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John On Wine – John gives thanks

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Wednesday, November 26, 2014 by John Cesano

Hi, and welcome to a special Wine Wednesday edition of John on Wine. Regularly, this column runs on Thursday, but tomorrow there will be no newspaper so folks that work for the Ukiah Daily Journal can spend Thanksgiving with their families.

Today, I get to give thanks and I am thrilled to be able to do so, and so publicly. I am blessed, and I am wholly aware of it at this moment.

First, I have to thank you, the readers. You are incredibly kind, and you spring your kindness on me, often catching me unaware and surprising me with it. I have been target shooting at the Ukiah Gun Club and shopping for milk at the supermarket, lost in my own mundane thoughts when you stop me, introduce yourself and tell me that you like my column, and then share a specific favorite column. I have had the phone ring and in-person visits at my work from you, my readers, and that just knocks me out. You have sent me messages on Facebook, by email, by letter, and your input has made the column better. It will likely always freak me out a little to be recognized as a writer. I started the column from the relative anonymity of the Internet, and although my blog is well read, those readers come from all over the world; where the pieces I write for the newspaper push me a little more directly into the awareness of the community I live in. I didn’t anticipate your direct and personal feedback, but I have come to be very appreciative of it.

I have to thank the paper, and my editor Kelly Hancock. Kelly extends an extraordinary amount of freedom to me, undoubtedly fixes countless flaws in my writing, and is terrific about making last minute changes to pieces when events change after a piece is written for deadline but before it is published.

I have to thank all of the folks that work in the wine industry for being incredibly supportive of the column and for putting up with the reality that I mention where I work with some frequency. The column was born of a blog and I write about what I know, what I do, so the work I do often allows me to pivot to some pieces with a handy frame of reference that is easily understood. Where some could question a seeming conflict of interest, my pieces are almost universally positive in tone, supportive of my subject — the wine industry as a whole, and intended to move readers to visit winery tasting rooms, or winemaker dinners, taste wines, and hopefully buy some; ideally here in inland Mendocino County along Highway 101, but in the Anderson Valley, or Sonoma County, or wherever my readers might find themselves. I want to increase wine enjoyment and tourism for the area I work and those aims are shared by the folks who work in vineyards or tasting rooms other than the one owned by my boss as well.

Speaking of my boss: Thanks to Guinness McFadden for allowing me to do what I do in the tasting room. I know I am not ordinary, and the write ups for the tasting room come in nearly as fast as the attention your grapes and the wines made from those grapes receive. I love giving folks a show, an experience, a touch of education built around your wines and the farm they come from, and I am thrilled that you let me do so with – here’s those words again – incredible freedom.

Thanks to my tasting room team. This year, Eugene, Ann, Juanita, Amanda, Ashley, and Gary kept the wine pouring on my days off and much of our reputation is owed to each of you. Thanks also to everyone at the farm; we could not do what we do unless you did what you do.

I would like to thank my partners, Visit Mendocino County (VMC) and Mendocino Winegrowers, Inc. (MWI) in spreading the good word about Mendocino County as a tourism destination and about the quality of our grapes and wine.

VMC has been in the news lately, but they should be in the news every day for all of the good work they do getting the many stories of Mendocino County told to a wider audience.

On a macro level, VMC puts on the Mendocino County Mushroom Wine & Beer Fest in November and the Mendocino County Crab Wine & Beer Fest in January.

On the micro level, VMC’s Gracia Brown convinces Crush Italian Steakhouse to host what will go down as “the premier event of the 2015 Mendocino County Crab, Wine & Beer Festival” by pairing with McFadden Farm for a Dungeness crab and wine extravaganza. Perhaps eight to 10 mind-blowingly delicious crab dishes and bubbly from the California State Fair Wine Competition’s Best of Show Sparkling wine producer. Oh, and three Wine Enthusiast 90 Point Whites and a 95 Point Wine X/Just wine points Old Vine Zinfandel. Did I forget to mention the three time Double Gold or better Dessert Wine?

Seriously, this sort of thing should just happen, but it takes work, and specifically it was the work of Gracia and VMC that will result in possibly the best dinner 70 lucky patrons will experience the whole year. First come, first served, $75 for wine and food, with tax and tip included, and it will sell out through the McFadden Farm tasting room long before the Jan. 21 event date. Thank you VMC, thank you Gracia, from both my boss and I. We love Visit Mendocino County.

Similarly, huge thanks to MWI and both Aubrey Rawlins and Amelia Weir who do so much work to benefit Mendocino County’s prestige in the eyes of the wine world. I had the opportunity to pour for my wine writing counterpart at the Village Voice, and she wants to tour the farm with Guinness on a return visit, leading to a high visibility piece that will benefit all of the county’s winegrowers. Amelia Weir made that happen. Aubrey is responsible for bringing a group of wine writers here, and I got to pour for them all. That tasting this year led to more positive press for all of the county’s growers. Thanks Aubrey. Thanks Amelia.

Readers, I started off thanking you, but I want to bring it back around and thank you last too. Without you, my words are pointless. Thank you for giving my writing meaning, life.

Happy Thanksgiving; please pair wine with your dinner. Thanks.

