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John On Wine – Halcón Vineyards, just in time for Thanksgiving dinner

Originally published in  the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, November 20, 2014

“I just found your site. Great to see someone focused on Mendo. Okay if I drop off samples?”

With this e-mail introduction, I came to meet Paul Gordon of Halcón Vineyards, allowing that we haven’t met in person yet, but have traded emails and I did indeed get those samples. Paul lives in Sunnyvale, but made a detour to Hopland on the way to Halcón Vineyards to drop off three wines. In the spring, I look forward to visiting Halcón Vineyards with Paul, and I’ll add pictures to the online archived version of this column then.

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Halcón is “a vineyard on the top of Yorkville Ranch at 2,500 feet. A cold, windy location with very rocky, thin soils,” Paul wrote, continuing, “we planted Rhone varieties, mainly Syrah. We also buy Roussane and Marsanne from Alder Springs.”

With regard to the samples, Paul asked me to, “please give them some air (even the white). The Grenache particularly is better the next day after opening.”

Each of the three wines dropped off for me had fanciful proprietary names, Prado, Esquito, and Alturas.

The 2012 Halcón Prado is a 50/50 blend of Rousanne and Marsanne, two Rhone white varieties and, according to the tech sheet provided, “represents the second Halcón vintage utilizing fruit from Alder Springs…meticulously farmed, the vines are planted in low vigor, hillside soils at well over 2,000 feet in elevation.” The Prado was aged in French oak, 20% new, and bottled unfined and unfiltered. The alcohol runs 14.3%, there were 180 cases produced, and the retail price is $32.

Pouring a taste, swirling it, the color is the pale yellow of spring’s first corn, and the wine offers up aromas of rich, sweet, fleshy fruit, orchard and tropical, lemon curd, butter, caramel, and a touch of vanilla and nutmeg spice, with pleasingly delicious balanced flavors of peach, apricot, apple, juicy ripe pineapple, and a long lingering finish, tapering away slowly, with all the flavors intact, but slowly, oh so slowly diminishing. The malic acid only becomes noticeable when the last sweeter flavors melt away.

The 2012 Halcón Esquito is a red Rhone blend, of 65% Grenache, 30% Mourvedre and 5% Syrah, and the fruit comes from Halcón’s estate vineyard, at 2,500 feet, one of the highest vineyards in California, in the Yorkville Highlands appellation. The vineyards offer views of both the Anderson Valley and Pacific Ocean beyond. The provided tech sheet promises a wine that, “combines bright, red fruited Grenache with a brooding, earthy Mourvedre. The Syrah pulls the pieces together and rounds out the palate.” The Esquito was aged in neutral French oak puncheons (larger oak barrels), and bottled unfined and unfiltered. The alcohol runs 14.1%, there were 220 cases produced, and the retail price is $32.

The 2012 Halcón Esquito is midway between translucent and opaque, and a rich purpley garnet color. Nosing and tasting yield dry cherry, black pepper, woody herb, and olive aromas, and flavors of cherry, pluot, dry cranberry, all in a lip smackingly delicious sip.

The 2012 Halcón Alturas is 97% Syrah and 3% co-fermented Viognier, fermented with natural yeasts, 20% new French oak puncheons, with no fining or filtering. The alcohol runs 13.5%, there were 325 cases produced, and the retail price is $32.

Darker, more opaque, the 2012 Halcón Alturas is a deep ruby color, and is simply bursting with juicy ripe red fruit. Direct, but the right notes. On the tongue, a little candied tart strawberry fruit blends with riper black cherry and blackberry. This wine tests my wine taster’s discipline, begging to be drunk, and not sipped or spit.

These wines are delicious multi noted and perfectly suited to going up against the wide variety of foods found at a Thanksgiving dinner table and pairing well with everything. I love Rhone wines, Rhone blends, am partial to Grenache/Syrah/Mourvedre blends, so was surprised to find myself most in love with the last wine, the Alturas, the wine almost entirely made from Syrah. Both reds balance tart candied fruit with darker riper fruit, providing a broad range of flavors and full mouthfeel, on medium bodied wines.

