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John On Wine – Events, past and present

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, September 18, 2014

Winesong was fun. If you aren’t familiar with Mendocino County’s largest wine event, Winesong is a three hour wine tasting followed by a spectacular auction and lunch, held at the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens as a benefit fundraiser for the Mendocino Coast Hospital Foundation.

These were the wines I poured during the tasting, we also donated wines for the lunch

These were the wines I poured during the tasting, we also donated wines for the lunch

With 1,800 guests tasting wines from over 125 producers and food samples from over 45 top purveyors from 11:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m., the mood was quite happy when the live auction began at 2:00 p.m., and the bidding was breathtaking.

I called Michael Coats, who handled PR for the event. He sent this note in return: “Bidders at the sold-out live auction helped raise significant funds, with a projected gross of over $650,000 coming in from the two-day event.  After covering production expenses, the Winesong net return will be used to assist the Mendocino Coast Hospital purchase needed equipment.  The highlight of the auction was the “Fund-A-Need” lot which brought in $174,000 in a matter of minutes, with nearly every paddle raised to donate a record amount toward the purchase of new and much needed Cardiology equipment!”

Congratulations to everyone involved, especially all of the volunteers, who made this event a spectacular success.

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If you were not at this year’s annual Testa Blending Party, you missed a great time. Maria Testa Martinson is a wonderful hostess, and her husband Rusty is as good as it gets around a barbecue grill. The wine is famously good, and the food, catered by Bella Ciba, paired perfectly. McKenna Faith is a gem, Ukiah raised a genuine star, and with her band she served up a healthy dose of great music.

There were 25 tables full of happy party guests, and each table created their own blend using Testa’s 2013 vintage reds: Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, and Carignane. I sat with judges John Buechsenstein, John Dickerson, and Heidi Cusick Dickerson. Heidi wrote this column before I did, and will be returning to the UDJ (hurray!) to write a new column about Leadership Mendocino.

This was a table filled with talent; I sat there too

This was a table filled with talent; I sat there too

I tasted through the 25 blends with John B. and John D., and we each picked our top seven. Next we found that there were five wines that two or more of us had in common on our top seven lists. Heidi joined us as we retasted those five, we each ordered them from top to bottom, and averaged our results.

My top five order was coincidentally the same order that averaging our judge rankings yielded, which may suggest that I have a spectacularly average palate. Seriously, we agreed on almost all the best, except one notable exception, where a wine I gave a “yes” to was a wine that received a “Hell no” from John B., who had the best palate in Calpella that night.

The 2013 Testa Black SIX, inspired by the night’s winning blend, is going to be delicious. You will also want to make a note to grab up some 2013 Testa Carignane when it is released; light, bursting with strawberry, cherry, and raspberry, all four judges loved it as a base wine, unblended.
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I visited Campovida in Hopland, while owners Gary Breen and Anna Beuselinck were celebrating their 11th anniversary together, and I wandered their property.

The grounds of Campovida, site the old Fetzer Valley Oaks Hospitality Center, were immaculate. I keep forgetting to pick up my prize from a “where is our winemaker Sebastian in this picture” contest win, but I was rewarded with a lovely and calming walk through the restored gardens, around the renovated buildings, and by the remarkably pristine lawns beside the beckoning bocce courts. Of particular visual interest were the teepees set up in an open field behind the winery area, as they made me think of earlier inhabitants of the property.

DO Lecture Teepees

DO Lecture Teepees

Campovida will be hosting The DO Lectures in Hopland again, beginning today, September 18, 2014, and running through September 21, 2014; the property is shining in readiness.

Ross Beese, producer of this year’s Do Lecture USA wrote to me and shared more about the event, “The DO Lectures is a four day intimate experience filled with inspirational talks, hands on workshops and long conversations over shared farm fresh meals.  We keep the experience to an intimate 100 folks with only 15 speakers/50 attendees and the rest are volunteers.

