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John On Wine – Drought

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on March 27, 2014
By John Cesano

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Brave the storm to come, for it surely looks like rain.” ­ – 1972, Look Like Rain, Grateful Dead

Rain, water, drought, shortage, rationing, voluntary reductions, mandatory reductions; Thoughts of our current situation swirl like water about a drain. I’m a winery tasting room guy. I know finished wine, whether it is good, what notes it has and how to describe it. I know a little bit about growing and winemaking, but really just the basics.

When it comes to the crisis facing everyone in Mendocino County, not just the vineyards and wineries, I had to reach out and talk with some folks more knowledgeable than I am on the subject. I spoke with Zac Robinson, President of the Mendocino WineGrowers, Inc., the voluntary coalition of growers and producers working to promote Mendocino County grape grower and wine interests to the general public. Robinson grows grapes both inland, on the Russian River between Ukiah and Hopland, and in the Anderson Valley, and then turns them into wine for his winery, Husch Vineyard.

Robinson described the problems facing the entire community as stemming from a two year drought, stating “the Navarro River is at the lowest level ever for this date, and “things are pretty dire.” Robinson outlined measures that vineyards and wineries are taking in the face of water shortages including adding nearly 50 new wind machines, installing double drip irrigation lines, and installing soil moisture monitoring probes. This is on top of water use reductions of approximately 67 percent since the previous drought of record, 1976-77.

The fans minimize the use of sprinkler water for frost protection and later to mitigate the highest heat of summer, but at a cost as the fans are pretty noisy for residential neighbors to endure. Soil moisture monitoring probes allow more intelligent application of moisture as needed, and double drip lines involve a second irrigation drip line with emitters tasked only to the weakest vines in a vineyard. Double drip lines allow about a 30 percent reduction in water as regular summer drip irrigation can be delayed for weeks as only the vines most in need are taken care of earlier. Later pruning also reduces water demands, as it leads to later bud break and decreases the period when frost protection water use might occur.

In spite of all of the efforts by growers, Robinson shared that “holding ponds aren’t full, the watershed is bone dry, and there will be August decisions (as) we’re not going to have enough water to get the crop through the year (and) we’ll have to choose which vineyards get less water.”

All this, while most of Mendocino County’s vineyards face 50 percent mandatory reductions in water use from various governing boards and agencies.

Not to demonize the “demon weed,” but marijuana accounts for nearly the same water use amount of all of the family farmed multi-generational vineyards in the county, with marijuana acreage just a small fraction of the legal and regulated agricultural vineyards. A walk in a vineyard is a joy; a walk in much of the county a danger due to illegal growth, armed guards, booby-trapped paths, and poisoned lands.

I’m not anti-marijuana, but I support legalizing and taxing it, as well as subjecting growers to the same water restrictions grape growers face. I do oppose illegal grows on public land, diverting water, and ruining existing ecosystems. While vineyards may be the most visible sector of the agricultural community, non-vineyard agriculture (irrigated pastures and orchards) are the largest user of water in the county, using water at much greater rates per acre.

This piece isn’t meant to be an “us vs. them” piece, but a look at where we all are at, together, now and where we all should be looking to go to decrease the severity of drought consequences as a community in the future. Janet Pauli, Chair of the Mendocino County Inland Water & Power Commission, was able to provide a pretty good map for the future.

Pauli first made clear the severity of our current drought, based on insufficient rain October to present, “this is the new drought of record’ and may be a level of severity that hasn’t occurred in over 400 years based on tree ring data.” This surpasses the often recounted 1976-77 drought of record. Pauli said the path forward required progress on two tracks. The first is reoperation and the second is increased storage at Lake Mendocino.

Reoperation involves support of Congressman Jared Huffman’s Fixing Operations of Reservoirs to Encompass Climatic and Atmospheric Science Trends Act (FORECAST) so we can conserve water in our biggest pond, Lake Mendocino. Currently, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers follow required water control instructions from a manual dating back to the 50s, which saw them release water in the spring of 2013 without any evidence of a storm coming in after. Assuming weather prediction is better now than in the 50s, sensible on-the-ground decisions could be made saving unnecessary future water releases from occurring.

Lake Mendocino exists as part of a larger U.S. Army Corps of Engineers flood control project, authorized by Congress in the 50s, and intended to proceed in three stages. Stage one was the building of the Coyote Valley Dam, completed in 1959, creating the current Lake Mendocino. Stage two involved the building of the Warm Springs Dam, completed in 1982, creating Lake Sonoma. Stage three involves coming back to raise the Coyote Valley Dam 36 vertical feet, doubling the water storage capacity of Lake Mendocino. Stage three has not happened. Pauli said that feasibility studies are costly, but needed to move forward and while $1.2 million has been brought to bear, $4 million more is needed to see the study through to completion. Funding comes from the Federal government, matched by a local coalition including Potter Valley, Redwood Valley, Mendocino County, City of Ukiah, and Russian River Flood Control groups. Next congressional action is required, and Pauli said that in the past U.S. Senator (CA) Diane Feinstein “has helped us with funding for the Feasibility Study. We believe that the project is feasible and should be championed by our elected representatives as nearly “shovel ready”. We are hoping that raising Coyote Dam might become the “water supply poster child” for increasing storage in the State of California.”

If feasible, the current estimate of enlarging Lake Mendocino is $300 million, with perhaps 25 percent local funding needed, and would require a year for authorization plus whatever time the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would need to enlarge the existing dam. Similarly, Congressman Huffman’s FORECAST Act requires successful passage into law, a couple of years of studies, and another couple of years before implementation. The greatest problem about droughts is that with their end, so too ends the quest for solutions to drought conditions.

Everyone in Mendocino, Sonoma Counties face drought conditions now and should come together to act now and continue to act together in the future as a community to address ways to minimize the impacts of future droughts. According to Mendocino WineGrowers, Inc., farmers in the wine industry and wineries relying on grapes anticipate losses of up to $100 million this year due to the drought and a combination of mandatory and self-imposed responsible water reduction measures. Grapes just won’t be as plump, there will be fewer and this will lead to less wine made. Do whatever you can to conserve water now. I remember the conservation measures that existed in 1976-77 that are not in effect in homes now.

Support your local, legal, agriculture; help them through this drought by taking on extra water conservation measures at your home and business, and contact Congressman Jared Huffman and voice your support for his FORECAST Act, and contact Senator Diane Feinstein and let her know you would really love to see the Coyote Valley Dam raised 36 vertical feet as soon as practical. Consider your local city councilmember’s and county supervisor’s support for these needed protections of our beautiful county as well. As Mendocino County residents, we’re really in this together.

 

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John On Wine ­ – Crab, wine & more

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on January 23, 2014 by John Cesano

 

This week, I look back at last weekend, reflect a bit, and look ahead to more events this week.

On Saturday night, I went to Patrona in Ukiah for a winemaker dinner boasting a very crab-centric menu, because the Mendocino County Crab, Wine & Beer Fest is going on. The meal also featured the sparkling and still wines of Roederer Estate winemaker Arnaud Weyrich from nearby Anderson Valley. I was thrilled to use the event as a reconnecting date, the first in over 20 years, with a dear friend, June Batz, who will likely be accompanying me to more wine events in the future.

Arnaud visited each table, welcomed guests to the event, and shared some information about the winery, and the night’s wines. Showing far more humility than I would have, he refrained from noting that one of the night’s wines, the Roederer L’Ermitage was named the #1 wine of 2013 by Wine Enthusiast magazine.

Some of the folks attending included Lorie Pacini and Allen Cherry, who are two of the biggest supporters of Mendocino County wines I know, Gracia Brown from Barra and Girasole along with her husband Joseph Love, and Christina Jones, owner/chef of Aquarelle restaurant in Boonville – who is doing her own winemaker dinner tonight, Jan. 23 at 6:30 p.m. with wines from Handley Cellars.

