John On Wine – Wine blends, both European and local

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, October 2, 2014

Recently, I received an email from David and Merry Jo Velasquez of Cannon Falls, MN; after visiting the tasting room where I work and finding this wine column, they visited France and suggested a column, “outlining the GSM grape varieties that make Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine so popular, and which winemakers are doing similar blends in Northern CA,” as well as exploring the “French law/custom [that] allows 13 grape varieties to be used in CdP wines…[and] other stringent requirements which were fascinating to learn about.” They also mentioned the “terroir” (the land, climate, the environment grape vines grow in) and sent some terrific photos.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape vineyard

Châteauneuf-du-Pape vineyard

Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a town in the Rhone wine region of southeastern France. Red varieties allowed are Cinsaut, Counoise, Grenache Noir, Mourvèdre, Muscardin, Piquepoul Noir, Syrah, Terret Noir, and Vaccarèse (Brun Argenté). White and pink varieties are Bourboulenc, Clairette Blanche, Clairette Rose, Grenache Blanc, Grenache Gris, Picardan, Piquepoul Blanc, Piquepoul Gris, and Roussanne. The 13 varieties historically mentioned by David and Merry Jo have expanded to 18, as today the Noir (black/red), Gris (grey), and Blanc (white) versions of individual grape varieties are considered separate.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape red grapes reaching maturity - note the rounded stones in the vineyard that the vines fight through

Châteauneuf-du-Pape red grapes reaching maturity – note the rounded stones in the vineyard that the vines fight through

Famed for GSM (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre) Rhone blends, some of my favorite wines tasted have come from Châteauneuf-du-Pape. By far, most of Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines are red, and most use Grenache as the base, or largest element, of their blends. Lighter in body, two things allow for wines of greater intensity:

First, yields are reduced with local laws prohibiting greater than 368 gallons to be produced per acre of fruit. By dropping fruit during the growing season, the remaining fruit receives greater vitality from the vine, and the result is greater flavor. Second, instead of holding the wines in oak barrels, and having the oak overpower the flavors of the grape, much of the wine is held in concrete containers, a neutral container that better protects against oxidation than oak during winemaking. Here, in northern California, there are a number of wineries using Rhone varietals who have purchased concrete ‘eggs’ to make their wine in.

Richly ripe white grapes from Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Richly ripe white grapes from Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Blends done right are wines greater than the sum of their parts. Often Cabernet Sauvignon, a big firm wine, will have some Merlot blended in as the Merlot will soften the wine; and the reverse is true, an overly soft Merlot can benefit from the backbone a little Cabernet Sauvignon can offer to the blended wine’s structure.

Just as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are often blended together, so too are Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, and Zinfandel and Carignane. There are many ‘classic’ blends, and they are classics because they work, the wines blended are often better than the wines held separate.

In California, as long as there is 75% or more of any single wine grape variety in the wine then that grape variety can be used on the label; in other words, the Zinfandel you buy at the store has at least 75% and up to a full 100% of Zinfandel in the bottle, but might contain some other wine grape varieties – up to 25% in total. There are many local wineries that make stellar blend wines, and do not bother with hitting 75% of any varietal, instead giving their blend wine a fanciful proprietary name like Black Quarto, Atrea Old Soul Red, or Campo de Stella.

In Europe, wines are named for the areas they come from, and a Châteauneuf-du-Pape red wine can be made from any of nine grape varieties and is most often a blend, while a red wine from Bordeaux will be made from a shorter list of grapes, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Carménère. Just as Châteauneuf-du-Pape has a protocol, part law and part tradition, for making wine, so too does Bordeaux, and nearly every other geographically identifiable wine area in Europe.

Meritage (rhymes with heritage, it is an American wine, not French, so please do not force a French mispronunciation) is a wine made outside of Bordeaux using the grapes used in Bordeaux, where an individual grape variety does not meet the minimum percentage threshold allowing the wine to receive a grape variety name. Starting as a California only association of blended wines, Meritage wines expanded first to the United States, and then internationally.

