John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

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Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal on Thursday, December 18, 2014 by John Cesano

John On Wine – Five Holiday Gifts for the Wine Lover in your Life

Buying Christmas gifts is fun, but sometimes it can be challenging. Here are some recommendations from a wine lover to you for any wine lovers on your gift list.

5. A book on Sake. Sake Confidential, a beyond-the-basics guide to understanding, tasting, selection & enjoyment, by John Gauntner. Available online at www.amazon.com/Sake-Confidential-Beyond-Basics-Understanding/dp/1611720141.

I know wine well, generally, but there are huge gaps in my knowledge. I am good with California wines, and obviously know Mendocino County wines well, but I do not know the over 3,000 wine grape varieties of Italy and I am nearly as ignorant about Sake.

Sake is really more like beer than wine, brewed and fermented rice alcohol. I have a friend, Fred Albrecht, who dines out often, and loves Japanese food. Fred is Sake knowledgeable. When out together, Fred orders Sake for both of us or, where wine is the better choice, he usually seeks my input.

John Gauntner’s book on Sake is both informative and entertaining, approachable and useful. No book will turn anyone into an expert, but armed with knowledge of Junmai, Namazake, Ginjo, Nigori and more, the real fun begins: slightly educated tasting leading to experience based learning and genuine knowledge. I own and love this book.

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4. A wine preserver. Savino Wine Preservation Carafe. Available online at www.savinowine.com. I have written about a variety of wine preservation tools. The idea of wine preservation is that rather than have deterioration between glasses because of oxidation after a bottle is opened, the wine can be protected and used the next day, or for a family who finish a bottle perhaps a second bottle may be opened and then protected rather than finished.

Vacuum pumps, using a valved stopper to suck air out of a bottle only create a pressure differential and not a real vacuum – harmful oxygen is still inside the bottle, and the pumping strips wine of aroma and flavor, and should be avoided.

Savino is a simple, elegant, attractive and effective wine preserver; a cylindrical carafe with a floating cap that rests upon the wine, blanketing it from harm at any remaining level. I own a Savino.

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3. A wine aerator. Zazzol is the one I use. Available online at www.zazzol.com. Some folks, rather than trying to maintain a wine between glasses, are more interested in hastening the ‘breathing’ a wine needs, so as to have the wine open more quickly, so the enjoyment can begin sooner. A wine aerator is a device that increases a wine’s exposure to air so it may be thus enjoyed. There are many aerators on the market, but I recommend Zazzol because I own a Zazzol, it works, and it comes attractively packaged.

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2. Wine. Available at winery tasting rooms up and down Hwy 101 inland and along Hwy 128 toward the coast, here in Mendocino County. Please, if you can, visit a winery tasting room and buy your wine gifts, or wine club gift memberships, direct. I have lots of wine, but have found that there is no such thing as owning too much wine.

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1. Tickets to a wine dinner. I have written about the wine pairing Chef’s Dinners at Crush Italian Steakhouse that featured the wines of Saracina, Barra/Girasole, Bonterra, Coro, Yorkville Cellars, and Cesar Toxqui Cellars. Each one was an amazing experience. The next Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush in Ukiah will be the feature inland event of the 2015 Mendocino County Crab, Wine & Beer Festival, and showcase the wines of McFadden Farm. The dinner will be Wednesday, January 21, 2015 at 6:00 pm, and tickets run just $75 for food, wine, tax, and tip. Tickets are available online at www.mcfaddenfarm.com/Crush-Winemaker-Dinner_p_102.html.

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Regular readers know that I have gone to every Chef’s Wine Dinner, and I am certainly going to this dinner as well. I love Dungeness crab, and Chef Jesse Elhardt’s menu will be crab-centric with our coast’s bounty featured in reception, first course, and second course dishes. The only course likely to miss the kiss of crab will be dessert.

McFadden, of course, produced the California State Fair Wine Competition’s Best of Show Sparkling Wine, so a McFadden bubbly will start the night off as the reception wine. The first course of food, three or four dishes served family style, will be accompanied by Chardonnay and Gewürztraminer. The second course, with another three or four dishes, will be accompanied by Pinot Gris and Old Vine Zinfandel. Dessert is individually plated and will be accompanied by Late Harvest Riesling. To be clear, that’s a twice Gold Medal winning bubbly, three 90 point Wine Enthusiast magazine rated whites, a 95 point Just Wine points rated red, and a three time Double Gold or higher awarded dessert wine. Oh yeah, and Chef Jesse’s crabtastic menu.

