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John on Wine – Spotlight Winery: Phillips Hill Winery

This piece originally ran in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on June 11, 2015

On visits to the Anderson Valley, I have asked tasting room staff what wineries I should visit. While tasting Pinot Noir at the press tasting session during the recent Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival; and sommelier Chris Sawyer and I had a conversation about his favorite local producers in the area. Over and over again, people in the know mention Toby Hill and his Phillips Hill Winery as a ‘must visit’ and ‘must taste’ spot in the Anderson Valley.

Surrounded by green, the Phillips Hill sign welcomes visitors travelling on Hwy 128 between Philo and Navarro

Surrounded by green, the Phillips Hill sign welcomes visitors travelling on Hwy 128 between Philo and Navarro

Out past Gowan’s Oak Tree Fruit Stand and the turn off to the Philo Apple Farm, on Highway 128 between Philo and Navarro, is Phillips Hill, a winery and tasting room in a converted and historical apple drying barn facility.

The old apple drying barn is the new Phillips Hill winery tasting room site

The old apple drying barn is the new Phillips Hill winery tasting room site

When I arrived, the smell of freshly cut grass from the picnic area mixed with other outdoor scents; floral, herbal, wide open natural outdoor perfume of vineyard and orchard greeted me. I walked through the aroma room, where collected materials help prepare visitors for some of the scents they may encounter in the wines, then ventured upstairs to taste through Toby’s current releases in his beautifully appointed, rustic yet refined, tasting room.

The aroma room at Phillips Hill

The aroma room at Phillips Hill

Toby is an artist, both with canvas and wine. A native Californian and grandson of a grape grower, Toby earned a BFA from the California College of the Arts which has allowed him to more fully appreciate the efforts and artistry of grape growing. The name of his winery, Phillips Hill, honors both of his paternal grandparent’s family sides, as does his marriage of art and wine. Each label of the Phillips Hill Winery portfolio of wine is a miniature reproduction of an original abstract composition created by Toby.

Toby Hill's original artwork graces each Phillips Hill wine label

Toby Hill’s original artwork graces each Phillips Hill wine label

In 1997, Toby purchased land in the Mendocino Ridge appellation, overlooking the Anderson Valley, and made his first wine using 2002 Pinot Noir grapes grown on Oppenlander Vineyard, nearby in Mendocino’s Comptche. Ten vintages later, all five of the expanded line up of 2012 Pinot Noir wines made by Toby were rated 90-94 Points by Wine Enthusiast magazine, two were designated Editors’ Choice wines, and another designated a Cellar Selection wine.

Toby Hill

Toby Hill

Informed by his trained and professional experiences as a fine artist, Toby crafts wines of intent; pursuing elegance and ethereal power, wines with delicacies, subtleties, and nuances. Using native yeast, less intervention, believing less is more, Toby wants each wine he makes to be a genuine expression of the land the grapes come from, terroir driven wines, spending time he feels essential to making great wine in each vineyard his wines come from as they are being grown, respecting each farmer’s art.

Never content with yesterday’s accolades, always striving to make better wines, Toby has made pilgrimages to Burgundy, France, and has invited respected French winemakers to work with him at Phillips Hill Winery, all in an effort to craft “old meets new world” style wines, with flavors of clear discernible fruit notes offering a beginning, middle, and an end, hinged together in harmony and balance.

I first tasted Toby’s wines with his fiancé and partner, Nastacha Durandet at last year’s Anderson Valley barrel tasting event, and promised myself that I would return to write this piece. Natacha was born in France’s Loire Valley and her passion for wine tasting and collecting began early, leading her to work in some of France’s finest resorts alongside esteemed master sommeliers. Natacha’s background in culinary arts has allowed her to bring an elevated experience to tastings at Phillips Hill Winery for visitors and Muse Cru wine club members.

Natacha wears many hats at Phillips Hill Winery, overseeing the tasting room, wine club, marketing, and events, including sumptuous Muse Cru wine club dinners that take advantage of an on property commercial kitchen. If Natacha is in the tasting room when a Muse Cru wine club member visits, she will prepare a cheese and charcuterie plate, featuring seasonal terroir driven French, Spanish, and Italian cheeses, chosen to naturally pair perfectly with Toby’s terroir driven wines. Cheese and charcuterie plates are also available for purchase by the public and can be enjoyed with wine at picnic tables. Natacha also serves up four Muse Cru wine club dinners annually; Farm to Table, Dungeness Crab, Harvest, and Mushroom themed dinners.

Together, in everything they do at Phillips Hill Winery, Toby and Natacha strive to provide the best visceral experience for their customers; whether visiting their tasting room or picking up a bottle of wine in their local wine shop.

Inside the Phillips Hill tasting room

Inside the Phillips Hill tasting room

Toby poured a half dozen of his wines for me:

2013 Phillips Hill Chardonnay Ridley Vineyard Anderson Valley $30 – Really gorgeous wet stone minerality leading to clean pure Chardonnay apple, pear, and peach fruit.

2014 Phillips Hill Gewurztraminer Valley Foothills Vineyard Anderson Valley $20 – Deep honey, nectarine and apple, fleshy round mouthfeel, lemon peel citrus. This is an Alsatian styled dry Gewurztraminer, and I love it.