The three bubblies, Roederer Estate Brut, the L’Ermitage, and a Brut Rose, were everything you would hope and expect, simply perfect when paired with crab egg rolls, crab stuffed chicken, and an orange marmalade crepe with whipped cream respectively.

The two surprises of the evening were a pair of still wines, the 2012 Carpe Diem Chardonnay, barrel and tank fermented, with a majority of used oak, yielding a gorgeously balanced wine that paired beautifully with butter poached crab and avocado, and the 2011 Carpe Diem Pinot Noir, a delightfully characterful wine that went well with pork belly.

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Overheard at Barrel Tasting 101 last weekend: “Why is this Chardonnay cloudy? I think it is corked.”

Whoa there; a wine that is still in barrel, a wine not ready for bottling yet, a wine that has never seen a cork, can’t be “corked.”

Often time, Chardonnay in barrel is held “sur lies” or with the spent yeast of fermentation to provide the wine with a little weightiness or richer mouth feel. Barrel samples of these wines will be cloudy. Similarly, red wine barrel samples are colored, but often not clear. I will write more in advance of the next barrel tasting event I point to.

The most important thing to know about barrel tasting is that wines tasted from barrel are not finished wines, some do not taste particularly good, but will eventually yield delicious bottled wines. Barrel tasting provides clues, hints, at what you might expect from future wines. Some wineries offer cases sales on wines tasted from barrels, wines that are not released yet, but will be released in the future, and these offerings and sales are known as “futures.”

Tasting room folks that I talked to reported an interesting mix of folks attending the event; some who knew what a barrel tasting was about, other folks who were open to learn, and still other folks who were interested in consuming as much wine and crab as they could for $10.

June and I visited Maria and Rusty at Testa Vineyards in Calpella on Sunday, and it was great to see the crew working, pouring wines, serving up tasty treats.

Rusty pulled samples from the barrels in the cellar; I enjoyed the barrel samples I tasted, and thought the Petite Sirah would be great held separate instead of used up in blending. Charbono, Carignane – all my old favorites – tasted great from the barrel. Rusty is usually busy manning the grill, barbecuing chicken or oysters for an event, when I see him, so it was a treat to hear him talk about the wines and wine making.

Back upstairs and outdoors, we enjoyed tastes of current release bottled wines with Maria, paired with mighty delicious crab spread atop a slice of toasted French bread. Well, yum.

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The folks at Ole Smoky Tennessee Moonshine contacted me and asked me if I would be interested in writing about their Blackberry Shine and Champagne cocktail, the MoonMosa. I’ve written about spirits when I visited with Crispin Cain and the folks from Germain Robin in Redwood Valley, and I work for a place with two Double Gold sparkling brut wines, so, sure, why not?

I received a mason jar of Ole Smoky Blackberry Moonshine. The packaging is fantastic.

Gary Krimont, a friend and wine industry socialite, helped me evaluate this unique beverage.

First, Moonshine might be pushing it. While the folks at Ole Smoky do produce a few products at 100 proof, the Blackberry Moonshine is just 40 proof, or 20 percent alcohol.

Honestly, the lower alcohol is a good thing, as it made this an easily enjoyed, flavorful sipper. The aroma is pure blackberry pancake syrup, but the flavor is more complex and layered. We mixed equal parts Shine and Brut, and both Gary and I felt that the cocktail was less than the sum of its parts. If you see one on a retail shelf, pick up a jar, and enjoy Ole Smoky Blackberry Moonshine by itself, it is light enough to drink uncut, and too delicious to dilute.

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Saturday is my birthday, and I will be attending ZAP, the Zinfandel Advocates and Producers Zinfandel Experience event at the Presidio in San Francisco. Sessions include a Sensory Tasting, a Terroir Tasting, and a Reserve & Barrel Tasting. Two Mendocino County wineries participating are McNab Ridge Winery in Hopland and Edmeades Estate Winery in Philo, and I look forward to tasting their Zinfandel, plus the Zinfandel wines made by many friends outside the county as well.

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Crab Fest continues this weekend, with the big events moving to the coast.

The Crab Cake Cook-Off & Wine Tasting Competition will take place this Saturday, Jan. 25 from noon to 3 p.m. under the big white tent at the corner of Main and Spruce in Ft. Bragg.

There is an all you can eat crab dinner, with wine, from 6 to 9 p.m., that Saturday night at Barra in Redwood Valley.

A host of winery tasting rooms along Highway 101 inland, and Highway 128 on the way to the coast, will be offering up crab taste pairings with their wines this last weekend of the Crab Fest, so get out and enjoy the bounty of our county.

The San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition is the big daddy of wine competitions, the largest judging of American wines in the world. This year’s competition started on Tuesday and finished today. There were 5,825 wine entries for the judges to taste. The very best wines earned a Gold Medal, a Double (unanimous) Gold Medal, or Best of Class award. There were also Sweepstakes awards for Best red, white, bubbly, dessert, etc.

These best of the best wines will be poured at Ft. Mason in San Francisco at a Public Tasting on Saturday, February 15, 2014 from 1:30-5:00pm. Tickets regularly sell out, click HERE to buy your tickets.

I’ve pulled together a list of all of the wines made from Mendocino County grapes that won a Gold Medal or higher at the 2014 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition – I wonder which of the two Double Gold Medal Dry Sparkling wines from Mendocino County I’ll toast the winners with…maybe both!

Best of Class Chardonnay $15.00-$19.99
2012 Husch Vineyards Chardonnay, Estate Bottled, Mendocino $15.00

Best of Class Grenache
2012 Campovida Grenache, Dark Horse, Mendocino County $36.00

Double Gold Medal Dry Sparkling
NV McFadden Vineyard Cuvée Brut, McFadden Farm, Potter Valley $25.00

Double Gold Medal Dry Sparkling
2009 McFadden Vineyard Special Reserve Brut, McFadden Farm, Potter Valley       $40.00

Double Gold Medal All Other White Varietals
2012 Campovida Roussanne, Bonofiglio, Mendocino County $32.00

Double Gold Medal Pinot Noir Up to $19.99
2012 Navarro Vineyards Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley $19.50

Double Gold Medal Pinot Noir $30.00-$34.99
2010 Handley Cellars Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley $32.00

Double Gold Medal Pinot Noir $50.00 and over
2011 Cakebread Cellars Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley $50.00

Double Gold Medal Pinot Noir $50.00 and over
2010 Handley Cellars Pinot Noir, RSM Vineyard, Anderson Valley $56.00

Double Gold Medal Zinfandel Up to $19.99
2012 Navarro Vineyards Zinfandel, Mendocino $19.50

Double Gold Medal Zinfandel $25.00-$29.99
2012 Husch Vineyards Zinfandel, Old Vines, Mendocino $25.00

Double Gold Medal Merlot $10.00-$14.99
2011 Bliss Family Vineyards Merlot, Estate, Mendocino $13.95

Double Gold Medal Cabernet Sauvignon $30.00-$34.99
2011 Moniker Wine Estates  Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendocino County $30.00

Double Gold Medal All Red Blends $25.00-$34.99
2012 Husch Vineyards Heritage, Old Vines, Mendocino $28.00

Gold Medal Sauvignon Blanc $14.00-$19.99
2012 Husch Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc, Mendocino $14.00

Gold Medal Sauvignon Blanc $14.00-$19.99
2012 Husch Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc, Renegade, Mendocino $18.00

Gold Medal Chardonnay $10.00-$14.99
2012 Kimmel Vineyards Chardonnay, Kimmel Vineyards, Potter Valley $14.99

Gold Medal Chardonnay $10.00-$14.99
2012 Parducci Wine Cellars Chardonnay, Small Lot Blend, Mendocino County $13.00

