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John on Wine- Coro Mendocino

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on July 17, 2014
Written by John Cesano

John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

 

So, you want to be a winemaker and you want to be old school about it? You buy an airline ticket and fly to Bordeaux France. When you get there, you find that there is a protocol for making wine in this geographically identifiable area, and that if you make your wine in Bordeaux using any varietal grapes other than those on a very short list of approved grape varietals for Bordeaux wines, then you’ll be with Luca Brasi, “swimming with the fishes”. Get caught dropping a single Pinot Noir grape into a barrel of Bordeaux wine and life as you knew it is forever changed for the worse.

It is the same in Burgundy, Tuscany, pretty much everywhere throughout Europe. Every geographically identifiable area has a protocol, a list of allowed grapes that can be used to make wine.

Here in the United States, things are different. Winemakers can make wine with much greater freedom, in a near willy-nilly manner. There is no geographically identifiable area making wine following a protocol — except Mendocino County, and the Coro Mendocino wines.

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For a short time, it could have been argued that California had the Meritage program, but the association did a poor job of protecting the name and protocol established, and now there are wines called Meritage made outside of the state, and even outside the country.

Back to Coro; unique in the United States, a group of Mendocino County winemakers got together a dozen years ago and decided to cooperatively and collaboratively make a wine representative of the county. They chose the name Coro, because Coro is Italian (and Spanish, Latin, and Portuguese) for Chorus. Where a chorus is a blending of voices into a harmonious whole that is greater than the individual voices, Coro wines would be blends of grapes made better than the individual varietals, and with multiple Mendocino County wineries producing their own Coro each year, the program would be greater than the individual efforts of any one winery.

There are wine regions that are famous for particular grapes; Napa is known for Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley is known for Pinot Noir. Sadly, the wine buying public did not similarly know what Mendocino County grew (other than Marijuana). The reason is that roughly 75 percent of the grapes grown in Mendocino County are bought and used by Napa and Sonoma County wineries to make their wines. Mendocino County was more of a grape farm county than a grape wine county.

The initial task for the first Coro winemakers, when creating a protocol for the wines to be made, was to make Zinfandel, Mendocino County’s most planted grape, the heart of every Coro wine. Every Coro would contain no less than 40 percent and no more than 70 percent Zinfandel. The blending grapes would be grapes that have historically grown alongside Zinfandel in the county, grapes that might have been harvested and co-fermented in the field blend wines of the past; typically Italian or Rhone varietals. There was also a 10 percent “free play” allowance established, so each participating winery could put their own flavor stamp on their Coro.

Other rules were established, barrel and bottle aging minimums, specified use of oak, chemistry limits to ensure a general uniformity with no outliers.

Recently, the 11th vintage was released, at a five course meal at the Little River Inn. The participating wineries were Barra, Brutocao, Clos du Bois, Fetzer, Golden, McFadden, Parducci, and Testa. The new Coro wines will be available at each winery’s tasting room. Golden promises a tasting room in Hopland before year’s end. For convenience, all new Coro wines are also sold at SIP! Mendocino in Hopland, for folks who want to pick up a vintage set.

Just before the dinner, I had an opportunity to gather with five Coro winemakers at Parducci for a television shoot. The CORO show is part of a three-part segment on the Mendocino County wine industry. The other shows are Women in Wine and Next-Gen in Wine. All three should air and be available for viewing by September at the latest, back to back, on public access channels and online. Look for “Spotlight on Mendocino County!” by Out & About Media in a couple of months.

Coro Winemakers

Coro winemakers, (l-r) Dennis Patton, George Phelan, Maria Testa Martinson, Bob Swain, and Hoss Milone. Photographic credit: Larry Wagner

I got to be the moderator, but the show could have self-moderated around a pouring of the Coro Mendocino wines poured that day by Bob Swain of Parducci Wine Cellars, Maria Martinson of Testa Family Winery, Hoss Milone of Brutocao Family Vineyards, George Phelan of Clod du Bois, and Dennis Patton of Golden Vineyards.

Photographic credit: Larry Wagner

Photographic credit: Larry Wagner

We tasted wines, each different, yet related by protocol, from five producers and three vintages. They were uniformly delicious, but Dennis stole the show by bringing a Golden Coro from the classic 2007 vintage. The answers from the five winemakers, their conversations, were probably better than my questions.

