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John On Wine ­ – Crab, wine & more

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on January 23, 2014 by John Cesano

 

This week, I look back at last weekend, reflect a bit, and look ahead to more events this week.

On Saturday night, I went to Patrona in Ukiah for a winemaker dinner boasting a very crab-centric menu, because the Mendocino County Crab, Wine & Beer Fest is going on. The meal also featured the sparkling and still wines of Roederer Estate winemaker Arnaud Weyrich from nearby Anderson Valley. I was thrilled to use the event as a reconnecting date, the first in over 20 years, with a dear friend, June Batz, who will likely be accompanying me to more wine events in the future.

Arnaud visited each table, welcomed guests to the event, and shared some information about the winery, and the night’s wines. Showing far more humility than I would have, he refrained from noting that one of the night’s wines, the Roederer L’Ermitage was named the #1 wine of 2013 by Wine Enthusiast magazine.

Some of the folks attending included Lorie Pacini and Allen Cherry, who are two of the biggest supporters of Mendocino County wines I know, Gracia Brown from Barra and Girasole along with her husband Joseph Love, and Christina Jones, owner/chef of Aquarelle restaurant in Boonville – who is doing her own winemaker dinner tonight, Jan. 23 at 6:30 p.m. with wines from Handley Cellars.

The three bubblies, Roederer Estate Brut, the L’Ermitage, and a Brut Rose, were everything you would hope and expect, simply perfect when paired with crab egg rolls, crab stuffed chicken, and an orange marmalade crepe with whipped cream respectively.

The two surprises of the evening were a pair of still wines, the 2012 Carpe Diem Chardonnay, barrel and tank fermented, with a majority of used oak, yielding a gorgeously balanced wine that paired beautifully with butter poached crab and avocado, and the 2011 Carpe Diem Pinot Noir, a delightfully characterful wine that went well with pork belly.

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Overheard at Barrel Tasting 101 last weekend: “Why is this Chardonnay cloudy? I think it is corked.”

Whoa there; a wine that is still in barrel, a wine not ready for bottling yet, a wine that has never seen a cork, can’t be “corked.”

Often time, Chardonnay in barrel is held “sur lies” or with the spent yeast of fermentation to provide the wine with a little weightiness or richer mouth feel. Barrel samples of these wines will be cloudy. Similarly, red wine barrel samples are colored, but often not clear. I will write more in advance of the next barrel tasting event I point to.

The most important thing to know about barrel tasting is that wines tasted from barrel are not finished wines, some do not taste particularly good, but will eventually yield delicious bottled wines. Barrel tasting provides clues, hints, at what you might expect from future wines. Some wineries offer cases sales on wines tasted from barrels, wines that are not released yet, but will be released in the future, and these offerings and sales are known as “futures.”

Tasting room folks that I talked to reported an interesting mix of folks attending the event; some who knew what a barrel tasting was about, other folks who were open to learn, and still other folks who were interested in consuming as much wine and crab as they could for $10.

June and I visited Maria and Rusty at Testa Vineyards in Calpella on Sunday, and it was great to see the crew working, pouring wines, serving up tasty treats.

Rusty pulled samples from the barrels in the cellar; I enjoyed the barrel samples I tasted, and thought the Petite Sirah would be great held separate instead of used up in blending. Charbono, Carignane – all my old favorites – tasted great from the barrel. Rusty is usually busy manning the grill, barbecuing chicken or oysters for an event, when I see him, so it was a treat to hear him talk about the wines and wine making.

Back upstairs and outdoors, we enjoyed tastes of current release bottled wines with Maria, paired with mighty delicious crab spread atop a slice of toasted French bread. Well, yum.

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The folks at Ole Smoky Tennessee Moonshine contacted me and asked me if I would be interested in writing about their Blackberry Shine and Champagne cocktail, the MoonMosa. I’ve written about spirits when I visited with Crispin Cain and the folks from Germain Robin in Redwood Valley, and I work for a place with two Double Gold sparkling brut wines, so, sure, why not?

I received a mason jar of Ole Smoky Blackberry Moonshine. The packaging is fantastic.

