John on wine – Spotlight Vineyard: Halcon Vineyard

This piece ran originally as a wine column in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, November 12, 2015

Paul Gordon sent me three wines for review last year, and I loved them so much that I was able to craft a pretty solid column around a review of three wines, that’s how good his Halcon Vineyard wines are.

After the piece ran, Paul invited me to visit the vineyard, and recently, well over a year after that initial invitation, I did just that, and the timing was great as I was able to taste a new, larger, lineup of current release and future wines, and see where they were born.

To get to Halcon Vineyards, you exit Highway 128 between Boonville and Yorkville, at mile marker 37.92, through a padlocked gate, and slowly climb north over four miles up a graded dirt road, taking a series of right or left choices at forks, always upward, until you reach what seemed like the top of the world.

Driving through the gate at Halcon Vineyard, at about 2,450 feet in elevation, I was met by Paul, Jackie Bracey, David Campbell, and Cookie the vineyard dog. Although the day was sunny, ever present winds, which reached over 90 mph this year, keep things cool. Paul told me he believes he has “probably the coolest Mourvedre planting in the world,” and we toured vineyard blocks where the first rows were dried into near permanent dormancy by constant wind.

Halcon Vineyards, atop the Yorkville Highlands AVA

Halcon Vineyards, atop the Yorkville Highlands AVA

The very cool climate of Halcon Vineyards in the Yorkville Highlands saw bud break come in March and April this year, a full month or more later than in other parts of Mendocino County. Halcon was planted ten years ago, in four distinct blocks, in serpentine and schist “s*** soil,” with lots of elevation changes, and south facing exposures.

The continuing drought, and cool climate, saw Syrah yields down about 25% this year with, “tiny berries, thick skins.” While certainly not a farmer’s dream, especially an organic farmer like Paul, the result is expected to be concentrated flavorful wines. Paul also shared that Pinot Noir is called the, “heartbreak grape,” only because those farmers don’t grow Grenache; “Grenache is the real heartbreak grape!”

Paul and Jackie plan to plant two white Rhone varieties, Marsanne and Rousanne, at Halcon, to complement the red Rhone varieties they grow, Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvedre. Until they grow their own white grapes, they buy fruit from Alder springs for their Prado white Rhone blend. Halcon also makes two Pinot Noir wines with fruit sourced from Anderson Valley’s Wentzel Vineyard and Oppenlander Vineyard near Comptche.

We ate as we tasted, and the day was made more lovely by the food, wine, and conversation

We ate as we tasted, and the day was made more lovely by the food, wine, and conversation

Wonderful hosts, Paul, Jackie, and David prepared pork, a cheese plate, salty olives, and an incredible fresh vegetable salsa to go with the wines we would taste. Very much surrounded by unspoiled wilds, as we ate and tasted, we saw red tails, kites, and harriers.

The lineup of Halcon Vineyard wines

The lineup of Halcon Vineyard wines

2013 Halcon Prado Alder Springs Mendocino County – 50/50 Marsanne and Rousanne, had a good malolactic mouthfeel, butterscotch on top of lemon, pear, and apple, was barrel fermented using 20% new oak, and was a great food wine.

2014 Halcon Pinot Noir Wentzel Vineyard Anderson Valley – 1/3rd whole cluster, a little under 20% new oak, mixture of Dijon clones, bright forward fruit, rich concentrated sweet tart cherry, earthy, a Goldilocks of wine balance…just right. Young, lots of ageing potential, but drinking great now.

2014 Halcon Pinot Noir Openlander Vineyard Mendocino County – there are many wineries producing Pinot Noir wines from Oppenlander fruit, but as every single one is delicious, I’ll never complain. Pretty much made in the same way as the Wentzel Pinot, but the fruit yields a plumier, deeper, touch of funkier wine of black cherry, and supple but evident tannin.

2013 Halcon Alturas Halcon Vineyard Yorkville Highlands – 100% Syrah, 1/3rd whole cluster, a little new oak, from a frost year yielding only one ton per acre, and the first year some Viognier stems were added for bright vinous notes and depth. I have to be honest, listening to Paul, with great food on a plate in front of me, and wine in my glass, enjoying the comradery of fellow wine lovers, I forgot I was tasting critically, and just put some in my mouth behind a bite of pork and salsa, and the result was an eyebrow raising, “ohhhh!”

