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John On Wine – ­ A Mendo bubbly fest recap

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on April 10, 2014
Written by John Cesano

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Last Saturday, April 5th, I attended the inaugural Celebration of Mendocino County Sparkling Wines. I was not alone, more than 150 people showed up at Terra Savia in Hopland. Many were readers of this column who were kind enough to say hello, some were wine club members of the tasting room I manage, and some were brand new to me ­ but not brand new to having fun as they clearly knew what they were doing.

Alison de Grassi and Gracia Brown, the wonder twins from Visit Mendocino responsible for events and marketing, attended as did Mendocino County District Attorney David Eyster. The support for this great event was really impressive. The day was beautiful; I parked a short walk away from the site, and saw workers raking muddy leaves into a pile, the scent earthy, almost mushroomy, and wonderful.

A Gathering of friends

Birds were chirping many different songs in the trees around. The sky could not have been more blue or clear. Terra Savia operates from a large yellow metal building filled with art and custom handcrafted furniture of immense proportion. Within the space, a dozen tables were set up in a circle, each table a microburst of activity, color, and energy as each participating winery created their own presentation space.

Here are a few definitions for bubbly-centric wine terms that may prove useful as you read on: Brut means dry. Cuvee means blend. En tirage means time yeast and lees spend in the bottle before disgorgement. Lees are spent yeast, yeast that converted sugar into alcohol, heat, and carbon dioxide during fermentation. Blanc de Blanc means white of white and suggests that Chardonnay is the grape the wine is made from; as opposed to Blanc de Noir, a white wine made from red wine grapes, typically Pinot Noir, but given no time on skin after crush, so no color. A magnum is a bottle twice as large as normal, 1.5 L. vs, 750 ml.

Bubbly Gathering

Graziano poured their Cuvee #10 Sparkling Brut, a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Blanc from the 2010 vintage that spent three full years en tirage. This bubbly had the most clear lemon note of the sparkling wines being poured at the event, balanced by a rich yeastiness. Both Greg Graziano and Bobby Meadows poured for the assembled crowd.

Handley poured a 2003 Brut, made from 60 percent Pinot Noir and 40 percent Chardonnay, with flavors of steely mineral lemon and vanilla apple.

Guinness McFadden and Judith Bailey poured the 2014 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition double gold medal winning 2009 McFadden Reserve Sparkling Brut, a blend of 50 percent Chardonnay and 50 percent Pinot Noir that spent more than two-and-a-half-years on yeast and lees in the bottle before disgorgement. The flavors are bright, showing apple and grapefruit tempered by brioche and nut.

Nelson poured a nice NV Blanc de Blanc with bright lemon, pear, and apple notes.

I really liked the Paul Dolan NV Brut, a cuvee of 45 percent Chardonnay and 55 percent Pinot Noir, with 100 percent of the grapes from McFadden Farm. Bright, unapologetically crisp, with green apple, grapefruit, and pineapple.

Rack and Riddle poured for sparkling wines. I tasted their NV Brut, showing orange, cream, apple, and lemon; and a Brut Rose that was dry, dry, dry with strawberry over ice crispness.

Ray’s Station’s NV Brut offering was 65 percent Chardonnay and 35 percent Pinot Noir and was fairly broad and round with apple, pear, and bready notes. Although Brut suggests dryness, this seemed a touch sweeter ­ at least in comparison with the wine tasted just before this one. Margaret Pedroni captivated attendees as she described the wine she poured.

Roederer Estate poured from 1.5 liter magnums, which is nicely showy. Their NV Brut tasted of pear, green apple, nut, and lemon; the NV Brut Rose showed lovely balance and flavors of apple and strawberry.

Scharffenberger’s NV Brut tasted of dry yeasty ginger, citrus, and apple.

Signal Ridge garnered a lot of buzz from attendees, with tasters elevating the apple, almond and mineral flavored Brut into their top three tastes.

Terra Savia, the host for the event, poured their lovely 2009 Blanc de Blanc, showing bright apple and lemony citrus notes.

