John On Wine – An early Thanksgiving


Susan Johnson and John Cesano at Passport to Dry Creek Valley

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Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, May 14, 2015

I know I am supposed to save up all my gratefulness for the year and post it in a cliché Thanksgiving post toward the end of November, but Thanksgiving is coming early this year.

During the recently passed Hopland Passport event, one of our visiting tasters told me that she wished she could have my job. Everybody sees greener grass outside their lives; I would love to have Anthony Bourdain’s job, but I do recognize how blessed I am.

The Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley invited me to attend the Passport to Dry Creek Valley for the third consecutive year, and I am extraordinarily grateful. This year, I was accompanied by my good friend, Susan Johnson. Susan and I used to travel the country doing tradeshows, winemaker dinners, and corporate events for wineries, and then moved together to work for the Wine Appreciation Guild where we visited hundreds of wineries and tasting rooms throughout California.

Susan now works for a company that provides winemakers the tools to make great wine, and of course I pour great wine at one job and write about great wine in my other job. Although we came at each wine tasted from a different perspective, Susan looking at what could have made a wine better and me taking each wine as it is, we both were absolutely impressed front to back with the line ups at media check in host winery DaVero, Gustafson Family Winery, and Seghesio. Talty did the best job amplifying social media marketing, Selby had the best single bite of food, and Blanchard had the best ‘story’ wine.

DaVero produces organic or biodynamic wines from Italian varieties, and I shared the names of some Mendocino growers when asked by winemaker Evan, but if you grow grapes in the county, certified organic or biodynamic, and they are Italian varieties, then Evan wants to hear from you. Terrific wines that you will not taste anywhere else, plus they have farm goods for sale — and you know how much I love an organic farm stand & tasting room!

Gustafson is a long drive from any other winery, but absolutely worth the time to get there. Best winery views ever, fantastic wines, whimsically wonderful presented tasty food creations, and a dream property for vacation rental. Gustafson joins Preston and Truett-Hurst as one of my three favorite Dry Creek places to spend an afternoon with wine and food.

In spite of my desire to visit new wineries each Dry Creek Passport, Seghesio pulls me in year after year. Between wine, food, and music this is probably the most dependably solid stop for complete satisfaction.

Within seconds of a #DCVPassport post by me, about any participating winery, Talty was sharing or retweeting it. Visit them if you like Zin, Zin, or Zin. Selby’s duck and andouille sausage gumbo with crayfish cornbread was the best food I tasted all weekend. Blanchard had the best music with the Rosetown Ramblers covering Grateful Dead tunes, and each bottle sold of their “Helicopter” blend sees a donation to help the families of our military’s special operators.

Two days before our own Hopland Passport, I attended a general meeting of Mendocino Winegrowers Inc. at Barra of Mendocino. I would love to sit at a table with Charlie and Martha Barra, George Lee, Ed Berry, Leroy and Mary Louise Chase, and just shut up for a change. Listening to these, and other great growers, is so wonderful, and helps me in my education about Mendocino wine. I gratefully accepted an invite to visit the Chase Vineyard on a future date, and am thankful for the opportunity to tell a future story about wine from a great vineyard.

Hopland Passport. For me, it is a week of preparation, two days of intense energy output, and nearly a week of putting my tasting room back together afterward. Although people have reported that attendance may have been lighter than in the past, you couldn’t tell it by our numbers. I have everyone to thank, all of the team at the farm, the tasting room team, our chef team, and especially all of our visitors for more than doubling our numbers from last spring’s Passport event.

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Passport is truly a team effort, and we all work hard to make it as fun as possible; I think we succeeded. Now, if you’ll all come and pick up all of your paid for wine, I’ll be even more thankful.

Thanks to Tom Liden, Mendocino winery photographer, for your kind words of encouragement about the words I write weekly. Thanks also to all of my other readers for your words of support; I confess that I am still a little freaked out when I’m recognized for my writing and the compliments about individual pieces I have written, but I am enormously grateful. Within the last two weeks, three different people have told me they enjoy the recaps of the Chef’s Winemaker Dinners at Crush; that makes the piece I’ll be writing about the May 20 Graziano dinner all the easier to write.

Thanks to Aubrey Rawlins, executive director of Mendocino Winegrowers Inc., for recommending me for a winery writing gig. The funny thing is I already loved the wines and winery involved, had planned a visit for a future spotlight winery piece here, and this might be the easiest gig ever, a two for one opportunity.

Thanks to Janis MacDonald and Kristy Charles of the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association for invitations to all of your events, and for treating the Ukiah Daily Journal wine guy the same as the folks from Wine Enthusiast, San Francisco Chronicle, and Wine Spectator; it is appreciated, if a little surreal and humbling.

I will next be attending the 18th annual Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival on May 14-17; with a welcome dinner on Thursday (tonight) at Balo Vineyards, the Technical Conference on Friday at the Fairgrounds in Boonville (seriously, it may sound boring, but the tech conferences that Anderson Valley puts on are a highlight of each event) and a Casual BBQ at Lula Cellars that evening, a Press Tasting at Scharffenberger Cellars on Saturday morning followed by the Grand Tasting at Goldeneye Winery.

