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John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

John On Wine ­ Alcohol: enough is enough!

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal on December 26, 2014 by John Cesano

 

Alcohol; it’s why we buy wine instead of soda, right? More alcohol must be better in a wine than less alcohol too, I mean it just stands to reason, don’t you think?

This question came to mind after I read a review of San Francisco Chronicle wine editor Jon Bonné’s new book The New California Wine. The review was written by Wine Spectator magazine’s senior editor, Napa, James Laube. Where most every review of Bonné’s book was complimentary, Laube seemed to almost have the knives out as he wrote his piece, “(Bonné)’s hardly enamored with much of (California wine),” is how the piece begins and it doesn’t get much nicer.

Why would one professional wine writer be so uncomplimentary, so unkind, so border-line rude? Wine Spectator reviews and rates wines on a 100 point scale, made famous by wine critic Robert Parker, and like Parker seems to award more points to fruit jam bombs made of Napa fruit with high alcohol levels. By contrast, Bonné seems to prefer wines of greater balance, greater drinkability, more food friendly wines, with lower alcohol.

Before I go on, I abhor numbers. Alcohol percentage, residual sugar, volatile acidity, the numbers that describe a wine only tell a small part of a wine’s story. Residual sugar alone, without a lot of other data may be suggestive of sweetness, but actual perception when tasted may be something different altogether. Wines must be tasted to be judged.

Okay, that disclaimer aside, I agree with Bonné. Many wines have alcohol levels that are just too damn high. Please, I would so much rather have a lighter styled wine that balances fruit and acid, and has a lower alcohol, so I can enjoy it with friends over a nice dinner than have to suffer another painfully hot, high alcohol wine that is so dense with flavor, so big and overpowering that it ruins the food it is paired with.

Whether an Anderson Valley Pinot Noir over 15 percent or a Dry Creek Zinfandel over 17 percent alcohol by volume, there just isn’t a good reason for these wines to be so hot, unless the winemaker was pandering for a high score from Spectator or Parker. Big alcohol wines also tend to garner high medals, I suspect, because judges’ palates are quickly blown out by high alcohol fruit bombs and are unable to fairly judge wines of greater subtlety and reserve, but upon tasting another monster wine break out the gold.

I worked for a winemaker who used to make gorgeously flavorful wines, good bodied wines, gold medal winning wines, and rarely did she produce a wine at or above 14 percent alcohol by volume. These were the easiest to sell wines I’ve ever experienced. People ordered, but most importantly they reordered, and in quantity, because the wines were so good.

Sadly, she has turned to the dark side, and is putting out some wild beasts, up and over 15 percent alcohol today. More attention, higher ratings, easier golds; From some quarters, anyway.

Joel Peterson, a few years back suggested the three most common flaws of Zinfandel were too much alcohol, too much oak, and too much sugar. As the big boss man behind Ravenswood, a famous Zin house in Sonoma, Peterson should know. That said, both Peterson and his son Morgan Twain Peterson crank out some pretty huge wines.

The wines of inland Mendocino County are not uniformly low alcohol, but many are. Whether from cool climate Russian River adjacent or mountain shade properties in or near Hopland, or the higher altitude fruit grown at the north end of Potter Valley, there are some absolutely delicious wines grown and produced in our area. Zinfandel, and Coro Mendocino ­ the Zinfandelcentric blend I mention often, under 14 percent alcohol; Pinot Noir without a barnyard funk or filled diaper aroma; Chablis-like bright and unoaked Chardonnay; and Cabernet Sauvignon that you can take your time getting to know instead of a Cabernet that is so forward you feel like pressing charges. This is some of what we do so well here, and what some folks – notably the wine critics who seem to get a little too much wood over wines with a little too much wood and alcohol – don’t seem to get.

Wine Enthusiast magazines’ Virginie Boone visits inland Mendocino more often, and perhaps familiarity breeds understanding, because she rates many of our wines about two to five points higher than the folks who don’t visit as often over at Wine Spectator.

Jon Bonné tastes wines from all over, often, and has placed a light, low alcohol, almost Beaujolaisesque Zinfandel made entirely from inland Mendocino grapes on one of his annual Top 100 Wines lists.

I get a chance to taste a lot of our wines, and I may have developed a strong preference for what we do, because on a recent visit outside the county, I found wine after wine just too big for me to enjoy. I love Wine Spectator magazine for the articles, but personally I prefer Wine Enthusiast magazine and Jon Bonné’s San Francisco Chronicle reviews of our wines. I find I am more often in agreement.

Want high alcohol? Go to a bar. Want a food-friendly wine you can enjoy with food? Consider a wine from the area, with under 14 percent alcohol for a start. As always, the best way to find out whether you like a particular wine or not is to go wine tasting. Many local winery tasting rooms offer complimentary wine tasting and are open up until New Year’s Eve – although a few that sell bubbly will be open at least a half of that day too.

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EDITED TO ADD ONLINE: I received the following comment tacked on to another recently archived column in response to the newspaper version of this week’s column:

“This is regarding your UDJ article published today (12/26/13). I was going to email you but didn’t see an email listed. In any event, I have to agree with your general assessment of the multitude high alcohol wines out there. Which is why I drink mostly sparkling! I have worked for Roederer Estate for six years and have learned that sparkling is incredibly versatile with food as well as being on the lower end of the scale at 12%. One last thing, in reference to Wine Enthusiast’s Top 100 of 2013, did you know Roederer’s 2004 L’Ermitage is rated number one? I believe it’s the first time a California Sparkling has garnered the top spot, so worth mentioning.
Cheers, Julie in Ukiah”

I could not agree more. Fantastic comment, great observation, and well deserved acclaim for the 2004 Roederer L’ Ermitage, and yes, you are right, this is the first time that a sparkling wine has topped Wine Enthusiast magazine’s annual Top 100 Wines list.

I had just written for Destination Hopland that there are bubblies to be tasted at Graziano, Jeriko, McFadden, Nelson, Rack & Riddle, Ray’s Station, and Terra Savia; but county wide Roederer, Scharffenberger, Yorkville Cellars, and Elke over on Hwy 128, and Paul Dolan up in Ukiah, all have to be added to the list. As a county, we may have the nation’s greatest concentration of premium bubblies, and they are indeed both enjoyably lower in alcohol and spectacularly food friendly when paired with the right foods. Taste this week, choose a favorite, and stock up for New Year’s Eve!

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I do love bubbly, and I would love to have them all to taste for a future column, maybe in advance of Valentine’s Day next year.

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John On Wine ­ – What wine goes with Turkey?

Originally published November 21, 2013 in the Ukiah Daily Journal by John Cesano

 

Thanksgiving dinner: What are you having? This year, the lure became too strong and a turducken shipped overnight from Louisiana will be the feature treat for me. For those of you who do not know what a turducken is (vegetarians would be best served skipping the next bit, moving on to the next paragraph right about now) a chicken stuffed inside a duck stuffed inside a turkey, with layers of creole cornbread stuffing in between each bird. Careful deboning is involved. Some folks make this a DIY project at home, but a call to the Cajun Grocer is much easier.

In the past, I’ve brined, I’ve baked, and I’ve set turkeys to turning in a set-it-and-forget-it rotisserie machine. Our family and many other Italian American families often had crab cioppino on Thanksgiving.

There was a store where I grew up that made arrangements with boats for their entire catch and huge trucks would be loaded at the docks, and run into town to make the freshest crab available for Thanksgiving.

The store ran ads for the crab at spectacularly low prices, using the crab as a loss leader to bring every Italian American in town to their store to shop for all of their holiday food. The result was a counter lined up eight deep with folks waiting to get their crab orders filled; two crabs, four crabs, eight crabs.

The last time I made crab cioppino using my sainted mother’s recipe, I used 16 whole crabs, cooked up two huge pots, used a ton of other shellfish and big chunks of white fish, plus a red sauce that cooked over 24 hours.

Something is wrong with my brother, okay many things are wrong with my brother, but only I can say that (well, I’m sure his ex-wives do, too); anyway, my brother does not like turkey. I get not liking mass produced, pumped up with water, 59 cents a pound, flavorless turkeys, but my brother doesn’t even like the million dollar a pound organic, free range, Willie Bird turkeys grown in Sonoma County. On Thanksgiving he cooks up a ham, a huge delicious ham.

In addition to a main course dish, of course, there is the stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, green bean casserole, candied yams, polenta, baked oysters, cranberry chutney, green salads, pumpkin pie, apple pie, minced meat pie, and so much more served at the typical Thanksgiving table. I mention all these foods that people eat at Thanksgiving because when it comes to Thanksgiving’s varied meals, there is no one singular right wine.

No wine goes with everything, and let’s face it, nearly everything ends up on our Thanksgiving dinner tables. My solution lately has been to bring an assortment of wines to our family Thanksgiving dinner feast, cooked by my son’s maternal grandmother, my ex-wife’s mom. I think they continue to invite me because of the wine. Oh, and this year, I’m bringing a wild rice and broccoli casserole, too.

Conveniently, I work in a place that sells both wine and wild rice. Wild rice is also great for stuffings, and that provides the opportunity for a wine pairing trick. Cook some of your food in wine that you want to serve at the dinner. By cooking a wild rice stuffing in some Pinot Gris, or cooking down the onions, celery, and carrots that will go into your stuffing in a little Pinot Gris, then the Pinot Gris that you serve with dinner will tie back to the food.

I always cooked my crab cioppino in a red sauce that included some rich red Zinfandel, and I would serve the same wine at the table. My ham glaze has a little Coro Mendocino red blend in the mix. The whipped cream for a trifle, or to top a pie, has a little Late Harvest Riesling in it. If you aren’t a cook with wine sort, or you cook strictly to recipes and are afraid to incorporate some wine into your dish, then you are either going to have to find a food chameleon, a wine that goes with many foods, or an assortment of wines for your Thanksgiving table.

