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John On Wine – Hunting up great wine
Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on  July 24, 2014

John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

Can you imagine Jon Bonné, the wine editor for the San Francisco Chronicle, or Eric Asimov, the wine editor for the New York Times, sitting down to write a piece where they wonder in print which wine to use in a marinade for a jack rabbit their son shot in the head with an open sight 22 rifle and further, that while they were reaching for the wine, the rabbit was making a literal bloody mess of their kitchen as the skinning and gutting had not been done in the field?

The Ukiah Daily Journal wine column will always stand out as unique. We aren’t city folk, and this column will put an exclamation point on that. My son Charlie shot his first rabbit last night and brought the thing home, hoping I would help him dress it out. I used to hunt, but that was 35 years ago; I didn’t like gutting animals then, and I really didn’t want to do it last night. Charlie and his friend Jordan, with the help of YouTube videos for guidance, managed the task just fine.

I made a hasenpfeffer marinade, with a blend of 2008 V. Sattui Zinfandel, Black-Sears Vineyard, Howell Mountain, Napa Valley and 2013 Carol Shelton Wild Thing Rendezvous Rosé, Mendocino County (85% Mendocino County, Cox Vineyard, Ukiah, CCOF Certified Organically Grown; 15% Sonoma County, sustainably grown) wines. I also used red wine vinegar and a ton of herbs from the farm I work for.

Of course, I had to taste both wines. The 2008 V. Sattui Zinfandel was still big and bold as can be with dark black berry and earth notes, brambly fruit supported by wood. It was darn big, too big really. Great as a glass of wine by itself, but it was going to overpower the meat, so to soften the marinade a bit, I opened the 2013 Carol Shelton Wild Thing Rendezvous Rosé. This is such a delightful wine, sweet without being sugary, tart without being puckery, balanced bright succulent strawberry and watermelon fruit with a touch of citrus. The day’s temperature had been over 100 degrees, and the Carol Shelton Rosé was the better wine for summer season heat, while the V. Sattui Zin was more of a winter weight wine.

The rabbit meat will soak for four days and then the boys will cook it. Of course, I would never give the boys a taste of wine, so keep your letters to the editor about the perils of underage drinking to yourself, but if I were to let them taste a wine made to go with a wild hare, I think I would recommend the 2012 McFadden Old Vine Zinfandel. The McFadden Zin is cool climate grown, lower in alcohol, and brighter in fruit notes. A red wine, sweet tart candy noted – cherry, strawberry, and raspberry, with just a tickle of black pepper and herb in support of the fruit. Flavorful enough to go with wild rabbit, but light enough to not overpower it.

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On Friday, August 1, 2014, a group of respected wine writers will sit down to taste flight after flight of Mendocino County wines as judges for the 2014 Mendocino County Fair Wine Competition.

The competition is open to any wine made from Mendocino County grapes, even wineries from out of county may enter their Mendocino County wines. Wineries enter their wines in a spirit of friendly competition and winners get bragging rights for the following year.

The competition judging takes place in the morning and early afternoon, and the winners are announced at a fun dinner early the same evening.

Taste a delicious three course dinner prepared by the Mendocino College Culinary Arts program led by Chef Nicholas Petti of Mendo Bistro, while sampling award winning wines from the competition at the Mendocino County Fair Wine Competition Awards Ceremony and Dinner, open to the public, tickets are just $55 each. Again, the dinner and award ceremony are on Friday, August 1, 2014 from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. with plenty of wine from the competition to enjoy.

This year’s dinner benefits the Mendocino College Foundation.

Last year, I sat at a table with Potter Valley folk, and Gracia Brown of Visit Mendocino. Each time any Potter Valley wine award was mentioned, Bronze to Gold, our table cheered wildly. The fun and comradery of the dinner highlight the cooperative nature of the county, even at what is supposed to be a competition.

For your tickets, hit the LINK.