On Sunday, May 17, I’ll be headed to The Barlow in Sebastopol to taste Mendocino County’s Gold Medal awarded wines from the recent 2015 Press Democrat North Coast Wine Challenge. Friday, June 19, I’ll be at the Coro Mendocino 2012 Vintage Release Party & Multi-Course Dinner at Dogpatch Wine Works in San Francisco (tickets available at Sip Mendocino in Hopland, ask to sit at the McFadden table), and the next day, June 20, I’ll be at the Metreon in San Francisco for the 11th annual Pinot Days.

In between all this, I’ll be visiting vineyards, wineries, and tasting rooms for future pieces, or simply my own further education and enjoyment.

None of my opportunities would be possible without invitations from others, and those invitations come because I write for you, my readers, here in the Ukiah Daily Journal and online at JohnOnWine.com and you are the reason I have a life worthy of gratitude, of thanks, and of appreciation. I’m not waiting until Thursday, November 26, Thanksgiving day 2015; let me say it now (and possibly again then): Thank you!


John On Wine – Hopland Passport is this weekend!

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaperon Thursday, April 30, 2015

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Spring Hopland Passport 2015 is this weekend, Saturday, May 2 and Sunday, May 3, from 11:00am-5:00pm each day. Tickets are available at the door at each participating winery for $55. For $55, you get a wine glass, wristband, and Passport to collect stamps in for prize drawings and to take notes of your favorite wines. Each winery will offer up wine and food pairings, and many will have their best sale prices of the year for attendees. Here’s what each winery promises, in their own words:

Brutocao Cellars – Spring is in the air and so is “fun” here at Brutocao Cellars. Join us for another Passport full of friends, family, bocce and of course award winning Estate wines. We’ll be dancing on the deck, enjoying scrumptious eats, rolling bocce balls, barrel tasting and sipping some new release deliciousness. Come by and kick off “Merlot Madness in May” at Brutocao!

Campovida – Campovida is a family owned and operated certified organic farm and working vineyard. We offer, wine tasting, olive oil tasting, live music and food pairings from our restaurant the Piazza de Campovida. Not to be missed during passport is our garden tour an experience of your own organic immersion with our master gardener, Ken Boek, awaken the five senses and enjoy an educational experience in plant and insect diversity.

Cesar Toxqui Cellars – Cesar Toxqui Cellars will be doing traditional Asian delicacies. We will greet you with our traditional Filipino appetizer called “lumpia” and an array of fruit infused cheeses paired with our Pinot Gris and Immigrant Chardonnay. Also we will be serving our traditional Roasted pig paired with our 2012 Organic Zinfandel , 2012 Immigrant Pinot Noir and Heirloom Cinco. Finish it off with our Port and a special ordered chocolate cake.

Frey Vineyards – Come Join us at the beautiful Solar Living Institute, inside the Real Goods Store and taste our delicious USDA Organic and Biodynamic wines. No Sulfites added. We are offering: Hawaiian-style Lamb Meatballs; with mango, pineapple, garlic and ginger. Herbal Polenta Diamonds; with tarragon, thyme, onions and asiago. Frey Ranch Assorted Cheeses; with sourdough baguettes (gluten free options). Artichoke Olive Dip; with raw veggie platter and Seasonal Berries.

Graziano Family of Wines – Welcome to Graziano Family of Wines where we offer four distinct wine brands, with a focus on Italian varietals, Pinot Noir, and old world wines with a long tradition in Mendocino County, like Chenin Blanc and Zinfandel. Come try a dry white wine with imported aged cheeses, or a red with Tri Tip. We will have a variety of dips, and tapenade to pair with wines from dry to sweet.

Jaxon Keys Winery & Distillery – LumberJax salute Mendocino history! Come sit a while on our veranda! We will be in our best plaid and dungarees serving you up hearty beef stew made with local ingredients and paired with our delicious estate wines. The LumberJax will show you old-fashioned hospitality at our historic Farmhouse Tasting Room. Red wine, white wine, dessert wine, brandy – we have something for every taste!

Jeriko Estate – Upper Russian River Grilling will be happening at Jeriko for the May Passport. Experience a wild display of mixed meats, cheeses and condiments to complement Jeriko’s Upper Russian River Pinot Noir, Anima Mundi Pinot Noir and Pommard Pinot Noir, along with classics like Sangiovese. Don’t miss out on the barrel sampling, music and special wine prices that are discounted for Passport weekend only.

McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room – Enjoy Hopland’s top awarded wines, McFadden’s California State Fair Best of Show Sparkling Wine, two Wine Enthusiast Magazine ‘Editors’ Choice’ wines, and many new releases, paired with McFadden organic grass fed beef, grilled to perfection and served with a red wine reduction mushroom demi glaze, with assorted salads and sliced baguettes. McFadden Wine Members get 40% off cases of wine during Passport. Guinness McFadden will be on hand to hand sign purchased bottles.

McNab Ridge Tasting Room – McNab Ridge will be featuring Tri-tip on crostini with a chimichuri sauce and a Farro Summer Salad – with fresh squashes, red bell pepper, onion, pistachios and dried cranberries with citrus vinaigrette, perfectly prepared by S’Wine Country BBQ. Sample over a dozen gourmet dips & spreads and get a bottle hand painted by artist Leslie Bartolomei. And of course, we’re pouring our whole line up of Rich Parducci’s award-winning wines!