Yorkville Cellars doesn’t grow Chardonnay or Pinot Noir, the grapes typically found in sparkling wines, but Bordeaux varietals instead. Previously, Yorkville made a Sparkling Rose of Malbec, the only one I had ever tasted, and it was good. The current release I jokingly refer to as the cuvee of crazy, because the blend was unimaginable prior to it being poured for me: 51 percent Semillion, 24 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, and 25 percent Sauvignon Blanc. The result isn’t crazy at all, but rounder than is typical with the Bordeaux varietal fruit offering up flavors of grapefruit and cranberry.

Bubbly Feast

The food for this event was spectacular, and one of the most enjoyable aspects of the event was random pairings of different foods and sparkling wines. Some pairings elevated both the food and beverage, while other pairings oddly diminished the wine being tasted. There will be a Mendo Bubbly Fest next year, and I’ll attend again, but get out of your house and into the tasting rooms of these wineries to taste their sparkling wines this weekend, or soon, and bring a bottle or two home ­ not to serve on a special day, but to make a day special by serving them.

 

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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

Writing a post after 10 pm is not the way to get a ton of readers. Heck, writing an online piece doesn’t carry the same weight that writing a column for the local newspaper does. That said, I should do this more often, write a piece just because, small, for you and, as much as I love you, more importantly, for me.

Tonight I attended the second Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush in Ukiah, and it was fantastic. Again.

Owner Doug and Manager Dave are terrific, but they allow their staff the opportunity to shine and that is their genius.

Chef Jesse banged out some scallops that were, in a word, perfect. Want two words? Way perfect.

Chef Zack served up some little puff pastry and magic bacon things, I don’t know what they were, other than orgasmic, but I could have eaten another hundred, I’m sure.

For the second Chef’s Wine Dinner in a row, oysters were served as an appetizer. Feel free to serve them again at the third Chef’s Wine Dinner. They are great!

The rabbit was so good. If only more people would think of cute bunnies, I could have had more of the very popular and oh so yummy rabbit.

There was veal tartare with tuna in a mini cannelloni and an Insalata Nichoise, but there just wasn’t enough of the Nueske pork wrapped veal sweetbreads with porcini tortellini on our end of the table. Oh, what a dish!

Did I forget to mention the lobster creamed corn, or the lamb with saffron and breadcrumbs? Yeah, I ate those too.

Dessert was a homemade 100 proof lemoncello and vanilla Semifreddo.

I go on about the food, but I love food. I am not on a diet. If there is any good in being fat, then it is not having to be moderate in enjoyment of great food.

No Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush is possible without wine. This time, the wine came from Charlie and Martha Barra’s Barra of Mendocino and Girasole labels.

The Barra wines spend time in expensive French oak. I had the Chardonnay with scallops and lobster corn. Note: all corn should be lobster corn, let’s pass a law.

I had a Barra Cabernet Sauvignon with the lamb, rabbit, and a ratatouille that didn’t suffer for being a vegetable only dish. This growing boy loves his proteins.

The Girasole line runs to stainless steel and neutral oak. I enjoyed the Pinot Blanc with the oysters and Insalata Nicoise, and the Pinot Noir with the veal tartare and veal sweetbreads.

Charlie and Martha poured their Muscat Canelli with the dessert.

The best food and wine pairing of the night, by a mile, was the Girasole Pinot Noir with the bacon in puff pastry appetizer things. I do not know what they were, but they weren’t regular bacon. Imagine God made a pig pregnant, you can call the pig Mary if you want, but you do not have to if it makes you uncomfortable. Anyway imagine that a chef does magic chef things to God bacon, and sticks it in little bread bites, and that is what I ate, washing it down with gorgeous Pinot Noir.

I sat between Martha and Frank. Martha is Martha Barra. Frank is the father who brought his daughter, granddaughter, wife and friends to the dinner for his daughter’s birthday. She was 60, but she looked much younger. Good on you, young looking birthday girl!

