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John On Wine – ­ A Mendo bubbly fest recap

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

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

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

A Gathering of friends

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

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

Bubbly Gathering

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bubbly Feast

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

 

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John On Wine – Drought

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on March 27, 2014
By John Cesano

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Brave the storm to come, for it surely looks like rain.” ­ – 1972, Look Like Rain, Grateful Dead

Rain, water, drought, shortage, rationing, voluntary reductions, mandatory reductions; Thoughts of our current situation swirl like water about a drain. I’m a winery tasting room guy. I know finished wine, whether it is good, what notes it has and how to describe it. I know a little bit about growing and winemaking, but really just the basics.

When it comes to the crisis facing everyone in Mendocino County, not just the vineyards and wineries, I had to reach out and talk with some folks more knowledgeable than I am on the subject. I spoke with Zac Robinson, President of the Mendocino WineGrowers, Inc., the voluntary coalition of growers and producers working to promote Mendocino County grape grower and wine interests to the general public. Robinson grows grapes both inland, on the Russian River between Ukiah and Hopland, and in the Anderson Valley, and then turns them into wine for his winery, Husch Vineyard.

Robinson described the problems facing the entire community as stemming from a two year drought, stating “the Navarro River is at the lowest level ever for this date, and “things are pretty dire.” Robinson outlined measures that vineyards and wineries are taking in the face of water shortages including adding nearly 50 new wind machines, installing double drip irrigation lines, and installing soil moisture monitoring probes. This is on top of water use reductions of approximately 67 percent since the previous drought of record, 1976-77.

The fans minimize the use of sprinkler water for frost protection and later to mitigate the highest heat of summer, but at a cost as the fans are pretty noisy for residential neighbors to endure. Soil moisture monitoring probes allow more intelligent application of moisture as needed, and double drip lines involve a second irrigation drip line with emitters tasked only to the weakest vines in a vineyard. Double drip lines allow about a 30 percent reduction in water as regular summer drip irrigation can be delayed for weeks as only the vines most in need are taken care of earlier. Later pruning also reduces water demands, as it leads to later bud break and decreases the period when frost protection water use might occur.

In spite of all of the efforts by growers, Robinson shared that “holding ponds aren’t full, the watershed is bone dry, and there will be August decisions (as) we’re not going to have enough water to get the crop through the year (and) we’ll have to choose which vineyards get less water.”

All this, while most of Mendocino County’s vineyards face 50 percent mandatory reductions in water use from various governing boards and agencies.

Not to demonize the “demon weed,” but marijuana accounts for nearly the same water use amount of all of the family farmed multi-generational vineyards in the county, with marijuana acreage just a small fraction of the legal and regulated agricultural vineyards. A walk in a vineyard is a joy; a walk in much of the county a danger due to illegal growth, armed guards, booby-trapped paths, and poisoned lands.

I’m not anti-marijuana, but I support legalizing and taxing it, as well as subjecting growers to the same water restrictions grape growers face. I do oppose illegal grows on public land, diverting water, and ruining existing ecosystems. While vineyards may be the most visible sector of the agricultural community, non-vineyard agriculture (irrigated pastures and orchards) are the largest user of water in the county, using water at much greater rates per acre.

This piece isn’t meant to be an “us vs. them” piece, but a look at where we all are at, together, now and where we all should be looking to go to decrease the severity of drought consequences as a community in the future. Janet Pauli, Chair of the Mendocino County Inland Water & Power Commission, was able to provide a pretty good map for the future.

Pauli first made clear the severity of our current drought, based on insufficient rain October to present, “this is the new drought of record’ and may be a level of severity that hasn’t occurred in over 400 years based on tree ring data.” This surpasses the often recounted 1976-77 drought of record. Pauli said the path forward required progress on two tracks. The first is reoperation and the second is increased storage at Lake Mendocino.

Reoperation involves support of Congressman Jared Huffman’s Fixing Operations of Reservoirs to Encompass Climatic and Atmospheric Science Trends Act (FORECAST) so we can conserve water in our biggest pond, Lake Mendocino. Currently, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers follow required water control instructions from a manual dating back to the 50s, which saw them release water in the spring of 2013 without any evidence of a storm coming in after. Assuming weather prediction is better now than in the 50s, sensible on-the-ground decisions could be made saving unnecessary future water releases from occurring.

