John on Wine – The wine wheel keeps turning

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, September 17, 2015

Following the column two weeks ago about what Mendocino County’s wineries can do to increase the reputation of their wines and the county’s vineyards can do to increase the prices paid for their grapes, and outlining what we are doing well and not well, I had a tremendous amount of feedback, all positive, and I thank folks for reading and for reaching out.

Following the piece, I was a guest speaker for the Rotary Club of Ukiah, and as the piece, out of all the pieces I have written over the years, was mentioned, I led off by reading it aloud. Then I spoke about wine tasting in general, McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room in particular, and some of the other wine growing areas of the county, before taking a look at what we can do cooperatively, using the Coro Mendocino as a shining example of various county wineries working together in a way that benefits the whole county wine scene, moving forward.

Following my talk, I took questions, and the two asked both dealt with the challenges unique to our county in making our case to the general public, the trade, and the media about the quality of our grapes and the wines they make.

In response to those questions, I explained that Mendocino County has a strong streak of rugged individualism that runs through it, and that is a defining characteristic of our county’s wine scene and the many characters that make up our vineyard and winery owners. In the past, people were hired from outside the county to try to help lead the various promotional wine organizations that have existed, and none fully appreciated that unique maverick spirit, and many initiatives that should have been implemented may have failed because forging cooperation among so many different folks is made more difficult by that lack of appreciation for the unique character of the county. The key to forging cooperation is awareness of the differences, meeting each of the county’s stakeholders, listening to their unique viewpoints, genuinely appreciating them, and asking for participation – in spite of some small objections – for the general overall betterment of the larger group. There has been too much talking at, instead of listening and talking with, in the past, and in a voluntary group there will not be complete agreement or participation, but it can be better. Realistic, pragmatic, consensus building, and a long term dedication that will span decades, can see the wine world at large appreciate the quality of our wines more and that will inevitably lead to higher prices for our grapes.

Among the Rotarians were two members of the county’s wine scene; Monte Hill, a board member of Coro Mendocino, and George Phelan, winemaker for Dunnewood, Mendocino Vineyards, and the Coro wine of Clos du Bois. Also present were two McFadden wine club members; Michael Laybourn, who invited me to speak, and Jon Ferguson, who asked me to tell folks about Second Saturday in Hopland, where half a dozen wineries offer complimentary food and wine pairings and a sale on the featured wine, for visitors. As an example, on Saturday, September 12, McFadden offered up an asparagus and avocado salad to pair with the county’s (state’s, nation’s ?) top awarded bubbly. Other participants include Graziano, Jaxon Keys, McNab Ridge, Cesar Toxqui, and Milano, and there may well be more. I’m sure the professional marketers for Destination Hopland comb over the Facebook and Twitter posts, and subscribe to the newsletters, of each member winery and pull the info about Second Saturday, and other events, and post it to their constantly updated event calendar at DestinationHopland.com; I know I did when I handled some of their marketing.

Thank you very much to the Rotary Club of Ukiah for your invitation, for the opportunity to share my love for Mendocino County wine and those who make it, and for donating to ShelterBox disaster relief in my name, and for allowing me to increase that donation with a donation of my own. I look forward to your visits to my tasting room, and to those of our neighbors throughout the county. Tell them I sent you.

My son Charlie is at Fort Benning, Georgia for U.S. Army Infantry basic training. As I write this, I saw him off just over two weeks ago, and since then I have heard his voice for less than two minutes, and am still waiting on his first letter to arrive with a return address that will allow me to send him letters from home to help brighten a less than completely fun, and oftentimes wholly un-fun, experience. I would love to fly out for his graduation and put my own Infantry blue cord on his dress uniform; we’ll see how that goes, getting away from the tasting room at all in December is always difficult.

One week before he left, Charlie helped me move across town in Ukiah, to a lovely townhouse that met my needs better, with a laundry room to save me trips to the laundromat, where I am allowed to cook at my outside patio on my ridiculously large grill, and can have a kitten to keep me company now that my son has moved out.

So many boxes to unpack, so much to organize, but enough done that I can take a break from unboxing and get back out and do some wine tasting. Look for a winery spotlight piece on Yorkville Cellars in the next couple of weeks, a long overdue visit there is next.

Here’s a terrifically delicious and simple recipe with wine to try: An old Navy buddy of Guinness McFadden, artisan potter Dick Lumaghi, throws his beautiful culinary pottery at the Farm, and this recipe is made using one of his Yunnan Steamer pots, available for sale in the McFadden tasting room, with similar steamer pots available in kitchen shops and online. I can attest that this steamer is awesome…..whether cooking a dish from the start or heating leftovers.

Dick Lumaghi Yunnan Steamer Pot

Dick Lumaghi Yunnan Steamer Pot

Place chicken pieces inside the Lumaghi steamer pot, add a half cup any of Mendocino County’s top awarded Sparkling Cuvee Brut wines and three slices of fresh ginger. Place two or three strips of green onion on top of the chicken. Cover, place the steamer on top of a pot of boiling water and let steam for 45 minutes.

Note: the boiling water in your pot, under the pottery steamer pot vessel, may likely need to be replenished once or twice during the steam cooking of this dish. Enjoy!



John on Wine: Myriad musings

Grape harvest throughout Mendocino County has begun, and will continue variety by variety, and appellation by appellation, through the month and possibly into October.

Last week, Sarah Reith wrote a terrific piece for this newspaper about this year’s harvest being earlier than ordinary, with grape grower Bill Pauli quoted as saying, “everything is earlier than normal…where we normally would start in the first week of September,” speaking of harvesting champagne grapes, “we’re finishing up [mid August].”