Pinot Noir is a relatively soft red wine that goes with many dishes. The soft dry cherry notes, light herb, and slightly earthy quality of Pinot Noir, make for a red not overwhelmingly big and bold, and allow it to pair spectacularly well, classically well, with dishes from salmon to pork. Local solid producers include Barra and Girasole of Redwood Valley, Parducci and Paul Dolan in Ukiah, Jeriko Estate and Saracina between Ukiah and Hopland, and Naughty Boy and Cesar Toxqui Cellars in Hopland.

Blends are a smart choice, because with different grapes come multiple wine flavors, and multi noted wines can pair with a wider variety of dishes than many single varietal wines. The county’s most famous blend is Coro Mendocino and the lightest, most food friendly style, the only one under 14 percent alcohol is the McFadden Coro, a blend of Zinfandel, Syrah, and Petite Sirah. Other Coro Mendocino wines that would pair well with many Thanksgiving dinner spreads are made by Ray’s Station and Brutocao Cellars. McFadden, Ray’s Station, and Brutocao are all located in Hopland.

Rosé wines are too often passed on because folks often associate all rosés with the cheapest and worst made White Zinfandel when the truth is that some of the most delicious wines available are dry rosés of Syrah, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, or Zinfandel. Terrific examples include those made by Campovida, Graziano, Frey, and McNab Ridge in Hopland, and Testa Ranch in Calpella.

Bubblies are one of the most popular bottles I bring, often finished first at a family holiday dinner. Great bubbly producers include Terra Sávia and McFadden in Hopland, and Nelson between Ukiah and Hopland.

Thanksgiving is about celebration with family and friends, about overflowing cornucopias and abundance. My recommendation is to grab a number of bottles, perhaps one or more from each of the categories above, an assortment of wines from an assortment of producers, all local, all delicious. Every wine mentioned is available for tasting this weekend, either complimentary or tasting fee refunded with purchase, so stock up on great wines that will make your Thanksgiving meal taste better, and your festivities more festive.

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!

The 21st annual fall Hopland Passport wine weekend, on Saturday, October 20 and Sunday, October 21, from 11:00 am until 5:00 pm each day, offers something for everybody, whether a first time wine event goer or a veteran of many Hopland Passport wine weekends.

Hopland Passport tickets are available online through noon on Thursday, October 18 at just $45 each. Tickets are available at any of the participating winery tasting rooms during the weekend for $55 each. Recommendation: don’t procrastinate, save $10 per ticket, go online and buy them early.

To fully and safely enjoy your Hopland Passport experience, with roughly 150 wines being poured by the sixteen Hopland Passport wineries, it is a great idea to use both full days for tasting. Enjoy the food offered by each tasting room. Listen to music, take tours, absorb the information that pourers give you. After nosing and tasting a wine, use the dump buckets provided to empty your glass of wine left from tasting, and take notes of your favorite wines so you can purchase those wines during the weekend’s sale prices. You will have a much better time trying to taste dozens of wines than trying to drink dozens of wines. Many wineries offer larger discounts to wine club members, so if you enjoy several wines poured at one tasting room, consider joining their wine club and enjoying bigger savings both during Hopland Passport and beyond.

New attendees will find a remarkably enjoyable opportunity to enjoy wine tasting at sixteen participating Hopland area tasting rooms, along with terrific food pairings chosen to highlight the flavors of the wines being poured, with each tasting room putting a unique spin on the weekend’s festivities with vineyard and garden tours, fun themed events, live music, contests, and special event specific discounts. Quite simply, Hopland Passport is the best wine tasting event value anywhere.

Veteran attendees will find many of their favorite winery tasting rooms doing what they do best, but will also find two brand new Hopland Passport tasting rooms to visit this time around.

Rivino Winery is one of the two newcomers pouring this fall. Closer to Ukiah than Hopland, off Hwy 101 on Cox Schrader Road, Rivino is no stranger to events, having hosted a long running and  well-attended weekly Friday Happy Hour wine and music gathering. Enjoy a Caddyshack themed Hopland Passport weekend in Rivino’s vineyard with live music by Nahara Ange and food inspired by the classic golf comedy. Be sure to taste the gold medal winning estate wines Rivino will be pouring.

New Kids on the Block, RIVINO will be doing it up right out of the blocks

New Kids on the Block, RIVINO will be doing it up right out of the blocks

The other new addition to the lineup of Hopland Passport winery tasting rooms is Naughty Boy Vineyards. Naughty Boy Vineyards pours from a new shop, WAA WAA, in downtown Hopland’s Vintage Marketplace building.  WAA WAA is short for Wine, Art, and Antiques x 2, as delightful collectible affordable vintage goods and inspired artwork share a retail location with wine made from grapes grown by Potter Valley’s Naughty Boy Vineyards.

Naughty Boy Vineyards at WAA WAA in Hopland's Vintage Marketplace

Naughty Boy Vineyards at WAA WAA in Hopland’s Vintage Marketplace

Naughty Boy will bring live music by Redbud to Hopland’s Vintage Marketplace, and will offer homemade Scottish Lox and other Hors d’Ouerves created to pair perfectly their wines. In addition to wine sales, antiques will be on sale at 30 percent off.

Sharing the Vintage Marketplace building in Hopland are three more winery tasting rooms, the McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room, Graziano Family of Wines, and Weibel Family Vineyards & Winery.

Vintage Marketplace, home to Naughty Boy, McFadden, Graziano, and Weibel

Vintage Marketplace, home to Naughty Boy, McFadden, Graziano, and Weibel

McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room, which I manage, will feature all the best from our own certified organic and biodiverse farm.  We’ll  grill up steaks from McFadden Farm’s own organic grass fed beef, seasoned with McFadden Farm organic herbs and herb blends, and a McFadden Farm wild rice salad, and offering the ingredients for sale so visitors can recreate the Passport offerings is what Guinness McFadden has been doing for years. This fall, there will be a big pot of farm fresh beans to go with all of the other great farm food.

In the back yard at McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room

In the back yard at McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room

Enjoy big discounts on everything in the Farm Stand & Tasting Room, with Guinness McFadden signing bottles of his award winning wines as they are purchased, including his double gold medal winning Sparkling Brut.

Graziano Family of Wines offers over thirty delicious reds, whites, roses and blends for you to enjoy, from Aglianico to Zinfandel, many at special Passport sale prices. Graziano will offer up imported meats and cheeses, homemade tapenade, and estate-grown olive oils to pair with their wines being poured.

Inside the Graziano tasting room

Inside the Graziano tasting room

Weibel welcomes back Fork Catering for a delectable array of appetizers including Grilled Tomatillo Cilantro Chicken Tacos, Heirloom Tomato Bruschetta, and Mini Grilled Cheese sandwiches with local artisan cheeses. Weibel will feature both their popular fruit and nut infused bubblies, as well as their handcrafted wines made from Redwood Valley grapes.

Yummy treats at Weibel

Yummy treats at Weibel

Three more winery tasting rooms are located in downtown Hopland, Cesar Toxqui Cellars, McNab Ridge Winery, and Brutocao Cellars.

Cesar Toxqui Cellars will be greeting guests on the porch with fruit infused cheeses and a wonderfully brisk new Chardonnay release. Once inside, you’ll enjoy delicious chicken curry, southern fried fish, homemade ceviche, and fried rice, and a new release 2007 Immigrant Zinfandel.

Cesar Toxqui Cellars tasting room

Cesar Toxqui Cellars tasting room

There will be barrel tasting at McNab Ranch Winery, with the opportunity to buy futures of their 2010 Cononiah Zinfandel. Be sure to try spicy Asian peanut pasta salad paired with McNab’s French Colombard. Traditional favorites, the spreads/dips and bottle painting by local artist Leslie Bartolomei, will return.

A little something to enjoy with McNab Zin barrel samples

A little something to enjoy with McNab Zin barrel samples

Brutocao promises a Wine Zombie Apocalypse: “serving some finger lickin’ good treats paired with award winning Estate Wines. Go out on a limb and be the best dressed zombie and win a prize. It will be a horrific good time with grape stomps, bocce ball and un-dead music by “Third Party”.  Wines to die for!”

Bocce at Brutocao

Bocce at Brutocao

Just west of downtown Hopland, on Mountain House Road, you’ll find both Rack & Riddle and Terra Sávia.

Rack & Riddle is a custom sparkling wine house. Many of the area’s best bubblies are made at Rack & Riddle, including double gold medal winners for both McFadden and Terra Savia. Rack & Riddle also produces both sparkling and still wines of their own – all delicious. Enjoy them with Rack & Riddle’s lime & shrimp ceviche, warm tri-tip sliders, chips & guacamole.

It's not a real wine event without a working tractor - at Rack & Riddle

It’s not a real wine event without a working tractor – at Rack & Riddle

Terra Sávia offers not just delicious wines and a terrific bubbly rouge, but fantastic olive oil. A tasting of Olivino’s quality olive oils will likely make you regret a lifetime’s use of a previously favored store brand. Always a great stop, enjoy wine, food, art, music, and olive oil.

Relax at Terra Savia, a lovely Passport stop

Relax at Terra Savia, a lovely Passport stop

Just south of downtown Hopland is Milano Family Winery. Enjoy Milano’s scrumptious smoked & marinated Tri-Tip, an abundance of fresh veggies and dips, as well as delicious, aged to perfection Cabot Creamery Cheeses. On Saturday, “Headband” will play rock & roll, blues, jazz.  On Sunday, “Frankie J” will play. Don’t miss the clothing & craft vendors that always set up at Milano during Hopland Passport.

