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John On Wine – Recap of a great three day wine weekend

Last week, I mentioned that I was attending some wine events and promised a recap of tastes of the eighteen gold medal winning wines made using Mendocino County grapes that were at the Barlow on Sunday in Sebastopol for the 2015 Press Democrat North Coast Wine Challenge grand tasting.

Upon arriving, I was instantly reminded of Prussian Field Marshall Helmuth von Moltke the Elder’s quote, “no plan of operations extends with any certainty beyond the first contact with the main hostile force,” which could be paraphrased and shortened, “no plan survives first contact.”

At check in, my badge could not be found, but I was saved by fellow writer and wine ambassador Thea Dwelle who recognized me and secured two wristbands for me and my tasting companion, Susan Johnson. Thank you Thea!

List in hand, ready to taste the wines in a planned order, I found that the wineries were not alphabetically ordered, but by wine type, whites and bubblies in one group, light reds and blush wines in another, and finally big reds in a last group. The problem, for me, is that a number of wineries won medals for more than one wine type, and the significant crowds made the tasting I had planned nearly impossible.

Instead, I decided to put my notebook away and simply taste what I wished, and enjoy myself. That new plan was a smashing success as there was much to enjoy.

I lived and worked in the Sonoma County wine industry for far longer than I have lived and worked here in Mendocino County, and saw many friends; the event was very much like a reunion for me. The wines were top notch, as you might expect from a collection of gold medal winners, and the food was beyond good, the food was great. Special thanks to all of the wine judges, including Christopher Sawyer who shared some of his event photos for this piece.

Two Michelin Star Cyrus' chef Doug Keene with Foie Gras for Late Harvest and Caviar for Bubbly at The Barlow (photo by Christopher Sawyer)

Two Michelin Star Cyrus’ chef Doug Keene with Foie Gras for Late Harvest and Caviar for Bubbly at The Barlow (photo by Christopher Sawyer)

I tasted Foie Gras and Caviar from Michelin two star awarded chef Doug Keene, spectacular pork treats from Food Network celebrity Duskie Estes and husband John Stewart, salmon, truffled mac and cheese, pork belly, tuna tataki, and so much more. Every bite was an absolute delight but some were so intensely flavorful that finding a wine that could pair well was a challenge – a challenge I accepted.

Duskie Estes of Zasu at The Barlow (photo by Christopher Sawyer)

Duskie Estes of Zasu at The Barlow (photo by Christopher Sawyer)

Wines, well that’s why I attended, right? I loved Carol Shelton’s new 2014 Wild Thing Chardonnay, Mendocino County, with oak but not so much as to mask the abundant and flavorful fruit notes. Navarro’s 2014 Pinot Blanc and Campovida’s 2013 Arneis were also drinking great. Handley’s 2014 Rose of Pinot Noir was bright and flavorful, a good match for many foods, and their Best of Mendocino County awarded 2012 Pinot Noir was especially delicious with gorgeous cherry berry fruit and depth, matched to oak and herb. Campovida’s 2013 Campo di Rossa, a Rhone blend, and Masut’s 2013 Pinot Noir rounded out my day’s favorite local red tastes. I finished my day with a taste of the 2013 Merriam Vineyards Chardonnay, Bacigalupi, Native Fermentation $56, poured by the multi-talented Toni DiLeo, and was well pleased with the choice. Toni and I sold a 1994 Bacigalupi Chardonnay made by Carol Shelton many years ago, and it brought the event full circle for me, with ribbon and a bow.