Line up of Coro

Photographic credit: Larry Wagner

Most striking was how every answer seemed to touch upon the collaborative aspects of the program, how winemakers blind taste barrel samples of each vintage several times, making and then sharing notes, all in an effort to produce the very best wines possible. The camaraderie among the winemakers was palpable.

Salute

Photographic credit: Larry Wagner

Huge thanks to the crew; producer Leigh Anne Lindsey from Out & About Media, director Steve Yoakum of MediaVectors Group, photographer Larry Wagner, and production assistants Marilyn Wagner and Mary Fairbanks.

Get out to a Coro member winery tasting room, and taste Mendocino County’s flagship wine. For more information about Coro Mendocino, visit their website at www.CoroMendocino.com.

EDITED TO ADD: For the archived copy of this column, I went back to the working title “Coro Mendocino #205″ which I came up with because it felt like I had written about Coro at least 204 times previously, sometimes a mere mention, sometimes a section in a column, while other times I use a whole column to spread the word of Coro. I’ve written pieces for 101 Things to do in Mendocino County and I wrote full page pieces for the Ukiah Daily Journal before I decided to take on a weekly column. By a wide margin of words, I have written more about Coro Mendocino than any other writer, so now you know why this piece was titled as it was. Oh, here’s a few archived Coro mentions: here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

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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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Most days, I drive to Hopland to open my tasting room for Guinness McFadden. Yesterday, I drove to the California State Capitol to see Guinness receive a Best of Show Golden Bear trophy for his sparkling brut, the best of the best at the California State Fair Commercial Wine Competition.

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Each county in the state has a window box to promote their county. I saw that our county promotes Anderson Valley’s Pinot Noir Festival, a great event, but doesn’t mention Hopland Passport, inland Mendocino’s biggest wine event. It is hard to get folks outside the county to visit Hopland when the folks who do the tourism marketing do not tell folks about us.

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I met Guinness McFadden and Judith Bailey inside the state capitol. The rotunda is beautiful and gold gilt is everywhere to be seen.

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At 9:00 a.m., we moved into the Governor’s office.

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Navarro winemaker Jim Klein called everyone he knew to say, “Guess where I am calling you from. I’m calling you from the Governor’s office.” He also protected the pastries from me.

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Ted Bennett, owner of Navarro in Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley relaxes before the day’s award ceremony.

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Harry Hansen of Sterling Vineyards in Napa County – the folks with the tram – converses with Guinness McFadden about grapes Sterling buys from McFadden Farm and about people they know in common. Meanwhile, Judith keeps up with social media.

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California State Fair Commercial Wine competition co-Head Judge and Sacramento Bee wine writer Mike Dunne talks with Mitch – Mr. Carol Shelton.

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Carol Shelton in animated conversation. I had the great pleasure and honor to work with Carol for eight years and together we won a lot of awards; Carol won a Golden State Winery of the Year bear trophy for being the top awarded winemaker at the CA State Fair, and I won three consecutive Expert exhibitor awards from Exhibitor Magazine for marketing and selling her wine. We also had a great time working together at a Meet the Winemaker Dinner at Zinfandel in Chicago. I adore Carol!

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Guinness chatted with Rick Pickering, CEO of the CA State Fair.

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At 9:45 a.m., we moved outside to the east steps of the Capitol. City folks stood in the sun, country folks had the sense to find shade from a tree.

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Bears, lots of bears; maybe more bears that at the Russian River on a three day weekend. I see bears!

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Words that should be, but likely won’t be, written by Wine Spectator and Connoisseurs’ Guide to California Wines: “The best wines in California are coming from Mendocino County.” Fully half of the Best of the Best wines were made by Mendocino County wineries; Navarro, McFadden, and Fetzer. Sterling and Carol Shelton buy Mendocino County fruit to make some of their wines too. The biggest winner of the CA State Fair Wine Competition, as I see it, is Mendocino County!

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I don’t know whether I wanted to see Guinness get his bear or whether I wanted to display the bear in our tasting room more.

L-R, Navarro Best of Show Dessert, Pedroncelli Best of Show Pink, Carol Shelton Best of Show White, Sterling Best of Show Red, McFadden Best of Show Sparkling, and Fetzer Best Value.

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While waiting until 10:00 a.m., Guinness and Judith chatted with Seana Doughty and Dave Dalton of Bleating Heart Cheese.

