Coro is both Italian and Spanish for Chorus.

Coro Mendocino is a wine program unique in the entire United States, where geographically related wineries make wine following a protocol as is done in Bordeaux, Burgundy, Chianti, virtually everywhere throughout Europe, but nowhere else here. Each Coro Mendocino winery produces a wine featuring Zinfandel, the county’s heritage grape, and each wine contains between 40 and 70% Zinfandel, with the blending grapes being traditional Mendocino County blending grapes – typically Rhone or Italian varietals. The wines get blind tasted several times in panel tastings by the program winemakers, with the intent to make the best possible wines, and each wine must survive a pass/fail independent blind tasting to become Coro. There is more that goes into the program, but take my word for it, the Coro wines are as special as the program is unique, and the 2009 vintage Coro wines are spectacular, every single one. Ten wineries made a 2009 Coro Mendocino, no two are the same and the variations in style are amazing, ranging from lighter to big and dense.

Last night, Saturday June 23, 2012, the tiny town of Little River on the Mendocino Coast played host to the 2009 vintage Coro Release Party. The sold out dinner at the Little River Inn was a huge success as an event; the wines, food, and people gathered made for an incredibly memorable evening. The 2009 vintage was poured by ten wineries: Barra, Brutocao, Claudia Springs, Fetzer, Golden, Mendocino Vineyards, McFadden, McNab, Parducci, and Philo Ridge.

In perhaps the most absurd twist of fate, the best way to tell you about last night’s release party dinner for the 2009 vintage Coro Mendocino wines, and the entire Coro Mendocino program itself, is to tell you about an 11th wine that wasn’t poured.

I mentioned that a wine needs a “thumbs up” from a blind tasting panel to be called Coro. I didn’t point out that a “thumbs down” vote would mean not only do you not have a Coro, but because there isn’t the 75% minimum quantity required by labeling law you also don’t have a bottle you could call Zinfandel. As an example, if Guinness McFadden came up short in his Coro making efforts, he might be forced to call the resulting wine, “Guinness’s Random Red,” which is a much tougher sell, even at a lower price, than the quality assured Coro he might have hoped to make.

This year, Owen Smith of Weibel made a wine that was Coro in all respects. The wine adhered to the strict protocol of Consortium Mendocino – the collective name of the Coro producers, and had secured the all-important vote from the independent panel that allowed his wine to be called Coro.

In what Monte Hill, member of the Consortium board, described as a comedy of errors (tragedy of errors might be more accurate), two unfortunate events followed: special bottles used only for Coro were accidentally not ordered by another program winery for Weibel’s wine, and then while waiting for fulfillment of an emergency special bottle order, the wine changed through oxidation.

Weibel’s winemaker Smith made adjustments to the wine and saved it but, when tasted alongside the other 2009 Coro wines, he determined that the wine was no longer Coro. There is a high expectation of quality, and he felt his wine no longer met that high standard. Although the wine could very rightly have been called Coro, and Smith could have been insisted that it be labeled so, honor was paramount. Weibel and Smith both took a hit, but gained nothing but respect for their defense of the Coro program.

I’ve tasted Weibel’s 2009 almost-Coro wine, and while not Coro, I think it drinks nicely. I have suggested the wine be called Integrity and sell for around $15 alongside the other 2009 Coro wines.

Owen Smith and Weibel elevated every 2009 vintage Coro wine released last night, and I was thrilled to be able to sit between Owen and Guinness at the release dinner party, two of Consortium Mendocino’s best Coro winemakers – even if one may not see his name grace a Coro bottle.

Okay, now on to the fantastic event and the ten 2009 Coro wines that were there:

The five course sixth annual Coro Producers Release Party Dinner started with a passed appetizer tartar trio of wild king salmon gravlax with sweet onion and dill aioli, red beet with goat cheese and cilantro vinaigrette, and cherrywood cold smoked sturgeon with cucumber chives and crème fraiche, paired with sparkling, white and rosé selections from the Coro producers.