In all of the United States, there is only one geographically identifiable area that makes wines from an agreed upon list of grapes, and following an agreed upon production protocol, following the European model, but is by agreement among the participating wineries and not under force of law, and that unique in America area is Mendocino County, and the wines are Coro Mendocino.

A Quintet of Coro Mendocino Wines

A Quintet of Coro Mendocino Wines

Coro is Italian for Chorus and, just as a chorus should be a harmonious blending of voices, Coro wines should be a harmonious blending of grape varieties. Every Coro Mendocino starts with Zinfandel, Mendocino County’s most planted grape, and must contain no less than 40% and no more than 70% Zinfandel. Of note is that there is not enough Zinfandel, 75% minimum, to label the wine as a Zinfandel. The supporting ‘blend’ grapes include Syrah, Petite Sirah, Carignane, Sangiovese, Grenache, Dolcetto, Charbono, Barbera, Primitivo, plus up to 10% “free play” where an individual participating Coro Mendocino winery can allow their signature style to shine through, with an Anderson Valley winery blending in some Pinot Noir or inland Mendocino winery blending in some Cabernet Sauvignon as an example. None of the supporting blend grapes is to exceed the percentage of Zinfandel in the finished wine.

Coro Mendocino wines also adhere to winemaking protocols, with wine chemistry limits and oak and bottle aging spelled out for participants. Perhaps the most unique aspect of the Coro Mendocino program is that each winery puts their wines through a rigorous quality assurance regimen; first the wines are blind tasted several times as barrel samples by all the participating wineries with constructive criticism offered up for each wine in an effort to produce the very best wines possible, and then the wines go through a pass/fail, Coro/No-Coro, blind tasting before they may carry the Coro Mendocino label.

Each Coro within a vintage, winery to winery, is different, just as each Coro within a winery, vintage to vintage, is different, and yet there is a thread that ties all Coro Mendocino wines together, in much the same way that all wines from Châteauneuf-du-Pape or Bordeaux are tied together, but with an assurance of quality.

Barra, Brutocao, Clos du Bois, Fetzer, Golden, McFadden, Parducci, and Testa each made a Coro in the most recently released vintage, 2011, and the wines can be tasted and purchased at each individual winery’s tasting room, or all can be purchased at SIP! Mendocino in Hopland. The best of the Coro from each vintage, produced from organically grown grapes, is also available at the Ukiah co-op and on Patrona restaurant’s wine list in Ukiah.

If there is any question about how much I love doing what I do, inside my tasting room or outside, pouring my wines or any of the county’s best wines, this picture captured by Aubrey Rawlins of Mendoicino Winegrowers Inc should answer that question amply. I love pouring wines for folks.

John Cesano pours wine at an event focused on Mendocino County's organic, biodynamic grown wine grapes and the wines made from those grapes. (Photo by Aubrey Rawlins)

Here’s the column that was born at this incredibly fun wine press event, enjoy:

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John On Wine – Mendocino County’s Green Wine Growers

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal on Thursday, September 25, 2014

On a sunny Tuesday not long ago, I had the opportunity to pour wines at Danny Fetzer’s Jeriko Estate dirty dog river bar over an alfresco taco bar lunch for a group of influential wine writers and buyers in place of my boss, Guinness McFadden, who was at McFadden Farm for his 24th consecutive annual certification inspection as an organic grower of wine grapes, herbs, and beef.

His absence was understandable to all assembled, as the event was focused on Mendocino County’s organic and biodynamic grown wine grapes and the wines made from those grapes; all of the winery owners present had been through similar inspections.