Owen Smith, winemaker for Barra was at the dinner. It is always good to see Owen. Also attending was superstar marketer Gracia Brown. Gracia helped Crush, along with Martha and the Barra team, almost double the seats sold for this Chef’s Wine Dinner. Gracia and I last sat at the kid’s table at the Mendocino County Wine Competition awards dinner, and that is probably where I belong most often. Tonight, I mostly behaved and sat with the adults.

Some patrons told me that they read my words in the restroom, and I was surprised because I did not remember putting my phone number on the stall wall, but it turned out that the Crush crew posted my newspaper column reviewing their first Chef’s Wine Dinner for folks to read. Works for me.

Anyway, another spectacular evening. Happy diners, many new to a Chef’s Wine Dinner, eating, drinking laughing, talking, just plain having a great night. Before I wrap this post, kudos as well to the hostess and servers too. Everyone worked together to make tonight work for all.

I definitely love living where I do, and doing what I do, allowing me to share with you some of the best of it.

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John on Wine

Spotlight Winery: Albertina Vineyards

Originally Published in the Ukiah Daily Journal on August 8, 2013 by John Cesano

Along with my friend Gracia Brown, I spent a wonderful afternoon with Fred and Alberta Zmarzly at their remote, terraced-hillside vineyards tasting wine, eating some salami and cheese on crackers, and getting to know each other a little better.

Fred and Alberta met in Belmont at a nightclub called the Swiss Chalet, the band playing that evening was the Warlocks. The Warlocks would shortly after change their name to the Grateful Dead. Alberta also changed her name, taking Fred’s, Zmarzly, when they married.

For those keeping score at home, Gracia has previously graced columns both here in print and my online blog, for having been the talented and hardworking representative of the county’s wine industry when she worked for the Mendocino Winegrape and Wine Commission, and more recently as Martha and Charlie Barra’s current marketing superstar.

Together, Gracia and I left Hopland as we first traveled west, and then south and up, up, upward until we came to the cabin home of Fred and Alberta. Fred met and welcomed us, wearing relaxed farmers garb; blue jeans, a faded blue polo shirt, brown work boots, and a ball cap emblazoned “SIP! Mendocino” ­ which is where Albertina’s wines can be purchased in Hopland.

With a cooler filled with wine tasting and picnic provisions, we walked from Fred’s home, past a water pond, and up into the Albertina vineyards, a nudge over 400 acres around the side and up Duncan Peak.

As we walked, Fred shared that having moved from Buffalo, NY to California, and then on to Santa Rosa, he and Alberta were looking for a place to raise cattle and farm when they found a real estate ad offering a “pond, hunting, and lodge.” The ad stretched the lodge part, but they bought the place in 1983, rebuilt the cabin home and refurbished the other two “lodge” buildings in 1985 and 1986, decided to go into grapes in 2000, took care of water needs in 2001, and actually planted their Albertina vineyards in 2002.

Albertina means “little Alberta” in Italian, and is what Alberta’s father called her as a child. Now the name allows Fred to share his love for his wife with each bottle of wine made from their grapes.

On a knoll with 25 mile views, under the shade of oak trees in the center of the vineyards we tasted the 2009 Albertina Cabernet Sauvignon ($26). Made by Penny Gadd-Caster, who made Jordan’s Cabernet for 13 years, at Rack & Riddle in Hopland, this was a supple and smooth red, rich and redolent, with powerful blackberry fruit against a backdrop of leather, chocolate, and violet, with lighter supporting fruit notes of cherry and strawberry. A gorgeously integrated wine, there is a terrific nose to mouth to finish continuity of notes.

Fred sells 40 tons of fruit to Constellation, a giant in the industry with more than 50 wine brands in the U.S., and splits the rest between Rack & Riddle and Greg Graziano for turning into Albertina wines.

Fred next poured us some of his 2009 Albertina Cabernet Franc, Meredith’s Reserve ($24).

Outdoors, comfortably seated with friends, new and old, I tasted Fred’s Franc. Layers of flavors, red raspberry fruit, licorice, herb, pepper, and red plum played in a fruit forward styled enjoyable drinkable, soft, medium bodied wine.