The saltiness of the goat cheese and earthiness of the beets paired nicely with many of the rosé wines poured, and the smoked sturgeon was reminiscent of many of Mendocino County’s 2008 vintage wines.

Non Coro wines poured at the reception that captured my attention included  the 2011 McNab Ridge Rosé of Syrah, 2011 Barra Pinot Noir Rosé, Parducci’s Rosé of Grenache & Zinfandel, 2010 Bonterra Sauvignon Blanc (I absolutely loved it), NV (2009) McFadden Sparkling Brut (this poured out in no time), and 2011 McNab Ridge French Colombard.

Margaret Pedroni, Consortium board member and marketing powerhouse, met with Little River Inn Chef Marc Dym in advance to make sensible food and wine pairings. The Coro wines were split into three groupings, lighter, medium, and bigger.

Monte Hill was the evening’s master of ceremonies, and in his welcoming comments described Coro Mendocino as a “showcase for Mendocino Country’s heritage grape, Zinfandel.” Hill also described the cooperative winemaking process, with blind tastings starting in January with comments from each winemaker, offering constructive criticism and continuing through three more tastings before the big pass/fail tasting the following May.

The Consortium Mendocino is led by an elected officer, the Coro Commander. Commander George Phelan of Mendocino Vineyards commented that in addition to Chorus, “Coro also means community,” then introduced Monte Hill, Margaret Pedroni, and Julie Golden  “secretary and czar” from the board.

The first course paired the lighter styled 2009 Coro wines of McFadden, Mendocino Vineyards, and Brutocao with consummé of Little River shitake mushrooms with fennel and pork dumplings.

Our table included Guinness McFadden, his girlfriend Judith Bailey, two of Judith’s sisters and their husbands, and me – plus Monte Hill and his wife Kay, and Owen Smith. With seven strong McFadden fans at our table (I manage the McFadden tasting room in Hopland), we probably should have had a second bottle of McFadden Coro. I thought it had a lovely cherry noted easy drinkability, and while it paired great with the consummé, I would love to have had some McFadden Coro remaining to try with the second course’s pork belly.

Guinness McFadden said that his farm produces cool climate Zinfandel, and the lighter style McFadden Coro tasted great with the consummé. McFadden also noted that while Phelan is the Coro Commander, Julie Golden does so much work for the Consortium that “Golden is really the Coro Admiral, as Admirals outrank Commanders.”

The second course paired the medium weight 2009 Coro wines from McNab Ridge, Philo Ridge, Golden, and Barra with Coleman natural pork belly with wilted escarole and soft creamy polenta. I love pork belly and polenta, and really enjoyed this entire flight of wines.

The Entrée paired the bigger 2009 Coro wines from Claudia Springs, Fetzer, and Parducci with “cinghiale” wild boar ragout over pappardelle pasta with red chile garlic broccolini.

Bob Klindt of Claudia Springs spoke about the experience of making a Coro, the fellowship, the experience of offering somewhat harsh criticism of a wine in blind tasting only to find it was his own wine that he felt needed improvement.

I have heard the exact same thing from nearly all of the Coro producers at one time or another. The humbling experience of offering yourself notes for improvement in early blind tastings of your own Coro candidate wine.

Zindanelia Arcidiacono, better known as Z, and Coro winemaker for Fetzer, spoke of the experience of making the best wine she could, of putting so much of herself into the process, that now she could invite us to taste Z in the glass.

I think of Coro wines as brilliant food wines as the different grapes blended in with the base Zinfandel add more flavor notes allowing for pairing magic. Claudia Springs’ Coro stood out for me because it was so  big and “Zinny,” tasting the most like a big Zin and least like a blend. I also loved the smooth rich integrated oak meeting rich supple fruit in Fetzer’s Coro.

Dessert was an olallieberry galette with meyer lemon curd and was enjoyed with whatever Coro wine you wanted to pour with it.

Chef Marc Dym, of the Little River Inn, put together an incredibly successful meal around the various wines being featured.

