Right up front, let me be clear, I am writing about my experiences with the winery I work for. Conflict of interest? None. I’m not selling you anything, and waited until a big event is over, too late for you to buy a ticket and attend, before I started writing about it here. That said, I write about what I know, what I’m doing, what I’ve done, and as the tasting room and wine club manager for the McFadden Vineyard tasting room in Hopland, having just finished working our Annual McFadden Wine Club Appreciation BBQ Dinner up at the 500 acre McFadden Farm in Potter Valley, that’s what you’re going to be reading about.

First and foremost, before there were wines from McFadden Vineyard, there were grapes from McFadden Farm.

Back when Guinness McFadden started his McFadden Farm in 1970, organic farming had a different name: farming. While many Mendocino County vineyards have copied his trailblazing success, it is the quality of the grapes, grown organically for over 40 years, that puts McFadden ahead of other growers. Having experimented, McFadden has established blocks, separate growing environments for different grapes in the vineyards on his McFadden Farm. Head pruned and trellised, irrigated and dry farmed, planted next to the Russian River and on rocky hillside slopes, the grapes of McFadden Farm are not grown one way, factory farmed, but are thoughtful expressions of Terroir, the marriage of grape to place, grown for desired varietal correctness.

Harvesting 750 tons of grapes from the 160 vineyard acres at the heart of his 500-acre farm, McFadden Farm grapes have gone into wines made by Chateau Montelena Winery, Dashe Cellars, Robert Mondavi, Sterling, Horse & Plow, Fetzer, Navarro, Beringer, and more; often receiving vineyard designation on the wine label.

McFadden Farm is also the source of an extensive line of organic herbs and herb blends, carried in the best health, flavor, or quality conscious food stores, organic garlic braids and swags, and organic culinary quality decorative bay leaf wreaths, sold by William Sonoma at the holidays, as well as organic grass fed beef sold in a local healthy food store.

In 2003, Guinness McFadden bottled his first wines made from his own grapes. I suppose seeing others enjoy winning medals, critical acclaim, and a legion of fans for wines made with his grapes, caused him to feel the bite of the winemaking bug.

In 2008, McFadden hired Sherrilyn Goates to help him open a tasting room in Hopland, on Highway 101, between Santa Rosa and Ukiah, in Mendocino County. McFadden, with help from Goates, got the tasting room up and running, developed a wine club, established a model for how to run our events from Passport Weekends to Wine Club Dinners, basically got the wheel rolling well.

After three years, Goates had met every challenge and moved on to new ones with Ferrari Carano at Seasons in Healdsburg. I am sure she will be a spectacular success there, while we improve on the successes she helped create at McFadden.

I joined McFadden in late March of this year. At first, I was putting in nearly 60 hour weeks as I sought to get a handle on my responsibilities, before managing to attain confidence in my own grasp,  and before I brought in a terrific team to help me on my days off.

I have been thrown into the deep end of the pool before. As an Infantryman in the most forward deployed Infantry battalion in the US Army, I was tasked to fill in as the Intel Analyst without having been to Military Intelligence school, just as our battalion was about to take on the mission of ambush and reconnaissance patrols. No pressure there, it is always good to have a learn-as-you-go experience with life and death consequences for others to focus your attention. Having two days and two hours training before taking over a tasting room and wine club may not be the optimal transition but nothing insurmountable.

I really didn’t plan to make any changes in the tasting room. I don’t believe in reinventing the wheel. I also am blessed to know I don’t know everything, and listen to my staff, so there I was, surprised to find myself, within two weeks, making my first merchandising change, a change that tripled that category’s revenue.

I’ve added two new items, experiencing 70% and 55% sell through on both within the first month of bringing them in. In a year other wineries reported a revenue decrease during Spring Hopland Passport, we had a better than 25% revenue increase, entirely owing to a new sales and marketing initiative previously unexplored. I have doubled the number of people we communicate with each month through our newsletters, and grown our wine club 19% in my first three months with the winery.

First let me state the obvious: success doesn’t happen in a vacuum. I am fortunate to work with (alphabetically) Ann Beauchamp, Eugene Gonsalves, and Gary Krimont. I am even more blessed to work for a boss I genuinely like, Guinness McFadden.

We are by no means finished with change, or growth. I have proposed, and received approval for, a major merchandising change, a way to better present and display all of the goods we have, and will bring into the tasting room. It will take some time, and some money, but hopefully in the next couple of months, the next big presentation improvement will take place.