Lake Mendocino exists as part of a larger U.S. Army Corps of Engineers flood control project, authorized by Congress in the 50s, and intended to proceed in three stages. Stage one was the building of the Coyote Valley Dam, completed in 1959, creating the current Lake Mendocino. Stage two involved the building of the Warm Springs Dam, completed in 1982, creating Lake Sonoma. Stage three involves coming back to raise the Coyote Valley Dam 36 vertical feet, doubling the water storage capacity of Lake Mendocino. Stage three has not happened. Pauli said that feasibility studies are costly, but needed to move forward and while $1.2 million has been brought to bear, $4 million more is needed to see the study through to completion. Funding comes from the Federal government, matched by a local coalition including Potter Valley, Redwood Valley, Mendocino County, City of Ukiah, and Russian River Flood Control groups. Next congressional action is required, and Pauli said that in the past U.S. Senator (CA) Diane Feinstein “has helped us with funding for the Feasibility Study. We believe that the project is feasible and should be championed by our elected representatives as nearly “shovel ready”. We are hoping that raising Coyote Dam might become the “water supply poster child” for increasing storage in the State of California.”

If feasible, the current estimate of enlarging Lake Mendocino is $300 million, with perhaps 25 percent local funding needed, and would require a year for authorization plus whatever time the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would need to enlarge the existing dam. Similarly, Congressman Huffman’s FORECAST Act requires successful passage into law, a couple of years of studies, and another couple of years before implementation. The greatest problem about droughts is that with their end, so too ends the quest for solutions to drought conditions.

Everyone in Mendocino, Sonoma Counties face drought conditions now and should come together to act now and continue to act together in the future as a community to address ways to minimize the impacts of future droughts. According to Mendocino WineGrowers, Inc., farmers in the wine industry and wineries relying on grapes anticipate losses of up to $100 million this year due to the drought and a combination of mandatory and self-imposed responsible water reduction measures. Grapes just won’t be as plump, there will be fewer and this will lead to less wine made. Do whatever you can to conserve water now. I remember the conservation measures that existed in 1976-77 that are not in effect in homes now.

Support your local, legal, agriculture; help them through this drought by taking on extra water conservation measures at your home and business, and contact Congressman Jared Huffman and voice your support for his FORECAST Act, and contact Senator Diane Feinstein and let her know you would really love to see the Coyote Valley Dam raised 36 vertical feet as soon as practical. Consider your local city councilmember’s and county supervisor’s support for these needed protections of our beautiful county as well. As Mendocino County residents, we’re really in this together.

 

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John On Wine – Wine Tasting in March

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

TOYS FOR TOTS Toy Drive & Wine Tasting on Friday, 12/13. Please Come.

Toys For Tots, started in 1947 by Major Bill Hendricks with help from his Marine Corps Reserve unit in Los Angeles, and expanded nationwide in 1948 as the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys For Tots Program, has collected and distributed over 400,000 toys to less fortunate children.

The Hopland Volunteer Fire Department helps Santa each Christmas Eve by delivering toys collected to children who could use a little extra Christmas cheer.

The McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room in Hopland acts as a bridge between the two organizations, by hosting a combination Toys For Tots toy drive and wine tasting each year.

Please come to McFadden in Hopland this Friday, December 13, after work, between 4:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. and bring a new unwrapped toy donation.

In exchange for your donation, as a thank you for your kindness and generosity of Christmas spirit, each person, 21 or over, bringing a donation will enjoy a complimentary tasting of the best of McFadden’s wines. Enjoy the Double (unanimous) Gold Medal winning McFadden Chardonnay from this year’s San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition – the highest awarded unoaked Chardonnay at the largest judging of American wines in the world;  the Gold, Double Gold, Wine Enthusiast Editor’s Pick, and 97 point rated Sparkling Brut from McFadden;  the only Zinfandel-centric blend Coro Mendocino from the 2010 vintage – there were ten made – at a pleasurably drinkable under-14% alcohol; and the Best of Class Late Harvest Riesling, that’s the nation’s best dessert Riesling of any sort, from this year’s San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.