I liked every 2009 vintage Coro Mendocino, each and every one richly deserving of the name, all perfect ambassadors for Mendocino County’s grape growing and wine making prowess.
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If you missed the 2009 vintage release dinner party, there is another opportunity to taste these excellent Coro Mendocino wines in a special showcase event:

Join the Consortium Mendocino at the 2009 Coro Wines Farm to Table Dinner for an evening of great food and wine, followed by dancing under the stars late into the night on the bank of the upper Russian River, Saturday, August 18, 2012, 5:30 PM – 11:00 PM AT McFadden Farm, 16000 Powerhouse Road, Potter Valley, CA 95469. Tickets are $125 per couple, $65 per single. The stars of the evening, the 2009 vintage of Coro Mendocino wines, will be paired with grilled organic grass fed McFadden Farm beef and seasonal local farm fare. Each Coro Mendocino producer will bring a white, rose, or sparkling wine to complement the organic farm to table fare as well. Seating is limited, call to secure your spot today; McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room, (707) 744-8463.

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I’m going to join Steve Jaxon tomorrow, Monday, June 25, 2012 at 5:00pm on his KSRO 1350 AM show The Drive With Steve Jaxon. We’ll taste wines and talk about the annual McFadden Wine Club Dinner at McFadden Farm on July 14 and the 2009 Coro Wine Farm To Table Dinner at McFadden Farm on August 18. We’ll taste McFadden wines and Coro wines from various producers and give away a pair of tickets to each event sometime between 5:00pm and 6:00pm, so listen in on the radio or streaming live at http://www.KSRO.com

I visited Dunnewood Vineyards in Ukiah recently.

The first thing I learned is that the Dunnewood Vineyards name was all marketing, and no one knows where they got that name. The good news is that most of the wine in the Dunnewood Vineyards tasting room carries the Mendocino Vineyards label, and I can grasp where that name came from.


Located in Ukiah, north of town, at 2399 North State Street; the sign for Dunnewood Vineyards is the most visible clue that a winery exists in this industrial zone outside Ukiah city proper. The winery location features vineyards around, an old front building doubling as tasting room and office, and a rather large winery facility in rear.

The large winery facility is owing, in part, to Dunnewood/Mendocino Vineyards being owned by wine giant Constellation. All Mendocino County grapes for Contellation Brand wines are made into wine at this facility. More interesting, from a “green” Mendocino County wine industry perspective, Mendicino Vineyards makes certified organic grown grape wines.

From Constellation’s website:

Mendocino Vineyards comes from the proverbial heart and soul of organic viticulture, Mendocino County. Bordering California’s rugged Pacific Coast, the county is enveloped by the cool morning fog that rolls in from the ocean and settles on the vineyards to produce wines with bright green apple flavors and a crisp, clean finish. It’s here that our team crafts this world-class wine that exemplifies environmental integrity by employing the strictest certified organic farming practices.

It may be unfair, but I don’t think of corporate responsibility and eco awareness when I think of of worldwide business conglomerates, yet Constellation seems to embrace and support Mendocino County’s eco spirit in their grape growing and winemaking choices surrounding their Ukiah facility.

Helen Kelley poured wines for me at the tasting bar. Helen is the office manager, and her pride in the winery and wines was evident.

2009 Mendocino Vineyards Chardonnay Mendocino County $12 clear color of light straw, nose of apple, pear, lemon, nice fruit shown. Tasty tropical sweetly candied fruit flavors. Nice body. Very, very long finish. Made with organic grapes sourced from about Mendocino County.

2003 Dunnewood Vineyards Coro Mendocino $35 Winemaker George Phelan has a lighter bodied, brighter Zinfandel based wine. 64.6% Zinfandel, 25.7% Syrah, and 9.7% Sangiovese. Nice fruit, raspberry and mixed berry, and cedar wood spice.

1997 Dunnewood Tawny Port Signiture Napa Valley $19 A charbono port, really really nice. Rich, sweetly delicious, plummy goodness.