Not open to the public, but fun for the judges who come the day before the competition, there will be a tasting of Coro Mendocino wines hosted by Golden Vineyards in Hopland, and then a six course wine pairing dinner featuring wines of McFadden Farm and Seebass Family Wines plus the overwhelming bounty of fresh, organic, heirloom, and artisanal ingredients provided by Mendocino County’s best protein and produce growers, hosted by Seebass on Old River Road near Talmage

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Speaking of Seebass Family Wines, they recently opened a new tasting room in the Anderson Valley on Hwy 128.

Owners Michelle Myrenne Willoughby and husband Scott Willoughby run things, and their current releases include Chardonnay, Syrah, Merlot, and a Rosé of Grenache, called Fantasie. Look for an Old Vine Zinfandel this August 2014, and new 2013 vintage Chardonnay wines too.

Open 11-5 daily, the tasting room is in the heart of Boonville, right across the street from the Boonville Hotel; visit if you are in the area. This may be Anderson Valley’s only spot without Pinot Noir!

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EDITED TO ADD: Okay, a few more words for this online posting that didn’t appear in this week’s newspaper column…first I want to let you know that I made a change for this post and used a hyperlink to the Mendo Wine Comp Dinner Ticket page, where the newspaper piece had a web address as hyperlinks do not work in print ink.

Also, one more mention for this weekend’s Second Annual Anderson Valley Barrel Tasting Weekend event. $20 gets you a glass and wristband, with wonderful barrel tastings, Pinot Noir a major focus for most participating wineries, throughout the Anderson Valley and beyond…Yorkville Highland wineries will also be participating, making this more of a Highway 128 Barrel Tasting weekend (BT128). Online ticket sales have closed. You may purchase tickets at any one of the participating wineries during the event. Payment by cash or check is most appreciated to join the Saturday, July 26 and Sunday, July 27 fun. I will be attending this event as a guest of the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association, and I am grateful for the invitation.

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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

I have worked a lot since I took over my tasting room and wine club manager duties, and with my work being the near totality of my wine experiences last week, I sometimes feel that my blog John on Wine should be renamed “Diary of a Tasting Room Manager.”

I will try to get out and taste more wines, from wineries other than where I work, but today’s post really is largely a tasting room manager diary post, because my work did make serious demands on my time lately.

Last weekend was Spring Hopland Passport Weekend. A month after being hired, our little tasting room was going to get slammed. There was no folder left for me by my predecessor marked “Hopland Passport,” and I was told I could expect to not be able to pull off Passport because my predecessor and her husband did everything, and I could never hope to match their performance.

I’ll be honest, my predecessor probably worked harder than me, but I know how to work smart, and I had a great team which includes my boss Guinness McFadden. Guinness did all of the big shopping, he directed his Farm employees to bring and set up picnic tables and a tent, he invited our cooking and tasting room team to his home and demonstrated how to prepare the weekend’s food while feeding us dinner, and when I expressed concern about adequate staffing, Guinness and his brother Tommy both showed up to help pour wines for the masses.

Ann Beauchamp and I were at the core of the tasting room team, and were supported by Jannée Dale, Guinness and Tommy McFadden. Our cooking team was Ann’s husband Mark Beauchamp and my son Charlie Cesano.

Ann Beauchamp and Jannée Dale

In the past, my predecessor had $89 cases of surplus wine to sell, and those cases comprised roughly half the weekend’s revenue. I had no surplus cases to sell, so we ran a first ever biggest sale on everything in the tasting room, both wine and non-wine merchandise were discounted, generally 15-25% off everything, with the larger discounts reserved for our Wine Club members: 40% off any case of wine. The idea was to offer adequate inducement for Passport weekend attendees to join any of our wine clubs, while generating revenue to offset costs associated with the weekend.