In addition to a complimentary wine tasting, while it lasts, there will be taste pairings, a bite of a homemade gourmet mac and cheese.

Every person donating a new and unwrapped toy will also get a box of 100% pure McFadden Wild Rice.

There will also be a raffle drawing for a gift basket with an assortment of food goodies from McFadden Farm: boxes of Wild Rice, jars of Herbs and Herb Blends, braids of Premium Garlic, and more. The gift basket has a retail value of over $200 and someone who donates a new unwrapped toy will win the prize. The odds are far better than winning the lottery, and entry comes with a toy donation for a child’s Christmas. The winning ticket will be drawn at 7:00 p.m. and the winner need not be present to win.

After work Friday. You can make it. Even if you do not drink wine, come to the McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room with your toy donation and you’ll get a box of Wild Rice and a raffle prize entry.

For those who need to pick up some tasty holiday gifts, a new unwrapped toy donation will earn a 20% one-night-only discount off everything in the shop, including the amazing Holiday Herb Wreaths,  culinary pottery, and organic food that come from McFadden Farm.

Don’t have time to shop for a toy between now and tomorrow? Feel free to donate a $20 bill, and you get all the fun: the complimentary wine tasting, mac and cheese bite (while it lasts), box of wild rice, and raffle ticket for the assortment gift basket worth over $200. We went shopping for toys, bought on sale, last year with cash donations, and we will gladly do the same this year.

I can’t think of much that would be worse than to be a child without a toy on Christmas morning. I am grateful to the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, and to the Hopland Volunteer Fire Department. I am also incredibly grateful to all of the people who brought toys to last year’s inaugural Toys For Tots toy drive and wine tasting event at McFadden. We ended up bringing one overflowing box of toys to the firehouse thanks to the generosity of our community, and I would love to collect at least as many…okay, I would really love to see two overflowing boxes before tomorrow night is done.

Please, please, please, I hope you will come join us tomorrow. You do not have to stay long. The McFadden tasting room isn’t really large, and last year folks were great about coming with toy donations, enjoying a tasting, filling out a raffle ticket, and leaving to make room for the next wave of holiday helpers.

Every year, Christmas is just a thing for me, a noisy and crass commercial endeavor, and then something happens, it is different each year, that unlocks the Christmas spirit in my heart. The smile of a child visiting Santa, a beautifully decorated tree, making a donation, whatever it is that does the trick is magic, because I am able to enjoy the season more wholly, and holy, from then on for the year. I hope this event can free your Christmas spirit.

The McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room is located at 13275 S. Highway 101, Suite 5, in Hopland’s Vintage Marketplace building – next to Graziano, Naughty Boy, and Ray’s Station. Bring yourself and a new unwrapped toy after work between 4:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m., this Friday 13, 2013.

Thank you, in advance, for the smile you will help put on a child’s face this Christmas.

Note: This online post precedes the column publication in the Ukiah Daily Journal by one day.

 

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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 ­ – Alphabet soup (VMC, MWI, AVWA, ATORV, DH, YHGVA)

Originally published on November 7, 2013 in the Ukiah Daily Journal by John Cesano


Last week was remarkable for inland Mendocino County’s wine scene. In a perfect example of “when it rains, it pours,” after I had complained that the wineries of inland Mendocino county receive scant attention when compared to the folks over in the Anderson Valley, all of a sudden we started getting noticed.

First, of course, was the San Francisco Chronicle’s tasting room reviewer for the Sunday travel section giving a three star review to the lovely Campovida and then a three and a half star review to the small but mighty McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room, both located in Hopland.

The impact, the number of first time visitors who came because of the write up, was astonishing.

Next, Visit Mendocino County (VMC) brought professional photographers for all of last week, and in addition to capturing photographs in Anderson Valley and on the coast, the Vintage Marketplace building, which houses four winery tasting rooms, in Hopland was one of the locations chosen. Any promotional efforts by VMC on behalf of the winery tasting rooms, restaurants, and places to stay here along the 101 corridor from Hopland up to Willits, will be greatly appreciated.