Gary Krimont, a friend and wine industry socialite, helped me evaluate this unique beverage.

First, Moonshine might be pushing it. While the folks at Ole Smoky do produce a few products at 100 proof, the Blackberry Moonshine is just 40 proof, or 20 percent alcohol.

Honestly, the lower alcohol is a good thing, as it made this an easily enjoyed, flavorful sipper. The aroma is pure blackberry pancake syrup, but the flavor is more complex and layered. We mixed equal parts Shine and Brut, and both Gary and I felt that the cocktail was less than the sum of its parts. If you see one on a retail shelf, pick up a jar, and enjoy Ole Smoky Blackberry Moonshine by itself, it is light enough to drink uncut, and too delicious to dilute.

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Saturday is my birthday, and I will be attending ZAP, the Zinfandel Advocates and Producers Zinfandel Experience event at the Presidio in San Francisco. Sessions include a Sensory Tasting, a Terroir Tasting, and a Reserve & Barrel Tasting. Two Mendocino County wineries participating are McNab Ridge Winery in Hopland and Edmeades Estate Winery in Philo, and I look forward to tasting their Zinfandel, plus the Zinfandel wines made by many friends outside the county as well.

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Crab Fest continues this weekend, with the big events moving to the coast.

The Crab Cake Cook-Off & Wine Tasting Competition will take place this Saturday, Jan. 25 from noon to 3 p.m. under the big white tent at the corner of Main and Spruce in Ft. Bragg.

There is an all you can eat crab dinner, with wine, from 6 to 9 p.m., that Saturday night at Barra in Redwood Valley.

A host of winery tasting rooms along Highway 101 inland, and Highway 128 on the way to the coast, will be offering up crab taste pairings with their wines this last weekend of the Crab Fest, so get out and enjoy the bounty of our county.

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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

Right up front, let me be clear, I am writing about my experiences with the winery I work for. Conflict of interest? None. I’m not selling you anything, and waited until a big event is over, too late for you to buy a ticket and attend, before I started writing about it here. That said, I write about what I know, what I’m doing, what I’ve done, and as the tasting room and wine club manager for the McFadden Vineyard tasting room in Hopland, having just finished working our Annual McFadden Wine Club Appreciation BBQ Dinner up at the 500 acre McFadden Farm in Potter Valley, that’s what you’re going to be reading about.

First and foremost, before there were wines from McFadden Vineyard, there were grapes from McFadden Farm.

Back when Guinness McFadden started his McFadden Farm in 1970, organic farming had a different name: farming. While many Mendocino County vineyards have copied his trailblazing success, it is the quality of the grapes, grown organically for over 40 years, that puts McFadden ahead of other growers. Having experimented, McFadden has established blocks, separate growing environments for different grapes in the vineyards on his McFadden Farm. Head pruned and trellised, irrigated and dry farmed, planted next to the Russian River and on rocky hillside slopes, the grapes of McFadden Farm are not grown one way, factory farmed, but are thoughtful expressions of Terroir, the marriage of grape to place, grown for desired varietal correctness.

Harvesting 750 tons of grapes from the 160 vineyard acres at the heart of his 500-acre farm, McFadden Farm grapes have gone into wines made by Chateau Montelena Winery, Dashe Cellars, Robert Mondavi, Sterling, Horse & Plow, Fetzer, Navarro, Beringer, and more; often receiving vineyard designation on the wine label.

McFadden Farm is also the source of an extensive line of organic herbs and herb blends, carried in the best health, flavor, or quality conscious food stores, organic garlic braids and swags, and organic culinary quality decorative bay leaf wreaths, sold by William Sonoma at the holidays, as well as organic grass fed beef sold in a local healthy food store.

In 2003, Guinness McFadden bottled his first wines made from his own grapes. I suppose seeing others enjoy winning medals, critical acclaim, and a legion of fans for wines made with his grapes, caused him to feel the bite of the winemaking bug.

In 2008, McFadden hired Sherrilyn Goates to help him open a tasting room in Hopland, on Highway 101, between Santa Rosa and Ukiah, in Mendocino County. McFadden, with help from Goates, got the tasting room up and running, developed a wine club, established a model for how to run our events from Passport Weekends to Wine Club Dinners, basically got the wheel rolling well.