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That big blue ribbon is nice, but folks came today for bear trophies. This year, there were 2,829 wine entries from 746 winery brands. Seventy-four judges on 18 panels awarded 2,068 medals, including 52 Double Gold, 217 Gold, 1,085 Silver, and 714 Bronze.

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No award was ever given at the capitol without a speech, or speeches. Awards were presented by Jim Houston, deputy secretary, California Department of Food and Agriculture, Paul Martin, deputy Director, Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development, Rick Pickering, CEO, California Exposition & State Fair, Sonney Chong, board chair, California Exposition & State Fair, and Rick Kushman and Mike Dunne, California State Fair chief wine judges. On the far left is CA Assemblyman, the Honorable Wesley Chesbro, who would make a very special presentation.

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Dave Dalton and Seana Doughty of Bleating Heart Cheese in Tomales won two Golden Bear trophies. Best of Show Cow Cheese for Moolicious Blue and Best of Show other udder (sheep) for Fat Bottom Girl.

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Jim and Ted 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.

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Navarro’s 2013 Late Harvest Riesling also took a Double Gold Medal.

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Navarro’s 2013 Late Harvest Riesling was rated 98 points.

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The longest presentation of the day was for Guinness McFadden. Get ready for many pictures.

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As Assemblyman Chesbro spoke, a framed resolution appeared, and Guinness began to suspect that he wasn’t getting only a bear.

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Don’t get me wrong, a bear as recognition for producing the Best of Show Sparkling would be great, Guinness was pleased as punch to be invited to the Capitol to receive it, but at this point he is getting quite a surprise.

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Guinness received a Joint Resolution from the CA Assembly and Senate in recognition of his over 40 years of organic growing and eco-friendliness.

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Again, a Golden Bear trophy is going on my bar in the tasting room, but this beautiful framed resolution is going on the wall as soon as I can get Guinness to give it up.

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The wine that Guinness earned his Best of Show Sparkling bear trophy with is the NV McFadden Vineyard Cuvée Brut

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The NV McFadden Cuvée Brut also took a Double Gold Medal.

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The NV McFadden Cuvée Brut was rated 98 points.

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CALIFORNIA LEGISLATURE Assembly RESOLUTION By the Honorable Wesley Chesbro, 2nd Assembly District; and the Honorable Noreen Evans, 2nd Senatorial District; Relative to commending GUINNESS McFADDEN WHEREAS, On June 24, 2014, NV McFadden Sparkling Brut, a wine produced by McFadden Vineyard, will receive the California State Fair Best of Show Sparkling Award, and upon this occasion, the owner of McFadden Vineyard, Guinness McFadden, is deserving of special public recognition; and WHEREAS, Growing up the oldest of five children in the upper west side of New York City, New York, Guinness McFadden turned down an Ivy League scholarship in 1956 to attend the University of Notre Dame, where he received his Bachelor’s degree in History and participated on the varsity wrestling team; and WHEREAS, After graduating, Guinness enlisted with the United States Navy; serving for nine years,his notable activities during this time included serving a tour in the Mediterranean, where he developed his love for wine; captaining a river boat in Vietnam, where he learned fluent Vietnamese and earned a Bronze Star medal; and serving as an admiral’s aid in Lisbon, Portugal, where he again acquired the native tongue; and WHEREAS, After leaving the Navy, Guinness returned to the United States in 1969 and enrolled at Stanford Business School; after a brief period, he realized that his interests would be best served elsewhere, and he ultimately settled down in a Potter Valley, Mendocino County, California; and WHEREAS, McFadden Vineyard originated in Potter Valley as nothing more than two small vineyards that were each no larger than 15 acres; today, Guinness’ business encompasses some of the oldest vines of the nearly 1,500 acres of vineyards in Potter Valley, and his grapes have represented a significant portion of many award-winning wines in Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino counties; and WHEREAS, A community leader whose unwavering dedication to organic farming has continued for over 40 years, Guinness supplemented his Eco-friendly vision of sustainable agriculture in 1983 by building a hydroelectric power plant capable of powering 100 homes, and in 2005, he installed 300 solar panels to make the farm completely energy independent; McFadden Farm now produces energy far beyond its own needs and provides enough extra to power over half of Potter Valley’s businesses and residences; and WHEREAS, The contributions Guinness McFadden has made to the welfare and improvement of the local agricultural community have been invaluable, and he has served as a worthy model for all public-spirited people of the State; now, therefore, be it RESOLVED BY ASSEMBLY MEMBER WESLEY CHESBRO AND SENATOR NOREEN EVANS, That Guinness McFadden be commended for the significant contributions he has made to the people of the local community and throughout California, and extended sincere best wishes for continued success in the future. Members Resolution No. 1464 Dated this 24th day of June, 2014 Honorable Wesley Chesbro 2nd Assembly District Honorable Noreen Evans 2nd Senatorial District