Huge thanks go out to Jen Filice from VMC, who shepherded photographers and models all over the county, and to Margaret Pedroni from Ray’s Station, who was instrumental in helping the Vintage Marketplace location be chosen as the new hot spot for tourism promotion.

Speaking of Margaret Pedroni, Margaret also handles marketing for Coro Mendocino and has been busy working with Dave Richards, the manager of Crush restaurant in Ukiah, to see the 2010 vintage Coro Mendocino wines be the featured wines for the next Crush Chef’s Wine Dinner, on Wednesday, Dec. 11.

All 10 producers will be featured, Brutocao, Claudia Springs, Fetzer, Golden, Mendocino Vineyards, McFadden, McNab Ridge, Parducci, Philo Ridge, and Ray’s Station, but with eight of the 10 wines being made at inland wineries, hopefully this dinner will bring a little more attention to the area.

You may have noticed a sign or two, or read an ad, or heard about events while listening to local radio; we are smack dab in the middle of the Mendocino Mushroom, Wine & Beer Fest. It started last weekend, and runs through this weekend.

Many wineries throughout the county take advantage of the opportunity this festival, organized and promoted by VMC, provides. For two weekends, mushroom appetizers are available to taste with wines at dozens of winery tasting rooms. I, as an example, spent four hours preparing enough mushroom risotto to feed an army, and maybe a navy and some marines too, for my tasting room.

Restaurants team with wineries to feature mushroom and wine pairing meals, like Tuesday’s delicious dinner two nights ago at Uncorked in downtown Ukiah that featured the wines of winemaker Deanna Starr of Milano and Uncorked’s magical mushroom menu.

The big event is the mushroom train, where guests travel on the Skunk Train from both Willits and Fort Bragg to Camp Mendocino in a benefit for the Mendocino County Museum to taste culinary delights paired with the best local wine and beer.

A group of celebrity judges, members of the travel, food, or wine media, take part in the mushroom train event, taste the creations, and announce their favorites.

Last Friday, the members of the press and folks from throughout Mendocino County, kicked off their weekend at a reception put on by VMC and hosted by the four winery tasting rooms of Vintage Marketplace in Hopland; Ray’s Station, Graziano Family of Wines, McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room, and Naughty Boy Vineyards.

Again, it was a treat to play host to visiting press, and also to our counterparts from around the county. Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association (AVWA) Executive Director Janis MacDonald was among the visitors and, always gracious, was very complimentary about one of our wines, sharing a story about how well it went over with a group recently. Poorly kept secret: I don’t only taste and drink wines from inland Mendo, and although I may not write them up, I love scores of wines made in the Anderson Valley.

Thanks to VMC’s Scott Schneider, Alison de Grassi, and Jen Filice for all you did to make the reception happen, and for making sure it was such a delightful success.

Lastly, but absolutely not leastly, the Mendocino Winegrowers, Inc. (MWI) brought all of Mendocino County’s grape growers, winemakers, tasting room managers, everyone in our industry, together for a wonderful night of fellowship and celebration at a Harvest Party BBQ Dinner at Seebass Family Vineyards on Old River Road about a mile and a half north of the Buddhist Temple in Talmage. All hands were on deck for this one.

Thanks to Zak Robinson and Aubrey Rawlins of MWI, and all the folks from A Taste of Redwood Valley (ATORV), Destination Hopland (DH), Yorkville Highlands Growers & Vintners Association (YHGVA), and Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association for bringing so many of your folks to this special night. Hosts Scott and Michelle Willoughby could not have wished for a more perfect evening for Seebass, for inland Mendocino County, and for the county’s wine community as a whole.

Glenn McGourty, University of California Cooperative Extension farm advisor to Mendocino and Lake County, was presented with a richly deserved award for his many years of service to the entire county’s grape growing success; MWI announced the receipt of a grant from the USDA’s Risk Management Agency; the Mendocino Winegrowers Foundation, the non-profit organization raising resources for the Winegrowers’ Scholarship Fund, presented past recipients and fundraised for future recipients. All in all, a great night for Mendocino County’s wine industry, in the midst of a period of great promotional promise for the wineries of the inland county.

