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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JOHN ON WINE – Spotlight Winery: Milano Family Winery

By John Cesano

A few months ago when launching this column, I said I would try to limit my use of the words love and adore, because with the way I feel about the area’s wines and people I could easily overuse both.

Well, I have been sparing enough that I hope you’ll forgive me now. I absolutely adore Deanna Starr.

Deanna and her husband Ted own Milano Family Winery at the south end of Highway 101 in the big old hop kiln. Deanna is also the winemaker at Milano.

I worked with Deanna when we were on the board of Destination Hopland together. Deanna is intelligent, funny, patient, thoughtful, and a joy to work with. Deanna is also a gracious hostess; last year, I attended a group meal Deanna hosted at Milano for tasting room folks from a number of local wineries in the middle of Hopland Passport after the first full day of pouring.

Milano Family Winery can’t be missed. Although it sits back off Highway 101, it’s the only big wooden hop kiln building with the word “WINERY” in giant letters posted on the side facing the road.

After parking, you can climb the stairs to the tasting room, or take in the menagerie on the south side of the winery.

I always visit the animals first. On my last visit, I saw chickens, turtles, ducks, pygmy goats, geese, sheep, and a llama. There are probably more, but I especially like seeing the giant turtles. Seeing them doesn’t make the wine taste better objectively but, since it always puts me in a good mood, the turtles may make the wines taste better subjectively for me.

The first thing you notice after climbing the stairs to the second floor and entering the tasting room is how well it is stocked with fun wine themed merchandise. After tasting wines at McFadden, I often send our guests who ask about particular wine accessories onward to Milano because of the incredible range of products offered.

There were 22 wines on the list when I visited. There is a modest tasting fee which Dawn, my tasting room host, waived for me. I tasted six wines. Here’s my notes:

2009 Chardonnay $16 ­ Caramel notes from oak, butter from malolactic fermentation, nice light apple fruit.

2009 Sangiovese, Palisades Vineyard $24 ­ Enjoyably drinkable. Cassis, plum, cedar. Approachable, not the spiced tannin edge of some Sangiovese. Nicely balanced with just enough acidity to provide structure for the fruit.

2006 Carignane, Hidden Hawk Vineyard $22 ­ Nice, rich, forward fruit notes of cherry, raspberry, and strawberry.

2006 Neese Merlot $24 ­ Sherry like vanilla and sweet fig, sweet tart cherry, tannin, tapering finish.

2006 Echo, Bells Echo Vineyard $37 – I (forgive me) love (there, I said it) this wine. Didn’t want to spit. Blackberry, cherry. Great mouth feel. Long lingering finish.

2006 Orange Muscat $29 ­ This was Dawn’s favorite. Honeyed apricot meets lovely citrus, wonderfully balanced. 15.2 percent alcohol.

Deanna holds her wines longer than many local winemakers, so you will find older vintages available at Milano Family Winery than at most – if not all – other local winery tasting rooms. The extra time gives her wines a chance to fully age, both in barrel and in the bottle. You have undoubtedly heard of people laying wines down, cellaring them, aging them; Deanna and Milano Family Winery do that for you so the wines you purchase are how Deanna would like you to taste them.

In addition to the varietal reserve, premium, and dessert wines available for tasting, Milano Family Winery produces some wine bottles that are blends with fun names such as Sunshine, Mistero, Big Ass Red, and Disaster Relief Red.

Wines are sold by the bottle, but Milano Family Winery also sells wines by the glass, which is perfect if you want to head back outside and enjoy a picnic lunch (BYOP: bring your own picnic) with wine at a wooden picnic table under a grape arbor next to the animals. Milano has a terrific spot for picnics.

The Milano Family Winery tasting room is open daily from 10 a.m. ­ 5 p.m.

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A Taste Of Redwood Valley will be hosting a winemaker dinner Friday, June 14, followed by their 21st annual special weekend of wine tasting on Saturday and Sunday, June 15 and 16. Participating wineries include Barra of Mendocino/Girasole Vineyards, Cole Bailey Vineyards, Frey Vineyards, Germain-Robin, Giuseppe Wines, Graziano Family of Wines, Oster Wine Cellars, Silversmith Vineyards, and Testa Vineyards. For more information, or to purchase tickets, visit ATasteOfRedwoodValley.com
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John Cesano is twice the man he was in high school. Literally, John weighs exactly twice what he once did many years ago.

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