Reith also reported a 9 percent to 20 percent decrease in tonnage this year, due to low pollination. Devon Jones, executive director at the Mendocino County Farm Bureau, shared with Reith that in most years there is “a little bit of a break between white and red,” but this year, some growers “have to pick everything at once.”

My boss, Guinness McFadden, confirmed this as well, “on Thursday August 13th we picked our first grapes of the 2015 vintage, Chardonnay for a future Sparkling Brut. This is the earliest we’ve ever picked in my 45 years here. Everything seems to be ripening at once, so we’ll be pretty busy frantically trying to get each variety into fermenters at the optimum ripeness. It’s a challenge every year but this year will be even more so.”

Compact harvest seasons can lead to difficulties, as more growers are dependent on a limited seasonal harvest crew at the same time, and more trucks are showing up at wineries in a shorter time window. Smaller harvests are a bitter disappointment for growers, who make more money when they have more fruit to sell, but often lead to delight for wine consumers, as each of the fewer grapes on a vine receive more vitality and flavor than in plentiful years.

My two favorite times of the year are spring and fall. Spring, for the abundance of color, the visual delight that a vineyard presents; green vine shoots, yellow mustard between the rows, blue skies, white puffy clouds, and perhaps white or pink fruit tree blossoms nearby. Fall, for the rich scents, the aromatic delight that a winery presents; driving at midnight, windows down, breathing in the scents of freshly pressed juice during crush. I love living and working in the wine industry, acutely aware of the climate, and how weather can affect the wines that will come from each new vintage’s wine grapes.


Last week, I urged any vineyard or winery owners who were reading my column to visit MendoWine.com and then call executive director Aubrey Rawlins of Mendocino WineGrowers Inc, to join the group. My message about the value of cooperative marketing to improve the reputation of Mendocino County wines and increase the prices our growers see for their grapes was timely, but asking that folks call Aubrey was less timely.

I found out several days later that Aubrey and MWI had an amicable parting, with Aubrey pursuing opportunities in San Francisco, and MWI looking for a new executive director. Mendocino WineGrowers Inc. should have a wealth of qualified candidates apply for the position, as the best candidate chosen from many can help increase funding for the organization and meet the needs of the board and the member wineries and vineyards they represent.


If you think you have the skill set to achieve cooperation from rugged individualists, Mendocino Winegrowers Inc. wants your cover letter and resume. Visit MendoWine.com to find out more about the organization, and then send your cover letter and resume by email to info@mendowine.com soon. The larger the applicant pool, the better for the Mendocino wine industry as a whole.

This weekend is Winesong, the wine immersive charity event benefiting the Mendocino Coast Hospital Foundation. Visit Winesong.org for more info and to get last-minute tickets, if any are still available; $150 tickets for Saturday include full access to the wine and food tasting from 11-2 and live/silent auction after, commemorative Winesong tasting glass and tray, and festival seating at the live auction. $250 reserve tickets get all of the above, plus Reserve Seating under the Live Auction Tent, catered gourmet lunch, commemorative Winesong tote, and 2015 Artist of the Year note cards.


On Friday evening, I get to pour the Mendocino County Fair Best of Show White Wine, the McFadden Sparkling Brut, at a pre-event VIP reception at a residence just north of the Mendocino Village, and the next day I get to pour a larger selection of medal winners from the Mendo Wine Comp, including McFadden’s Double Gold Pinot Noir and Gold Sauvignon Blanc. There will be 100 wineries, each pouring wines they are equally proud of, which means an incredible wine tasting opportunity, and a great chance to help raise funds for a very worthy cause. I hope to see you there.

This Saturday is also the evening for Testa’s sold out Blending Party in Calpella. I’m going, and will again get to join some judges much better than me, and I hope to see you there too.


mwc gold

Over 250 wines were entered for judgement at the 37th annual Mendocino County Wine Competition, the oldest continuous wine competition in the nation, and 43 Gold Medals and 12 unanimous Double Gold Medals were awarded at a dinner held at the Mendocino County fairgrounds in Boonville on Friday, August 7, 2015. Two of the Double Gold Medal winners were also chosen for the competition’s Best of Show honors. Here are the big winners this year:

NV McFadden Vineyard Sparkling Cuvée Brut, Made with Organically Grown Grapes, Estate Grown & Family Owned, Methode Champenoise, Potter Valley $25

2012 Panthea Winery & Vineyard Single Vineyard Selection Pinot Noir, Klindt Vineyard, Anderson Valley $42


Blush and Rosé
·2014 Handley Cellars Rose of Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley $22

Late Harvest (Dessert) White
·2014 Husch Estate Bottled Late Harvest Gewurztraminer, Anderson Valley $25

·2013 Bonterra Vineyards Made with Certified Organic Grapes Merlot $15

Petite Sirah
·2011 Barra of Mendocino Petite Sirah $22

Pinot Noir
·2012 Handley Cellars Estate Pinot Noir, RSM Vineyard, Anderson Valley $52
·2012 Lula Mendocino Pinot Noir $45
·2013 Blue Quail Estate Grown & Family Owned, Made from Organically Grown Grapes, Pinot Noir, McFadden Vineyard, Potter Valley $24
·2012 Panthea Winery & Vineyard Single Vineyard Selection Pinot Noir, Klindt Vineyard, Anderson Valley $42