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Huge thanks to Honorable Wesley Chesbro 2nd Assembly District and Honorable Noreen Evans 2nd Senatorial District, and the folks in their offices, who made this happen, and helped surprise Guinness McFadden, a man richly deserving of your kind recognition

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Guinness will have a big party at McFadden Farm on Saturday, July 12 from 5:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. and will release his newest bubbly, a Brut Rosé. BBQ Dinner, wine, bubbly, live music, D.J., dancing, camping overnight if you wish. $60, or $50 for McFadden wine club members. For more info or tickets, visit http://www.mcfaddenfarm.com/Annual-Wine-Club-Dinner-_p_73.html

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Guinness flew in for this award from Kentucky where he saw his newest grandchild for the first time, and to celebrate the third, and littlest, Guinness McFadden

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Wine Spectator magazine published a list of 150 Summer Sparkling Wines, but didn’t include McFadden Brut, even though 20 of the 23 included bubblies were beat by two, not one but two, McFadden Sparkling Bruts at the 2014 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. One of the 23 tied our Bruts with a Double Gold. Two bubblies beat our Bruts, taking co-Best of Sparkling awards. The other 127 bubblies didn’t compete, maybe because they already get listed in magazines instead. Did I mention that a McFadden Brut was judged Best of Show at the 2014 California State Fair Commercial Wine Competition, beating all competition? We would love to be considered by Wine Spectator magazine in the future. What’s a guy got to do, send an invite to our annual wine club dinner to the guy making the lists? Already done, still waiting for a response.

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If you visit the McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room in Hopland, the highest rated tasting room in over five years of San Francisco Chronicle tasting room reviews, you’ll find more than  highly rated, award winning wines and bubblies; McFadden has organic grass fed beef, organic air dried herbs and herb blends, and so much more seasonal goodness from organic and family owned McFadden Farm.

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A man and his bear trophy, and his resolution.

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Ed St. John collects his Golden Bear Trophy for the 2013 Pedroncelli Signature Selection Dry Creek Valley Dry Rosé of Zinfandel, winner of Best of Show Pink, a Double Gold, and a 98 Point Rating from the 2014 CA State Fair Wine Competition

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Carol Shelton has won many awards over the years from the California State Fair, and has judged at the competition – and others – as well.

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I first met Carol at Windsor Vineyards, where she made wine and I developed a successful tradeshow program. Maya’s monologue in the middle of the movie Sideways could have been inspired by Carol describing her wines to folks new to them, the passion and love are palpable, her energy infectious.

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Everyone, upon hearing that Carol won a CA State Fair Best of Show award assumes it is for her Zinfandel, but are pleasantly surprised to find she is back to making white wine…huge medal white wine

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There is a chance, my fingers are crossed, that Carol may make a Wild Thing White to go with her Mendocentric Wild Thing Zin (red) and Wild Thing Rosé. If things work out, it could be based on McFadden Farm Sauvignon Blanc grapes.

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Best of Show White goes to the 2012 Carol Shelton Wines Coquille Blanc, a Rhone style white blend. Deservedly, it also took a Double Gold Medal and a 98 point rating at the 2014 California State Fair Commercial Wine Competition

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Harry Hansen of Sterling Vineyards receiving his Golden Bear trophy.

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Sterling Vineyards has made both Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling from McFadden Farm grapes.

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The 2010 Sterling Vineyards Platinum Napa Valley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon earned 98 points, a Double gold Medal, and the Best of Show Red Golden Bear trophy

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Navarro Vineyards of Mendocino County was called back up the steps to receive another Golden Bear award trophy, having earned the title “Golden State Winery of the Year”

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Fetzer of Hopland in Mendocino County did not show up to pick up their Golden Bear trophy for their 2011 Fetzer Valley Oaks Moscato, judged Best Value Wine at the competition, at $7.99 for a Double Gold & 98 Pointer. If Jim and Ted were to pick it up and take it to them on the way back home, they could have practiced juggling three Golden Bear trophies.