Even though I manage McFadden’s tasting room, all the ticket money goes to Crush Italian Steakhouse to buy fresh crab. We keep nothing, and I have to buy my own ticket…although Guinness will end up covering that one. There is no conflict of interest in this recommendation.

How good a gift do I think this is? I have bought five tickets; four to give to my regular crew at the tasting room for Christmas, and another for my evening’s date, Kim Smith – who used to write for this paper. This may be the best wine dinner I attend in 2015. Over half of the 70 available tickets are already sold, so do not delay. This is my number one recommendation as a gift for wine (or Dungeness crab) lovers.

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.

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Here are the Mendocino County gold medal winning wines from the 2014 Press Democrat North Coast Wine Challenge:

Husch, 2013 Anderson Valley Late Harvest Gewurztraminer, Anderson Valley 96 points Gold Medal, and Best of Mendocino County, and Best of Show Dessert/Late Harvest
Handley, 2010 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley, 98 points Gold Medal
Handley, 2013 Gewurztraminer, Anderson Valley 96 points Gold Medal
Handley, 2012 Chardonnay Estate, Anderson Valley 95 points Gold Medal
Navarro Vineyards, 2012 Chardonnay, Anderson Valley 95 points Gold Medal
Masút, 2012 Pinot Noir, Mendocino County 94 points Gold Medal
Naughty Boy, 2012 Chardonnay-Thornton Ranch, Mendocino County 94 points Gold Medal
Yorkville Cellars, 2013 Rosé of Malbec, Yorkville Highlands 94 points Gold Medal
Bonterra Vineyards, 2012 Chardonnay, Mendocino County 93 points Gold Medal
Paul Dolan Vineyards, 2012 Pinot Noir, Potter Valley 93 points Gold Medal
Philo Ridge Vineyards, 2010 Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley 93 points Gold Medal
Bonterra Vineyards, 2012 Merlot, Mendocino County 92 points Gold Medal
Carol Shelton Wines, 2012 Wild Thing Zinfandel, Mendocino County 92 points Gold Medal
Husch, 2012 Heritage, Other Red Blends, Mendocino County 92 Gold Medal
McFadden Vineyard, 2009 Reserve Cuvee Brut, Potter Valley 92 points Gold Medal
Navarro Vineyards, 2012 Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley 92 points Gold Medal
Paul Dolan Vineyards, 2012 Chardonnay, Mendocino County 92 points Gold Medal
Campovida, 2013 Campo di Stelle, White Bordeaux Blend, Yorkville Highlands 90 points Gold Medal

 
An invitational tasting will be produced and hosted by The Press Democrat on Sunday, June 15, 2014 at the Culinary Institute of America – Greystone, featuring winners from throughout the North Coast. Enjoy Gold Medal winning wines from Mendocino, Lake, Sonoma, and Napa counties.

There is a special promotional code for my readers—$25 off the all-inclusive price of $125. Use promo code: GOLD when ordering your tickets. Tickets are available at northcoastwineevent.com

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John on Wine – Crush keeps crushing it!

Originally published on October 31, 2013 in the Ukiah Daily Journal by John Cesano

Wine and food. For me wine is food, an ingredient that, when added to a dish, makes a dish taste better. Pair it with the dish and the Heavens open and angels sing.

I have written about the last two Chef’s Wine Dinners at Crush Italian Steakhouse in Ukiah. First I wrote a newspaper column about the amazing dinner featuring winemaker Alex MacGregor’s wines from Saracina, and then I wrote an online piece about the spectacular dinner that showcased Charlie and Martha Barra’s wines of both Barra and Girasole.

I eat at other spots, many with terrific wine lists, and I’ll get to them in future columns, but Crush just keeps on, well, crushing it.