2013 Phillips Hill Pinot Noir Boontling Anderson Valley $28 – Candied cherry, cranberry, and cola mark this bright, round, wine.

2013 Phillips Hill Pinot Noir Anderson Valley $40 – Yeah. Multi layered, light Pinot funk, oak, tannin, dried herb mixed with strawberry and cherry fruit.

2012 Phillips Hill Pinot Noir Oppenlander Comptche Mendocino $45 – Toasty, deeper, rich, really nice round mouthfeel, earthy spicy notes come out with air, phenomenal balance, integration, seamless. A lovely touch of barnyard perfume. Darker blackberry meets rich chocolate covered cherry.

2012 Phillips Hill Tempranillo Lake County $35 – Great food wine, big gripping masculine married to feminine, massive depth, a treat.

Every one of these wines is a winner, and made more delicious for having been poured on the property with Toby as my guide. Reflecting on the three Pinot Noir wines, Toby shared, “that’s one of the great things about buying fruit from different vineyards; these are terroir driven, and I want that different personality to be expressed.” Mission accomplished.

A modest $5 tasting fee is waived with purchase, and case orders receive a 20% discount. Phillips Hill Winery is located at 5101 Highway 128, Philo. For more information, call (707) 895-2209 or visit http://www.phillipshill.com.

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John On Wine – Fans and snoring

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, April 23, 2015

Recently, I found myself in a packed courtroom on a Friday morning in Ukiah. Thankfully, I wasn’t fighting a speeding ticket or doing my civic duty by sitting on a jury; I came to witness Mendocino County Superior Court Judge Richard Henderson hear from the lawyers in the matter of Scaramella vs. the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors.

The plaintiff, Mark Scaramella, is suing Mendocino County and named three farmers as Parties of Real Interest, claiming that wind machines are a noise nuisance which should be banned. The County has replied, among other issues, that the wind machines are an established farming practice protected by the county Right To Farm ordinance.

The three Anderson Valley neighbors of Scaramella named in the suit were Pennyroyal Farm, V. Sattui Winery, and Foursight Wines.

Scaramella was seeking an injunction to stop the use of wind machines immediately, and encouraged opponents of the fans to show up at the hearing, publicizing his request in the Anderson Valley Advertiser.

Fans are used in vineyards to mitigate damage from frost, and effectively replace the use of water to do the same job, which is a responsible vineyard management tool, especially in these times of critical water shortage owing to the continuing drought in California.

The case was a battle of competing interests, the right to be free of noise pollution and the County’s Right to Farm ordinance.

Mendocino County has a noise ordinance in place, prohibiting sound in excess of 40 decibels (dB). 40 dB is roughly equivalent to the sound produced by a babbling brook, a refrigerator hum, a library, or the lowest ambient sound of an urban area.

Because of the size of the crowd gathered Judge Henderson made a few introductory remarks to the assembled crowd, noting that many were likely Anderson Valley residents opposed to the fans, which drew an audible dissent from the majority of those gathered, before he went on to note that it seemed there were many farmers who were there to support the use of the fans, and then asking that only the lawyers speak and that the courtroom remain silent throughout the remainder of the proceedings.

I took advantage of an offer from the court clerk and moved to the jury box to sit, rather than continue to stand, and enjoyed a great view of the participants.

Judge Henderson noted that his tentative ruling had taken into account all filings thus far, but the ruling he referred to had not yet been shared with the lawyers, so a brief recess allowed copies to be made and lawyers to read the ruling.

The Ukiah Daily Journal’s Justine Frederiksen reported on April 10 that the tentative ruling read, “The court finds that the interim harm that (Mark Scaramella) may suffer, (estimated to be) 10 nights of sleep interruption of deprivation, is clearly outweighed by the probable damage that would be caused to grape vines,” and that prohibiting the use of agricultural fans during frost events, which can “kill all actively growing parts of a grape vine and will reduce yields from between 50 percent to 100 percent, could result in losses measured in the tens of millions of dollars.” Frederiksen ended her piece noting, “Judge Henderson [had] said Friday he was inclined to favor his tentative ruling, but would be releasing a formal ruling in writing soon.”

I have deep empathy for those vineyard neighbors throughout California’s wine valleys missing sleep on some nights, but I feel this is a good tentative decision. Wineries attempting to use wind instead of water during this drought to prevent catastrophic crop frost damage should be afforded every reasonable accommodation. I feared that this suit about fans could lead to further Right to Farm erosions, possible battles regarding water use and other farming practices in the future.
The judge noted that the plaintiff had not presented any real evidence of a noise ordinance violation, no certified dB readings had been taken or offered.

I thought, absent any real evidence to the contrary, that a dB level above allowed might not be owing to any one farmer’s practices, but cumulative, and while the would be sleeper is impacted, no one grower might actually be in violation of noise ordinances. It is also entirely possible that each farm exceeds noise restriction with their fans, and cumulatively it is a nightmare. I do not know. My position as a wine guy has me on the side of growers, surprising no one, I expect. This suit, to me, could be seen as an attack on Mendocino County’s largest legal industry.

I used to snore like a chainsaw, definitely well in excess of 40 dB, and more than one partner could well empathize with Scaramella. My high school best friend told me she actually thought about killing me to end the noise. I gave her my iPod and ear buds, and dialed up some music for her, and she was able to sleep. Major dental work last November ended my frightful snoring, but I well remember the murderous look in her eyes over her sleep deprivation.

