Tomorrow, the writers who devote the most time to tasting Mendocino county wines throughout the year, who write the most words about Mendocino County wines for newspapers and magazines, will gather in judgement of the entries for the 2014 Mendocino County Fair Wine Competition.

All work and no play is not how things are done in Mendocino County.

Today, the Coro Mendocino winemakers will pour a selection of library wines for those judges, an opportunity for them to relax and enjoy Mendocino County’s flagship wine.

Tonight, Destination Hopland and Mendocino Winegrowers, Inc. present a welcome dinner for the judges at Seebass Family Vineyard and Wines.

Here’s a working menu, featuring wines and farm goods from both Seebass Family Wines and McFadden Farm, as well as the local, organic, delicious bounty of the top artisanal purveyors of food and ingredients from throughout Mendocino County:

APPETIZERS – standing – passed – Paired with McFadden 2009 Reserve Brut

Bruschetta – Schat’s bread with white bean puree and sundried tomatoes and basil
Bread – Schat’s baguette
Olive Oil – Terra Savia/Olivino
Sundried tomatoes – Seebass
Speckled bayo beans – McFadden Farm
Basil – Seebass

Meat Balls – spiced beef meat balls
Beef – McFadden Farm
Egg – Seebass
Onions – Cinnamon Bear Farms
Herbs – McFadden Farm grilling herbs, lemon pepper, and garlic powder
Bread Crumbs – Schat’s

SALAD – Greens with champagne vinaigrette, roasted fresh beets and goat cheese – Paired with Seebass Barrel-Sampled 2011 Old Vine Zinfandel
Greens – Seebass
Edible flowers – Seebass
Beets – Cinnamon Bear Farms
Goat cheese – Pennyroyal Farms
Bacon crumbles – Mendocino Organics
Champagne vinaigrette – McFadden Sparkling Brut Rose, Terra Savia/Olivino olive oil, mustard, acid

GAZPACHO – Chunkier version with avocado garnish – Paired with McFadden 2007 Pinot Noir
Tomatoes – Cinnamon Bear
Cucumbers – Seebass
Red Onions – Cinnamon Bear
Cilantro – Cinnamon Bear
Red wine – 2010 McFadden Coro Mendocino
Chicken stock – Seebass
Avocado
Lime

SALMON – Broiled fresh wild king salmon with peach salsa – Paired with Seebass 2011 Grand Reserve Chardonnay
Salmon – The Fish Peddler
Peaches – Cinnamon Bear
Red Onion – Cinnamon Bear
Cilantro – Cinnamon Bear
Lime

LAMB – Herb crusted grilled Mediterranean lamb leg with wild rice, gold raisin and parley and grilled summer squash with plum/stone fruit wine reduction glaze – Paired with 2011 Seebass Syrah
Lamb – Mendocino Organics
Herbs – cumin +
Wild rice – McFadden Farm
Golden raisins – Seebass
Parsley, fresh herbs – Seebass
Baby zucchini – Seebass

CHEESEPaired with McFadden 2012 Riesling
Hard cheeses – Pennyroyal Farms
Spiced Walnuts – Seebass
Honey – Seebass

DESSERT – Blackberry crumble with homemade vanilla ice cream and dark chocolate drizzle – Paired with McFadden 2009 Coro
Blackberries – Seebass
Crumble – Flour, butter, brown sugar, nuts
Dark chocolate, melted –
Homemade ice cream – cream, vanilla, eggs – Seebass

Coffee – Black Oak
Tea – Mendocino Tea
Cream -

After tasting Mendocino County’s best wines tomorrow morning and afternoon, after deciding upon Silver and Gold medals, and Best of Red and Best of White honors; the judges will enjoy one more fine meal. The best part is that you can join them for this event!

The Mendocino County Fair Wine Competition awards dinner and ceremony will be tomorrow, Friday, August 1 at 6:00 p.m. at the Mendocino College Student Plaza. Dinner will be three courses by Chef Nicholas Petti of Mendo Bistro and his team of culinary students from the college, accompanied by wines entered into competition. Tickets are only $55 and available at mendocinowinecompetition.eventbrite.com or at the event.

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John On Wine ­ – A tale of two Passports

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, May 1, 2014
Written by John Cesano
John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

It was the best of Passports…

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I attended the 25th anniversary Passport to Dry Creek Valley last week, with my girlfriend and trusted second taster, June, as guests of the Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley (WDCV). We were greeted at check-in by the new Executive Director of WDCV, Ann Peterson, who may have one of the best jobs in the wine industry, working with great farmers and winemakers in a gorgeous environment, every day.

Dry Creek Valley lies mostly to the west of Hwy. 101, and stretches 17 miles south to north from Healdsburg to Geyserville, two miles wide, in Sonoma County. Continuing a string of sold-out passport events, 6,000 tickets were sold, at a two day weekend price of $120, and allowed visitors the opportunity to visit and taste at 50 winery tasting rooms throughout Dry Creek Valley.

There is no reason to try to visit all 50 wineries even in two days, as there would be less than 15 minutes per winery, with travel between wineries having to fit into the allocated time, and rushing is no way to enjoy a passport event.

June and I visited 17 wineries in two days, a perfect number, giving about 45 minutes per winery. Some visits were shorter, some were longer, all were enjoyable. The great thing is that we could attend next year, visit 17 new wineries and have a completely different experience, equally great; and the same again for a third consecutive year with only one winery repeated in three years with 50 wineries to visit. There is no way I can fit a description of food, wine, music, and scene at 17 wineries here, but here are some impression highlights:

DaVero Farms and Winery stood out because I have a thing for farms and wine, farm stands & tasting rooms, and Ridgely Evers, the owner of DaVero greeted us both warmly. I had met Evers on previous visits, and was surprised at how much growth had occurred. This was June’s first visit and, an animal lover, June was in Heaven at Evers’ biodynamic farm, scratching a pig into a contented lie down. I enjoyed a taste of the DaVero Malvasia Bianca, bright with citrus and white pear flavors, in an outdoor canopy room being made from one tree . Evers has planted cuttings from a single Italian willow in a large circle and is training their growth to create the unique spot to enjoy wine.

Charlie Palmer has been honored by the James Beard Foundation twice, once as “Best Chef” in New York for his restaurant Aureole, and earned a multi year string of Michelin stars for restaurants in both New York and Las Vegas. He also cooked for June and I – ­ okay, and everyone else with a passport who visited Mauritson Wines. We loved the 2012 Sauvignon Blanc paired with brown sugar and bourbon cured salmon with arugula salad, pickled red onions, goat cheese & toasted hazelnuts; and the 2012 DCV Zinfandel with a Zinfandel braised wild board slider and Charlie’s bread and butter pickle.