Last week, I took the opportunity to attend the third Chef’s Wine Dinner in the ongoing series. The night featured the wines of Bonterra Organic Vineyards. These dinners have grown to become sold out events. You have to call and grab your tickets early. Two long tables in a private dining room, laid out with place settings heavy on the wine glasses, await the night’s patrons. Folks sit together, and courses are served family style, which encourages communication as platters of food from the kitchen are passed and the food and wine combinations elicit at first squeals of delight and then, later in the evening, deeper moans of over full contentment.The evening’s offerings are deceptively described as First Course, Second Course, and Dessert. I say deceptively, because there are so many more items arriving at the table than a mere three dishes.

Each “course” is actually comprised of four or five dishes. Dessert is often three dessert elements fused into one greater whole. There are often bonus tastes of passed appetizers. All told, these three courses yield ten to a dozen food experiences. I’ve described these nights as Chef Jesse off the leash, nights for him to do one thing and one thing only: impress every diner and leave a lasting impression that brings each guest back again and again. Jesse’s team of chefs do a fantastic job, and assemble at each evening’s close to take a well-earned round of applause. Of course, the front of house has to fire on all cylinders for a night like this to work, and from Manager Dave through his entire team of servers, everything on the service end just purrs.

Last week, Chef Jesse delivered braised pork belly, with a perched and poached quail egg, buerre monte, and chive sticks; a beets salad, with roasted red, golden & striped beets, goat cheese, citrus, and hazelnut champagne vinaigrette; Devils on horseback: Nueske bacon wrapping Point Reyes bleu cheese stuffed Medjool dates; and crab stuffed piquillo poppers, with Dungeness crab, avocado mousse, tomato, esplette, olive oil, and micro greens.

That was just the first course, and it was paired with the 2012 Bonterra Sauvignon Blanc, my favorite wine of the night, with sweet green fresh mown hay, light herb, candied lemon mint sweetness, lime and bright grapefruit notes. A 50/50 Lake/Mendocino County wine, it showed lovely balance, at once both lush and showing crisp acidity. It was a treat tasting pork belly and quail egg ­- don’t you love cutting into a perfectly cooked egg and having the yolk released to form a bonus sauce – yum. Anyway, it was a treat tasting this dish with a Sauvignon Blanc instead of a red wine. Great confidence in pairing on display. The beets salad and crab poppers were also tremendously delicious.

The Second Course featured both a 2011 Bonterra Pinot Noir, just rated 90 points by Wine Enthusaiast, and a 2010 Bonterra Zinfandel. The Pinot Noir was meaty, with strawberry, cherry, and dark rich rhubarb; really drinkable, just lovely, supple yet delicate. The Zinfandel was soft yet bold, spicy with raspberry and strawberry, vinuous anise herb, and a touch of pepper spice.The big treat came pairing these two wines with Chef Jesse’s dishes for the second course: local J-bar-S bison 8 hour (tasted like 48) ragu, with pancetta, tomato, (phenomenal) handmade herbed gnocchi, basil, ricotta, and Reggiano; cracked pepper seared Ahi tuna with chanterelle mushrooms and a Bonterra Pinot Noir reduction; potatoes au gratin, Yukon golds with saffron cream, gruyere, and fresh herbs; and roasted delicate squash with creamed Swiss chard, celery root, and caramelized shallot salt.

Holy foodgasm! The bison gnocchi rigotta ragu dish with Zinfandel was stunningly perfect. The Ahi and chanterelles was gorgeous. The veggie dish with creamed swiss chard was divine.

Dessert was a (local) apple strudel of filo, toasted walnuts, cinnamon, Chantilly crème, and homemade ice cream, paired with the Bonterra Muscat which featured aromatic honeysuckle, floral and sweet-tart pear and mandarin notes, finishing with a zing.

As I have attended each of the Chef’s wine dinners at Crush, I had more than one diner ask if there was always this much food, as numerous a selection of excellent tastes, or whether this was a unique abundance. I am happy to say that for $50-$65 per person, depending on the wines being featured, the Chef’s wine dinners at crush in Ukiah are always the best wine dinner experience and a bargain as well.

Up next: On December 11, 2013, Chef Jesse and the entire Crush Ukiah team will deliver another breathtaking multi dish, multi course, meal and the wines featured will be the 2011 Coro Mendocino wines, Mendocino County’s celebration of grapes and winemaking, heritage Zinfandel blends, from Brutocao, Claudia Springs, Fetzer, Golden, Mendocino Vineyards, McFadden, McNab Ridge, Parducci, Philo Ridge, and Ray’s Station. With so many powerhouse wineries involved, and the other dinner these wines are poured at going for $500 per couple, the $65 per person tickets – to taste the entire line up of Coro Mendocino wines with the consistently breathtaking food creations of Chef Jesse – will sell out faster than any previous Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush. Secure your spot today by calling (707) 463-0700 and I’ll see you there!