Milano is a great stop with wine, food, crafts, and music, a festival within a festival

Milano is a great stop with wine, food, crafts, and music, a festival within a festival

East of downtown Hopland, on Old River Road, you’ll find Campovida. No Hopland Passport wine weekend is complete without a tour of Campovida’s gardens, led by master gardener Ken Boek. Campovida is another amazing, only in Hopland, blend of wine, food, art, music, and heartfelt hospitality.

Take a taste of Campovida's wines from their tasting room into their gardens

Take a taste of Campovida’s wines from their tasting room into their gardens

North of downtown Hopland, heading back toward Rivino on Hwy 101, Hopland Passport stops include Jeriko Estate, Saracina, Jaxon Keys, and Nelson Family Vineyards.

Jeriko Estate features biodynamically grown hand crafted Pinot Noir, and often serves up pork -  which goes great with Pinot.

Jeriko will be pouring Pinot, perhaps paired with pork

Jeriko will be pouring Pinot, perhaps paired with pork

Saracina is deservedly famous for the Rhone varietal wines and Rhone inspired twists that winemaker Alex MacGregor brings to Saracina. Try a Chardonnay with a touch of Viognier, enjoy a Rhone red blend, tour real wine caves, enjoy the peaceful setting designed to make you relaxed and more open to all that the wines, food pairings, and music are trying to convey.

Saracina is a series of paintings just waiting to happen, absolutely beautiful

Saracina is a series of paintings just waiting to happen, absolutely beautiful

Jaxon Keys Winery & Distillery offers a prohibition era themed weekend, “our Speakeasy will be open for business, serving bootleg wine to all who dare break the law of Prohibition. We will have barrels of wine, gallons of contraband brandy and vodka all for the asking. No G-Men to worry about! We’ve paid them to look the other way for the weekend. Live music on the deck, awesome food prepared by Taste of Perfection Catering, and all our wines flowing freely, experience the Prohibition era for yourself!”

Just Kicking it at Jaxon Keys

Just Kicking it at Jaxon Keys

Exactly half way between Hopland and Ukiah, Nelson Family Vineyards invites crowd pleaser Mendough’s Wood-Fired Pizza back.  Enjoy Nelson’s estate wines, paired with delicious pizzas made with fresh and local ingredients including chevre and sun dried tomatoes, prosciutto and arugula, Gorgonzola and artichoke all atop the most incredible crust you’ve ever had. Nelson’s Ice Riesling is a perfect way to end your visit to Nelson, and your Hopland Passport wine weekend.

Pizza and wine in the grove at Nelson

Pizza and wine in the grove at Nelson

Coming to Hopland too late to officially participate in the fall Hopland Passport, Frey from Redwood Valley will be having a Grand Opening of their new tasting room in the Real Goods store at the Solar Living Institute in Hopland. This 17th Hopland tasting room may not be in the passport, but they will be offering up delicious food pairings to go with their sulfite free, vegan, wines.

Frey will be opening their new tasting room during Passport in Hopland

Frey will be opening their new tasting room during Passport in Hopland

In addition to Piazza de Campovida which opened in time for last spring’s Hopland Passport, this fall’s event will see the new Hopland Ale House opening; both spots will offer beer and food for sale during and after Passport hours. An 18th tasting room, SIP! Mendocino, will be open for tastings of Mendocino County wines from outside the area as well.

For more information, or to purchase tickets, please visit www.DestinationHopland.com

Okay, if you’ve read this far, and I expect that few will, here’s your reward. If you simply leave a comment about any one of the wineries that will participate at this year’s fall Hopland Passport between now and noon on Friday, October 12, you will be entered into a random drawing for two tickets ($110 value) for Hopland Passport. If you want to double your drawing entries from one to two, make the comment about the tasting room I manage. I’ll add an announcement of the winner here, to this post and on the facebook page of Hopland Passport on or before Monday, October 15, 2012. Good luck!

Photo credits: If the photo looks great, it came from Diane Davis Photography. If the photo is okay, I yoinked from the winery’s website. If the photo is meh, then I took it.

In May 2010, I recapped the Spring Hopland Passport in a piece here. I recognize I lack humility, but I really thought I wrote the best piece on the event – period.

As Secretary on the Board of Directors for Destination Hopland, the non profit responsible for putting on Hopland Passport and increasing tourism to Hopland, I reached out to fellow online wine writers last fall, inviting them to attend the 20th annual Fall Hopland Passport.

Funny how I went from writing about the event one year to helping put it on the next.

Surprising me, I have to hand my “best piece covering Hopland Passport” crown to someone else.

Where I visited all the wineries, tasted over 100 wines, wrote mini notes, and shared some pictures, all in one big post, our new recap champ visited all of our wineries, and shared some words, but her photography is better than my writing will ever be, and she gave each winery their full due, offering up a 16 part event recap.

Diane Davis, better known as Di to the industry folks in the area, posts her words and pictures at Winestyle Living; Sharing the Tales, History & Images of Wine Country. There were several pieces written after last Fall’s event, but Di’s posts stood out for me. I recognized in her work the passion I feel for the area I write about. This wasn’t a job, a gig, for Di, but an opportunity to put the wineries she loves in the best light. I can feel Di’s heart in her work.

Softening the blow of not having written the best Hopland Passport recap piece are the overly nice things Di wrote about me when covering McFadden Vineyard, “When you walk into the tasting room you are greeted by John Cesano, a combination of an exceptional wine talent and a seasoned entertainer. You will learn more about wine in the time you spend there than you will learn about wine in hours of internet searching. If John doesn’t satisfy your curiosity with his bits of wisdom, just ask, he can fill in the blanks.”

Di’s real artistry is in the terrific photos, capturing of the families of McFadden. There are pictures of Guinness McFadden, his lovely girlfriend Judith, his brother Tommy, and his daughter Fontaine. There are pictures of Ann, who works nearly every Second Saturday, and her husband Mark. In addition to pictures of me, there is a wonderful picture of my red haired son Charlie, who worked with Mark outside cooking while Ann worked inside with me pouring and selling wine. Lots of wine.

I know that every winery of Hopland had to smile as they read Di’s words and viewed the journal of photographic art she posted for each.

Here are the links to her pieces, written from November 2011 through January 2012, all in one place.

If I can’t write the best Hopland Passport piece, I can re-host it.

McNab Ridge Winery

McFadden Vineyard

Graziano Family Winery

Weibel Family Winery

McDowell Winery

Cesar Toxqui Cellars

Brutocao Cellars

Parducci Wine Cellars

Milano Family Winery

Rack & Riddle Custom Wine Services

Terra Sávia

Jeriko Estate

Jaxon Keys Winery & Distillery

Saracina Vineyards

Nelson Family Vineyard

Campovida

Di is putting on reverbcon, a social media conference in the hidden wine country of Hopland, April 10-12, 2012. By the time Di is finished, Hopland may not be so hidden anymore.

I come from an organic tasting room, I understand organics. Biodynamic is good, but for me, ventures into practices of questionable value. Animals and a variety of plants on vineyard property is great for me, it provides a richer experience for me as a visitor. I don’t know if baby goats headbutting each other makes a better wine, but it is entertaining. Where biodynamics loses me is the whole cow horn thing. Cow horns are crammed full of cow manure, then planted on a full moon on an equinox, dug up six lunar months later on another equinox, added to a container of liquid made up of virgin’s tears, allowed to steep like a witch’s brew over another period of lunar cycles, and spread by a Catholic priest’s aspergillum throughout the vineyard in a rite reminiscent of the ritual sprinkling of Holy water. Poo-in-the-horn tea is just one of several preparations that are created to fortify the vineyard, strengthen the ecosystem, and produce wines more naturally.

I would love to see a vineyard test block where half the rows are grown organically, and the other half are grown biodynamically. I would like someone to show me empirical evidence of the superiority of biodynamics over mere organics; until then, I will look upon biodynamics with some skepticism, as some sort of ritualistic magic ju-ju voodoo.

I posed the question of measurable efficacy supporting biodynamic growing practices to Ann Thrupp, Director of Sustainability at Fetzer, and she responded, “I am aware of only a few scientific studies that have been done to compare biodynamic and organic vineyards (see literature by Professor john Reganold, for example). It is difficult to prove scientifically that there are improvements in quality, based on such studies…However, in blind tastings, many biodynamic wines score high.”

Cesar Toxqui makes great wine for Cesar Toxqui Cellars and is working to improve the biodynamic wines of Jeriko, which I am confident he will be able to do. Cesar knows of my skepticism, but will be trying to educate me regarding biodynamics in the near(ish) future, touring me from vineyard to winemaking at Jeriko.

Nance Billman, during my recent visit to Saracina, while acknowledging the over the top ritualism in some of the preparations involved in biodynamic farming, described a near miraculous almost immediate increase in vine vitality when those preparations are administered.

I have tasted many biodynamic wines, and they are almost universally good. I don’t think they are good because they are biodynamic per se; instead I think that the attention to detail, the commitment that goes with biodynamic farming leads a winery to make good wine. I have no proof that a biodynamic wine is any better than an organic wine, but I am confident that biodynamics don’t make a wine worse.

Paul Dolan, Bonterra, Mendocino Farms, Jeriko, Saracina, there are plenty of folks making great wine with biodynamic grapes. Everyone of them is earnest in their belief, their dedication; you can feel the passion for biodynamic farming. I would like to know what they know, because all I hear are anecdotal tales of magic, and it may just be me, but I can’t take the leap and need more science based evidence before I am buying that biodynamic farming is anything but effectless ritual.

I’m not ready yet to drink the poo-in-the-horn tea biodynamic kool-aid.

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I was approached a few months ago to answer some questions about sustainability for my winery that could appear on a website, and the piece was published yesterday.