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Truett Hurst: A glass of Zin Rose in hand, June and I walked down to the Adirondack chairs beside the burbling water, the wind in the trees, insects chirping, birds calling, a kiss shared; ­ truly a magical place. We also had the opportunity to talk with Paul Dolan, Mendocino biodynamic grape grower and partner at Truett Hurst.

Hog Island Oysters at Stephen & Walker with possibly my favorite wine of the weekend, a 2012 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir; Amphora’s ABCs, Aglianico, Barberra, and Chardonnay, and June’s favorite food of the weekend, a chocolate truffle; the lobster roll at Bella; and the weekend’s best music: Rovetti & Meatballs, a fiddle, drums, and guitar ­ blending bluegrass, zydeco, and country – American music; Seghesio’s Zin; Ridge’s Zin; Talty’s Zin; there is just too much that was great to mention.

The views, wide open valley, green on the hills, blue skies, baby grapes on young vines, trees and flowers; slowing down, taking it all in, the scents and sounds too, Passport to Dry Creek Valley is a time to recharge your batteries, get right after working and living in a box, and is a bargain at $120. This is my favorite wine event, any price, anywhere; attending and not working is great!

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…It was also the best of Passports.

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If you missed Passport to Dry Creek Valley, or if you attended but want another weekend to experience more soul cleansing magic, the great news is that the 23rd annual Spring Hopland Passport is this weekend. Seventeen Hopland area winery tasting rooms – a perfect number – will put their best foot forward, pouring all of their wines and offering food pairings for two days, Saturday, May 3 and Sunday, May 4, from 11 a.m. -5 p.m. each day.

If you order online today, Thursday, May 1 by noon, you can pick up a two day ticket to Hopland Passport for just $45 each. Visit http://www.DestinationHopland.com/store, and if the store closes then you can buy your passport at any participating winery tasting room during the event for $55.

I believe that Hopland Passport is the best wine weekend event value – well underpriced – in the industry. Participating wineries include Brutocao, Campovida, Cesar Toxqui, Frey, Graziano, Jaxon Keys, Jeriko, McFadden, McNab Ridge, Milano, Naughty Boy, Nelson, Ray’s Station, Rivino, Saracina, Seebass, and Terra Savia.

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The weather looks like it will be perfect, I hope to see you in Hopland this weekend. I’ll be at the place with the farm stand & tasting room, stop by and say “hi.”

 

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John On Wine – Celebration of Mendocino County Sparkling Wines

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal on February 27, 2014 by John Cesano

Destination Hopland, the non-profit group charged with promoting tourism for the Hopland area wineries, is sponsoring a new event on Saturday, April 5 and invited participation from sparkling wine producers from throughout Mendocino County. A “Celebration of Mendocino County Sparkling Wines” will be held from noon to 4 p.m. at Terra Savia, 14160 Mountain House Road, Hopland. Eleven local producers will come together at Terra Sávia winery in Hopland to showcase their finest offerings. Great and classic food pairing treats for sparkling wines will be served, like smoked salmon, local oysters, pate, canapés, fresh strawberries, artisan breads and, for dessert, delicious lavender infused sponge cake. Classical guitarist Joel DiMauro will be performing. Participating wineries include:

Graziano Family of Wines

Handley Cellars

McFadden Vineyard

Nelson Family Vineyards

Paul Dolan Vineyards

Rack & Riddle

Ray’s Station

Roederer Estate

Scharffenberger Cellars

Signal Ridge

Terra Savia

Tickets are $55 and available online at mendocinosparkling.brownpapertickets.com.

The folks at Wine Enthusiast magazine taste a lot of wine, well over 10,000 wines each year, I am sure. Last December they announced their Top 100 wines of 2013, and the #1 wine of the year was the 2004 Roederer Estate L’Ermitage. The 2014 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, with 5,825 wines entered, was the largest judging of American wines in the world. The only winery in the nation to win two Double Gold Medals (unanimous Gold from the judges) for sparkling wines was McFadden Vineyard for the NV McFadden Sparkling Brut and the 2009 McFadden Reserve Sparkling Brut.

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Bubbly in Mendocino County is spectacularly good, the quality high, while the prices are remarkably affordable. Far too many people open a bottle of sparkling wine only to celebrate a special event, when a good quality bubbly is an absolute delight when enjoyed as a before-dinner cocktail, or when paired with a host of foods from oysters to salmon bagels and poached eggs with caviar to chicken breasts in a citrus glaze.

Some sparkling wines that will be poured have notes of green apple and grapefruit, unapologetically crisp, while others will showcase a bready, yeasty, brioche character. Lemon, hazelnut, and toffee are notes you might taste in a sparkling wine, or rose petal and strawberry notes from a sparkling rosé.

Cuveé is a word that you will see on more than one label. Cuveé means blend, and a sparkling wine with a cuvee designation is likely a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes, with perhaps a small amount of Pinot Meunier.

You will also see NV on a bottle or three, and this is also a blend, but a blend of different vintages. NV means non-vintage. The folks who produce sparkling wines in Mendocino County scrupulously refer to our bubblies as sparkling wines and never Champagnes. Practically the same thing, but we respect that real Champagne comes from Champagne, France. That said, most of us understand and do not mind when our customers use the terms sparkling wine and Champagne interchangeably.

Here’s a thumbnail sketch into how sparkling wine is made: Grapes for sparkling wine are picked earlier than for still wine, at lower sugar, usually in August. Chardonnay is picked for a Blanc de Blanc, Pinot Noir is picked for a Blanc de Noir, and a blend of the two is often picked for a Brut or Brut Rosé. After crushing the grapes for juice, the wine is made in the bottle, rather than an oak barrel or stainless steel tank.

A little active yeast in the bottle feeds the sugar – this is fermentation and where the alcohol comes from. The fruit notes come from the grapes. The wine spends time with unspent yeast, and spent yeast, also known as lees and picks up some yeasty or bready notes.

By tilting the bottle toward a neck down position, and giving the bottle little turns, the yeast and lees collect at the neck end of the bottle. This process is known as racking and riddling. The neck end of the bottle is submerged in a below zero freeze bath so a solid plug of yeast and lees can be formed and removed.

A second fermentation happens when a small dose of sugar, or dosage, is added to the wine and the cork and cage are affixed to the bottle. A small amount of unspent yeast remains in the bottle and eats the dosage, resulting in carbon dioxide, the bubbles that make sparkling wines so fun. This is how good bubbly is made. I hope you’ll get a ticket to the inaugural Mendo Bubbly Fest; If you do, then I’ll definitely see you there. Cheers!

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John Cesano pouring one of two Double Gold Medal awarded McFadden Sparkling Brut wines.

 

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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 – Hopland Passport is October 19 & 20 this Fall

This piece originally ran in the Ukiah Daily Journal on October 10, 2013

Hopland Passport is coming up in just nine days, on Saturday, October 19th and Sunday, October 20th, 2013, from 11:00am to 5:00pm each day.