John On Wine – Hopland Passport is October 19 & 20 this Fall

This piece originally ran in the Ukiah Daily Journal on October 10, 2013

Hopland Passport is coming up in just nine days, on Saturday, October 19th and Sunday, October 20th, 2013, from 11:00am to 5:00pm each day.

With fifteen participating wineries pouring their best wines, incredible food pairings at each stop, and opportunities to experience tours, art, and live music, Hopland is the place to be for wine lovers next weekend.

Weekend passes include a collectable logo glass, a wristband, and a real Passport to collect stamps in, and are just $45 online at http://www.DestinationHopland.com/store, or $55 at the event. The online store CLOSES on Thursday, October 17th at noon, so purchase your tickets early to get the discounted price.

Here is some of the fun you can expect if you attend:

Brutocao Cellars plans a football themed weekend with great tailgate food to pair with their award winning Estate wines. The Blues Pirates will perform a “half time” show. Do not miss the annual grape stomp competition!

Campovida will serve organic fare from their gardens, prepared by chef Adam Weiss from their sister property, Piazza de Campovida. Enjoy light bites with the wonderfully expanded line up of wines. Taking the time for a guided tour of the property’s gardens is a must do part of Passport.

Cesar Toxqui Cellars is all about food and wine pairings. Start on the porch with fruit infused cheeses paired with Chardonnay and Viognier, then move inside for BBQ tri tip and sausage with Zinfandels, before finishing your visit with a dessert of dark chocolate cake and Port.

Frey Vineyards pours their organic wines in the Real Goods Store at the Solar Living Center. On the menu, to pair with Frey’s no sulfite added wines, is curried chicken with fall chutney, a biodynamic cheese platter with fresh baguettes, marinated goat cheese, and roasted organic vegetables in a Frey Chardonnay marinade. Explore the grounds, celebrate sustainability, and catch local musicians performing.

Graziano Family of Wines offers up over thirty wines, mostly Italian varietals, and all but a few at under $20. Enjoy aged cheese, homemade tapenade, country pate, seasonal fruit, and an assortment of imported sausages, served with wines ranging from Anglianico to Zinfandel.

Jaxon Keys Winery & Distillery invites folks to sit on the covered veranda of their farmhouse tasting room and enjoy their wines with seasonal Mendo-sourced foods prepared by local chef Ellery Clark.

Jeriko Estate smartly offers up a classic pairing: pigs and Pinot. Enjoy three 2012 Pinot Noir wines; the Pommard clone, the Dijon clone, and a blend – the upper Russian River Pinot Noir, paired with wood roasted pork. Live music, tastes of the Gold Medal 2010 Sangiovese and barrel tastes of the 2012 Sangiovese, and San Greal Don 48 Chardonnay Vodka specialty cocktail recipe sharing round out a visit to this certified Biodynamic vineyard and cellar.

The McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room will show off the bounty of their bio-diverse, certified organic, family farm. Take a taste of any of over a dozen 90 point, or higher, rated wines and pair them with grilled organic grass fed beef from McFadden Farm. Enjoy the farm fresh goodness of their wild rice & artichoke heart salad. Guinness McFadden will visit both days and sign bottles of his wines as they are purchased..

McNab Ridge Winery will offer up a pirate themed Passport weekend, decked out in pirate garb, serving up Caribbean roasted pork tenderloin with a pineapple & apricot chutney over wild rice, paired with a gold medal winning dry Gewurztraminer. Over a dozen gormet dips & spreads, barrel tasting of a 2012 Pinot Noir, and bottle painting by Leslie Bartlomei are also on the menu, matey.

Milano Family Winery offers up smoked marinated Tri-Tip, veggies and dips, and aged Cabot Creamery cheeses, live music on both Saturday and Sunday, clothing and craft vendors, and a wide ranging line up of wines, from young sweet whites to aged dry reds.

Nelson Family Vineyards will pair their Estate wines with slices from Mendough’s Wood-Fired Pizza, including chevre and sun dried tomatoes, prosciutto and arugula, Gorgonzola and artickoke. Finish your tasting with their Ice Riesling.