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Navarro richly earned the Golden State Winery of the Year award with three, count ‘em, I said three wines scoring 98 Points and taking Double Gold Medals. Congratulations to our friends from the Anderson Valley.

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Mendocino County wineries earned 4 of the 7 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. When will the wine press begin to report regularly on the supreme quality of Mendocino grapes, county wide? Perhaps when our county tourism groups and grape promotion groups get the budget to market the news. The wineries are doing their part.

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Jim Klein, winemaker, and Ted Bennett, owner, Navarro Vineyards, California State Fair Golden State Winery of the Year and Best of Show Dessert award recipients.

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Cameras were present to record the Mendo magic in Sacramento

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Jim, you described step by step how you make your Dry Rosé of Pinot Noir at this year’s Pinot Noir fest in Anderson Valley. It is amazing, and I would love Guinness to make something like your rosé from his Potter Valley grapes. My notes are woefully incomplete. Would you consider sharing again?

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Seana and Dave with their dual Golden Bear trophies

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Guinness McFadden reads his resolution

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Ted and Jim answer questions from the collected press

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Mitch and Carol enjoy their wonderful white wine win

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Shelton, McFadden, St. John…Hey, where’s the Italian names?

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The Golden Bear recipients from this year’s CA State Fair Wine Competition

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Ted, Jim, Carol, Guinness, Ed, Seana, Dave, and Harry

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Congratulations to Bleating Heart Cheese of Tomales. It’s official, you’re winners, hard or soft.

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Bennett, Klein, Shelton, McFadden, St. John, Doughty, Dalton, and Hansen

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Harry Hansen, Best of Show Red, Sterling Vineyards

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Ted and Jim’s Excellent Adventure

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Guinness McFadden, Golden Bear Trophy Winner and Joint Legislature Resolution Presentee

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Bronze Star, Bear, Resolution; it’s got to be Guinness

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It was nice to see Guinness moved by the presentation, and I am genuinely grateful to everyone who helped pull it together in the very limited time we had

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Guinness was floored at the depth of research that went into the resolution.

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No more ribbons, McFadden wants Golden Bears from now on. Okay, seriously, everyone here was humbled, honored, moved by the ceremony and incredibly thankful to everyone who made it possible

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Here are the Mendocino County gold medal winning wines from the 2014 Press Democrat North Coast Wine Challenge:

Husch, 2013 Anderson Valley Late Harvest Gewurztraminer, Anderson Valley 96 points Gold Medal, and Best of Mendocino County, and Best of Show Dessert/Late Harvest
Handley, 2010 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley, 98 points Gold Medal
Handley, 2013 Gewurztraminer, Anderson Valley 96 points Gold Medal
Handley, 2012 Chardonnay Estate, Anderson Valley 95 points Gold Medal
Navarro Vineyards, 2012 Chardonnay, Anderson Valley 95 points Gold Medal
Masút, 2012 Pinot Noir, Mendocino County 94 points Gold Medal
Naughty Boy, 2012 Chardonnay-Thornton Ranch, Mendocino County 94 points Gold Medal
Yorkville Cellars, 2013 Rosé of Malbec, Yorkville Highlands 94 points Gold Medal
Bonterra Vineyards, 2012 Chardonnay, Mendocino County 93 points Gold Medal
Paul Dolan Vineyards, 2012 Pinot Noir, Potter Valley 93 points Gold Medal
Philo Ridge Vineyards, 2010 Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley 93 points Gold Medal
Bonterra Vineyards, 2012 Merlot, Mendocino County 92 points Gold Medal
Carol Shelton Wines, 2012 Wild Thing Zinfandel, Mendocino County 92 points Gold Medal
Husch, 2012 Heritage, Other Red Blends, Mendocino County 92 Gold Medal
McFadden Vineyard, 2009 Reserve Cuvee Brut, Potter Valley 92 points Gold Medal
Navarro Vineyards, 2012 Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley 92 points Gold Medal
Paul Dolan Vineyards, 2012 Chardonnay, Mendocino County 92 points Gold Medal
Campovida, 2013 Campo di Stelle, White Bordeaux Blend, Yorkville Highlands 90 points Gold Medal

 
An invitational tasting will be produced and hosted by The Press Democrat on Sunday, June 15, 2014 at the Culinary Institute of America – Greystone, featuring winners from throughout the North Coast. Enjoy Gold Medal winning wines from Mendocino, Lake, Sonoma, and Napa counties.