Upfront, I want to thank Mendocino Winegrowers, Inc, our membership based wine and grape marketing group, for putting on a three day series of tastings; and I want to thank the attendees: Wine Enthusiast Magazine’s Jim Gordon, San Francisco Chronicle Carey Sweet, CIA Greystone’s Robert Bath, Huffington Post’s Mary Orlin, Ferry Plaza Wine Bar’s Peter Granoff, BevMo’s Jim Lombardo, 7×7 Magazine’s Courtney Humiston, Wine Business Monthly’s Mary Collen Tinney, Gary Danko’s Andrew Browne, and Writing Between the Vines’ Marcy Gordon (who once hosted me at her home for a tasting of Virginia’s best wines).

I also have to thank Ann Krohn of Frey Organic Wine; Ann either asked me a question or offered a kind comment that inspired me to launch into a monologue on what, to me, makes the Mendocino County wine scene special. When finished, I knew I had delivered a wine column.

In a previous job, I visited hundreds of winery tasting rooms in 42 California counties and saw the good and bad, but too rarely did I see the great. Too often, winery tasting room personnel would silently evaluate the worth of a visitor, judging based on the car you drove up in or the color of your credit card, and try to extract your money in the least amount of time while pouring the fewest number of wines.

I love being in a place that celebrates complimentary pouring, I tell folks they are at a tasting, not a bar, and explain what the dump bucket is used for, and give visitors an experience, an hour long tasting of 12 or more wines, with a story for each wine, and when finished I hope our guests feel a connection to the farm our grapes come from.

I would love to believe that I am the best tasting room manager on the planet, but the love that I feel for the grapes and wines that come from my farm is echoed in the presentations by my counterparts at winery tasting room after winery tasting room throughout Mendocino County.

Fully 75% of the wine grapes grown in Mendocino County end up bought and made into wines by wineries in Napa and Sonoma Counties. Mendocino is a farm county. Our county is also home to the greatest concentration of certified organic and biodynamic wine grape growers, which is important to consumers who wish to avoid Monsanto Round Up grown wines (often misleadingly labeled “sustainable”).

Being a farm county with an emphasis on green growing practices, the wines are more closely tied to the land, and a land that has been farmed proudly.

Tasting room managers feel that pride, and we share a similar passion as we share remarkably similar stories with our guests.

Personally, I get to see the vintage play out on Guinness’ face, good or tough. Everything is tied to the land, the farm. I am pouring a direct extension of that farm. These are not wines made from bought grapes; the connection between grapes and wine is far more visceral for me and, after a shared wine experience, I hope the folks who taste with me feel a sense of that connection as well.

At the river bar lunch, I poured the 2014 California State Fair Best of Show Sparkling Wine for the day’s tasters, and a Pinot Gris that attendee Jim Gordon had rated 90 points and designated an Editors’ Choice wine, before inviting them all to stop by and taste all the other wines at the tasting room another attendee, Carey Sweet, had rated the highest in over five years of tasting reviews in the San Francisco Chronicle.

I am not shy, and made use of the opportunity I had, but I could have just as easily been pouring the wines for any of the other wineries present that day, and my message would have been just as passionate, just as compelling. The other wines made from organic grapes, biodynamic grapes, poured were from some of the county’s most iconic growers and wineries: Barra of Mendocino, Frey Vineyards, Handley Cellars, and the day’s host Jeriko Estate.

I’m not knocking wines made with Round Up, although Googling “Round Up Health Risks” might leave you conventional wine averse, or turning to wines labeled organic, made with organically grown grapes, or biodynamic, and I would completely understand. The folks at the river bar on that sunny Tuesday enjoyed delicious wines, and every single person from a winery was as proud of those wines as you can be. The wines were made by wineries that care about the land, and so that care is translated to the wine. I believe this is at the core of what makes Mendocino County wines special.

For more on the subject of genuinely green wines, I recommend Pam Strayer’s wine blog, Organic Wines Uncorked, at www.winecountrygeographic.blogspot.com

Tomorrow, the writers who devote the most time to tasting Mendocino county wines throughout the year, who write the most words about Mendocino County wines for newspapers and magazines, will gather in judgement of the entries for the 2014 Mendocino County Fair Wine Competition.

All work and no play is not how things are done in Mendocino County.