·2014 Navarro Vineyards Riesling Deep End Blend, Anderson Valley $29

Sauvignon Blanc
·2014 Handley Cellars Sauvignon Blanc, Anderson Valley $22

Sparkling Wine
NV McFadden Vineyard Sparkling Cuvée Brut, Made with Organically Grown Grapes, Estate Grown & Family Owned, Methode Champenoise, Potter Valley $25

·2012 Navarro Vineyards Old Vine Zinfandel $27



Blended Red
·2011 Brutocao Family Vineyards Estate Bottled and Produced Quadriga, Hopland Ranches $24
·2012 Monte Volpe Barrel Aged Primo Rosso $11
·2013 Navarro Primo Rouge $15

Blended White
·2014 Navarro Vineyards Edelzwicker, Anderson Valley $16
·NV Testa Vineyard White Blend $20

Blush and Rosé
·2014 Seebass Family Wines Rose Fantasie, Seebass Vineyards $28

Cabernet Sauvignon
·2013 Barra of Mendocino Organically Grown Grapes Cabernet Sauvignon $20
·2013 Parducci True Grit Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon $30

·2013 Moniker Wine Estates Chardonnay $25
·2014 Navarro Vineyards Chardonnay $19
·2013 Parducci Small Lot Blend Chardonnay $13

·2014 Navarro Vineyards Gewurztraminer Cuvee Traditional, Anderson Valley $16

Italian Red
·2012 Monte Volpe Aglianico $28
·2012 Monte Volpe Barrel Aged Primitivo $28

Late Harvest (Dessert) White
·2013 Greenwood Ridge Vineyards Late Harvest Riesling, Mendocino Ridge $36
·2012 Stephen & Walker Botrytis Chardonnay, Mendocino Ridge $75

Other Red Varieties
·2013 Saint Gregory Barrel Aged Pinot Meunier $20

Other White Varieties
·2013 Bonterra Vineyards Made with Certified Organic Grapes Viognier $13
·2014 Enotria Moscato $11
·2013 Enotria Barrel Fermented Arneis $15
·2014 Husch Chenin Blanc $12

Petite Sirah
·2012 McNab Ridge Petite Sirah $18
·2012 Navarro Vineyards Petite Sirah $27

Pinot Gris/Grigio
·2014 Navarro Vineyards Pinot Gris, Anderson Valley $19.50

Pinot Noir
2013 Drew Limited Selection Pinot Noir, Valenti Vineyard, Mendocino Ridge $45
·2013 Greenwood Ridge Vineyards Estate Bottled Pinot Noir, Mendocino Ridge $30
·2012 Handley Cellars Pinot Noir Mendocino $25
·2009 Harmonique Elegance’, Anderson Valley $48
·2012 Maggy Hawk Hawkster Anderson Valley Pinot Noir $66
·2012 Maggy Hawk Stormin’ Anderson Valley Pinot Noir $66
·2012 Spell Estate Pinot Noir, Alder springs Vineyard $50
·2012 Spell Estate Pinot Noir, weir Vineyard, Yorkville Highlands $50

·2014 Greenwood Ridge Vineyards Riesling, Mendocino Ridge $19

Sauvignon Blanc
·2014 Brutocao Family Vineyards Estate Grown, Produced & Bottled Sauvignon Blanc, Feliz Vineyard $14
·2014 McFadden Vineyard Estate Grown & Family Owned, Made from Organically Grown Grapes, Sauvignon Blanc, Potter Valley $16
·2014 McNab Ridge Unoaked Sauvignon Blanc $12
·2014 Navarro Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc $18

·2012 Handley Cellars Syrah, Kazmet Vineyard, Redwood Valley $25
·2012 Seebass Family Wines Grand Reserve, Estate Grown, Syrah, Mayacama Bench Block $42

·2012 Parducci Small Lot Blend Zinfandel $12
·2012 Navarro Vineyards Zinfandel $19.50
·2012 Woodenhead Unfined & Unfiltered Zinfandel, Guido Venturi Vineyard $34
·2013 Woodenhead Unfined & Unfiltered Zinfandel, Mariah Vineyard, Mendocino Ridge $42

The results are spread throughout the county, and evenly; of the 55 wines taking Gold or better from wineries with a Mendocino County tasting room, the results were split right down the middle between Hwy 128 and Hwy 101 wineries. Another competition I always look at is the one between two of the county’s most prolific producers; this year Greg Graziano took six Gold or better to Navarro’s five Gold or better, but three of Navarro’s awards were Double Gold., so pretty much another draw.

The awards dinner was a treat. The food was terrific. Janelle Weaver served up McFadden organic grass fed beef, grilled corn, potato salad, and a green salad, with French bread. I got to sit with a lovely couple visiting from Philadelphia who read of the event in my column, we talked about wine, delicious places to eat in Philadelphia, and the Grateful Dead. I saw many wine industry friends, winery owners, winemakers, tasting room staff, and competition judges, and was already in a great mood, applauding medal wins for friends, before the Gold, Double Gold, and Best of Show honors were announced for Guinness McFadden’s Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, and Sparkling Brut, respectively. The great news made an already lovely night even more magical, and I am grateful to the incredible team of volunteers and wine judges who made it all happen.

NEW NV McF  Cuvee Brut

Congratulations to everyone involved, winery participants, competition crew, chef team, consumer attendees, and to all the lucky tasters who will visit our county’s winery tasting rooms to sample these top medal winning wines.


Thanks. I usually write a newspaper wine column giving thanks around the end of November, and sometimes another piece for the paper when my need to thank people is overwhelming and the list of people deserving of thanks is so long that it can’t wait until Thanksgiving’s column.