With fifteen participating wineries pouring their best wines, incredible food pairings at each stop, and opportunities to experience tours, art, and live music, Hopland is the place to be for wine lovers next weekend.

Weekend passes include a collectable logo glass, a wristband, and a real Passport to collect stamps in, and are just $45 online at http://www.DestinationHopland.com/store, or $55 at the event. The online store CLOSES on Thursday, October 17th at noon, so purchase your tickets early to get the discounted price.

Here is some of the fun you can expect if you attend:

Brutocao Cellars plans a football themed weekend with great tailgate food to pair with their award winning Estate wines. The Blues Pirates will perform a “half time” show. Do not miss the annual grape stomp competition!

Campovida will serve organic fare from their gardens, prepared by chef Adam Weiss from their sister property, Piazza de Campovida. Enjoy light bites with the wonderfully expanded line up of wines. Taking the time for a guided tour of the property’s gardens is a must do part of Passport.

Cesar Toxqui Cellars is all about food and wine pairings. Start on the porch with fruit infused cheeses paired with Chardonnay and Viognier, then move inside for BBQ tri tip and sausage with Zinfandels, before finishing your visit with a dessert of dark chocolate cake and Port.

Frey Vineyards pours their organic wines in the Real Goods Store at the Solar Living Center. On the menu, to pair with Frey’s no sulfite added wines, is curried chicken with fall chutney, a biodynamic cheese platter with fresh baguettes, marinated goat cheese, and roasted organic vegetables in a Frey Chardonnay marinade. Explore the grounds, celebrate sustainability, and catch local musicians performing.

Graziano Family of Wines offers up over thirty wines, mostly Italian varietals, and all but a few at under $20. Enjoy aged cheese, homemade tapenade, country pate, seasonal fruit, and an assortment of imported sausages, served with wines ranging from Anglianico to Zinfandel.

Jaxon Keys Winery & Distillery invites folks to sit on the covered veranda of their farmhouse tasting room and enjoy their wines with seasonal Mendo-sourced foods prepared by local chef Ellery Clark.

Jeriko Estate smartly offers up a classic pairing: pigs and Pinot. Enjoy three 2012 Pinot Noir wines; the Pommard clone, the Dijon clone, and a blend – the upper Russian River Pinot Noir, paired with wood roasted pork. Live music, tastes of the Gold Medal 2010 Sangiovese and barrel tastes of the 2012 Sangiovese, and San Greal Don 48 Chardonnay Vodka specialty cocktail recipe sharing round out a visit to this certified Biodynamic vineyard and cellar.

The McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room will show off the bounty of their bio-diverse, certified organic, family farm. Take a taste of any of over a dozen 90 point, or higher, rated wines and pair them with grilled organic grass fed beef from McFadden Farm. Enjoy the farm fresh goodness of their wild rice & artichoke heart salad. Guinness McFadden will visit both days and sign bottles of his wines as they are purchased..

McNab Ridge Winery will offer up a pirate themed Passport weekend, decked out in pirate garb, serving up Caribbean roasted pork tenderloin with a pineapple & apricot chutney over wild rice, paired with a gold medal winning dry Gewurztraminer. Over a dozen gormet dips & spreads, barrel tasting of a 2012 Pinot Noir, and bottle painting by Leslie Bartlomei are also on the menu, matey.

Milano Family Winery offers up smoked marinated Tri-Tip, veggies and dips, and aged Cabot Creamery cheeses, live music on both Saturday and Sunday, clothing and craft vendors, and a wide ranging line up of wines, from young sweet whites to aged dry reds.

Nelson Family Vineyards will pair their Estate wines with slices from Mendough’s Wood-Fired Pizza, including chevre and sun dried tomatoes, prosciutto and arugula, Gorgonzola and artickoke. Finish your tasting with their Ice Riesling.

Ray’s Station is pairing with Fork Catering again for some great taste combos; Korean Short Rib Sliders Creamy Slaw with Sriracha mayonnaise paired with 2011 Zinfandel; Grilled Cheese with Gruyère, caramelized onions and tomato jam paired with 2011 Ray’s Red Blend; Crispy Pork Skewers with cilantro, jalapeno and lime paired with 2011 Merlot; and Seven Layer Bars with coconut, butterscotch-chocolate chips, pecans and graham cracker crust paired with NV Brut.

Rivino Winery will be putting on a Canadian themed Passport this fall, with poutine paired with Chardon’eh. Music from the Barenaked Ladies, Neil Young, Bryan Adams and other Canadian artists will fill the air. Listen for owner’s Jason and Suzanne to lose their American accents as the weekend rolls on, slipping back into their Canadian accents.

Saracina will be hosting a squash party this year, featuring gourmet squash and pulled pork tacos to pair with some seriously delicious reds and whites. Live music will fill the air. Complimentary cave tours will be offered at 12:30, 2:30 and 4:00 p.m..

Terra Savia invites visitors to “laissez les bon temps roulez” – let the good times roll, with rich red, white, and bubbly wines paired with stuffed mushrooms and remoulade sauce, chicken and Andouille jambalaya, red beans and rice, couvillion – the fish stew, fried green tomatoes, and New Orleans bread pudding with rum sauce/lemon sauce. Beads, and music from Coffee Zombie Collective, will leave you feeling the joie de vivre – joy of life!

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John on Wine ­ – Power of the Press

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal on October 3, 2013 by John Cesano

 

“You know, I’ve been parking right there, in front of your shop, a couple of dozen times, to go across the street to eat, and I never even knew there were tasting rooms here,” Gabe said when I asked him what brought him in today, “but I read about you in the paper, and so here I am.”

I would love to tell you that something I wrote here in the Daily Journal brought Gabe in. In July, when I wrote about the McFadden Wine Club Dinner, I had folks come in and buy tickets. When I wrote about my neighbors at Naughty Boy, I had folks visit there. Not record revenue days, but a column can inspire a few folks to visit the subject of a piece I write.

Monday morning, I had three couples and several individuals come in to taste, because a very complimentary piece ran in the San Francisco Chronicle on Sunday. Carey Sweet reviews winery tasting rooms, has for more than five years, has over 100 under her belt and rarely – maybe half a dozen times at most – gives out three and a half stars. Most tasting rooms earn two to three stars, and are great. McFadden is the first tasting room to take three and a half stars in over a year.

Monday mornings are often slow, but not this Monday morning. Monday ended up being busier, before noon, than both of the last entire weekend days.

That is the power of a good, and well read, review. Thanks to Carey Sweet of the Chronicle.

Sweet wrote, “Before I leave, Cesano pulls out a Destination Hopland map and offers suggestions on other tasting rooms I might enjoy checking out, plus tips on what’s most interesting to sample at each. He marks his favorite restaurants nearby.”