After three years, Goates had met every challenge and moved on to new ones with Ferrari Carano at Seasons in Healdsburg. I am sure she will be a spectacular success there, while we improve on the successes she helped create at McFadden.

I joined McFadden in late March of this year. At first, I was putting in nearly 60 hour weeks as I sought to get a handle on my responsibilities, before managing to attain confidence in my own grasp,  and before I brought in a terrific team to help me on my days off.

I have been thrown into the deep end of the pool before. As an Infantryman in the most forward deployed Infantry battalion in the US Army, I was tasked to fill in as the Intel Analyst without having been to Military Intelligence school, just as our battalion was about to take on the mission of ambush and reconnaissance patrols. No pressure there, it is always good to have a learn-as-you-go experience with life and death consequences for others to focus your attention. Having two days and two hours training before taking over a tasting room and wine club may not be the optimal transition but nothing insurmountable.

I really didn’t plan to make any changes in the tasting room. I don’t believe in reinventing the wheel. I also am blessed to know I don’t know everything, and listen to my staff, so there I was, surprised to find myself, within two weeks, making my first merchandising change, a change that tripled that category’s revenue.

I’ve added two new items, experiencing 70% and 55% sell through on both within the first month of bringing them in. In a year other wineries reported a revenue decrease during Spring Hopland Passport, we had a better than 25% revenue increase, entirely owing to a new sales and marketing initiative previously unexplored. I have doubled the number of people we communicate with each month through our newsletters, and grown our wine club 19% in my first three months with the winery.

First let me state the obvious: success doesn’t happen in a vacuum. I am fortunate to work with (alphabetically) Ann Beauchamp, Eugene Gonsalves, and Gary Krimont. I am even more blessed to work for a boss I genuinely like, Guinness McFadden.

We are by no means finished with change, or growth. I have proposed, and received approval for, a major merchandising change, a way to better present and display all of the goods we have, and will bring into the tasting room. It will take some time, and some money, but hopefully in the next couple of months, the next big presentation improvement will take place.

My next door neighbor, Bobby Meadows, has run the Graziano tasting room for the last 8 years, and described the last three months, my first three months as McFadden’s manager, as the slowest in his entire experience.

In spite of some successes, improvements, good numbers I can point to proudly, I am operating in a larger environment of economic difficulty, where fewer people are traveling to Mendocino County, and those that do are spending less money while here. Our total numbers are down for the year, and I work every day to try to turn that around. Neighboring wineries with years of social media marketing have far fewer contacts than we do with just our few scant months of engagement. With the support of my boss, I will be joining the Board of Directors of Destination Hopland this week. I don’t know how to get Hopland businesses to make the town prettier with more flowers, or pedestrian friendly with more sidewalks, but I do know how to get some more people to come to our Hopland Passport weekends, how to get some additional press before and after, and hope that might translate, in time, to more visitors throughout the year. I hope I am allowed to focus on marketing initiatives.

Speaking of marketing, that was almost my entire contribution to last weekend’s Annual Wine Club Appreciation BBQ Dinner. In the past, my predecessor knocked herself out, maybe taking on too much.

This year, I got the word out over the Internet, took to the phones, set up and took a remarkable number of online orders. Guinness McFadden personally invited everyone he knew, his daughter Anne Fontaine McFadden set up a Facebook event page, invited all of her friends, and led a team of professional cooks. Farm employees, friends, and family set up tables, place settings, and serving stations. My tasting crew handled check in as event attendees arrived.  With the work load shared, each doing what they are best at, everyone was able to enjoy themselves more greatly.

Local BBQ Pork and Lamb, just yum. Great veggie dishes, including one which Anne Fontaine shared in our last newsletter and made an extra bowl of for Second Saturday visitors in Hopland, a recurring monthly wine and food event at various Hopland tasting rooms, was organic McFadden Farm Wild Rice with snap peas, green beans, and toasted pecans, in a pesto made from pistachios, orange zest, orange juice and olive oil. Just fantastic, with everyone declaring this year’s dinner the best ever.