Today, the Coro Mendocino winemakers will pour a selection of library wines for those judges, an opportunity for them to relax and enjoy Mendocino County’s flagship wine.

Tonight, Destination Hopland and Mendocino Winegrowers, Inc. present a welcome dinner for the judges at Seebass Family Vineyard and Wines.

Here’s a working menu, featuring wines and farm goods from both Seebass Family Wines and McFadden Farm, as well as the local, organic, delicious bounty of the top artisanal purveyors of food and ingredients from throughout Mendocino County:

APPETIZERS – standing – passed – Paired with McFadden 2009 Reserve Brut

Bruschetta – Schat’s bread with white bean puree and sundried tomatoes and basil
Bread – Schat’s baguette
Olive Oil – Terra Savia/Olivino
Sundried tomatoes – Seebass
Speckled bayo beans – McFadden Farm
Basil – Seebass

Meat Balls – spiced beef meat balls
Beef – McFadden Farm
Egg – Seebass
Onions – Cinnamon Bear Farms
Herbs – McFadden Farm grilling herbs, lemon pepper, and garlic powder
Bread Crumbs – Schat’s

SALAD – Greens with champagne vinaigrette, roasted fresh beets and goat cheese – Paired with Seebass Barrel-Sampled 2011 Old Vine Zinfandel
Greens – Seebass
Edible flowers – Seebass
Beets – Cinnamon Bear Farms
Goat cheese – Pennyroyal Farms
Bacon crumbles – Mendocino Organics
Champagne vinaigrette – McFadden Sparkling Brut Rose, Terra Savia/Olivino olive oil, mustard, acid

GAZPACHO – Chunkier version with avocado garnish – Paired with McFadden 2007 Pinot Noir
Tomatoes – Cinnamon Bear
Cucumbers – Seebass
Red Onions – Cinnamon Bear
Cilantro – Cinnamon Bear
Red wine – 2010 McFadden Coro Mendocino
Chicken stock – Seebass
Avocado
Lime

SALMON – Broiled fresh wild king salmon with peach salsa – Paired with Seebass 2011 Grand Reserve Chardonnay
Salmon – The Fish Peddler
Peaches – Cinnamon Bear
Red Onion – Cinnamon Bear
Cilantro – Cinnamon Bear
Lime

LAMB – Herb crusted grilled Mediterranean lamb leg with wild rice, gold raisin and parley and grilled summer squash with plum/stone fruit wine reduction glaze – Paired with 2011 Seebass Syrah
Lamb – Mendocino Organics
Herbs – cumin +
Wild rice – McFadden Farm
Golden raisins – Seebass
Parsley, fresh herbs – Seebass
Baby zucchini – Seebass

CHEESEPaired with McFadden 2012 Riesling
Hard cheeses – Pennyroyal Farms
Spiced Walnuts – Seebass
Honey – Seebass

DESSERT – Blackberry crumble with homemade vanilla ice cream and dark chocolate drizzle – Paired with McFadden 2009 Coro
Blackberries – Seebass
Crumble – Flour, butter, brown sugar, nuts
Dark chocolate, melted –
Homemade ice cream – cream, vanilla, eggs – Seebass

Coffee – Black Oak
Tea – Mendocino Tea
Cream -

After tasting Mendocino County’s best wines tomorrow morning and afternoon, after deciding upon Silver and Gold medals, and Best of Red and Best of White honors; the judges will enjoy one more fine meal. The best part is that you can join them for this event!

The Mendocino County Fair Wine Competition awards dinner and ceremony will be tomorrow, Friday, August 1 at 6:00 p.m. at the Mendocino College Student Plaza. Dinner will be three courses by Chef Nicholas Petti of Mendo Bistro and his team of culinary students from the college, accompanied by wines entered into competition. Tickets are only $55 and available at mendocinowinecompetition.eventbrite.com or at the event.