There is a special promotional code for my readers—$25 off the all-inclusive price of $125. Use promo code: GOLD when ordering your tickets. Tickets are available at northcoastwineevent.com

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John On Wine ­ – A tale of two Passports

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, May 1, 2014
Written by John Cesano
John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

It was the best of Passports…

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I attended the 25th anniversary Passport to Dry Creek Valley last week, with my girlfriend and trusted second taster, June, as guests of the Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley (WDCV). We were greeted at check-in by the new Executive Director of WDCV, Ann Peterson, who may have one of the best jobs in the wine industry, working with great farmers and winemakers in a gorgeous environment, every day.

Dry Creek Valley lies mostly to the west of Hwy. 101, and stretches 17 miles south to north from Healdsburg to Geyserville, two miles wide, in Sonoma County. Continuing a string of sold-out passport events, 6,000 tickets were sold, at a two day weekend price of $120, and allowed visitors the opportunity to visit and taste at 50 winery tasting rooms throughout Dry Creek Valley.

There is no reason to try to visit all 50 wineries even in two days, as there would be less than 15 minutes per winery, with travel between wineries having to fit into the allocated time, and rushing is no way to enjoy a passport event.

June and I visited 17 wineries in two days, a perfect number, giving about 45 minutes per winery. Some visits were shorter, some were longer, all were enjoyable. The great thing is that we could attend next year, visit 17 new wineries and have a completely different experience, equally great; and the same again for a third consecutive year with only one winery repeated in three years with 50 wineries to visit. There is no way I can fit a description of food, wine, music, and scene at 17 wineries here, but here are some impression highlights:

DaVero Farms and Winery stood out because I have a thing for farms and wine, farm stands & tasting rooms, and Ridgely Evers, the owner of DaVero greeted us both warmly. I had met Evers on previous visits, and was surprised at how much growth had occurred. This was June’s first visit and, an animal lover, June was in Heaven at Evers’ biodynamic farm, scratching a pig into a contented lie down. I enjoyed a taste of the DaVero Malvasia Bianca, bright with citrus and white pear flavors, in an outdoor canopy room being made from one tree . Evers has planted cuttings from a single Italian willow in a large circle and is training their growth to create the unique spot to enjoy wine.

Charlie Palmer has been honored by the James Beard Foundation twice, once as “Best Chef” in New York for his restaurant Aureole, and earned a multi year string of Michelin stars for restaurants in both New York and Las Vegas. He also cooked for June and I – ­ okay, and everyone else with a passport who visited Mauritson Wines. We loved the 2012 Sauvignon Blanc paired with brown sugar and bourbon cured salmon with arugula salad, pickled red onions, goat cheese & toasted hazelnuts; and the 2012 DCV Zinfandel with a Zinfandel braised wild board slider and Charlie’s bread and butter pickle.

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Truett Hurst: A glass of Zin Rose in hand, June and I walked down to the Adirondack chairs beside the burbling water, the wind in the trees, insects chirping, birds calling, a kiss shared; ­ truly a magical place. We also had the opportunity to talk with Paul Dolan, Mendocino biodynamic grape grower and partner at Truett Hurst.

Hog Island Oysters at Stephen & Walker with possibly my favorite wine of the weekend, a 2012 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir; Amphora’s ABCs, Aglianico, Barberra, and Chardonnay, and June’s favorite food of the weekend, a chocolate truffle; the lobster roll at Bella; and the weekend’s best music: Rovetti & Meatballs, a fiddle, drums, and guitar ­ blending bluegrass, zydeco, and country – American music; Seghesio’s Zin; Ridge’s Zin; Talty’s Zin; there is just too much that was great to mention.

The views, wide open valley, green on the hills, blue skies, baby grapes on young vines, trees and flowers; slowing down, taking it all in, the scents and sounds too, Passport to Dry Creek Valley is a time to recharge your batteries, get right after working and living in a box, and is a bargain at $120. This is my favorite wine event, any price, anywhere; attending and not working is great!

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…It was also the best of Passports.