I forwarded the questions to my boss who kicked them back to me to answer. I forwarded my answers to him for review, and while observing some of the answers were “over the top,” he suggested only one edit to correct a mistake.

I did not know it at the time, but my boss, an organic farmer for over 40 years, abhors the word “sustainable.” Guinness runs a CCOF certified organic farm and vineyard. CCOF organic means something. Demeter Biodynamic means something. Sustainable isn’t measured, it isn’t certified, and lots of wineries use the term to cloak themselves in a green-ness that they haven’t earned, cheapening the efforts of real organic and biodynamic growers.

In my naiveté, not yet knowing that perhaps I too am supposed to hate the word, I completed the sustainability survey.

Naive, well, not entirely. I researched the folks who were asking for the survey answers, and found the monthly Lempert Report Newsletter where the piece would be published was sponsored by Monsanto imagine.

A Google search of “Monsanto imagine” led me to several pages suggesting that Monsanto imagine is a greenwashing public relations effort on the part of Monsanto, an effort to blur the line obscure the chasm between themselves and responsible Earth friendly organic family farmers.

The answers Guinness found “over the top” were not included in the piece linked above. The following passages were edited out of the piece appearing on the site paid for sponsored by Monsanto imagine:

“At McFadden Vineyard, it is unthinkable that people would choose wines and foods made with synthetic chemical fertilizers, poisonous pesticides and herbicides, from bio-engineered Frankenfood seed over delicious, healthy, natural, organic, sustainable wines and foods.”

“Right is right, doing things right, the right way, doesn’t need to be measured. The thought of dumping poison on our food or using genetically engineered crop seed is unthinkable. At the end of the day, are you proud of yourself? Does your wine and food make people happier? We notice something that can be improved, and we get around to making those improvements; that the greener, more sustainable, or organic choice sometimes is the less expensive choice, or sells better, is just a bonus.”

“Let’s have a cooking contest. We’ll make a fruit ice cream. I’ll use organically grown fruit from Mendocino County, and organic dairy products from Clover in Sonoma County. My competition has to use FrankenFruit, fruit from biogenetically engineered seed, grown with poisons, and cheap milk products loaded with Bovine growth Hormones. We’ll ask consumers which ice cream tastes better. I will win. Things that taste good always win out over things that don’t taste good. Growing organic, growing sustainably, is better for the environment, society, and the economy than the alternatives. Tastier too.”

Where sustainability pushes buttons for Guinness, Monsanto does it for me. I liked the piece I wrote, and the idea of Monsanto publishing a piece critical of their practices tickled me. While the piece didn’t get posted intact, you got to read the juicy parts here.

Genuine Green Revolution!

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I live in Ukiah and work in Hopland. Hopland is truly a small town. Businesses engage in cooperative efforts to help each other. The more we help each other, the more we end up helping ourselves.

I take pictures for Margaret at Weibel, and Margaret tries to save decorative plants at McFadden from being killed by my black thumb.

I want to see the Hopland Inn succeed. A successful Inn is a place late afternoon visitors to Hopland can stay after a more complete wine tasting, to possibly begin anew at another tasting room the following morning. I have knocked out a new marketing piece for Amie that better presents what the Inn offers, and am working on another smaller piece that can be created less expensively than my first.

Gary of Campovida, a local resort, escorts his guests to the Hopland Inn for afternoon cocktails at the Inn bar.

Margaret and I, Amie and Gary, none of us are rivals, competitors, but instead cooperative partners with a shared stake in the success of Hopland.

The people who live and work in Hopland, their love for the town, makes Hopland a place worth visiting. locals love playing bhost, and visitors are charmed by the small town friendliness set in the middle of amazing natural beauty.

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I sought a spot on the Board of Destination Hopland, and on the Hopland Passport working group. I welcome taking the social media marketing reins, and increasing our visibility. On top of my winery job, with uncompensated extra hours spent working at home, I am going to be spending more uncompensated hours doing what I do well for the benefit of others.

I am not a business owner, my extra work will not increase my ownership equity value. I am a wage, not a salary plus benefits, employee. I am taking on the extra work for two reasons; one is to benefit my employer, by helping to increase Hopland tourism, I benefit the person who signs my checks, and the other is because I saw an area where my skill set, my abilities, passion, and experience could improve what is being done for Hopland in a way no one else had done. I really look forward to the next year’s work.

The reward for my volunteer efforts has been increased requests for volunteer work. More business owners would like me to give up my time freely so as to work toward increasing their revenue. I can’t say that I blame them for asking, but today I found myself drawing a very clear line: I have more than enough on my plate. I will meet every commitment I’ve made with professionalism and pride, to the best of my ability; but I am not taking on any more unpaid gigs.

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Next Friday, August 5, 2011, at 7:00pm, the winners of 35th Annual Mendocino County Wine Competition will be announced at a farm to table dinner hosted at Jeriko Estate north of Hopland. The event is open to the public, come and taste Mendocino County’s best wines at the Grand tasting, paired with a locally harvested dinner. Tickets are just $75, or $65 for wine industry members, and the event will sell out, so hit the link above and buy your tickets now.

I’ll be there, representing McFadden Vineyard, hoping for some Gold. While we are cooperative, not competitive, I would gladly lug some bling from Jeriko to McFadden after the event. Just sayin’.


				
		
	

I visited Dunnewood Vineyards in Ukiah recently.

The first thing I learned is that the Dunnewood Vineyards name was all marketing, and no one knows where they got that name. The good news is that most of the wine in the Dunnewood Vineyards tasting room carries the Mendocino Vineyards label, and I can grasp where that name came from.


Located in Ukiah, north of town, at 2399 North State Street; the sign for Dunnewood Vineyards is the most visible clue that a winery exists in this industrial zone outside Ukiah city proper. The winery location features vineyards around, an old front building doubling as tasting room and office, and a rather large winery facility in rear.

The large winery facility is owing, in part, to Dunnewood/Mendocino Vineyards being owned by wine giant Constellation. All Mendocino County grapes for Contellation Brand wines are made into wine at this facility. More interesting, from a “green” Mendocino County wine industry perspective, Mendicino Vineyards makes certified organic grown grape wines.

From Constellation’s website:

Mendocino Vineyards comes from the proverbial heart and soul of organic viticulture, Mendocino County. Bordering California’s rugged Pacific Coast, the county is enveloped by the cool morning fog that rolls in from the ocean and settles on the vineyards to produce wines with bright green apple flavors and a crisp, clean finish. It’s here that our team crafts this world-class wine that exemplifies environmental integrity by employing the strictest certified organic farming practices.

It may be unfair, but I don’t think of corporate responsibility and eco awareness when I think of of worldwide business conglomerates, yet Constellation seems to embrace and support Mendocino County’s eco spirit in their grape growing and winemaking choices surrounding their Ukiah facility.

Helen Kelley poured wines for me at the tasting bar. Helen is the office manager, and her pride in the winery and wines was evident.

2009 Mendocino Vineyards Chardonnay Mendocino County $12 clear color of light straw, nose of apple, pear, lemon, nice fruit shown. Tasty tropical sweetly candied fruit flavors. Nice body. Very, very long finish. Made with organic grapes sourced from about Mendocino County.

2003 Dunnewood Vineyards Coro Mendocino $35 Winemaker George Phelan has a lighter bodied, brighter Zinfandel based wine. 64.6% Zinfandel, 25.7% Syrah, and 9.7% Sangiovese. Nice fruit, raspberry and mixed berry, and cedar wood spice.

1997 Dunnewood Tawny Port Signiture Napa Valley $19 A charbono port, really really nice. Rich, sweetly delicious, plummy goodness.

Helen poured me a library selection, the 1979 Dunnewood Tawny Port California Limited Edition $28. At first nose, I wasn’t in love, it is tobacco juice tar color, but I came stuck with it to find plum dark fruit, sticky caramel apple and fig. I would enjoy trying to pair this with a fig reduction sauced pork. Helen shared a story of having to hand fill the unusual shaped bottles, and how at the end of the task, she was a syrupy, sticky, sweet mess.

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Last week, I stopped in at Jeriko Estate in Hopland to taste a local Mendocino County Brut Rosé for a Valentine’s Day bubbly write up.

As long as I was there, I tasted the 2009 Jeriko Estate Pinot Noir Mendocino 14.3% alc $38 as well. Lovely Burgundy color, delightful dried cranberry nose, delicious lush cranberry and cherry fruit flavors. Lingering finish, Nice acid. Well balanced.

J.J. Cannon, my host in the tasting room, told me that this was winery owner Danny Fetzer’s favorite wine, the wine he most often has a glass of when choosing from among the winery’s releases.

J.J. also serves as the wine club manager, and has grown the membership to a bit over 150 members, about an 18% increase, in a relatively short period of time. Founder’s Club members receive a case, discounted 20%, spread over 3 shipments each year. Estate Club members receive two cases, discounted 25%, spread over 12 shipments each year. Cellar Club members receive a half case monthly at a 30% discount. Other benefits include a big discount on wines purchased at the tasting room on the day you sign up for a wine club membership, an annual wine club member appreciation party, wine club pick up parties, complimentary reserve wine tasting for members and guests, and special pre-release priority and prices. Wine club members can choose all white, all red, or a delicious mix of both with each wine club shipment.

Wandering about the tasting room area, I noticed some lovely jewelry available for purchase. It turns out the jewelry from Hook & Loop Jewelry Designs is made by winery owner Danny Fetzer’s niece Christina McDonald and her partner Rasean Powell. I would encourage the introduction of additional items of interest to warm the feeling of the tasting room area. Books on wine, wine accessories, art, jewelry, olive oils and foodstuffs placed about the tasting room would increase movement, and warm the experience immensely.