Ray’s Station is pairing with Fork Catering again for some great taste combos; Korean Short Rib Sliders Creamy Slaw with Sriracha mayonnaise paired with 2011 Zinfandel; Grilled Cheese with Gruyère, caramelized onions and tomato jam paired with 2011 Ray’s Red Blend; Crispy Pork Skewers with cilantro, jalapeno and lime paired with 2011 Merlot; and Seven Layer Bars with coconut, butterscotch-chocolate chips, pecans and graham cracker crust paired with NV Brut.

Rivino Winery will be putting on a Canadian themed Passport this fall, with poutine paired with Chardon’eh. Music from the Barenaked Ladies, Neil Young, Bryan Adams and other Canadian artists will fill the air. Listen for owner’s Jason and Suzanne to lose their American accents as the weekend rolls on, slipping back into their Canadian accents.

Saracina will be hosting a squash party this year, featuring gourmet squash and pulled pork tacos to pair with some seriously delicious reds and whites. Live music will fill the air. Complimentary cave tours will be offered at 12:30, 2:30 and 4:00 p.m..

Terra Savia invites visitors to “laissez les bon temps roulez” – let the good times roll, with rich red, white, and bubbly wines paired with stuffed mushrooms and remoulade sauce, chicken and Andouille jambalaya, red beans and rice, couvillion – the fish stew, fried green tomatoes, and New Orleans bread pudding with rum sauce/lemon sauce. Beads, and music from Coffee Zombie Collective, will leave you feeling the joie de vivre – joy of life!

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John on Wine ­ – Power of the Press

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal on October 3, 2013 by John Cesano

 

“You know, I’ve been parking right there, in front of your shop, a couple of dozen times, to go across the street to eat, and I never even knew there were tasting rooms here,” Gabe said when I asked him what brought him in today, “but I read about you in the paper, and so here I am.”

I would love to tell you that something I wrote here in the Daily Journal brought Gabe in. In July, when I wrote about the McFadden Wine Club Dinner, I had folks come in and buy tickets. When I wrote about my neighbors at Naughty Boy, I had folks visit there. Not record revenue days, but a column can inspire a few folks to visit the subject of a piece I write.

Monday morning, I had three couples and several individuals come in to taste, because a very complimentary piece ran in the San Francisco Chronicle on Sunday. Carey Sweet reviews winery tasting rooms, has for more than five years, has over 100 under her belt and rarely – maybe half a dozen times at most – gives out three and a half stars. Most tasting rooms earn two to three stars, and are great. McFadden is the first tasting room to take three and a half stars in over a year.

Monday mornings are often slow, but not this Monday morning. Monday ended up being busier, before noon, than both of the last entire weekend days.

That is the power of a good, and well read, review. Thanks to Carey Sweet of the Chronicle.

Sweet wrote, “Before I leave, Cesano pulls out a Destination Hopland map and offers suggestions on other tasting rooms I might enjoy checking out, plus tips on what’s most interesting to sample at each. He marks his favorite restaurants nearby.”

While there was plenty of cool stuff written about me, and McFadden, I am incredibly pleased that it was noted that I recommended other winery tasting rooms to visit, and local places to eat.

I do not see other winery tasting rooms as competition. I see the opportunity to work cooperatively with all of my neighbors along Hwy 101, from Hopland up to Redwood Valley and beyond. The more time folks stay in the area, the more they experience, the better impression we can all make.

Sure, I could focus on McFadden only. There are some winery tasting rooms that do focus only on themselves. They aren’t much fun to visit.

I volunteered to work with Destination Hopland and then took over some marketing tasks, because I believe that the wineries in the area make great wines, but the word just wasn’t getting out widely enough.

Did you know that the wineries of Hwy 128 took 82 medals at the recent Mendocino County Wine Competition, while the inland Mendocino wineries along the 101 and upper Russian River corridor took 100 medals? Wine Spectator wouldn’t tell you, they largely ignore Hopland, Ukiah, and Redwood Valley and to read their magazine or online output, you would think that Mendocino County was comprised of just Anderson Valley and the coast.

Virginie Boone writes about wine for Wine Enthusiast magazine, and the Press Democrat. Boone visits all of Mendocino County, not just the Anderson Valley; she judges at our wine competitions, attends our events, visits our tasting rooms, tours our vineyards, and as a result has a broader, better educated palate than her counterparts at other publications.