I have other friends who live near vineyards and tell me that the fans are loud, but that they would rather live near healthy and profitable vineyards than not, and find ways to counter the occasional use of fans, from ear plugs to noise cancelling headphones.

I hope that Judge Henderson’s tentative ruling remains intact when crafting his final ruling. I also hope that Scaramella reads this: Walmart sells Panasonic noise cancelling headphones for $31, Best Buy sells Sony noise cancelling headphones for $50, and top of the line Bose earbuds or headphones, the Cadillac of noise cancellers, are $300 direct from Bose. I used to have a pair of Bose when I flew each week for business to wine tradeshows, and even the sound of propellers right outside the passenger cabin were masked into absence. I think an old girlfriend might have stolen mine, to make living with a new snoring boyfriend tolerable.
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Tomorrow, Friday, April 24, 2015 is International Sauvignon Blanc Day. Originally created by social media marketer Rick Bakas while at St. Supery, the world wide celebration of Sauvignon Blanc has grown, and countless wine lovers will buy and taste the variety, tweeting and posting words and pictures online using the hash tag #SauvBlanc to be part of a one day global social media trend.

Locally, McFadden will pour for the public a new Sauvignon Blanc release, from the 2014 vintage. It is the best Sauvignon Blanc I’ve tasted from McFadden, and I hope you can visit Eugene tomorrow in McFadden’s tasting room in Hopland for a complimentary tasting between 10am-5pm, bringing your cell phone or other mobile device to post while you are tasting #SauvBlanc – and if you can’t make it to Hopland, then grab a bottle from any producer in a local store and join the fun.

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John Cesano of John on Wine

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John On Wine: Spotlight winery – Knez Winery

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, March 5, 2015

ABC television’s ‘Schoolhouse Rock’ taught us that, “three is a magic number.” Knez Winery has the magic three going on three ways.

Three vineyards: Demuth Vineyard, Cerise Vineyard, and Knez Vineyard, all organic and farmed following biodynamic practices.

Three wine grape varieties: Pinot Noir, Syrah and Chardonnay.

Three wine shepherds: vineyard manager Ryan McAllister, winemaker Anthony Filiberti and tasting room manager Margaret Pedroni.

To have a glass in hand, swirling free some heady rich aromas, to sip and taste the many layered depth, to experience all that is wonderful about the wines of Knez Winery in the Anderson Valley, you have to visit their beautiful, stylish, tasting room in the Madrones, an upscale collection of winery tasting rooms, restaurant and inn, on Highway 128 in Anderson Valley’s town of Philo.

Knez Tasting Room on Hwy 128 in Philo

Knez Tasting Room on Hwy 128 in Philo

My friend Margaret runs the Knez Vineyard tasting room, and visiting with her last month, and with Jennie Stevens on a previous visit, I tasted through all of the current releases at Knez.

Straight up: Damn, these are some seriously good wines. I am so happy for Margaret that each day at work involves pouring wines that she can be proud of, thrilled to pour and excited to share the story of.

Of course, each wine Margaret pours starts as grapes grown by Ryan on one of the three vineyards, and then is made into a stunning wine by Anthony, before Margaret decides it has matured enough to be poured. Thoughtful decisions naturally arrived at, by skilled managers, make each taste a special moment to experience and savor.

The Demuth Vineyard is 15 acres planted 30 years ago by the Demuth family at 1,400 to 1,700 feet elevation, and dry farmed. There are two blocks of Pinot Noir, planted to Wadenswil and Pommard clones, totaling seven acres, and Chardonnay, planted to old Wente clone, totaling eight acres.

The 2013 Knez Winery Chardonnay, Demuth Vineyard, Anderson Valley, $39, saw a little malolactic, part of it saw new oak, some used oak, and some was held in stainless steel. The result is a multi-noted wine with nuance and complexity; delicate white peach, cream custard, pineapple, citrus. 93 Points from Antonio Galloni.

The 2012 Knez Winery Pinot Noir, Demuth Vineyard, Anderson Valley, $47, shows rose petal, violet, herb, spice, cedar, oak, brambly persimmon, candied cherry, and orange peel. 93 Points from Antonio Galloni.

The Cerise Vineyard was planted in 1995, and grows 10 different clones of Pinot Noir in 15 blocks on 38 acres planted on sloping shallow at 700 to 1,100 feet elevation.

2011 Knez Winery Pinot Noir, Cerise Vineyard, Anderson Valley, $47, was plummy, with sherry pungency, and a steamed artichoke heart earthy vegetal component, supporting the fruit, in a tight band of many flavors. 93 Points from Antonio Galloni.

2011 Knez Pinot Noir, Cerise

2011 Knez Pinot Noir, Cerise

The 2012 Knez Winery Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, $34, takes grapes from both vineyards, about two-thirds Cerise and one-third Demuth. One taste and you can hear angels sing! Dark black cherry, balancing green tea and lush fruit, smooth but evident tannins, together provide mouthfeel and promise age worthiness. This wine is an iron fist in a leather glove. 90 Points from Antonio Galloni.

2012 Knez Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley

2012 Knez Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley

The Knez Vineyard is six acres, was planted in 2009, and connects Demuth to Cerise, at 1,200 to 1,600 feet elevation. Four acres of Pinot Noir are planted above two one-acre block, the first planted to Syrah and Viognier and the second planted to Pinot Gris, Friulano and Malvasia.