Milano Family Winery – We’ll feature our scrumptious red-wine-infused oak smoked, marinated Tri-Tip, fresh veggies, a variety of Cabot Creamery cheeses and decadent chocolate raspberry brownies. Enjoy live music on the lawn with the Linda Ferro Trio playing jazzy rock and dance music on Saturday and the incomparable 12-string guitarist Michael Hantman on Sunday. Join us and eat, sip our medal winning wines, groove to the tunes and peruse the wares of several vendors selling fashion and crafts!

Nelson Family Vineyards – Come relax in the Redwoods at Nelson Family Vineyards – this serene grove is a majestic and magical place with gorgeous views of our terraced Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard. We’ll be pouring our delicious Estate wines paired with Mendough’s Wood-Fired Pizza, deliciously made with organic, local ingredients including chevre, sun dried tomatoes, prosciutto, arugula, Gorgonzola and artichoke atop the most incredible crust. We look forward to seeing you again!

Rivino Winery – Steppin’ back into the 50’s! A fun Grease inspired theme … back when lap belts were the norm and airbags had nothing to do with cars. Stop in and enjoy some fun 50’s style food from Pagan Fire Pizza. Some award winning wines from RIVINO … and a terrific concert of 50’s era music along with some classic cars too! Welcome to the Summer of Love and Beauty School Dropouts!

Terra Savia – Our menu will include grilled Tri-tip steak in a Pinot Noir barbecue sauce accompanied with roasted beets & toasted walnuts with a walnut vinaigrette, bowtie pasta and kale with pine nuts and goat cheese. As dessert we will feature an assortment of specialty cookies from the Pacific Cookie Company in Santa Cruz including dark chocolate cranberry, lemon drop and Dr. Midnight.

I love Passport events, and attended Passport to Dry Creek Valley for the third consecutive year last week (a recap is coming soon, after I get through my own Passport event this weekend). I will, of course, be working Hopland Passport, so if you attend, stop by McFadden and say hello.

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John On Wine – Get your tickets now

This post will be published on Thursday, April 9 in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper

Every so often, I use my column as an event listing for my readers. Today is one of those days. While certainly not a complete list of wine country events, here are some incredibly worthwhile things to do, and most will sell out in advance, so do not dawdle, get your tickets now.

Saturday, April 11 – The annual Celebration of Mendocino County Sparkling Wines – Mendocino County’s best sparkling wines from Elke Vineyards, Graziano Family of Wines, McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room, Parducci Wine Cellars, Nelson Family Vineyards, Roederer Estate, Scharffenberger Cellars, Signal Ridge Cellars, Terra Sávia Winery, and Yorkville Cellars, paired with fresh oysters from Tomales Bay with Mignonette or Somendo ranch lemons, paella Valenciana, assorted cheeses with fresh bread from Schat’s Bakery, strawberries with melted Swiss dark Chocolate, Meyer lemon almond cake, and live music. Tickets are $55 online in advance and TODAY IS THE LAST DAY FOR ADVANCE TICKETS! GET YOUR’S HERE, $65 at the door. This is THE Event to go to if you love sparkling wine and great food, and is happening this Saturday – get your tickets NOW!

Saturday, April 18 – Earth Day at Barra of Mendocino – Join the Barra family in a celebration to honor Mother Earth and the rich bounty of Mendocino County, from 10-5. Be the first to taste Barra’s organic olive oil made from olives grown on the family farm of Bella Collina.  Translated as, “Beautiful Hillside,” this area provides gravelly soil for these trees to thrive right alongside Barra’s prized Petite Sirah and Zinfandel vines.  While you’re at it, taste newly released vintages of organic wines, and enjoy the gardens and scenic surroundings.  For more information:  (707) 485-0322

Saturday, April 25 & Sunday, April 26 – Passport to Dry Creek Valley – Over one weekend, Passport guests are welcomed into nearly 50 wineries throughout Dry Creek Valley, each offering a unique pairing of premium wine, gourmet food and entertainment. Take a vineyard tour for a grape-to-glass look at Dry Creek Valley wine. Sample exclusive vintages, rarely available to taste. Meet winemakers and grapegrowers – the generations of people behind the wine and magical ‘Dry Creek Valley spirit’. Savor exquisite food and wine pairings from acclaimed chefs. I LOVE Dry Creek Passport, will be attending for the third year in a row, and with so many wineries participating, no two Passports are the same. Enjoy! Tickets are $141.38 and available online at www.drycreekvalley.org

Thursday, April 30 – Thirsty Thursday at SIP! Mendocino in Hopland – Tickets are $20, or one free ticket per SIP! wine club membership. Each month offers a different terrific tasting. Last month I enjoyed a tasting of five wonderful Sake paired with delicious Sushi from Oco Time, this month could be anything from a pairing of the County’s best Alsatian whites with the foods of Alsace, or Pinot Noir with mushroom risotto. For more info, and to grab your tickets, call (707) 744-8375.

Saturday, May 2 & Sunday, May 3 – Hopland Passport – Closer to home, Hopland’s Passport event is manageable, and just the right size to be able to visit all the participating wineries without rushing. I’ll be working at McFadden, of course, and think we offer up the event’s best wines and food from our certified organic farm, but there is also proudly offered food and wine pairings at Brutocao, Campovida, Cesar Toxqui, Frey, Graziano, Jaxon Keys, Jeriko, McNab Ridge, Milano, Nelson, Rivino, and Terra Savia. Two day ‘early bird’ tickets are $45 and available at www.destinationhopland.com or $55 at participating wineries during the event. This is probably the best event value of the bunch.