Campovida's Sebastian Donoso with two Press Democrat North Coast Wine Challenge Gold Medal winners (photo by Christopher Sawyer)

Campovida’s Sebastian Donoso with two Press Democrat North Coast Wine Challenge Gold Medal winners (photo by Christopher Sawyer)

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2015 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival (photo by Tom Liden)

2015 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival (photo by Tom Liden)

Before the Barlow event on Sunday, came 2015’s Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival. Once again, another amazing event put on by Mendocino County’s best organized appellation. I might be the largest cheerleader for inland Mendocino’s wine scene, but credit where credit is due, Janis MacDonald and her team at the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association do the very best job reaching out to the press, marketing and promoting, and staging first class wine events within Mendocino County. Kudos go to Janis, Kristy Charles, and all of the amazing volunteers, for another memorable and worthwhile event.

Pizza is served by Stone & Embers at Balo Vineyard's Welcome Dinner for the press (photo by John Cesano)

Pizza is served by Stone & Embers at Balo Vineyard’s Welcome Dinner for the press (photo by John Cesano)

The event kicked off for me Thursday night with a Welcome Dinner at Balo Vineyards. There were more wines than I could taste, more winemakers and winery owners than I could chat with, but I said my hellos and tasted some delicious wines. Favorites of the night included the 2014 Avenging Angel Pinot Noir Blanc, a 2013 Philo Ridge Viognier with Greg Nelson’s grapes, the 2012 Waits-Mast Wentzel Vineyard Pinot Noir, the 2012 Donkey & Goat Broken Leg Vineyard Pinot Noir, 2012 Williams Selyem Ferrington Vineyard Pinot Noir, and a 1994 Husch Pinot Noir which I would describe as ‘faded glory’, a wine from a great vintage, a little beyond its prime, but filled with memories of other wines from that year. The appetizers, salads and pizza by Stone & Embers were excellent.

Friday morning’s Tech Conference featured a look at the state of Pinot Noir by Glenn McGourty, who shared that Pinot Noir acreage in the state has doubled, at least, since 2000, and that the variety is the most valuable grown per ton, on average. Nancy Smith and Jennifer Carah from The Nature Conservancy returned to update attendees on water flow and proposed efforts to balance the needs of fish and humans in the Navarro watershed. Andy Walker discussed rootstock and Jean-Jacques Lambert talked about soil in the two tech sessions aimed well over my head, but undoubtedly of value to the vineyards and winery owners attending. My favorite sessions included a panel tasting of Pinot Noir produced from different soil types, another panel tasting focusing on various Pinot Noir wines produced using Charles Vineyard grapes, and the lunch session with various Anderson Valley Pinot Noir wines and the best conference food ever served at a tech conference, prepared by Boont Berry Farm. I’m a simple taster, and my favorite sessions involve wine and a story. My favorite quote of the day came from Bill Hill of Expression 39 wine, on terroir (soil and climate), “there are a few places in the world that make wines that are really interesting, there are places in the world that make wines that shouldn’t.” The day’s conference amply demonstrated that Anderson Valley is a place to make Pinot Noir.

Casual BBQ at Lula Cellars (photo by John Cesano)

Casual BBQ at Lula Cellars (photo by John Cesano)

That night’s Casual BBQ at Lula Cellars catered by The Q was a blast. Lots of people gathered to enjoy the best event BBQ food served at one of these events, fantastic wine, great heartfelt country folk music, and the company of one another.

Just some of the wines at the Press Tasting at Scarffenberger Cellars (photo by John Cesano)

Just some of the wines at the Press Tasting at Scarffenberger Cellars (photo by John Cesano)

Saturday morning, at 8:50 am, I started working through tasting wines, taking comprehensive notes for each, at the Press Tasting at Scharffenberger Cellars. I took over 2 ½ hours to taste through about 55 wines, but it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience as John and Linda Compisi and Christopher Sawyer were also tasting and there were great conversations and cross talk over wines being tasted.