Outside the Tuscan styled and colored main building, the vineyards were readied for the upcoming spring and bud break a month or two away. A fountain burbled, olive trees decorated the property, and baby goats played on the property’s neighboring hillside.

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Two events I attended last year are coming up and I highly recommend them for lovers of Petite Sirah or Pinot Noir respectively:

Dark & Delicious Petite Sirah and Food Event
February 18, 2011
6:00pm – 9:00pm
Rock Wall Wine Company
2301 Monarch Street
Alameda, CA 94501

40 top Petite Sirah wine producers and 30 top bay area restaurants and caterers, one night, stain your teeth purple.

Parducci Wine Cellars of Ukiah in Mendocino County will be pouring at Dark & Delicious

The 8th Annual Pinot Noir Summit
Saturday, February 26, 2011
11:30am – 6:45pm
Hilton San Francisco
750 Kearny Street
San Francisco, CA 94108

Blind taste 32 or 64 top Pinot Noir wines, rate them, attend workshop seminars, enjoy the results of the blind tasting while enjoying these and more Pinot Noir paired with hors d’oeuvre.

Mendocino County’s Handley Cellars of Philo in the Anderson Valley and Rack & Riddle of Hopland will be pouring at the Pinot Noir Summit.

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Finally, Tierra, art, garden, wine in Ukiah will be closing their doors after the end of this month. If you live in or near Ukiah, stop in Wed-Sat 11am-6:00pm, and help out by purchasing a thoughtfully artful gift for a friend or something beautiful for your home, and save 30-70$ off most items.

Tierra is located at 312 N School Street in Ukiah.

I am sorry that Nicole Martensen and Nicholas Thayer’s Tierra will disappear from Ukiah, I will miss it. I wish I had visited more often.

This weekend, Saturday, October 23 and Sunday, October 24, from 11:00AM to 5:00PM each day, the wineries of Mendocino County’s town of Hopland, located on Highway 101 less than an hour north of Santa Rosa, join together for the 2010 Fall Hopland Passport Weekend.

Participating wineries include Brutocao Cellars, Fetzer Vineyards, Graziano Family of Wines, Jaxon Keys, Winery, Jeriko Estate, McDowell Valley Vineyards, McFadden Vineyards, McNab Ridge Winery, Magnanimus Wines, Milano Winery, Nelson Family Vineyards, Patianna Vineyards, Rack & Riddle, Terra Savia, Saracina, and Weibel Family Vineyards.

I attended the Spring Hopland Passport Weekend, and wrote of my experiences, visiting each participating winery and tasting an even 100 wines – it helped that I could use both days.

Two day tickets are available online for $35, or for $45 at any of the participating wineries on the day of the event.

Saturday shuttles are available for only $15, picking up from and delivering to a host of Ukiah hotels. The shuttles run all day between the participating wineries.

Each winery puts their best foot forward; food treats are provided that pair well with wines served, live music, arts and crafts, artisanal honeys and olive oils are among the treats offered by the wineries. For two days, you get to travel from winery to winery, tasting wines, savoring tasty foods, surrounded by the beauty of Mendocino County’s vineyards and wineries. A wristband, tasting glass, and a map make for a weekend of discovery.

Tastings like this are one of the best ways to expand your wine tasting experiences, learn which wine varietals you prefer, and perhaps develop an appreciation for a wine region you aren’t fully familiar with.

Every person tasting in the spring version of the Passport Weekend was happy, smiling, enjoying themselves, and having a great time. I loved visiting all of the Hopland wineries earlier this year. I encourage you to come to Hopland this weekend, and hope you have as wonderful a time as I did.

On Thursday, May 6, 2010, I got to be the guest chef at the Chardonnay tasting and TweetUp at Parducci Wine Cellars in Ukiah.

I cooked for three days, and am pleased with how my food turned out.

At the actual event, I chose to go outside and enjoy the company of friends rather than remain inside, near the food, so people would feel more free to talk abut the food and so I would not have to hear anyone opine that they make a superior risotto.

I spent the majority of the event on the back patio of Parducci, near the vineyards, and was joined by two classmates, two newly met Hopland winery employees (wineries are cooperative, I thank Jeriko Estates and Milano Family Winery for mixing with me at Parducci), the mother of my son, four friends from Santa Rosa, and another friend who flew in from Florida to attend.

One of my friends did report that someone inside did indeed boast to making a better risotto, which may have inspired some discreet finger flying on the patio, along with laughter.

After the event, I went back to the Cellar (guest) House at Parducci, where I had done the cooking, with some friends where we had some more wine, more conversation, more laughter. I wish I had thought to invite Cindy up to join us when she stopped by to say thank you, and all of the folks from Parducci for that matter. Cindy and Rochelle, and everyone else at Parducci were great to work together with.

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CESANO-DOLAN APPLE MUSHROOM RISOTTO

Ingredients:

Chicken broth – 6 cups

Olive oil – 3 tablespoons

Portobello mushrooms (thinly sliced) – 1 pound

White mushrooms (thinly sliced) – 1 pound

Saffron threads – .02 ounces

Shallots (diced) – 1 whole

Apple (fine dice) – 2/3 of a large apple

Arborio rice – 1 1/2 cups

2008 Paul Dolan Vineyards Chardonnay – 1/2 cup

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Sea salt to taste

Chives (finely chopped) – 3 tablespoons

Butter – 4 tablespoons

Parmesan cheese (freshly grated) – 1/3 cup

Directions:

1. At least two hours prior to cooking, soak the saffron threads in 2 TBS of the chicken broth to allow the full color and flavor to be released.

2. Warm the chicken broth, with saffron thread infusion in a sauce pan over low heat.

3. In a small pan, over medium heat, saute the apple in 1 TBS olive oil, about 2 minutes. Reserve the apple and liquid.

4. In a large saucepan, heat 2 tbsp of olive oil over medium fire. Add the mushrooms and stir. Cook the mushroom for 5 minutes or until tender. Then remove the mushrooms including the liquid. Add the reserved apple to the mushrooms. Set it aside.

5. In a frying pan, add one tablespoon of olive oil. Stir the shallots and cook for at least 1 minute. Add the Arborio rice and stir continuously for about 2 minutes to coat with oil. Pour the wine when the rice changed its color to pale gold. Stir continuously until the wine has been fully absorbed by the rice. Then add half a cup of broth to the rice and stir continuously until the broth is absorbed. Continue introducing half a cup of broth while stirring the rice. Make sure the liquid is well absorbed.

6. Remove the rice from the heat and add apple and mushrooms with liquid, Parmesan, Butter and chives. Stir continuously then season with salt and pepper. Serve hot.

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DOUBLE PIE CRUST

Ingredients:

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup shortening

1/2 cup water

1 egg

Directions:

1. In a large bowl, combine flour and salt. Cut in shortening until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in water until mixture forms a ball. Divide dough in half, and shape into balls. Wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight.

2. Roll out dough on a floured counter. Don’t over work it. Use as directed in pie recipe.

3. Brush both the bottom crust and top crust with a little beaten egg

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APPLE PIE FILLING

Ingredients:

9 cups (about 2 1/2 pounds) – Granny Smith apple

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1/4 cup packed brown sugar

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons tapioca flour

1 1/3 tablespoon butter

Pie Crust Topping:

2 tablespoons milk

1/8 cup white sugar

Directions:

1. Peel and thinly slice the apples.

2. Combine apple and lemon juice in a large bowl.

3. Combine brown sugar, granulated sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, salt, and tapioca flour in a small bowl, mix well.

4. Sprinkle combined dry ingredients over apples and toss well to evenly coat the apples.

5. Preheat oven to 425° F.

6. Put mixture in a strainer over a large bowl, let sit 30 minutes until juices collect in bottom of bowl, drain juices, boil juices with a teaspoon of butter until reduced, and pour back over the apple mixture.

7. Spoon the mixture into an unbaked pie shell. Dot 1 tablespoon butter on top of the fruit. Cover with the top crust. Seal and crimp the edges. Brush the top with milk and sprinkle with 1/8 cup sugar. Make 5 two inch slits in the top pie crust.

8. Cook on lowest oven rack level, on a baking sheet at 425° for 15 minutes, then turn down heat to 375° and cook for another 20 – 25 minutes , or until golden brown.

9. Let cool for 4 hours on a wire rack.

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CESANO-PARDUCCI CHARDONNAY APPLE ICE CREAM

Ingredients:

5 cups whipping cream

2 1/2 cups half and half

2 1/2 cups whole milk

2 1/2 cups plus 6 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon vanilla

1/2 teaspoon salt

4 cups apple

1/4 cup apple butter

1/4 cup 2008 Parducci Chardonnay

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Directions:

1. Peel, core, and dice the apples; saute the apples with lemon juice, Parducci Chardonnay, apple butter, and 6 tablespoons sugar, about 5 – 6 minutes, until soft. Refrigerate mixture.

2. Scald milk until bubbles form at edge of pan, remove from heat. Add sugar and salt. Stir until dissolved.

3. Stir in half and half, vanilla extract, and whipping cream. Cover and refrigerate 30 minutes.

4. Combine refrigerated apple and cream mixtures.

5. Place refrigerated mixture into cooled 6 quart ice cream can, filling ice cream can no more than 3/4 full as it will expand during freezing.

6. Following the directions on your 6 quart ice cream maker, mix for 20-40 minutes until smooth and mixture approaches a solid soft serve consistency.

7. Pack ice cream into containers, allowing 1/2 inch for expansion, and freeze several hours to ripen and harden home made ice cream.

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I don’t normally cook using recipes at home, but I had to create recipes, then multiply the ingredients by a factor of 2 for the ice cream, 3 for the risotto, and 4 for the pies, so I could put together a shopping list and submit a budget for the event.