One attendee from the past said it seemed smaller, but in reality we had bigger numbers than the last two years combined. We “officially” cut off sales the Wednesday before, but allowed for greater success, selling right on through the day of the event, bringing in enough extra tables and place settings, making enough extra food, for even more people. What seemed smaller was really bigger but more comfortable, taking more room but less crowded. The result was an endless stream of some incredibly kind compliments and comments from this year’s guests:

My son and I had an absolutely fabulous time…where do I start…entering the farm and riding on the tractor trailer w/hay bales as seats…coming into an enchanting setting for the most enjoyable evening filled with outstanding wines, incredibly fun people, out of this world menu…I still savor the tastes that filled me with such joy!!! Dancing under the stars to perfect music, the evening was filled with so much love by all that made it happen!! McFadden Vineyard…you ROCK!!!!

Perfect? No. We made notes so we can make it better next year, just like we did after pulling off the most successful Hopland Passport weekend ever.

Before I’m accused of hubris, let me say there is tons I don’t know, haven’t done, and likely will never do. Still, with a great team of folks where I am just one part of the team, we are kicking some butt this year.

As a winery, you can’t kick butt if your wines suck. I liked our wines the first time, and every subsequent time I tasted them, back before they were “our” wines, before I joined the team.

Guinness grows great grapes, Bob Swain is our winemaker, and I wrote about his friendly, approachable wines when I wrote about a tasting of wines he made for Parducci last year. Where some wineries can hide bad grapes with multiple winemaking manipulations, say barrel fermentation and malolactic fermentation for a Chardonnay, our Chardonnay is stainless steel held and has zero malolactic. Our Chardonnay is a gorgeous fruit driven wine with lovely apple notes balanced by crisp acidity, a great wine to drink and a spectacular food pairing wine.

The first Pinot Grigio I ever tasted, a Santa Margherita, just pissed me off. No flavor, it was like drinking water with alcohol. The McFadden Pinot Gris is what they all should taste like. Just wow.

Ditto Sauvignon Blanc. No need to blend in Semillon, no cat pee aromas in this wine. Beautiful Mendocino County grapefruit and citrus instead.

Gewurtz and Rielsing are too often cloyingly sweet, but McFadden’s are drier, Alsatian styled, balanced by good acidity, sweetness coming from fruit and floral notes.

Pinot Noir, grown on the cooler climate McFadden Farm, 1,500 feet up, on the Russian River, about 10 degrees cooler than just 10 minutes away, with temperatures plummeting 35-40 degrees at night, develop gorgeous flavors over a long period of time, again balanced by nice acidity.

McFadden produces a cool climate Zinfandel I read that someone likened to a rock climber when compared to the overweight linebackers most Zins are. Where the big bruisers make foods cringe, our Zin is a revelation; new possibilities in the kitchen are opened.

Where too many wines have “too” defects: too oaky, too tannic, too sweet, too high alcohol; our wines do not have these defects, these barriers to enjoyment. McFadden wines are uniformly drinkable, but unlike wines manufactured by Goliaths in quarter million case lots, out little 3,000 case winery produces wines that showcase varietal correctness, while retaining a sense of place.

Our wines aren’t made to win medals, or critical acclaim; after a judge has tasted 30 wines and has had their palate destroyed by high alcohol, overly sweet, tannic, oak monsters, our delicious subtle well balanced wines can barely be tasted. We do win medals, and I smile at each one – we’ve tacked five more competition ribbons to the wall since I took over, but our wines are most impressive in a one on one tasting, in order from dry to sweet, as the realization grows with each wine tasted, here is a brand of exquisite deliciousness.

I love pouring Chardonnay for people who hate Chardonnay; but love ours at first taste. People who don’t like reds end up walking out with carriers filled with reds not overpowered by high alcohol or tannin.

When people taste dry styled Gewurtztraminer and Riesling for the first time, they are transformed, they imagine a summer day with glass in hand, a dinner table with new pairings.

All of our varietal wines are under $20.

