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John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

John On Wine ­ – Thank you

By John Cesano

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal on Wednesday, November 27, 2013

I like that we kick-off the holiday season with a giving of thanks. Facebook has featured 30 days of thanks – a note about something that moves someone to thanks – posted each day in November, 30 notes of thanks with several of my friends participating.

These many notes of thanks and the other upbeat, positive, and inspirational messages have made Facebook more joyful this month. I’ve participated; it isn’t a stretch imagining me writing 30 notes in 30 days, after all. A few of my notes touched on wine, pouring it, tasting it, writing about it, drinking it. I’ll be doing a bit more of that here.

First, I want to thank Guinness McFadden for giving me a job, for hiring me to take over your tasting room in Hopland. You hired an unknown quantity, I had never worked as a tasting room employee before. I hope your risk has been rewarded. Thanks to the wines and other foodstuffs from the farm that you provide me with, our numbers have never been better and we have the highest rated tasting room in the over five year history of San Francisco Chronicle tasting room reviews. I love that you tell me what, not how, and allow me to do my job with an amazing amount of freedom. I am thankful to be able to do something I am very good at.

I also want to thank my crew: Eugene, Gary, Ann, Juanita and Catrina for giving our visitors the same care I would give them, and freeing me up for days off.

I want to thank Bob Swain and, now sainted, Raphael Brisbois for making the wines I sell. You two have made wines with tons of medals and 90-plus ratings from Guinness’ grapes, and I am extraordinarily grateful to be able to pour them. Thanks also to Bob for sitting down with me and tasting 11 wines for a piece that ran online in March of 2010. Parducci Wine Cellars and Paul Dolan Wines were the first inland Mendocino County wines to get a feature piece written by me. I’ve asked Bob to sit down with me again and when he does, I’ll be thankful and write an updated piece featuring Parducci for the newspaper.

I’m thankful for Kelly Hancock, my editor at the Ukiah Daily Journal. Your stellar work editing previous pieces made saying yes to writing this column easier.

Thanks to my predecessor, Heidi Cusick Dickerson, a better wine writer than I am, for being constantly supportive of my efforts and for sending folks my way.

Thanks to so many local folks for being so welcoming, helpful, and ­ again ­ supportive. Alan, Louis and Hairy Putter, Di Davis and the entire Davis family, Lorie Pacini and Allen Cherry; thanks to all of you.

Thanks to all of the winery tasting room folks, owners and employees, from Potter Valley to Ukiah, Redwood Valley to Talmage, and Capella to Hopland. There are so many more features yet to write. Some of you, I’ve visited but haven’t written up yet; I will, after visiting again.

Thanks especially to the folks at Barra and Girasole: Martha, Charlie, Katrina, and my tasting buddy Gracia; and to Maria Testa at Testa Vineyards, who always has a smile and a good glass of red. I do not know what they put in the drinking water up in Redwood Valley, but I appreciate your every kindness.

Thanks to Bernadette Byrne at Sip! Mendocino in Hopland for helping point a few of the folks behind the labels you pour my way. Two of the biggest treats that I am most thankful for are meeting Fred and Alberta of Albertina Vineyards, and Mario and Danelle of Rosati Family Wines; a pair of husband and wife couples, growing grapes, making wine and selling it in entirely too much anonymity. I loved your wines and enjoyed spending time with you – thank you for making me feel so welcome. For those reading this, wines from both Albertina and Rosati are available at Sip! Mendocino.

I get invited to things because I write. Thanks for all of the invitations to events, dinners, and tastings. I see some of the same folks at various events and two people I am very thankful for are Sheriff Tom Allman and District Attorney David Eyster of Mendocino County. These two do more than merely administrate, they care about and constantly engage the people in the communities they serve. I am thankful for such dedicated public servants.

I got a head start with hundreds of McFadden wine club members who already knew me, but the response to this column from the public has been surprising to me. I am thankful to each and every person who reads my column. It is still slightly unsettling to have people I’ve never met, in places other than wine shops, recognize me and compliment me on a column they read and remember. Whether I’ve been in line to get coffee, seated at a restaurant, or on the firing line at the gun club, you have come up to me to tell me you read my column and even if I am not used to being recognized, I am thankful for your readership and humbled by your feedback.

I’ll be in my tasting room today until 5 p.m. to help people with their very last minute Thanksgiving wine selections and while the room will only be closed one day for Thanksgiving, I will very thankfully take most of four days off, enjoying a family dinner on Thursday, and trying to buy some great cookware on a Friday sale. Maybe, I’ll taste some wines on the weekend for a future column, which would make my editor thankful. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!
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Here’s some extra “thank you”s for my online readers to wade through. Thanks to my son Charlie; you are, by and large, a good boy. Thanks to Heather from Ft. Bragg; it is nice when we find the time to walk paths together. Thanks to Millesima USA, who inexplicably named this blog one of the Top Ten Wine News Blogs being written.