The 2013 Knez Winery Syrah, Knez Vineyard, Anderson Valley, $39, shows big meaty animal fruit, with white pepper and floral notes. This Syrah has remarkable intensity, like a tightly wound spring, and shows surprising minerality considering the youthfulness of the vineyard. Bright, tight tannins. Will cellar well. 95 Points from Antonio Galloni.

Winemaker Anthony Filiburti has crafted some real gems for Knez Winery.

Antonio Galloni was noted wine critic Robert Parker’s man for California wine reviews in the Wine Advocate, before striking out on his own, then buying Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar review guide, and creating his own subscription wine review platform, Vinous. The consistently high scores for these wines from Galloni are merited, and validate the program at Knez Winery.

Knez has also found their way onto San Francisco Chronicle wine editor Jon Bonne’s current (and previous) ‘Top 100 Wines of the Year’ list.

Do yourself a huge favor, visit Margaret at her tasting room, Thursday through Monday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., at The Madrones, 9000 Highway 128, Philo CA 95466, or call (707) 895-3365 for information about joining a wine club.

WHISKEY, WHISKEY, WHISKEY

My favorite distillery, the American Craft Whiskey Distillery, will host their first Grand Whiskey Tasting event this Saturday, March 7, 2015, 1 p.m. at the distillery in Redwood Valley.

Jack Crispin Cain tasted through his array of liquid treats with me for a previous piece.

Jack Crispin Cain tasted through his array of liquid treats with me for a previous piece.

Distiller extraordinaire Jack Crispin Cain will pour a variety of Low Gap treats, including the 2-year-old Malted Wheat whiskey, Corn Barley Blended whiskey, Malted Rye Whiskey, barrel tastings of the Bourbon to be released October 2015, and more.

Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman’s Facebook group, Mendocino Bourbon Group, has grabbed up all of the spots. Happily, I am in the group, am pleased to purchase a ticket, and I’ll be attending with notebook so I can recap the event here in a future post.

The next chance for the general public to taste and purchase many of the whiskeys directly will be during A Taste of Redwood Valley, on Father’s Day weekend, Saturday, June 20 and Sunday, June 21, 2015.

Easier might be stepping up to the bar at Ukiah’s newest restaurant, Ritual, where Low Gap Whiskey is served.

One of the genuine perquisites of writing a wine column is receiving invitations to organized wine tasting events. Today, I’m going to recap my last four weekends of wine tastings.

Barrel Tasting 101 in Hopland coincided with the last weekend of the Mendocino County Crab, Wine & Beer Fest and featured winery tasting rooms along Highway 101 from Hopland to Calpella and Ukiah to Redwood Valley pouring barrel samples of wines not yet bottled, providing an opportunity to taste the future, and purchase futures of these wines, while offering up delicious food pairing treats created around Dungeness crab.


Barrel Tasting 101, BARRA of Mendocino (Photo by John Cesano)

This was a joyful weekend for me, as I was able to visit all of my neighbors, and taste many delicious crab treats, as well as get a glimpse of what is coming wine-wise in the future.

Best food spread goes to the team at Testa, with terrific tastes at Barra, Simaine, Seebass, Milano, Cesar Toxqui, and Terra Savia, as well.

This was the second annual Barrel Tasting 101, a great addition to the two Passport events put on by Destination Hopland each year, and saw attendance triple over the previous inaugural event. There will certainly be a third annual Barrel Tasting 101 event in January next year.

Zinfandel Advocates & Producers, ZAP, made San Francisco the epicenter of Zinfandel love, with their multi-day Zinfandel Experience. On Wednesday, I attended Epicuria, a food and wine pairing tasting, featuring over 30 top Zinfandel producers, each sharing a table with chefs from bay area kitchens.

On Thursday, I attended Flights, a seated tasting of three flights of five wines each, moderated by Joel Peterson, featuring winemakers from three distinctly different growing areas in California, Contra Costa County, Amador County, and the Dry Creek Valley of Sonoma County.

On Saturday, I attended The Tasting, with over 100 producers pouring their Zinfandel, and the folks from the SOMM Journal leading panel workshops exploring lesser known Zinfandel growing areas of California. These workshops included a look at Lake and Mendocino County by Sommelier Chris Sawyer and featuring Lake County’s Jelly Jar Wine Zinfandel and Mendocino County’s Rich Parducci pouring two McNab Ridge Winery Zinfandels. I wrote a piece, running over 4,400 words, with pictures, that you can find archived on johnonwine.com about my three days in Zin-bliss.

Zinfandel Experience, Rich Parducci and Chris Sawyer (Photo by John Cesano)

The 10th annual International Alsace Varietals Festival in Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley was held right in the middle of the deluge that saw 3-11” of rain fall, depending on where you were in the county, in just a week. Bacchus, the God of wine, smiled and provided a window of warm weather and sun for the festival.

The main grape varieties of Alsace include Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Gewurztraminer, and Pinot Gris, with (unoaked) Pinot Noir, Sylvaner, and Muscat also represented.