I come from an organic tasting room, I understand organics. Biodynamic is good, but for me, ventures into practices of questionable value. Animals and a variety of plants on vineyard property is great for me, it provides a richer experience for me as a visitor. I don’t know if baby goats headbutting each other makes a better wine, but it is entertaining. Where biodynamics loses me is the whole cow horn thing. Cow horns are crammed full of cow manure, then planted on a full moon on an equinox, dug up six lunar months later on another equinox, added to a container of liquid made up of virgin’s tears, allowed to steep like a witch’s brew over another period of lunar cycles, and spread by a Catholic priest’s aspergillum throughout the vineyard in a rite reminiscent of the ritual sprinkling of Holy water. Poo-in-the-horn tea is just one of several preparations that are created to fortify the vineyard, strengthen the ecosystem, and produce wines more naturally.

I would love to see a vineyard test block where half the rows are grown organically, and the other half are grown biodynamically. I would like someone to show me empirical evidence of the superiority of biodynamics over mere organics; until then, I will look upon biodynamics with some skepticism, as some sort of ritualistic magic ju-ju voodoo.

I posed the question of measurable efficacy supporting biodynamic growing practices to Ann Thrupp, Director of Sustainability at Fetzer, and she responded, “I am aware of only a few scientific studies that have been done to compare biodynamic and organic vineyards (see literature by Professor john Reganold, for example). It is difficult to prove scientifically that there are improvements in quality, based on such studies…However, in blind tastings, many biodynamic wines score high.”

Cesar Toxqui makes great wine for Cesar Toxqui Cellars and is working to improve the biodynamic wines of Jeriko, which I am confident he will be able to do. Cesar knows of my skepticism, but will be trying to educate me regarding biodynamics in the near(ish) future, touring me from vineyard to winemaking at Jeriko.

Nance Billman, during my recent visit to Saracina, while acknowledging the over the top ritualism in some of the preparations involved in biodynamic farming, described a near miraculous almost immediate increase in vine vitality when those preparations are administered.

I have tasted many biodynamic wines, and they are almost universally good. I don’t think they are good because they are biodynamic per se; instead I think that the attention to detail, the commitment that goes with biodynamic farming leads a winery to make good wine. I have no proof that a biodynamic wine is any better than an organic wine, but I am confident that biodynamics don’t make a wine worse.

Paul Dolan, Bonterra, Mendocino Farms, Jeriko, Saracina, there are plenty of folks making great wine with biodynamic grapes. Everyone of them is earnest in their belief, their dedication; you can feel the passion for biodynamic farming. I would like to know what they know, because all I hear are anecdotal tales of magic, and it may just be me, but I can’t take the leap and need more science based evidence before I am buying that biodynamic farming is anything but effectless ritual.

I’m not ready yet to drink the poo-in-the-horn tea biodynamic kool-aid.

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I was approached a few months ago to answer some questions about sustainability for my winery that could appear on a website, and the piece was published yesterday.

I forwarded the questions to my boss who kicked them back to me to answer. I forwarded my answers to him for review, and while observing some of the answers were “over the top,” he suggested only one edit to correct a mistake.

I did not know it at the time, but my boss, an organic farmer for over 40 years, abhors the word “sustainable.” Guinness runs a CCOF certified organic farm and vineyard. CCOF organic means something. Demeter Biodynamic means something. Sustainable isn’t measured, it isn’t certified, and lots of wineries use the term to cloak themselves in a green-ness that they haven’t earned, cheapening the efforts of real organic and biodynamic growers.

In my naiveté, not yet knowing that perhaps I too am supposed to hate the word, I completed the sustainability survey.

Naive, well, not entirely. I researched the folks who were asking for the survey answers, and found the monthly Lempert Report Newsletter where the piece would be published was sponsored by Monsanto imagine.