It is a volunteer run organization founded in the UK, with events now in the USA and Australia. It has been named one of the top 10 idea conferences in the world by the Financial Times and by Brain Pickings.  So for now we are gathering an incredible group of speakers, athletes, musicians, artists, cowboys, entrepreneurs, poets…in general DOers.

There are some fascinating people speaking and attending this year – from the Award winning local chef John Ash to the Hollywood Screenplay Writer and Director Peter Farrelly (dumb and dumber, There’s Something About Mary) to Tom De Blasis (Design Innovation Director – Nike Foundation) Maria Popova (@brainpickings) and Zach Klein (co-founder of Vimeo, now founder of DIY) plus 12 other inspiring speakers and 40 amazing attendees that could be speakers.”

I wish the Doers a great time when visiting Mendocino County this week. A reminder for the lecturers, In Vino Veritas, and a wish, may all your conversations here in wine country ring with truth.

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John on Wine-Be it resolved

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

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Guinness McFadden at the Capitol in Sacramento, receiving his Golden Bear Trophy for the Best of Show Sparkling Wine at the 2014 CA State Fair Wine Competition and a Joint Resolution from the CA Assembly and Senate recognizing over 40 years of organic and eco-friendly leadership in grape growing.

“On Tuesday, June 24, 2014, I entered the Governor’s office at the State Capitol in Sacramento at 9 a.m.” aren’t words I get to write often, but I posted 69 photographs and used more than 2,500 words to caption them online at JohnOnWine.com to describe that day.

I would encourage you to go online and see the pictures and read the whole story, but here’s a column version.

That day, the Best of Show winners from the 2014 California State Fair Wine Competition were announced.

Each of the big prize winners were notified so they could come collect their California Golden Bear Trophy at a ceremony to be held on the east steps of the capitol.

Guinness McFadden received an invitation because the NV McFadden Sparkling Cuvee Brut had been judged Best of Show for Sparkling Wines.

While Guinness was out of the state meeting a new grandson, Guinness III, an idea was hatched to use the event as an opportunity to surprise Guinness with additional recognition, a Resolution from one of the CA State Houses.

Emails, phone calls, and Facebook messages flew. One of Mendocino County’s most “plugged in” folks, Heidi Cusick Dickerson, was reached. The offices of both Assemblyman Wesley Chesbro and Senator Noreen Evans went into overdrive and in an incredibly tight time frame research into Guinness’ life and Resolution language was fashioned and moved through both houses in time to be presented at Tuesday’s wine award ceremony.

Wearing my McFadden retail manager hat, I closed the McFadden tasting room Tuesday morning to see Guinness receive his Golden Bear Trophy, and his surprise Joint Resolution. Wearing my John On Wine newspaper column guy hat, I was thrilled with the day being so Mendocino focused. I wrote last week about four of the seven Golden Bear Trophies for California’s best wines going to Mendocino County wineries.

After two other Golden Bear Trophies were awarded, Guinness was called up onto the steps of the Capitol, and Assemblyman Wesley Chesbro took the microphone from the State Fair folks and explained that while everyone in the wine industry is deserving, every constitute is valued, the reality is that some folks are just a touch more deserving, and today Guinness McFadden would be receiving a Resolution from both California’s Assembly and Senate.

I’ve worked with Guinness long enough to know his moods, his feelings. I watched him surprised and deeply moved. Here is the text of the spectacularly deserved Joint Resolution:

 

California Legislature Assembly Resolution

By the Honorable Wesley Chesbro, 2nd Assembly District; and
the Honorable Noreen Evans, 2nd Senatorial District;
Relative to commending

GUINNESS McFADDEN

WHEREAS, On June 24, 2014, NV McFadden Sparkling Brut, a wine produced by McFadden Vineyard, will receive the California State Fair Best of Show Sparkling Award, and upon this occasion, the owner of McFadden Vineyard, Guinness McFadden, is deserving of special public recognition; and