Tommy McFadden, John Cesano, and Guinness McFadden behind the bar

A key to the weekend’s success was an email sent to all of our wine club members offering the Passport weekend 40% case discount and extending a special shipping rate of $23 per case, without having to be present in the tasting room during Hopland Passport weekend, a simple response email order in a timely manner would suffice to secure the discount. In response to one email created and sent, we received numerous multi case orders, several quite large, and many single case orders.

John Cesano, Ann Beauchamp, and Tommy McFadden

That is the working smart part of the weekend. The working hard part of the weekend, which was enormously enjoyable, was pouring wine, telling the McFadden story, ringing sales, signing up new wine club members. I used to do theater, and this was like being back on stage. Continuing the metaphor, my director, Guinness, gave me a note. It turns out I was completely wrong in one part of my story, my audience never heard it false, because I was in character and believed my line completely, so I made it real – but I am happier telling the correct story.

Everyone worked their butts off, and it was only after the first day that a mystery was solved. We were opening and pouring an amazingly large number of bottles, but I never had to dispose of a single empty, which was weird but welcome. It turns out that Ann and Tommy were taking care of them while I was talking and pouring and I never noticed.

Mark and Charlie were cooking under a tent right outside our open back door, and the scent of their food cooking was insanely good. I’ll be sharing the recipe for what they cooked next month in the McFadden Vineyard June 2011 Newsletter, so you’ll just have to ask me to add you to the email subscription list for that if you want it.

The proprietary recipe for our incredible Passport food will be shared in June with McFadden Vineyard Newsletter (free) subscribers by email. Sign up now!

They used three organic Herbs and Herb Blends grown organically in Potter Valley at McFadden Farm. Passport guests bought a ton of jars of each of the three Herbs or Herb Blends used, and next Passport we will have a boxed gift set with the three jars in it, convenient and ready for purchase. Thanks to our cooks for the brilliant recommendation. Also, thanks to Guinness for allowing me to put my 14 year old son Charlie  to work for the weekend, and thanks to Mark for allowing Charlie to gain confidence and proficiency in your tent kitchen. Charlie now has one dish he can rock out for family, friends, perhaps even for a girlfriend thanks to the two of you.

Mark Beauchamp and Charlie Cesano, Team McFadden Vineyard Chefs

We opened our tasting room before neighbors opened theirs, and we enjoyed increased sales as a result. With the case discount pricing, my office became a sold case storeroom. Saturday was insanely busy, Sunday was calmer, our sales were roughly equal each day. While I worked emails, or sale signage, Ann ran opening procedures; while I ran closing reports, and end of period Excel timecards, Ann closed the room down. I am blessed that Ann worked Passport instead of attending it.

In spite of good attendance, other tasting rooms report a significant revenue decrease compared to last year’s Spring Passport, the decrease remarkable consistent. We would have experienced a similar decrease, but for that one email. Including our Wine Club members in the sale we were offering in the tasting room allowed us to post a 22.97% revenue increase over last year, and not a single case we sold went out as low as $89.

After Sunday’s close, Guinness took the tasting room staff that worked both days out to Branches, arguably Ukiah’s best restaurant, certainly one of Ukiah’s best, for a thank you dinner.

Guinness McFadden, the McFadden behind McFadden Farm and Vineyard

Branches isn’t cheap, but it is good, made more so by good people and great wine. In fairness, most of us had Southern Buttermilk Fried Chicken, five really big pieces, for $15.95, so it is a great value…although with salads, sides, and dessert – all great – that does kick it up some.

I thanked Guinness personally. I wrote in my last post that “I love my job.” Well, let me say, as important, I genuinely like my boss. Guinness is former military, a decorated Navy officer. Mark and I were Army sergeants. All of us understand mission accomplishment, it is always job one. We also know that welfare of troops is job two, nearly equal in importance. Taking us to dinner was not just classy, which it was, it was a welcome exercise in team building, in fostering esprit de corps. I like working for a boss with previous military experience. Involved joke telling, with character voices, is an unexpected bonus in a boss that I got with Guinness – a side I imagine rarely seen by most. Again, thanks for dinner.