Trying to get media to visit Hopland has been a challenge. Jen Felice of Visit Mendocino told me that all of the writers who look to visit Mendocino County want to visit only Anderson Valley and the coast.

With a three star review for Campovida and a three and a half star review for McFadden, Carey Sweet of the Chronicle is helping people find their way to Hopland. With wine recommendations for a number of the area’s wineries in Wine Enthusiast, Virginie Boone is bringing folks to come and visit, or buy our wines.

I wanted to bring attention to the wines and wineries, the too often unmentioned or ignored wineries of inland Mendocino. That is why, beyond working to help Destination Hopland promote our wines, I reach a little farther and write about vineyards and wineries up to Redwood and Potter Valleys and down to Comminsky Station Road, just off Hwy 101, near the border with Sonoma County. I am grateful to be able to invite readers here in The Ukiah Daily Journal to come and taste our wines on a near weekly basis.

I also wanted to take the time to thank the wine writers from larger publications who do visit and write, writers like Carey sweet and Virginie Boone. Thank you!

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Hopland Passport is coming up soon, on Oct. 19 & 20, 2013; I hope you can go. Next week, I’ll write about the participating wineries and what treats each will share with folks who buy a weekend passport.

This week, I’m giving away a free ticket to Hopland Passport.

Send me an email to JohnOnWine@gmail.com and tell me why I should give you a free ticket. I’ll pick a winner sometime tomorrow and post the winner’s name online at JohnOnWine.com at the end of the reposting of this column.

Good luck!

So, tomorrow, I get to pour for McFadden from 11:00 AM – 2:00 PM out in Ft. Bragg on the Mendo coast at the botanical gardens for Winesong. I will not be alone; there will be about 100 wineries and 50 food folks, so this is an amazing tasting for attendees.

After, my time at Winesong, I take off my McFadden hat and put on my John On Wine hat and come back to inland Mendo for the 3rd annual Barn Blending BBQ at Testa in Calpella, Ukiah adjacent. Maria Testa Martinson asked me to come back to one of my favorite local wine events, but this year to act as a judge of the blends that folks make, and help to choose a winning blended wine. The party starts around 6:00 PM, folks make up their blends, inspired by finished wine poured at each table, and appetizers, then a terrific dinner of BBQ treats and Italian pasta is served, and the night’s fun continues with dancing to the live music of Nashville recoding artist McKenna Faith.

Frey is going to have an organically good time at their Frey Wine Club Party at the Solar Living Center in Ukiah from 4:00 PM – 8:00 PM, with wine, food, and music.

Parducci Wine Cellars will host The Ford Blues Band at Spencer Brewer’s Acoustic Cafe concert series event from 6:00 PM – 10:00 PM.

If I could be in two places at once, the event I would most like to attend, in addition to the two I am tomorrow, is the Topel Fifth Birthday Party. This is the event for my Sonoma County friends who just do not have the energy to drive up to Mendocino County for Mendo wine fun. Mark and Donnis Topel live, grow grapes, and make wine right here in Hopland; I see them at the post office, or when they visit my tasting room often. In a move that guaranteed they would see more visitors and pour for more tasters, Mark and Donnis put their Topel Tasting Room smack dab in the middle of Healdsburg, just a nudge off the town square on Matheson. The party is going from noon until 7:00 PM, and someone is going to win a year’s membership in the Topel Wine Club, which is an awesome gift.

 

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John on Wine

Spotlight Winery: Nelson Family Vineyards

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal on August 22, 2013, by John Cesano

The Nelson family grew up farming in Mendocino County midway between Ukiah and Hopland since Herman and Clara bought their home ranch in 1952. Mostly plums that yielded prunes, the farm also had some grapes already planted, French Colombard and Carignane.

Greg Nelson, Herman and Clara’s son, is now the lead Nelson working Nelson Family Vineyards, west of Hwy 101 on Nelson Ranch Road.

Greg Nelson pouring wine made by his son Chris Nelson in the Nelson Family Vineyards Tasting Room

Greg Nelson pouring wine made by his son Chris Nelson in the Nelson Family Vineyards Tasting Room

“I used to tell folks we were 7 miles south of Ukiah but now I just tell them to turn at the strawberries and follow the road back,” Greg told me as he shared how giving directions to the tasting room and event grove has become easier since leasing a front piece of the ranch to the very visible Saecho strawberry farmers.