WHEREAS, Growing up the oldest of five children in the upper west side of New York City, New York, Guinness McFadden turned down an Ivy League scholarship in 1956 to attend the University of Notre Dame, where he received his Bachelor’s degree in History and participated on the varsity wrestling team; and

WHEREAS, After graduating, Guinness enlisted with the United States Navy; serving for nine years,his notable activities during this time included serving a tour in the Mediterranean, where he developed his love for wine; captaining a river boat in Vietnam, where he learned fluent Vietnamese and earned a Bronze Star medal; and serving as an admiral’s aid in Lisbon, Portugal, where he again acquired the native tongue; and

WHEREAS, After leaving the Navy, Guinness returned to the United States in 1969 and enrolled at Stanford Business School; after a brief period, he realized that his interests would be best served elsewhere, and he ultimately settled down in a Potter Valley, Mendocino County, California; and

WHEREAS, McFadden Vineyard originated in Potter Valley as nothing more than two small vineyards that were each no larger than 15 acres; today, Guinness’ business encompasses some of the oldest vines of the nearly 1,500 acres of vineyards in Potter Valley, and his grapes have represented a significant portion of many award-winning wines in Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino counties; and

WHEREAS, A community leader whose unwavering dedication to organic farming has continued for over 40 years, Guinness supplemented his Eco-friendly vision of sustainable agriculture in 1983 by building a hydroelectric power plant capable of powering 100 homes, and in 2005, he installed 300 solar panels to make the farm completely energy independent; McFadden Farm now produces energy far beyond its own needs and provides enough extra to power over half of Potter Valley’s businesses and residences; and

WHEREAS, The contributions Guinness McFadden has made to the welfare and improvement of the local agricultural community have been invaluable, and he has served as a worthy model for all public-spirited people of the State; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED BY ASSEMBLY MEMBER WESLEY CHESBRO AND SENATOR NOREEN EVANS, That Guinness McFadden be commended for the significant contributions he has made to the people of the local community and throughout California, and extended sincere best wishes for continued success in the future.

Members Resolution No. 1464
Dated this 24th day of June, 2014
Honorable Wesley Chesbro 2nd Assembly District.
Honorable Noreen Evans 2nd Senatorial District.

Seriously, they could have gone on, but you get the gist. Congratulations to Guinness McFadden on recognition of your over 40 years of contribution to the Mendocino County wine scene.
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Party at McFadden Farm this Saturday! www.McFaddenFarm.com

John Cesano writes a popular wine blog at www.johnonwine.com, and is the Tasting Room Manager at the McFadden Tasting Room in Hopland.

 

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 ­ – Book Reports

Originally published on October 17, 2013 in the Ukiah daily Journal by John Cesano

I love wine. I love books. I don’t always love wine books. Wine books can be so dry as to be boring, or rely so strongly on the reader having a rich knowledge of wine that it can alienate most folks.

Let me share a few wine books that I do love, each for a different reason: The first hasn’t even been released yet. Wine Business Case Studies – Thirteen Cases from the Real World of Wine Business Management, published by the Wine Appreciation Guild is due out in November this year, and will be available at the Sonoma State University book store.

I was bemoaning the public’s love for corks, when screw caps are a superior closure for wine bottles and Elliott Mackey, one of the top wine book publishers in the country, sent me an advance copy of a case study that looked at corks vs. screw caps from a business perspective: The Great Cork Debate 2012: Cork Stages a Comeback, written by Tom Atkin and Duane DoveI knew, from talking to several distributors and retailers, that if all other things are equal then a wine bottle under cork sells faster than a bottle under screw cap. This isn’t the article to address wine closures, but the case study Elliott sent over from the upcoming book was thoughtful, well researched and compelling.

While I was grateful for the advance peek at the great cork debate case study, I was surprised and thrilled to find that Elliott had also sent a case study titled Dark Horse Ranch Vineyard – A Mendocino County, California, Biodynamic Winemaker Explores Future Directions, written by Liz Thach, PhD, MW, Sonoma State University Wine Business Institute.