My next door neighbor, Bobby Meadows, has run the Graziano tasting room for the last 8 years, and described the last three months, my first three months as McFadden’s manager, as the slowest in his entire experience.

In spite of some successes, improvements, good numbers I can point to proudly, I am operating in a larger environment of economic difficulty, where fewer people are traveling to Mendocino County, and those that do are spending less money while here. Our total numbers are down for the year, and I work every day to try to turn that around. Neighboring wineries with years of social media marketing have far fewer contacts than we do with just our few scant months of engagement. With the support of my boss, I will be joining the Board of Directors of Destination Hopland this week. I don’t know how to get Hopland businesses to make the town prettier with more flowers, or pedestrian friendly with more sidewalks, but I do know how to get some more people to come to our Hopland Passport weekends, how to get some additional press before and after, and hope that might translate, in time, to more visitors throughout the year. I hope I am allowed to focus on marketing initiatives.

Speaking of marketing, that was almost my entire contribution to last weekend’s Annual Wine Club Appreciation BBQ Dinner. In the past, my predecessor knocked herself out, maybe taking on too much.

This year, I got the word out over the Internet, took to the phones, set up and took a remarkable number of online orders. Guinness McFadden personally invited everyone he knew, his daughter Anne Fontaine McFadden set up a Facebook event page, invited all of her friends, and led a team of professional cooks. Farm employees, friends, and family set up tables, place settings, and serving stations. My tasting crew handled check in as event attendees arrived.  With the work load shared, each doing what they are best at, everyone was able to enjoy themselves more greatly.

Local BBQ Pork and Lamb, just yum. Great veggie dishes, including one which Anne Fontaine shared in our last newsletter and made an extra bowl of for Second Saturday visitors in Hopland, a recurring monthly wine and food event at various Hopland tasting rooms, was organic McFadden Farm Wild Rice with snap peas, green beans, and toasted pecans, in a pesto made from pistachios, orange zest, orange juice and olive oil. Just fantastic, with everyone declaring this year’s dinner the best ever.

One attendee from the past said it seemed smaller, but in reality we had bigger numbers than the last two years combined. We “officially” cut off sales the Wednesday before, but allowed for greater success, selling right on through the day of the event, bringing in enough extra tables and place settings, making enough extra food, for even more people. What seemed smaller was really bigger but more comfortable, taking more room but less crowded. The result was an endless stream of some incredibly kind compliments and comments from this year’s guests:

My son and I had an absolutely fabulous time…where do I start…entering the farm and riding on the tractor trailer w/hay bales as seats…coming into an enchanting setting for the most enjoyable evening filled with outstanding wines, incredibly fun people, out of this world menu…I still savor the tastes that filled me with such joy!!! Dancing under the stars to perfect music, the evening was filled with so much love by all that made it happen!! McFadden Vineyard…you ROCK!!!!

Perfect? No. We made notes so we can make it better next year, just like we did after pulling off the most successful Hopland Passport weekend ever.

Before I’m accused of hubris, let me say there is tons I don’t know, haven’t done, and likely will never do. Still, with a great team of folks where I am just one part of the team, we are kicking some butt this year.

As a winery, you can’t kick butt if your wines suck. I liked our wines the first time, and every subsequent time I tasted them, back before they were “our” wines, before I joined the team.

Guinness grows great grapes, Bob Swain is our winemaker, and I wrote about his friendly, approachable wines when I wrote about a tasting of wines he made for Parducci last year. Where some wineries can hide bad grapes with multiple winemaking manipulations, say barrel fermentation and malolactic fermentation for a Chardonnay, our Chardonnay is stainless steel held and has zero malolactic. Our Chardonnay is a gorgeous fruit driven wine with lovely apple notes balanced by crisp acidity, a great wine to drink and a spectacular food pairing wine.

The first Pinot Grigio I ever tasted, a Santa Margherita, just pissed me off. No flavor, it was like drinking water with alcohol. The McFadden Pinot Gris is what they all should taste like. Just wow.

Ditto Sauvignon Blanc. No need to blend in Semillon, no cat pee aromas in this wine. Beautiful Mendocino County grapefruit and citrus instead.