Fred told us a bit about farming grapes and said there are really 12 things a farmer needs to do to make good grapes, irrigation being one of those things. Joking that his endeavors might be saintly, like Jesus he turns water into wine, but he’s not as good at it because it takes Fred 1/2 million gallons of water to make 3,000 gallons of wine each year.

After walking through the vineyard and seeing where a small portion came through a recent fire started by a tractor exhaust spark, we returned to the cabin home and met Alberta who had been resting during the hottest part of a very hot summer day.

The Zmarzly home is comfortable and charming, with a lovely antique stove and oven that definitely caught both Gracia’s and my eyes. We were also impressed with the casts of bear prints and the bear tales Alberta and Fred shared.

Paired with salami, cheese, and crackers, we tasted the 2009 Albertina Merlot, Lorelei’s Reserve ($24). Perfumed plum in a glass, the Merlot was the third of three Bordeaux varietal reds grown on the Zmarzly Family Vineyard to impress and please. Supporting notes included warm candied cherry and herb.

The four of us alternately sat and stood, conversations were weaved, stories told. We got to hear about the liquor stills that Alberta’s family had on the ranch where she grew up, and how the Feds blew the stills up, and while some folks got prosecuted, her father got off.

We heard about how the town of Hopland has changed over the years, since the Zmarzlys first came to town in 1983 until 2011 when I started managing a tasting room in town.

We talked about farming, conventional and organic ­ the Albertina vineyards are sustainably farmed.

Four hours passed and three wines were tasted. This was a standout experience for me, a wonderfully enjoyable and relaxed day chatting over wine. Fun.

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John Cesano, an ardent Deadhead, listened to the almost 24-year-old, October 9, 1989 Hampton Coliseum “Warlocks” show while putting this column together, in honor of Fred and Alberta’s meeting at a show by the band 24 years earlier still.

John on Wine – Barra of Mendocino and Girasole

By John Cesano
The cypress tree surrounded Barra event center on North State Street, just north of Calpella in Redwood Valley is home to a wine tasting bar that plays host to special private events. On recent visits I have seen the large interior space set up beautifully for a wedding reception and a baby shower.
BARRA

Photograpy by Diane Davis, Diane Davis Photography

Invited to taste through the wines of both Barra and Girasole, I found Barra of Mendocino wines are bigger and feature a mix of specific oak barrels, often Louis Latour barrels to bring specific notes to the wines, while Girosole are largely stainless steel tank driven wines with just a small percentage of French and American oak for flavor.

My tasting hosts were winemaker Jason Welch and marketing specialist Gracia Brown.

A little history: Charlie Barra is a Mendocino County wine industry icon. In 1945, while still a teen in high school, Charlie farmed his first leased ranch and in 1955 bought his 175 acre Redwood Valley vineyard.

In 1997, after years of farming organic wine grapes to sell to other wineries, Charlie dedicated a portion of his grapes to his own wines and Petite Sirah was his first commercial bottling under his own name.

Martha, Charlie’s wife, runs things with a focus and a no-nonsense directness I respect.

Winemaker Jason Welch is filled with infectious enthusiasm for his craft and a palpable fondness for each of the wines he is creating for Charlie and Martha. With turns at Heller and Julien Estates in Carmel Valley, Sonoma County’s Wattle Creek Winery, and Regusci Winery in Napa, Jason picked up knowledge and skills that are in clear evidence in the wines he is making today.

Martha Barra brilliantly brought Gracia on-board, harnessing her work ethic for Barra and Girasole after the demise of the Mendocino Winegrape & Wine Commission (MWWC) last year.

The first wine we tasted was the 2011 Girasole Pinot Blanc. Nicely perfumed with light vanilla, apple and citrus. Stainless bright fruit and acidity matched by a touch of light creaminess from 10 percent neutral oak, this wine balances a slightly flinty character with nice aromatics. $13. The Pinot Blanc took a Gold medal at the 2013 San Francisco Chronicle wine Competition.