My favorite wines of the press tasting, in reverse alphabetical order, were the 2012 Waits-Mast Pinot Noir, Wentzel Vineyard, Anderson Valley; 2012 Witching Stick Cerise Vineyard Pinot Noir; 2011 Philo Ridge Vineyards Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley; 2013 Phillips Hill Anderson Valley Pinot Noir; 2013 Navarro Vineyards Pinot Noir, Deep End Blend, Anderson Valley; 2012 Husch Reserve Anderson Valley Pinot Noir; 2012 Handley Cellars Pinot Noir, Helluva Vineyard, Anderson Valley; 2012 Goldeneye Anderson Valley Pinot Noir; 2012 Fathers & Daughters Pinot Noir, Ella’s Reserve, Ferrington Vineyard (not a consensus choice, light, but stand out interesting); 2013 Drew Pinot Noir Fog-Eater Anderson Valley; 2013 Bink Anderson Valley Pinot Noir; and 2012 Baxter Pinot Noir Anderson Valley (tasted at the Grand Tasting).

Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Grand Tasting wines (photo by Tom Liden)

Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Grand Tasting wines (photo by Tom Liden)

The Grand Tasting at Goldeneye Winery was indeed grand, with smiling winemakers pouring for smiling attendees. The smiles were easy to come by, bought with some of the best wine and food imaginable, from among many of the county’s best producers.

Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Grand Tasting food (photo by Tom Liden)

Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Grand Tasting food (photo by Tom Liden)

Tom Liden, Mendocino County photographer extraordinaire, was on hand and his photos are as gorgeous as the wine and food served. Thanks for sharing, Tom.
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Next week, I’ll be recapping the Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush Italian Steakhouse in Ukiah, featuring the wines of Graziano Family of Wines.
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NOTE: This piece is scheduled to run in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, May 28, 2015 and, instead of waiting for publication there before archiving here, I am running it here first for timeliness. The early reference to last week’s column will actually be a column that runs tomorrow, and be archived out of order shortly after, here.

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John On Wine ­ – Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, May 22, 2014
By John Cesano

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For me, this year’s Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival started last Thursday at Champ de Reves, which translates as Field of Dreams, in Philo. Dr. Edmeades planted the first Pinot Noir grapes in the Anderson Valley 50 years ago, and started making, selling wine from his grapes in 1972. In 1988, Jackson Family Wines, the empire Kendall-Jackson built, bought Edmeades and now it has been rechristened Champ de Reves. The location and the view of a big chunk of the valley was gorgeous. The wines were selected by winery owners from throughout the valley and the dinner of carved roast beef and plank salmon was made spectacular by both their wines and their company.

I was fortunate and sat with Allan Green of Greenwood Ridge; Mary Elke of Elke; Douglas Stewart of Lichen; John Osborne, an event volunteer; and Laura Barnard, who works in marketing for Jackson Family Wines’ West Burgundy Wine Group, of which Champ de Reves is just one winery. After dinner we were also joined in conversation by Paula Viehmann of Goldeneye.

Friday morning started early with coffee and a selection of quiches prepared by Julia Kendrick Conway, as winemakers, press, and consumers gathered at the fairgrounds in Boonville for a technical conference. Greg Walter, publisher of the Pinot Report, introduced the morning’s sessions, which featured The Nature Conservancy’s Jason Pelletier sharing the results of an incredibly detailed study on water flow and water use throughout the year. The study focused on grape growing water demands within the Navarro watershed and then segued into a similar talk by Jennifer Carah, but with a focus on marijuana growing water demands. Unsurprisingly, marijuana growths use much more water — 19 to 50 times more — for production, and do not share the same land and water stewardship ethos as many grape growers. This is especially significant in drought years ­ like this year.

Glenn McGourty gave a talk on best practices for grape growing during a drought year, or years. Winemakers in attendance were certainly leaning forward during this session. Lunch was delicious, prepared by Boont Berry Farm and paired with a huge selection of Pinot Noir from the Anderson Valley. After lunch, there were two tasting sessions. The first focused on the many faces of Pinot Noir and featured Arnaud Weyrich’s zero skin contact Pinot Noir, picked early, and briskly acidic for Roederer’s bubbly; Alex Crangle’s White Noir for Balo; the Dry Rose of Pinot Noir by Jim Klein of Navarro; the round, rich red Pinot Noir by Anthony Filiberti of Knez; and the purple dark version made by Michael Fay of Goldeneye.