Top 10 Wine New Blog Award

Writing a post after 10 pm is not the way to get a ton of readers. Heck, writing an online piece doesn’t carry the same weight that writing a column for the local newspaper does. That said, I should do this more often, write a piece just because, small, for you and, as much as I love you, more importantly, for me.

Tonight I attended the second Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush in Ukiah, and it was fantastic. Again.

Owner Doug and Manager Dave are terrific, but they allow their staff the opportunity to shine and that is their genius.

Chef Jesse banged out some scallops that were, in a word, perfect. Want two words? Way perfect.

Chef Zack served up some little puff pastry and magic bacon things, I don’t know what they were, other than orgasmic, but I could have eaten another hundred, I’m sure.

For the second Chef’s Wine Dinner in a row, oysters were served as an appetizer. Feel free to serve them again at the third Chef’s Wine Dinner. They are great!

The rabbit was so good. If only more people would think of cute bunnies, I could have had more of the very popular and oh so yummy rabbit.

There was veal tartare with tuna in a mini cannelloni and an Insalata Nichoise, but there just wasn’t enough of the Nueske pork wrapped veal sweetbreads with porcini tortellini on our end of the table. Oh, what a dish!

Did I forget to mention the lobster creamed corn, or the lamb with saffron and breadcrumbs? Yeah, I ate those too.

Dessert was a homemade 100 proof lemoncello and vanilla Semifreddo.

I go on about the food, but I love food. I am not on a diet. If there is any good in being fat, then it is not having to be moderate in enjoyment of great food.

No Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush is possible without wine. This time, the wine came from Charlie and Martha Barra’s Barra of Mendocino and Girasole labels.

The Barra wines spend time in expensive French oak. I had the Chardonnay with scallops and lobster corn. Note: all corn should be lobster corn, let’s pass a law.

I had a Barra Cabernet Sauvignon with the lamb, rabbit, and a ratatouille that didn’t suffer for being a vegetable only dish. This growing boy loves his proteins.

The Girasole line runs to stainless steel and neutral oak. I enjoyed the Pinot Blanc with the oysters and Insalata Nicoise, and the Pinot Noir with the veal tartare and veal sweetbreads.

Charlie and Martha poured their Muscat Canelli with the dessert.

The best food and wine pairing of the night, by a mile, was the Girasole Pinot Noir with the bacon in puff pastry appetizer things. I do not know what they were, but they weren’t regular bacon. Imagine God made a pig pregnant, you can call the pig Mary if you want, but you do not have to if it makes you uncomfortable. Anyway imagine that a chef does magic chef things to God bacon, and sticks it in little bread bites, and that is what I ate, washing it down with gorgeous Pinot Noir.

I sat between Martha and Frank. Martha is Martha Barra. Frank is the father who brought his daughter, granddaughter, wife and friends to the dinner for his daughter’s birthday. She was 60, but she looked much younger. Good on you, young looking birthday girl!

Owen Smith, winemaker for Barra was at the dinner. It is always good to see Owen. Also attending was superstar marketer Gracia Brown. Gracia helped Crush, along with Martha and the Barra team, almost double the seats sold for this Chef’s Wine Dinner. Gracia and I last sat at the kid’s table at the Mendocino County Wine Competition awards dinner, and that is probably where I belong most often. Tonight, I mostly behaved and sat with the adults.

Some patrons told me that they read my words in the restroom, and I was surprised because I did not remember putting my phone number on the stall wall, but it turned out that the Crush crew posted my newspaper column reviewing their first Chef’s Wine Dinner for folks to read. Works for me.

Anyway, another spectacular evening. Happy diners, many new to a Chef’s Wine Dinner, eating, drinking laughing, talking, just plain having a great night. Before I wrap this post, kudos as well to the hostess and servers too. Everyone worked together to make tonight work for all.

I definitely love living where I do, and doing what I do, allowing me to share with you some of the best of it.

John on Wine – Barra of Mendocino and Girasole

By John Cesano
The cypress tree surrounded Barra event center on North State Street, just north of Calpella in Redwood Valley is home to a wine tasting bar that plays host to special private events. On recent visits I have seen the large interior space set up beautifully for a wedding reception and a baby shower.
BARRA

Photograpy by Diane Davis, Diane Davis Photography

Invited to taste through the wines of both Barra and Girasole, I found Barra of Mendocino wines are bigger and feature a mix of specific oak barrels, often Louis Latour barrels to bring specific notes to the wines, while Girosole are largely stainless steel tank driven wines with just a small percentage of French and American oak for flavor.

My tasting hosts were winemaker Jason Welch and marketing specialist Gracia Brown.

A little history: Charlie Barra is a Mendocino County wine industry icon. In 1945, while still a teen in high school, Charlie farmed his first leased ranch and in 1955 bought his 175 acre Redwood Valley vineyard.

In 1997, after years of farming organic wine grapes to sell to other wineries, Charlie dedicated a portion of his grapes to his own wines and Petite Sirah was his first commercial bottling under his own name.

Martha, Charlie’s wife, runs things with a focus and a no-nonsense directness I respect.