Gewurtz and Rielsing are too often cloyingly sweet, but McFadden’s are drier, Alsatian styled, balanced by good acidity, sweetness coming from fruit and floral notes.

Pinot Noir, grown on the cooler climate McFadden Farm, 1,500 feet up, on the Russian River, about 10 degrees cooler than just 10 minutes away, with temperatures plummeting 35-40 degrees at night, develop gorgeous flavors over a long period of time, again balanced by nice acidity.

McFadden produces a cool climate Zinfandel I read that someone likened to a rock climber when compared to the overweight linebackers most Zins are. Where the big bruisers make foods cringe, our Zin is a revelation; new possibilities in the kitchen are opened.

Where too many wines have “too” defects: too oaky, too tannic, too sweet, too high alcohol; our wines do not have these defects, these barriers to enjoyment. McFadden wines are uniformly drinkable, but unlike wines manufactured by Goliaths in quarter million case lots, out little 3,000 case winery produces wines that showcase varietal correctness, while retaining a sense of place.

Our wines aren’t made to win medals, or critical acclaim; after a judge has tasted 30 wines and has had their palate destroyed by high alcohol, overly sweet, tannic, oak monsters, our delicious subtle well balanced wines can barely be tasted. We do win medals, and I smile at each one – we’ve tacked five more competition ribbons to the wall since I took over, but our wines are most impressive in a one on one tasting, in order from dry to sweet, as the realization grows with each wine tasted, here is a brand of exquisite deliciousness.

I love pouring Chardonnay for people who hate Chardonnay; but love ours at first taste. People who don’t like reds end up walking out with carriers filled with reds not overpowered by high alcohol or tannin.

When people taste dry styled Gewurtztraminer and Riesling for the first time, they are transformed, they imagine a summer day with glass in hand, a dinner table with new pairings.

All of our varietal wines are under $20.

Turning tasters into wine club members is easy, after tasting uniformly delicious wines, it is easy for folks to imagine receiving four discounted bottles delivered to their home three times a year. We also have pairing options where wines are delivered with rice, herbs, garlic, or wreaths. Wine Club members receive 15% off everything in the tasting room, 25% off cases (mix/match is just fine), and 35% off a different wine each month announced in our Wine Club Newsletter. Special shipping rates, special sales, event notifications and invitations; there are many more advantages and benefits to wine club membership, but it all starts with the wine, and our wine makes membership easy.

The 2007 McFadden Coro Mendocino, a 60% Zin, 27% Syrah, 13% Petite Sirah is the best of dozens of Coro Mendocino bottles I have tasted. Smooth, supple, a veritable fruit basket, in Ukiah, where I live, it pairs with everything from Sushi at Oco Time to Steak at Branches.

I hate giving out numbers and being wrong, I think it was four, but I’ll just say a bazillion because I really don’t care that much and think it is ridiculous anyway; out last Sparkling Brut was 5 parts Chardonnay to 3 parts Pinot Noir and won a bazillion Gold Medals in Wine Competitions. Our new Sparkling Brut is equal parts Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and will be even richer, better.

We released the new Sparkling Brut early, for our Wine Club Appreciation BBQ Dinner. It needs more time ‘en bouchon,’ on the cork, it is really just a baby, very active and unpredictable. It sorely wants to launch the cork upon opening, and some bottles show aggressive tart green apple notes, others grapefruit, some rose petal and nut, others yeast and cream. This bubbly will eventually grow up and exhibit all of these flavors and more, with lovely integration. It is exciting to watch a wine just born, and be able to watch it grow up. This beauty will fly out the door.

Guinness and I are getting to know each other. Guinness needed to get someone into the tasting room, and I was the guy who got the job. While he filled his need for a tasting room and wine club manager, he also got someone unafraid to use ten words where two will do. Okay, seriously, he got a sales and marketing professional, educated and awarded, with a history of successes, a wine industry trade show professional, a wine story teller, a wine writer.

Meanwhile, I got a marketer’s dream boss. When busy pouring, he might seem curt or gruff, but give him a little space, a little time, and he’s telling a ten minute story with character voices. Get him talking about farming, and you get an authentic mix of “aw shucks” country charm and passionate advocate for both Potter Valley and organic farming. Born in New York, educated at Notre Dame, a decorated Vietnam War Naval officer hero (impressing this Army sergeant), turned farmer.