At 8:30 a.m., the Alsace Fest kicked off with educational sessions, with Glenn McGourty moderating the sessions, including panel tastings of white wines featuring different periods of skin contact and examples of winemaking protocols at Campovida by winemaker Sebastian Donoso; an exploration of single vineyard Pinot Blanc by sommelier Chris Sawyer (this guy is everywhere!) with Randy Schock of Handley Cellars, Jason McConnell of Rivino, and James Wasson of Rein each pouring wine made from Shrader Ranch Pinot Blanc grapes; Christie Dufault leading a food and wine pairing featuring food prepared by her Culinary Institute of America at Greystone team and four very different, but delicious Gewurztraminer from Brooks, Navarro Vineyards, Pierre Sparr, and Husch; Thomas Schlumberger’s tasting of eight Grand Cru wines from his Domaines Schlumberger estate in Alsace, France; and a steelhead trout on cauliflower puree cooking demonstration by Francois de Melogue.

After the educational sessions came the big public tasting, with Alsace variety wines from around the world, but concentrated heavily on the Anderson Valley and Alsace, France.

Thomas Schlumberger poured three additional Grand Cru wines from his Alsace estate, originally planted in 1810; the 11 wines Schlumberger poured that day were the best 11 wines I tasted that day, were revelatory for me, and set a new high bar for tasting of Alsace varietal wines that I will measure all other tastes against.

Another huge treat for me was talking with Master Sommelier Ian Cauble, who I recognized from the movie SOMM — find it on Netflix and watch it — who was pouring at the Wines of Alsace USA table.

I did taste our local Alsace variety wines too, and enjoyed offerings from Handley, Graziano, Navarro, and Lichen very much.

Too many associate these Alsace variety wines with sickly, cloyingly sweet, wines; but the wines I tasted on this Saturday were uniformly drier and more concentrated in depth and character, multi-noted, layered wines, that I will reach for again and again this summer.

Lastly, on Valentine’s Day Saturday, I attended the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition’s public tasting of Gold, Double Gold, and Best of Show awarded wines from January’s competition.

Rather than treat the day, and the tasting, like a press opportunity, I decided to just relax and have fun. Juanita Plaza works with me at McFadden’s tasting room in Hopland, and neither of us had a Valentine, so we decided to go together for a San Francisco getaway, built around the wine tasting and an Italian dinner in North Beach.

The weather was unbeatable, blue sky and warm sun, and the tasting was a treat. We tasted several terrific wines, and even a beer and a cidre (really, that’s how they spell it) from Stella Artois. It was nice to see our friends from Campovida, Rivino, Handley, and Simaine pouring.

Dinner didn’t work out. My brother Tom, by fortuitous coincidence, pulled into town across the bay and arranged great tickets and working passes for the Enrique Iglesias and Pitbull concert that evening at Oracle Arena in Oakland, and we had a blast, up and dancing for most of the show. Thanks Tom, we really appreciated you hooking us up, sorry you were working and we didn’t get to see you. Thanks Juanita for joining me for a fun weekend getaway.

That’s it, four weekends of wine tastings. I have to give thanks to Destination Hopland, Zinfandel Advocates & Producers, Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association, and the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition for comp tickets. I write about events, encourage you to get out there and attend some, and I’ll continue to do so. I attend as many events as I can, because I consider it continuing education, it helps to taste broadly and refine or renew perceptions about wines and wineries, and sometimes it can just be a great getaway.

I hope to see you at future wine events…like the Celebration of Mendocino County Sparkling Wines at Terra Savia in Hopland on April 11, the Passport to Dry Creek Valley on April 25 and 26, or Hopland Passport on May 2 and 3.

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John On Wine – Wine competitions and Barrel Tasting 101

Originally published on Thursday, January 15, 2015 in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper by John Cesano

Nine wines made from Mendocino County grapes took gold medal or higher honors at last November’s Grand Harvest Awards. They were:

• 2011 Handley Cellars Pinot Noir Anderson Valley ($32) Gold/Best of Class

• NV McFadden Vineyard Cuvee Rose Mendocino ($32) Gold

• 2013 Navarro Vineyards Grenache Mendocino ($27) Gold/Best of Class

• 2013 Navarro Vineyards Chardonnay Table Wine Mendocino ($15) Gold/Best of Class

• 2013 Navarro Vineyards Barbera Mendocino ($27) Gold

• 2012 Navarro Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Mendocino ($29) Gold

• 2012 Navarro Vineyards Mourvedre Mendocino ($29) Gold

• 2013 Navarro Vineyards Chardonnay Anderson Valley Premiere Reserve ($25) Gold

• 2012 Stephen & Walker Trust Winery Limited Chardonnay Botrytis Mendocino Ridge ($65) Double Gold/Best of Class/Best Late Harvest or Dessert

What does that mean? By itself, very little. About 99 out of 100 times when a wine takes a gold medal in a wine competition, no matter how many subsequent wine competitions it is entered into, it never manages to take another. Many in the industry, if they were honest, would let you know that gold medals awarded in a wine competition are just random, chance based, nonsense … but that doesn’t stop the wineries from blasting news of their awards to a waiting audience of consumers who seem to think such luck based honors have genuine meaning.

What I look for are wines that do take more than one gold medal, or the rarer unanimously voted double gold medal, or better still more than one double gold medal. I pour several wines that have earned more than one gold medal. Two have three double gold or higher (double gold and best of class, or double gold and best of show) awards. Not everyone will love these wines, because there are always wines that don’t appeal to someone but these are the wines to taste, these are the wines that are amazing, these are the wines to look for.