Today, I’m writing a long note of thanks, not for the paper, but for my website, because I have many people to thank, and instead of folks throughout the Mendocino wine scene – my normal ‘beat’ – this is a piece all about the annual party at McFadden Farm, just held over the weekend, on Saturday, July 11, 2015.

I manage the McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room in Hopland for Guinness McFadden and his family; I am the tasting room manager, wine club manager, marketing manager, and event manager. There is no way that someone can wear so many hats and not rely on a team of folks to help make things happen. I am blessed to have several teams who do an amazing job, helping me provide great products and service to the folks who visit and become customers.

Each year, we have a party at McFadden farm on the second Saturday of July. The name of the party is malleable; some call it the Wine Club Party, others the annual McFadden Farm BBQ Dance Party, while many others simply call it Fontaine’s party. It is all of those things and more.


McFadden Farm is a 550 acre organic and bio diverse family farm located at the very north end of Potter Valley in Mendocino County. The Russian River begins on McFadden Farm. In addition to highly prized organically grown grapes, McFadden Farm raises organic grass fed beef, organic air dried herbs, and many more organic farm fresh and healthy goods. McFadden Farm has a hydroelectric plant and over 300 solar panels and is far beyond energy independent, providing excess energy to power much of Potter Valley. McFadden Farm has an artist in residence who throws culinary pottery at the farm. McFadden Farm is an amazing place, and breathtakingly gorgeous, but it is located 45 minutes northeast of the tasting room in Hopland (Oh, how I wish the farm and vineyard were right out my back door in Hopland for daily tours).


Once each year, all of the folks who visit the tasting room and buy wine and other farm goods, and the folks who join our wine club to get the best savings on wine (15-35% discounts and 1 penny shipping on cases), get a chance to see the Farm. This second Saturday of July party is our version of a Wine Club Dinner, and our Wine Club members get a $15 discount on tickets to the party. Guinness has many friends and they want to come too, so the party isn’t a wine club exclusive event, and the public buys tickets too. I wrote about the event for a column in the newspaper and my readers bought tickets; all that said, Guinness’ daughter Anne-Fontaine has a ton of friends who buy tickets and come to the party.


And so the thanks start with Fontaine. The measure of a person’s wonderfulness isn’t how many good things they say about themselves, but how many people say good things about them. Even then, words are cheap. Fontaine is such a spectacular person that about 100 people pay $85 each and then drive over two hours from San Francisco, Oakland, and elsewhere in the Bay Area, to come to what could fairly be called the Fontaine Party at McFadden Farm.


Fontaine brings a team of chef friends from San Francisco to cook all of the farm fresh vegetable, salad, and dessert dishes. Thanks to chefs Anne Olson and Kristene Loyaza. Fontaine arranges for all of the tables, linen, plates, glasses, and silverware, and gets it all set up. Fontaine arranges with local food growers for organic whole pork and lambs. Fontaine takes care of the music. Fontaine is a dynamo. The ultimate reflection on how terrific Fontaine is, is how nice all of her friends are. It is said that you are judged by the company you keep, and if applied to Fontaine then this would be the ultimate compliment, because everyone of her friends is friendly, cheerful, helpful, happy, and kind.


Fontaine brought the Kelly MacFarling band back to play again this year, and a band I already loved was even better this year, and all who attended loved her, getting up and dancing, and applauding each terrifically rendered song. When Kelly and her band finished their last song, the dance mix piped through the sound system was well chosen to keep the fun going, and the fun and dancing continued late into the night. Great music! Thank you Kelly.

Adam Gaska provided the pork from Mendocino Organics, and it was opened, the bones were removed, it was stuffed full of fresh McFadden herbs, closed up again, and cooked whole by Mac Magruder. Mac also provided the whole lambs which were marinated and cooked by McFadden’s own grill masters, Benny Alvarez and Isidoro Gonzalez. Thanks to team meat!


Thanks to Ernesto Medina, who ordinarily packs a lot of wine for shipment throughout the year, but was your tractor driver, pulling a flatbed trailer with blanket covered straw bales, shuttling you from parking up by the farm office down to the party site next to the river, for the event. Guinness, himself, gave folks rides back to their cars later as the party wore down.


Wine. When I left the party, we had poured 276 bottles, and Fontaine was going in for more. I handle wine, but not alone, and have some folks on my team to thank. Thanks first to Ann Beauchamp. Ann worked in the tasting room Saturday, and then raced up to the Farm and was beside me as we poured a line up that included our 2014 Chardonnay, 2014 Sauvignon Blanc, 2014 Pinot Gris, 2013 Gewurztraminer, 2012 Old Vine Zinfandel, 2013 Pinot Noir, and NV Sparkling Cuvee Brut. My date for the night, and former McFadden bookkeeper, Heather Shafer, and our gal Monday at the tasting room, Amanda Bewley-Clark, also poured. Thank you Heather and Amanda.


When it came time to sit for dinner, I had two new wines that had to hit 20 tables at once, our new 2012 Coro Mendocino and 2014 (dry) Riesling, plus our 2011 Late Harvest Riesling for dessert, and a random assortment of other current release bottles. I pointed fingers and ‘volunteered’ folks to help me, among them Gracia Brown. Thanks to all of you.