I was trying to bring out, or tie to, the flavors of apple in the Chardonnays my food would be paired with; I added apple to a perfected mushroom risotto recipe. The risotto was delicious, but the apple flavor was completely hidden by the mushroom flavor. In the future, I would either eliminate the apple and go back to a perfect, and easier, recipe, or I would triple the apple called for. The only result of using 1 diced apple to 2 pounds of mushroom was to make the dish seem a little brighter.

I loved the apple caramel that formed when I reduced the juices from the apple pie mixture so much that I did the same thing with the ice cream apple mixture. It isn’t on the recipe, but I am prone to make adjustments on the fly.

The ice cream, on first taste, makes me shudder each time. The longer it can ripen in the freezer, the better the overall flavor as the apple flavor spreads through the frozen vanilla cream.

I will say that the risotto was the bomb, the apple pie was perfectly firm (I hate mushy apple pie), and the ice cream was so very delicious.

I made the ice cream on Tuesday. I made the apple pies on Wednesday, and I made the risotto on Thursday, finishing four minutes before the event start time.

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I did not set out to make a meatless menu. If I had been tasked to cook to pair with a red wine, I would have started with a meat protein. To make up for the lacking, here’s a bonus recipe that I cooked last night, full of meaty goodness:

I had my butcher slice 1 1/4″ steaks from a large tri tip roast.

Season both sides of the steaks with salt, pepper, fried Italian herbs, lemon pepper, garlic salt, and/or any other dry spice ingredients you regularly enjoy.

I fired up the Weber, using a Jack Daniel’s briquet and whisky barrel wood mix, let the briquets fully ash, got the wood smoking, and then spread it all evenly.

Rather than direct grilling; I bought a two layer rack with offset holes that sits on top of the grill, and I placed the meat on the rack. Flame ups are eliminated, smoke gets up to the meat, and the meat cooks slower, allowing a more true BBQ flavor to be imparted to the meat. The meat spent over an hour (indirect BBQ is MUCH slower than direct grilling) under the hood, turned, and butter was placed on the steaks to melt just before the meat was pulled to rest.

While resting inside on my cutting board, I spread each steak with some Cambozola cheese, and that melted over each steak as well.

So incredibly good.

Earlier this year, I was asked how long I have lived in the Mendocino County town of Ukiah and I answered that I had lived here just a couple of years. In my head, I was a temporarily displaced Sonoma County resident.

Shortly after, talking with my brother, I again said that I had been in Ukiah a couple of years. My brother laughed and said I had been in Ukiah closer to five years.

I was surprised, but he was right; I moved to Ukiah five years ago, but traveled for work, sleeping more nights in hotels than my own bed each year. This year, I eliminated the travel, and took the time to breathe, to look around, to relax. I have begun to think of myself as someone from Ukiah for the first time.

Last weekend was Passport Weekend in Wine Country. I could taste wines in Napa’s Rutherford Appelation or San Luis Obispo, Dry Creek just finished ther Passport Weekend, and the Sonoma Valley is still to come; but I made a decision to taste the wines from my home and attended the Hopland Passport Spring 2010 wine tasting event.

Hopland is a small town in Mendocino County, choking Highway 101 down to one lane each direction, the first town in Mendocino County driving north up 101, and about 15 minutes south of Ukiah, the county seat. Green mountains on the west side of town stretching north and south, and valley spreading to the east. Vineyards sprouting green with new growth, lavender, poppies, floral explosion of perfume and color. I’m not gifted describing beauty, but the weekend was knockout gorgeous, a feast for all the senses.

I visited over a dozen locations, experienced almost twice as many wine brand labels, and tasted just over 100 wines. The weekend was about much more than just the wines tasted; it was about the beauty of our county, the overarching commitment to green practices, change and hope as well. I came away from the two days more than a little more in love with where I live. I didn’t love every wine I tasted, but I can easily say that every winery had something positive for me to write about, and at least one wine I enjoyed without qualification.

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My first stop, coming south from Ukiah, was at Nelson Family Vineyards. Located down Nelson Ranch Road, on the west side of Hwy 101 (look for the strawberry farm of Saecho, and head west), the winery is reached by walking up a winding garden path from the parking area below. Floral growth adding color and scent to the day, did make taking nosing notes on the wines a touch more difficult, but their beauty made the challenge worthwhile.

2008 Nelson Family Vineyards Estate Pinot Grigio $16 – Clear, steely mineral, floral honeysuckle, apple. Nice fruit.

2008 Nelson Family Vineyards Estate Viognier $21 – Clear. Citrus, Orange blossom, apricot, apple.

2008 Nelson Family Vineyards Estate Zinfandel Rose $16 - ¾  Zin, ¼ Pinot. Lightly rose colored. Nice acid. Juicy strawberry.

2008 Nelson Family Vineyards Estate Riesling $16 – sweet honeyed apricot, peach, pear. Honey (yes, I know I mentioned it twice).

2009 Nelson Family Vineyards Estate Orange Muscat $21 – Mineral, sweet peach, lemon citrus, floral honey. The mouth delivers more sweetness than the nose suggests.

2009 Nelson Family Vineyards Estate Barn Blend $23 – I was told the blend is a majority Zin, with about 10% each of Cab and Merlot, and 5% Viognier. I thought it a little young, but rich, with a dusty chocolate nose; easily quaffable with lots of mixed berry and cherry fruit notes.

2007 Nelson Family Vineyards Estate Zinfandel $23 – Nicely soft, lighter bodied, but full flavors, this Zin has enough acid to make your mouth want that next mouthful of raspberry jam and boyesnberry pie flavor. Spice and fruit.

2007 Nelson Family Vineyards Estate Cabernet Sauvignon $23 – “Oh yeah,” is what I thought to myself. Love at first sniff. Black plum, dark fruit notes, delicious jammy blackberry and cassis notes.

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Jaxon Keys Winery & Distillery is Ken & Diane Wilson’s first winery in Mendocino County. The Wilsons are known for making premium wines at a number of Sonoma County wineries, and bought what had been known as Jepsen Winery & Distillery, changing the name to honor Wilson’s grandfathers Jack Wilson and Cecile Keys.

Two huge changes, both for the better: the Wilsons have restored the historic hilltop on-property farmhouse and moved the tasting operations to the picturesque farmhouse, and the Wilsons brought winemaker Fred Nickel to Jaxon Keys.

Jaxon Keys’ hilltop farmhouse tasting room

The tasting room has a refrigerator with meats, salami, coppa, prosciutto, and mortadella at $4.95, and cheeses, white cheddar, sharp cheddar, plain jack, garlic jack, and Sicilian jack at $5.95 available to purchase. I can picture buying a little meat and cheese, sitting in a chair on the wraparound farmhouse porch, looking out over the valley vineyards, and sipping wine with meats and cheeses.

The wines, for the most part, are made from Estate grown grapes. One of my favorite wines, the 2007 Jaxon Keys Zinfandel Mae’s Block, had a great nose for a wine available at $6/bottle when purchased in a case. Pepper spice, berry fruit and herb. Solid Zin, not big, but good.

I did not love all of the wines, but the Wilsons are known for quality, and Fred Nickel who took over the winemaking duties only late August last year is a Mendocino County winemaking institution. Nickel knows the area’s fruit and how to make wines with soul from those grapes. I look forward to what will happen at Jaxon Keys moving forward. I think it safe to say that great grapes, great facility, great winemaker, and great owners will lead to a complete portfolio of first class wines.

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Saracina Vineyards starts with a visually striking architectural aesthetic. A lake, olive trees, circles of lawn, the wine cave ( a real one, dug into a hillside over two years), tree trunk tables, groovy designer chairs as (surprisingly) comfortable as they are cool looking, all lead to zen calm in which to perceive the land’s bounty.

The cave at Saracina Vineyards

The 2007 Saracina Sauvignon Blanc is an unapologetically layered white. About a liter of aroma and flavor shoehorned into a 750 ml bottle. Mineral, lemon, citrus, crisp peachy pear and melon. Round and full mouth, crisp acid without tartness, bank, complexity, a showy white. $15

I tasted the Sauvignon Blanc with a creamy goat cheese spread on a cracker, the goat cheese really pulled out steely lemon and pear notes.

Olive Oil – “OMG,” was my first thought and became my first note upon tasting the Hopland made oil pressed from the olive trees of Saracina. 4 varietals, estate grown, from 700 trees, blended together, make a deliciously flavorful olive oil, nothing like the bargain priced supermarket olive oil you’ve tasted before. $12

2006 Saracina Atrea Old Soul Red – A Zin, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Malbec blend. Saracina got the “soul” part of the name right, this wine has soul. Red & Black fruit blend, blackberry, cherry, raspberry, nice tannin and oak. Well balanced. Delicious. I asked why blend these grapes, was it a field blend, a barrel blend, why this blend? I was told that this “Mendo blend” was by design a blend of the county’s most iconic grapes. $25

Estate Bee Honey – Again, simply delicious. $12

2003 Saracina Syrah – Hillside fruit, a gorgeous Syrah, the kind that if people tasted they would buy. Lush, full dark juicy fruit, herb, spice, and a floral perfume. $18

2005 Saracina Syrah – Eagle Point (1,500 feet above sea level) and Potato Patch (2,200 feet above sea level) vineyards are the source of this rich intensely pub, blackberry, boysenberry noted wine. Leathery, supple, nice tannin and oak. – $32

I tasted the 2007 Saracina Petite Sirah, but I paired it with a chicken teriyaki falafel. I don’t know what this food treat was meant to pair with but it bulldozed the flavors of the Petite Sirah. I want to taste this wine again by itself. The falafel did remind me, fondly, of some of the food I tasted in the parking lots outside Grateful dead shows long past. – $38

The chairs in the shade, with a lake view, are prime real estate at Saracina Vineyards

Overall, a wonderful experience.