While there was plenty of cool stuff written about me, and McFadden, I am incredibly pleased that it was noted that I recommended other winery tasting rooms to visit, and local places to eat.

I do not see other winery tasting rooms as competition. I see the opportunity to work cooperatively with all of my neighbors along Hwy 101, from Hopland up to Redwood Valley and beyond. The more time folks stay in the area, the more they experience, the better impression we can all make.

Sure, I could focus on McFadden only. There are some winery tasting rooms that do focus only on themselves. They aren’t much fun to visit.

I volunteered to work with Destination Hopland and then took over some marketing tasks, because I believe that the wineries in the area make great wines, but the word just wasn’t getting out widely enough.

Did you know that the wineries of Hwy 128 took 82 medals at the recent Mendocino County Wine Competition, while the inland Mendocino wineries along the 101 and upper Russian River corridor took 100 medals? Wine Spectator wouldn’t tell you, they largely ignore Hopland, Ukiah, and Redwood Valley and to read their magazine or online output, you would think that Mendocino County was comprised of just Anderson Valley and the coast.

Virginie Boone writes about wine for Wine Enthusiast magazine, and the Press Democrat. Boone visits all of Mendocino County, not just the Anderson Valley; she judges at our wine competitions, attends our events, visits our tasting rooms, tours our vineyards, and as a result has a broader, better educated palate than her counterparts at other publications.

Trying to get media to visit Hopland has been a challenge. Jen Felice of Visit Mendocino told me that all of the writers who look to visit Mendocino County want to visit only Anderson Valley and the coast.

With a three star review for Campovida and a three and a half star review for McFadden, Carey Sweet of the Chronicle is helping people find their way to Hopland. With wine recommendations for a number of the area’s wineries in Wine Enthusiast, Virginie Boone is bringing folks to come and visit, or buy our wines.

I wanted to bring attention to the wines and wineries, the too often unmentioned or ignored wineries of inland Mendocino. That is why, beyond working to help Destination Hopland promote our wines, I reach a little farther and write about vineyards and wineries up to Redwood and Potter Valleys and down to Comminsky Station Road, just off Hwy 101, near the border with Sonoma County. I am grateful to be able to invite readers here in The Ukiah Daily Journal to come and taste our wines on a near weekly basis.

I also wanted to take the time to thank the wine writers from larger publications who do visit and write, writers like Carey sweet and Virginie Boone. Thank you!

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Hopland Passport is coming up soon, on Oct. 19 & 20, 2013; I hope you can go. Next week, I’ll write about the participating wineries and what treats each will share with folks who buy a weekend passport.

This week, I’m giving away a free ticket to Hopland Passport.

Send me an email to JohnOnWine@gmail.com and tell me why I should give you a free ticket. I’ll pick a winner sometime tomorrow and post the winner’s name online at JohnOnWine.com at the end of the reposting of this column.

Good luck!

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.

When you have to eat your words, use a Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel to wash them down.

Recently, I wrote that while the Passport to Dry Creek Valley is the big daddy of wine events, Hopland Passport is the better value.

I’m a little jaded, I work for what I think is the best tasting room in Hopland; the wines we pour and the food we serve with them are unmatched in quality, so I allowed my pride for what we do half an hour north of Healdsburg with our wine and food at our event to color my writing.

I write about wine while running a tasting room; and in the past I used to sit on the board of, and then did marketing for, Destination Hopland – the folks who put on Hopland Passport. Perhaps, I was a touch biased in my piece for the local paper.

I received a media invite to Passport to Dry Creek Valley from Anne Alderette and Melissa McAvoy, two superstars of media outreach hired by the Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley (WDCV) to make magic happen.

Passport to Dry Creek Valley

Passport to Dry Creek Valley


I have shared my opinion, long held, that Hopland Passport is the better event value for some time now, and in email exchanges I included a past piece where I wrote as much along with several other wine event recap pieces when corresponding with Anne and Melissa before Passport to Dry Creek Valley.

On the last Saturday in April, I drove to Seghesio Family Vineyards in Healdsburg proper, and was allowed to check in a little early. I am glad that media check in was at Seghesio because the food and wine served up set the tone for much of what would follow.

Seghesio Gamberi e Fregola

Seghesio Gamberi e Fregola


Gambero e Fregola (the most deliciously fried shrimp ever, covered in a romesco, served on a bed of lemon zest cous cous), Penne Bolognese, and homemade Seghesio Italian Sausage were paired up with reds of wonderful body and flavor. With a terrific band laying down great electric jazz jams, I enjoyed one perfect Italian varietal wine after another, with my favorite two being the 2010 Sangiovese and the 2010 San Lorenzo Estate wines.

Next great stop: Amphora Winery, where my high school classmate Karen Mishler Torgrimson works. Amphora is one of over a half dozen wineries that operate in a winery complex just off of Dry Creek Road. Previously, I had focused on Amphora’s Zinfandel, after all, when in Rome and all of that. This time, I tasted Chardonnay to pair with both fresh shucked oysters and a tuna croquette. The oysters were delicious, and the tuna croquette tasted exactly like a good tuna melt tastes – which is a compliment because I love tuna melts on toast. The Chardonnay pushed the limits of tropicality (yeah, I make up words when they don’t but should exist), also a good thing. I also tasted a 2007 Amphora Cabernet Franc, Pedroni Vineyard that showed great fruit and body.

Amphora

Amphora

In the same complex of wineries as Amphora is Dashe. Mike Dashe buys grapes from my boss for his wines (and gets huge acclaim), so I always look in when I’m in the area. Dashe shares a tasting room with Collier Falls and it was actually Collier Falls that was on the passport for this tasting room, although all of the family wineries were pouring.

Collier Falls at Family Wineries

Collier Falls at Family Wineries


One of our wine club members, Jenny Candeleria, was greeting folks at Collier Falls and she pointed me to some wines to taste and made sure I got a plate of food. Lots of red and white country western check and hay bales, and the Steve Pile Band laying down bluesy country music. I enjoyed Estate Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel and a country cover I heard cowboy Bob Weir also cover countless times in concert. The food was simple hearty fare with a terrific sandwich of pulled bbq smoked meat and slaw and the chocolatiest chocolate brownie anywhere.

Truett Hurst. I do not know what caused me to stop in, but I am so glad I did. Preston has been my longtime favorite place to spend an afternoon in the dry creek Valley, with their great wines, arbor shaded picnic tables, and bocce courts. Before my visit to Truett Hurst was done, I had a new favorite Dry Creek Valley stop, or a tie between two favorites, one old, one new.

Me at Truett Hurst

Me at Truett Hurst


I was greeted at the door by a lovely schoolteacher from Ukiah, where I live, who works some weekends at the winery. Upon check in, she told me that after getting some wine, I needed to head out back for some food and then, if I could make the time for a short walk, I had to go sit in a chair beside the river. Best advice all weekend!