The wine didn’t show up at the party by magic. Shana Estes is my counterpart at the farm, the McFadden Farm office manager, and like me wears many hats. I would not be able to do my job without Shana and I adore her. Shana and I went over and over inventory, making sure we were stocked at the tasting room to meet post-party wine sale needs, and ensuring that all of the night’s wine would be on hand and stored in our giant walk in cooler beneath the power plant. Shana is assisted by Shannon Smith, who helped before and during the event, and Andrea Caldwell, our bookkeeper, who took care of payments for all of the increased spending a party like this entails. Thanks Shana, Shannon, and Andrea.


Anthony Bewley and Cody Simpson are my muscle. Together, they bring the weekly resupply from the farm to the tasting room, and for the party they moved all of the wine to the coolers and then to the tables where we would pour from. Anthony and Cody also iced the white wines and bubbly, and helped me remove 108 corks from bottles before the guests arrived so service could be seamless and timely. No one knows how much I rely on you two, well they didn’t until now. Thank you Anthony and Cody!

Thank you, Guinness McFadden. I started working for Guinness in March 2011. Each year, each month, each week, each day, we find new things for me to do. Whatever the job description may have been when I first chatted with you has certainly changed. Today, my job defies description, but I love working for you. You are a man of vision, having created the most amazing business, place to live, and farm from pure imagination and hard work. We work well together, you a former Navy officer and me a former Army Sergeant; you tell me what – not how – you want, and I execute, usually with help from other members of your team. I thank you for the freedom to do my job well for you. I respect you, like you, and want to see your business continue to succeed and grow. Cheers!


Thanks also to your better half, Judith Bailey, for making you a happy man, which certainly makes my job easier than if you were a grumpy man. Judith’s love and wise counsel makes McFadden Farm a better place.

To the 200 people who came to our party to enjoy wine and appetizers, to tour of the farm with Guinness, to sit down for a family style dinner of local organic farm fresh food and more wine, to get up and dance – fueled by more wine, and finally to crawl into your tents for overnight camping at party’s end sometime early Sunday morning, THANK YOU. We couldn’t have a party if you didn’t buy tickets.


This year’s party sold out. Next year’s party will sell out sooner, so I will thank you for picking up your tickets for the best party thrown in the wine industry earlier next year than you did this year so you won’t be one of the people I have to tell that all the tickets are gone next year.


Fontaine said after it was over that this was the best farm party yet, and we all agree, but we took notes and there will be improvements next year because we believe in making it better and better for you.


Open up your calendar app, or open your day planner, and circle Saturday, July 9, 2016 on your calendar and write, “McFadden Farm Party” on the date, so you remember to come join us next year. We’ll open up the online ticket sales for next year in about a week.

Thanks all for reading, and for attending our annual farm party at McFadden Farm…or for considering attending one in the future.


John On Wine – Coro, Crush, Coro and Crush

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, April 2, 2015

Crush Italian Steakhouse in Ukiah, Coro Mendocino, Crush, Coro, sometimes it seems that I am writing my column about one or the other with a frequency that squeezes other worthy subjects out. There are other great restaurants in Ukiah; Patrona, Ritual, and Oco Time come immediately to mind; but Crush is uniquely suited to host spectacular chef’s wine dinners, with their private dining room and top notch kitchen and front of house team. Anderson Valley is well known as a place where premium Pinot Noir and Alsatian variety white wines are born; inland Mendocino grows some terrific Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc, Bordeaux varieties; but Coro Mendocino is the county’s flagship wine, and the cooperative element to the program has me writing about these Zinfandel-centric blends made by different great winemakers with deserved prevalence.

Guinness McFadden makes a Coro wine and, fortunately for me, he was overwhelmed with meetings and sent me to sit with the Coro winemakers to taste barrel samples of the 2013 Coro wines being produced by Barra, Brutocao, Clos du Bois, Golden, Graziano, Parducci, Testa, and, of course, McFadden, on March 18.

I tasted through the wines in January, for the second of four blind tastings, with the winemakers, each giving notes of unvarnished constructive criticism on each wine, so adjustments could be made. I tasted them again yesterday, for the third group Coro winemaker blind tasting, and the tweaks made in the intervening two months had every one of the wines positively singing. As an example, Guinness reduced the blend of his wine from 70% Zinfandel to 67%, and increased the Syrah in his blend from 20% to 23%, with the remaining 10% unchanged and given over to Petite Sirah. That small change improved the wine remarkably, providing balance and integration.

Doubly fortunate, I was also able to blind taste the finished, bottled, but not yet released, 2012 vintage Coro wines, to help judge their weight, in advance of the multi course 2012 vintage Coro Release Party at dogpatch WineWorks in San Francisco on June 19 (tickets would make a perfect Father’s Day Gift). Again, the wines of Barra, Brutocao, Clos du Bois, Golden, McFadden, Parducci, Ray’s Station, and Testa all tasted wonderful, each their own unique wine, and vintage different from the just tasted 2013 Coro wines.

Triply fortunate, that same evening, I attended a Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush Italian Steakhouse in Ukiah, featuring incredible dishes prepared by Chef Jesse Elhardt and his team, and the lineup of 2011 vintage Coro wines.

Rusty Martinson of Testa, Owen Smith of Barra, Hoss Milone of Brutocao, and Dennis Patton of Golden. (photo by John Cesano)

Rusty Martinson of Testa, Owen Smith of Barra, Hoss Milone of Brutocao, and Dennis Patton of Golden. (photo by John Cesano)

The evening started off with passed Gazpacho Shooters of San Marzano (the best) tomato, olive oil, sherry vinegar, and Malden salt; which were the best gazpacho I have ever tasted, and paired perfectly with the McFadden Sparkling Cuvee Brut.