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Jeriko Estate is a popular site with a sprawling Tuscan style building with lovely landscaped garden. When I arrived on Saturday, the crowd was so large, and enthusiastic, that I nearly gave up, preparing to leave, planning to come back on a calmer day.

The landscaped garden at Jeriko Estate

Then a spot in a quiet corner of the tasting bar opened, with a dump bucket in front of the empty stool, and I swooped.

2008 Jeriko Estate Sauvignon Blanc $19.50 – Varietally correct. Mown hay, grass, floral, pear nose. Bright mineral pear and apple with light citrus flavors.

Natural Blonde Chardonnay $12.95 – Tart, yet round. Tart apple. Striking crispness and acidity. This is a Chardonnay to pair with bi-valve shell fish in place of a steely mineral Sauvignon Blanc.

2006 Strawberry Blonde Rose $12.95 – Light salmon color. Nice strawberry, raspberry, and kiwi fruit notes.

2006 Jeriko Estate Pinot Noir $38 – Smoke, oak, dried cherry flavors follow a nose of the same. Very direct. Spice, herb, and oaky vanilla add texture, rounding edge.This represents a lull in the crowds at Jeriko Estate on Santurday

Outside, in a round tent in the front gardens, bubblies were being poured. The tent smelled of must, perhaps having not fully dried after recent rains, or perhaps from a recent storage, but the subtle bright crisp apple fruit and citrus notes, toasty, floral, and slight mineral quality of the 2005 Jeriko Estate Brut Rose $48.95 were impossible to appreciate until I took my glass out and away from the tent.

It was nice to see goats scampering on the other side of a vineyard fence.

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One mile east of Hopland, on Hwy 175, Gary Breen and his wife Anna Beuselinck have purchased and are restoring the 5 year closed former Fetzer Wine & Food Center, newly christened Campovida (Field of life).

Magnamimus Wine Group, headed by Owsley Brown III, will be offering a full range of wines, tours of the property’s abundant gardens, and hosting wine and food events.

Magnanimus Wine Group at Campovida

I can say that a buzz running throughout the weekend, underneath the immediacy of the festivities and fun, wine and wonder, was a hope that Campovida and Magnanimus succeed, and that the property never close again.

Magnanimus offers wines on four labels; Mendocino Farms, Old River Cellars, Talmage Collection, and Ukiah Cellars.

2008 Ukiah Cellars Chardonnay, Beckstoffer and McDowell Vineyards, $16 – Clear, brilliant, pale gold. Apple & pear nose, tart fruit, but not aggressively tart. Light cream and vanilla apple flavors.

2006 Old River Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, Ponderosa Vineyard (near Grass Valley in the Sierra Foothills), $19 – Nice, lush fruit. Supple and complex, approachable black berry fruit.

2006 Talmage Collection Pija Blend, Mattern Ranch, $25 – A field blend, roughly 50% Zin and 45% Petite Sirah (with a smudge, about 5% Charbono from Venturi Vineyards). Bright, lush, bursting fruit of cherry and berry, with integrated acid, oak, and tannin.

2006 Talmage Collection Syrah, Maria Vineyard, $32 – Dark purple, chewy cherry nose gives way to more full flavors of cocoa, black berry and currant.

2005 Mendocino Farms Redvine Series, Heart Arrow and fairbairn Ranches, $25 - 75% Cab, 13% Petite Syrah, and 12 % Syrah. Cab fruit is obvious. Blackberry rich. lush, juicy, soft, and delicious.

2005 Mendocino Farms Syrah, Fairbairn Ranch, $32 – Delicious burst of fruit, black berry and raspberry mix. Berry fruit medley. Lush, more than the typical Syrah.

2008 Mendocino Farms Zinfandel (Barrel Sample), Dark Horse Vineyard. – Really nice round fruit, accessible dark berry fruit. Incredible potential.

I toured the gardens with Ken Boek, and if you visit Campvida and Magnanimus you need to set at least an hour aside to walk with Ken. Part gardener, part historian, Ken is an invaluable asset. Hearing Ken tell about he and Julia Child traveling into Ukiah to buy comfortable shoes (they both wore 10 1/2 Men’s size sneakers) brings the food center back to life.

The gardens at Campovida

Ken’s brother played at the outdoor covered patio as part of a three piece acoustic group.

This seemed, to me at least, to be a very successful “soft” opening for Magnanimus and Campovida, and another grand opening celebration is being planned for June.

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Weibel Family Winery and Vineyards is out Hwy 175, past Campovida, past Hopland’s Indian casino, halfway to nowhere. Rural, centered in a valley, the winery’s tasting room is on the upper level of a two story building, and has a deck overlooking half of creation. An absolutely inspiring view.

Weibel Family and Winery

Road I Red - 75% Merlot, 25% Syrah. Easily drinkable red, soft tannins, cherry, oak, round, light. $10

Road I White – 50% Chardonnay, 50% Sauvignon Blanc. An interesting blend with apple, hay, grass, citrus, pear, floral honeysuckle. $10

2008 Weibel Estate Sauvignon Blanc $14.95 – Mown hay, melon, citrus, pear nose. Drinkable lemony apple pear fruit mouth. easy.

2006 Weibel Estate Zinfandel $16.95 – Zin nose of dark wild raspberry. Drinkable. Acid, balanced by tannin. Raspberry rut. Not overly peppery or spicy.

Looking at the view from the deck is your payment for the drive out to Weibel, finding enjoyable wines puts you squarely in the plus column for the trip.

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Milano Family Winery is located in an old Hop Kiln just south of Hopland on Hwy 101.

The historic Hop Kiln location of Milano Family Winery

Rewarding visitors, Milano played host to several local artists including Tres Classique, Ukiah’s specialty flavored oil and vinegar producer.

Milano Family Winery Big Ass Red is a Cabernet based blend of 12 varietals. Owner and winemaker Deanna Starr’s intent was to create a wine that can be brought to any dinner, that can pair with as many dishes possible, that would please the broadest range of palates. Light, lush, not tannic, very accessible, mixed fruit basket. $16

Milano Family Winery Big Ass Blond, a Chardonnay and Viognier blend, is made with the same intent, broad appeal. Lush fruit, apple pie and fig. $16.

2006 Milano Family Winery Malbec $29 - Nice nose of blackberry. Dark of color. Lush, fruit forward. Plum, blackberry and cassis. Really nice wine.

A potato bar, baked potatoes and a variety of possible toppings, made for a fun interactive food pairing option.

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Just southwest of town, Terra Sávia (Wise Earth) is home to Olivino, a state of the art, organic certified, custom press to make olives into olive oil.

The Terra Sávia Olive Oil facility and winery

Earlier, I wrote that I was wowed by the olive oil made from the olives of Saracina. This is where the olives were transformed into olive oil.

Ordinarily, a sizable number of wineries make olive oil because the seasons for grapes and olives are complimentary and allow year round activity.

In Terra Sávia, when olive season is finished, grapes grown around the property are made into wine by Jim Milone, longtime Hopland grapegrower and winemaker.

2006 Terra Sávia Blanc de Blancs $25 – Bright and yeasty granny smith apple flavors with bubbles.

2008 Terra Sávia Chardonnay $15 – Stainless steel held. Bright, crisp, but not tart, expressive apple.

NV Terra Sávia Pinot Noir $18 – Delicious warm cherry notes. Balanced, smooth. Paired with sauteed mushrooms valuable to taste: *shudders* “oh, that is it!”

Both the 2006 Terra Sávia Meritage $20 (very nice) and 2007 Terra Sávia Cabernet Sauvignon $18 (umm, yummy) paired well with some delicious meat available for pairing. My notes are sparse; these were wines number 58 and 59 of the day, and I was getting treated to a tour of the facility and explanation of the olive oil making process.

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General observations from day 1: It didn’t matter whether it was the second or last winery I visited, I always grabbed my notebook and camera and invariable had to return to my car for my tasting glass; I was so intent on notes and pictures that the glass was always an afterthought.

The Zinfandels I tasted were not the high alcohol fruit bombs, buried in pepper, that I have become used to. The Zinfandels of Mendocino County, or the Hopland portion of the county anyway, are more accessible, lighter, wines of a little more restraint.

The move in Chardonnay away from oak and toward stainless steel, and away from malolactic fermentation, has led me to taste some unpleasantly stridently tart apple Chardonnays lately, but the Chardonnays I tasted from Hopland, while crisp, were not overly tart.

Very drinkable wines from really nice fruit.

Another unmistakable mark of Hopland wines is the commitment to green practices, sustainable farming, organic grapes, biodynamic farms, and eco ethic that paints the wine industry locally as “Red, White, and Green.”

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Day 2, Sunday, of Hopland Passport weekend found me sitting outside Rack & Riddle custom wine services, waiting for 11:00 am and the beginning of my tasting day.

Rack & Riddle custom wine services

Rack & Riddle is a custom crush facility with a special emphasis and ability to create sparking wines in the Champagne Method, and is located near Terra Sávia, to the southwest of Hopland.

Bruce Lundquist, formerly of J Champagne, and Rebecca Faust, formerly of Piper Sonoma Champagne, are the co-founders of Rack & Riddle.

Last year, Rack & Riddle crushed 6,000 tons for 4-5 dozen clients, producing 225,000 cases of sparkling and 175,000 cases of still wines.

There is a great view from the bar at Rack & Riddle

With VP of Business Development Mark Garaventa pouring, I tasted some bubblies for breakfast.

