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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 – Wine Tasting in March

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on March 6, 2014 by John Cesano

This Saturday, Hopland celebrates St. Patrick’s Day a little early with participating winery tasting rooms serving up a little Irish cheer, and homemade Irish dishes, to pair with terrific wines and big savings from 11 a.m.- 5 p.m. St.Patrick’s Day is the day that Rich Parducci and Greg Graziano are as Irish as Guinness McFadden; everybody is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.

McNab Ridge will serve up Irish Stew, Irish soda bread, and Bailey’s Irish whipped cream.

McFadden will have corned beef and cabbage, cooked in McFadden Gewurztraminer and McFadden organic herbs. Ray’s Station is going with Reuben meatballs, Irish cheese, and Irish short bread. Cesar Toxqui Cellars will have Italian food. Naughty Boy and Graziano will also take part in Second Saturday fun.

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Saturday, March 8 from 1 -4 p.m. ­ Little River Whale Festival benefiting MAPA ­ the Mendocino Area Parks Association, and the Van Damme State Park. This is a passport style event over three hours with eight locations. Tickets are $25 in advance and can be purchased by calling Little River Inn at 937-5942 or $30 at the event. Specialties from eight local gourmet chefs and local wines! Participating wineries include Alder Vineyards, Edmeades Winery, Graziano Family of Wines, Handley Cellars, Lichen, Lula Cellars, and Stevenswood Wines. Dessert & locally roasted coffee by Thanksgiving Coffee at the Little River Market & Deli.

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The Wine Road is a Sonoma County winery tourism group run by Beth Costa and includes the Dry Creek Valley, Russian River Valley, and Alexander Valley, all of which surround the town of Healdsburg. Wine Road puts on the Barrel Tasting Weekends with more than 100 participating wineries in and around Healdsburg.

From the Wine Road website page dedicated to the Barrel Tasting Weekends: “Barrel Tasting is not a food pairing or themed event. It’s all about the wine … many wineries offer “futures” on their barrel samples. This is a chance to purchase wine now, often at a discount, then come back to the winery when the wine is bottled, typically 12-18 months from now. Many wines are so limited, buying futures is your only chance to purchase them. Attendees are encouraged to pack a picnic, as most wineries will not have food for this event. The ticket price includes the opportunity to sample wine from the barrel and in most cases also trying a limited number of current release wines.”

Did you notice that they mention that there is no food at the event and encourage folks to bring an entire picnic of food? That is to counter the only negative attached to the event: it has picked up a bit of a reputation as a drunk fest ­ but a very successful drunk fest. I remember attending more than 25 years ago. Barrel Tasting used to be just one weekend and it was free. Alexander Valley opened up Friday night and I would visit there first, with Dry Creek Valley and the Russian River Valley for Saturday and Sunday. The event was largely attended by folks in the wine industry and wine enthusiasts. The event has grown, and gone from free to $5, then $20, and now $30; and from one weekend to two. With 8,000 folks on the road, racing from winery to winery, trying to taste at over 100 and get value for their ticket price, there are horror stories of inebriation. Imagine it, and the reality is 10 times worse. That said, it really is just a few horribly bad apples gaining all of the notoriety, and the event really is otherwise spectacular. The final weekend of the 36th annual Barrel Tasting are this weekend, March 7-9, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day. Advance ticket sales have ended, but wineries will sell tickets at the door. For a map of participating wineries, visit http://bit.ly/1cA956P.

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Saturday, March 22 from 10:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. – Saracina’s Old Soul Red Blending Party. I’ve written before about how much fun a wine blending party can be, I’ve attended the Testa Barn Blend Party two of the three years it has been held, and was able to be one of three judges to help Maria and rusty choose a winner last year. Nelson, McNab Ridge, and now Saracina also have wine blending events, and all are worth attending. Saracina winemaker Alex MacGragor will lead folks through the art and science of wine blending, and then set you loose to help fashion or inspire the next vintage of the Saracina Coro Mendocino. Oops, a rose by any other name. I should have said that you have the chance to blend your own version of the Saracina Atrea Old Soul Red.

Everyone who attends and participates is a winner, as events at Saracina are known for being memorably top notch. After the hard work (it isn’t really, it is big fun) of wine blending winds down, you get to relax and enjoy Saracina wines and a family-style lunch of wood-fired pizzas and gourmet sides prepared by farm-to-table chef Olan Cox.