All three Halcón Vineyards’ wines are available for purchase at SIP! Mendocino in Hopland; and may be found on the wine lists of the Boonville Hotel, Stone and Embers restaurant, and the Albion River Resort in Mendocino County.

For more information about the wines and vineyards of Halcón, visit http://www.HalcónVineyards.com.

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A Taste of Redwood Valley’s 12th Annual Holiday Wine Sale & Juried Artisan Faire is this weekend, Saturday, November 22 and Sunday, November 23, from 11-5 each day. Bring a glass and visit Graziano Family of Wines and Germain-Robin/Craft Distillers, open Saturday only, and Frey Vineyards, Giuseppe Wines / Neese Vineyards, Silversmith Vineyards, Brown Family Wines , Barra of Mendocino / Girasole Vineyards, and Testa Vineyards, open both Saturday and Sunday, for complimentary wine tasting, new releases, and discounts up to 40% on wine and spirits. For more information, visit http://www.atasteofredwoodvalley.com.

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Last night, as I write this and not as you read this, I attended the sixth Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush in Ukiah. This one, smack in the middle of the Mendocino County Mushroom, Wine & Beer Festival, had Chef Jesse and his team serving up one amazing mushroom dish after another, and the wines were all from Cesar Toxqui Cellars and paired perfectly with the food. Two nights from now, again as I write this and not as you read this, I will be attending a similar mushroom dinner at Barra of Mendocino featuring the wines of…Barra of course! You can find recaps, word and pictures, from those two dinners online at http://www.JohnOnWine.com. Looking forward, the next big Chef’s Wine Dinner will be at Crush in Ukiah, during Mendocino County’s Crab, Wine & Beer Fest, will feature Dungeness Crab and the wines of McFadden Farm, on Wednesday, January 21, 2015 at 6:00 pm. Tickets are $75, include food, wine, tax, and tip, and are available at Crush in Ukiah, in the McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room in Hopland, or online at www.McFaddenFarm.com.

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John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

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John On Wine – More Mushroom Meals, and a Turkey Meal Nears        

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, November 14, 2014

Thanks to the good efforts of Visit Mendocino, the local tourism group that brings visitors to Mendocino County for events, who then stay in our inns and hotels, their Mendocino County Mushroom, Wine & Beer Fest continues through this weekend.

Last week, I wrote that one of the best ways to experience the magic of wine was through great wine dinners, and I wrote that Crush has the edge in putting on Chef’s Wine Dinners, like last night’s dinner, pairing the wines of Cesar Toxqui Cellars with mushroom dishes (for a recap of that dinner, visit JohnOnWine.com online where I’ll be posting an online exclusive within the week), or the next Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush, on Wednesday, January 21, 2015, when Chef Jesse pairs crab dishes (thanks again Visit Mendocino for your Mendocino County Crab, Wine & Beer Fest!) with highly rated and multiple Double Gold medal wines from McFadden Farm. Well, I should have made clear that Crush, by virtue of the restaurant’s layout has an edge, but there is one winery with a similar advantage: Barra of Mendocino.

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Barra of Mendocino can host an event, rain or shine, in their own facility, which is both a tasting room and event center all at once. Barra does so with frequency, and this Saturday, November 15, from 6:00 PM – 10:00 PM, Barra is hosting their Annual Winemaker Dinner which will feature five courses of mushroom dishes paired with delicious wine. Tickets are $80, or $55 for Barra wine club members (707) 485-0322 to get your tickets, tell ‘em I sent you, and I will see you there!

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The evening will be Moulin Rouge themed, think Parisian cabaret with great food and drink.

Here is the menu for Barra’s spectacular mushroom dinner:

L’ Apértif: Mushroom Pate’, Charcuterie, French cheeses, green olives, and baguettes served with Zinfand el, Chardonnay, Sangiovese;

L’ Entrée: Wild mushroom bisque with puff pastry square filled with brie served with Pinot Noir;

Le Plat Principal: Thick brined pork cut with wild mushroom gravy, sugared sweet potato crisps, haricot verts and slivered almonds served with Cabernet Sauvignon;

Le Formage: Wild mushrooms, apples, butternut squash and burrata served with Chardonnay; and

Le Dessert: Ocracote fig preserve cake with candy cap mushroom ice cream served with choice of Port or Muscat Canelli.