Upon regaining my senses, I noted a dark berry perfumed, smooth and supple, f’ing gorgeous wine, made up of bright notes, dark notes, and tons of notes in between.

2014 Halcon Alturas Halcon Vineyard Yorkville Highlands (barrel sample) – Same wine grapes of the Shaw Block, made the same way, with much the same notes. It is drinking great, and could be bottled right now. So sexy, so supple. Touch of vine met by spice and fruit.

2014 Halcon Esquito Halcon Vineyards Yorkville Highlands – About 65% Grenache, 30% Mourvedre, and 5% Syrah blend. No new oak, 25% whole cluster. I love a Chateauneuf du Pape style GSM, or in this case a GMS, Rhone red blend, and this is a wonderful example of what a Rhone blend can, and should, be with spicy, dry, dusty, earthy, concentrated multi fruit notes.

The wines are currently made, and made well, in San Francisco, but Paul and Jackie are looking to build a winery on site in the future.

Paul Gordon and Jackie Bracey...plus Cookie the vineyard dog

Paul Gordon and Jackie Bracey…plus Cookie the vineyard dog

I admire Paul and Jackie, and everything they have accomplished with their Halcon wines. I see them as exuberant risk takers, buying 162 acres at an elevation guaranteed to result in a short growing season for the 15 acres they have planted to grapes, cold, frost, wind, and as remote as it gets; choosing to plant to Rhone varietals, hard to grow and hard to sell. To me, the risks are paying off, and I think of Halcon’s wines as Mendocino County’s cult wines, sought after by knowledgeable wine lovers if unknown to the general public.

Halcon’s wines are available for purchase, and occasionally open for tasting, at Sip Wine shop in Hopland, and can be ordered directly at http://www.halconvineyards.com.


Congratulations to Margaret Pedroni and Jennie Stevens of Knez Vineyard in Anderson Valley. Over the Halloween weekend, Margaret and Jennie were in San Francisco and sat for the Introductory Sommelier Course & Examination. Both passed their tests, and can now sport the red lapel pin of the Guild of Sommeliers.

Margaret Pedroni and Jennie Stevens' sommelier pins

Margaret Pedroni and Jennie Stevens’ sommelier pins

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, October 22, 2015

More and more, I find myself driving over Highway 253 from Ukiah to the Anderson Valley to taste wine. Most recently, I made the trip over the mountains to attend the Knez Wine Luncheon at their Demuth Vineyards winery location.

Not related to wine, but of note: on my drive, I saw a porcupine, a deer and a covey of quail, which is just one more reason why wine tasting in Mendocino County is worlds better than wine tasting in more built up Disney-esque wine regions.

The Knez winery facility is 2.5 miles up a dirt road, and when I say up, I mean UP, off road 150A, just east of the town of Boonville, off Highway 128. The setting was lovely, a beautiful blue sky day and perfectly warm temperatures, with a long table set up under the tented crush pad, right outside of the winery, atop the vineyard property.

I love attending events, rather than working them, but having shown up a little early, I helped set the tables and then made a quick run to the Knez tasting room, at the Madrones in nearby Philo on Highway 128, and back in Knez Director of Retail Goddessing (I am not certain this is the title on her business cards) Margaret Pedroni’s car with flappy paddle transmission. I must confess that rolling through the gears in her car was a genuine treat and, if not for the speedometer warning lights, the trip might have ended before it began as I am pretty sure her Lexus can bend time.

First, thanks to Margaret and Jennie Stevens from the tasting room, Vineyard Manager Ryan McAllister and Winemaker Anthony Filiberti from Knez for a wonderful wine experience.

Ryan led a tour of Demuth Vineyard. We looked down from the Demuth, past the Knez Vineyard, to the drop off leading to the steep Cerise Vineyard. Limited by time, and lacking Sherpas, we did not walk down to Cerise and back. Ryan talked about the organically grown grapes, in all ways except certification paperwork, the growing choices, the challenges, and the vintage. 2015 saw an earlier harvest, and “smaller crop, more skin to juice, high quality, but less juice.”