Given the hands-on nature of this experience, space is very limited. Please call (707) 670-0199 to grab your ticket now. Saracina is located 1.5 miles north of Hopland at 11684 South Hwy 101.

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I fly to Phoenix for the weekend. Perhaps, I’ll review coach class airline wine and airport hotel lounge wine for next week’s column. In the meantime, why don’t you get out this weekend and taste some wine? There certainly are ample opportunities for a great wine weekend close to home. Cheers!

Note: This column originally ran in the Ukiah Daily Journal on Thursday, December 19, 2013 -

Wow, the last column before Christmas. This is where I am supposed to write the cliché “Holiday Gifts for your Wine Lover” piece. I’ll probably mention a couple of things that I like, but first, I have a couple of notes of thanks:

Thank you to everyone who, after reading my column last week, came to the McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room with a new unwrapped toy donation for our Toys For Tots toy drive & wine tasting event. We just about doubled the number of toys brought in last year, and we will be able to bring these toys to the Hopland Volunteer Fire Department for the wonderful firemen to deliver, helping Santa, on Christmas Eve. The thanks for this success, and the joy and smiles of the children helped, is all because of you, and I am incredibly grateful.

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Thanks also go to my boss Guinness McFadden and to our winemakers Bob Swain and Mark Beaman. Last week, I was invited to sit in on tastes of wines we’ll release in the future, and helped shape a future Coro blend. I am a taster guy; I taste wine, describe it, and sell it. I know the rudimentary process of winemaking, but this knowledge is much more theory than practice, and sitting with two accomplished winemakers in their realm, not mine, was a terrific experience. I learned a ton, and I gained a new and valuable perspective.

Finally, many folks to thank for last week’s Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush Ukiah, featuring the 2010 vintage Coro Mendocino wines.

First, thanks to my boss for picking up the tab for my dinner. Next, thanks to the entire staff at Crush, from chefs Jesse and Nate and their entire kitchen crew to the front of house team, for another spectacularly executed wine dinner experience. Speaking of front of house team, thanks to Julie Golden from Coro Mendocino for working alongside the team to pour a plentitude of delicious wine. Huge thanks go to local superstar photographer Tom Liden; as soon as I saw Tom with his camera, I knew I could leave my picture taking device in it’s bag. Finally, thanks to everyone who attended the dinner; without you and the energy you bring, there would be no special wine dinners.

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Photography by Tom Liden, Tom Liden Photography

The Coro Dinner at Crush saw the largest event gathering, 70 guests, in the history of all three Crush restaurants, and the event sold out earlier than any previous dinner, with many people on a waiting list, hoping for a cancellation.

I love the Zinfandel based blends of the Coro Mendocino program, they were all delicious. Food highlights for me were the wedge salad with Nueske bacon, blue cheese, and red onions; the crab balls – they were billed as cakes, but trust me they were balls; oysters Rockefeller; and Prime Rib with all the trimmings. For me, the best, and most memorable, food and wine pairing of the night was at dessert, when the Butterscotch Budino, a bowl with chocolate pudding on the bottom, then caramel pearls, then butterscotch pudding, topped with Chantilly cream and mint – you dug down to get all layers with each spoonful – was paired with the Double Gold and Best of Class awarded 2011 McFadden Late Harvest Riesling. I expected delicious, but this pairing left delicious far behind; this was a perfect pairing. A spoon and a tiny sip, another spoon and another sip, until, too soon, it was gone.

This dinner series is a treat, and I’ll let you know about future dinners when I hear about them.

The next scheduled Coro dinner will be the 2011 vintage release party at the Little River Inn on Saturday, June 28, 2014. For more info, or to make a reservation, call the Little River Inn at (707) 937-5942.

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Okay, here are some wine gift recommendations for Christmas:

Wine. Visit any winery tasting room, enjoy a wine tasting if you have the time, and pick up some delicious wines for the holidays. Wine makes a great hostess gift when you visit for a Christmas party or dinner. Wine makes food taste better, so you should serve it at your table too. A couple of bottles wrapped and placed under the tree make for great emergency gifts when someone gives you a gift and you hadn’t purchased a gift for them yet. Wine was Christ’s first miracle, and he offered a cup to the dinner guests at His last supper, so wine infuses a little miracle into this season of Christmas.