I will post a recap of this dinner on an exclusive online post at JohnOnWine.com within the week.

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Another fun mushroom and wine experience will be at Yorkville Cellars on Highway 128 in the Yorkville Highlands. Yorkville Cellars focuses on the wine varieties of Bordeaux, France; Malbec among them. Coming up this Friday, November 14 through Sunday, November 16, from 11-6pm each day, you can experience. “Malbec Four Ways for Four Days”:  an inaugural Malbec Rosé, Malbec table wine, Sweet Malbec and a new release of Sparkling Malbec Brut Rosé. The Malbec grapes come from Yorkville’s own certified organic estate vineyard. Nicely enough, there will be tasty and tantalizing mushroom themed appetizers and desserts to pair with the wines.

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For all of the fun mushroom themed events going on through Sunday, pick up a copy of Visit Mendocino’s 44 page brochure made just for the Mendocino County Mushroom, Wine & Beer Fest, available at nearly every winery tasting room in the county, or go to http://www.visitmendocino.com/mushroom-wine-and-beer-festival online.
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Looking forward a couple of weeks, to Thanksgiving, I was wondering what you do with wine at the holiday. What wines do you serve? Do you bring wine as a hostess gift to be shared with the meal. I wrote a piece last year about what wines go best with Thanksgiving dinner, and over the years, I have brought, and my family has enjoyed, every possible imaginable wine, from sparkling wines to dessert wines, and rosés to huge reds, with whites from dry to sweet as well.

I think that any wine, if good, makes a dinner better, and I have plenty of very good wine to bring to any dinner; but I also think some wines do better with Thanksgiving fare than others. Personally, I think that lighter, low alcohol red wines are great, because they are less likely to overpower the turkey. Blends are a good choice, because each grape gives up different aromas and flavors and with a basket of notes to pull from, different foods can pull different notes to pair with, each differently, from just one wine. Blends are chameleon-like, going with many things well, and I particularly like Rhone varietal blends, both red and white.

I have had inexpensive blends, Trinchero’s Menage a Trois at $7.99 as an example, that tasted good and went spectacularly well with a holiday dinner. There is nothing wrong with good tasting food wine that is affordable.

Here’s the thing, I know what I like. Let me know what wine you like to share at Thanksgiving. Email me at JohnOnWine@gmail.com and you may find that you help write my next column, or a portion of it, for me.

Cue the banjos.

I wrote in the newspaper, and online, and spread the word about a dinner that will not be happening…sort of. Rivino was to be the featured winery at next Wednesday’s premier event, for me, of the Mendocino County Mushroom, Wine & Beer Fest, a Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush in Ukiah featuring mushrooms, of course, and the estate wines of Rivino.

I love Crush’s Chef’s Wine Dinner series, have attended them all (Saracina, Barra of Mendocino/Girasole, Bonterra, Coro Mendocino, and Yorkville Cellars). I think Jason and Suzanne at Rivino make enjoyable wines, and they have a large and loyal following. After the dinner was announced, the folks who put on both the Mushroom, Wine & Beer Fest every November and the Crab, Wine & Beer Fest every January, Visit Mendocino, arranged for McFadden Farm to be the featured winery at Crush’s Crab themed dinner in January. Of course, I was going; of course, I was writing about it; and, of course, I was spreading the word.

I’ve got some good news and some bad news, which do you want first?

Umm, the bad news.

Okay, the bad news is that there will be no Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush featuring the wines of Rivino next Wednesday.

Okay, what’s the good news then?

The good news is there are two dinners next Wednesday. Crush will be having a Chef’s Wine Dinner, but the winery being featured will be Cesar Toxqui Cellars. I recently wrote a piece about Cesar and Ruth Toxqui, and their wines and new tasting room location in Hopland, and I am equally thrilled to be attending and tasting their wines at the dinner I have a ticket for.

Jason and Suzanne will also be having a mushroom themed dinner, cooked by the team from Pagan Fire Pizza, and will host it at their winery.

I wish they were on different nights, so I could possibly attend both, like Barra of Mendocino’s mushroom themed dinner to be held at 6:00 pm on Saturday, November, November 15 – which I am gleefully attending.