A Google search of “Monsanto imagine” led me to several pages suggesting that Monsanto imagine is a greenwashing public relations effort on the part of Monsanto, an effort to blur the line obscure the chasm between themselves and responsible Earth friendly organic family farmers.

The answers Guinness found “over the top” were not included in the piece linked above. The following passages were edited out of the piece appearing on the site paid for sponsored by Monsanto imagine:

“At McFadden Vineyard, it is unthinkable that people would choose wines and foods made with synthetic chemical fertilizers, poisonous pesticides and herbicides, from bio-engineered Frankenfood seed over delicious, healthy, natural, organic, sustainable wines and foods.”

“Right is right, doing things right, the right way, doesn’t need to be measured. The thought of dumping poison on our food or using genetically engineered crop seed is unthinkable. At the end of the day, are you proud of yourself? Does your wine and food make people happier? We notice something that can be improved, and we get around to making those improvements; that the greener, more sustainable, or organic choice sometimes is the less expensive choice, or sells better, is just a bonus.”

“Let’s have a cooking contest. We’ll make a fruit ice cream. I’ll use organically grown fruit from Mendocino County, and organic dairy products from Clover in Sonoma County. My competition has to use FrankenFruit, fruit from biogenetically engineered seed, grown with poisons, and cheap milk products loaded with Bovine growth Hormones. We’ll ask consumers which ice cream tastes better. I will win. Things that taste good always win out over things that don’t taste good. Growing organic, growing sustainably, is better for the environment, society, and the economy than the alternatives. Tastier too.”

Where sustainability pushes buttons for Guinness, Monsanto does it for me. I liked the piece I wrote, and the idea of Monsanto publishing a piece critical of their practices tickled me. While the piece didn’t get posted intact, you got to read the juicy parts here.

Genuine Green Revolution!

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I live in Ukiah and work in Hopland. Hopland is truly a small town. Businesses engage in cooperative efforts to help each other. The more we help each other, the more we end up helping ourselves.

I take pictures for Margaret at Weibel, and Margaret tries to save decorative plants at McFadden from being killed by my black thumb.

I want to see the Hopland Inn succeed. A successful Inn is a place late afternoon visitors to Hopland can stay after a more complete wine tasting, to possibly begin anew at another tasting room the following morning. I have knocked out a new marketing piece for Amie that better presents what the Inn offers, and am working on another smaller piece that can be created less expensively than my first.

Gary of Campovida, a local resort, escorts his guests to the Hopland Inn for afternoon cocktails at the Inn bar.

Margaret and I, Amie and Gary, none of us are rivals, competitors, but instead cooperative partners with a shared stake in the success of Hopland.

The people who live and work in Hopland, their love for the town, makes Hopland a place worth visiting. locals love playing bhost, and visitors are charmed by the small town friendliness set in the middle of amazing natural beauty.

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I sought a spot on the Board of Destination Hopland, and on the Hopland Passport working group. I welcome taking the social media marketing reins, and increasing our visibility. On top of my winery job, with uncompensated extra hours spent working at home, I am going to be spending more uncompensated hours doing what I do well for the benefit of others.

I am not a business owner, my extra work will not increase my ownership equity value. I am a wage, not a salary plus benefits, employee. I am taking on the extra work for two reasons; one is to benefit my employer, by helping to increase Hopland tourism, I benefit the person who signs my checks, and the other is because I saw an area where my skill set, my abilities, passion, and experience could improve what is being done for Hopland in a way no one else had done. I really look forward to the next year’s work.

The reward for my volunteer efforts has been increased requests for volunteer work. More business owners would like me to give up my time freely so as to work toward increasing their revenue. I can’t say that I blame them for asking, but today I found myself drawing a very clear line: I have more than enough on my plate. I will meet every commitment I’ve made with professionalism and pride, to the best of my ability; but I am not taking on any more unpaid gigs.

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Next Friday, August 5, 2011, at 7:00pm, the winners of 35th Annual Mendocino County Wine Competition will be announced at a farm to table dinner hosted at Jeriko Estate north of Hopland. The event is open to the public, come and taste Mendocino County’s best wines at the Grand tasting, paired with a locally harvested dinner. Tickets are just $75, or $65 for wine industry members, and the event will sell out, so hit the link above and buy your tickets now.

I’ll be there, representing McFadden Vineyard, hoping for some Gold. While we are cooperative, not competitive, I would gladly lug some bling from Jeriko to McFadden after the event. Just sayin’.