Sunday, May 10 – Mother’s Day Brunch at Barra of Mendocino – Honor the special women in your life this Mother’s Day with a brunch celebration at BARRA of Mendocino Winery.  Enjoy a scrumptious brunch buffet with friends and family. Take in the sounds of a three piece jazz ensemble, stroll through blooming gardens and take family photos. Honor the women in your life with this special day of pampering! Brunch will be served from 10:00 am – 1:00 pm. Reservations are required and children are welcome. $35 for adults/ Special Pricing for Wine Club Members (limit two tickets per member) and $12 for children under 12 years of age. To purchase tickets, please call Katrina at (707) 485-0322, or drop by Barra’s tasting room at 7051 N. State Street in Redwood Valley. My son Charlie took his mother Lisa last year and both reported that it was a lovely event. Do this for Mother’s Day.

Friday, May 15 through Sunday, May 17 – 18th annual Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival – Taste the world-class Anderson Valley Pinot Noirs of more than 50 producers from around California and savor perfectly paired foods designed to complement the exceptional Anderson Valley Pinot wines. I had a spectacular time last year, and look forward to attending again this year. If you love Pinot Noir, or even like it, you will be impressed with the incredibly high quality of the valley’s flagship variety. Various tasting, technical conference, and winemaker dinner tickets are available, ranging from $50 to $135 for each event, online at www.avwines.com

Wednesday, May 20 – Graziano Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush Italian Steakhouse – Greg Graziano makes terrific, well priced wines. His tasting room is right next to mine, and I know he has legions of fans for his wines. I’ve written many times about how great the chef’s winemaker dinners at Crush are; they operate like a well-buttered machine. I do not need to see a wine list or menu to know how good this is going to be. I’ve got my ticket already. Tickets are $75, dinner, wine, tax and tip inclusive; call Crush at (707) 463-0700 for tickets.

Friday, June 19 – 2012 Coro Vintage Release Party – Join the Coro winemakers for a gourmet dinner for two paired with our wines and take home a complete set of the 2012 vintage. Seating is limited. Reservations required. $700 per couple. Includes the full collection of the 2012 vintage ($320 value) and complimentary valet service. The 2012 vintage consists of 8 wineries: Barra of Mendocino, Brutocao Cellars, Clos du Bois, Golden Cellars, McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room, Parducci Wine Cellars, Ray’s Station, and Testa Vineyards. Coro Mendocino 2012 Vintage Release Party Friday, June 19th 2015 6:00 – 10:00pm at Dogpatch WineWorks, San Francisco. For the most fun, ask to sit with Guinness McFadden or me, John Cesano; we tell great Irish stories or perform stupid magic tricks, and I’ll leave it to you to guess who does which. Tickets are available at SIP! Mendocino in Hopland; or call (707) 744-8375. Do this for Father’s Day.

Friday, June 19 through Sunday, June 21 – A Taste of Redwood Valley – The weekend kicks off with a Friday night winemaker’s dinner at Barra, tickets are $65, and the fun continues with two day weekend tasting tickets at either $30 in advance or $35 at the event. Three day tickets are discounted at $90. Participating wineries and distilleries include Barra/Girasole, Brown, Frey, Germain-Robin/Craft Distillers, Giuseppe/Neese, Graziano, Silversmith, and Testa. Get your tickets in advance online at www.atasteofredwoodvalley.com

Saturday August 22 – Yorkville Highlands Wine Festival – This family-friendly festival and auction is at Meyer Family Cellars this year. Festivities start at 1pm. Highlights will include tasting scores of award-winning wines made and grown within the Highlands around Anderson Valley.  The price includes a delicious farm-fresh lunch and scrumptious desert, a tempting silent auction where you can bid on rare bottles and hundreds of bargains galore. There’s always the riotous grape stomp along with other wild and wacky games. Advance tickets are $45, or $60 during the event, and available at www.yorkvillehighlands.org

One of the genuine perquisites of writing a wine column is receiving invitations to organized wine tasting events. Today, I’m going to recap my last four weekends of wine tastings.

Barrel Tasting 101 in Hopland coincided with the last weekend of the Mendocino County Crab, Wine & Beer Fest and featured winery tasting rooms along Highway 101 from Hopland to Calpella and Ukiah to Redwood Valley pouring barrel samples of wines not yet bottled, providing an opportunity to taste the future, and purchase futures of these wines, while offering up delicious food pairing treats created around Dungeness crab.


Barrel Tasting 101, BARRA of Mendocino (Photo by John Cesano)

This was a joyful weekend for me, as I was able to visit all of my neighbors, and taste many delicious crab treats, as well as get a glimpse of what is coming wine-wise in the future.

Best food spread goes to the team at Testa, with terrific tastes at Barra, Simaine, Seebass, Milano, Cesar Toxqui, and Terra Savia, as well.

This was the second annual Barrel Tasting 101, a great addition to the two Passport events put on by Destination Hopland each year, and saw attendance triple over the previous inaugural event. There will certainly be a third annual Barrel Tasting 101 event in January next year.

Zinfandel Advocates & Producers, ZAP, made San Francisco the epicenter of Zinfandel love, with their multi-day Zinfandel Experience. On Wednesday, I attended Epicuria, a food and wine pairing tasting, featuring over 30 top Zinfandel producers, each sharing a table with chefs from bay area kitchens.