Herb gardens at Truett Hurst

Herb gardens at Truett Hurst

The tasting room building is comfortable, well laid out, features two tasting bars, upright refrigerators filled with yummy picnic provisions, and spectacular photographic art that let me know immediately: I was in a winery with biodynamic wines. The animal photos told of wines made from grapes grown in a biodiverse and organic manner, with a touch of ritualistic magic on the side.

The River at Truett Hurst

The River at Truett Hurst


The tasting room staff at Truett Hurst Winery confirmed that they had recently received their Demeter Biodynamic Certification, a many year process, and then listing the owner partners they surprised me: Paul Dolan, iconic Mendocino County grower, winemaker, and a past guest at our Wine Club Dinner, was one of the owners. I like Paul Dolan a ton, and was now, perhaps, predisposed to like Truett Hurst.

Okay, a quick review of biodynamic growing practices: start with organic growing; no synthetic pesticides, insecticides or fertilizers – No Monsanto RoundUp! Next, grow beneficial cover crops to fix nitrogen, attract beneficial insects, and possibly provide some food (fava beans do go great with a nice Chianti). Now bring in some happy animals; chickens to eat less than beneficial insects, sheep to mow the covercrops down, and of course the animals leave behind a natural and unmanipulated fertilizer for the grapevines. Okay, now comes the magic: take a cow horn, fill it with cow poo, and bury it by the light of the moon on one solstice. Near six months later, unbury the cow poo filled cow horn on the next solstice and place it in a barrel full of collected rainwater, or virgin tears, to steep, making a cow poo horn tea. Do not drink the tea, but instead use the liquid preparation to spray the vines. Seriously, you have to do this if you want Demeter Certification. I don’t know if the ritual magic has any real benefit, but I know that time spent in the vineyard with the grapevines is never bad, so while maybe not any better than simply growing organically with maybe some biodiversity in the mix, it isn’t a bad thing. Heck, maybe the magic does great things, I don’t know, but I do know the practice has passionate adherents, like Paul Dolan. Cesar Toxqui, another winemaker from my area is another true believer and he, like Paul, makes great juice.

Anyway, back to the juice. I tasted the 2011 Red Rooster Old Vine Zinfandel, a solid offering made even more solid when I stepped into the large back yard and found three delicious treats to pair it with served up by Peter Brown, the chef at the Jimtown Store: Pork Rillettes (think phenomenally flavorful pork pate), deliciously light slaw with lots of nice acid and herb, and possibly the weekend’s best bite, a mascarpone and pistachio stuffed date. The pourers were generous with pours, and I took a decent 4 oz of the 2011 White sheep Pinot Noir with me as I walked through flower and herb gardens, planted to attract beneficial insects but also offering up the most intensely pungent natural perfume, and on a short distance to where I found groupings of red Adirondack chairs arranged under tree shade on the bank of a calming babbling river – it looked more like a creek, but why quibble?

The peacefulness, sitting comfortably in a chair, glass of delicious Pinot Noir at hand, the lovely earthy dried cherry aromas and flavors, everything at Truett Hurst made me happy.

Who has the biggest balls in wine country? The folks at Malm Cellars, that’s who. Enormous cajones, I tell you. Words I thought I would never write: “and I poured out the Chateau d’Yquem,” but the folks at Malm had me writing it before I was done visiting them.

Malm Cellars

Malm Cellars


I had friends in the Dry Creek Valley, tasting wines, but had no idea where they were; my phone and mobile internet coverage were non-existent for most of the day throughout the valley. At one point, I headed back to Hwy 101, for a wi-fi connect, and in checking out #dcvpassport tweets, I got into an exchange with Lori Malm, no relation, about Malm Cellars, and decided to visit them.

Hardest to find winery of Passport to Dry Creek Valley may go to Malm Cellars. Like many of my favorite adult juice makers, Malm makes their wines in an industrial park. Down a dead end (W. North) street,  behind a row of buildings, I found them at last.

The food was flavorful, from butter drenched scampi shrimp to simple but perfectly executed bbq, and the wines were delicious from a 2012 Sauvignon Blanc through a 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, but if I had any criticism it would be that the food flavors were a bit intense, overpowering the wines a bit. I just took them separately, along with lots of water in between.

A major highlight of the entire Passport to Dry Creek Valley weekend event came when I tasted, side by side, a 2005 Chateau d’Yquem (rated 97 points by Wine enthusiast, 97 points by Wine Spectator, and 92 points by Robert Parker’s wine advocate) at $429 for a 375 ml half bottle up against a 2010 Malm Cellars Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc at $97 for a 375 ml half bottle.

At $429 for a half bottle, I do not taste a lot of Chateau d’Yquem, a late harvest, botrytis blessed Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc blend, usually 80%/20%. This was a terrific wine, as you would expect, but I liked the 2010 Malm Cellars Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc more. It wasn’t even close.

I will forever be impressed with Malm’s courage to compare themselves with the best, and prove they are better.

I will also be picking up a bottle to pair with foie gras, ordered in from outside the state, because a wine this good demands a pairing this great. Malm Cellars is located at 119 W. North Street near Moore Lane in Healdsburg.

I finished day one on Westside Road, near West Dry Creek Road, at DaVero Farms & Winery, but I would recommend starting there instead of finishing there. It was hot Saturday afternoon, and most of DaVero’s offerings were arrayed outdoors among the organic and Biodynamic fields, where shade was short.

Salmon at DaVero

Salmon at DaVero


A welcome bite of skewered salmon, with a very little farm olive oil, lemon, and salt, reminded me why I consider salmon a perfect food. Paired with Malvasia Bianca, a varietal I first fell in love with years ago when Bonny Doon’s Randall Grahm was introducing many of America’s wine lovers to it, I was pretty happy. The DaVero Sagrantino, a rose berry Italian red varietal, went great with bites of grilled lamb and rustic pizza slices.

One of the things that impressed me about Passport to Dry Creek Valley was that each of the participating wineries had a 5 gallon thermos cooler for water, each with a matching “hydration station” sign. I took advantage of the offered water at every stop, consuming far more water than the amount of wine I tasted. Kudos to the folks at WDCV for the thoughtful and caring touch. Hey, Destination Hopland, I’m looking at you, follow suit, okay?

Meyer Lemonade at DaVero

Meyer Lemonade at DaVero


DaVero went one step further. In addition to the hydration station water, DaVero provided Meyer lemonade. Thank you, thank you, thank you. In the heat of the afternoon, this was a most appreciated touch. You are the bomb!

Day two, I was joined by my good friend Serena Alexi. Serena has joined me for other tastings, and has helped me by making sure I get the good picture, or taste the yummy wine, or pick up my notebook when I leave. That, and she knows more folks in Sonoma County’s wine industry than I do these days.

