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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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John On Wine – John gives thanks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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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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