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Seriously, if consumers rush to buy a gold medal winning wine at the store figuring that the wine must be good, probably significantly better than the other bottles on the shelf, then take a moment to appreciate how incredibly rare it is for a wine to be unanimously voted gold by a competition’s judges earning a double gold medal, and then have that happen again, and still again. That is a wine to seek out.

The Grand Harvest Awards are pretty much the last big wine competition of the year. Up next is not just the first big wine competition of the year, but the largest judging of American wines in the world, the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. Last year, more than 5,800 wines were entered into the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. This year’s judging took place earlier this month, with over 6,417 entries and the big winners will be poured at a celebratory grand tasting for the public on the second Saturday of February at Fort Mason in San Francisco. Next week, I’ll post the big Mendocino County grown wine winners from the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.
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If you haven’t picked up you Barrel Tasting 101 ticket yet,  go online and get it for $20 instead of waiting until the event and spending more; $30 for the same $20 ticket. Of course, if money doesn’t mean anything to you, just pop on down to one of our local car dealerships and buy a new car for my son, I’m sure he would appreciate it.

Barrel Tasting 101 will feature wineries from Hopland to Calpella and Ukiah to Redwood Valley pouring barrel samples of future wines on the final weekend of Mendocino County’s Crab, Wine & Beer Fest on Saturday, Jan. 24 and Sunday, Jan. 25, 2015, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day. I attended my first barrel tasting weekend back in 1993, when it was a free event over one weekend in Sonoma County. I used to visit the wineries of the Alexander Valley on Friday evening, and then spend Saturday in the Dry Creek Valley and Sunday in the Russian River Valley. Quiet, uncrowded, low key, and incredibly enjoyable, I used to taste an incredible number of wines, spitting all, and had a terrific glimpse into the future. I also took advantage of some sale prices offered on futures, these wines tasted from barrel before being bottled. Last year, I attended the Anderson Valley barrel tasting weekend, which included the wineries of Yorkville Highlands, and might be better named as Barrel Tasting 128. It was as enjoyable as the old barrel tasting weekends in Sonoma County used to be, before they became the overcrowded drunk-fests that winery owners and staff report today.

Barrel Tasting 101 will feature barrel samples from Barra of Mendocino, Brutocao Cellars, Campovida, Cesar Toxqui Cellars, Graziano Family of wines, Jaxon Keys Winery, Jeriko Estate, McNab ridge, Milano Family Winery, Nelson Family Winery, Rivino, Saracina, Seebass Vineyards, Simaine Cellars, Terra Savia, and Testa Ranch. Each participating winery tasting room will also serve up Dungeness crab food pairing treats. To get your tickets for $20 instead of $30, visit http://bit.ly/1zS36ay and then, armed with your receipt, you’ll be given your logo tasting glass and map to begin your terrific wine adventure.

 

 

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John On Wine – Second Annual Anderson Valley Barrel Tasting

 

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, August 7, 2014
Written by John Cesano

John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

 

Last weekend, I visited a dozen winery tasting rooms in the Anderson Valley during their successful Second annual Barrel Tasting Weekend. This barrel tasting weekend is held later than is typical for other areas, but lets the Pinot Noir made in Anderson Valley by most producers show a little better — worked for me. With oaks on one side and redwoods on the other, the vineyards of Anderson Valley are well framed by nature. Throughout the rest of this column, if I write Pinot then you may assume I meant Pinot Noir.

• Foursight – Joe Webb poured me his 2013 “Zero” Pinot that will be bottle late in August, held in oak 2-7 years (zero new oak), with about a third whole cluster fermentation, it was delightful with bright fruit notes and showed well. Next, he poured his 2013 Charles Vineyard Pinot, the same in all other respects, but with one-third new oak barrels, a firmer wine that paired well with salumi. Finally, Joe poured his 2013 Foursight Clone ’05, a Pinot using Pommard ’05 clone on 50% percent new oak; I loved this wine, showing the herbal undertones that make for a memorable sinuous vinous Pinot.

• Philo Ridge – 2012 Marguerite Vineyard Pinot was woody, cherry fruit, pretty straightforward, good acidity. 2013 Estate Pinot (AV) – Barrel sample could be wine now, close to finish. Drinking great. Winery chef K.C. McClure prepared a watermelon gazpacho that paired brilliantly with the bolder flavors of a 2013 Testa Primitivo. K.C.’s mushroom tartlets were delicious with the poured Pinot.

• Seebass – Newcomers to the Anderson Valley, Seebass grows grapes near Talmage on their own 100-acre farm. Tasting room manager Jill poured a sample of Mysteriös , a blend being bottled as we speak, and due out this November. The wine may be a blend of vintages, 2011 and 2013, and varietals, possibly Zinfandel, Merlot, Grenache, and Syrah, lush, juicy, bright, yummy, and fun.

• Lichen – Owner Doug Stewart produces a Solera, a multi vintage wine, and the sample of one due in September was gorgeous. Rich, ready, cherry berry fruit, layers of flavor, herb, twenty kinds of yum. In addition to great Pinot, some of my favorite in the valley, I bought a sparkling wine, bright mineral steely fruit, clean crisp, refreshingly delicious; and tasted a blend white, lush juicy stone, pear, grapefruit, lovely acid to fruit.