				
		
	

I am leaving home today, traveling to Miami for a weekend gig at an art festival in South Miami.

On my way, I’m picking up a six pack box of wonderful Ultima Burgundy wine glasses won in an internet giveaway promoting the Pinot Noir Summit in San Francisco this Saturday, Feb 26. I figure it is easier, and greener, for me to jump off the freeway and pick up my glasses than to see them packed and shipped.

When I return from Florida next week, I will be picking up two bottles at Hopland to replace two bottles that were broken in shipping from Louisville, Kentucky. Fetzer wines are made nearby, but Fetzer is owned, marketed, and distributed by Brown-Forman in Louisville. Again, rather than repackage and ship two bottles across most of the continent, I offered to stop in and pick up two bottles at the winery.

As a huge bonus, I will also be touring Fetzer in Hopland. I am pretty excited. A goal of my wine blog when I started writing was to illuminate good wines to pair with meals, that are affordable. Wines with a good QPR, or quality/price ratio. A New Year’s writing resolution for 2011, I decided to focus more of my attention on the wines of my home county, Mendocino County.

Fetzer is the biggest winery in Mendocino County, and their economy of scale allows them to keep their costs low, which makes for widely available, good tasting, affordable wines – exactly what I want to write about. Touring is great, because the winery has no tasting room, or organized tours, and I am pleased to receive this kind accommodation. I will also post, at a minimum, tasting notes on Fetzer’s Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Chardonnay, Riesling and Gewurtztraminer.

I will also be able to visit, tour and taste wines from Bonterra, Fetzer’s sister winery under Brown-Forman, located off Hwy 101 near Hopland.

Home from Florida, when the weather is nice enough to take some outdoor blue sky, green grass pictures, I will also be visiting Kimmel Vineyards in Mendocino County’s Potter Valley. The Kimmel family offered to drop wine samples off at my home for taste and review, but once again I can save them a little gas and hassle by visiting with the intention of writing a winery visit feature piece in the future.

I have a 13 year old son, turning 14 next month, that played on three basketball teams this year. Charlie is just over six feet tall, and was the starting Center for his 8th grade school team, the Pomolita Panthers. Charlie also played as the tallest Center for St. Mary’s of Ukiah 8th grade boy’s CYO team, and a Ukiah City League team. Three teams has meant practices nearly every day, and three to five games most weeks for several months. Many days involved two practices, or a practice and a game. After months of happily being my son’s chauffeur to practices and games – these experiences only come around once – I will soon be free to visit more wineries more often.

Although I wish I could have been more wine busy the last few months, I have to say that watching my son practice, play, and grow has been terrific. His teams were good, but not great. They could have been great, but something got away from them. Charlie’s teammates are incredibly talented, each differently talented, and when they play together at their best they are amazing, unbeatable. Unfortunately, they got off track, not running plays crisply, losing focus, failing to execute in games what they mastered in practices.

I hope we find a good AAU, or other summer basketball program for Charlie, and next year he will try out for the Ukiah High School Freshman Wildcat team where rival middle school basketball team players will compete to make the squad. If Charlie plays for Ukiah High School next year, that will be the only team he plays on during the season.

Okay, I am out of here. I’ll write more when I’m back, early in March.

I woke up looking forward to doing some wine tasting. My plan was to go to Fetzer’s beautiful tasting room and gardens at their hospitality center in Hopland. Well coated against the cold, the day was beautiful, the mountains misty as ribbons of fog bedecked the mountain folds surrounding the Ukiah Valley.

I hadn’t visited the Fetzer tasting room in seven years, it isn’t really conveniently located, but I wanted to taste their dozen wines and find a jewel or two to recommend as a drinking wine, and perhaps a few more that would pair well with foods. I wanted to write about wines that were available in every store, and at prices that are affordable to anyone that can find their way to my blog.

Fifteen minutes south I turned off the 101 and drove down the empty Tuesday morning road to the Fetzer property. I drove over a bridge spanning the Russian River and came upon what had been the hospitality center for Fetzer.

Signs forbidding entry blocked the roads onto the property, previously maintained gardens gone wild, “for sale” signs. I began to suspect that I would not be tasting Fetzer’s wines.