Next, we looked at the fruit of Angel Camp Vineyard and how different winemakers used it to make distinctly different wines; the winemakers and wineries featured were Brian Zalaznik of Angel Camp, Dan Goldfield of Dutton Goldfield, and Anne Moller-Racke of Donum. The technical conference ended with a sharing of accumulated extensive knowledge by Clark Smith on the arcana of winemaking.

Friday night’s dinner was a barbecue at Foursight Winery with grilled lamb from Bone Daddy of Bones Roadhouse and music by Dean Titus & The Cowboys. Relaxed, fun, another delicious event with enough Pinot Noir to fill an Olympic sized swimming pool, I sat with folks from Southern California and Washington who heard about the event from someone they ran into in the Middle East. It turns out I knew who they were talking about, John Gaudette. The world of wine is close and doesn’t need a full six degrees of separation to connect us all, I’m convinced.

Saturday morning, Margaret Pedroni, Mendocino County wine personality, joined me at Balo in Philo for an early private press tasting. The Ukiah Daily Journal was represented beside tasters from Wine Enthusiast, Wine Spectator, Wine & Spirits, Connoisseurs’ Guide, San Francisco Chronicle, Examiner, Pinot Report, Pinot File, and more. Heads down, no talking, serious tasting. I’ve done it before, but I preferred the fun and conviviality of the Grand Tasting that followed at Goldeneye.

Goldeneye has a breathtakingly beautiful tasting room and the Grand Tasting event was held behind the tasting room under the shade of a huge white tent in their vineyards. About 750 ticketed guests Pinot Noir based wines; bubblies, blancs, roses, and full on reds; from all of the producers in Anderson Valley and a few producers from farther away who make one or more wines exclusively from Anderson Valley Pinot Noir grapes. Not too big, not too small, but just right, with opportunities to place silent auction bids on donated Pinot-centric items to help the Anderson Valley Health Center, plenty of exceptional food bites, water and soda to remain hydrated, and the fermented juice of Pinot Noir grapes from 45 producers to experience.

I tasted more than 100 wines over the course of the weekend, one was corked ­ and poured at the press tasting ­ but I had tasted it elsewhere already, one didn’t really make me love it, but the vast majority of wines I tasted, over 99 percent, were good at least and great at best. The 2011 vintage wines were brighter and more elegant, coming from a cooler year and the 2012 vintage, being warmer, yielded wines of greater weight and intensity. All of the wines taste of cherry, that is Pinot Noir, but the expressions were varied: black cherry, red cherry, candied cherry, dried cherry, and the supporting notes ranged the gamut from rose petal to cedar, and mushroom to barnyard funk. Some of the Pinot Noir I loved included the 2012 Fel Wines, Ferrington Vineyard; 2007 Elke Pinot Noir, Donnelly Creek Vineyard; 2011 Witching Stick, Cerise Vineyard; 2011 Williams Selyem, Ferrington Vineyard; 2011 Donum, Angel Camp Vineyard; 2012 Baxter, Anderson Valley; 2011 Goldeneye, Gowan Creek Vineyard; 2012 Waits-Mast, Deer Meadow’s Vineyard; and both the 2012 Lichen, Estate and Solera Lichen, Estate. That’s my unordered top 10 for this past weekend.

I urge you to visit the Anderson Valley, taste their Pinot Noir, and their other wines, notably Alsatian varietals like Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, and Riesling, and find your favorites. Also mark the third weekend of May next year on your calendar and plan on attending the 18th annual Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival next year. Huge thanks to my hosts, the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association, and Janis MacDonald and Kristy Charles specifically, for the kind invitation and warm welcome. I had a terrific weekend because you present a first class festival.

 

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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.

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