I hope to get to some events in San Francisco together, invite fellow wine writers – folks who don’t work for McFadden – and while I’m pouring for crowds, be able to let them experience Guinness’s genuine Irish charm. Hopefully, they are inspired to come up to Mendocino County afterward, and hopefully they write pieces that inspire their readers to come up and visit, or call to order some wines shipped.

I think I am a bit brasher, louder, more expansive, less humble than Guinness would prefer, but I am at my best onstage, at a tradeshow, with an enormous crowd, and a well crafted story, a product or service, a pitch, a close.

Watching Guinness this weekend in his beautiful large ranch home, sitting on a hill surrounded by vineyards in the middle of his 500 acre farm, the house filled with friends, family, conversation, laughter, cooking, wine, love…watching Guinness at the Wine Club Dinner in the center of 175 friends, all sharing a night of happiness, food, drink, fellowship, dancing, the pride in and love for his daughter evident…I am watching a man of vision, a man who created an amazing reality from absolutely nothing, a happy man, a man who deserves his rewards.

I am very lucky to work for Guinness. I like to think that in me he gets a good return on the paychecks he signs. My only regret is that it is hard to get to tell the story of Guinness McFadden, McFadden Farms, McFadden wines. We sell all 3,000 cases we produce, we sell nearly everything through the tasting room, and through our wine club. Our distribution is incredibly limited, almost entirely in Mendocino County. I want to sell more wine, and faster, but I need people to come to my tasting room in Hopland to be able to tell my story, to pour our wine. We have complimentary wine tastings, and to pour the wine is to sell the wine, but I need more people to come to us. I want more people, but I don’t know how to reach them. The folks I get to pour for seem to like me:

Your vivacious, happy personality is such an asset to the McFadden Vineyard family, and it is clear you love every minute!

I work at it every day, a little each day. There is no magic trick to opening the floodgates that I know of. I ask other wine writers to come visit. Some do, and we have some really nice pieces that came from those visits. I want more visitors, and I keep asking. There are days I envy the theme park winery tasting rooms of Sonoma and Napa, their endless stream of tasters, of buyers. I don’t want McFadden to be a quarter million case winery, but I would love sales to drive production, and growth from 3,000 to 4,000, then 5,000, and up to 7-8,000 cases. Still small enough to keep the same level of quality, but with busier days in the tasting room.

I read a lot of wine blogs and winery blogs, but I don’t think I’ve ever read a winery tasting room manager write honestly about successes and challenges, about relationships with the winery owner, about the winery’s overall style, and about the day to day difficulties of trying to increase visibility for the brand in a crowded field. It might be because such a post would be boring, or rambling, much like this post; but I’m not deterred, knowing I’ve written pieces far more boring, or rambling, or both.

And I got to write a post I wanted to for quite a while, about my winery, sharing how much I love my job, while avoiding the conflict of interest inherent in a wine writer who receives review samples then writes about his employing winery. Sharing a recap, after an event, without any ticket sales benefit possible seemed the ideal vehicle to squeeze in a host of other thoughts.

The takeaway: I love my job, I like my boss, I am proud of the wines I pour, I would like you to come to my tasting room for a complimentary taste of McFadden wines. Thank you.

Cheers,

John Cesano, McFadden Tasting Room and Wine Club Manager

McFadden Vineyard Tasting Room is located at 13275 S Hwy 101, Ste 5, Hopland, CA 95449; open daily from 10am-5pm; (707) 744-8463.

Wine Reviews:

2009 McFadden Chardonnay Potter Valley $16 – Fruit forward, beautiful bouquet of apple, pear, and peach blossom lead seamlessly into delicious apple, white peach and pear flavors, balanced by nice crisp acidity.

2009 McFadden Pinot Gris Potter Valley $16 – Full bodied, delicately fragrant wine with floral notes, hints of pear, apple, and vanilla with clove and ginger spice.

2009 McFadden Sauvignon Blanc Potter Valley $16 – Great aromas and flavors of orange blossom, jasmine, honeydew melon, spice and grapefruity citrus. Crisp, good acid. Long lingering finish.

2009 McFadden Gewurtztraminer Potter Valley $16 – Pie baking spices and floral blossom aromas that lead to flavors of honeysuckle, apricot fruit basket, and a finish of ginger. Nice minerality.

2009 McFadden Riesling Potter Valley $18 – Bouquet of jasmine and spice, summer peaches, cantaloupe and light herbal notes. Honey in the background, at once easy to enjoy and multifaceted.