After the ‘meet & greet’ appetizers, the lucky 70 attendees at the sold out dinner moved into the private dining room and took seats. Four Coro wineglasses, appetizer, and main course plates were in place, and the first course wines were poured, all 2011 vintage Coro wines, from McFadden, Parducci, Clos du Bois, and Testa. These four ‘lighter’ 2011 Coro wines were substantial, as was the food from the kitchen: Crush Antipasto with four assorted cured meats, four assorted cheeses, cornichons, olives, peppers, crostini, olive oil, and course mustard; Spicy Lamb Balls with Calabrian chili from Italy, romesco with toasted almonds and hazelnuts, feta, mint, and micro basil; and Seared Day Boat Scallops with a rosemary fig jam, bacon couscous, and a baby kale salad topped with white Champagne vinaigrette.

I Love the lamb meatballs, they were incredibly flavorful, and paired beautifully with sips of each of the four Coro wines from the flight. One of the cheeses, a Parmigiano-Reggiano, also was a particular delight when paired with the wines. The scallops, fresh from San Francisco the day before, was a spectacular dish, but honestly would have paired better with the lighter ‘meet & greet’ wines served earlier, as the Coro wines overpowered the delicious but delicate flavors of the dish for me, but easily resolved as I just ate the scallop without the wine, and loved them.

Gracia Brown of Visit Mendocino, Inc. (photo by John Cesano)

Gracia Brown of Visit Mendocino, Inc. (photo by John Cesano)

First plate cleared, wines dumped, new wines were poured, the 2011 Coro wines from Brutocao, Barra, Fetzer, and Golden, and the second food course to impress was brought out; Roasted Whole Filet Tenderloin with spiced crust, roasted mushrooms, a board sauce, and red wine demi-glace; One Hundred Layer Lasagna of fresh pasta, ten hour ragu, béchamel, tomato, reggiano, and fresh herb; Roasted Zucchini Ribbons with garlic chip, basil pesto, cherry tomato confit, and olive oil; and Potato au Dauphinoise with herb infused cream and cheddar bread crumb.

Sips of each of the five wines, I held onto some McFadden Coro, with bites of each food creation, were spectacular. The tender tenderloin of certified Angus beef, a perfect medium rare, cooked in butter, with a peppercorn medley crust was as good as meat gets; The lasagna was 100 layers of red, white, and green, representing the colors of the Italian flag, with the Bolognese ragu providing the red, béchamel bringing the white, and every third layer made from a basil infused pasta for the green; the roasted zucchini ribbons were delicious and provided a bright note for the second course; with the potatoes, made from a 1906 recipe, featuring sliced potatoes infused overnight in an herb cream, a must have seconds dish for me.

Dessert was a Flourless Valrhona Chocolate Cake served with house made toasted almond gelato, chocolate crumb, and spun sugar; and paired with a choice of McFadden Late Harvest Riesling or Brutocao, Dunnewood, or Parducci port. This might just be the best dessert I have tasted at Crush yet. I went with the Riesling, which paired perfectly, once again, with Jesse’s food.

All of the night’s wines were wonderful, and there was quite a bit of talk about how good the 2011 vintage Coro showed. Initially thought a ‘weak’ vintage, every Coro was a stellar food wine, and a testament to each winemaker’s skills and a great showing for the Coro program. Without exception, the 2011 Coro wines were delicious, lovely, and showed great finesse, balance, and flavor, each showing differently that intensity of flavor is not limited to over oaked, high alcohol, fruit jamb bombs. These were elegant wines, all.

The next Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush will feature the wines of Graziano, and will be held on Wednesday, May 20; for tickets call (707) 463-0700.

The next Coro dinner will be on Friday, June 19, at dogpatch WineWorks in San Francisco, when the 2012 vintage Coro Mendocino wines are released. Tickets are $700 per couple, and include a gourmet multi course meal, paired with all eight new Coro wines, and each ticket includes the full collection of 2012 vintage Coro wines to take home. There will also be complimentary valet parking for the dinner, which in San Francisco is a huge bonus. For tickets, call Sip! Mendocino in Hopland at (707) 744-8375, and tell them you want to sit at a McFadden table if you would like to hear Guinness tell a five minute story about an Irish priest and a bike, or be less than dazzled by stupid magic tricks by me. Seriously, I have attended two of these dinners and they are the best wine dinner events you can attend, if you love red wine or Mendocino County. With Father’s Day falling on June 21 this year, tickets to this June 19 dinner really are a perfect gift for any wine loving dads.

It isn’t every day that you get to taste a lineup of an entire Coro vintage, doing so with a great dinner makes it all the better experience. Getting to taste three entire vintages in a day, 24 great wines in all, pretty much makes me the most fortunate tasting room manager and wine writer in California.

John On Wine – My favorite Crush Chef’s Wine Dinner yet

This piece originally ran in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, February, 5, 2015

The recent Chefs’ Wine Dinner at Crush Italian Steakhouse in Ukiah featuring McFadden Farm in Wednesday, January 21st 2015 was special for me. You have read six previous posts where I spread my love for these dinners all over the page, and we were finally going to be doing one for McFadden. What a treat.

First dose of love goes to Gracia Brown from Visit Mendocino County; Gracia brokered the deal between Kevin Kostoff at Crush and me at McFadden, bringing us together in joyful partnership, so McFadden’s top awarded and highly rated wines could be paired with Chef Jesse Elhardt’s unrivaled cuisine to offer inland Mendocino a premier event during the Mendocino County Crab, Wine & Beer Fest.