I am a big fan of Paul Dolan and his Dark Horse Ranch Vineyard. I have contemplated writing a tasting room review of Truett-Hurst in Sonoma County’s Dry Creek Valley, even though I focus on inland Mendocino wineries and vineyards, because Paul Dolan is an owner and has spread his biodynamic farming ethos to Truett Hurst.

This is a text book, a collection of case studies and is meant to explore a variety of subjects that students in a university level wine business program would benefit in exploring. Definitely not for everyone, I loved the advance look and will be picking up a copy upon release.

The second book is a wine book with broader appeal for folks who love Mendocino County wine. Mendocino Roots & Ridges ­ Wine Notes From America’s Greenest Wine Region, written by Heidi Cusick Dickerson with photography by Tom Liden, is a phenomenal wine book, lushly gorgeous in both writing and photographic art.

Heidi Cusick Dickerson wrote a weekly wine column here in The Ukiah Daily Journal before I did and reading her columns, I was always impressed with her ability to paint a picture with words, a picture so well defined that I would want to visit the subject of her piece so I could experience the beauty she shared each week. I have no problem admitting that Heidi is a better writer than I am, and her work set the bar for quality I try to attain.

Tom Liden, similarly, is spectacularly skilled in his ability. As a professional photographer in wine country, many of the images he has captured tell a story that words alone could not do justice to.

Together, Heidi and Tom, in Mendocino Roots & Ridges, combine words and photographic art to give readers a rich sense of what makes scores of Mendocino County’s wineries so special. My copy is autographed by both Heidi and Tom, and if you were looking for a perfect wine book to present as a gift to a friend, there are a number of autographed copies available at the McFadden Farm stand & Tasting Room in Hopland. The price is an incredibly reasonable $29.95.

The final book I wanted to share with you is for wine geeks like me: Been Doon So Long, A Randall Grahm Vinthology. Randall Graham is the genius, iconoclast, mad man owner and winemaker of Bonny Doon – one of my absolute favorite wineries.

In support of his brand, Randall wrote satirical pieces for his winery newsletter. Been Doon So Long is a collection of some of the best satirical pieces written by Randall over the years.

Included are brilliantly executed parodies of notable literary works including Don Quixote, Catcher in the Rye, and A Clockwork Orange. Each parody allows Randall to comment on the wine industry, and often pokes fun and sometimes derision at a host of subjects within the industry.

In the book’s center, at its core, is the book’s masterwork, a parody of Dante’s Divine Comedy. In Da Vino Commedia: The Vinferno, there are nearly 60 pages with beautiful illustrations by Alex Gross, Randall tells the tale of being taken “doon” through the nine circles of wine hell. After pointing out the sins of the industry in fullness, Randall writes of being made to face his own sins and a desire to save himself from mortal zin, um sin.

Filled with zingy references to pompous personages and elite estates, this book is a little insider-ish; but even a wine non-geek will appreciate the skill behind the turns of phrase, even if not fully appreciating the target of Randall’s barb. That’s it, three great books. This weekend, attend Hopland Passport; next weekend, pick up a book.

Local Hopland Wine Notes:

I had the opportunity to visit winery tasting rooms other than my own in the last week.

Right in Hopland, I visited SIP! Mendocino and Bernadette poured me some wines. Using a Jedi mind trick, she grabbed a bottle, and waving her hand at me said, “you’re going to like this.” Of course, I did like it, and bought a bottle of the 2008 Tahto Petite Sirah, Potter Valley. Deep rich dark berry, herb, chocolate and spice, nicely integrated.

The next day, I returned to SIP! and tasted with Angela, running into Gary Krimont and Hopland’s own Kit, co-owner of the Superette grocery store in Hopland. I tasted a couple of Rhone offerings, a Grenache and a Syrah, both were yummy, but really an appetizer for what came next.