• Balo – I tasted finished wines, no barrel samples, and all were good, but my focus was barrel samples, so I left – but not before tasting a slice of pizza fresh from the oven, made simply with San Marzano tomatoes, cheese, and basil on a crust so delicious it could be served undressed as artisan bread. Balo does stand out for hospitality and thoughtfulness, offering free bottles water, immaculate bocce courts, lavender, pet-friendly fenced poop-pen for dogs – an enjoyable place to visit!

EDITED TO ADD: Okay, I wrote for the newspaper column that Balo was not pouring barrel samples, but I was wrong. I only visited the tasting room, and didn’t check out the obvious place for barrel samples: the barrel room in the adjacent winery building, down slope from the tasting room.. Oops.

The lovely lavendar gardens at Balo Vineyards

The lovely lavendar gardens at Balo Vineyards

• Greenwood Ridge Vineyards – I was fortunate to have Buzz pour for me, he was knowledgeable, passionate, and enthusiastic. Owner Allan Green deserves credit for the best named wine I tasted: 2012 Hundred Point Pinot Noir. Buzz told me that, “Allan makes his Pinot more in the traditional manner, less fruit,” and, “2012 was good, but 2013 was perfect. We picked early because the grapes were ready then.”

The bridge at Greenwood Ridge Vineyards

The bridge at Greenwood Ridge Vineyards

• Handley Cellars – Travis Scott poured two barrel samples; 2013 Vittorio Vineyard Primitivo, Redwood Valley perfume, fruit and 2013 Vittorio Petite Sirah, remarkably soft, light for a Petite. Vittorio is an early generation Testa family member. Travis also poured 2010 Vittorio’s Selected Red Table Red, light, super easy to drink, herb garden and berry patch, 13.5 percent alc.

• Phillips Hill – Buildings are an old apple drying facility. The 2013 Oppenlander Pinot was spectacularly drinkable right now, if a tiny bit green. Cherry, spice, herb, will be bottle March/April 2014. The extra time in barrel will yield acid integration, and structure will become more silky. Aromatics will become more pronounced. At Phillips Hill, they pick at lower Brix, have higher acid, the fruit is there, but the alcohol is lower; instead of a higher alcohol wine that overpowers food. I loved all tastes.

• The Apple Farm – Travis Scott at Handley sent me on to Phillips Hill where I tasted my day’s favorite wine and where I asked Toby if I could come back for a more comprehensive tasting. Margot at Phillips Hill sent me on to The Apple Farm where I bought a case of Bates & Schmitt organic apple juice. That’s how you do it!

• Edmeades – 2013 Zinfandel, Gianoli Vineyard, Mendocino Ridge – fruit slightly muted in nose, but nice weight coming on, depth, roundness, dark as opposed to bright, brambly raspberry, spice; 2013 Zinfandel, Peril Vineyard, Mendocino Ridge – more integrated. The Gianoli is good, but I like this better. Edges have been softened. Rounder; 2013 Syrah, Perli – black pepper, first and foremost, then vegetal and herbaceous undertone supporting dark fruit. Food included a ground lamb slider and pasta salad of orzu, basil, sun dried tomato, goat cheese, zucchini, hazel nut, and sherry olive oil.

• Gowan’s Oak Tree – I bought a mixed bag with four different squash, a dozen ears of white corn, a bag of mixed fruit, plots, plums, peaches, and apples, and a bottle of water. Water is always good on a 100-degree day when tasting wine.

• Toulouse Vineyards – Vern Boltz, owner, winemaker, was as cordial as his tasting room was comfortable. He poured me his 2013 Pommard ’04 clone Pinot; deep, gnarly, cheery fruit with a sexy hint of green, herbal, loamy, a beautiful Pinot in the barrel.

Pinot Noir grapes growing at Toulouse Vineyards

Pinot Noir grapes growing at Toulouse Vineyards

• Baxter Winery – Owners Claire and Phil Baxter poured their 2013 Vlenti Vineyard, Mendocino Ridge, a note of brown sugar, light in mouth, soft; 2013 Weir Vineyard, Yorkville Highlands, 30 percent whole cluster fermentation, more red than purple color, expressive fruit while elegantly light, candied cherry and rose petal; and 2013 Langley Vineyard, Anderson Valley, cranberry, strawberry, and finally cherry, lighter end of the spectrum fruit flavors, but a nice little basket of mixed fruit, a little herb and floral and earth in support of fruit, well integrated. These three will be bottled later in 2014 and ship May 2015. Baxter is making elegant wine I enjoyed.

• Elke Vineyards – 2013 Boonville Barter, simple, direct, bright cherry noted. 2013 Blue Diamond picked two weeks earlier, more Burgundian, focused more on dirt than fruit. 35 percent new oak, 11 months on oak. 2 years in bottle before release. I loved this wine. Hard candy cherry fruit.

 

 

 

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John on Wine – Hooking up

 

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal today, Thursday, July 31, 2014
By John Cesano

John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

The new format for the Ukiah Daily Journal, color splashed throughout, looks great but comes with a cost; deadlines for columns are earlier, much earlier. I used to enjoy the incredible luxury of being able to attend a weekend wine event, write a recap draft for a column on Monday, brush it up and submit it on Tuesday, and see it run on Thursday, which was great. Now, I have to submit my column by noon on Friday, before the weekend’s events, for this Thursday wine column. I attended the Second annual Anderson Valley Barrel Tasting weekend last weekend, but with a deadline before the event, I’ll have to write about last weekend this week to send by tomorrow, so you can read about it all next week. The column used to feel fresh; now it feels like some columns are about things nearly two weeks old.