2007 McFadden Pinot Noir Potter Valley $19 – A walk down the forest path; earth, mushroom, sweet dried cherry, chocolate, and cedar. Great herbaceous notes.

2008 McFadden Zinfandel Potter Valley $19 – Bright fruit forward flavors carried by nice acidity. Strawberry jam, vanilla-cherry cola, and cedar nose. Berry patch flavors with pepper spice. Easy drinker.

NV McFadden Sparkling Brut Potter Valley $25 – Brilliant clarity, pale straw color, endless stream of tiny bubbles, nice mousse, aromas of green apple, citrus zest, grapefruit, rose petal and cream leading to crisp bright apple balanced by custard and honey in the mouth.

Tomorrow, I start a new job. I have been hired by Guinness McFadden to be the Tasting Room Manager and Wine Club Coordinator for McFadden Vineyards in Mendocino County’s town of Hopland, right on Highway 101.

Guinness McFadden has been organically farming in Potter Valley since 1970. The land, the climate, and the choices McFadden makes allow deliciously distinct wines to be made from the high quality, sweet, flavorful grapes he grows. Many other wineries choose McFadden’s grapes to help make their wines.

I have tasted McFadden’s wines and liked them, without exception, each time I have tasted them. I am happy to come to work for a winery I like.

I had been invited come to work in a similar position for a winery that produced wines I didn’t really like, and I politely declined the offer because I can’t market or sell something I don’t believe in.

Almost twenty years ago, I was asked to work for a winery. My opinion, formed several years earlier, was that they were a gimmick winery, featuring custom labels, but producing barely drinkable plonk wine. I shared my perception with the friend that had invited me to consider working at that winery, and she arranged a tasting of over 20 wines, all current releases at the time. Each wine was more than just drinkable, they were all good, some very good, a couple were unreservedly great. I ended up working for Windsor Vineyards for the next eight years, focusing on sales to larger corporate clients, creating and managing a highly successful trade show program, meeting more of my clients at the tasting room for private tastings – and having the highest average sale for those tastings – each year I was with the winery.

My job was easy, I grew with it, I enjoyed it, but it all started with the wine. If the wine wasn’t good, I could not have taken the job.

I have a strong sense of ethics. I love to use my sales and marketing skills, putting wine into the cupboards and cellars of the people I come into contact with, but it has to be good wine. I sell what I know, what I believe in. I work words around in my head until I can tell the most persuasive story. Sales come as a natural consequence of people sensing earnest honest happiness in the person sharing information.

Last week, after hiring me, Guinness McFadden asked me what my intentions were with respect to my wine blog.

Ethics. Conflict of interest. Believability. Would I continue to write on my own time about wines that aren’t from McFadden Vineyards when I am taking a paycheck for selling McFadden Vineyards wines? If I tasted a Napa bubbly, would a less than glowing review be seen as one more effort to steer people away from Napa or Sonoma County and toward Mendocino County wine, part of a long term strategic campaign perhaps? Would my shared thoughts be viewed with skepticism by readers, if they were aware of my professional relationship, my employment by McFadden Vineyards?

I have a great friend, Nancy Iannios, who as the Tasting Room Manager and Wine Club Coordinator for Schmidt Family Vineyard in Oregon’s Applegate Valley near Grants Pass chose to never be seen in public drinking any wine but those of her employer. Nancy chose to eat at restaurants that had her employer’s wines on their wine list, or drank iced tea or micro beer when visiting eateries that did not carry SFV wines. Her community was small, tight knit, and she had developed a strong thriving wine club and wanted to do nothing to jeopardize her hard earned successes.

Tamara Belgard, another wine blogger, ceased her wine blogging when hired as Marketing Director for Cana’s Feast Winery, perceiving both the conflict of interest and demands on her time too great.

My situation is different. I have given disproportionate attention to the wines and wineries of Mendocino County, and made clear my desire to focus even more on local wines, in my writing over the last two years.

Mendocino County is the number three wine grape growing county in California, behind Napa and Sonoma counties, same goes for wine tourism.

As a Hopland tasting room manager, my first thought should be how to get wine lovers to come to Mendocino County on their next visit, either in addition to or instead of the expected trip to Napa or Sonoma County.

Once people decide to come to Mendocino County, the choice comes down to Anderson Valley or Hopland corridor.