Gold Medal Chardonnay $15.00-$19.99
2012 Naughty Boy Vineyards Chardonnay, Thornton Ranch, Potter Valley $15.50

Gold Medal Chardonnay $25.00-$29.99
2011 Husch Vineyards Chardonnay , Special Reserve, Mendocino $26.00

Gold Medal Chardonnay $25.00-$29.99
2012 Navarro Vineyards Chardonnay, Premier Reserve, Anderson Valley $25.00

Gold Medal Chardonnay $25.00-$29.99
2012 Seebass Family Wines Chardonnay, Seebass Vineyards, Mendocino     $29.99

Gold Medal Chardonnay $25.00-$29.99
2012 Wattle Creek Winery Chardonnay, Yorkville Highlands $25.00

Gold Medal Chardonnay $40.00 and over
2011 La Follette Wines Chardonnay, Mendocino Ridge $48.00

Gold Medal Chardonnay $40.00 and over
2012 Tom Eddy Wines Chardonnay, Manchester, Mendocino $55.00

Gold Medal Gewurztraminer
2012 Highway 253 Gewurztraminer, Mendocino County $16.99

Gold Medal Riesling RS<1.49
2012 Handley Cellars Riesling, Anderson Valley $22.00

Gold Medal Riesling RS<1.49
2012 Navarro Vineyards Riesling, Anderson Valley $19.50

Gold Medal Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio $15.00 and over
2012 Handley Cellars Pinot Gris, Anderson Valley $20.00

Gold Medal Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio $15.00 and over
2012 Navarro Vineyards Pinot Gris, Anderson Valley $19.50

Gold Medal Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio $15.00 and over
2012 Philo Ridge Vineyards Pinot Gris, Marguerite Vineyard, Anderson Valley $21.00

Gold Medal Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio $15.00 and over
2012 Philo Ridge Vineyards Pinot Gris, Klindt Vineyard, Anderson Valley $20.00

Gold Medal All Other White Varietals
2012 Campovida Arneis, Spirit Canyon, Mendocino County $36.00

Gold Medal Dry Rose RS<1
2012 Campovida Rose di Grenache, Riserva, Mendocino County $34.00

Gold Medal Grenache
2012 Navarro Vineyards Grenache, Mendocino $29.00

Gold Medal Pinot Noir Up to $19.99
2011 Bliss Family Vineyards Pinot Noir, Estate, Mendocino $14.99

Gold Medal Pinot Noir $50.00 and over
2011 Tom Eddy Wines Pinot Noir, Manchester, Mendocino $60.00

Gold Medal Zinfandel $20.00-$24.99
2010 Brutocao Cellars Zinfandel, Hopland Estate, Mendocino $22.00

Gold Medal Merlot $15.00-$19.99
2011 Bonterra Vineyards Merlot, Mendocino County $15.99

Gold Medal Merlot $25.00-$29.99
2010 Byrd Vineyard Merlot, Byrd Vineyard, Mendocino County $29.00

Gold Medal Cabernet Sauvignon $30.00-$34.99
2010 Parducci Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, True Grit Reserve, Mendocino County $30.00

Gold Medal Bordeaux Blends $30.00-$39.99
2009 Alder Springs Vineyard Estate 13 Tasks, Alder Springs Vineyard, Mendocino $39.00

Gold Medal All Other Red Varietals
2012 Campovida Negroamaro, Chiarito, Mendocino County $36.00

Gold Medal All Red Blends Up to $14.99
2012 Kimmel Vineyards Redessence, Kimmel Vineyards, Potter Valley $14.99

Gold Medal All Red Blends $15.00-$24.99
NV Cesar Toxqui Cellars Heirloom IV, Mendocino $24.99

Gold Medal White Dessert RS>4
2011 McFadden Vineyard Late Harvest Riesling, McFadden Farm, Potter Valley $18.00

Gold Medal White Dessert RS>4
2012 Stephen & Walker Chardonnay Botrytis, Mendocino Ridge $65.00

Mendocino County is a farm county. We grow grapes that are often sold and blended into Sonoma and Napa county wines to make them better. It is really nice to see so many wines held separate, made from Mendocino County grapes, and recognized for their excellence. Congratulations to the grape growers, winemakers, winery owners who made these wines possible; and thanks to the terrific crew of judges at this year’s San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. We consumers, tasters, and folks working in the tasting rooms are grateful to you all.

Note: This column originally ran in the Ukiah Daily Journal on Thursday, December 19, 2013 -

Wow, the last column before Christmas. This is where I am supposed to write the cliché “Holiday Gifts for your Wine Lover” piece. I’ll probably mention a couple of things that I like, but first, I have a couple of notes of thanks:

Thank you to everyone who, after reading my column last week, came to the McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room with a new unwrapped toy donation for our Toys For Tots toy drive & wine tasting event. We just about doubled the number of toys brought in last year, and we will be able to bring these toys to the Hopland Volunteer Fire Department for the wonderful firemen to deliver, helping Santa, on Christmas Eve. The thanks for this success, and the joy and smiles of the children helped, is all because of you, and I am incredibly grateful.

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Thanks also go to my boss Guinness McFadden and to our winemakers Bob Swain and Mark Beaman. Last week, I was invited to sit in on tastes of wines we’ll release in the future, and helped shape a future Coro blend. I am a taster guy; I taste wine, describe it, and sell it. I know the rudimentary process of winemaking, but this knowledge is much more theory than practice, and sitting with two accomplished winemakers in their realm, not mine, was a terrific experience. I learned a ton, and I gained a new and valuable perspective.

Finally, many folks to thank for last week’s Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush Ukiah, featuring the 2010 vintage Coro Mendocino wines.

First, thanks to my boss for picking up the tab for my dinner. Next, thanks to the entire staff at Crush, from chefs Jesse and Nate and their entire kitchen crew to the front of house team, for another spectacularly executed wine dinner experience. Speaking of front of house team, thanks to Julie Golden from Coro Mendocino for working alongside the team to pour a plentitude of delicious wine. Huge thanks go to local superstar photographer Tom Liden; as soon as I saw Tom with his camera, I knew I could leave my picture taking device in it’s bag. Finally, thanks to everyone who attended the dinner; without you and the energy you bring, there would be no special wine dinners.

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Photography by Tom Liden, Tom Liden Photography

The Coro Dinner at Crush saw the largest event gathering, 70 guests, in the history of all three Crush restaurants, and the event sold out earlier than any previous dinner, with many people on a waiting list, hoping for a cancellation.

I love the Zinfandel based blends of the Coro Mendocino program, they were all delicious. Food highlights for me were the wedge salad with Nueske bacon, blue cheese, and red onions; the crab balls – they were billed as cakes, but trust me they were balls; oysters Rockefeller; and Prime Rib with all the trimmings. For me, the best, and most memorable, food and wine pairing of the night was at dessert, when the Butterscotch Budino, a bowl with chocolate pudding on the bottom, then caramel pearls, then butterscotch pudding, topped with Chantilly cream and mint – you dug down to get all layers with each spoonful – was paired with the Double Gold and Best of Class awarded 2011 McFadden Late Harvest Riesling. I expected delicious, but this pairing left delicious far behind; this was a perfect pairing. A spoon and a tiny sip, another spoon and another sip, until, too soon, it was gone.

This dinner series is a treat, and I’ll let you know about future dinners when I hear about them.

The next scheduled Coro dinner will be the 2011 vintage release party at the Little River Inn on Saturday, June 28, 2014. For more info, or to make a reservation, call the Little River Inn at (707) 937-5942.

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Okay, here are some wine gift recommendations for Christmas:

Wine. Visit any winery tasting room, enjoy a wine tasting if you have the time, and pick up some delicious wines for the holidays. Wine makes a great hostess gift when you visit for a Christmas party or dinner. Wine makes food taste better, so you should serve it at your table too. A couple of bottles wrapped and placed under the tree make for great emergency gifts when someone gives you a gift and you hadn’t purchased a gift for them yet. Wine was Christ’s first miracle, and he offered a cup to the dinner guests at His last supper, so wine infuses a little miracle into this season of Christmas.