Helen poured me a library selection, the 1979 Dunnewood Tawny Port California Limited Edition $28. At first nose, I wasn’t in love, it is tobacco juice tar color, but I came stuck with it to find plum dark fruit, sticky caramel apple and fig. I would enjoy trying to pair this with a fig reduction sauced pork. Helen shared a story of having to hand fill the unusual shaped bottles, and how at the end of the task, she was a syrupy, sticky, sweet mess.

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Last week, I stopped in at Jeriko Estate in Hopland to taste a local Mendocino County Brut Rosé for a Valentine’s Day bubbly write up.

As long as I was there, I tasted the 2009 Jeriko Estate Pinot Noir Mendocino 14.3% alc $38 as well. Lovely Burgundy color, delightful dried cranberry nose, delicious lush cranberry and cherry fruit flavors. Lingering finish, Nice acid. Well balanced.

J.J. Cannon, my host in the tasting room, told me that this was winery owner Danny Fetzer’s favorite wine, the wine he most often has a glass of when choosing from among the winery’s releases.

J.J. also serves as the wine club manager, and has grown the membership to a bit over 150 members, about an 18% increase, in a relatively short period of time. Founder’s Club members receive a case, discounted 20%, spread over 3 shipments each year. Estate Club members receive two cases, discounted 25%, spread over 12 shipments each year. Cellar Club members receive a half case monthly at a 30% discount. Other benefits include a big discount on wines purchased at the tasting room on the day you sign up for a wine club membership, an annual wine club member appreciation party, wine club pick up parties, complimentary reserve wine tasting for members and guests, and special pre-release priority and prices. Wine club members can choose all white, all red, or a delicious mix of both with each wine club shipment.

Wandering about the tasting room area, I noticed some lovely jewelry available for purchase. It turns out the jewelry from Hook & Loop Jewelry Designs is made by winery owner Danny Fetzer’s niece Christina McDonald and her partner Rasean Powell. I would encourage the introduction of additional items of interest to warm the feeling of the tasting room area. Books on wine, wine accessories, art, jewelry, olive oils and foodstuffs placed about the tasting room would increase movement, and warm the experience immensely.

Outside the Tuscan styled and colored main building, the vineyards were readied for the upcoming spring and bud break a month or two away. A fountain burbled, olive trees decorated the property, and baby goats played on the property’s neighboring hillside.

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Two events I attended last year are coming up and I highly recommend them for lovers of Petite Sirah or Pinot Noir respectively:

Dark & Delicious Petite Sirah and Food Event
February 18, 2011
6:00pm – 9:00pm
Rock Wall Wine Company
2301 Monarch Street
Alameda, CA 94501

40 top Petite Sirah wine producers and 30 top bay area restaurants and caterers, one night, stain your teeth purple.

Parducci Wine Cellars of Ukiah in Mendocino County will be pouring at Dark & Delicious

The 8th Annual Pinot Noir Summit
Saturday, February 26, 2011
11:30am – 6:45pm
Hilton San Francisco
750 Kearny Street
San Francisco, CA 94108

Blind taste 32 or 64 top Pinot Noir wines, rate them, attend workshop seminars, enjoy the results of the blind tasting while enjoying these and more Pinot Noir paired with hors d’oeuvre.

Mendocino County’s Handley Cellars of Philo in the Anderson Valley and Rack & Riddle of Hopland will be pouring at the Pinot Noir Summit.

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Finally, Tierra, art, garden, wine in Ukiah will be closing their doors after the end of this month. If you live in or near Ukiah, stop in Wed-Sat 11am-6:00pm, and help out by purchasing a thoughtfully artful gift for a friend or something beautiful for your home, and save 30-70$ off most items.

Tierra is located at 312 N School Street in Ukiah.

I am sorry that Nicole Martensen and Nicholas Thayer’s Tierra will disappear from Ukiah, I will miss it. I wish I had visited more often.

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