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If you missed Passport to Dry Creek Valley, or if you attended but want another weekend to experience more soul cleansing magic, the great news is that the 23rd annual Spring Hopland Passport is this weekend. Seventeen Hopland area winery tasting rooms – a perfect number – will put their best foot forward, pouring all of their wines and offering food pairings for two days, Saturday, May 3 and Sunday, May 4, from 11 a.m. -5 p.m. each day.

If you order online today, Thursday, May 1 by noon, you can pick up a two day ticket to Hopland Passport for just $45 each. Visit http://www.DestinationHopland.com/store, and if the store closes then you can buy your passport at any participating winery tasting room during the event for $55.

I believe that Hopland Passport is the best wine weekend event value – well underpriced – in the industry. Participating wineries include Brutocao, Campovida, Cesar Toxqui, Frey, Graziano, Jaxon Keys, Jeriko, McFadden, McNab Ridge, Milano, Naughty Boy, Nelson, Ray’s Station, Rivino, Saracina, Seebass, and Terra Savia.

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The weather looks like it will be perfect, I hope to see you in Hopland this weekend. I’ll be at the place with the farm stand & tasting room, stop by and say “hi.”

 

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John On Wine – Drought

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on March 27, 2014
By John Cesano

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Brave the storm to come, for it surely looks like rain.” ­ – 1972, Look Like Rain, Grateful Dead

Rain, water, drought, shortage, rationing, voluntary reductions, mandatory reductions; Thoughts of our current situation swirl like water about a drain. I’m a winery tasting room guy. I know finished wine, whether it is good, what notes it has and how to describe it. I know a little bit about growing and winemaking, but really just the basics.

When it comes to the crisis facing everyone in Mendocino County, not just the vineyards and wineries, I had to reach out and talk with some folks more knowledgeable than I am on the subject. I spoke with Zac Robinson, President of the Mendocino WineGrowers, Inc., the voluntary coalition of growers and producers working to promote Mendocino County grape grower and wine interests to the general public. Robinson grows grapes both inland, on the Russian River between Ukiah and Hopland, and in the Anderson Valley, and then turns them into wine for his winery, Husch Vineyard.

Robinson described the problems facing the entire community as stemming from a two year drought, stating “the Navarro River is at the lowest level ever for this date, and “things are pretty dire.” Robinson outlined measures that vineyards and wineries are taking in the face of water shortages including adding nearly 50 new wind machines, installing double drip irrigation lines, and installing soil moisture monitoring probes. This is on top of water use reductions of approximately 67 percent since the previous drought of record, 1976-77.

The fans minimize the use of sprinkler water for frost protection and later to mitigate the highest heat of summer, but at a cost as the fans are pretty noisy for residential neighbors to endure. Soil moisture monitoring probes allow more intelligent application of moisture as needed, and double drip lines involve a second irrigation drip line with emitters tasked only to the weakest vines in a vineyard. Double drip lines allow about a 30 percent reduction in water as regular summer drip irrigation can be delayed for weeks as only the vines most in need are taken care of earlier. Later pruning also reduces water demands, as it leads to later bud break and decreases the period when frost protection water use might occur.

In spite of all of the efforts by growers, Robinson shared that “holding ponds aren’t full, the watershed is bone dry, and there will be August decisions (as) we’re not going to have enough water to get the crop through the year (and) we’ll have to choose which vineyards get less water.”

All this, while most of Mendocino County’s vineyards face 50 percent mandatory reductions in water use from various governing boards and agencies.

Not to demonize the “demon weed,” but marijuana accounts for nearly the same water use amount of all of the family farmed multi-generational vineyards in the county, with marijuana acreage just a small fraction of the legal and regulated agricultural vineyards. A walk in a vineyard is a joy; a walk in much of the county a danger due to illegal growth, armed guards, booby-trapped paths, and poisoned lands.

I’m not anti-marijuana, but I support legalizing and taxing it, as well as subjecting growers to the same water restrictions grape growers face. I do oppose illegal grows on public land, diverting water, and ruining existing ecosystems. While vineyards may be the most visible sector of the agricultural community, non-vineyard agriculture (irrigated pastures and orchards) are the largest user of water in the county, using water at much greater rates per acre.

This piece isn’t meant to be an “us vs. them” piece, but a look at where we all are at, together, now and where we all should be looking to go to decrease the severity of drought consequences as a community in the future. Janet Pauli, Chair of the Mendocino County Inland Water & Power Commission, was able to provide a pretty good map for the future.