Turning tasters into wine club members is easy, after tasting uniformly delicious wines, it is easy for folks to imagine receiving four discounted bottles delivered to their home three times a year. We also have pairing options where wines are delivered with rice, herbs, garlic, or wreaths. Wine Club members receive 15% off everything in the tasting room, 25% off cases (mix/match is just fine), and 35% off a different wine each month announced in our Wine Club Newsletter. Special shipping rates, special sales, event notifications and invitations; there are many more advantages and benefits to wine club membership, but it all starts with the wine, and our wine makes membership easy.

The 2007 McFadden Coro Mendocino, a 60% Zin, 27% Syrah, 13% Petite Sirah is the best of dozens of Coro Mendocino bottles I have tasted. Smooth, supple, a veritable fruit basket, in Ukiah, where I live, it pairs with everything from Sushi at Oco Time to Steak at Branches.

I hate giving out numbers and being wrong, I think it was four, but I’ll just say a bazillion because I really don’t care that much and think it is ridiculous anyway; out last Sparkling Brut was 5 parts Chardonnay to 3 parts Pinot Noir and won a bazillion Gold Medals in Wine Competitions. Our new Sparkling Brut is equal parts Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and will be even richer, better.

We released the new Sparkling Brut early, for our Wine Club Appreciation BBQ Dinner. It needs more time ‘en bouchon,’ on the cork, it is really just a baby, very active and unpredictable. It sorely wants to launch the cork upon opening, and some bottles show aggressive tart green apple notes, others grapefruit, some rose petal and nut, others yeast and cream. This bubbly will eventually grow up and exhibit all of these flavors and more, with lovely integration. It is exciting to watch a wine just born, and be able to watch it grow up. This beauty will fly out the door.

Guinness and I are getting to know each other. Guinness needed to get someone into the tasting room, and I was the guy who got the job. While he filled his need for a tasting room and wine club manager, he also got someone unafraid to use ten words where two will do. Okay, seriously, he got a sales and marketing professional, educated and awarded, with a history of successes, a wine industry trade show professional, a wine story teller, a wine writer.

Meanwhile, I got a marketer’s dream boss. When busy pouring, he might seem curt or gruff, but give him a little space, a little time, and he’s telling a ten minute story with character voices. Get him talking about farming, and you get an authentic mix of “aw shucks” country charm and passionate advocate for both Potter Valley and organic farming. Born in New York, educated at Notre Dame, a decorated Vietnam War Naval officer hero (impressing this Army sergeant), turned farmer.

I hope to get to some events in San Francisco together, invite fellow wine writers – folks who don’t work for McFadden – and while I’m pouring for crowds, be able to let them experience Guinness’s genuine Irish charm. Hopefully, they are inspired to come up to Mendocino County afterward, and hopefully they write pieces that inspire their readers to come up and visit, or call to order some wines shipped.

I think I am a bit brasher, louder, more expansive, less humble than Guinness would prefer, but I am at my best onstage, at a tradeshow, with an enormous crowd, and a well crafted story, a product or service, a pitch, a close.

Watching Guinness this weekend in his beautiful large ranch home, sitting on a hill surrounded by vineyards in the middle of his 500 acre farm, the house filled with friends, family, conversation, laughter, cooking, wine, love…watching Guinness at the Wine Club Dinner in the center of 175 friends, all sharing a night of happiness, food, drink, fellowship, dancing, the pride in and love for his daughter evident…I am watching a man of vision, a man who created an amazing reality from absolutely nothing, a happy man, a man who deserves his rewards.

I am very lucky to work for Guinness. I like to think that in me he gets a good return on the paychecks he signs. My only regret is that it is hard to get to tell the story of Guinness McFadden, McFadden Farms, McFadden wines. We sell all 3,000 cases we produce, we sell nearly everything through the tasting room, and through our wine club. Our distribution is incredibly limited, almost entirely in Mendocino County. I want to sell more wine, and faster, but I need people to come to my tasting room in Hopland to be able to tell my story, to pour our wine. We have complimentary wine tastings, and to pour the wine is to sell the wine, but I need more people to come to us. I want more people, but I don’t know how to reach them. The folks I get to pour for seem to like me:

Your vivacious, happy personality is such an asset to the McFadden Vineyard family, and it is clear you love every minute!