On Thursday, I attended Flights, a seated tasting of three flights of five wines each, moderated by Joel Peterson, featuring winemakers from three distinctly different growing areas in California, Contra Costa County, Amador County, and the Dry Creek Valley of Sonoma County.

On Saturday, I attended The Tasting, with over 100 producers pouring their Zinfandel, and the folks from the SOMM Journal leading panel workshops exploring lesser known Zinfandel growing areas of California. These workshops included a look at Lake and Mendocino County by Sommelier Chris Sawyer and featuring Lake County’s Jelly Jar Wine Zinfandel and Mendocino County’s Rich Parducci pouring two McNab Ridge Winery Zinfandels. I wrote a piece, running over 4,400 words, with pictures, that you can find archived on johnonwine.com about my three days in Zin-bliss.

Zinfandel Experience, Rich Parducci and Chris Sawyer (Photo by John Cesano)

The 10th annual International Alsace Varietals Festival in Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley was held right in the middle of the deluge that saw 3-11” of rain fall, depending on where you were in the county, in just a week. Bacchus, the God of wine, smiled and provided a window of warm weather and sun for the festival.

The main grape varieties of Alsace include Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Gewurztraminer, and Pinot Gris, with (unoaked) Pinot Noir, Sylvaner, and Muscat also represented.

At 8:30 a.m., the Alsace Fest kicked off with educational sessions, with Glenn McGourty moderating the sessions, including panel tastings of white wines featuring different periods of skin contact and examples of winemaking protocols at Campovida by winemaker Sebastian Donoso; an exploration of single vineyard Pinot Blanc by sommelier Chris Sawyer (this guy is everywhere!) with Randy Schock of Handley Cellars, Jason McConnell of Rivino, and James Wasson of Rein each pouring wine made from Shrader Ranch Pinot Blanc grapes; Christie Dufault leading a food and wine pairing featuring food prepared by her Culinary Institute of America at Greystone team and four very different, but delicious Gewurztraminer from Brooks, Navarro Vineyards, Pierre Sparr, and Husch; Thomas Schlumberger’s tasting of eight Grand Cru wines from his Domaines Schlumberger estate in Alsace, France; and a steelhead trout on cauliflower puree cooking demonstration by Francois de Melogue.

After the educational sessions came the big public tasting, with Alsace variety wines from around the world, but concentrated heavily on the Anderson Valley and Alsace, France.

Thomas Schlumberger poured three additional Grand Cru wines from his Alsace estate, originally planted in 1810; the 11 wines Schlumberger poured that day were the best 11 wines I tasted that day, were revelatory for me, and set a new high bar for tasting of Alsace varietal wines that I will measure all other tastes against.

Another huge treat for me was talking with Master Sommelier Ian Cauble, who I recognized from the movie SOMM — find it on Netflix and watch it — who was pouring at the Wines of Alsace USA table.

I did taste our local Alsace variety wines too, and enjoyed offerings from Handley, Graziano, Navarro, and Lichen very much.

Too many associate these Alsace variety wines with sickly, cloyingly sweet, wines; but the wines I tasted on this Saturday were uniformly drier and more concentrated in depth and character, multi-noted, layered wines, that I will reach for again and again this summer.

Lastly, on Valentine’s Day Saturday, I attended the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition’s public tasting of Gold, Double Gold, and Best of Show awarded wines from January’s competition.

Rather than treat the day, and the tasting, like a press opportunity, I decided to just relax and have fun. Juanita Plaza works with me at McFadden’s tasting room in Hopland, and neither of us had a Valentine, so we decided to go together for a San Francisco getaway, built around the wine tasting and an Italian dinner in North Beach.

The weather was unbeatable, blue sky and warm sun, and the tasting was a treat. We tasted several terrific wines, and even a beer and a cidre (really, that’s how they spell it) from Stella Artois. It was nice to see our friends from Campovida, Rivino, Handley, and Simaine pouring.

Dinner didn’t work out. My brother Tom, by fortuitous coincidence, pulled into town across the bay and arranged great tickets and working passes for the Enrique Iglesias and Pitbull concert that evening at Oracle Arena in Oakland, and we had a blast, up and dancing for most of the show. Thanks Tom, we really appreciated you hooking us up, sorry you were working and we didn’t get to see you. Thanks Juanita for joining me for a fun weekend getaway.

That’s it, four weekends of wine tastings. I have to give thanks to Destination Hopland, Zinfandel Advocates & Producers, Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association, and the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition for comp tickets. I write about events, encourage you to get out there and attend some, and I’ll continue to do so. I attend as many events as I can, because I consider it continuing education, it helps to taste broadly and refine or renew perceptions about wines and wineries, and sometimes it can just be a great getaway.

I hope to see you at future wine events…like the Celebration of Mendocino County Sparkling Wines at Terra Savia in Hopland on April 11, the Passport to Dry Creek Valley on April 25 and 26, or Hopland Passport on May 2 and 3.

John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

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John On Wine – Spotlight Winery: Cesar Toxqui Cellars

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, October 16, 2014

The only constant is change, and owners Cesar and Ruth Toxqui have changed addresses, moving their Cesar Toxqui Cellars tasting room to a new location in the Hopland Schoolhouse Plaza complex, in the building next to Brutocao Cellars, at 13500 South Highway 101, Hopland, CA 95449.