Wine gadgets. A good wine opener, an aerator, reusable bottle stoppers, a Champagne stopper, and a can of argon or argon mixed with nitrogen to preserve wine between glasses are all great gifts that a wine lover will appreciate.

Wine books: I have two to recommend. The first features the words of Heidi Cusick Dickerson, who wrote a weekly wine column in the Journal before I did, and the photography of Tom Liden, and is focused on the wines, wineries, and vineyards of Mendocino County. The book is Mendocino Roots & Ridges and retails for $29.95. It is gorgeously rich in content, and hand signed copies by Heidi and Tom are available widely, including the McFadden tasting room in Hopland.

The second book has a larger focus, The New California Wine by San Francisco Chronicle wine editor Jon Bonne retails at $35, and is available at better book stores everywhere. Among my favorite dozen inland Mendocino vineyards that Bonne notes are Eaglepoint Ranch, Gibson Ranch, Heart Arrow Ranch, Lolonis, McFadden Farm, Sun Hawk, and Testa; as well almost twenty Anderson Valley properties. The book is a look at California’s wine industry today, growers, winemakers, and the wines, and is an absolute must have book for anyone serious enough about wine to have a library of wine books.
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That’s it, some thanks, a couple of wine gift ideas, and this wish: Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, or whatever year end wish for happiness works for you, from me.

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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

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John On Wine – Location, location, location

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal on November 14, 2013 by John Cesano

Tasting wine. It is important to do. Last weekend, I ventured south to taste wines in Sonoma County with a friend from the Sonoma Valley. I tasted more Cabernet Sauvignon wines than I do in a month of tasting in Mendocino County, which, if only for the novelty was a treat. I also reconfirmed that, by and large, the wines grown, made, poured in Mendocino County are just as good as I find anywhere else. It is also entirely possible that by tasting the wines of Mendocino County so frequently, so overwhelmingly, that I am developing a county-wide house palate.

A house palate is what you get when you work for, taste, and drink the wines of one winery. I completely admit to having developed a house palate for the wines made by Carol Shelton when I worked at Windsor Vineyards in the 90s and now I have the same thing going on for the completely different wines grown by Guinness McFadden.

I came to love Carol’s wines for their sexy, feminine, soft, lush, rich fruit forwardness. Now, I look for the food-friendly balance that Guinness’ cool, climate grown, high acid fruit yields in the wines I pour every day. That said, I am just as pleased by wines that are different.

Even though I tend to lean toward the wines I pour daily, I am beyond open, I’m excited to taste new wines. I love finding delicious wines made by wineries I might have dismissed after less than stellar tasting experiences years earlier. The only way to find out what great wines are out is to taste wines.

I’ve been tasting wines for 30 years and can describe the differences that the place a grape is grown can have on flavors, how varietally correct wines from one area differ greatly from varietally correct wines of another area, and how with these differences they can both be varietally correct. I remember when I first fell in love with Pinot Noir, exploring the mineral complexities of a genuine French Burgundy, the candied cherry and rose petal of a Russian River William Selyem, the meatiness of a Monterey Chalone, the Carneros gravel, the way different areas flavored the same grape.

Wine isn’t Kool-Aid or soda, wine is different depending on where it is grown. Of course, vintage and winemaker also play a huge role in how wines taste, but today we’ll stick to place.

Compare Sonoma Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, and the same wine made from grapes grown in the Dry Creek Valley, Napa Valley, Paso Robles, and inland Mendocino County. Heck, compare the wines made by Rosati Family Vineyards using Ridge estate budstock and the same wine made by Ridge using grapes from the same budstock. Paul Draper and Zelma Long are both great winemakers, the wines of both are great, and for all their similarities the Cabernet Sauvignon of Rosati grown in Mendocino County will taste different than the Ridge grown Cabernet Sauvignon grown on the mountain ridges above Santa Clara.

Look, I know that not everyone is wine geeky enough to appreciate subtle differences between wines made from grapes grown in two different northern California wine regions, but try this: imagine tasting Chardonnay made from grapes grown in the dry desolation of baking hot Texas or the wet fetid swampiness of Louisiana. You don’t have to be a Master Sommelier or your crowd’s own Frasier Crane to know that grapes grown in many places outside of California’s wine regions could be horrible.