 

I received a big “thank you” from someone who sells wine for a piece I wrote recently. I couldn’t remember the piece, even when reminded what it was about. I write pieces, turn them in, and move on, but the longer time between turn in and reader reaction means I may seriously have forgotten what I wrote, so please be patient as I ask you to remind me.

 

I’m writing this not as complaint, but explanation. I receive invitations to wine events, and I like to recap them. My hope is that if I describe something well enough then a reader will want to attend an annual event the following year. I have seen posters advertising events with my own quoted words, and I am heartened; I would love more folks to benefit from a bump in event ticket sales because of something I have written – even something written in recap the year before. I’ll still do recaps of events I attend, but they will come out a little later than they used to. What my column can continue to do well, and in a timely manner, is promote events before they happen, offered up in a calendar of upcoming events or featured in a section of a column. I would like to do that better, and for that I am using this week’s column to ask for help. I’ve got to ask folks in the wine industry to help me out getting the great events in front of readers. I won’t be mentioning every anniversary, wine club pick up party, or sale, but if the wineries in Redwood Valley, Anderson Valley, Yorkville Highlands, greater Hopland, or throughout the county are having a major collaborative event, Passport, barrel tasting, or other big festival, please reach out to me at least one month in advance so I can get a good mention. A press invite is always appreciated as well, so I can attend and write up the event – hopefully, you’ll save the write up and use it the following year in your marketing efforts to bring more people to visit and taste your wines. WineSong, Mushroom Train, Mendo Crab & Wine or Mushroom & Wine Fest events … you too. Let me know well in advance, so I can let my column readers, both in the paper and online, know about your event so they can buy tickets and come to your events. I can’t come to every winery dinner, I have to pick and choose. With almost 100 wineries hosting wine club events, picnics or dinners, and every wine friendly restaurant putting on a version of a chef’s wine dinner, I can’t possibly afford either the time or money that attending all would entail. That said, if your event is amazing (I’m looking at you, Testa, with your blending party, with dinner, and McKenna Faith playing live, and fantastic blend judges; and you, Crush Ukiah – when are we going to do a McFadden dinner?), then reach out to me and I’ll try to promote your event. Coro Mendocino, I’ve written about you about 205 times and moderated a TV shoot with your winemakers; keep me in mind when you send your press releases and when you make your press invitations for future events.

 

Visit Ukiah, Visit Mendocino, Mendocino Winegrowers Inc.; I need your help to help broadcast the best wine news. You know how to reach me, please do, again with both news in advance of your events, and an invite to those you would like me to cover.

 

Owners and winemakers, send me an email and let’s taste through your wines one fine weekend day, we can do it in an hour, and then you can show me your vineyard, winery, tasting room, whatever you are proud of, with the result being a spotlight winery feature. Bob, Hoss, Rich, and Greg – you’ve each offered up a taste, let’s set up a date. Everyone else, just reach out. I’m a cheerleader for the industry. I haven’t written harshly of any wines in this column. That is easy when there are always so many great things to write about. Bottom line: if you are involved in wine events, please let me know about your events; JohnOnWine@gmail.com is the email to use. Want to send wine or something else through the mail? John Cesano, 13275 S Hwy 101 #5, PO Box 624, Hopland, CA 95449 works great.

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Tomorrow, is the Mendocino County Fair Wine Competition. The judges will gather and taste through the morning and afternoon, deciding on Bronze, silver, and Gold medals for wines. The rare wine to take unanimous Gold votes from the judges will get Double Gold medals. Top medal winners will be tasted again for Best of Class, Best Red, Best White, Best Sparkling, and Best Dessert honors. The best part of it all is the award ceremony and dinner that will follow the judging at the Mendocino College Student Plaza from 6-9 p.m. I love it and attend every year. Enjoy a delicious three course dinner prepared by the Mendocino College Culinary Arts program led by Chef Nicholas Petti of Mendo Bistro, while sampling award winning wines from the competition.

 

Tickets are just $55 and available at www.mendowine.com; get your tickets before they stop sales.

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John Cesano writes the popular wine blog John On Wine at www.johnonwine.com

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Editor’s note:

 

We really appreciate all of our unpaid columnists and the work they put in so that we may meet out deadlines. Our roster of local writers have done a great job submitted timely, relevant and informative articles for our readers to enjoy, and they deserve a big tip-of-the-hat for their efforts.

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EDITED TO ADD: I love my editor, Kelly Hancock, and I must have seemed grudgey, or just outright bitchy, for her to have come in to add her note. I am touched by her sweetness, and apologize for any bitchiness on my part.

My intent was to say, “Hey, I’ve got this deadline, and it lends itself to promotion of future events, so you wine area tourism groups, or county tourism groups, or wine groups, or restaurants, or wineries – send me a heads up if you have something truly noteworthy for me to mention, and extending an invite might get the event written up some time after.”  Of course, that isn’t enough words to fill a column, so I may have chosen an intemperate word or set a tone not really intended, with the extra words I did use.

 

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