With about 1,000 folks descending on Hopland this weekend, for the 23rd annual Fall Hopland Passport wine and food weekend festival, Cesar and Ruth are hopeful attendees will find their way to their beautiful new tasting room.

I visited and tasted the open wines being poured as part of the day’s Tasting Flight on a Saturday when last minute painting details were being finished and pictures hung on walls.

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2010 Chardonnay, $18, 13.8% alc. Made using Jeriko’s Dijon clone Chardonnay grapes, there are notes of oak, butter, apple and lemon, in balance, in this wine. After time in tank to allow greater fruit expression, this Chardonnay spent 10 months in three year old – semi neutral – French oak. Think of a fruit forward, butter scotch loaded Chablis on steroids.

2011 Zinfandel, Immigrant, Russian River, $24, 14.3% alc. There is a lot going on in this wine. Bright strawberry and cherry fruit meet dusty cocoa, rose petal, and brambly raspberry. This wine has many flavors and enough of each to allow it to pair with a wide variety of foods.

MV Ruthless Red, $18, 14.5% alc. The MV stands for multiple vintages, instead of the regular NV for non vintage; this is a new Cesar Toxqui unofficial but more descriptive designation. There may be a percentage or two of this or that in the blend, but roughly speaking this wine is 50% Zinfandel. 25% Syrah, and 25% Sangiovese. “This wine makes you want to sit outside on your porch and contemplate the meaning of life,” is how Cesar described the wine that features a fiery portrait of his wife Ruth on the label. In addition to the abundant fruit notes that this medley of grapes offer up, I picked up undertones of cola and a sinuous vinous character with enough acid to provide both structure and balance for the flavors.

2012 Zinfandel, Split Rock Ranch, $32, 14.3% alc. Cesar told me that, “this label celebrates our 10th anniversary in business,” and that he may make another special label Zinfandel ten more years from now, to celebrate 20 years in business. With grapes sourced from John Mattern’s Split Rock Ranch, this Zinfandel shows depth, structure, with soft but noticeable tannin, and a lot of flavors, almost drinking more like an Alicante Bouchet, Petite Sirah, and Carignane blend, with a little bite on the end. Blackberry, mocha, raspberry, black pepper, fennel bulb, cherry, minerality, and oak are all on display. Tasting with me, Cesar shared as he tasted this wine, “this is a really big Zin, this is the one I’m really proud of…(tasting) oh yeah!”

MV Paloma Dulce Port, $18/375ml or $32/750ml, 19% alc. Another multiple vintage release, this is a solera style port, meaning that a little from each release is held and blended into the next release, which has a little held and blended into the release after that, and so on, with the resulting port being something tied to all previous and future vintages. Wine, flavored with a bit of brandy from Germain Robin, this is a richer, sweeter, more intense wine, a port, and lovely, nicely balanced between aromatic cedar, cherry, tobacco, and apple.

In addition to the wines tasted, Cesar also produces and sells Muscat Canelli, Viognier, Chard Vino Vianco, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, and Grenache wines through his tasting room.

One of my favorite wine events is the Zinfandel Advocates & Producers (ZAP) Zinfandel Festival held each January in San Francisco. Every producer shows up to pour their Zinfandel, and crowds of thousands descend upon the offerings at a Grand Tasting. I have been fortunate, and attended seated panel wine tastings, wine and food pairing tastings, and sadly had to turn down an invite to the big dress up meal because of a conflict, but attend every ZAP event I can. ZAP honored Cesar Toxqui’s Zinfandel at the 2010 Zinfandel Festival, calling it the Year’s Best Zinfandel out of many hundreds being poured. Cesar knows how to make great wine.

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I have tasted many wines, different varieties, different vintages, different vineyard areas, from Cesar Toxqui Cellars, and Cesar makes interesting wines, never boring, unique, not cookie cutter, by exercising choices during winemaking. I like most of Cesar’s wines, dearly love some, and there are a rare few that I do not like – although someone else certainly will; in all cases, Cesar makes wines I respect. I respect the choice he often makes to allow a wine to display more character, rather than smooth that character into a more approachable or drinkable edge. Tasting wines at Cesar Toxqui Cellars is exciting, and I am happily surprised, as Cesar’s winemaking choices are less predictable than ordinary.

To taste the full range of Cesar and Ruth Toxqui’s hospitality, pick up a ticket to Hopland Passport this weekend, then taste an array of delectable fruit infused cheeses paired with our new Orange Muscat , Pinot Gris, and Chardonnay, before the new release of 2012 Zinfandel, new Heirloom V, and of full line up of other red wines with a mixed meat BBQ grill trip, wild boar sausage, and chicken. Be sure to enjoy the chocolate ganache and Paloma Dulce Port for dessert.

Hopland Passport tickets can be purchased during this weekend at any of the 14 participating wineries for $55; for more information, visit http://www.DestinationHopland.com/Hopland-Passport ; and for more information about Cesar Toxqui Cellars, call the tasting room at (707) 744-1071, Thursday through Sunday between 11:00 and 5:30, winter hours.

 

 

 

John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

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John On Wine – 23rd annual Fall Hopland Passport is coming, Oct 18 & 19, 2014

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, October 9, 2014

We are just nine days out from the 23rd annual Fall Hopland Passport, coming up on Saturday, October 18, 2014 and Sunday, October 19, 2014, from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. each day.

Like Napa in the 60’s or Healdsburg in the 70’s, Hopland today is a place where there are more grape growers than wineries, where organic is normal, and where amazing wines remain largely undiscovered.