Menus change, pairings change; there are often additions or other edits made at the last minute, I guess incorrectly at vintages based on what is on a website, so consider what follows to be working menus, and possibly incomplete. For your consideration, please find both of the Wednesday, November 12 menus from Crush/Cesar Toxqui Cellars and Rivino/Pagan Fire Pizza, and the Saturday, November 15 menu from Barra of Mendocino:

CHEF’S WINE DINNER Featuring CESAR TOXQUI CELLARS

Wednesday, November 12th, 2014 6:00 pm

MEET AND GREET

Porcini Bruschetta Bites – toasted baguette, tomato, herbed ricotta, olive oil, balsamic, micro intensity
Featuring 2012 Immigrant Chard and Pinot Gris

FIRST COURSE

Clams Casino – shiitake mushroom, pancetta, green bell pepper, shallot, house made bread crumbs, asiago, parsley
Polpette al Vino Bianco – veal parmesan reggiano, brown butter parsnip purée, caramelized onion jus, chive stick
Broccolini Salad – shaved crimini mushrooms, red onion, fried bread, fresh burrata, pickled mushroom relish, sherry vinaigrette, olive oil, micro intensity
Featuring 2011 Pinot Noir and 2010 Grenache

SECOND COURSE

Grilled C.A.B. Skirt Steak – roasted oyster mushroom & yukon potato purée, red wine & crimini demi glacé, chive
Ragu of Mushrooms – handmade orecchiette pasta, ricotta, basil pesto, parmesan reggiano
Brussels & Cauliflower Gratin – house made bread crumb, toasted pine nut, gruyere
Featuring 2012 Split Rock Zin and Heirloom Cinco

DESSERT

Candy Cap Semifreddo – vanilla, mascarpone, macerated blueberries, fried quinoa, mint
Featuring port-esque Paloma Dulce

Wednesday November 12th @ 6:00 pm
$65 in advance , $85 at the door (includes tax & tip)
Call Crush at (707) 463-0700 for reservations
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Mushroom Winemaker Dinner at Rivino

Wednesday, November 12th, 2014 6:00 pm

Come and enjoy an intimate dinner in our Vineyard! We are busily working on winterizing our tasting area so that we will have a beautiful space for this evening. It looks like rain on that night which will create the perfect cozy candle lit ambiance for this event.

Enjoy a mushroom inspired dinner with Suzanne and Jason. The menu will be an artful creation perfected by Mitch of Pagan Fire Pizza! On the night’s menu, expect:

The best Mushroom Risotto you have ever tasted; and
Wood fire roasted, boneless mushroom stuffed quail;
Featuring Rivino’s Estate Wines

Candy Cap Creme Brulee
Featuring shared samples a soon to be bottled White Port; a Viognier fortified with Germain Robin Brandy, the Brandy created from Rivino Viognier grapes as well!

Wednesday November 12th @ 6:00 pm
$75 each, $65 for Wine club members (limit two each)
Call the winery at (707) 293-4262 for reservations

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Barra of Mendocino can host an event in their own facility, which is both a tasting room and event center all at once. Barra does so with frequency, and on  Saturday, November 15, from 6:00 PM – 10:00 PM, Barra is hosting their Annual Winemaker Dinner which will feature five courses of mushroom dishes paired with delicious wine.

The evening will be Moulin Rouge themed, think Parisian cabaret with great food and drink. I will wear a suit, with tie. You don’t have to, but dress up is fun sometimes.

Here is the menu for Barra’s spectacular mushroom dinner:

L’ Apértif: Mushroom Pate’, Charcuterie, French cheeses, green olives, and baguettes served with Zinfandel, Chardonnay, Sangiovese;

L’ Entrée: Wild mushroom bisque with puff pastry square filled with brie served with Pinot Noir;

Le Plat Principal: Thick brined pork cut with wild mushroom gravy, sugared sweet potato crisps, haricot verts and slivered almonds served with Cabernet Sauvignon;

Le Formage: Wild mushrooms, apples, butternut squash and burrata served with Chardonnay; and

Le Dessert: Ocracote fig preserve cake with candy cap mushroom ice cream served with choice of Port or Muscat Canelli.