Winemaker Jason Welch is filled with infectious enthusiasm for his craft and a palpable fondness for each of the wines he is creating for Charlie and Martha. With turns at Heller and Julien Estates in Carmel Valley, Sonoma County’s Wattle Creek Winery, and Regusci Winery in Napa, Jason picked up knowledge and skills that are in clear evidence in the wines he is making today.

Martha Barra brilliantly brought Gracia on-board, harnessing her work ethic for Barra and Girasole after the demise of the Mendocino Winegrape & Wine Commission (MWWC) last year.

The first wine we tasted was the 2011 Girasole Pinot Blanc. Nicely perfumed with light vanilla, apple and citrus. Stainless bright fruit and acidity matched by a touch of light creaminess from 10 percent neutral oak, this wine balances a slightly flinty character with nice aromatics. $13. The Pinot Blanc took a Gold medal at the 2013 San Francisco Chronicle wine Competition.

“Aromatics” is a word Jason loves and his winemaking style focuses on bringing a complex mix of aroma notes characteristic to each varietal he works with, while allowing both a sense of place and the vintage to speak with each release.

As a treat, we tasted the pretty much sold out 2011 Barra Pinot Noir Rosé. This wine is saignée or bleed style where the lightly colored wine is removed from the skin at an early stage of making a red wine, and made with super cold fermentation and Rhone styled yeasts. It was delicate, with rose petal, strawberry, cherry notes, and it was delicious. The 2012 release will be slightly lower alcohol and higher acid, which should offer even more opportunity for the fruit to be showcased. $18.

The 2010 Barra Chardonnay is rich and would be a treat to taste again 8-9 years from now. Barrel select; 10 barrels were kicked loose from this wine program, with 30 percent French oak, the wine is unsurprisingly oaky, with vanilla, cream, and butter notes as it also went through 100 percent malolactic fermentation. The grapes themselves give up apple and pear fruit notes. $18.

The 2010 Girasole Pinot Noir ($16) was soft, with nice acid providing good balance for strawberry, cherry, herb, spice, and mineral notes, while the 2010 Barra Pinot Noir ($20) was darker, richer, riper with bigger mouthfeel and notes of earthy cherry and cola with a little more tannin.

2010 Barra Sangiovese is plummy fruit and chocolate and licorice on the nose, and cherry, anise, and raspberry in the mouth. A pretty color, this wine reminded me of a Grateful Dead show: plenty of acid. $18

The front end of the 2009 Barra Cabernet Sauvignon is great with nice big blackberry, cassis, herb, and lovely tannin. $20.

We went outside and tasted tank and barrel samples of future releases. My sense is that the future is even more exciting than the already delicious present for Barra and Girasole.

I’ll be visiting the event center over the course of the year as Barra plays host to many can’t miss events throughout the year, from crab feeds to farm to table celebrations of the county’s bounty.

For more information about Barra and Girasole, visit http://www.barraofmendocino.com or call (707) 485-0322.

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John Cesano has a son, Charlie, who turned 16 last month. If you have a dependable older car you would like to gift to a mostly good boy, contact John at JohnCesano@aol.com
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Hi, John here. The online version of my column allows me the space to add some thoughts that didn’t fit my edited piece for the newspaper.

I wanted to add some personal notes. With roughly 750 words allowed in the paper, I need to put my focus on the wines when writing about a winery, but it is the people, just as much as the wines, that define a winery for me. Here is a little more about the folks at Barra/Girasole:

I adore Gracia Brown. I met Gracia when she shouldered an enormous workload as part of the now defunct Mendocino Winegrape & Wine Commission. I had many opportunities to work with Gracia and couldn’t be more impressed with her work ethic and cheerful attitude. Although Gracia has never been employed by McFadden, I think she has poured our wines no fewer than three times for us. When my son turns of legal age, if he still wants a tattoo, I will point him toward Gracia’s husband, a gifted artist.

Winemaker, Jason Welch is both likeable and passionate. I am looking forward to tasting the wines he produces for Barra and Girasole in the coming years.

Charlie Barra is an icon. When I talk about my boss, Guinness McFadden, being a leader in the organic farming movement, I am always mindful that Charlie has ten years of organic growing on Guinness.

Charlie’s wife Martha just knocks me out. We have had the opportunity to work together going back to my time working with the Wine Appreciation Guild a dozen years ago. Martha knows her mind, isn’t shy sharing her thoughts, has plenty of drive and a positive assumptive attitude; she gets things done. I like Martha, and respect the heck out of her.

Katrina Kessen is my counterpart at Barra, managing their tasting room. We never seem to see each other as we work many of the same days and hours, but she likes the music of Grateful Dead so she obviously is a woman of refinement and exquisite taste.

Note: In between being published in the paper and posted here online, I got to meet Katrina. We had a very nice time pouring next to each other at an event focused on wineries with organically grown grapes over this past Earth Day weekend. I look forward to seeing the Barra/Girasole team often in the future.

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