Serena Alexi at Passport to Dry Creek Valley

Serena Alexi at Passport to Dry Creek Valley


Our first great stop was Ridge Vineyards. Everything, as expected, tasted great, but my favorite was the 2011 Zinfandel, made from Benito Dusi’s grapes in Paso Robles. Paired with the Sonoma duck mole and corn spoon bread prepared by feast catering, this was a great start to our day.

Under the shade at Ridge

Under the shade at Ridge


Kachina Vineyards is off Dry Creek Road about as far as any winery has ever been off any road. It is way the hell back off the road, a decent drive. The location is worth the travel. Remote, quiet, and bucolic, Kachina welcomed guests with a quiet and relaxed greeting…and homemade corn nuts. Kachina is off the grid, relying on solar energy to power their endeavors. The sun was out and Serena and I found a couple of comfortable wooden chairs at a table in the shade and set up base camp, leaving only to try a new wine and quickly return to the comfort of our camp.

A paper bowl of yum at Kachina

A paper bowl of yum at Kachina


I found myself favoring a Sangiovese Rose at Kachina, and a terrific simple rustic grilled meat, onion, potato and tomato dish.

Back to the road, we made our way next to Unti Vineyards. I think Unti Vineyards was the favorite stop on day two for both Serena and me. 

Everything Unti did at Passport, and they did a lot, worked effortlessly. Okay, that isn’t fair, there was obviously a lot of work that went into everything, but it was presented so well as to seem effortless.

Oysters at Unti, fresh from Tomales Bay

Oysters at Unti, fresh from Tomales Bay


The wines, from a 2012 Rose, through Grenache, Segromigno, Montepulciano, and Zinfandel were all excellent. The food, from the best guacamole ever (www.poormansbutter.com) and the tastiest oysters from the famed Tomales Bay Oyster girls (you’ve got to try the sassy pink horseradish sauce) outdoors, to the indoor food: truffled duck liver terrina with grilled bread and truffled salt, meatballs “dabe glace” with roasted red pepper salad, and eggplant caponata bruschetta, was varied and uniformly outstanding. The music, when we were visiting, was provided by the local high school’s jazz combo, and they were great.

Proof for the existence of a loving God: Truffled Duck Liver at Unti

Proof for the existence of a loving God: Truffled Duck Liver at Unti

The reds at Unti Vineyards were excellent, but Sunday was a scorcher, hotter than Saturday, which made me really appreciate the 2012 Rose, a Grenache/Mourvedre blend, so juicy crushed berry over ice yummy, and the 2012 Cuvee Blanc, a blend of Vermiento, Grenache Blanc, and Picpoul, that paired perfectly with the oysters.

Because, I was so impressed with Truett Hurst the day before, I returned to share my find with Serena. We have often visited Preston before, and she could see easily why I loved this spot as much. Serena also liked the wines, the herb and flower gardens, the food from Jimtown store, and the comfy chairs by the river.

The final stop for this year’s Passport to Dry Creek Valley was at Michel-Schlumberger. I decided to visit, finally, because the winery fields two teams that I golf against each year in a wine country invitational tournament at the nearby Windsor Golf Course each year, and because they put up fellow wine blogger Hardy Wallace as he transitioned from a Really Goode Job to a great one.

The courtyard at Michel-Schlumberger

The courtyard at Michel-Schlumberger

What a lovely spot, again a bit of a drive off a main road, off West Dry Creek and up Wine Country Road, Michel-Schlumberger offered up a gorgeous courtyard, shaded places to sit and enjoy their wines and food offerings, and a very skilled Spanish flamenco styled guitarist.

I had a delightful Pinot Blanc paired with a cucumber and grape gazpacho, served in the cool cellar, that made me glad we were finishing our weekend at Michel-Schlumberger, a perfect last taste on a hot day.

I wrote, perhaps foolishly that, at $45, Hopland Passport was a better value than the $120 Passport to Dry Creek Valley. I visited the same number of wineries that participate at Hopland Passport, 17, and wrote up the 9 I loved when visiting Dry Creek Valley. I expect the experiences would be the same at either event, visit 8-9 each day, and absolutely love a little over half.

That said, next year, I could visit a completely different 17 wineries at Dry Creek Valley, and a completely different 17 the year after. With a greater number of tickets sold, and at the higher price, participating wineries can spend more and offer more, knowing they will see substantial reimbursement checks. Every Dry Creek Valley winery treats folks like McFadden does in Hopland -or better, with the crazy large reimbursement money to do it. The signage, the hydration station water coolers, comfort stations, spectacular food, live music, the appreciation of marketing, the emphasis on quality media outreach; we in Hopland could learn a lot more from our friends to the south.

Passport to Dry Creek Valley rocked my socks off, and is the undisputed heavyweight wine weekend event champion of the world. The preceding words were washed down with a glass of 2010 Seghesio Cortina Zinfandel from a bottle I bought shortly after checking in.

The folks in Sonoma County’s Dry Creek Valley asked me to let you know that limited ticket sales will begin this Friday, February 1, 2013 at 10:00 a.m. for Passport to Dry Creek Valley.

PassportLogo2012Ivory-K

The 24th Annual Passport to Dry Creek Valley will run Saturday & Sunday, April 27 & 28 at the 50+ wineries directly west and northwest of Healdsburg, roughly an hour north of San Francisco on Hwy 101.

Tickets are $120 each for a Two-Day Passport or $70 each for Sunday only and can be purchased at www.wdcv.com.

Here’s what the Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley website says:

“Passport to Dry Creek Valley was introduced in 1990, by the Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley, as a time every year when the winegrowing community could come together to celebrate the generations of farmers, vintners and families that are the roots of the Dry Creek Valley wine region. Over the 24 years since, the event has become a beloved tradition among wine lovers who enjoy a world-class tasting experience with a festive twist, all within the idyllic Dry Creek Valley.

Over one weekend, Passport guests are welcomed into 50+ wineries throughout Dry Creek Valley, each offering a unique pairing of premium wine, gourmet food and entertainment. Take a vineyard tour for a grape-to-glass look at Dry Creek Valley wine. Sample exclusive vintages, rarely available to taste. Meet winemakers and grapegrowers – the generations of people behind the wine and magical ‘Dry Creek Valley spirit’. Savor exquisite food and wine pairings from acclaimed chefs.  Delight in discovering each winery’s unique Passport “theme,” a tradition of the event. The possibilities are as varied as the wineries themselves and promise a fun, unforgettable weekend. Enjoy!”

Here’s my take: The event rocks. Any Passport event does. The opportunity to pay one price and then visit and taste wines at several winery tasting rooms with special food pairings created to make the wines taste even better – well, you’ve got to love that. Many of the winery stops have live entertainment and offer up a theme experience.

