John on wine – Spotlight Vineyard: Halcon Vineyard

This piece ran originally as a wine column in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, November 12, 2015

Paul Gordon sent me three wines for review last year, and I loved them so much that I was able to craft a pretty solid column around a review of three wines, that’s how good his Halcon Vineyard wines are.

After the piece ran, Paul invited me to visit the vineyard, and recently, well over a year after that initial invitation, I did just that, and the timing was great as I was able to taste a new, larger, lineup of current release and future wines, and see where they were born.

To get to Halcon Vineyards, you exit Highway 128 between Boonville and Yorkville, at mile marker 37.92, through a padlocked gate, and slowly climb north over four miles up a graded dirt road, taking a series of right or left choices at forks, always upward, until you reach what seemed like the top of the world.

Driving through the gate at Halcon Vineyard, at about 2,450 feet in elevation, I was met by Paul, Jackie Bracey, David Campbell, and Cookie the vineyard dog. Although the day was sunny, ever present winds, which reached over 90 mph this year, keep things cool. Paul told me he believes he has “probably the coolest Mourvedre planting in the world,” and we toured vineyard blocks where the first rows were dried into near permanent dormancy by constant wind.

Halcon Vineyards, atop the Yorkville Highlands AVA

Halcon Vineyards, atop the Yorkville Highlands AVA

The very cool climate of Halcon Vineyards in the Yorkville Highlands saw bud break come in March and April this year, a full month or more later than in other parts of Mendocino County. Halcon was planted ten years ago, in four distinct blocks, in serpentine and schist “s*** soil,” with lots of elevation changes, and south facing exposures.

The continuing drought, and cool climate, saw Syrah yields down about 25% this year with, “tiny berries, thick skins.” While certainly not a farmer’s dream, especially an organic farmer like Paul, the result is expected to be concentrated flavorful wines. Paul also shared that Pinot Noir is called the, “heartbreak grape,” only because those farmers don’t grow Grenache; “Grenache is the real heartbreak grape!”

Paul and Jackie plan to plant two white Rhone varieties, Marsanne and Rousanne, at Halcon, to complement the red Rhone varieties they grow, Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvedre. Until they grow their own white grapes, they buy fruit from Alder springs for their Prado white Rhone blend. Halcon also makes two Pinot Noir wines with fruit sourced from Anderson Valley’s Wentzel Vineyard and Oppenlander Vineyard near Comptche.

We ate as we tasted, and the day was made more lovely by the food, wine, and conversation

We ate as we tasted, and the day was made more lovely by the food, wine, and conversation

Wonderful hosts, Paul, Jackie, and David prepared pork, a cheese plate, salty olives, and an incredible fresh vegetable salsa to go with the wines we would taste. Very much surrounded by unspoiled wilds, as we ate and tasted, we saw red tails, kites, and harriers.

The lineup of Halcon Vineyard wines

The lineup of Halcon Vineyard wines

2013 Halcon Prado Alder Springs Mendocino County – 50/50 Marsanne and Rousanne, had a good malolactic mouthfeel, butterscotch on top of lemon, pear, and apple, was barrel fermented using 20% new oak, and was a great food wine.

2014 Halcon Pinot Noir Wentzel Vineyard Anderson Valley – 1/3rd whole cluster, a little under 20% new oak, mixture of Dijon clones, bright forward fruit, rich concentrated sweet tart cherry, earthy, a Goldilocks of wine balance…just right. Young, lots of ageing potential, but drinking great now.

2014 Halcon Pinot Noir Openlander Vineyard Mendocino County – there are many wineries producing Pinot Noir wines from Oppenlander fruit, but as every single one is delicious, I’ll never complain. Pretty much made in the same way as the Wentzel Pinot, but the fruit yields a plumier, deeper, touch of funkier wine of black cherry, and supple but evident tannin.

2013 Halcon Alturas Halcon Vineyard Yorkville Highlands – 100% Syrah, 1/3rd whole cluster, a little new oak, from a frost year yielding only one ton per acre, and the first year some Viognier stems were added for bright vinous notes and depth. I have to be honest, listening to Paul, with great food on a plate in front of me, and wine in my glass, enjoying the comradery of fellow wine lovers, I forgot I was tasting critically, and just put some in my mouth behind a bite of pork and salsa, and the result was an eyebrow raising, “ohhhh!”