The dinner would also be special, because it would mark Guinness McFadden’s first major public outing after heart surgery at the end of November.

Tickets for the dinner sold faster than any previous Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush, without Crush getting to send an email invitation to their previous dinner attendees, thanks to you, the readers of John On Wine in the Ukiah Daily Journal and the Wine Club Members and other McFadden newsletter subscribers. Kudos also to Nick Karavas, the exemplary bar manager at Crush, who talked up the dinner in house, and sold quite a few tickets as well.


The evening started with a reception appetizer of Dungeness Arancini with panko, saffron-sherry aioli, fried dill sprig. These rice balls, topped with crab were wonderfully delicious, and paired perfectly with the 2013 McFadden Chardonnay (90 Points – Wine Enthusiast Magazine); a perfect way to kick off the evening.


After the meet and greet reception in the dining room bar area, Kevin invited the full house to move to the private glass-walled dining room and find a seat for the rest of the night’s dinner, served family style, which I love as it makes for a much more social evening.


Once seated, owner Doug Guillon welcomed everybody to Crush and promised a wonderful evening for all, a promise kept. Chef Jesse described the appetizer course previously enjoyed, and the various dishes we would all soon enjoy. Guinness McFadden talked about his McFadden Farm and how his land influences the grapes that make the wines that would be served. Guinness introduced me and challenged me to be as brief in my remarks. I described our appetizer wine, and the two wines chosen for the first course.

Bacon wrapped, crab stuffed, shrimp

The first course dishes included Nueske Bacon Wrapped Stuffed Jumbo Prawns with dungeness mix, bistro sauce, buerre monte, and chive; 1914 Crab Louie Salad with butter lettuce, endive, marinated tomato, avocado, orange, and haystack; and Crab “toast” with garlic, reggiano, basil, lemon aioli, chili, and olive oil.

Crab Salad
Crab Toast

Many said that the first course was so rich, that by itself, the meal was complete, and every other dish was a bonus. The bacon wrapped prawn with crab was a meal highlight, although the crab salad showing notes of bright sweet citrus and the crab toast (think garlic toast but with crab, so a million times better) made the plate a celebration of delicious taste experiences.

Very happy guests

The first course featured two wines: NV McFadden Cuvee Rose (Gold Medal – 2014 Mendocino Wine Competition, Gold Medal – 2014 Grand Harvest Awards, and Double Gold Medal – 2015 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition); and the 2013 McFadden Pinot Gris (90 Points and Editor’s Choice – Wine Enthusiast Magazine) – Guinness’ favorite wine. The Brut Rose showed lovely ripe red fruit notes of strawberry, cherry and watermelon, and the Pinot Gris is a lighter wine with pear and apple flavors richer than ordinary for the variety. The two wines, each in their turn, brought out the subtle, and not subtle, flavors of Jesse’s dishes.


Plates cleared, Jesse introduced his second course: Garlic Roasted Whole Crab with lemon, olive oil, and fresh herb; Zinfandel Braised Short Ribs with 4 hour natural jus, baked carrot purée, crispy shallot, and micro intensity; Roasted Jumbo Delta Asparagus with shallot sea salt, balsamic reduction, and chive; and Potato Gnocchi Gratin with fresh herb, cream, caprino, and house made bread crumb. I introduced the 2012 McFadden Old Vine Zinfandel (95 Points – Just Wine Points/Wine X), possibly the only Zinfandel light enough not to overpower crab, yet flavorful enough to stand up to Zinfandel braised short ribs. Every bite of food was a delight, but gnocchi speaks to my Italian heart, and I loved Jesse’s version…and his dedication, having handmade 1,500 individual gnocchi for the dinner.

Zin braised short ribs


For dessert, by request, Chef Jesse recreated a much loved pairing from his December 2013 wine dinner that featured Coro Mendocino wines, a Butterscotch Budino with dual chocolate and butterscotch layers, chocolate pearls, salted butter crunch, toasted crab & coconut crumble (okay, the toasted crab and coconut crumble were a new crab-centric addition for tonight’s meal), paired again with the 2011 McFadden Late Harvest Riesling (Best of Class – 2013 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, 4 Star Gold Medal – 2014 Orange County Fair Wine Competition, Double Gold Medal – 2014 Mendocino County Fair Wine Competition).


The dinner was so good, the service so excellent, that although the ticket price for a crab dinner with wine was higher than any previous dinner (still a bargain at just $75), and included tax and tip, attendees spontaneously passed a collection basket for the servers to increase the tip, with the basket filling with $20 bills.

The owners' toast

The evening was great, and I want to thank everyone at Crush, from the folks who ordered our wines (thanks!), to those that cooked the dinner, and from those who served us all, to Doug and Debbie Guillon, our fantastic hosts for the evening. All night, and again all the next day, person after person told me how enjoyable everything about the evening was.

If you missed out, and many did – we could easily have sold out two nights – don’t fret, there are more Chef’s Wine Dinners planned for this year, and the next will feature the 2011 vintage of Coro Mendocino, the county’s flagship wine, a Zinfandel dominant red wine blend. The Coro dinner at Crush is going to be on Wednesday, March 18, 2015, and will likely feature the winemakers of Barra, Brutocao, Clod du Bois, Fetzer, Golden, McFadden, Parducci, and Testa, with wines big enough to allow Jesse to showcase the depth of his ragu and other hearty Italian fare. To reserve your seat early for the March 18 Coro dinner at Crush, call (707) 463-0700.