If you can accept that there are places that grapes shouldn’t be grown, then accepting that we live in a pretty magical area for grape growing should not be too hard a leap of faith. Just look around, there are grapes grown everywhere. Right out in the open, legal, not in hiding, no nasty cartels. Grapes are the real heart of a healthy Mendocino County agricultural scene. We are home to the greatest concentration of green growers. Our grape growers are family farmers, organic, bio diverse, biodynamic, fish friendly, carbon neutral. Seventy-five percent of the county’s grapes end up in the more famous and more expensive wines made in Sonoma and Napa Counties.

We are a farm county and our grapes are highly sought after, offering buyers incredible quality and ridiculously low prices. The wines we make in our county, from the grapes we keep are the bomb. I go on about inland Mendocino County almost every week, heaping deserved praise on wines made by wineries along the Highway 101 upper Russian River corridor, but the Pinot Noir from Toulouse and the Rose of Pinot Noir from Navarro in the Anderson Valley, or Yorkville Cellars’ Late Harvest Semillon grown in the Yorkville Highlands, are wines as good as you are likely to taste anywhere. How do I know? Because I try to taste wines from everywhere.

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A Taste of Redwood Valley, the group who would love you to come taste wines in Redwood Valley, just north of Ukiah, with greater frequency, will be holding their Holiday Wine Sale and Juried Art Faire on Saturday, Nov. 23 and Sunday, Nov. 24 from 11 a.m. ­ 5 p.m., which will provide you a great opportunity to pick up wines for Thanksgiving at savings of up to 40 percent off. Different wineries will have different hours and offers, and some will be open just one of the two days. For more information, visit ATasteOfRedwoodValley.com, and to find me visit Germain-Robin where I will be stocking up on Crispin Cain’s Rose Liqueur and his Absinthe.

SF CHRON SNIP

Carey Sweet visited my tasting room, and then wrote up that visit for a San Francisco Chronicle tasting room review. In five years of writing tasting room reviews, Carey has handed out only a small handful, maybe six in all,  3 and a half star ratings, and McFadden seems to be the first to receive such an honor in over a year. Needless to say, I’m pretty thrilled for my tasting room, but I am equally pleased that Carey had so many nice things to say about how I do what I do. I’m not ordinary, and probably not for everyone, but for folks who are looking for a wine experience, without pretension, just a whole bunch of good wines with some humor mixed in, well, Carey pretty much captured what I do.

To read what Carey does, write great reviews, hit the link and enjoy her complete piece:

http://www.sfgate.com/travel/tastingroom/article/McFadden-Farm-Stand-amp-Tasting-Room-overflows-4850041.php

For those too lazy to follow the link, here is a taste of the most richly complimentary prose dedicated to your’s truly:

Nothing is ordinary when wine tasting at McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room in Hopland (Mendocino County). The space looks like a cute little clapboard house painted in lemon curd yellow, rust red and white trim, set in the Vintage Marketplace center on the town’s main street. But step inside, and if tasting room manager John Cesano is in the house – which he almost always is on weekdays – look out. You’re in for a party.

Cesano has an encyclopedic knowledge of wines, it’s immediately obvious, and such descriptions are how he teasingly separates his product from the mass-produced “often lifeless” competition. McFadden wines are limited production, usually just a few hundred cases each, and the grapes are estate grown, he says, pausing to raise his hands in the air, do a little dance, and sing, “Wooo! We’re making wine!”

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John on Wine – Flotsam and Jetsam

By John Cesano

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal on July 25, 2013

Flotsam and Jetsam refers to a ship’s wreckage and parts thrown overboard, and as today’s column deals with some instances where I have run aground or left pieces out of past columns, the title seems apt.

First, a couple of weeks ago, I wrote that Guinness McFadden planted the first grapes in Potter Valley at his McFadden Farm, about 43 years ago.

Iceberg ahead, and…crash! The day the piece ran, Guinness called me to tell me I was incorrect and that a couple of folks had planted grapevines in Potter Valley before he showed up on the scene.

I had read about McFadden Farm when I came on board as Guinness’ tasting room manager in Hopland and a wine writer with decades of experience wrote about Guinness planting the first grapes in Potter Valley, even adding that others thought he would fail because Potter Valley was too cold for grape vines.

