine is. I know, and if you read enough of my writing then you know too, that Wine Enthusiast Magazine put one Mendocino County sparkling wine on their top 100 list of 2013 ­ in the #1 position, and that another producer is the only one in America to take a pair of Double (unanimous) Gold Medals at this year’s San Francisco Chronicle Wine competition for sparkling wines ­ and they only make two.

It is reasonable to say that the best American sparkling wines are made in Mendocino County, but it is another thing entirely to taste them all together in one place and have it made crystal clear. Participants include Graziano Family of Wines, Handley Cellars, McFadden Vineyards, Nelson Family Vineyards, Paul Dolan Vineyards, Rack & Riddle, Ray’s Station, Roederer Estate, Scharffenberger Cellars, Signal Ridge, Terra Savia, and Yorkville Cellars.

Tickets are $55 and available online at http://mendocinosparkling.brownpapertickets.com.

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Saturday April 26 and Sunday, April 27, are the dates for the 25th Passport to Dry Creek Valley.

50 wineries, two days, each pouring their best wines, and pairing them with show-off amazing taste treats, and live music at many stops; these are some reasons to attend.

I was born in Sonoma County and grew up drinking Dry Creek Zinfandel. I attended the monthly party at the Dry Creek General Store and have enjoyed salami and cheese sandwiches from the DCV Store going back to childhood. Some of my favorite memories are of friends and family at the bocce courts at Preston. For me, this event is a touch of home.

I love Passport to Dry Creek Valley. I have shamelessly taken from what some of the best stops offer to make events I help manage better.

The food offerings: oysters, pork, lamb, fresh baked bread, cannoli, chocolate, pancetta, roast beef, spit roasted pig, pork ribs, black eyed peas, seafood cake, fried chicken, cheddar and garlic mac and cheese, hot cinnamon rolls, creamy mushroom lasagna, guacamole (and so much more!) will pair with wines: Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Viognier, Rose, Barbera, Grenache, Sauvignon Blanc, Sangiovese, Petite Sirah, Chardonnay, Cabernet franc, Pinot Noir, Charbono (and, again, so much more!).

It is impossible to oversell the event, so instead I will undersell it: simply, this is the most amazing annual area-wide wine event that you might attend. Attend it if you can. Tickets are $120 and available at http://arestravel.com/6406_attraction-tickets_a882_r140776.html.
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Hopland Passport is another passport event, closer to home, a little bit less expensive and held twice each year.

The 23rd annual Spring Hopland Passport will be Saturday, May 3 and Sunday, May 4, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day, at 17 wineries in and around Hopland; $45 in advance at http://www.destinationhopland.com/store or $10 more for procrastinators who wait to buy at the event from a participating winery.

I am undoubtedly biased, but I think this is the best wine event value in the entire California wine industry. With wine and food at each of 17 stops, to me a perfect number of wineries to visit over two full days, and music, tours, contests, sales, bottle signings and more at various individual wineries, $45 is a terrific bargain.

Less than $2.65 per winery visit ­ what does that get you? At McFadden, where I work, we’ll pour every wine released. There will be none of the restricted reserve nonsense. We’ll pour a Double Gold Medal sparkling wine, and a dozen wines rated 90 or above. We’ll serve up organic, grass fed, beef, grilled to perfection, and a 100 percent pure wild rice and artichoke heart salad. We’ll offer a 40 percent discount on cases to wine club members, old and new. We’ll have Guinness McFadden signing bottles as they are purchased.

Multiply that visit by 17, as each winery demonstrates they care about guests just as much as McFadden does.

For you, that makes this an absolute “must attend” event.

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The Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival is another perfect example of an area showcasing what they do well.

Anderson Valley is famous for Pinot Noir. Wine magazines devote covers and feature story pages to Anderson Valley Pinot Noir. This is better than good stuff, this is great stuff. Friday, May 16 ­ Sunday, May 18.

The Festival is a weekend affair with technical conferences on Friday, a kick-off barbecue dinner at Foursight Wines on Friday night, Grand Tastings of 45 producers at Goldeneye in Philo on Saturday and more dinners Saturday night, and less structured winery tasting room visits on Sunday.

Ticket prices vary by event, $50-$125, and are available at http://www.avwines.com/anderson-valley-pinot-noir-festival/.

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I get to attend the Celebration of Mendocino County Sparkling Wines, Passport to Dry Creek Valley, and Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival and I am enormously grateful to each area association for the invitation. I am working at Hopland Passport and if you pick up a ticket for that event then you will see me when you visit the McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room that weekend. Be sure to say “hi” to me at any of these four amazing events.

 

 

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