Saturday November 15th @ 6:00 pm
$80, or $55 for Barra wine club members
Call the winery at (707) 485-0322 for reservations
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More recently than my write up of Cesar Toxqui Cellars, in fact it is appearing in today’s weekly wine column in the Ukiah Daily Journal – soon to be archived here, I wrote about the spectacular opportunity that these special multi course food and wine dinners present; you get to play with your food and no one will frown. Try a taste of each dish with each of the wines poured, and find what works for you, and what doesn’t, and even try to imagine what foods might pair even better with the wines you are tasting. Grab a ticket to one or two of these great dinners – I’m attending two; sadly, we can’t attend all three.

John On Wine – Wine blends, both European and local

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, October 2, 2014

Recently, I received an email from David and Merry Jo Velasquez of Cannon Falls, MN; after visiting the tasting room where I work and finding this wine column, they visited France and suggested a column, “outlining the GSM grape varieties that make Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine so popular, and which winemakers are doing similar blends in Northern CA,” as well as exploring the “French law/custom [that] allows 13 grape varieties to be used in CdP wines…[and] other stringent requirements which were fascinating to learn about.” They also mentioned the “terroir” (the land, climate, the environment grape vines grow in) and sent some terrific photos.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape vineyard

Châteauneuf-du-Pape vineyard

Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a town in the Rhone wine region of southeastern France. Red varieties allowed are Cinsaut, Counoise, Grenache Noir, Mourvèdre, Muscardin, Piquepoul Noir, Syrah, Terret Noir, and Vaccarèse (Brun Argenté). White and pink varieties are Bourboulenc, Clairette Blanche, Clairette Rose, Grenache Blanc, Grenache Gris, Picardan, Piquepoul Blanc, Piquepoul Gris, and Roussanne. The 13 varieties historically mentioned by David and Merry Jo have expanded to 18, as today the Noir (black/red), Gris (grey), and Blanc (white) versions of individual grape varieties are considered separate.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape red grapes reaching maturity - note the rounded stones in the vineyard that the vines fight through

Châteauneuf-du-Pape red grapes reaching maturity – note the rounded stones in the vineyard that the vines fight through

Famed for GSM (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre) Rhone blends, some of my favorite wines tasted have come from Châteauneuf-du-Pape. By far, most of Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines are red, and most use Grenache as the base, or largest element, of their blends. Lighter in body, two things allow for wines of greater intensity:

First, yields are reduced with local laws prohibiting greater than 368 gallons to be produced per acre of fruit. By dropping fruit during the growing season, the remaining fruit receives greater vitality from the vine, and the result is greater flavor. Second, instead of holding the wines in oak barrels, and having the oak overpower the flavors of the grape, much of the wine is held in concrete containers, a neutral container that better protects against oxidation than oak during winemaking. Here, in northern California, there are a number of wineries using Rhone varietals who have purchased concrete ‘eggs’ to make their wine in.

Richly ripe white grapes from Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Richly ripe white grapes from Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Blends done right are wines greater than the sum of their parts. Often Cabernet Sauvignon, a big firm wine, will have some Merlot blended in as the Merlot will soften the wine; and the reverse is true, an overly soft Merlot can benefit from the backbone a little Cabernet Sauvignon can offer to the blended wine’s structure.

Just as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are often blended together, so too are Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, and Zinfandel and Carignane. There are many ‘classic’ blends, and they are classics because they work, the wines blended are often better than the wines held separate.

In California, as long as there is 75% or more of any single wine grape variety in the wine then that grape variety can be used on the label; in other words, the Zinfandel you buy at the store has at least 75% and up to a full 100% of Zinfandel in the bottle, but might contain some other wine grape varieties – up to 25% in total. There are many local wineries that make stellar blend wines, and do not bother with hitting 75% of any varietal, instead giving their blend wine a fanciful proprietary name like Black Quarto, Atrea Old Soul Red, or Campo de Stella.

In Europe, wines are named for the areas they come from, and a Châteauneuf-du-Pape red wine can be made from any of nine grape varieties and is most often a blend, while a red wine from Bordeaux will be made from a shorter list of grapes, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Carménère. Just as Châteauneuf-du-Pape has a protocol, part law and part tradition, for making wine, so too does Bordeaux, and nearly every other geographically identifiable wine area in Europe.