I do not believe that a McFadden Vineyards wine sale is threatened by saying that I love a Saracina Syrah. I think it more likely that someone passing the Hopland tasting room of McFadden Vineyards to Saracina and then again returning home might just stop at our tasting room, conveniently situated on Highway 101, not far from the Bluebird Café.

I think I can sell more wine increasing traffic for all, than fighting for each sale with my neighbors. Nancy at SFV had a much more limited population to draw from in Grants Pass. In addition to welcoming local Mendocino County residents to our tasting room, I see everything to the south, from San Jose to Sonoma County as my target audience.

After establishing myself at McFadden Vineyards, I want to become involved, using my marketing background, helping with the Destination Hopland and Hopland Passport promotional initiatives, and perhaps become involved with the Mendocino Winegrape and Wine Commission as well.

Wine is, at it’s best, cooperative, that is something I have always liked about our industry. When I sold Windsor Vineyards, I was selling Sonoma County and every grape grower that helped make our wines. In selling McFadden Vineyards wines, I will be selling Mendocino County, Hopland, organic farming, a culture of green growing.

I will undoubtedly write more about local events, or about future meals that incorporate McFadden Farms organic wild rice or organic herbs with a McFadden Vineyards wine, but that will not be so much marketing as it is sharing my personal experiences. I have always written about what I’ve drank and tasted, I will continue to do so, but it is foreseeable that I will be drinking more of what I sell and writing about it.

Last year, I was invited to guest chef at a special evening event at Parducci Wine Cellars in my Mendocino County hometown of Ukiah. Tasting room and wine club staff from both Jeriko Estate and Milano Family Winery in Hopland came to the event to support me. Similarly, I would like to support other local wineries whenever I can. I believe that what goes around comes around, and that a rising tide lifts all boats.

Will my wine blog become a forum for shilling, for uncompensated advertising, for undeserved glowing reviews of all things local? No.

I have four of six bottles sent from local wine powerhouse Fetzer Vineyards to review, need to replace the two bottles broken in transit, and want to tour with Ann Thrupp as soon as things settle down after the Concha y Toro takeover announcement. I have a standing invitation and overdue to tour and taste with Jimmy and Lillian Kimmel of Kimmel Vineyards in Potter Valley.

I will try to visit and taste, in most cases retaste, the wines of every Hopland Passport member winery. The Hopland Passport wineries are Brutocao Cellars, Campovida, Cesar Toxqui Cellars, Graziano Family of Wines, Jaxon Keys Winery, Jeriko Estate, McDowell Valley Vineyards, McFadden Vineyards, McNab Ridge Winery, Milano Family Winery, Nelson Family Vineyard, Parducci Wine Cellars, Patianna Vineyards, Rack & Riddle, Saracina, Terra Savia and Weibel Family Vineyards.

I will also continue to taste wine samples that are sent from wherever. Last year, I tasted and reviewed some really delicious wines from Bollinger Champagne, Cleavage Creek Winery, Olson Ogden Wines, Pedroncelli Winery, Pepperwood Grove, Petroni Vineyards, Sonoma-Cutrer Wines, Swanson Vineyards, Tangley Oaks, Toad Hollow Vineyards, V. Sattui Winery, Willamette Valley Vineyards and Wine Guerilla because they sent sample wines or because they extended an event invitation.

Last year, I tasted and wrote about the wines of Carol Shelton Wines, Dunnewood/Mendocino Vineyards, Jacuzzi Family Vineyard, J. Lohr Vineyards and Wines, Keller Estate, Mendocino Farms, the NPA, Preston Vineyards, Rodney Strong Vineyards, Schmidt Family Vineyards, Sokol Blosser, Topel Winery, and Trinchero Napa Valley simply because I like them or because I visited their tasting room and was impressed.

At varietal specific tasting events, often at Ft Mason in San Francisco, I have tasted hundreds of different wines in the last year.

I have been part of organized tastings for wines from Virginia to Bordeaux.

While it is my stated focus, I am not likely to be able to contain my writing to just Mendocino County wines, or Hopland winery wines, or McFadden Vineyards wines. I love wine from different areas. Pour me a glass, I’ll taste it; send me a bottle, I’ll write about it.