Knez vineyard manager Ryan McAllister. Photo by John Cesano

Knez vineyard manager Ryan McAllister. Photo by John Cesano

Ryan explained the drought led to smaller crop yields, but anticipated that with the vintage’s smaller grapes, and less inner pulp to skin, the flavors for the wines would be outstandingly flavorful, intense representations of both the vintage and vineyard.

Demuth Vineyard. Photo by John Cesano

Demuth Vineyard. Photo by John Cesano

Next: more thanks, this time to Julia Kendrick Conway, owner and chef of Assaggiare Mendocino, for catering a delicious lunch, and to your entire team for exemplary service. Lunch started with the 2013 Knez Demuth Chardonnay, paired with a Romaine salad with a pecorino vinaigrette and crispy chicken cracklings.

All salads should have chicken cracklin's (or pork). Photo by John Cesano

All salads should have chicken cracklin’s (or pork). Photo by John Cesano

Winemaker Anthony introduced the Chardonnay as, “structure and brightness well suited for food, from one of the most distinctive Chardonnay sites in California. Could age 15 years, look forward to three years from now. Acid goes with California’s fresh acid foods. 30 percent new oak and 100 percent malolactic.”

The apple, lemon and minerality of this Chardonnay saw it pair well with the vinegar dressing of the salad, and the rich mouthfeel worked nicely with the chicken cracklings.

Up next was grilled Noyo wild King salmon with roasted Meyer lemon relish, served over toasted Israeli couscous infused with saffron and fresh rosemary, and farm carrots roasted with Moroccan spices. Two wines were served with this course.

Salmon paired with two Knez wines. Photo by John Cesano

Salmon paired with two Knez wines. Photo by John Cesano

Of the 2012 Knez Demuth Pinot Noir, Anthony shared it was an “elegantly styled Pinot for the Boonville area; partly for elevation and partly for older vine age. We don’t get a lot of fruit, higher elevation just doesn’t set fruit well,” and the wine was all, “elegance and structure.” I picked up notes of forest, earthy, rose petal floral, and woody spice. And fruit. Lots of cherry-berry fruit.

A very happle table filled with good wine, food, and friends. Photo by John Cesano

A very happle table filled with good wine, food, and friends. Photo by John Cesano

Anthony described the 2012 Knez Cerise Pinot Noir as, “other older vine stuff, more robust. Same exact winemaking, you get more weight, structure, fruit; the style is dictated by what happens on the site; deeper red fruit, earthy, savory, structured.”

2012 Knez Cerise Pinot Noir. Photo by John Cesano

2012 Knez Cerise Pinot Noir. Photo by John Cesano

This was the bigger, deeper, more concentrated of the two wines. Both were delicious, but this was the one that paired better for me with the varied flavors of the food. Pinot Noir and salmon works, it always works, but the way the bright Meyer lemon notes in the meal, or the earthy herby notes of the rosemary and saffron couscous, or the heavier accented Moroccan spices in the roasted carrots played against these two wines, and especially the Cerise Pinot Noir, was a delight.

Edible spoonfuls of yum for dessert. Photo by John Cesano

Edible spoonfuls of yum for dessert. Photo by John Cesano

Speaking of delights, Julia served up five-spice crème brulee in edible spoons, one chocolate and one spiced cookie. The cookie spooned crème brulee was fantastic and I could have, and would have, eaten a half dozen happily. The only thing better was when the dessert was paired with the 2014 Knez Vineyard White Blend wine, a blend of Pinot Gris, Malvasia, and Friulano, a super Italian white blend; exotic, aromatic, and, “southern Italian in its styling,” according to Anthony. I got loads of citrus, spice and bright floral notes.

Anthony then led us on a winery tour and dipped a large cup into a bin of two thirds whole cluster Syrah, offering us tastes communion chalice style. With only 40 percent of the normal yield, for the 2015 vintage, this was richly flavored juice. Anthony then indulged my request for some barrel tasting, with the wines only in barrel for mere days.

Inside the fermenting bin of Syrah at Knez. Photo by John Cesano

Inside the fermenting bin of Syrah at Knez. Photo by John Cesano

Tasting different clones of Pinot Noir showed how completely different wine flavors could be, and tasting wine held in new oak showed how impactful the barrel flavors could be when compared to wine held in oak barrels used just once or twice previously.