We scooted next door to Cesar Toxqui’s tasting room. There is a big buzz surrounding Cesar and his wines. After having made wines for many local wineries, Cesar started making wines for himself as well. In a tasting room more relaxed than most, Cesar, with Gary’s help, poured his way through his wines. I tasted wines of depth, fullness, character. Starting with solid grapes, the fermenting juice is punched down twice a day by hand with extended maceration. If you don’t speak wine geek, that means Cesar wrings the grapes and skins for all the best flavor they will yield.

Everything I tasted was delicious, from Cesar’s Chardonnay and Pinot Noir to his Zinfandel and Heirloom, a wine that has a little of the previous Heirloom blended into it, which itself had a little of the previous vintage blended in, and so on, so that the wine you taste is a wine of all time, a magic representation of everything Cesar has done from day one. There is a rumor that Heirloom III will be unveiled at this weekend’s Spring Hopland Passport.

After tasting the 2009 Cesar Tozqui Cellars Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley and 2009 Cesar Tozqui Cellars Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley side by side, I was surprised to find the Anderson Valley Pinot from Mendocino County was drinking more beautifully, was more velvety, than the Russian River Valley Pinot from Sonoma County grapes. I grew up on Dry Creek Valley Cabs and Zins and Russian River Valley Pinots, and developed a “house palate,” preferring the tastes of the wines grown in the places I grew up. If I had been asked to guess which wine was which, based on taste alone, I would have guessed wrong, because I am prejudiced to prefer Russian River Valley Pinots. My second favorite AVA for Pinot Noir is the Anderson Valley, so the side by side tasting was both a treat and instructive.

I bought a bottle of Cesar’s Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, forgetting that there is a generous reciprocal inter winery discount for the tasting room staff of the Hopland wineries. I was doubly thrilled with my purchase after the discount.

The next day, after closing up my tasting room, I headed to Jaxon Keys for an inter winery mixer.

Jaxon Keys is a Wilson winery. Ken and Diane Wilson own some premier winery properties in Sonoma County, and bought and renamed the Jepson winery and distillery, hired Fred Nickel, a knowledgeable and skilled local winemaker, to increase the quality of the wines, and moved the tasting room from a low shed like building to a huge, lovely old estate house on a hill overlooking the vineyards.

Vicki Milone played host to tasting room staff from several Hopland area wineries, with folks coming from Dry Creek Valley wineries in Sonoma County as well. Everyone brought food, and wine, and shared a nice two hours of relaxed fellowship.

The yummiest food treat, which I will be stealing without reservation, was cream and blue cheese with orange marmalade infused figs and toasted pecans on a round pastry. It turns out the round pastry was from Pillsbury giant crescent rolls, sliced while and remaining rolled. Thank you Bev for bringing the taste treat – for me – of the night and sharing where the recipe came from. I will be making these for a future Second Saturday in Hopland to pair with our wines at the tasting room.

I enjoyed a number of the wines Vicki poured and am looking forward to when more of Fred’s wines come on line.

At the mixer, I met Victor Simon, winemaker at Simaine in Ukiah. I will be visiting and tasting very soon.

I also had a bottle find me, instead of me going out to find it, last week. When I returned from a three day weekend, I found my dear friend Serena Alexi had brought a bottle of 2005 Wellington Vineyards Zinfandel, Sonoma Valley. I have not opened it yet, but I am sure to write nice things here when I do.

The folks at Brown-Forman in Kentucky who own Fetzer Vineyards in Hopland sent me six bottles a couple of months ago, but only four were delivered as two were damaged in transit. Although Concha y Toro in Chile is buying Fetzer, Maria from Brown-Forman contacted me today to see about replacing the two bottles. It is a mark of class, of professionalism, that a company that has effectively sold Fetzer already is continuing their first class marketing efforts on behalf of the brand.

Parducci, located in Ukiah, is opening a satellite tasting room in Hopland at the Solar Living Center. John March, who poured the wines of Magnanimus Wine Group at Campovida in Hopland, will be the tasting room manager of the new tasting room facility. I wondered aloud how a Ukiah winery with their own Ukiah tasting room was going to be pouring at this weekend’s Spring Hopland Passport weekend, and why every Ukiah or Redwood Valley winery couldn’t pour. I thought that the collaboration between Parducci and the Solar Living Center was a weekend fling, but am thrilled to welcome Parducci, a winery I love, and John March, a terrifically talented brand ambassador, to Hopland full time.