Affordable, relaxed, enjoyable. Hopland is rural yet close to everywhere in the bay area; a getaway destination, a place to taste wine, and a gorgeously magical spot where cares and stress just melt away.

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Come to Passport, but don’t rush. Relax, take a deep breath. With 14 participating Passport winery tasting rooms to visit over two days for your $45 ticket – or $55 if you are procrastinator – you’ll have over 50 minutes to devote to each spot, with some tasting rooms just 20 mere feet from door to door!

Hopland is where the Mendocino County Fair Wine Competition’s Double Gold medal winning Cabernet Sauvignon and Best of Show white wine, and the California State Fair Wine Competition’s Best of Show sparkling wine can be tasted, and without any tasting fee when you buy a ticket.

There is food, real food, good food to taste at each stop on your Passport tour. The mouthwatering savory scent of BBQ grills cooking meat throughout the Hopland area will have you at peak readiness for wine and food pairings all weekend long.

Receive a Passport logo glass, entry to all wine tastings, food pairings and entertainment at all 14 wineries. Collect stamps in your actual Passport to enter the Passport Prize Giveaway…. over thirty fabulous prizes will be given away! Tickets can be purchased online at DestinationHopland.com/store for $45 or at any of the participating wineries during the event for $55.

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Get your ticket, raise your glass, and celebrate the A-Z variety of wines poured by the participating winery tasting rooms in the Hopland area: Aglianico, Arneis, Barbera, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignane, Charbobo, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Cortese, Dolcetto, French Colombard, Gewurztraminer, Grenache, Marsanne, Merlot, Mosacato/Muscat, Negroamaro, Nero D’Avola, Orange Muscat, Petite Sirah, Petit Verdot, Pinotage, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris/Grigio, Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir, Primitivo, Riesling, Roussanne, Sangiovese, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Syrah Noir, Tannat, Tocai Friulano, Valdiguie, Viognier, and Zinfandel.

There will also be blends; the county’s flagship Coro wines, rosés, late harvest and ice wine, port, sparkling, and Meritage wines to delight.

Here is a short description of what each winery promises visitors during the Hopland Passport wine weekend:

BRUTOCAO CELLARS •Award winning Estate wines from both bottle and barrel •Tasty delectables  •Annual grape stomp!

CAMPOVIDA •Wine tasting •Olive oil tasting •Live music •Food pairings from our restaurant the Piazza de Campovida •Garden tour with our master gardener, Ken Boek

CESAR TOXQUI CELLARS •Fruit infused cheeses paired with a new Orange Muscat, Pinot Gris, and Chardonnay •New release full bodied 2012 Organic Zinfandel and our new Heirloom V with a mixed meat BBQ grill of wild boar sausage, and chicken •Ganache chocolate and port.

FREY VINEYARDS •Award-winning, Organic and Biodynamic wines (with no added sulfites) •Organic Autumn-inspired, colorful fresh foods.

GRAZIANO FAMILY OF WINES •Aglianico to Zinfandel we have as many as 30 different wines •Marinated tri-tip in the crock pot, imported aged cheeses, homemade dips and spreads, and more.

JAXON KEYS WINERY & DISTILLERY •Spaghetti western themed hospitality •Fresh spaghetti done three ways: red, white and green •Farmhouse

JERIKO ESTATE •Upper Russian River Grilling of mixed meats •Cheeses and condiments •Anima Mundi Pinot Noir and Reserve Pinot Noir, Sangiovese. •Barrel sampling •Music •Special wine prices that are discounted for passport weekend only

MCFADDEN FARM STAND & TASTING ROOM •Highly rated, top award winning wines •McFadden Farm Organic Grass Fed Beef, and Wild Rice and artichoke heart salad; both seasoned with Herbs and Herb Blends – family farmed and organically grown •Beef, Wild Rice, and Herbs available for purchase at special Passport discounts •McFadden Wine Members get 40% off cases of wine during Passport •Guinness McFadden will sign purchased bottles

MCNAB RIDGE WINERY •Rock music themed Passport  •Barrel tasting of our new Cononiah Zin with futures available •Complimentary bottle painting by Leslie Bartolomei •Smokestack BBQ grillmasters smoky chicken, gourmet sausage and grilled veggies. •Popular dips and spreads •Rich Parducci’s award-winning wines

MILANO FAMILY WINERY •Red-wine-infused oak smoked, marinated Tri-Tip, fresh veggies, cheeses and decadent chocolate raspberry brownies •Live music on the lawn with the Rose City Band playing jazz and dance music on Saturday •Contemporary duo of Marilyn DeFrange and Janet Orsi on Sunday.  Join us and eat, •Medal winning wines •Several craft vendors

NELSON FAMILY VINEYARDS •Estate wines •Mendough’s Wood-Fired Pizza, deliciously made with organic, local ingredients including chevre, sun dried tomatoes, prosciutto, arugula, Gorgonzola and artichoke atop the most incredible crust.

RIVINO ESTATE WINERY •“Wines of Anarchy” themed event •Pagan Fire Pizza •Newly released wines

SARACINA •Gourmet harvest fare •Live music by A Band Called Luke •Wine cave tours on Saturday at 1:30, 3:00 and 4pm and on Sunday at 1:00 and 3pm.