Margaret and Jennie were busy at event’s end, as happy guests placed wine orders, many choosing to sign up for the Knez wine club to enjoy discounts beginning immediately. Visit the Knez tasting room at the Madrones in Philo, across Highway 128 from Balo; taste wines, sign up for the wine club and save money, and get on the mailing list so you can attend next year’s wonderful lunch at the Knez winery site at their vineyards.


John Cesano of John on Wine


John On Wine: Spotlight winery – Knez Winery

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, March 5, 2015

ABC television’s ‘Schoolhouse Rock’ taught us that, “three is a magic number.” Knez Winery has the magic three going on three ways.

Three vineyards: Demuth Vineyard, Cerise Vineyard, and Knez Vineyard, all organic and farmed following biodynamic practices.

Three wine grape varieties: Pinot Noir, Syrah and Chardonnay.

Three wine shepherds: vineyard manager Ryan McAllister, winemaker Anthony Filiberti and tasting room manager Margaret Pedroni.

To have a glass in hand, swirling free some heady rich aromas, to sip and taste the many layered depth, to experience all that is wonderful about the wines of Knez Winery in the Anderson Valley, you have to visit their beautiful, stylish, tasting room in the Madrones, an upscale collection of winery tasting rooms, restaurant and inn, on Highway 128 in Anderson Valley’s town of Philo.

Knez Tasting Room on Hwy 128 in Philo

Knez Tasting Room on Hwy 128 in Philo

My friend Margaret runs the Knez Vineyard tasting room, and visiting with her last month, and with Jennie Stevens on a previous visit, I tasted through all of the current releases at Knez.

Straight up: Damn, these are some seriously good wines. I am so happy for Margaret that each day at work involves pouring wines that she can be proud of, thrilled to pour and excited to share the story of.

Of course, each wine Margaret pours starts as grapes grown by Ryan on one of the three vineyards, and then is made into a stunning wine by Anthony, before Margaret decides it has matured enough to be poured. Thoughtful decisions naturally arrived at, by skilled managers, make each taste a special moment to experience and savor.

The Demuth Vineyard is 15 acres planted 30 years ago by the Demuth family at 1,400 to 1,700 feet elevation, and dry farmed. There are two blocks of Pinot Noir, planted to Wadenswil and Pommard clones, totaling seven acres, and Chardonnay, planted to old Wente clone, totaling eight acres.

The 2013 Knez Winery Chardonnay, Demuth Vineyard, Anderson Valley, $39, saw a little malolactic, part of it saw new oak, some used oak, and some was held in stainless steel. The result is a multi-noted wine with nuance and complexity; delicate white peach, cream custard, pineapple, citrus. 93 Points from Antonio Galloni.

The 2012 Knez Winery Pinot Noir, Demuth Vineyard, Anderson Valley, $47, shows rose petal, violet, herb, spice, cedar, oak, brambly persimmon, candied cherry, and orange peel. 93 Points from Antonio Galloni.

The Cerise Vineyard was planted in 1995, and grows 10 different clones of Pinot Noir in 15 blocks on 38 acres planted on sloping shallow at 700 to 1,100 feet elevation.

2011 Knez Winery Pinot Noir, Cerise Vineyard, Anderson Valley, $47, was plummy, with sherry pungency, and a steamed artichoke heart earthy vegetal component, supporting the fruit, in a tight band of many flavors. 93 Points from Antonio Galloni.

2011 Knez Pinot Noir, Cerise

2011 Knez Pinot Noir, Cerise

The 2012 Knez Winery Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, $34, takes grapes from both vineyards, about two-thirds Cerise and one-third Demuth. One taste and you can hear angels sing! Dark black cherry, balancing green tea and lush fruit, smooth but evident tannins, together provide mouthfeel and promise age worthiness. This wine is an iron fist in a leather glove. 90 Points from Antonio Galloni.

2012 Knez Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley

2012 Knez Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley

The Knez Vineyard is six acres, was planted in 2009, and connects Demuth to Cerise, at 1,200 to 1,600 feet elevation. Four acres of Pinot Noir are planted above two one-acre block, the first planted to Syrah and Viognier and the second planted to Pinot Gris, Friulano and Malvasia.