The Solar Living Center does attract a large share of hippie, marijuana smoking, young folk, and I suggested jokingly to John that he find out which Parducci wine pairs best with weed. That said, my tasting room is the closest to the new medical marijuana dispensary opening up in Hopland, and may I suggest that the 2007 McFadden Vineyard Coro Mendocino would go wonderfully with a nice bong load of Mendocino County’s sticky icky. I have to start practicing saying that with a hand wave, in my own Jedi mind trick style.

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Three Big Events:

This coming weekend, April 30 and May 1, there are two big wine events going on; Spring Hopland Passport, and Passport to Dry Creek Valley; plus Hospice du Rhone will be held April 28-30.

Although I question the sense, or dollars and cents, of spending $125 to visit 46 wineries, tickets are pretty much SOLD OUT for the Dry Creek Valley Passport. There is just no possible way to visit that many wineries. It doesn’t matter what each is offering if you can’t possibly experience it. That said, pick and choose your favorites, get swept up in the traffic and crowds, and enjoy some very delicious wines, paired with the delightful food treats.

Last year, I attended Spring Hopland Passport, took two full days, visited all the participating wineries, enjoyed some very delicious wines (100 of them) from 21 labels, paired with delightful food treats. I wrote a Spring Hopland Passport recap last year. Visit the official Hopland Passport site, where tickets can be bought for just $35, which seems a far more reasonable cost considering the number of wineries that can be visited in one or two days.

A few highlights of what a $35 Spring Hopland Passport ticket buys: Cesar Toxqui Cellars will offer authentic Filipino cuisine to pair with vertical tastings and barrel tastings. Jaxon Keys will have tri-tip sliders and live music by the Felt-Tips. Jeriko Winery will be roasting pig and chicken and have live acoustic music. McFadden Vineyard will pour all of their wines, run big two day only sales, and cook up organic grass fed cube steak from the McFadden Farm seasoned with grilling herbs, lemon pepper and garlic powder also grown organically at McFadden farm, McFadden Farm Wild Rice and artichoke heart salad, and a green salad with McFadden Farm organic salad herbs. McNab Ridge will be pouring current releases, barrel samples and a Coro vertical while offering a selection of dips and speads, marinated chicken thighs with grilled pineapple, and jumbo shrimp with a zesty horseradish cocktail sauce. Mendocino Farms wine will be poured at Campovida while Ken Boek leads garden tours and Les Boek and his band provide music. Milano Family Winery will be serving tri-tip and have live music by Marc Hansen. Nelson Vineyards will be offering up organic Mendough’s wood-fired pizza with their estate wines. Parducci’s wines will be paired with Magruder Ranch grass fed pulled pork and lamb sliders with Asian slaw while The Dirt Floor Band plays at the Real Goods Solar Living Institute. Saracina Vineyards wines will be paired with smoked chicken and porcini crepes, grilled hanger steak tartines, and beet spoons catered by Janelle Weaver, exec chef of Kuleto Estate Winery. Terra Savia will be pairing wine and olive oil tastings with Hawaiian fare while Hui Arago’s band plays Hawaiian music. Weibel Family Vineyards will be pairing wines with treats from Fork Catering. Thanks to Heidi Cusick Dickerson and Hopland Passport for pulling all of this information together. Ticket prices rise $10 on the day of the event, so pre-purchase your tickets online or at any Hopland winery tasting room.

The 19th Annual Hospice du Rhone will bring together over 1,000 Rhone wines from over 130 Rhone wine producers for three days in Paso Robles, CA. There are several events, tastings, seminars, meals, and you can pick and choose which events to buy tickets to with prices ranging from $100-$155, or you can buy a weekend package ticket for $795, getting you into most of the events.

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