At a wine event later that evening, Barra winemaker Owen Smith, after I shared my chagrin at having perpetuated an inaccuracy, told me that “when faced with fact and legend, print the legend,” paraphrasing the movie quote from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

Turns out I did, but I really try to get it right each week.

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Last week, I wrote about Seebass Family Wines, “Seebass is open by appointment, please call (707) 467-9463 to arrange a visit,” but since my visit they have changed things a bit and, at least through July, the Seebass tasting room and organic produce stand is now open daily from 11 a.m. 5 p.m., no appointment needed.

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I wrote about the first Chef’s Wine Dinner Club event at Crush Italian Steakhouse in Ukiah held back in May. More recently, the second Chef’s Brewmaster Dinner Club event, pairing food with brew was held last week and next on the list is a Chef’s Wine Dinner Club featuring Italian varietals produced by some local wineries. So many possibilities come to mind: Barra, Testa, Chiarito, Graziano, and more; I’ve got to get my ticket. To get on the Chef’s Wine Dinner Club list with Crush, call (707) 463-0700.

EDITED TO ADD: A change since I first wrote the preceding bit, the next Chef’s Winemaster Dinner Club event will be August 21 and feature the Wines of Barra of Mendocino. I’ll be buying my ticket as soon as they become available. – JC 7/25

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I’m going to my second Testa Wine Club Dinner this year, missing last year’s only because of a calendar conflict. Like more than half of the attendees, I am going because I adore Maria; that Maria’s wines are so good makes the night all the better. Officially called the 3rd annual Barn Blending BBQ, it will take place on Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013 from 5 to 10 p.m.

From TestaWines.com: “This is a fun event! Your table works together, blending our three varietal components of our Black “Cinque” ­ To find your tables favorite blend percentages. Then, for the first time, we will then offer for your table to enter your blend in a blind tasting by our wine judges to have a winner!”

Last year, while blending the Petite Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Carignane that goes into the Black blend, a few folks took some of the Zinfandel provided to drink while blending ­- blending is hard work ­- and used it as a fourth component in their blends. Maria was so impressed with the result of some of the blends using Zinfandel that she may add it as a blending component at this year’s event.

Two years ago, when I last blended, at Maria’s first barn party, I was at a table with Kelly Lentz and we found it impossible to make a bad blend with Maria’s wines.

Maria is also talking about letting folks choose whether they want to blend a Black (red) or White wine. Grapes available for white wine blending would include Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Gris, Muscat Canelli, and Viognier.

Maria got two great judges, John Buechsenstein and Rosemary Eddy, and one okay judge, me. We’ll taste the blends each table decides upon and choose our favorites. Maria will use the winning blends for guidance as to what people like when making her next Black and White wines.

Appetizers will be served -­ my fingers are crossed for some of Rusty’s barbecued oysters, then a barbecue dinner with Italian pasta, followed by dessert and dancing. Ukiah’s own Nashville recording artist McKenna Faith will be performing.

Tickets are $55 for Testa wine club members, $70 for the public, and you can call (707) 391-7273 to get yours.

Gold medals are rare, and are rarely repeated in back to back wine competitions. Double Golds, unanimous agreement for Gold by a competition’s judges is rarer still. Maria’s 2010 Testa Carignane has taken Consecutive Double Gold Medals! You might like this wine. Visit Testa at 6400 North State Street in Calpella.

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Martha Barra dropped off a couple of bottles for me to taste, including the 2010 Girasole Vineyards Hybrid Red Wine, Mendocino, a Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Merlot blend that just took a Gold Medal after the previous vintage took back to back Gold Medals. Two vintages of the same wine, rolling up three consecutive Gold Medals suggests this just might please your palate as well. Visit Barra/Girasole at 7051 North State Street in Redwood Valley.

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John Cesano writes about wine and reposts his weekly wine column at JohnOnWine.com

John on Wine

Spotlight Winery: McFadden Vineyard

John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

By John Cesano

Originally Published in the Ukiah Daily Journal on June 27, 2013

Guinness McFadden planted the first wine grapes in Potter Valley more than 40 years ago, in 1970, and has grown organically from day one. In a perfect example of doing well by doing right, Guinness has grown bio-diversely, raising grass fed beef and culinary herbs, braiding premium garlic bulbs, boxing 100 percent pure wild rice, fashioning herbs into holiday wreaths (sold by Williams-Sonoma for the last 38 years), and, of course, growing some of the county’s most sought after grapes.