I work at it every day, a little each day. There is no magic trick to opening the floodgates that I know of. I ask other wine writers to come visit. Some do, and we have some really nice pieces that came from those visits. I want more visitors, and I keep asking. There are days I envy the theme park winery tasting rooms of Sonoma and Napa, their endless stream of tasters, of buyers. I don’t want McFadden to be a quarter million case winery, but I would love sales to drive production, and growth from 3,000 to 4,000, then 5,000, and up to 7-8,000 cases. Still small enough to keep the same level of quality, but with busier days in the tasting room.

I read a lot of wine blogs and winery blogs, but I don’t think I’ve ever read a winery tasting room manager write honestly about successes and challenges, about relationships with the winery owner, about the winery’s overall style, and about the day to day difficulties of trying to increase visibility for the brand in a crowded field. It might be because such a post would be boring, or rambling, much like this post; but I’m not deterred, knowing I’ve written pieces far more boring, or rambling, or both.

And I got to write a post I wanted to for quite a while, about my winery, sharing how much I love my job, while avoiding the conflict of interest inherent in a wine writer who receives review samples then writes about his employing winery. Sharing a recap, after an event, without any ticket sales benefit possible seemed the ideal vehicle to squeeze in a host of other thoughts.

The takeaway: I love my job, I like my boss, I am proud of the wines I pour, I would like you to come to my tasting room for a complimentary taste of McFadden wines. Thank you.

Cheers,

John Cesano, McFadden Tasting Room and Wine Club Manager

McFadden Vineyard Tasting Room is located at 13275 S Hwy 101, Ste 5, Hopland, CA 95449; open daily from 10am-5pm; (707) 744-8463.

Wine Reviews:

2009 McFadden Chardonnay Potter Valley $16 – Fruit forward, beautiful bouquet of apple, pear, and peach blossom lead seamlessly into delicious apple, white peach and pear flavors, balanced by nice crisp acidity.

2009 McFadden Pinot Gris Potter Valley $16 – Full bodied, delicately fragrant wine with floral notes, hints of pear, apple, and vanilla with clove and ginger spice.

2009 McFadden Sauvignon Blanc Potter Valley $16 – Great aromas and flavors of orange blossom, jasmine, honeydew melon, spice and grapefruity citrus. Crisp, good acid. Long lingering finish.

2009 McFadden Gewurtztraminer Potter Valley $16 – Pie baking spices and floral blossom aromas that lead to flavors of honeysuckle, apricot fruit basket, and a finish of ginger. Nice minerality.

2009 McFadden Riesling Potter Valley $18 – Bouquet of jasmine and spice, summer peaches, cantaloupe and light herbal notes. Honey in the background, at once easy to enjoy and multifaceted.

2007 McFadden Pinot Noir Potter Valley $19 – A walk down the forest path; earth, mushroom, sweet dried cherry, chocolate, and cedar. Great herbaceous notes.

2008 McFadden Zinfandel Potter Valley $19 – Bright fruit forward flavors carried by nice acidity. Strawberry jam, vanilla-cherry cola, and cedar nose. Berry patch flavors with pepper spice. Easy drinker.

NV McFadden Sparkling Brut Potter Valley $25 – Brilliant clarity, pale straw color, endless stream of tiny bubbles, nice mousse, aromas of green apple, citrus zest, grapefruit, rose petal and cream leading to crisp bright apple balanced by custard and honey in the mouth.

Local Hopland Wine Notes:

I had the opportunity to visit winery tasting rooms other than my own in the last week.

Right in Hopland, I visited SIP! Mendocino and Bernadette poured me some wines. Using a Jedi mind trick, she grabbed a bottle, and waving her hand at me said, “you’re going to like this.” Of course, I did like it, and bought a bottle of the 2008 Tahto Petite Sirah, Potter Valley. Deep rich dark berry, herb, chocolate and spice, nicely integrated.

The next day, I returned to SIP! and tasted with Angela, running into Gary Krimont and Hopland’s own Kit, co-owner of the Superette grocery store in Hopland. I tasted a couple of Rhone offerings, a Grenache and a Syrah, both were yummy, but really an appetizer for what came next.