This weekend, on Saturday, February 7, join me at the 10th annual International Alsace Varietals Festival for a full day of events in the Anderson Valley, with many Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, and Riesling wines, starting with an educational session in the morning, the big grand tasting in the afternoon, and a winemakers’ dinner in the evening. For more information, visit www.avwines.com/alsace-festival.



John On Wine – John gives thanks

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Wednesday, November 26, 2014 by John Cesano

Hi, and welcome to a special Wine Wednesday edition of John on Wine. Regularly, this column runs on Thursday, but tomorrow there will be no newspaper so folks that work for the Ukiah Daily Journal can spend Thanksgiving with their families.

Today, I get to give thanks and I am thrilled to be able to do so, and so publicly. I am blessed, and I am wholly aware of it at this moment.

First, I have to thank you, the readers. You are incredibly kind, and you spring your kindness on me, often catching me unaware and surprising me with it. I have been target shooting at the Ukiah Gun Club and shopping for milk at the supermarket, lost in my own mundane thoughts when you stop me, introduce yourself and tell me that you like my column, and then share a specific favorite column. I have had the phone ring and in-person visits at my work from you, my readers, and that just knocks me out. You have sent me messages on Facebook, by email, by letter, and your input has made the column better. It will likely always freak me out a little to be recognized as a writer. I started the column from the relative anonymity of the Internet, and although my blog is well read, those readers come from all over the world; where the pieces I write for the newspaper push me a little more directly into the awareness of the community I live in. I didn’t anticipate your direct and personal feedback, but I have come to be very appreciative of it.

I have to thank the paper, and my editor Kelly Hancock. Kelly extends an extraordinary amount of freedom to me, undoubtedly fixes countless flaws in my writing, and is terrific about making last minute changes to pieces when events change after a piece is written for deadline but before it is published.

I have to thank all of the folks that work in the wine industry for being incredibly supportive of the column and for putting up with the reality that I mention where I work with some frequency. The column was born of a blog and I write about what I know, what I do, so the work I do often allows me to pivot to some pieces with a handy frame of reference that is easily understood. Where some could question a seeming conflict of interest, my pieces are almost universally positive in tone, supportive of my subject — the wine industry as a whole, and intended to move readers to visit winery tasting rooms, or winemaker dinners, taste wines, and hopefully buy some; ideally here in inland Mendocino County along Highway 101, but in the Anderson Valley, or Sonoma County, or wherever my readers might find themselves. I want to increase wine enjoyment and tourism for the area I work and those aims are shared by the folks who work in vineyards or tasting rooms other than the one owned by my boss as well.

Speaking of my boss: Thanks to Guinness McFadden for allowing me to do what I do in the tasting room. I know I am not ordinary, and the write ups for the tasting room come in nearly as fast as the attention your grapes and the wines made from those grapes receive. I love giving folks a show, an experience, a touch of education built around your wines and the farm they come from, and I am thrilled that you let me do so with – here’s those words again – incredible freedom.

Thanks to my tasting room team. This year, Eugene, Ann, Juanita, Amanda, Ashley, and Gary kept the wine pouring on my days off and much of our reputation is owed to each of you. Thanks also to everyone at the farm; we could not do what we do unless you did what you do.

I would like to thank my partners, Visit Mendocino County (VMC) and Mendocino Winegrowers, Inc. (MWI) in spreading the good word about Mendocino County as a tourism destination and about the quality of our grapes and wine.

VMC has been in the news lately, but they should be in the news every day for all of the good work they do getting the many stories of Mendocino County told to a wider audience.

On a macro level, VMC puts on the Mendocino County Mushroom Wine & Beer Fest in November and the Mendocino County Crab Wine & Beer Fest in January.

On the micro level, VMC’s Gracia Brown convinces Crush Italian Steakhouse to host what will go down as “the premier event of the 2015 Mendocino County Crab, Wine & Beer Festival” by pairing with McFadden Farm for a Dungeness crab and wine extravaganza. Perhaps eight to 10 mind-blowingly delicious crab dishes and bubbly from the California State Fair Wine Competition’s Best of Show Sparkling wine producer. Oh, and three Wine Enthusiast 90 Point Whites and a 95 Point Wine X/Just wine points Old Vine Zinfandel. Did I forget to mention the three time Double Gold or better Dessert Wine?

Seriously, this sort of thing should just happen, but it takes work, and specifically it was the work of Gracia and VMC that will result in possibly the best dinner 70 lucky patrons will experience the whole year. First come, first served, $75 for wine and food, with tax and tip included, and it will sell out through the McFadden Farm tasting room long before the Jan. 21 event date. Thank you VMC, thank you Gracia, from both my boss and I. We love Visit Mendocino County.

Similarly, huge thanks to MWI and both Aubrey Rawlins and Amelia Weir who do so much work to benefit Mendocino County’s prestige in the eyes of the wine world. I had the opportunity to pour for my wine writing counterpart at the Village Voice, and she wants to tour the farm with Guinness on a return visit, leading to a high visibility piece that will benefit all of the county’s winegrowers. Amelia Weir made that happen. Aubrey is responsible for bringing a group of wine writers here, and I got to pour for them all. That tasting this year led to more positive press for all of the county’s growers. Thanks Aubrey. Thanks Amelia.

Readers, I started off thanking you, but I want to bring it back around and thank you last too. Without you, my words are pointless. Thank you for giving my writing meaning, life.

Happy Thanksgiving; please pair wine with your dinner. Thanks.



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