There have been mid week days without a single customer, with no revenue. I wish it was otherwise, and I hate reporting it to Guinness, but in hiring me, a former Infantry NCO, he knows I am working all day long, revenue or not. My own pride makes me want to exceed every number posted before my hire, and in time I will. I work hard because that is who I am, but it is genuinely nice to be shown appreciation.

This year’s Passport also saw an increase in non-wine merchandise revenue of 26.57% and an increase in wine club sign ups of 150% over last Spring’s Passport numbers.

In a world of my choosing, I would have taken the Monday following Passport off, but I went into the tasting room extra early instead to run beginning of May wine club orders. I also returned the tasting room to the state it was in before Passport for Eugene Gonsalves, my senior tasting room staffer, and ran more reports, before driving up to the Farm in Potter Valley to help pack the wine club orders.

Between Ernesto and Shana, there is no need for me to be involved with wine club shipments, they are masters. While at McFadden Farm, I also listened to Jannée and Shana to find out what I can do better in the tasting room to help them do their jobs in the office.

Guinness McFadden took two great pictures for May’s Newsletter, just nine days apart, which show how much Spring has sprung in the vineyards.

Grapevine on April 25, 2011 at McFadden Farm; photo credit: Guinness McFadden

Same grapevine 9 days later on May 4, 2011 at McFadden Farm; photo credit: Guinness McFadden

I entered years worth of ignored email addresses into our computer system, and sent out our May Newsletter. May’s recipe was for a pizza inspired in part from a tart created by Ina Garten, and with the crust recipe portion stolen from my good friend Nancy Cameron Iannios. The April Newsletter was text only, but I managed to include our logo, the two grapevine pictures above, and the wine label that corresponds to this month’s Wine of the Month this time around for May. I know I got better at that. We were also able to double the reach of our emails over previous attempts, which is a significant marketing improvement.

Another accomplishment from last week’s visit to the Farm; I got two mats that had last been used in an outdoor booth at the Gilroy Garlic Festival, but had been sitting on top of a box in a barn since 2006. I am sorely tested in describing their dustiness, their filth. I put these dirty, nasty mats in the back of my van, to take them home to clean. We need mats behind the tasting room bar to make standing nearly eight hours less stressful.

The mats proved too filthy for mere hosing off in my front yard. On my two days off, I have gone to the car wash, where I power sprayed, foam scrubbed, and power rinsed the mats into cleanliness. I also went shopping for a new broom and wet Swiffer to clean our tasting room floors. With a stop at Staples for office supplies, and an attempt to make business cards for my staff so they can enjoy inter-winery discounts, my two day’s off were not really my own, but I don’t mind. I have been trusted with management of my tasting room by Guinness, and I will continue to do all I can to keep it squared away and moving toward increased profitability.

I go back tomorrow, Sunday, and work a short week, just through Wednesday, then begin almost four days off. I will be golfing in the 15th Annual Wine Country Golf Classic at the Windsor Golf Course in Sonoma County on Thursday, recovering Friday. The golf tournament funds the good works of Cornerstone Media, helping them reach teens through positive popular media messaging. I almost have Saturday and Sunday off too, for a full four day recharging, but have to cook up some fig and blue cheese tarts to be served on Second Saturday. I love to cook, but I am not confident I would have returned home to do so if I hadn’t obligated myself.

Friday, after the lunch, champagne, beer, dinner and wine that goes with my Thursday golf, I want to visit Amphora Winery in the Dry Creek Valley where my friend Karen Mishler Torgrimson works. I’ll take pictures and post here.

I consider myself fortunate, I love my job; I know many people who don’t. I have so much still to learn, but I apply myself daily. I am lucky to have Bob Meadows from Graziano and Margaret Pedroni from Weibel as neighbors; I try not to go to them too often, preferring to figure out things for myself, but they are valuable resources as well as kind and helpful people.