I grew up in Sonoma County. I crushed Dry Creek Valley grapes for family wine when I was twelve. I worked a Dry Creek vineyard as a teen. Some of my favorite wineries are in the Dry Creek Valley. A friend from high school, Karen, works at Amphora Winery (who is serving up Cioppino on Saturday, February 16) in Dry Creek Valley.

I’m now a Mendocino County guy, a Hopland guy, a McFadden Farm guy. We have our own Passport; Hopland Passport is the weekend following Passport to Dry Creek Valley, May 4 & 5, 2013. Hopland Passport is only $45 for a two day ticket, or $55 if you procrastinate. Hopland Passport has 16 or 17 participants, which is the perfect number of winery tasting rooms to visit without rushing or courting gross inebriation – there is no Earthly way to visit all of the Dry Creek Valley participants enjoyably. Hopland Passport is by far the better value for a nearly identical experience. In fairness, Hopland Passport owes much of its’ success to being modeled on the brilliantly spectacular Passport to Dry Creek Valley event.

Okay, duty to where I live done, here’s a dose of reality: Passport to Dry Creek Valley is an event that sells out quickly every year. People in San Francisco and the bay area are willing and able to drive an hour north of the Golden Gate to attend Passport to Dry Creek Valley. There are numerous lodging and dining options available in and around Healdsburg. By picking 6-10 wineries to visit each day and taking the time to fully experience the offerings at each stop, wine tasting (not drinking, but tasting please – buy and drink later), listening and dancing to great music, enjoying tours and special presentations, and partaking of outrageously delicious food at each stop, you will have an absolutely great time and enjoy one of the best wine country experiences available at any price. I love this event, you will too.

This is the hottest ticket in wine country. Tickets go on sale Friday at 10:00 a.m. and if you want a ticket then you should get it early.

You are also free to delay until they are sold out; I honestly hope they sell out faster than ever! For everyone that ignores my message about getting your tickets early and misses out, we would love to see you the following weekend, up the road just another half hour, in Hopland for our Passport event.

The 21st annual fall Hopland Passport wine weekend, on Saturday, October 20 and Sunday, October 21, from 11:00 am until 5:00 pm each day, offers something for everybody, whether a first time wine event goer or a veteran of many Hopland Passport wine weekends.

Hopland Passport tickets are available online through noon on Thursday, October 18 at just $45 each. Tickets are available at any of the participating winery tasting rooms during the weekend for $55 each. Recommendation: don’t procrastinate, save $10 per ticket, go online and buy them early.

To fully and safely enjoy your Hopland Passport experience, with roughly 150 wines being poured by the sixteen Hopland Passport wineries, it is a great idea to use both full days for tasting. Enjoy the food offered by each tasting room. Listen to music, take tours, absorb the information that pourers give you. After nosing and tasting a wine, use the dump buckets provided to empty your glass of wine left from tasting, and take notes of your favorite wines so you can purchase those wines during the weekend’s sale prices. You will have a much better time trying to taste dozens of wines than trying to drink dozens of wines. Many wineries offer larger discounts to wine club members, so if you enjoy several wines poured at one tasting room, consider joining their wine club and enjoying bigger savings both during Hopland Passport and beyond.

New attendees will find a remarkably enjoyable opportunity to enjoy wine tasting at sixteen participating Hopland area tasting rooms, along with terrific food pairings chosen to highlight the flavors of the wines being poured, with each tasting room putting a unique spin on the weekend’s festivities with vineyard and garden tours, fun themed events, live music, contests, and special event specific discounts. Quite simply, Hopland Passport is the best wine tasting event value anywhere.

Veteran attendees will find many of their favorite winery tasting rooms doing what they do best, but will also find two brand new Hopland Passport tasting rooms to visit this time around.

Rivino Winery is one of the two newcomers pouring this fall. Closer to Ukiah than Hopland, off Hwy 101 on Cox Schrader Road, Rivino is no stranger to events, having hosted a long running and  well-attended weekly Friday Happy Hour wine and music gathering. Enjoy a Caddyshack themed Hopland Passport weekend in Rivino’s vineyard with live music by Nahara Ange and food inspired by the classic golf comedy. Be sure to taste the gold medal winning estate wines Rivino will be pouring.

New Kids on the Block, RIVINO will be doing it up right out of the blocks

New Kids on the Block, RIVINO will be doing it up right out of the blocks

The other new addition to the lineup of Hopland Passport winery tasting rooms is Naughty Boy Vineyards. Naughty Boy Vineyards pours from a new shop, WAA WAA, in downtown Hopland’s Vintage Marketplace building.  WAA WAA is short for Wine, Art, and Antiques x 2, as delightful collectible affordable vintage goods and inspired artwork share a retail location with wine made from grapes grown by Potter Valley’s Naughty Boy Vineyards.

Naughty Boy Vineyards at WAA WAA in Hopland's Vintage Marketplace

Naughty Boy Vineyards at WAA WAA in Hopland’s Vintage Marketplace

Naughty Boy will bring live music by Redbud to Hopland’s Vintage Marketplace, and will offer homemade Scottish Lox and other Hors d’Ouerves created to pair perfectly their wines. In addition to wine sales, antiques will be on sale at 30 percent off.

Sharing the Vintage Marketplace building in Hopland are three more winery tasting rooms, the McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room, Graziano Family of Wines, and Weibel Family Vineyards & Winery.

Vintage Marketplace, home to Naughty Boy, McFadden, Graziano, and Weibel

Vintage Marketplace, home to Naughty Boy, McFadden, Graziano, and Weibel

McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room, which I manage, will feature all the best from our own certified organic and biodiverse farm.  We’ll  grill up steaks from McFadden Farm’s own organic grass fed beef, seasoned with McFadden Farm organic herbs and herb blends, and a McFadden Farm wild rice salad, and offering the ingredients for sale so visitors can recreate the Passport offerings is what Guinness McFadden has been doing for years. This fall, there will be a big pot of farm fresh beans to go with all of the other great farm food.

In the back yard at McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room

In the back yard at McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room

Enjoy big discounts on everything in the Farm Stand & Tasting Room, with Guinness McFadden signing bottles of his award winning wines as they are purchased, including his double gold medal winning Sparkling Brut.

Graziano Family of Wines offers over thirty delicious reds, whites, roses and blends for you to enjoy, from Aglianico to Zinfandel, many at special Passport sale prices. Graziano will offer up imported meats and cheeses, homemade tapenade, and estate-grown olive oils to pair with their wines being poured.

Inside the Graziano tasting room

Inside the Graziano tasting room

Weibel welcomes back Fork Catering for a delectable array of appetizers including Grilled Tomatillo Cilantro Chicken Tacos, Heirloom Tomato Bruschetta, and Mini Grilled Cheese sandwiches with local artisan cheeses. Weibel will feature both their popular fruit and nut infused bubblies, as well as their handcrafted wines made from Redwood Valley grapes.