Wine gadgets. A good wine opener, an aerator, reusable bottle stoppers, a Champagne stopper, and a can of argon or argon mixed with nitrogen to preserve wine between glasses are all great gifts that a wine lover will appreciate.

Wine books: I have two to recommend. The first features the words of Heidi Cusick Dickerson, who wrote a weekly wine column in the Journal before I did, and the photography of Tom Liden, and is focused on the wines, wineries, and vineyards of Mendocino County. The book is Mendocino Roots & Ridges and retails for $29.95. It is gorgeously rich in content, and hand signed copies by Heidi and Tom are available widely, including the McFadden tasting room in Hopland.

The second book has a larger focus, The New California Wine by San Francisco Chronicle wine editor Jon Bonne retails at $35, and is available at better book stores everywhere. Among my favorite dozen inland Mendocino vineyards that Bonne notes are Eaglepoint Ranch, Gibson Ranch, Heart Arrow Ranch, Lolonis, McFadden Farm, Sun Hawk, and Testa; as well almost twenty Anderson Valley properties. The book is a look at California’s wine industry today, growers, winemakers, and the wines, and is an absolute must have book for anyone serious enough about wine to have a library of wine books.
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That’s it, some thanks, a couple of wine gift ideas, and this wish: Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, or whatever year end wish for happiness works for you, from me.

For decades, Bill Traverso of Traverso’s Gourmet Foods and Liquors has been the man nearly everyone in Santa Rosa trusts when searching out a particular bottle of wine, Sonoma County’s wine merchant above all others. Bill is the chairman of Vineyard & Winery Management Magazine’s Grand Harvest Awards, which makes the awards special enough for me to take notice, but Bill also points at something he feels sets this competition apart from others, “wines are judged by region…[each wine is] terroir ranked against its competitors. GHA recognizes wine entries that best exemplify the terroir of their respective viticultural areas, and acknowledges its influence on wine quality.”

This year the competition, first held in 1990, saw nearly two dozen judges set about tasting around one and a half thousand wines, from about 150 different American Viticultural Areas or other discrete wine appelations.

Of the numerous award winners, these are Mendocino County wineries that won awards, and wineries that won awards using Mendocino County grapes:

California

Gold

Fetzer Vineyards, Brown-Forman Corporation, 09 Riesling, $9.99

Parducci Wine Cellars, Mendocino Wine Co., 09 Sustainable White, $11

Silver

Fetzer Vineyards, Brown-Forman Corporation, 09 Chardonnay, $8.99

Five Rivers Wines, Brown-Forman Corporation, 09 Pinot Noir, $12.99

Parducci Wine Cellars, Mendocino Wine Co., 09 Chardonnay, $11

Paul Dolan Vineyards, Mendocino Wine Co., 09 Chardonnay, $18

Bronze

Bonterra Vineyards, Brown-Forman Corporation, 09 Sauvignon Blanc, 60% Lake County/40% Mendocino, $13.99

Fetzer Vineyards, Brown-Forman Corporation, 08 Cabernet Sauvignon, $8.99

Fetzer Vineyards, Brown-Forman Corporation, 09 Gewurztraminer, $9.99

Fetzer Vineyards, Brown-Forman Corporation, 08 Merlot, $8.99

Fetzer Vineyards, Brown-Forman Corporation, 09 Shiraz, $8.99Parducci Wine Cellars, Mendocino Wine Co., 07 Petite Sirah, $11

Little Black Dress Wines, Brown-Forman Corporation, 08 Cabernet Sauvignon, $10.99

Little Black Dress Wines, Brown-Forman Corporation, 09 Sauvignon Blanc, $10.99

Little Black Dress Wines, Brown-Forman Corporation, 09 Chardonnay, $10.99

Parducci Wine Cellars, Mendocino Wine Co., 07 True Grit, $30

Parducci Wine Cellars, Mendocino Wine Co., 09 Pinot Noir, $12

Paul Dolan Vineyards, Mendocino Wine Co., 07 Deep Red, $45

Anderson Valley (AVA)

Gold

Handley Cellars, 07 Pinot Noir, $30

V. Sattui Winery, 09 Riesling, $24

Silver

Navarro Vineyards, 09 Riesling, $18

Navarro Vineyards, 09 Gewurztraminer, Late Harvest, $35

Bronze

Navarro Vineyards, 09 Gewurztraminer, Estate Bottled, $19

Navarro Vineyards, 09 Edelzwicker, $13

Navarro Vineyards, 270 Pinot Gris, $19

Navarro Vineyards, 09 Chardonnay, Premigre Reserve, $25

Navarro Vineyards, 09 Pinot Noir, $29

Mendocino (AVA)

Gold

Handley Cellars, 08 Pinot Noir, $25

Navarro Vineyards, 09 Syrah, $25

Navarro Vineyards, 09 Genache, $27

Navarro Vineyards, 09 Zinfandel, $19

Silver

Barra of Mendocino, 07 Cabernet Sauvignon, $20

Girasole vineyards, Barra of Mendocino, 09 Hybrid red, $13

Girasole vineyards, Barra of Mendocino, 09 Pinot Blanc, $13

Navarro Vineyards, 09 Savignon Blanc, Cuvee 128, $18

Navarro Vineyards, 09 Chardonnay, $17

Navarro Vineyards, 09 Pinot Noir, $19

Bronze

Barra of Mendocino, 07 Pinot Noir, $20

CalNaturale, California Natural Products, 09 Chardonnay, Organically Grown, $12.99/liter

Navarro Vineyards, 09 Zinfandel, Old Vine, $25

Navarro Vineyards, 09 Navarrouge, $14

Pacific Redwood, Pacific Redwood Winery, 09 Organic Merlot, $10.5

Mendocino County (County Appellation)

Silver

Bonterra Vineyards, Brown-Forman Corporation, 09 Pinot Noir, $19.99

Bronze

Bonterra Vineyards, Brown-Forman Corporation, 09 Chardonnay, $13.99

Bonterra Vineyards, Brown-Forman Corporation, 08 Merlot, $15.99

Weibel Family Vineyards & Winery, 06 Chardonnay, Weibel Family, $14.95

Weibel Family Vineyards & Winery, 09 Pinot Noir, Knightsdale, $15.95

Mendocino Ridge (AVA)

Gold

Stephen & Walker, Stephen & Walker, Trust Winery Ltd., 09 Chardonnay Late Harvest, $65

Yorkville Highlands (AVA)

Gold

Route 128 Winery, 09 Viognier, Opatz family Vineyards, $19

Bronze

Route 128 Winery, 07 Syrah, Opatz family Vineyards, $24

 

This is a terrific opportunity to search out a bottle of wine that isn’t just good, but it a good example of what a wine from the area it comes from should taste like.

Cheers and enjoy!

I visited Dunnewood Vineyards in Ukiah recently.

The first thing I learned is that the Dunnewood Vineyards name was all marketing, and no one knows where they got that name. The good news is that most of the wine in the Dunnewood Vineyards tasting room carries the Mendocino Vineyards label, and I can grasp where that name came from.


Located in Ukiah, north of town, at 2399 North State Street; the sign for Dunnewood Vineyards is the most visible clue that a winery exists in this industrial zone outside Ukiah city proper. The winery location features vineyards around, an old front building doubling as tasting room and office, and a rather large winery facility in rear.

The large winery facility is owing, in part, to Dunnewood/Mendocino Vineyards being owned by wine giant Constellation. All Mendocino County grapes for Contellation Brand wines are made into wine at this facility. More interesting, from a “green” Mendocino County wine industry perspective, Mendicino Vineyards makes certified organic grown grape wines.