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John On Wine – Hunting up great wine
Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on  July 24, 2014

John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

Can you imagine Jon Bonné, the wine editor for the San Francisco Chronicle, or Eric Asimov, the wine editor for the New York Times, sitting down to write a piece where they wonder in print which wine to use in a marinade for a jack rabbit their son shot in the head with an open sight 22 rifle and further, that while they were reaching for the wine, the rabbit was making a literal bloody mess of their kitchen as the skinning and gutting had not been done in the field?

The Ukiah Daily Journal wine column will always stand out as unique. We aren’t city folk, and this column will put an exclamation point on that. My son Charlie shot his first rabbit last night and brought the thing home, hoping I would help him dress it out. I used to hunt, but that was 35 years ago; I didn’t like gutting animals then, and I really didn’t want to do it last night. Charlie and his friend Jordan, with the help of YouTube videos for guidance, managed the task just fine.

I made a hasenpfeffer marinade, with a blend of 2008 V. Sattui Zinfandel, Black-Sears Vineyard, Howell Mountain, Napa Valley and 2013 Carol Shelton Wild Thing Rendezvous Rosé, Mendocino County (85% Mendocino County, Cox Vineyard, Ukiah, CCOF Certified Organically Grown; 15% Sonoma County, sustainably grown) wines. I also used red wine vinegar and a ton of herbs from the farm I work for.

Of course, I had to taste both wines. The 2008 V. Sattui Zinfandel was still big and bold as can be with dark black berry and earth notes, brambly fruit supported by wood. It was darn big, too big really. Great as a glass of wine by itself, but it was going to overpower the meat, so to soften the marinade a bit, I opened the 2013 Carol Shelton Wild Thing Rendezvous Rosé. This is such a delightful wine, sweet without being sugary, tart without being puckery, balanced bright succulent strawberry and watermelon fruit with a touch of citrus. The day’s temperature had been over 100 degrees, and the Carol Shelton Rosé was the better wine for summer season heat, while the V. Sattui Zin was more of a winter weight wine.

The rabbit meat will soak for four days and then the boys will cook it. Of course, I would never give the boys a taste of wine, so keep your letters to the editor about the perils of underage drinking to yourself, but if I were to let them taste a wine made to go with a wild hare, I think I would recommend the 2012 McFadden Old Vine Zinfandel. The McFadden Zin is cool climate grown, lower in alcohol, and brighter in fruit notes. A red wine, sweet tart candy noted – cherry, strawberry, and raspberry, with just a tickle of black pepper and herb in support of the fruit. Flavorful enough to go with wild rabbit, but light enough to not overpower it.

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On Friday, August 1, 2014, a group of respected wine writers will sit down to taste flight after flight of Mendocino County wines as judges for the 2014 Mendocino County Fair Wine Competition.

The competition is open to any wine made from Mendocino County grapes, even wineries from out of county may enter their Mendocino County wines. Wineries enter their wines in a spirit of friendly competition and winners get bragging rights for the following year.

The competition judging takes place in the morning and early afternoon, and the winners are announced at a fun dinner early the same evening.

Taste a delicious three course dinner prepared by the Mendocino College Culinary Arts program led by Chef Nicholas Petti of Mendo Bistro, while sampling award winning wines from the competition at the Mendocino County Fair Wine Competition Awards Ceremony and Dinner, open to the public, tickets are just $55 each. Again, the dinner and award ceremony are on Friday, August 1, 2014 from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. with plenty of wine from the competition to enjoy.

This year’s dinner benefits the Mendocino College Foundation.

Last year, I sat at a table with Potter Valley folk, and Gracia Brown of Visit Mendocino. Each time any Potter Valley wine award was mentioned, Bronze to Gold, our table cheered wildly. The fun and comradery of the dinner highlight the cooperative nature of the county, even at what is supposed to be a competition.

For your tickets, hit the LINK.