The 2013 Knez Winery Syrah, Knez Vineyard, Anderson Valley, $39, shows big meaty animal fruit, with white pepper and floral notes. This Syrah has remarkable intensity, like a tightly wound spring, and shows surprising minerality considering the youthfulness of the vineyard. Bright, tight tannins. Will cellar well. 95 Points from Antonio Galloni.

Winemaker Anthony Filiburti has crafted some real gems for Knez Winery.

Antonio Galloni was noted wine critic Robert Parker’s man for California wine reviews in the Wine Advocate, before striking out on his own, then buying Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar review guide, and creating his own subscription wine review platform, Vinous. The consistently high scores for these wines from Galloni are merited, and validate the program at Knez Winery.

Knez has also found their way onto San Francisco Chronicle wine editor Jon Bonne’s current (and previous) ‘Top 100 Wines of the Year’ list.

Do yourself a huge favor, visit Margaret at her tasting room, Thursday through Monday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., at The Madrones, 9000 Highway 128, Philo CA 95466, or call (707) 895-3365 for information about joining a wine club.


My favorite distillery, the American Craft Whiskey Distillery, will host their first Grand Whiskey Tasting event this Saturday, March 7, 2015, 1 p.m. at the distillery in Redwood Valley.

Jack Crispin Cain tasted through his array of liquid treats with me for a previous piece.

Jack Crispin Cain tasted through his array of liquid treats with me for a previous piece.

Distiller extraordinaire Jack Crispin Cain will pour a variety of Low Gap treats, including the 2-year-old Malted Wheat whiskey, Corn Barley Blended whiskey, Malted Rye Whiskey, barrel tastings of the Bourbon to be released October 2015, and more.

Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman’s Facebook group, Mendocino Bourbon Group, has grabbed up all of the spots. Happily, I am in the group, am pleased to purchase a ticket, and I’ll be attending with notebook so I can recap the event here in a future post.

The next chance for the general public to taste and purchase many of the whiskeys directly will be during A Taste of Redwood Valley, on Father’s Day weekend, Saturday, June 20 and Sunday, June 21, 2015.

Easier might be stepping up to the bar at Ukiah’s newest restaurant, Ritual, where Low Gap Whiskey is served.

John On Wine ­ – Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, May 22, 2014
By John Cesano


For me, this year’s Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival started last Thursday at Champ de Reves, which translates as Field of Dreams, in Philo. Dr. Edmeades planted the first Pinot Noir grapes in the Anderson Valley 50 years ago, and started making, selling wine from his grapes in 1972. In 1988, Jackson Family Wines, the empire Kendall-Jackson built, bought Edmeades and now it has been rechristened Champ de Reves. The location and the view of a big chunk of the valley was gorgeous. The wines were selected by winery owners from throughout the valley and the dinner of carved roast beef and plank salmon was made spectacular by both their wines and their company.

I was fortunate and sat with Allan Green of Greenwood Ridge; Mary Elke of Elke; Douglas Stewart of Lichen; John Osborne, an event volunteer; and Laura Barnard, who works in marketing for Jackson Family Wines’ West Burgundy Wine Group, of which Champ de Reves is just one winery. After dinner we were also joined in conversation by Paula Viehmann of Goldeneye.

Friday morning started early with coffee and a selection of quiches prepared by Julia Kendrick Conway, as winemakers, press, and consumers gathered at the fairgrounds in Boonville for a technical conference. Greg Walter, publisher of the Pinot Report, introduced the morning’s sessions, which featured The Nature Conservancy’s Jason Pelletier sharing the results of an incredibly detailed study on water flow and water use throughout the year. The study focused on grape growing water demands within the Navarro watershed and then segued into a similar talk by Jennifer Carah, but with a focus on marijuana growing water demands. Unsurprisingly, marijuana growths use much more water — 19 to 50 times more — for production, and do not share the same land and water stewardship ethos as many grape growers. This is especially significant in drought years ­ like this year.

Glenn McGourty gave a talk on best practices for grape growing during a drought year, or years. Winemakers in attendance were certainly leaning forward during this session. Lunch was delicious, prepared by Boont Berry Farm and paired with a huge selection of Pinot Noir from the Anderson Valley. After lunch, there were two tasting sessions. The first focused on the many faces of Pinot Noir and featured Arnaud Weyrich’s zero skin contact Pinot Noir, picked early, and briskly acidic for Roederer’s bubbly; Alex Crangle’s White Noir for Balo; the Dry Rose of Pinot Noir by Jim Klein of Navarro; the round, rich red Pinot Noir by Anthony Filiberti of Knez; and the purple dark version made by Michael Fay of Goldeneye.