From Constellation’s website:

Mendocino Vineyards comes from the proverbial heart and soul of organic viticulture, Mendocino County. Bordering California’s rugged Pacific Coast, the county is enveloped by the cool morning fog that rolls in from the ocean and settles on the vineyards to produce wines with bright green apple flavors and a crisp, clean finish. It’s here that our team crafts this world-class wine that exemplifies environmental integrity by employing the strictest certified organic farming practices.

It may be unfair, but I don’t think of corporate responsibility and eco awareness when I think of of worldwide business conglomerates, yet Constellation seems to embrace and support Mendocino County’s eco spirit in their grape growing and winemaking choices surrounding their Ukiah facility.

Helen Kelley poured wines for me at the tasting bar. Helen is the office manager, and her pride in the winery and wines was evident.

2009 Mendocino Vineyards Chardonnay Mendocino County $12 clear color of light straw, nose of apple, pear, lemon, nice fruit shown. Tasty tropical sweetly candied fruit flavors. Nice body. Very, very long finish. Made with organic grapes sourced from about Mendocino County.

2003 Dunnewood Vineyards Coro Mendocino $35 Winemaker George Phelan has a lighter bodied, brighter Zinfandel based wine. 64.6% Zinfandel, 25.7% Syrah, and 9.7% Sangiovese. Nice fruit, raspberry and mixed berry, and cedar wood spice.

1997 Dunnewood Tawny Port Signiture Napa Valley $19 A charbono port, really really nice. Rich, sweetly delicious, plummy goodness.

Helen poured me a library selection, the 1979 Dunnewood Tawny Port California Limited Edition $28. At first nose, I wasn’t in love, it is tobacco juice tar color, but I came stuck with it to find plum dark fruit, sticky caramel apple and fig. I would enjoy trying to pair this with a fig reduction sauced pork. Helen shared a story of having to hand fill the unusual shaped bottles, and how at the end of the task, she was a syrupy, sticky, sweet mess.

__________

Last week, I stopped in at Jeriko Estate in Hopland to taste a local Mendocino County Brut Rosé for a Valentine’s Day bubbly write up.

As long as I was there, I tasted the 2009 Jeriko Estate Pinot Noir Mendocino 14.3% alc $38 as well. Lovely Burgundy color, delightful dried cranberry nose, delicious lush cranberry and cherry fruit flavors. Lingering finish, Nice acid. Well balanced.

J.J. Cannon, my host in the tasting room, told me that this was winery owner Danny Fetzer’s favorite wine, the wine he most often has a glass of when choosing from among the winery’s releases.

J.J. also serves as the wine club manager, and has grown the membership to a bit over 150 members, about an 18% increase, in a relatively short period of time. Founder’s Club members receive a case, discounted 20%, spread over 3 shipments each year. Estate Club members receive two cases, discounted 25%, spread over 12 shipments each year. Cellar Club members receive a half case monthly at a 30% discount. Other benefits include a big discount on wines purchased at the tasting room on the day you sign up for a wine club membership, an annual wine club member appreciation party, wine club pick up parties, complimentary reserve wine tasting for members and guests, and special pre-release priority and prices. Wine club members can choose all white, all red, or a delicious mix of both with each wine club shipment.

Wandering about the tasting room area, I noticed some lovely jewelry available for purchase. It turns out the jewelry from Hook & Loop Jewelry Designs is made by winery owner Danny Fetzer’s niece Christina McDonald and her partner Rasean Powell. I would encourage the introduction of additional items of interest to warm the feeling of the tasting room area. Books on wine, wine accessories, art, jewelry, olive oils and foodstuffs placed about the tasting room would increase movement, and warm the experience immensely.

Outside the Tuscan styled and colored main building, the vineyards were readied for the upcoming spring and bud break a month or two away. A fountain burbled, olive trees decorated the property, and baby goats played on the property’s neighboring hillside.

__________

Two events I attended last year are coming up and I highly recommend them for lovers of Petite Sirah or Pinot Noir respectively:

Dark & Delicious Petite Sirah and Food Event
February 18, 2011
6:00pm – 9:00pm
Rock Wall Wine Company
2301 Monarch Street
Alameda, CA 94501

40 top Petite Sirah wine producers and 30 top bay area restaurants and caterers, one night, stain your teeth purple.

Parducci Wine Cellars of Ukiah in Mendocino County will be pouring at Dark & Delicious

The 8th Annual Pinot Noir Summit
Saturday, February 26, 2011
11:30am – 6:45pm
Hilton San Francisco
750 Kearny Street
San Francisco, CA 94108

Blind taste 32 or 64 top Pinot Noir wines, rate them, attend workshop seminars, enjoy the results of the blind tasting while enjoying these and more Pinot Noir paired with hors d’oeuvre.

Mendocino County’s Handley Cellars of Philo in the Anderson Valley and Rack & Riddle of Hopland will be pouring at the Pinot Noir Summit.

__________

Finally, Tierra, art, garden, wine in Ukiah will be closing their doors after the end of this month. If you live in or near Ukiah, stop in Wed-Sat 11am-6:00pm, and help out by purchasing a thoughtfully artful gift for a friend or something beautiful for your home, and save 30-70$ off most items.

Tierra is located at 312 N School Street in Ukiah.

I am sorry that Nicole Martensen and Nicholas Thayer’s Tierra will disappear from Ukiah, I will miss it. I wish I had visited more often.

Valentine’s Day.

Red heart shaped cards, and pink boxes of chocolates, and jewelry boxes filled with diamonds.

Romance. Roses. Strawberries dipped in chocolate. A Nora Ephron movie. Special dinners, amazing food, amazing drink.

Looks of love, and lust. Kisses, touches, hugs, holds, embraces, caresses, fondles, petting.

Whispers, pleas, laughs, sighs, yeses, purrs, moans, screams.

Hotel rooms, bubble baths, massages, candles, heavy sheets, rich comforters, big pillows.

Soft music playing, saxophone, piano, sultry soulful voice; smoky jazz or dirty blues.

An ice bucket, two glasses, a bottle of pink bubbly.

Hopefully, I didn’t lose you there. I know that the words “pink bubbly” are enough to cause more shrinkage in men than a swim in an ice cold pool.

Guys drink beer. Guys don’t drink frilly, frothy, or pink drinks.

But let’s be honest, most guys don’t buy cards, or candy, or flowers, or jewelry, or watch chick flicks on a regular basis either. Most guys are not particularly romantic, or given to extravagant displays of affection.

Valentine’s Day is the one day each year when guys go all out to show their gal just how much they love them, and hopefully have a night of lovemaking that transcends what happens most other nights of the year.

As long as guys are willing to do unusual things, either for romance itself, or to improve the likelihood of getting lucky – or the quality of the event – I would heartily recommend picking up a bottle of pink bubbly for Valentine’s Day night.

Champagnes and Sparkling Wines are often made from Chardonnay grapes, but in the pink or Rosé bubblies the red wine grape Pinot Noir is most often used. The Pinot Noir is crushed, and the skins are left with the juice long enough to impart a beautiful color, and more flavor and complexity.

Wine collectors, and drinkers of the best Champagne, pay more, often much more, for the Rosé Champagnes, or Brut Rosé, than for a non blush Brut Champagne.

Most folks upon tasting a Brut and Brut Rosé side by side blindfolded will choose the Brut Rosé. The cool thing is that any guys picking up a bottle of pink bubbly to share with their Valentine are going to look knowledgeable, confident in their masculinity, and much more attractive – all boding well for later that night.

The bonus is that you will likely find something delicious to share that you can come back to throughout the year, injecting a little Valentine’s Day magic into any night.

I tasted three pink bubblies so you can get lucky. That is how generous I am. Follow my lead, pick one of these three, or another delicious sparkler for Valentine’s Day night, or any date night, and make it special.