2009 Nuestro Vino Sauvignon Blanc $7.99 – Citrus fruit. Bright lemon. Crisp. Clean. Delicious.

NV Rack & Riddle Blanc de Blanc $18 – 100% Chardonnay. Crisp, clean, light zing, lemon, apple – not tart, but crisp. Pale, nice small bubble. Great fruit. Great mousse. Light yeasty yum.

NV Nuestro Vino Brut $10.99 – 60% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir. yeasty. Pretty apple. Rounder. Floral and pear. Nice mousse.

NV Rack & Riddle Rosé $24.00 – Light berry, cherry, strawberry mix and apple. Light creamy yeast.

2008 Nuestro Vino Meritage $9.99 – 55ish% Cabernet Franc, 22.5ish% each Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Really? $10 Meritage? And it tastes good? Yes it does.

In addition to the Rack & Riddle label, the Nuestro Vino (our wine) label is a unique effort dedicated to make affordable wines, with Spanish language labels, aimed at the hispanic community, a niche currently underserved.

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I parked my car, grabbed my notebook, camera AND my glass. All the rest of the winery tasting rooms were within walking distance in downtown Hopland (only a few blocks long).

McNab Ridge Winery was pouring roughly 18,000 wines, clearly with the intent that tasters never leave the downtown Hopland tasting room location. I might be exaggerating, McNab only poured seventeen wines.

McNab Ridge Winery

The Parducci family is a famous winemaking family in the area, and McNab represents the family’s continuing winemaking presence. McNab Ridge Winery boasts the “Parducci Family’s 4-generation commitment to excellence in Mendocino County Winemaking.”

The first wine poured, a 2009 McNab Ridge Winery Sauvignon Blanc, $12, while clear in the bottle, appeared slightly blush in my glass, but that is only because I am a dumb ass and forgot to rinse my glass after my last wine at Rack & Riddle, a red wine. Glass rinsed, the Sauvignon Blanc was the same color in my glass as the bottle, and was nicely crisply citrusy, with a grassy note, and melon-y pear fruit in the mouth.

Seeing a long list of wines to taste shortened my notetaking, but here’s some more:

2008 McNab Ridge Winery Chardonnay $15 – Light gold. Oak, butter, vanilla and toast. OMG, my first noticeably oak barrel Chardonnay of the weekend. Tropical fruit and apple.

2008 McNab Ridge Winery Rousanne $15 - Pear and apricot, honey, round.

2007 McNab Ridge Winery Carignane $18 – Nice deep unclouded red color. Cherry, tannin. soft, round, and nice all by itself (or with only 3% Zin blended).

McNab Ridge Winery Fred’s Red $10 - Purple color. lighter. Cherry berry juiciness.

2007 McNab Ridge Winery Grenache $20 – Nice light round rhone blender, Smooth, soft, easy cherry fruit burst.

2007 McNab Ridge Winery Zinister $20 – Dark brambly raspberry fruit and deep color.

2006 McNab Ridge Winery Zinfandel $18 - Zin aroma of fruit, oak, spice and pepper. Softer and rounder in mouth than expected. Good fruit, nice aroma, little apiece pepper barrier to enjoyment.

2005 McNab Ridge Winery Coro $37 – I was told this pairs well with the meatballs being served. No, the meatballs overpower the Coro, and it remains untasted for me.

2007 McNab Ridge Winery Cabernet Sauvignon $18 – A really nice Cabernet. Varietally correct and easily drinkable. Blackberry, cassis, cherry, oak, vanilla, tannin.

2006 McNab Ridge Winery Petite Sirah $18 – Black and blue berry fruit bomb. Dense and concentrated.

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It is often said that great wine starts in the vineyard. As much as it is the case with many of the Hopland area wineries, it is safe to say that the grapes of Guinness McFadden, grown organically for 40 years, are the wines being poured – the vineyard is the wine.

It was a treat to see Guinness himself at his McFadden Vineyards tasting room.

Guinness McFadden at his winery’s tasting room

2006 McFadden Vineyard Chardonnay $13.25 - Round, not tart, apple fruit. Pear.

2006 McFadden Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc $13.25 – Wow. Forward nose. Mown hay, muted catp, citrus, lemon, pear, apple, tart, crisp, but not too much so.

2008 McFadden Vineyard Sparkling $25 – 60% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir. Brut. Crisp apple. deliciously spritely.

2008 McFadden Vineyard Pinot Gris $16 – Soft accessible. Nice hit of sweet honey. Clean. Pear and floral.

2006 McFadden Vineyard Riesling $18 - Interesting hay (S.B. like) note. Light sweetness, honey, pear, orange blossom.

2006 McFadden Vineyard Pinot Noir $10 (blowing out the last 100 cases, and it is great!) – “ooh!” Makes me yearn for mushroom to pair it with. Cherry, oak, earth, herb, round.

2007 McFadden Vineyard Zinfandel $19 – Dusty raspberry fruit. Incredibly approachable.

Out behind McFadden, I enjoyed a little BBQ tri tip; a wild rice, pea, artichoke, tomato and feta salad; and a raspberry vinaigrette feta spring leaf lettuce mix salad.

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Grazinno Family of Wines is right next door to McFadden in downtown Hopland. The family of wineries include Graziano, St Gregory, Enotria, and Monte Volpe.

Whites were being poured at a table in the rear of the tasting room, and reds at the bar.

I’m still waiting to hear that my card was pulled for the mixed case of Graziano wine.

The whites were all on ice, and although I tried, it just isn’t worth the effort to try to taste frozen wines for notes. Chardonnay and Riesling, near freezing, differ little; but bring up in temperature and differences abound. I will come back, taste the whites, and get nose and flavor notes on the wines poured on a future visit.

2006 St Gregory Pinot Noir Reserve $25 - Soft, muted fruit of cherry, and oak.

2007 St Gregory Pinotage $17 – Smoky, brambly fruit. smooth.

2006 Monte Volpe Sangiovese $17 – Nice dark color. Accessible fruit and dusty herb spice.

2006 Graziano Zinfandel $17 – Perfumed cherry(?!) note. Round. Soft.

2007 Enotria Dolcetta $17 – Mice dark purple fruit. Blackberry, boysenberry. Easy to drink.

2006 Enotria Barbera $17 – Raspberry herb. Soft, round, and jammy.

Paired with a Brie Blue blend cheese, similar to a Cambozola, the 2005 Graziano Petite Sirah $17 was positively sublime. I’ll be honest, I thought the Petite Sirah was shy (?!), until paired with the cheese, and then it exploded. Rich, dark, plummy fruit on nose; raison notes on berry explosion.

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McDowell Valley Vineyards

McDowell Valley Vineyards had some incredible sales, but as the wines would be sold out soon, I didn’t taste them. These are the wines I did taste:

2008 McDowell Valley Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc $15 – Baked pear and apple fruit pie.

2008 McDowell Valley Vineyards Grenache Rose $15 -  Dry, crisp, cranberry, raspberry, strawberry over ice.

2008 McDowell Valley Vineyards Viognier/Rousanne $22 – 64% Viognier, 36% Rousanne. A real treat. Light cream and fruit, like a handmade ice crierm. Vanilla, floral, citrus, orange; round pear, apple. Herb. Complex. Layered.

2005 McDowell Valley Vineyards Coro $37 – 52% Zin, 48% Old Vine Syrah. Cocoa chocolate dust. oak. Round. Accessible. Full flavored, but all the sharp edges smoothed. Wild black raspberry, cherry.

2006 McDowell Valley Vineyards Coro $37 – 55% Zin, 35% Syrah, 8% Petite Sirah, 2 Grenache Noir. Blackberry, strawberry, cherry, blueberry. Fruit basket.

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The last Hopland winery left on my passport for me to visit was Brutocao Cellars. Most of the wines I would taste were made by Fred Nickels (now with Jaxon Keys), but Brutocao is in good hands with David Brutocao taking over as winemaker, assisted by Paul Zellman and Hoss Milone.

Paul did the pouring of the wines and it was a treat to benefit from his experience.

Bocce courts at Brutocao Cellars

Brutocao has bocce courts, where the Italian bowling game bocce can be played while sipping wines and enjoying food.

2009 Brutocao Cellars Rosé Estate Bottled Hopland Ranches $14 – Strawberry over ice.

2008 Brutocao Cellars Sauvignon Blanc Estate Bottled Feliz Vineyard $14 - Crisp lemony citrus. Pear and melon.

2007 Brutocao Cellars Reserve Chardonnay Estate Bottled $25 – Great fruit, nice balance  of oak. Not too manipulated. Nice and drinkable.

2009 Brutocao Cellars Gewurtztraminer Alexander Valley $15 - Sweet light honey. Apricot nectar, spice, pie notes.

2007 Brutocao Cellars Pinot Noir Estate Bottled Anderson Valley $28 – Dried cherry, earth, mushroom. Beautiful burgundy. Lush, drinkable, nice buy itself, but what a food wine!

2007 Brutocao Cellars Zinfandel Estate Bottled Hopland Ranches $22 - Rich raspberry, blackberry earthy spice. Chocolate leather.

2007 Brutocao Cellars Primitivo $22 – Really lush, dense, and delicious.

2005 Brutocao Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Bottled Contento Vineyard $25 – Dark dark purple. Dusty cocoa, blackberry. Lush, supple, slightly vinous, cassis.

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Well, that’s it. I had a great time, tasted a lot of great wines, came to understand better the flavor profiles of the varietals planted around my new home. A terroir that lends to more accessible wines, fewer monster fruit bombs, a lot more subtlety and varietally correct flavors coming through from vineyard to glass.

I plan to stop in to “Sip! Mendocino” in downtown Hopland, a one stop tasting room for numerous wineries who don’t have their own tasting room in the are.

Sip! Mendocino in downtown Hopland

DISCLOSURE: I was the guest of the Hopland Passport Association. Thank you for your hospitality.

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