Upon regaining my senses, I noted a dark berry perfumed, smooth and supple, f’ing gorgeous wine, made up of bright notes, dark notes, and tons of notes in between.

2014 Halcon Alturas Halcon Vineyard Yorkville Highlands (barrel sample) – Same wine grapes of the Shaw Block, made the same way, with much the same notes. It is drinking great, and could be bottled right now. So sexy, so supple. Touch of vine met by spice and fruit.

2014 Halcon Esquito Halcon Vineyards Yorkville Highlands – About 65% Grenache, 30% Mourvedre, and 5% Syrah blend. No new oak, 25% whole cluster. I love a Chateauneuf du Pape style GSM, or in this case a GMS, Rhone red blend, and this is a wonderful example of what a Rhone blend can, and should, be with spicy, dry, dusty, earthy, concentrated multi fruit notes.

The wines are currently made, and made well, in San Francisco, but Paul and Jackie are looking to build a winery on site in the future.

Paul Gordon and Jackie Bracey...plus Cookie the vineyard dog

Paul Gordon and Jackie Bracey…plus Cookie the vineyard dog

I admire Paul and Jackie, and everything they have accomplished with their Halcon wines. I see them as exuberant risk takers, buying 162 acres at an elevation guaranteed to result in a short growing season for the 15 acres they have planted to grapes, cold, frost, wind, and as remote as it gets; choosing to plant to Rhone varietals, hard to grow and hard to sell. To me, the risks are paying off, and I think of Halcon’s wines as Mendocino County’s cult wines, sought after by knowledgeable wine lovers if unknown to the general public.

Halcon’s wines are available for purchase, and occasionally open for tasting, at Sip Wine shop in Hopland, and can be ordered directly at http://www.halconvineyards.com.


Congratulations to Margaret Pedroni and Jennie Stevens of Knez Vineyard in Anderson Valley. Over the Halloween weekend, Margaret and Jennie were in San Francisco and sat for the Introductory Sommelier Course & Examination. Both passed their tests, and can now sport the red lapel pin of the Guild of Sommeliers.

Margaret Pedroni and Jennie Stevens' sommelier pins

Margaret Pedroni and Jennie Stevens’ sommelier pins



John on Wine – Spotlight Winery: Foursight Wines

Another perfect day in the Anderson Valley, made more perfect by a visit and tasting with Kristy Charles and winemaking husband Joe Webb at their winery tasting room, Foursight Wines, in Boonville, right on Highway 128.

Foursight Wines' tasting room and winery (Photo by John Cesano)

Foursight Wines’ tasting room and winery (Photo by John Cesano)

I am fortunate, and attend many wine events in the Anderson Valley, and see Kristy and Joe often, as both are active members, having each taken a turn as President, on the Board of the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association. Both have been helpful to me as a local wine writer.

Joe Webb and Kristy charles of Foursight Wines (Photo by John Cesano)

Joe Webb and Kristy Charles of Foursight Wines (Photo by John Cesano)

The tasting room is a cozy place to visit, and dog friendly, and the wines come from grapes grown on the Charles Vineyard, established in 2001 by William and Nancy Charles. This is a family operation from grape to glass, the grapes are grown sustainably and the wines are vegan made and with only that intervention required to make great wine.

Vegan wine? Yes, most wine is fined, to remove sediment and enhance clarity, using egg whites or gelatin. Vegan wines are instead typically fined, if they are fined at all, with bentonite, an absorbent clay.

Joe poured for me, and told me the story of each wine, in a moderately wine tech heavy way, which I enjoyed immensely. I’m not going to share sugars or acid or overly specific barrel regimen info, because what most folks care about is how the wine tasted and if I liked it. I will confess to near wine geek-gasm, and thought the presentation was tailored just for me, but Kristy shared that Joe loves sharing what goes into each of Foursight’s wines with each visitor to the tasting room. I love getting a story with each wine, and too few tasting room folks provide that level of care, so this was a real treat, a treat that makes each visitor feel special and cared for.