NV Korbel California Champagne Brut Rosé, 12% alc, 1.5% dosage, $10-$12


A blend of Pinot Noir, Chenin Blanc and Gamay, this bubbly wine makes me smile just thinking of it. I grew up with Korbel Champagne. Almost a neighbor, Korbel brandy was in the liquor cabinet and Korbel Champagne was poured at events.

My brother and I tasted a lot of wine and bubbly growing up, and not wealthy we looked for the best Champagne or sparkling wine for the lowest price. There are certainly less expensive bubblies than Korbel, but most of the ones you know about taste terrible. There are certainly fancier more exquisite bubblies than Korbel, but most of them are incredibly expensive. It is in Korbel that I found a wine made in the traditional method, with more than a little care, that tastes good. In the case of the Brut Rosé, really good.

Located at 13250 River Road, Guerneville, CA 95446, in the Russian River Valley, you will find Korbel, with tours, tastings, and gardens for picnicking. I have sent countless people on Korbel’s tour. To make their Champagne, they have to do everything to make still wine, plus the extra steps to make it bubbly. The tour explains it all, and is among the best tours in California’s wine country.

The tour always winds up in the tasting room, where you can taste more styles of Champagne than you imagined exited, from very sweet to very dry. You will learn why the sweetest is labelled “extra dry” and, if you are like me, you may begin a lifelong love affair with Brut Rosé bubblies.

I need to stop here and explain that typically bubblies produced in Champagne France using traditional methods are referred to as Champagne. Bubblies made outside Champagne France using the same traditional methods are typically referred to as Sparkling Wines. Korbel unapologetically calls their bubblies California Champagne, and has for over one hundred years. I am fine referring to Korbel as such.

NV is short for Non-Vintage, which means wines made from grapes of more than one vintage were blended or that the vintage was not declared by choice or custom.

The first two things you note when pouring a glass of Brut Rosé are visual, the color and the bubbles. The Korbel Brut Rosé is light orange rose color, and the bubbles are tight and lively.

I need to talk about the three wine grapes that make up this Brut Rose. Pinot Noir is the heart of Burgundy’s red wines and Champagne’s Rosé Champagnes. Grown in the Russian River Valley, it produces beautiful flavors. Chenin Blanc and Gamay are largely used as blending grapes by the wine industry, but delicious varietal wines can be made from these grape varieties.

Cherry and strawberry flavors follow identical aromas. Fruit flavors abound, clean and straightforward. A nicely balanced wine, with the fruity sweetness balanced by acidity. The bubbles, color, and flavor delight.

I like the Korbel CA Champagne Brut Rosé, and I like that I can easily find it in many stores, even when I travel.

2005 Jeriko Estate Brut Rosé Sparkling Wine, Mendocino County, 12% alc, $49


100% handpicked for whole cluster organically grown Pommard clone Pinot Noir grapes from Jeriko Estate were used in this Sparkling Wine. America’s first Blanc de Noir created from 100% organically grown and certified organic Pinot Noir grapes.

Jeriko Estate wrote:

This Pommard clone Pinot Noir was sent directly to the press after harvesting, crushed & underwent a cool fermentation in stainless steel with minimum skin contact – this gives the wine its unique pale pink pearl color. The juice was then matured in stainless steel for 12 months. The wine was bottled & given a dosage of sugar & yeasts, & left for a second fermentation in the bottle for 12 months. The bottles were riddled & disgorged, before being given a final top-up of the same still Pinot Noir.

I tasted the Brut Rosé at Jeriko Estate’s tasting room this week with Tasting Room and Wine Club manager J.J. Cannon.

It should be noted that while Korbel is huge and their bubblies are available almost everywhere, there were only 180 cases of the 2005 Jeriko Estate Brut Rosé made and it is rarer in every way. More attention is given at almost every step, from grape choice and method of growing the grapes, to harvest and fermentation. This is a one grape, one vineyard, organic bubbly. It is special.

Apricot Rose in color, this Brut Rosé had lovely small beaded bubbles. A delightful aroma of peachy light raspberry and a delicate toasty mousse gave way to raspberry flavor and nice acid, balance, mineral and complexity.

J.J. told me that the tasting room would be pairing their Brut Rosé with Chocolates Saturday, February 12, 2011 from 11:00 am – 4:00 pm and offering all wines at 15 off for a Valentine’s Day event. Danny Fetzer, the winery owner, came into the tasting room and said there might even be chocolate dipped strawberries and Brut Rose paired Saturday at Jeriko Estate.

With only 180 cases produced, and limited distribution, you may have to visit or order it from the tasting room, the winery and tasting room is located at 12141 Hewlitt & Sturtevant Road, Hwy 101, Hopland CA 95449.

While at Jeriko Estate, I tasted another wine, and took more pictures, and will post them in a near future piece.

NV Champagne Bollinger Rosé, Grands and Premiers Crus from La Montagne de Reims and La Côte des Blancs, Aÿ France, 12.5% alc, 7-10 g/l dosage, $100


62% Pinot Noir, 24% Chardonnay, 14 % Meunier including 5% of still red wine.

I have friends who are wealthy through feats of visionary imagination or industry, and who could drink Bollinger nightly. I am not that fortunate, so being able to taste this was a treat indeed for me, although having tasted it puts it on my list of things to taste again, and again.

Pale pink and sunset salmon color, beautiful string of pearls bubbles rising uninterrupted.

Aromas of cherry and raspberry with baking spice and citrus, complex toasty vanilla nut and dried herb. Many layered flavor notes, rich, unbelievable profusion of notes, strawberry, candied cherry, raspberry, cassis, and toasty lees. Massive yet restrained by solid acid, incredible balance.

Champagne Bollinger is THE British Champagne, having been awarded the Royal Warrant by seven British Monarchs, been served at the nuptials of Prince Charles and Princess Diana, and perhaps most importantly it is James Bond’s Champagne of choice, having been ordered by Bond both in Ian Fleming’s novels and in no fewer than 11 movies from Live and Let Die to Quantum of Solace.

Almost defying description, Champagne Bollinger Rosé is at once both robust and delicate. I get why Bond orders food with his Bollinger, this beautiful Champagne can handle being paired with many food and hold its own.

1,400 cases produced with almost worldwide distribution makes this a semi rare wine, you will have to seek it out at a finer wine shop or order it online.

So, there you go, notes on three pink bubblies. All were delicious, and of course the price asked allows for greater complexity in the bottle, so it really comes down to what you are looking for and what you are willing to spend. I hope you have a great Valentine’s Day filled with love and romance. I hope you get lucky. I hope you try a pink bubbly, which might help you with the love, romance, and getting lucky. Having tried it, I hope you love it as much as I do, try others, and see about enjoying Rosé Champagne and Sparkling Wines more than just once a year in February.

Other local Mendocino County Pink bubblies of note, not tasted this time around, but well worth a taste:

Rack & Riddle Sparkling Rosé $24

2006 Handley Cellars Brut Rosé, Anderson Valley Estate Vineyard $40

Roederer Estate Brut Rosé NV $25

Roederer Estate L’Ermitage Rosé 2003 $70

Thanks, and cheers!

DISCLOSURE: Brown-Forman sent me the Korbel CA Champangne Brut Rose, Terlato Wines sent me the Champagne Bollinger Rosé, and Jeriko Estate waived the tasting charge for their Jeriko Estate Brut Rose. Thank you all.

I hope some of you took the chance to attend the Sonoma County Harvest Fair and taste some of the over 1,000 wines available to taste. I would love to sit down with a judge and find out how back to back days of tastings of around 100 wines can be accomplished while giving a fair taste to all of the wines submitted.

There is a phenomenal wine writer who doesn’t have much use for wine bloggers beyond the fodder they make for some of his best writing. Ron Washam, Hosemaster of Wine, is also a Sonoma County Harvest Fair judge.