“Aromatics” is a word Jason loves and his winemaking style focuses on bringing a complex mix of aroma notes characteristic to each varietal he works with, while allowing both a sense of place and the vintage to speak with each release.

As a treat, we tasted the pretty much sold out 2011 Barra Pinot Noir Rosé. This wine is saignée or bleed style where the lightly colored wine is removed from the skin at an early stage of making a red wine, and made with super cold fermentation and Rhone styled yeasts. It was delicate, with rose petal, strawberry, cherry notes, and it was delicious. The 2012 release will be slightly lower alcohol and higher acid, which should offer even more opportunity for the fruit to be showcased. $18.

The 2010 Barra Chardonnay is rich and would be a treat to taste again 8-9 years from now. Barrel select; 10 barrels were kicked loose from this wine program, with 30 percent French oak, the wine is unsurprisingly oaky, with vanilla, cream, and butter notes as it also went through 100 percent malolactic fermentation. The grapes themselves give up apple and pear fruit notes. $18.

The 2010 Girasole Pinot Noir ($16) was soft, with nice acid providing good balance for strawberry, cherry, herb, spice, and mineral notes, while the 2010 Barra Pinot Noir ($20) was darker, richer, riper with bigger mouthfeel and notes of earthy cherry and cola with a little more tannin.

2010 Barra Sangiovese is plummy fruit and chocolate and licorice on the nose, and cherry, anise, and raspberry in the mouth. A pretty color, this wine reminded me of a Grateful Dead show: plenty of acid. $18

The front end of the 2009 Barra Cabernet Sauvignon is great with nice big blackberry, cassis, herb, and lovely tannin. $20.

We went outside and tasted tank and barrel samples of future releases. My sense is that the future is even more exciting than the already delicious present for Barra and Girasole.

I’ll be visiting the event center over the course of the year as Barra plays host to many can’t miss events throughout the year, from crab feeds to farm to table celebrations of the county’s bounty.

For more information about Barra and Girasole, visit http://www.barraofmendocino.com or call (707) 485-0322.

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John Cesano has a son, Charlie, who turned 16 last month. If you have a dependable older car you would like to gift to a mostly good boy, contact John at JohnCesano@aol.com
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Hi, John here. The online version of my column allows me the space to add some thoughts that didn’t fit my edited piece for the newspaper.

I wanted to add some personal notes. With roughly 750 words allowed in the paper, I need to put my focus on the wines when writing about a winery, but it is the people, just as much as the wines, that define a winery for me. Here is a little more about the folks at Barra/Girasole:

I adore Gracia Brown. I met Gracia when she shouldered an enormous workload as part of the now defunct Mendocino Winegrape & Wine Commission. I had many opportunities to work with Gracia and couldn’t be more impressed with her work ethic and cheerful attitude. Although Gracia has never been employed by McFadden, I think she has poured our wines no fewer than three times for us. When my son turns of legal age, if he still wants a tattoo, I will point him toward Gracia’s husband, a gifted artist.

Winemaker, Jason Welch is both likeable and passionate. I am looking forward to tasting the wines he produces for Barra and Girasole in the coming years.

Charlie Barra is an icon. When I talk about my boss, Guinness McFadden, being a leader in the organic farming movement, I am always mindful that Charlie has ten years of organic growing on Guinness.

Charlie’s wife Martha just knocks me out. We have had the opportunity to work together going back to my time working with the Wine Appreciation Guild a dozen years ago. Martha knows her mind, isn’t shy sharing her thoughts, has plenty of drive and a positive assumptive attitude; she gets things done. I like Martha, and respect the heck out of her.

Katrina Kessen is my counterpart at Barra, managing their tasting room. We never seem to see each other as we work many of the same days and hours, but she likes the music of Grateful Dead so she obviously is a woman of refinement and exquisite taste.

Note: In between being published in the paper and posted here online, I got to meet Katrina. We had a very nice time pouring next to each other at an event focused on wineries with organically grown grapes over this past Earth Day weekend. I look forward to seeing the Barra/Girasole team often in the future.

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