I use my blog to write about what I like, it is usually about wine; but I have written about everything from travel to Pokémon. I am not a hardcore journalist, and would write about the wines of Burgundy if it gave me a shot at traveling to Burgundy to taste wines that I could then come back home and write about having tasted. I try to disclose sample wines or contest entry inspired entries within such a post.

I will continue to review wines fairly. I don’t believe I have written a negative review, trashed a wine or winery, in two years. I am a cheerleader for the industry, and if I don’t have anything nice to say about a wine  then I will look for something nice to say or simply refrain from writing anything at all.

Anyway, that is my long-winded way of saying congratulate me on my new job, and I’ll keep on writing here as time allows.

I am thrilled to announce the winner of two tickets to ZAP’s 20th Anniversary Grand Zinfandel Tasting, the biggest Zinfandel tasting in the world each year, and what many feel to be the crown jewel big event of the entire 3 day, 4 event Zinfandel Festival.

Earlier this week, I announced the ticket giveaway contest, writing

To be in consideration for the pair of tickets to the Grand Zinfandel Tasting, name a Mendocino winery that produced a Coro Zin blend in 2010. Leave your submission as a comment to this post. Contest entry submissions will be accepted through noon California time, this Thursday, Jan 20, 2011.

I spread the word using facebook and twitter, and received entries from eight folks, and correct qualifying entries from seven.

For the record, the 11 wineries of Coro Mendocino are Brutocao, Mendocino Vineyards, Fetzer, Golden, Graziano, McDowell, McFadden, McNab Ridge, Pacific Star, Parducci, and Philo Ridge Vineyards. The 2007 vintage was released on Saturday, June 26, 2010 at the Little River Inn on the Mendocino Coast. Coro Mendocino wines from all 11 wineries were poured that evening.

When there were only 6 correct entries, I was going to use a die to determine a winner, each die side representing a contest entrant.

I went looking for my 7 sided die when I received the, just barely in time, 7th correct qualifying entry; but I don’t have a 7 sided die.

From my son’s room, I did find a set of various energy cards from Pokemon, the card game. I chose 7 different energy cards, one to represent each contestant, directly from cellophane packaging. The contest instruments of randomization could not be more fair, more even.

These are the entrants, their qualifying winery, and their energy card:

Robin Miller – Golden Vineyards – Psychic Enrgy Card

Gina Braden – Brutocao Cellars – Lightning Energy Card

Sara Raffel – Fetzer – Darkness Energy Card

Michael McMillan – Graziano – Water Energy Card

Elizabeth McLachlan – Brutocao, McFadden, Parducci – Metal Energy Card

Ian Karch – Pacific Star Winery – Fighting Energy Card

Brendan McGuigan – McFadden – Grass Energy Card

I shuffle cut the cards for ten minutes, chose one at random and it was the Metal Energy Card.

That means Elizabeth McLachlan is the winner of the pair of tickets to ZAP’s Grand Zinfandel Tasting. Congratulations to Elizabeth, and thanks to everyone who entered and made this a fun contest.

Tickets are still available for purchase to attend the Grand Zinfandel Tasting at Fort Mason in San Francisco on January 29th. Tickets are not available for all Zinfandel Festival events, having sold out, so I would urge anyone considering purchase to hurry and do so.

Cheers!

__________

Yesterday, I visited Campovida, home to the wines of the Magnanimus Wine Group, to drop off a package.

While there, even without a walk through the gardens, I was wowed by the serenity and beauty, the magic of the place…again.

I took a couple of pictures, sort of abstract for being close ups cropping out background information or clues. I thought of it as a deconstructed view of my visit. Enjoy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jaxon Keys’ hilltop farmhouse tasting room

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

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

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

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

The cave at Saracina Vineyards

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

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

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

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

Estate Bee Honey – Again, simply delicious. $12

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

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

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

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

Overall, a wonderful experience.

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

The landscaped garden at Jeriko Estate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Magnanimus Wine Group at Campovida

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The gardens at Campovida

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

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

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

Weibel Family and Winery

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

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

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

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

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

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

The historic Hop Kiln location of Milano Family Winery

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Terra Sávia Olive Oil facility and winery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Very drinkable wines from really nice fruit.

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

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

Rack & Riddle custom wine services

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

McNab Ridge Winery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guinness McFadden at his winery’s tasting room

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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McDowell Valley Vineyards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bocce courts at Brutocao Cellars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sip! Mendocino in downtown Hopland

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

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