There are more mockably horrible wine blogs than useful wine blogs offering value. Washam, in his Hosemaster role, points out the absurdity of many, perhaps most famously the blog that pairs wine and kaftans. No, Kaftan is not a food that pairs nicely with wine, but a piece of women’s clothing. I believe that Washam spearheaded a movement to see Wines and Kaftans awarded a Wine Blogger Award this year.

I empathize with Washam’s pain in dipping into the pool of mediocrity that is most wine blogging. The only good is that, by contrast, my writing is tolerable. My personal moment of horror came when I was but one of only two wine writers attending a press event hosted by a winery that wanted coverage of an announcement. Over lunch, the other writer was asked by a winemaker about his writing, and I died inside when he said he pairs wine and 50’s television shows. Trapped by rules of etiquette, I couldn’t leave in disgust, or ask aloud, “are you kidding me?” Put on the spot, asked for an example, he paired the Chardonnay we were tasting with Dragnet, explaining that you would have to drag a very wide net to find a Chardonnay so memorable. I was nearly ill on the spot. I wanted to ask my hosts if they considered us equals, if his worthlessness was what they saw when they looked at me.

When I got home and looked up his website, I found that he had used the Dragnet pairing only days before and for a completely different wine. He was not only a jack ass, but his little parlor trick uniqueness was purely shamtastic.

I recognize that everyone who opens himself up by writing, also opens himself up for judgment and ridicule. I am okay with that, I don’t put on airs, or take myself too seriously. I know what I know, and I try to share it. I write about what interests me, what grabs my attention. But I know my words will never elevate me into the ranks of the world’s most read and respected wine writers and reviewers. I write because I enjoy it, and I am gratefully amazed that people find their way to my site to read my meandering prose.

Back to Ron Washam, in his role as a wine judge; I would love to ask Washam if, when tasting 100 Sonoma County Chardonnays, a number in the California over sweet, barrel fermented, malolactic style, a more subtle French styled Chardonnay, like those submitted by Sonoma-Cutrer just get overlooked, either through palate fatigue or because they are different. Is a wine of French styling punished for not being typically Sonoma County?

Seriously, I am entertained with his writing so much that I would just like to meet him for a beer and let him hold forth on just about any topic.

Besides the head scratchingly poor performance of Sonoma-Cutrer’s Chardonnays (which I love) with the judges at the Sonoma County Harvest Fair, another disappointment was the absence of some of my other favorite winery’s wines. I would love to taste the Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays of Keller Estates against those of Sonoma-Cutrer, and against the wines of each varietal awarded Best of Class honors.

Often as I tasted the wines that won Double Gold Medals or Best of Varietal honors, I was reminded of other wines I have tasted, and I wished I could taste wines from outside the county side by side with the best of Sonoma County. Roederer Estate from the Anderson Valley against Gloria Ferrer for sparkling, Handley from the Anderson Valley against Eric K James for Pinot Noir, Swanson from Rutherford against Mazzocco for Merlot, and Parducci from Ukiah against Simi for Petite Sirah as examples.

I love tasting wine. I love pairing wine and food and friends, not with kaftans or television shows or movies.

Recently, I wrote about tasting wines from Virginia with a group of fellow wine bloggers (not one of whom compared the wines to an article of clothing or media art). The best part of the tasting was learning that Virginia wineries are capable of producing palatable wines. There was a concern that the wines would be judges good, for a Virginia wine. Which is a dismissive way of saying it doesn’t stand up to a California wine. I have to say that I would love to have tasted the Virginia Viogniers I tasted against the Sweepstakes White winner from the Sonoma County Harvesty Fair from Alexander Valley Vineyard.

It is only by stretching, tasting every chance you can, that you find yourself pleased and surprised on occasion. Just as the quality of the Virginia Viogniers was a welcome treat, earlier this year I blind tasted a Sierra Foothills Pinot Noir from Deaver that was delicious, yet if I could have seen the label first, I probably would have passed.

I don’t mention it in my reviews because I don’t think it matters, but I have noticed that many more wineries than in the past feel comfortable abandoning the natural porous cork as a closure for their wines, and I am seeing more synthetic corks, and screwcap Stelvin closures. Screwcaps are big, and getting bigger. Boxes are also being tried with greater acceptance. Sebastiani is moving from glass bottles to three liter boxes for their Pepperwood Grove wines, following on the heels of the market success of Bandit and other tastier than customary box wines.

I am going to be taking part in a tweet-up, tasting the Sebastiani made Pepperwood Grove box wines, and tweeting my tasting notes at the same time that tasters at a Sonoma live tasting are tweeting their notes.

I hope that I will find deliciously drinkable, affordable wines, in greener recyclable packaging that protects the wine inside from oxidation throughout. My goal in writing is to find solid food wines that I can recommend to my friends who aren’t big wine drinkers and are unlikely to pop for a $30+ wine on a regular basis. Living in Mendocino County, the greenest wine county in America, green practices are increasingly important to me. I would love to point at affordable wines that make meals taste better than any other beverage that might be paired at the table with family and friends.

It is ironic that I am going to be tasting box wines, in that I only just found that Ukiah, my hometown, is home to two manufacturers of capsules and foil for wine and sparkling wine bottles.

In defense of my Ukiah business neighbors, at least one features Made In America capsules, their products are recyclable, as is glass, and the tide isn’t turning so fast that either company is threatened in the near term.

In an increasingly competitive and green business environment, it will require the best people to sell natural cork, glass bottles, and capsules; there are likely to be fewer advocates for tradition like Joel Peterson of Ravenswood in a world moving in the direction of more democratic and common sense packaging led by Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon.

I have cooked chicken in a liquid of alfredo tomato sauce with roasted peppers, sautéed mushrooms, and carmelized onions. I’m going to grab a glass, fill it with wine, enjoy good food, and watch the Giants in game one of the playoffs with Atlanta.

Maybe next time we meet here, I’ll have something more focused to say.

Wine. Just four little letters, wine; but thousands of books have been published on the subject, with hundreds more written every year, countless magazines, periodicals, and trade publications are printed monthly, and writers opine in columns appearing in the newspapers of nearly every city in the world each week.

Wine. What insightful and new bits of information and wisdom do I have to share, that hasn’t been imparted, shared, by numerous others before?

I will likely add nothing new, and yet my experiences, uniquely my own, may trigger memories of similar experiences you hold; and a particular bottle, and the place you tasted it, and the people you tasted it with, may come back to you as clearly as yesterday. Maybe it was yesterday.

I am wine geekier than most. Experienced, a professional’s palate, around wine all of my life, with developed preferences, I am a Frasier Crane without the pretentiousness, without the snobbiness.  Raised on Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel, I love big rich red wines; ideally with a ton of structure supporting accessible forward fruit. If an old friend showed up with a box of chilled white Zinfandel, something I personally have never bought for myself, I would work up a menu to feature the crushed-strawberry-over-ice notes it might have, pour myself a glass, and enjoy time shared with a friend.

The blackberry currant of a Cabernet, or the brambly raspberry and black pepper spice of a Zinfandel, breathed in through my nose buried in a large glass; the wine swirled, aroma molecules breaking free, traveling up my nose, aromas, bouquet, analyzed, information passed on to the brain for comparison with similar previous smelled items. Judgement, memories triggered, new memories being formed.

I love smelling wines. I can happily swirl 4 ounces of wine in the bottom of a 16 or 20 ounce glass, and inhale the wine, breathe in the smells, experience the changes as a newly opened wine’s tannins and alcohol heat flush dissipate and the fruit comes forward. I love to let a wine breathe in my glass, “nosing” it over and over.

I often open a wine to be used at dinner, either in the food as a part of the recipe, or as an accompanying meal beverage – or more often as both. I love wine, I love food, and I love to pour myself a glass of wine to smell and inspire me as I prep a meal’s ingredients. I often spend an hour just breathing in a wine before tasting it.