The grapes from McFadden Farm have been sold to Robert Mondavi, Sterling, Chateau Montelena, Navarro, Piper Sonoma, Paul Dolan, and Dashe, among many others, and the wines made from McFadden Farm grapes have been tasted by the nation’s top reviewers: Robert Parker, James Laube, Virginie Boone, Charlie Olken, and Stephen Tanzer.

In 2003, Guinness saved some of his grapes and released his first wines under the McFadden Vineyard label in 2005.

In 2008, Guinness opened the McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room in Hopland and, in 2011, he asked me to manage it.

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Guinness McFadden in 1970 at McFadden Farm in Potter Valley

McFadden Farm is 500 acres, at the north end of Potter Valley, up against the mountains, and is where the famed Russian River springs to life before flowing from the river’s highest elevation. The mountains throw shade and collect wind and, with the elevation and the river itself, these cooling influences make McFadden Farm the coolest property in the valley with the largest nightly temperature drop.

The cool climate allows a little extra hang time for grapes, leading to fuller flavor development, where the same grapes grown elsewhere would have to be picked sooner or suffer the burnt fig and prune notes of raisining. The nightly temperatures that plummet through the summer bring high acid, which provides structure for the wines and balance for their prevalent fruit notes.

Experimenting with growing, Guinness found the best ways to grow his grapes. Some varietals are head pruned while others are trellised, some grow on the bank of the river in loamy soil while others grow on rocky hillside slopes, and some are dry farmed while others are irrigated. These different methods lead to grapes that allow the winemakers, Bob Swain at the Mendocino Wine Company and Raphael Brisbois at Rack & Riddle, to make top quality wines.

The 2013 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition awarded the 2011 McFadden Chardonnay, $16, a Double Gold Medal, making it both the highest awarded Chardonnay in Mendocino County at the largest judging of American wines in the nation, and the highest awarded unoaked Chardonnay in the country.

A first ever Dessert White entry – McFadden Farm is famous for dry Alsatian styled Gewurztraminer and Riesling – ­ the sublimely sweet 2011 McFadden Late Harvest Riesling was judged Best of Class (the best Late Harvest Riesling in the nation) at the same competition.

Virginie Boone, wine writer and reviewer of Mendocino County wines for Wine Enthusiast Magazine wrote, “A Mendocino County pioneer, McFadden Farm continues to impress with its cool-climate whites, sparkling and dessert wines, and is well-deserved in receiving both a Best of Class and Double Gold in the Chronicle’s recent wine competition. Their wines just keep getting better and these recent awards nicely reflect that.”

Just Wine Points, an extension of Wine X Magazine, rated 13 McFadden Vineyard wines 94 Points or above in the last year. The Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Coro Mendocino, and Sparkling Cuvee Brut wines of McFadden Vineyard are uniformly excellent.

There are two ways to taste the wines of McFadden Vineyard.

The easiest way is to visit the McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room at 13275 S Hwy 101 #5 in Hopland, in the same building that houses the tasting rooms of Graziano, Naughty Boy, and Ray’s Station. If you visit during the week, I’ll pour for you and tell you about each wine. If you visit on the weekend, another happy McFadden pourer will welcome you gladly. While visiting, you will also find a freezer filled with grass fed beef, jars of air dried herbs and herb blends, honey, boxes of wild rice, braids of garlic, and holiday wreaths, ­ some items seasonally, ­ grown organically at McFadden Farm and available along with bottles or cases of top quality wines for purchase.

The most fun way to taste McFadden wines is to attend the Wine Club Dinner at the Farm on Saturday, July 13 from 5-11p.m. Open to the public, but limited to the first 225 tickets sold, this is our biggest and most fun event each year. The fun begins with a wine and appetizer reception at 5 p.m., while some take a walking tour of the farm with Guinness. Dinner is prepared by Chef Fontaine McFadden and features locally raised grilled pork and lamb, vegetable dishes, salads and desserts. McFadden wines and sparkling Brut will flow, including saved library wines and new releases. Dancing goes late into the night. Of the 225 who will attend, we expect 100, or more, will come early, set up a tent, and then stay overnight for camping.