 

If there is any question about how much I love doing what I do, inside my tasting room or outside, pouring my wines or any of the county’s best wines, this picture captured by Aubrey Rawlins of Mendoicino Winegrowers Inc should answer that question amply. I love pouring wines for folks.

John Cesano pours wine at an event focused on Mendocino County's organic, biodynamic grown wine grapes and the wines made from those grapes. (Photo by Aubrey Rawlins)

Here’s the column that was born at this incredibly fun wine press event, enjoy:

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John On Wine – Mendocino County’s Green Wine Growers

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal on Thursday, September 25, 2014

On a sunny Tuesday not long ago, I had the opportunity to pour wines at Danny Fetzer’s Jeriko Estate dirty dog river bar over an alfresco taco bar lunch for a group of influential wine writers and buyers in place of my boss, Guinness McFadden, who was at McFadden Farm for his 24th consecutive annual certification inspection as an organic grower of wine grapes, herbs, and beef.

His absence was understandable to all assembled, as the event was focused on Mendocino County’s organic and biodynamic grown wine grapes and the wines made from those grapes; all of the winery owners present had been through similar inspections.

Upfront, I want to thank Mendocino Winegrowers, Inc, our membership based wine and grape marketing group, for putting on a three day series of tastings; and I want to thank the attendees: Wine Enthusiast Magazine’s Jim Gordon, San Francisco Chronicle Carey Sweet, CIA Greystone’s Robert Bath, Huffington Post’s Mary Orlin, Ferry Plaza Wine Bar’s Peter Granoff, BevMo’s Jim Lombardo, 7×7 Magazine’s Courtney Humiston, Wine Business Monthly’s Mary Collen Tinney, Gary Danko’s Andrew Browne, and Writing Between the Vines’ Marcy Gordon (who once hosted me at her home for a tasting of Virginia’s best wines).

I also have to thank Ann Krohn of Frey Organic Wine; Ann either asked me a question or offered a kind comment that inspired me to launch into a monologue on what, to me, makes the Mendocino County wine scene special. When finished, I knew I had delivered a wine column.

In a previous job, I visited hundreds of winery tasting rooms in 42 California counties and saw the good and bad, but too rarely did I see the great. Too often, winery tasting room personnel would silently evaluate the worth of a visitor, judging based on the car you drove up in or the color of your credit card, and try to extract your money in the least amount of time while pouring the fewest number of wines.

I love being in a place that celebrates complimentary pouring, I tell folks they are at a tasting, not a bar, and explain what the dump bucket is used for, and give visitors an experience, an hour long tasting of 12 or more wines, with a story for each wine, and when finished I hope our guests feel a connection to the farm our grapes come from.

I would love to believe that I am the best tasting room manager on the planet, but the love that I feel for the grapes and wines that come from my farm is echoed in the presentations by my counterparts at winery tasting room after winery tasting room throughout Mendocino County.

Fully 75% of the wine grapes grown in Mendocino County end up bought and made into wines by wineries in Napa and Sonoma Counties. Mendocino is a farm county. Our county is also home to the greatest concentration of certified organic and biodynamic wine grape growers, which is important to consumers who wish to avoid Monsanto Round Up grown wines (often misleadingly labeled “sustainable”).

Being a farm county with an emphasis on green growing practices, the wines are more closely tied to the land, and a land that has been farmed proudly.

Tasting room managers feel that pride, and we share a similar passion as we share remarkably similar stories with our guests.

Personally, I get to see the vintage play out on Guinness’ face, good or tough. Everything is tied to the land, the farm. I am pouring a direct extension of that farm. These are not wines made from bought grapes; the connection between grapes and wine is far more visceral for me and, after a shared wine experience, I hope the folks who taste with me feel a sense of that connection as well.

At the river bar lunch, I poured the 2014 California State Fair Best of Show Sparkling Wine for the day’s tasters, and a Pinot Gris that attendee Jim Gordon had rated 90 points and designated an Editors’ Choice wine, before inviting them all to stop by and taste all the other wines at the tasting room another attendee, Carey Sweet, had rated the highest in over five years of tasting reviews in the San Francisco Chronicle.

I am not shy, and made use of the opportunity I had, but I could have just as easily been pouring the wines for any of the other wineries present that day, and my message would have been just as passionate, just as compelling. The other wines made from organic grapes, biodynamic grapes, poured were from some of the county’s most iconic growers and wineries: Barra of Mendocino, Frey Vineyards, Handley Cellars, and the day’s host Jeriko Estate.

I’m not knocking wines made with Round Up, although Googling “Round Up Health Risks” might leave you conventional wine averse, or turning to wines labeled organic, made with organically grown grapes, or biodynamic, and I would completely understand. The folks at the river bar on that sunny Tuesday enjoyed delicious wines, and every single person from a winery was as proud of those wines as you can be. The wines were made by wineries that care about the land, and so that care is translated to the wine. I believe this is at the core of what makes Mendocino County wines special.

For more on the subject of genuinely green wines, I recommend Pam Strayer’s wine blog, Organic Wines Uncorked, at www.winecountrygeographic.blogspot.com

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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