I have a picture that hangs over my desk, and has hung on the wall of each of the wine industry related offices I worked in over the years; in the picture are an 11 year old me, and my then 7 year old brother, crushing grapes by foot. Any fan of Lucy Ricardo’s I Love Lucy trip to Italy can recognize instantly what my brother and I are doing. I love the picture, because it demonstrates how far back wine reaches into my life.

While I grew up with, and always loved, wine, one of the first wines that made me sit up and take notice was the 1976 Simi Cabernet Sauvignon. As I didn’t turn 21 until 1982, I found it too late and had to purchase the wine as a library release directly from the winery. I think I was spending $50 a bottle 25 years ago. I couldn’t afford much back then, but somehow I managed to always have a couple of bottles on hand for years until the winery ran out.

Fifteen years later, my dad asked me to watch his house when he went on vacation to Italy; and tucked away, I found a bottle of 1976 Charles Krug. I invited a wine loving friend up to the house for dinner, planning to showcase the Krug. Robert Mondavi is one of my wine industry heroes, he is a God, having changed California winemaking for all wineries, not just the winery he created in his own name. Mondavi left his family’s winery, the Charles Krug winery, to make his own wines his own way, and in doing so paved the way for everyone else, including Krug, to make better wines. I looked forward to tasting the ’76 Krug Cab, a winery from a historied family, from an area known for growing great Cabernet grapes, from an incredibly good vintage. Would it have held up? Would it be faded? Would it be vinegar?

Typically, I opened the wine while prepping dinner, and was not thrilled with the nose, it seemed muted, very closed, possibly dead. As time went on, the alcohol flush disappeared, but all that was left was a tannic edge without much fruit. The wine had gone, sadly faded. I sniffed and sipped at 30 minutes, an hour, two hours, three hours. Nothing.

My friend came for dinner, we ate and glanced wistfully at the bottle that never opened up. As I plated dessert, I tried the 76 Krug Cab one more time. Oh My God. a wine aged under dubious conditions for twenty five years, left open to breathe for over 4 hours, finally opened to show off the most amazing array of fruit and leather and herb and spice. Rich, deep and full, our dinner wine became the sweetest non-sweet dessert wine ever.

I remember during barrel tasting weekend in Sonoma County tasting a Zinfandel at Preston Vineyards in the Dry Creek Valley. I was stunned by the flavors, still in the barrel, with lots of growing up yet to do, I was tasting what I thought of as the best Zinfandel I had ever tasted. I was so excited to taste the Zinfandel that would be made from this barrel. When at last the finished wine was blended and bottled, I tasted the newly released Zinfandel and was shocked.

Traditionally, Zinfandel may be blended with some Carignane, just as Cabernet Sauvignon is often blended with some Merlot. There are certain blendings, classic, that are accepted as appropriate and often result in a wine superior to the unblended wines otherwise made. Lou Preston chose to blend the best barrels of Zinfandel I had ever tasted with Cabernet, producing a wine that tasted like no other Zinfandel I had ever tasted. I was horrified, crushed, mourning the loss of what I had imagined.

Ignoring the label, putting aside expectations of what a Zinfandel should taste like, and what this Zinfandel could have tasted like, but tasting this wine as simply a red wine, and asking myself if I liked it or not, I found that I did indeed like it. I liked it quite a bit. I often took visiting friends by the Dry Creek Store for sandwiches, then to Preston Vineyards to buy a bottle of this Zinfandel, and over a few games of Bocce on the grounds of Preston Vineyards I would recount the tale of this wine from barrel to bottle, as I experienced it.

Another powerfully memorable wine is the 1995 Kistler Chardonnay from the Sonoma Coast, near where the Russian River empties into the Pacific Ocean. The Chardonnay seemed to hold every note in the nose and mouth that I had ever experienced in all other Chardonnays combined. It was all there: oak, toast, cream, vanilla, apple, pear, tropical and citrus, clove, caramel, butterscotch, and so much more. It was like tasting 1.5 Liters of flavor crammed into a 750 milliliter bottle. It was like magic, I have never experienced anything quite like it before or since.

I was in a restaurant in the foodie Buckhead section of Atlanta and saw the ’95 Kistler Chardonnay on the wine menu at $60 which is about the same as it cost on release in a store; remembering the magic, with great happiness, I ordered a bottle. The wine came to the table at perhaps a single degree above freezing, all of the amazing notes locked in by cold. This was a truly sad wine experience, to me it seemed criminal. I would much rather have enjoyed the wine at room temperature with the notes flying out of the glass than frozen and unable to escape.

From the 1973 vintage, Mike Grgich made Chateau Montelena a Chardonnay that won first place among the Chardonnays and white Burgundies at the famed 1976 Paris tasting using fruit that was purchased from the Bacigalupi vineyards in Sonoma County. I had a chance to taste wines made by California winemaker of the year Carol Shelton, using these same grapes, but from the superior 1995 vintage, for Windsor Vineyards. I had a stocked cellar of 360 bottles of wines at the time, I did not need more wine, but I found myself buying cases of this incredible Chardonnay.

Carol Shelton made wines that featured the flavors of the fruit, allowing the grapes and what they had experienced while on the vine to express itself in the bottle. One of the most consistent, approachable wines Shelton made year between the years of 1995 and 2000 was her Murphy Ranch Chardonnay for Windsor Vineyards. Legend, true or not I don’t know, is that Carol was able by contract to pick fruit from the Murphy Ranch in the Alexander Valley of Sonoma County before the vineyard owners could harvest the remaining grapes for use in their own Murphy Goode Chardonnay. All I know is that the Carol’s Murphy Ranch Chardonnay made up the largest portion of my collected Chardonnays during this time. I bought bottles from Murphy Goode each vintage as well to do a sort of horizontal tasting, same wine, same grapes, different winemaker.

I could write about the differences of the Chardonnays; the Kistler, the Montelena, the Windsor Bacigalupi Vineyard, the Windsor Murphy Ranch, The Murphy Goode; or about the different areas the grapes come from: Napa or the Russian River Valley, Alexander Valley and Coast appellations of Sonoma County; or about the different vintages the grapes were grown: the late frosts and early rains or the perfect long and warm growing seasons. It is all of this and more that makes wine endlessly fascinating to the wine geek in me; but suffice it to say that wine is alive, it changes, even twin bottles, cellared well, can taste different months apart.

I could write endlessly about wines, and the wineries and vineyards of my family home in Sonoma County, California. I could tell you about learning that wines change by vintage as my first wife and I had a favored wine become a least favored wine when the last bottle of one vintage was consumed and the first bottle of the new vintage was tasted. I could share that Sonoma County with half the wineries of Napa County wins twice as many Gold Medals in National and International wine competitions – and the wines cost less.

I could write about the lesser known wines of the county I now live in, Mendocino. The Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grown in the Anderson Valley; the similarities and differences of these grapes when compared with the grapes from the better known Russian River Valley of Sonoma County, the sparkling wine of Roederer Estate in the Anderson Valley compared to the California Champagne of the Russian River Valley’s Korbel. The lusciousness of Handley’s Anderson Valley Pinot, or the commitment to organic and sustainable farming practices of Mendocino County wineries – even wine giant Fetzer, located just off the 101 in Hopland. One of the most exciting one man wineries I know of is in Ukiah, where John Chiarito’s head pruned vines produce artisanal Italian varietals, Negroamaro and Nero D’Avloa, as well as gorgeously dense Petite Sirah and Zinfandel.

Mostly, when I write about wine, I want to share with you a memory; the taste of the wine, where I was, what I was doing, and who I was doing it with.

There are books dedicated to recommended pairings; red wine with meat, white wine with fish. I have found that any wine is best paired with friends.

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