We scooted next door to Cesar Toxqui’s tasting room. There is a big buzz surrounding Cesar and his wines. After having made wines for many local wineries, Cesar started making wines for himself as well. In a tasting room more relaxed than most, Cesar, with Gary’s help, poured his way through his wines. I tasted wines of depth, fullness, character. Starting with solid grapes, the fermenting juice is punched down twice a day by hand with extended maceration. If you don’t speak wine geek, that means Cesar wrings the grapes and skins for all the best flavor they will yield.

Everything I tasted was delicious, from Cesar’s Chardonnay and Pinot Noir to his Zinfandel and Heirloom, a wine that has a little of the previous Heirloom blended into it, which itself had a little of the previous vintage blended in, and so on, so that the wine you taste is a wine of all time, a magic representation of everything Cesar has done from day one. There is a rumor that Heirloom III will be unveiled at this weekend’s Spring Hopland Passport.

After tasting the 2009 Cesar Tozqui Cellars Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley and 2009 Cesar Tozqui Cellars Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley side by side, I was surprised to find the Anderson Valley Pinot from Mendocino County was drinking more beautifully, was more velvety, than the Russian River Valley Pinot from Sonoma County grapes. I grew up on Dry Creek Valley Cabs and Zins and Russian River Valley Pinots, and developed a “house palate,” preferring the tastes of the wines grown in the places I grew up. If I had been asked to guess which wine was which, based on taste alone, I would have guessed wrong, because I am prejudiced to prefer Russian River Valley Pinots. My second favorite AVA for Pinot Noir is the Anderson Valley, so the side by side tasting was both a treat and instructive.

I bought a bottle of Cesar’s Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, forgetting that there is a generous reciprocal inter winery discount for the tasting room staff of the Hopland wineries. I was doubly thrilled with my purchase after the discount.

The next day, after closing up my tasting room, I headed to Jaxon Keys for an inter winery mixer.

Jaxon Keys is a Wilson winery. Ken and Diane Wilson own some premier winery properties in Sonoma County, and bought and renamed the Jepson winery and distillery, hired Fred Nickel, a knowledgeable and skilled local winemaker, to increase the quality of the wines, and moved the tasting room from a low shed like building to a huge, lovely old estate house on a hill overlooking the vineyards.

Vicki Milone played host to tasting room staff from several Hopland area wineries, with folks coming from Dry Creek Valley wineries in Sonoma County as well. Everyone brought food, and wine, and shared a nice two hours of relaxed fellowship.

The yummiest food treat, which I will be stealing without reservation, was cream and blue cheese with orange marmalade infused figs and toasted pecans on a round pastry. It turns out the round pastry was from Pillsbury giant crescent rolls, sliced while and remaining rolled. Thank you Bev for bringing the taste treat – for me – of the night and sharing where the recipe came from. I will be making these for a future Second Saturday in Hopland to pair with our wines at the tasting room.

I enjoyed a number of the wines Vicki poured and am looking forward to when more of Fred’s wines come on line.

At the mixer, I met Victor Simon, winemaker at Simaine in Ukiah. I will be visiting and tasting very soon.

I also had a bottle find me, instead of me going out to find it, last week. When I returned from a three day weekend, I found my dear friend Serena Alexi had brought a bottle of 2005 Wellington Vineyards Zinfandel, Sonoma Valley. I have not opened it yet, but I am sure to write nice things here when I do.

The folks at Brown-Forman in Kentucky who own Fetzer Vineyards in Hopland sent me six bottles a couple of months ago, but only four were delivered as two were damaged in transit. Although Concha y Toro in Chile is buying Fetzer, Maria from Brown-Forman contacted me today to see about replacing the two bottles. It is a mark of class, of professionalism, that a company that has effectively sold Fetzer already is continuing their first class marketing efforts on behalf of the brand.