Not open to the public, but fun for the judges who come the day before the competition, there will be a tasting of Coro Mendocino wines hosted by Golden Vineyards in Hopland, and then a six course wine pairing dinner featuring wines of McFadden Farm and Seebass Family Wines plus the overwhelming bounty of fresh, organic, heirloom, and artisanal ingredients provided by Mendocino County’s best protein and produce growers, hosted by Seebass on Old River Road near Talmage

•••

Speaking of Seebass Family Wines, they recently opened a new tasting room in the Anderson Valley on Hwy 128.

Owners Michelle Myrenne Willoughby and husband Scott Willoughby run things, and their current releases include Chardonnay, Syrah, Merlot, and a Rosé of Grenache, called Fantasie. Look for an Old Vine Zinfandel this August 2014, and new 2013 vintage Chardonnay wines too.

Open 11-5 daily, the tasting room is in the heart of Boonville, right across the street from the Boonville Hotel; visit if you are in the area. This may be Anderson Valley’s only spot without Pinot Noir!

•••

EDITED TO ADD: Okay, a few more words for this online posting that didn’t appear in this week’s newspaper column…first I want to let you know that I made a change for this post and used a hyperlink to the Mendo Wine Comp Dinner Ticket page, where the newspaper piece had a web address as hyperlinks do not work in print ink.

Also, one more mention for this weekend’s Second Annual Anderson Valley Barrel Tasting Weekend event. $20 gets you a glass and wristband, with wonderful barrel tastings, Pinot Noir a major focus for most participating wineries, throughout the Anderson Valley and beyond…Yorkville Highland wineries will also be participating, making this more of a Highway 128 Barrel Tasting weekend (BT128). Online ticket sales have closed. You may purchase tickets at any one of the participating wineries during the event. Payment by cash or check is most appreciated to join the Saturday, July 26 and Sunday, July 27 fun. I will be attending this event as a guest of the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association, and I am grateful for the invitation.

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John On Wine – Mendocino wines win huge at 2014 CA State Fair

Party at McFadden coming up

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on July 3, 2014 by John Cesano

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The California State Fair starts next week, but the Commercial Wine Competition took place June 4-6, 2014, with 74 judges on 18 panels tasting 2,829 wine entries. On Tuesday, June 24, the Best of Show wine winners were invited to Sacramento where Golden Bear Trophies were handed out in recognition of California’s best wines.

First up, Ted Bennett, owner, and Jim Klein, winemaker, received the first wine award of the day for the 2013 Navarro Vineyards Late Harvest Riesling, the 2014 California State Fair Best of Show Dessert winner.

Next, Guinness McFadden received a Golden Bear Trophy for his NV McFadden Vineyard Sparkling Cuvee Brut, the 2014 California State Fair Best of Show Sparkling winner. Guinness also received a Joint Resolution from Assemblyman Chesbro and Senator Evans for his contributions as an organic and eco-friendly grower in Mendocino County for more than 40 years.

Ed St. Johns, owner, picked up his 2014 California State Fair Best of Show Pink award for the 2013 Pedroncelli Signature Selection Dry Creek Valley Dry Rosé of Zinfandel.

Carol Shelton was thrilled that the Best of Show White went to her 2012 Carol Shelton Wines Coquille Blanc, a Rhone style white blend. I worked with Carol for eight years, in the last Millennium, and I adore her. Kudos!

2010 Sterling Vineyards Platinum Napa Valley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon was the competition’s Best of Show Red winner, and Harry Hansen picked up the award.

Fetzer earned a Golden Bear for Best Value wine, the 2011 Fetzer Valley Oaks Moscato.

Finally, Jim and Ted from Navarro were invited back up onto the stage; Navarro earned the California Golden State Winery of the Year award, another Golden Bear trophy, for being the top awarded winery of the competition. With three wines receiving Double Gold and 98 Points or better, Navarro was far and away the top winery for 2014.

Mendocino County wineries earned four of the seven Golden Bear Trophies awarded from the California State Fair for wine: Navarro – Golden State Winery of the Year, Navarro – Best of Show Dessert, McFadden – Best of Show Sparkling, and Fetzer – Best Value; 98 points and Double Gold, each and every one of them.