The entire night’s fun takes place on the bank of the Russian River at McFadden Farm, 16000 Powerhouse Road, Potter Valley.

Tickets are $60 each. McFadden Wine Club members can purchase two tickets at $50 each. Children 12 and under are just $20 each. Tickets sell out, but can be purchased in advance by calling the McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room at (707) 744-8463.

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John Cesano manages the McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room in Hopland and had to cut about 2,500 words to make this – the easiest column to write so far – fit in the space allowed (and still went long).

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Ukiah Daily Journal weekly wine column for June 27, 2013

Ukiah Daily Journal weekly wine column for June 27, 2013

Okay, that was the piece than ran in the journal. Here’s a little more:

So, the morning this ran, I spoke with Guinness and he let me know that I had a couple of facts wrong in the piece. In my defense, these “facts” that were wrong have been widely reported by others before me, and I assumed them to be true.

I shared later that night, at a wine gathering, how humbling it is to report something incorrectly and how, when writing a column about another winery, there is almost an assumption by the folks I visit that errors will creep in to any story written about their winery; Jason McConnell at Rivino winery once told me that he was happy when something written about his winery was 90% accurate.

I do not shoot for 90% accuracy in my writing. I really want to hit 100% every time, so it was especially bothersome to see inaccuracies in a piece about the place I’ve worked the last few years. If I don’t know the story, who does?

Owen Smith, my friend and the interim winemaker for Barra and Girasole, made me smile when he referenced what might be the best line in the movie The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, “This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” I think Owen was telling me that the Universe would forgive my errors as, ironically, they helped tell the story more truly.

When dealing with a character as legendary as Guinness McFadden, when I read that Guinness planted the first grapes in Potter Valley, I believed it, and I have passed on that “fact”.

Turns out that Thornton planted grapes in Potter Valley before Guinness did, but why let that truth get in the way of the legend?

Today marks the end of my second full year running Guinness McFadden’s retail shop in Hopland.

In my first two years, numbers at the McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room continue to climb and climb; this month we are up 89.92% over last year’s March revenue, which was up over the March before, as an example.

It helps that our wines have gone from being very good to the best in the area. I am not responsible for the constantly improving wine quality, but it sure makes my job easier.

We’ve implemented new marketing initiatives at McFadden, and I still have a long list of areas that still need improvement.

Our wine club membership numbers are the highest they have ever been, and I am so grateful for the support of our members.

During these first two years working in the Mendocino wine industry:

I have written over 40 newsletters and 17 press releases for various groups.

I have taken on new design work to help increase local tourism.

I served as secretary on the board of directors for our local tourism group, Destination Hopland.

I provided marketing services to Destination Hopland and 101 Things to Do in Mendocino.

I continued to write (sporadically) for my own blog, JohnOnWine.

I wrote for Destination Hopland, 101 Things to Do in Mendocino, Mendocino Winegrape & Wine Commission, City of Santa Rosa blog (rare fit, as my pieces have a Mendo focus), and the Ukiah Daily Journal.

I have appeared on KSRO 1350AM’s The Drive with Steve Jaxon show as the Mendocino wine correspondent for McFadden, for Destination Hopland in advance of Hopland Passport, and for Coro Mendocino in advance of the groups only farm to table wine dinner.

I help the best Wine Club Party in the industry happen, mostly by staying out of the way…fun happens by itself if you let it.

I put together an inaugural Toys For Tots toy drive and wine tasting event last December that was a huge success. We collected a lot of toys for local children in need, thanks to a great community of friends who supported our efforts, and will certainly be doing this every year from now on.

Tomorrow, I am told, my weekly wine column begins in the Ukiah Daily Journal.

I received a note from a former employer, someone I feel fond affection for, Howard Smith, at my work anniversary. He wrote, “You’re a great evangelizer for the industry.” I appreciate the note, it couldn’t be kinder.

I am looking forward to year three. I am so grateful to have been welcomed into the local community. It has been a joy to work collaboratively with so many folks on so many projects. Sometimes, I have a look of concentrated focus on my face, instead of my goofy smile, as I have multiple projects all with impending deadlines, but please know that I love my career, I love being able to interact with all of the people I get to, so feel free to break through my focus and say hello.

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

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