Over the years, grapes were ripped out and replaced with more desirable varietals. The French Colombard made way for Zinfandel, and in 1974 the Nelsons planted Riesling which is now the oldest grapes grown on the ranch.

Greg told me that today, his son Tyler takes care of the farming, his son Chris is the winemaker, and Greg stays busy selling grapes and wine. “I knock on the door, if they decide to buy, I make the deliveries,” said Greg, as the wines of Nelson Family Vineyards are self-distributed.

While September 11, 2001 was a horrifically tragic day, Greg says the economic downturn turned into a blessing for Nelson Family Vineyards. Unable to find employment post 9/11, Chris moved back home to the ranch and became a winemaker producing his first wine, a Pinot Grigio in 2003.

A few years later, Greg figured 2006 or so, Chris, who played both classical and electrical guitar and had a love of music started promoting concerts at the grove at Nelson Family Vineyards. Now, there is a regular summer concert series, with performances the fourth Friday of each sunny month, plus other events throughout the year from weddings to charity fundraisers.

In addition to leasing land for Saecho’s strawberries, the Nelsons lease land for cattle raising and to Doug Mosel’s Mendocino County Grain Project, which grows wheat, rye, triticale, oats, and lentils. Mendough pizza often shows up at Nelson events and there are times that the pizza dough is made from flour from the grains grown on the ranch, in a wonderful but coincidental circle.

Greg said that Tyler grows grapes both conventionally and organically. Three vineyards are organic, while the others are, “fish friendly, low impact, and sustainable.”

Given the chance to pass on a message to the folks who read this column, Greg said, “we’re very grateful to the community we were all raised in.”

The gardens in front of the tasting room, originally designed and planted by Kate Frey are beautiful. Inside the tasting room Elliot Little photography graces the walls, local pottery, olive oil, and farm goods also offered, beside logo branded clothing and wines.

Greg poured the complete lineup of Nelson Family Vineyards wines for me.

The NV Brut, $28, made at Rack & Riddle in Hopland, tasted of apple cider, pear, and grapefruit. I didn’t ask, but I would guess a 60 percent Chardonnay, 40 percent Pinot Noir blend.

The 2011 Chardonnay, $21, showed light toasty oak and nice fruit, more apricot than apple. Rich.

The 2011 Pinot Grigio, $18, was lemon peel and high acid, wet river stone, and pear.

The 2012 Viognier, $21, was easy to enjoy, with edge free approachability, and light citrus playing against apricot.

The 2011 Pinot Noir, $28, exhibited classic Pinot funk, along with a light earthy cherry note.

The 2008 Zinfandel, $25, was nice. Not overly smoky or overly stripped. Soft, medium light raspberry, herb, and black pepper spice.

Barn Blend 2012, $25, is the wine made from the blend put together at the annual Barn Blend party at Nelson. This blend of Cabernet sauvignon, Zinfandel, Petit Verdot, and Viognier was soft, soft, soft, showing blackberry jam and herb.

The 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, $28, had nice chewiness, tannin, oak, blackberry, briarwood, herb, and spice.

The 2009 Riesling, $19, comes off the oldest vineyard on the ranch. Light honey on a medium heavy body, petrol, and nectarine.

The 2009 Orange Muscat, $21, is a nice fruit basket of a wine with white pear and white peach providing balance for the sweeter orange and floral notes.

We finished up with the 2009 Ice Riesling, $25. At 16.2 residual sugar against 12.5 percent alcohol, this is a really nice dessert wine with concentrated honeyed pear, peach, apricot, and caramel marzipan. The finish narrows down to a clear apple note.

Greg shared that 2011 was a challenge in the vineyards, with a little botrytis here and there; and by contrast, “2012 was a lot easier, it was a cakewalk, it was the perfect growing season.”

Visit the Nelson Family Vineyards tasting room, at 550 Nelson Ranch Road, off Highway 101, down the road behind the strawberries. Open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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John Cesano has more than 200 posts about wine archived at JohnOnWine.com

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