Here’s a wine review from dinner at Branches in Ukiah with the McFadden Vineyard Passport Tasting Room and Cooking Tent crew: 2009 Pascal Jolivet Sancerre, Loire Valley, France $48 ($24 on Mondays). Our Sauvignon Blanc is wonderful, but tasted next to this wine it seemed to be as elegant, as graceful as I am, and I am the proverbial bull in a china shop. This Sancerre is 100% Sauvignon Blanc, has a minerality to die for, limestone and flinty, with lemon and grapefruit citrus notes, lovely grassy mown hay and varietally correct cat pee, wrapped in a beautifully smooth grace. That a wine can be at once this powerful, yet refined, is both a paradox and a testament to the indefinability of a great wine.

I tried to recreate a meal I used to cook often about 25 years ago; steamed chicken thighs, stuffed with ham, swiss cheese, and green onions – a healthy version of Chicken Cordon blue. I wasn’t able to extricate the thigh bone from the center of the thighs, so I rolled the deboned thighs and used cooking twine to tie them around the other ingredients completely.

Instead of steaming in water, I used an entire bottle of $1.99 2007 FoxBrook Sauvignon Blanc California. I tried to drink a glass of this wine, but poured it out, choosing to cook with it instead. Where another Sauvignon Blanc might have a note of cat pee in the nose, this wine tasted of piss. Not a wine I will ever buy again.

I served the Cordon Blue-esque Chicken up with a creamy chicken rice, to which I added a ton of butter and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

I paired dinner with a 2008 Fetzer Vineyards Valley Oaks Chardonney California. Clear pale gold  in color, this 13% alc wine has a ton of notes and flavors for an under $9 wine at Lucky supermarket. Crisp apple and citrus nose gives way to tropical fruit, grapefruit, and apple, balanced by oak and sweet cream, in the mouth. A nice medium bodied Chardonnay with a long light finish characterized by apple and acidity. I liked it lots, and saved the rest of the bottle with a Wine Preserva flavor saver disc.

Overall, a pretty tasty and moderately showy meal.

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Speaking of showy meals, I’ll be auditioning for Gordon Ramsey’s Masterchef on FOX in 11 days. If you live in Atlanta, Denver, Kansas City, Miami, New Orleans, Chicago, San Francisco, or Los Angeles, open casting calls are coming up; for more information, here’s a link: http://www.3ballproductions.com/masterchef.html

Jennifer Pitchke, a reader of my blog left this comment about the audition process:

Just wanted to let you know I went to the New York auditions and it was nothing like I expected so I wanted to give you heads up. I thought it would be like a one on one. Nope–you will be asked to stand with up to 8 others at one time to plate and they go down the line and you have maybe two minutes with them so back those two minutes good because I sure didn’t. My food rocked but felt I could have handled the Q&A better. Good Luck.

If you have read about the real audition process for American Idol auditioners, not the select few put through to see Simon Cowell and the gang, then Jennifer’s description is familiar. I don’t have cancer, a dead wife, or a very ill or disabled family member to exploit through the audition process, FOX loves the sob backstory in casting their reality shows, but I can cook and have personality; hopefully that will be enough. I will happily keep my healthy family and miss out on being cast if it really comes to that.

I had planned to serve involtini, polenta, and red sauce with a solid red wine. I’m adding a pesto sauce to the mix, so I can “paint” my white presentation plate with the red (homemade Italian red sauce), white (polenta), and green (pesto) of the Italian flag, and lay my sliced pinwheels of involtini across the flag in a line.

The presentation is better, the flavors still work great, and the food allows me to tell my story of growing up watching my Italian American father Charlie Cesano cooking, and how it has inspired my brother Thomas , myself, and my 12 year old son Charlie to be the primary cooks in our kitchens.

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