Meritage (rhymes with heritage, it is an American wine, not French, so please do not force a French mispronunciation) is a wine made outside of Bordeaux using the grapes used in Bordeaux, where an individual grape variety does not meet the minimum percentage threshold allowing the wine to receive a grape variety name. Starting as a California only association of blended wines, Meritage wines expanded first to the United States, and then internationally.

In all of the United States, there is only one geographically identifiable area that makes wines from an agreed upon list of grapes, and following an agreed upon production protocol, following the European model, but is by agreement among the participating wineries and not under force of law, and that unique in America area is Mendocino County, and the wines are Coro Mendocino.

A Quintet of Coro Mendocino Wines

A Quintet of Coro Mendocino Wines

Coro is Italian for Chorus and, just as a chorus should be a harmonious blending of voices, Coro wines should be a harmonious blending of grape varieties. Every Coro Mendocino starts with Zinfandel, Mendocino County’s most planted grape, and must contain no less than 40% and no more than 70% Zinfandel. Of note is that there is not enough Zinfandel, 75% minimum, to label the wine as a Zinfandel. The supporting ‘blend’ grapes include Syrah, Petite Sirah, Carignane, Sangiovese, Grenache, Dolcetto, Charbono, Barbera, Primitivo, plus up to 10% “free play” where an individual participating Coro Mendocino winery can allow their signature style to shine through, with an Anderson Valley winery blending in some Pinot Noir or inland Mendocino winery blending in some Cabernet Sauvignon as an example. None of the supporting blend grapes is to exceed the percentage of Zinfandel in the finished wine.

Coro Mendocino wines also adhere to winemaking protocols, with wine chemistry limits and oak and bottle aging spelled out for participants. Perhaps the most unique aspect of the Coro Mendocino program is that each winery puts their wines through a rigorous quality assurance regimen; first the wines are blind tasted several times as barrel samples by all the participating wineries with constructive criticism offered up for each wine in an effort to produce the very best wines possible, and then the wines go through a pass/fail, Coro/No-Coro, blind tasting before they may carry the Coro Mendocino label.

Each Coro within a vintage, winery to winery, is different, just as each Coro within a winery, vintage to vintage, is different, and yet there is a thread that ties all Coro Mendocino wines together, in much the same way that all wines from Châteauneuf-du-Pape or Bordeaux are tied together, but with an assurance of quality.

Barra, Brutocao, Clos du Bois, Fetzer, Golden, McFadden, Parducci, and Testa each made a Coro in the most recently released vintage, 2011, and the wines can be tasted and purchased at each individual winery’s tasting room, or all can be purchased at SIP! Mendocino in Hopland. The best of the Coro from each vintage, produced from organically grown grapes, is also available at the Ukiah co-op and on Patrona restaurant’s wine list in Ukiah.

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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The 2014 Mendocino County Fair Wine Competition was held Friday, August 1, 2014 and I have the results to share.

There may be some updating as some of the announcements and award results published elsewhere do not match the results I was supplied from the competition, but what you find here will always be the most up to date and accurate information directly from the competition organizers.

With a little slicing and dicing, more like sorting fields, I have three different ways to look at the same information.

Consumers know what they want, Chardonnay or Zinfandel, and just want to know what the best of each variety is, according to the judges at the competition. Here are the results by wine variety, ordered by medal:

2014 MCFWC AWARD BY VARIETY

Wineries only want to know how their wines fared. Here, with just a little cleaning up, are the results straight from the competition committee, sorted by winery:

2014 MCFWC AWARD BY COMPANY

Finally, some folks love competition. Here are the results, sorted by medal won, highest to lowest:

2014 MCFWC AWARD BY MEDAL

From dinner at Seebass with the judges and competition committee on the night before the competition, through to the award presentation dinner at Mendocino College after the judges’ hard work, this has been a fun week for Mendocino County wineries, playing host to influential wine writers and having the opportunity to pour the area’s very best wines.

My recommendation now is to find the list above that you like best and print it, then use it to guide you in visits to Mendocino County winery tasting rooms. See if you agree with the judges, and if you do then pick up some of the best wines in wine country before they sell out.

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