Yummy treats at Weibel

Yummy treats at Weibel

Three more winery tasting rooms are located in downtown Hopland, Cesar Toxqui Cellars, McNab Ridge Winery, and Brutocao Cellars.

Cesar Toxqui Cellars will be greeting guests on the porch with fruit infused cheeses and a wonderfully brisk new Chardonnay release. Once inside, you’ll enjoy delicious chicken curry, southern fried fish, homemade ceviche, and fried rice, and a new release 2007 Immigrant Zinfandel.

Cesar Toxqui Cellars tasting room

Cesar Toxqui Cellars tasting room

There will be barrel tasting at McNab Ranch Winery, with the opportunity to buy futures of their 2010 Cononiah Zinfandel. Be sure to try spicy Asian peanut pasta salad paired with McNab’s French Colombard. Traditional favorites, the spreads/dips and bottle painting by local artist Leslie Bartolomei, will return.

A little something to enjoy with McNab Zin barrel samples

A little something to enjoy with McNab Zin barrel samples

Brutocao promises a Wine Zombie Apocalypse: “serving some finger lickin’ good treats paired with award winning Estate Wines. Go out on a limb and be the best dressed zombie and win a prize. It will be a horrific good time with grape stomps, bocce ball and un-dead music by “Third Party”.  Wines to die for!”

Bocce at Brutocao

Bocce at Brutocao

Just west of downtown Hopland, on Mountain House Road, you’ll find both Rack & Riddle and Terra Sávia.

Rack & Riddle is a custom sparkling wine house. Many of the area’s best bubblies are made at Rack & Riddle, including double gold medal winners for both McFadden and Terra Savia. Rack & Riddle also produces both sparkling and still wines of their own – all delicious. Enjoy them with Rack & Riddle’s lime & shrimp ceviche, warm tri-tip sliders, chips & guacamole.

It's not a real wine event without a working tractor - at Rack & Riddle

It’s not a real wine event without a working tractor – at Rack & Riddle

Terra Sávia offers not just delicious wines and a terrific bubbly rouge, but fantastic olive oil. A tasting of Olivino’s quality olive oils will likely make you regret a lifetime’s use of a previously favored store brand. Always a great stop, enjoy wine, food, art, music, and olive oil.

Relax at Terra Savia, a lovely Passport stop

Relax at Terra Savia, a lovely Passport stop

Just south of downtown Hopland is Milano Family Winery. Enjoy Milano’s scrumptious smoked & marinated Tri-Tip, an abundance of fresh veggies and dips, as well as delicious, aged to perfection Cabot Creamery Cheeses. On Saturday, “Headband” will play rock & roll, blues, jazz.  On Sunday, “Frankie J” will play. Don’t miss the clothing & craft vendors that always set up at Milano during Hopland Passport.

Milano is a great stop with wine, food, crafts, and music, a festival within a festival

Milano is a great stop with wine, food, crafts, and music, a festival within a festival

East of downtown Hopland, on Old River Road, you’ll find Campovida. No Hopland Passport wine weekend is complete without a tour of Campovida’s gardens, led by master gardener Ken Boek. Campovida is another amazing, only in Hopland, blend of wine, food, art, music, and heartfelt hospitality.

Take a taste of Campovida's wines from their tasting room into their gardens

Take a taste of Campovida’s wines from their tasting room into their gardens

North of downtown Hopland, heading back toward Rivino on Hwy 101, Hopland Passport stops include Jeriko Estate, Saracina, Jaxon Keys, and Nelson Family Vineyards.

Jeriko Estate features biodynamically grown hand crafted Pinot Noir, and often serves up pork –  which goes great with Pinot.

Jeriko will be pouring Pinot, perhaps paired with pork

Jeriko will be pouring Pinot, perhaps paired with pork

Saracina is deservedly famous for the Rhone varietal wines and Rhone inspired twists that winemaker Alex MacGregor brings to Saracina. Try a Chardonnay with a touch of Viognier, enjoy a Rhone red blend, tour real wine caves, enjoy the peaceful setting designed to make you relaxed and more open to all that the wines, food pairings, and music are trying to convey.

Saracina is a series of paintings just waiting to happen, absolutely beautiful

Saracina is a series of paintings just waiting to happen, absolutely beautiful

Jaxon Keys Winery & Distillery offers a prohibition era themed weekend, “our Speakeasy will be open for business, serving bootleg wine to all who dare break the law of Prohibition. We will have barrels of wine, gallons of contraband brandy and vodka all for the asking. No G-Men to worry about! We’ve paid them to look the other way for the weekend. Live music on the deck, awesome food prepared by Taste of Perfection Catering, and all our wines flowing freely, experience the Prohibition era for yourself!”

Just Kicking it at Jaxon Keys

Just Kicking it at Jaxon Keys

Exactly half way between Hopland and Ukiah, Nelson Family Vineyards invites crowd pleaser Mendough’s Wood-Fired Pizza back.  Enjoy Nelson’s estate wines, paired with delicious pizzas made with fresh and local ingredients including chevre and sun dried tomatoes, prosciutto and arugula, Gorgonzola and artichoke all atop the most incredible crust you’ve ever had. Nelson’s Ice Riesling is a perfect way to end your visit to Nelson, and your Hopland Passport wine weekend.

Pizza and wine in the grove at Nelson

Pizza and wine in the grove at Nelson

Coming to Hopland too late to officially participate in the fall Hopland Passport, Frey from Redwood Valley will be having a Grand Opening of their new tasting room in the Real Goods store at the Solar Living Institute in Hopland. This 17th Hopland tasting room may not be in the passport, but they will be offering up delicious food pairings to go with their sulfite free, vegan, wines.

Frey will be opening their new tasting room during Passport in Hopland

Frey will be opening their new tasting room during Passport in Hopland

In addition to Piazza de Campovida which opened in time for last spring’s Hopland Passport, this fall’s event will see the new Hopland Ale House opening; both spots will offer beer and food for sale during and after Passport hours. An 18th tasting room, SIP! Mendocino, will be open for tastings of Mendocino County wines from outside the area as well.

For more information, or to purchase tickets, please visit www.DestinationHopland.com

Okay, if you’ve read this far, and I expect that few will, here’s your reward. If you simply leave a comment about any one of the wineries that will participate at this year’s fall Hopland Passport between now and noon on Friday, October 12, you will be entered into a random drawing for two tickets ($110 value) for Hopland Passport. If you want to double your drawing entries from one to two, make the comment about the tasting room I manage. I’ll add an announcement of the winner here, to this post and on the facebook page of Hopland Passport on or before Monday, October 15, 2012. Good luck!

Photo credits: If the photo looks great, it came from Diane Davis Photography. If the photo is okay, I yoinked from the winery’s website. If the photo is meh, then I took it.

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