I continued another few miles up the road to Fetzer’s winemaking facility. It is huge, and quiet in the post harvest, between Christmas and New Year’s Day, way that almost all wineries are quiet. I drove to the Administration building, and the receptionist confirmed my suspicion: I would indeed not be tasting Fetzer wines.

Note to Brown-Forman: How about putting a tasting room on 101 in Hopland, where Brutocao, McFadden, McDowell, Dogwood/Three Families, and Graziano all have tasting facilities? You could have one facility for your Fetzer, Bonterra, and Sanctuary brands. Not as grand as your previous Fetzer Hospitality Center, closed about three years, but accessible and economically sustainable. Just asking’.

I woke up prepared to taste wines, and I was not going to be deterred by a mere tasting room closure. I got back on the 101 and headed south another half hour to Healdsburg, where Mendocino County’s Topel Winery has located their tasting room at 125 Matheson across from the Oakville grocery.

Walking in the tasting room door at Topel, I was welcomed almost immediately by Kevin Roach. Kevin asked what types of wines I prefer as he welcomed me to taste. I let him know I prefer Reds, but enjoy whites as well, and asked him to pour me his four favorite wines out of the fourteen available, the ones most likely to knock my socks off.

Kevin first poured me a glass of the 2007 Pinot Noir, Serendipity, Monterey. While I swirled and sniffed the wine, I looked over the tasting room. Attractive, well laid out, lots of dark wood and copper. Wood cabinets for Topel branded clothing, and for literature display. A smaller (VIP?) private tasting room with table is available as well.

Kevin told me that the grapes for the 100% Pinot came from the Chalone Vineyard, which is located in the Gabilan Mountain range. The Topel website identifies the grapes as coming from Monterey County’s Serendipity Vineyard. Wherever the grapes came from in Monterey County, 2007 was kind to these grapes, and the wine was luscious, with cherry sweet tart and raisoned cranberry aromas and raspberry and cherry flavors. Round, smooth, and balanced. This wine was wonderful. $28/bottle.

Wine #2 was Topel’s 2005 Estate Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. 92% Cab, 4% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot. I was pleased to taste this wine. I am a Sonoma County boy, born and raised. the wines I grew up with, tasted, sold, were Sonoma County wines. I live in Ukiah now, in Mendocino County, and I wanted this wine to taste good, I wanted the grapes from my new home to be good ones.

The 2005 Cab had a really low tannin load, was very approachable, with light herb and dark red cherry and berry fruit on the nose and repeating in the mouth. Velvety, smooth, soft, and balanced, with nice subtle notes. This is not a typical brick bat Cab, but a nicely drinkable Cab. $36/bottle.

Wine # 3 was the one year newer, just released three weeks ago, 2006 Estate Reserve Cabernet. 96% Cab, 2% Merlot, 2% Petit Verdot. Same wine, again smooth. A little more tannin evident, but soft. Similar nose and flavor profile to the 2005 Cab; with chocolate and black cherry. Definitely younger, a little edgy. I would let it lay down a while longer. $36/bottle.

The final wine I tasted was the 2006 Topel Estate Blend. 45% Cabernet. 45% Syrah Noir, 5% Merlot, and 5% Petit Verdot. I have never heard of Syrah Noir, Kevin explained that it was a clone of Syrah. The grapes for this unique blend come from Topel’s vineyards on Duncan Peak, west of Hopland in Mendocino County.

Kevin told me that this wine is owner Mark Topel’s favorite wine, I found it unusual. with notes of plum, prune, and fig newton. Again, virtually no tannin load, another incredibly soft wine. I want to retaste this wine the most. The unusual blend led to unusual flavors, and this might be the best, most versatile food pairing wine I tasted at Topel. $36/bottle.

All four wines were soft, supple, balanced, approachable, very drinkable. Tannin providing structure to hand fruit on, but staying out of the way of enjoying the wines. Well oaken, but not oaky. In a word: smooth.

I want the Pinot to drink, the Cabs to have with grilled tri tip, and the Estate blend to get to know better.

I set out to taste affordable wines, under $20, and ended up tasting wines in the $20-$40 range instead. My mission to taste and recommend inexpensive, available, good wines has not been forgotten; but I am really glad I stopped in to taste these four wines from Topel Winery.

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