Two of the other winners, Sterling and Carol Shelton buy Mendocino grapes to make some of their wines. Sterling buys Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling grapes from McFadden Farm in Potter Valley. Carol Shelton buys Zinfandel and Carignane grapes from Cox Vineyards in Ukiah, and is talking about possibly buying Sauvignon Blanc grapes from McFadden Farm, as well. Interestingly, Navarro has bought Gewurztraminer grapes from McFadden Farm in the past too. Fetzer also has bought McFadden Farm grapes. Somebody clearly has a great farm. The quality of grapes in Mendocino County, the wines they can produce, is evidenced by the concentration of Golden Bear Trophies won by Mendocino County wineries at this year’s CA State Fair.
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The annual party at McFadden Farm in Potter Valley is one of only two wine club parties I will go to every year, the other is the Blending Party at Testa Vineyard in Calpella. If I changed jobs, or retired, I would pay to come to these two parties without fail. I’ll write about Testa’s party in another column. This year’s annual party at McFadden Farm will be held next Saturday, July 12, from to 11 p.m.

Tickets are available online at www.McFaddenFarm.com or through the tasting room, (707) 744-8463.

The fun kicks off with a wine and appetizer reception at 5 p.m. on the banks of the upper Russian River on McFadden Farm at the north end of Potter Valley.

The adventurous may enjoy taking a farm walking tour with Guinness McFadden.

Dinner will be served a little after 6 p.m., and the menu, prepared by Chef Fontaine McFadden and several of her chef buddies, will be an assortment of locally raised grilled pork and lamb, vegetable dishes, salads and desserts. Our neighbor Mac Magruder, will be providing locally raised pork and lamb for grilling again.

Do I need to mention that McFadden wines and sparkling Brut will flow?

Guests will enjoy special first and last tastes of McFadden wines. In what has become a tradition, there will be a first tasting of a new release at the party: the 2012 McFadden Brut Rose – McFadden’s first Brut Rose ever – will pour. There will also be last tastes of a few wines that are otherwise sold out, saved in the library until the party.

Great news: the Kelly McFarling Band will return this year to provide live music.

After dinner, there will be raffle giveaways and a special sale offer exclusive to attendees.

As night falls, the party heats up as guests dance the night away, under the stars, on the river bank.

If you enjoy camping for free, we’ve got lots of room on our 500 acre farm to pitch a tent for a night of camping. Of the 225 who will attend, we expect many will also stay overnight for camping.

Tickets are $60 each, but McFadden Wine Club members can purchase two tickets at just $50 each. Children 12 and under are just $20 each. Tickets can be purchased online at www.McFaddenFarm.com, or by calling the McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room in Hopland between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. daily at (707) 744-8463. I hope to see you there.

 

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John On Wine ­ – The column from Yuma

Originally published June 13, 2014 in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper

The 2014 Orange County Fair Commercial Wine Competition, put on each year by the Orange County Wine Society is one of the largest and most respected wine competitions held each year. Entry to wineries is free, where most competitions charge $60 to $80 per wine entered, and this year’s 30th annual event saw 2,323 wine entries. Gold medals were awarded to 345 wines and only 38 wines ­ just over 1-1/2 percent of all wines entered – received the rare special recognition 4 Star Gold Medal, a unanimous vote for Gold from all judges and the equivalent of a Double Gold medal from other wine competitions.

These are the wines using Mendocino County grapes that earned one of these highest awards:

McFadden 2011 White Riesling Mendocino County, Potter Valley, Late Harvest;

Navarro Vineyards 2012 Syrah Mendocino;

Paul Dolan Vineyards 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon Mendocino County, Certified Organic;

Stephen & Walker Trust Winery Ltd. 2012 Chardonnay Mendocino Ridge, Limited Release, Botrytised;

Yorkville Cellars 2011 Sparkling Wine “Cuvee Brut”, Mendocino County Rennie Vineyard & Randall Hill Vineyard Certified Organic The Yorkville Cellars. Sparkling Brut was also selected as the Best of Class wine in the Premium Sparkling wines category. I should have a list of all the gold medals out of Orange County, plus results of the 2014 California State Fair are due soon and I’ll post more top awards from both of these competitions as I receive them.