TERRA SAVIA •“A Cheesy Affair” is the theme •Greek salad stuffed tomatoes •Macaroni and cheese empanadas •Butternut squash with blue cheese •Frisee and farro salad with warm goat cheese •Accoustic and eclectic band Coffee Zombie Collective will entertain

This will be my eighth consecutive Hopland Passport missed because I work at one of the participating tasting rooms, and an event I sorely miss. I cannot recommend getting a ticket and attending Hopland Passport strongly enough, it is an absolute stand out wine event value – no where else do you get so much for so little!

John On Wine ­ – Events, future and past

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, May 8, 2014
Written by John Cesano

Mother’s Day Brunch ­ I wish my mom was alive. I would love to get her a corsage and take her to a lovely Mother’s Day Brunch; my son with us and grandson and grandmother spending time together; a glass or two or three of bubbly, or bubbly mixed with orange juice. I really miss my mom.

If you have the opportunity to take your mother or grandmother – or best of all, both – out for brunch this Mother’s Day Sunday, May 11th, consider Barra of Mendocino at 7051 North State Street in Redwood Valley, just minutes north of Ukiah. Enjoy a lovely brunch from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m., with a glass of wine while a three piece jazz ensemble plays, and then take pictures together in Barra’s colorful gardens bursting in bloom.

Brunch tickets are $35 each, although Barra Wine Club members get a $25 price, and children 12 and under are $12; and you can secure your tickets today, or by noon tomorrow, by calling the winery at (707) 485-0322. Tell Katrina that John sent you.

Love your mom, and enjoy your Sunday!

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The Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival is coming up quickly on Friday, May 16 and Saturday, May 17, and tickets for several dinners are sold out; while the remaining dinners, technical conference, and the grand public tasting event are nearly sold out. If you love Pinot Noir, then go to http://www.avvwines.com for more information and to get your tickets before you can’t.

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CigarBQ 2014 ­ I attended the first CigarBQ back in 1998, which makes the 2014 edition the 17th annual event. CBQ is the premiere cigar, wine and golf fundraiser in the Sonoma County wine country and the main event ­ the mouth watering barbecue – will be held at Robert Young Estate Winery in Geyserville from 4 to 8 p.m. on Saturday, August 16th. This year, 10 cigar brands will be on-site along with more than 40 of Sonoma County’s best wineries, beer, food, music, and friends.

Guests will enjoy an afternoon of cigars provided by Davidoff, Camacho, and Cusano, premium wines, Lagunitas Brewing, music, and friends; all while raising money for the Council On Aging and Meals on Wheels. A $150 ticket price includes barbecue, wine, cigars, and a limited edition wine glass. Buy your tickets at http://www.cbqwinecountry.org.

Golfers will enjoy taking part in the CBQ tournament the day before, on Friday, August 15, with a 10:30 a.m. shotgun start. The cost is $79 per golfer. Contact hans@cbqwinecountry.org for more information, or to get your golf tickets.

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Hopland Passport ­ Another successful Hopland Passport is finished and in the books. This is the one event that I have to work and do not get to attend. I know that the folks who did attend, and visited us had a great time. Every now and again, I use the column to throw out a thank you or two, or 10. The rest of the column will give you a glimpse nto what goes into putting on an event like Hopland Passport as I spread thanks.

Thanks to all my Hopland winery neighbors, owners and workers alike; together, we make Hopland Passport happen, we shape what it is that our guests experience. Thanks to the folks up at the farm, from Shana and Andrea in the office, who keep track of my requests and make sure my expenses and revenue are accurately tracked; to Jose, Ernesto, Benny, and everyone else who does the hard work, the farming of all that I am able to offer in our farm stand & tasting room. With Guinness driving a huge truck and a team of workers, you move a shipping container worth of items from the farm in Potter Valley to the shop in Hopland, and then make it all disappear again. There aren’t thanks enough for me to give to adequately express my appreciation and gratitude for what you do.

In the back yard, we cook the organic grass-fed beef from our farm, and make up our wild rice and artichoke heart salad, plus toss a green salad, and our two contract chefs did a terrific job. I love knowing food is being taken care of, because I can’t leave the tasting room bar. We received a ton of compliments on perfectly cooked medium rare beef. Thanks to my son Charlie and his longtime friend Grey. We missed Mark, and look forward to his return if he is free in the future. Of course, we couldn’t cook unless someone went shopping. Thanks to Judith for picking up everything we needed for the weekend, and for having an eye for making things look better, more attractive, and making us all better.

In the tasting room, I lost my right hand gal, Ann, who attended Passport after working the last six beside me. Ann did come in early Saturday morning, before Passport to help set the tasting room, and I thank her. I looked to my staff to step up and be the team that makes losing Ann for the weekend a less than catastrophic loss. Thank you Juana for not only working your scheduled shift, but for shouldering more of the responsibility for our success, for ensuring our guests had an enjoyable time.

I also had two first time behind our bar helpers, Kellie and Tina, who poured for the many tasters and kept our ship afloat. Thank you to both of you. Thanks to Guinness for providing me the opportunity to do what I do, what we all do. Thanks for chatting with visitors, for signing their bottles, for all this and so much more. Finally, thanks to the folks who came to Hopland Passport, a week after Dry Creek Passport and while the Beerfest in Boonville was going on. Your support makes what we do possible, and I can’t thank you enough. Let’s do it all again this fall, on Saturday, October 18 and Sunday, October 19. See you then!

 

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