Next, we looked at the fruit of Angel Camp Vineyard and how different winemakers used it to make distinctly different wines; the winemakers and wineries featured were Brian Zalaznik of Angel Camp, Dan Goldfield of Dutton Goldfield, and Anne Moller-Racke of Donum. The technical conference ended with a sharing of accumulated extensive knowledge by Clark Smith on the arcana of winemaking.

Friday night’s dinner was a barbecue at Foursight Winery with grilled lamb from Bone Daddy of Bones Roadhouse and music by Dean Titus & The Cowboys. Relaxed, fun, another delicious event with enough Pinot Noir to fill an Olympic sized swimming pool, I sat with folks from Southern California and Washington who heard about the event from someone they ran into in the Middle East. It turns out I knew who they were talking about, John Gaudette. The world of wine is close and doesn’t need a full six degrees of separation to connect us all, I’m convinced.

Saturday morning, Margaret Pedroni, Mendocino County wine personality, joined me at Balo in Philo for an early private press tasting. The Ukiah Daily Journal was represented beside tasters from Wine Enthusiast, Wine Spectator, Wine & Spirits, Connoisseurs’ Guide, San Francisco Chronicle, Examiner, Pinot Report, Pinot File, and more. Heads down, no talking, serious tasting. I’ve done it before, but I preferred the fun and conviviality of the Grand Tasting that followed at Goldeneye.

Goldeneye has a breathtakingly beautiful tasting room and the Grand Tasting event was held behind the tasting room under the shade of a huge white tent in their vineyards. About 750 ticketed guests Pinot Noir based wines; bubblies, blancs, roses, and full on reds; from all of the producers in Anderson Valley and a few producers from farther away who make one or more wines exclusively from Anderson Valley Pinot Noir grapes. Not too big, not too small, but just right, with opportunities to place silent auction bids on donated Pinot-centric items to help the Anderson Valley Health Center, plenty of exceptional food bites, water and soda to remain hydrated, and the fermented juice of Pinot Noir grapes from 45 producers to experience.

I tasted more than 100 wines over the course of the weekend, one was corked ­ and poured at the press tasting ­ but I had tasted it elsewhere already, one didn’t really make me love it, but the vast majority of wines I tasted, over 99 percent, were good at least and great at best. The 2011 vintage wines were brighter and more elegant, coming from a cooler year and the 2012 vintage, being warmer, yielded wines of greater weight and intensity. All of the wines taste of cherry, that is Pinot Noir, but the expressions were varied: black cherry, red cherry, candied cherry, dried cherry, and the supporting notes ranged the gamut from rose petal to cedar, and mushroom to barnyard funk. Some of the Pinot Noir I loved included the 2012 Fel Wines, Ferrington Vineyard; 2007 Elke Pinot Noir, Donnelly Creek Vineyard; 2011 Witching Stick, Cerise Vineyard; 2011 Williams Selyem, Ferrington Vineyard; 2011 Donum, Angel Camp Vineyard; 2012 Baxter, Anderson Valley; 2011 Goldeneye, Gowan Creek Vineyard; 2012 Waits-Mast, Deer Meadow’s Vineyard; and both the 2012 Lichen, Estate and Solera Lichen, Estate. That’s my unordered top 10 for this past weekend.

I urge you to visit the Anderson Valley, taste their Pinot Noir, and their other wines, notably Alsatian varietals like Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, and Riesling, and find your favorites. Also mark the third weekend of May next year on your calendar and plan on attending the 18th annual Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival next year. Huge thanks to my hosts, the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association, and Janis MacDonald and Kristy Charles specifically, for the kind invitation and warm welcome. I had a terrific weekend because you present a first class festival.


John On Wine – ­ A Mendo bubbly fest recap

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


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

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

A Gathering of friends

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

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

Bubbly Gathering

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bubbly Feast

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John on Wine

Spotlight Winery: Ray’s Station

By John Cesano

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal on June 20, 2013

So, wine lover that you are, you were driving on Highway 101 through Hopland and noticed the new sign for Ray’s Station where there used to be a sign for Weibel and wondered what’s going on. Let me tell you, there is a new winery tasting room in town.