Parducci, located in Ukiah, is opening a satellite tasting room in Hopland at the Solar Living Center. John March, who poured the wines of Magnanimus Wine Group at Campovida in Hopland, will be the tasting room manager of the new tasting room facility. I wondered aloud how a Ukiah winery with their own Ukiah tasting room was going to be pouring at this weekend’s Spring Hopland Passport weekend, and why every Ukiah or Redwood Valley winery couldn’t pour. I thought that the collaboration between Parducci and the Solar Living Center was a weekend fling, but am thrilled to welcome Parducci, a winery I love, and John March, a terrifically talented brand ambassador, to Hopland full time.

The Solar Living Center does attract a large share of hippie, marijuana smoking, young folk, and I suggested jokingly to John that he find out which Parducci wine pairs best with weed. That said, my tasting room is the closest to the new medical marijuana dispensary opening up in Hopland, and may I suggest that the 2007 McFadden Vineyard Coro Mendocino would go wonderfully with a nice bong load of Mendocino County’s sticky icky. I have to start practicing saying that with a hand wave, in my own Jedi mind trick style.

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Three Big Events:

This coming weekend, April 30 and May 1, there are two big wine events going on; Spring Hopland Passport, and Passport to Dry Creek Valley; plus Hospice du Rhone will be held April 28-30.

Although I question the sense, or dollars and cents, of spending $125 to visit 46 wineries, tickets are pretty much SOLD OUT for the Dry Creek Valley Passport. There is just no possible way to visit that many wineries. It doesn’t matter what each is offering if you can’t possibly experience it. That said, pick and choose your favorites, get swept up in the traffic and crowds, and enjoy some very delicious wines, paired with the delightful food treats.

Last year, I attended Spring Hopland Passport, took two full days, visited all the participating wineries, enjoyed some very delicious wines (100 of them) from 21 labels, paired with delightful food treats. I wrote a Spring Hopland Passport recap last year. Visit the official Hopland Passport site, where tickets can be bought for just $35, which seems a far more reasonable cost considering the number of wineries that can be visited in one or two days.

A few highlights of what a $35 Spring Hopland Passport ticket buys: Cesar Toxqui Cellars will offer authentic Filipino cuisine to pair with vertical tastings and barrel tastings. Jaxon Keys will have tri-tip sliders and live music by the Felt-Tips. Jeriko Winery will be roasting pig and chicken and have live acoustic music. McFadden Vineyard will pour all of their wines, run big two day only sales, and cook up organic grass fed cube steak from the McFadden Farm seasoned with grilling herbs, lemon pepper and garlic powder also grown organically at McFadden farm, McFadden Farm Wild Rice and artichoke heart salad, and a green salad with McFadden Farm organic salad herbs. McNab Ridge will be pouring current releases, barrel samples and a Coro vertical while offering a selection of dips and speads, marinated chicken thighs with grilled pineapple, and jumbo shrimp with a zesty horseradish cocktail sauce. Mendocino Farms wine will be poured at Campovida while Ken Boek leads garden tours and Les Boek and his band provide music. Milano Family Winery will be serving tri-tip and have live music by Marc Hansen. Nelson Vineyards will be offering up organic Mendough’s wood-fired pizza with their estate wines. Parducci’s wines will be paired with Magruder Ranch grass fed pulled pork and lamb sliders with Asian slaw while The Dirt Floor Band plays at the Real Goods Solar Living Institute. Saracina Vineyards wines will be paired with smoked chicken and porcini crepes, grilled hanger steak tartines, and beet spoons catered by Janelle Weaver, exec chef of Kuleto Estate Winery. Terra Savia will be pairing wine and olive oil tastings with Hawaiian fare while Hui Arago’s band plays Hawaiian music. Weibel Family Vineyards will be pairing wines with treats from Fork Catering. Thanks to Heidi Cusick Dickerson and Hopland Passport for pulling all of this information together. Ticket prices rise $10 on the day of the event, so pre-purchase your tickets online or at any Hopland winery tasting room.

The 19th Annual Hospice du Rhone will bring together over 1,000 Rhone wines from over 130 Rhone wine producers for three days in Paso Robles, CA. There are several events, tastings, seminars, meals, and you can pick and choose which events to buy tickets to with prices ranging from $100-$155, or you can buy a weekend package ticket for $795, getting you into most of the events.

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