2013 Foursight Semillon Charles Vineyard Anderson Valley $28 – Wooden side basket pressed, no fining, no filtering, full malolactic fermentation, aged in stainless steel and French oak, drinks dry. Round, fleshy pear and apple fruit and floral and honey notes. Great mouthfeel. Delicious.

2013 Foursight Unoaked Pinot Noir Charles Vineyard Anderson Valley $25 – Native yeast, 40% whole cluster, finished at 14.1 with a touch of sediment. Joe told me this wine was born of four influences: “1. During wine club blending trials, people loved the topping wine; 2. There is a growing number of people seeking Alsace style Pinot and loving the price point for unoaked reds; 3. Vegans and vegetarians love genuinely vegan wines…no trees were harmed in the making of this wine; and 4. Red wines rock!” This wine is all about fruit without tannin, cherry and berry all day long. I’ve tasted it twice, and it is SO much better now, benefitting from a little bottle age.

Joe went on to tell me he thinks, “the only way to do a press cut is with a basket press,“ and 2015 is, “so inky, not wanting to be over tannic,” but the compact harvest of 2015 will lead to, “little logistical things with winemaking in 2015,” as so many things need to be done at once, or nearly so.

2012 Foursight Zero New Oak Pinot Noir Charles Vineyard Anderson Valley $38 – Great mouth, round and rich in discernible bright cherry fruit, herb and spice, with a kiss of wood.

2012 Foursight Pinot Noir Charles Vineyard Anderson Valley $46 – Beautiful nose. Rose petal, soft herb, chocolate, lovely cherry and raspberry fruit.

2012 Foursight Clone 05 Pinot Noir Charles Vineyard Anderson Valley $49 – Pommard clone grapes. The first word I wrote was “ripest,” and Joe told me this wine is, “always the ripest.” Rhubarb, berry, cherry; darker, great balance. Joe said the balance comes from, “the different blocks, three different fermenters, picked on at least two different dates.” Larger berry, larger clusters, touch lower tannin, can take a little more new oak.

2013 Foursight Paraboll Pinot Noir (Charles Vineyard) Anderson Valley $54 – Foursight purchased the trademarked Paraboll label from Londer, to continue the wine’s production. I loved the Paraboll, lushly forward rich cherry and strawberry fruit and caramel, with earthy spice notes to complement the fruit. Joe told me his favorite thing about the 2013 Paraboll is how, in a near endless sea of Pinot, this wine stopped tasters in their tracks at the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival earlier this year.

Foursight's Paraboll Pinot Noir (Photo by John Cesano)

Foursight’s Paraboll Pinot Noir (Photo by John Cesano)

The Foursight Wines tasting room is open Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., closed January and the third weekend in June, and located at 14475 Highway 128, the first winery tasting room on your right as you head into Boonville from Ukiah or Cloverdale.

I enjoy Joe and Kristy immensely, and they have terrific single vineyard wines. Kristy summed up the charm of a visit to Foursight perfectly, “The important thing is we’re all family owned and operated, local, estate wines, and we love to pour our really good…great wines for people.”

Make plans to stop in and taste through the line up; you’ll find they are terrific drinkable snapshots capturing variety, vintage, and place. If you like the wines as much as I do, consider joining their wine club for spectacular discounts on delicious wines.

Note: This piece originally ran as a wine column in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, October 29, 2015.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Knez vineyard manager Ryan McAllister. Photo by John Cesano

Knez vineyard manager Ryan McAllister. Photo by John Cesano

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

Demuth Vineyard. Photo by John Cesano

Demuth Vineyard. Photo by John Cesano

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

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

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

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

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

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

Salmon paired with two Knez wines. Photo by John Cesano

Salmon paired with two Knez wines. Photo by John Cesano

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

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

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

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

2012 Knez Cerise Pinot Noir. Photo by John Cesano

2012 Knez Cerise Pinot Noir. Photo by John Cesano

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

Edible spoonfuls of yum for dessert. Photo by John Cesano

Edible spoonfuls of yum for dessert. Photo by John Cesano

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

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

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

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

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

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


John on Wine – Charity and more

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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



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

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

First, more about the Valley Fire Fundraiser on October 25

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Baxter tasting room in Philo. Photo by John Cesano

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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.


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.

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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