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Last night, as I write this, I was backstage at The Joint at the Hard Rock in Las Vegas for the last show of Guns n’ Roses’ residency. Andrew Dice Clay did a surprise guest set before Nic Cage announced the band and Axl Rose and the gang took the stage at midnight playing nonstop until just past three in the morning. I saw many things that would make wine tastings considerably more interesting if incorporated in our tasting rooms. With elevating platforms, laser lights, pole dancers, pyrotechnics, and confetti cannons, I am confident that inland Mendocino winery tasting rooms could quickly outdraw Napa tasting rooms. I’m pretty sure the show would be the talk of Hopland Passport for years to come.

Now, and as you read this, I’m in Yuma, Ariz. with my brother visiting our stepfather. I was at a super-sized supermarket today and visited the wine aisles. Underneath a sign for Syrah and Petite Sirah were Riesling and Moscato, and the entire Zinfandel section was stocked with pink wines. I’m not in wine country anymore. There were no wines in two long aisles with a Mendocino County appellation. With temperatures well over 100 degrees all week, I do understand the pink and white wines in place of red wines on the shelves here; folks are going to drink a whole lot more chilled wines — maybe even wine with ice cubes — than big dry red wines. It is already plenty dry enough here in the desert. I have to be honest, there is very little wine forecast for me this week, but plenty of Bloody Marys and Budweiser.

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Recently, I wrote about the June 28 dinner at the Little River Inn to celebrate the release of eight 2011 vintage Coro Mendocino wines. Since then the menu was sent out, and it looks so good that I had to share it with you: Dinner menu prepared by Chef Marc Dym, hosted by the Coro Mendocino Winemakers.

Passed Appetizer Course – Taste a showcase of each winery’s sparkling, white and rosé wines with a trio of chilled shooters: tomato consommé w/ grilled steak and chives; sweet pea pureé w/ Dungeness crab & truffle oil; and cucumber vichyssoise w/ gulf shrimp and lemon oil during the cocktail hour.

Soup Course paired with the 2011 Coro wines from McFadden Farm, Clos du Bois Winery and Testa Vineyards – Seafood cioppino terrine: Dungeness crab, green lip mussels, and fish with traditional San Francisco cioppino garnishes.

Middle Course paired with the 2011 Coro wines from Brutocao Cellars, Golden Vineyards & Parducci Wine Cellars – Smoked duck breast salad: local greens, Mission figs, burrata cheese, almonds, Dijon & balsamic reduction

Entrée Course paired with 2011 Coro wines from Fetzer Vineyards & Barra of Mendocino – Confit pork osso buco: slow cooked pork shanks with saffron risotto, grilled broccolini & fennel tomato demi-glace.

Dessert – Sable Breton biscuit with warm blackberry compote and Penny Royal Laychee fresh goat milk cheese.

Seating is limited; Reservations are required. The cost is $500 per couple, so call the Little River Inn to secure your place at the dinner, (707) 937-5942. Every time I write $500 for dinner, I cringe. Every time I mention it in my tasting room to new folks, they cringe. Then I explain that the $500 is for two dinners, a couple, and includes one complete set of the Coro wines. Eight bottles of 2011 Coro Mendocino at $40 makes for a $90 dinner per person, for five amazing course, complete with spectacular wine. Maybe if you tell em John sent you, they’ll pour the three time Double/4 Star Gold Medal winning bubbly during the cocktail hour. Coro dinner – it’s a bargain.

 

 

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John On Wine – ­ A Mendo bubbly fest recap

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

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

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

A Gathering of friends

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

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

Bubbly Gathering

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bubbly Feast

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

 

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