Ray’s Station is the Mendocino jewel in the many jeweled crown that makes up the wineries owned by Vintage Wine Estates. Sister wineries include Girard and Cosentino in Napa County, and Windsor Vineyards and Sonoma Coast Vineyards in Sonoma County.

“Ray’s Station wines are a tribute to the intrepid, pioneer spirit of John G. Ray and his unique brand of rugged individualism,” explains the new wine brand’s website. “In 1846, former Army Captain John G. Ray moved West to the rough-and-tumble frontier of Northern California… Hard-working and self-reliant, Ray struck it rich in the Gold Rush. He gathered his family and their earnings ­ literally pickle jars full of gold dust ­ and… in 1859, John G. Ray opened Ray’s Station along the stagecoach route to the geysers… Parched travelers and their weary horses would stop at Ray’s Station… Libations flowed, the food was filling, and the accommodations ­rustic at best… John G. Ray became a local legend for his rustic yet warm hospitality.”

When Weibel sold their winery on Highway 175 between Hopland and Lakeport to Vintage Wine Estates, owners of the Ray’s Station brand, followed by a transfer of their downtown Hopland tasting room lease shortly after, the folks at Vintage Wine Estates demonstrated brilliant business sense by offering Margaret Pedroni and the team she had built with Weibel new jobs opening the Ray’s Station tasting room.

I have often said that people matter enormously in this industry and the community is especially fond of Margaret, who has done an amazing amount for the local wine scene, so it is great news that Margaret is the tasting room manager at the new Ray’s Station tasting room.

Margaret is ably joined by Ashley Quiroga and Jen McAllister in rounding out the crew.

Margaret recently tasted me through the new lineup of wines she is pouring at Ray’s Station. I would encourage my readers to give her a visit, and the wines a taste. Starting a new tasting room is difficult, and I would love it if we could get her a few extra visitors here in the early days. Here are my notes on some of the wines, hopefully they will inspire you to come say hi to Margaret and her team.

NV Ray’s Station Brut, North Coast, $27 ­ This sparkling brut is a blend of 65 percent Chardonnay and 35 percent Pinot Noir, has a nice tight bubble structure, and a nose and flavors of tropical pineapple, peach fruit, and yeasty bread.

2011 Ray’s Station Sauvignon Blanc, North Coast, $16 ­ Tons of seductive aromatics: mown hay (it’s a good smell), citrusy orange and lemon, lush and fleshy fruit..

2010 Ray’s Station Chardonnay, Mendocino, $14 ­ Really nice. Terrific value. Oak, toast, and butter meet citrus, apple, and pear, and they all have a party in your mouth.

2012 Ray’s Station Rose of Carignane, North Coast, $16 ­ This is gorgeously colored, think of a pink carnation and you’ve got the color, while the weight offers a nice mouthfeel, and the flavors are rose petal and strawberry cream. Folks are going to love this.

2011 Ray’s station Zinfandel, North Coast, $17 ­ Rich nose of caramel, butter, and dark berry follows right through to the mouth where the fresh fruit flavors, are met by a touch of oak and nice bright acidity. The result is a feminine, very enjoyably drinkable Zin.

2007 Ray’s Station Syrah, Mendocino, $20 ­ Straight up, this wine is the bomb. Inky purple color, extracted red, purple, and black fruit, cassis – dry – really long finish. Cedar wood notes, supple tannin, leathery, currant, cherry, plum, and on and on and on. Any lineup with this wine in it is a good wine line up.

I also tasted a wonderful red blend called Ray’s Red and a solidly enjoyable soft Merlot that I liked very much.

Margaret’s signature graces two wines she helped complete; the 2008 Weibel Coro Mendocino, and the upcoming 2010 Ray’s Station Coro Mendocino which will be released on Saturday, June 22 at the Little River Inn.

The Ray’s Station tasting room is located where the old Weibel tasting room was, right next to Graziano, at 13275 South Highway 101 Suite 1, and is open daily from 10 a.m.-5 p.m.


John Cesano likes all of his winery neighbors, but is especially grateful for Margaret’s friendship.





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