Pauli first made clear the severity of our current drought, based on insufficient rain October to present, “this is the new drought of record’ and may be a level of severity that hasn’t occurred in over 400 years based on tree ring data.” This surpasses the often recounted 1976-77 drought of record. Pauli said the path forward required progress on two tracks. The first is reoperation and the second is increased storage at Lake Mendocino.

Reoperation involves support of Congressman Jared Huffman’s Fixing Operations of Reservoirs to Encompass Climatic and Atmospheric Science Trends Act (FORECAST) so we can conserve water in our biggest pond, Lake Mendocino. Currently, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers follow required water control instructions from a manual dating back to the 50s, which saw them release water in the spring of 2013 without any evidence of a storm coming in after. Assuming weather prediction is better now than in the 50s, sensible on-the-ground decisions could be made saving unnecessary future water releases from occurring.

Lake Mendocino exists as part of a larger U.S. Army Corps of Engineers flood control project, authorized by Congress in the 50s, and intended to proceed in three stages. Stage one was the building of the Coyote Valley Dam, completed in 1959, creating the current Lake Mendocino. Stage two involved the building of the Warm Springs Dam, completed in 1982, creating Lake Sonoma. Stage three involves coming back to raise the Coyote Valley Dam 36 vertical feet, doubling the water storage capacity of Lake Mendocino. Stage three has not happened. Pauli said that feasibility studies are costly, but needed to move forward and while $1.2 million has been brought to bear, $4 million more is needed to see the study through to completion. Funding comes from the Federal government, matched by a local coalition including Potter Valley, Redwood Valley, Mendocino County, City of Ukiah, and Russian River Flood Control groups. Next congressional action is required, and Pauli said that in the past U.S. Senator (CA) Diane Feinstein “has helped us with funding for the Feasibility Study. We believe that the project is feasible and should be championed by our elected representatives as nearly “shovel ready”. We are hoping that raising Coyote Dam might become the “water supply poster child” for increasing storage in the State of California.”

If feasible, the current estimate of enlarging Lake Mendocino is $300 million, with perhaps 25 percent local funding needed, and would require a year for authorization plus whatever time the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would need to enlarge the existing dam. Similarly, Congressman Huffman’s FORECAST Act requires successful passage into law, a couple of years of studies, and another couple of years before implementation. The greatest problem about droughts is that with their end, so too ends the quest for solutions to drought conditions.

Everyone in Mendocino, Sonoma Counties face drought conditions now and should come together to act now and continue to act together in the future as a community to address ways to minimize the impacts of future droughts. According to Mendocino WineGrowers, Inc., farmers in the wine industry and wineries relying on grapes anticipate losses of up to $100 million this year due to the drought and a combination of mandatory and self-imposed responsible water reduction measures. Grapes just won’t be as plump, there will be fewer and this will lead to less wine made. Do whatever you can to conserve water now. I remember the conservation measures that existed in 1976-77 that are not in effect in homes now.

Support your local, legal, agriculture; help them through this drought by taking on extra water conservation measures at your home and business, and contact Congressman Jared Huffman and voice your support for his FORECAST Act, and contact Senator Diane Feinstein and let her know you would really love to see the Coyote Valley Dam raised 36 vertical feet as soon as practical. Consider your local city councilmember’s and county supervisor’s support for these needed protections of our beautiful county as well. As Mendocino County residents, we’re really in this together.

 

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John On Wine – The Perfume of Zinfandel

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal on January 30, 2014 by John Cesano

I love women. I love perfume. I love how the same perfume can smell different on different women. I am fond of all things sensual, and scents from flowers, foods, wines, and a woman’s perfume are all wonderful.

Generally speaking, I concur with John Barlow and Bob Weir; “too much of everything is just enough,” is a phrase from their song I Need a Miracle that just makes me smile. Perfume at a wine tasting, however, is the exception, and almost any is too much. Men, and their cologne, can trigger an inner groan, a silent shriek of exasperation, as well.

Wine tasting, whether at a winery tasting room, or a big event like last weekend’s Zinfandel Experience, put on by the Zinfandel Advocates & Producers, is about pulling notes from a wine; aroma and bouquet for the nose, taste for the mouth, and deciding if this is the wine for you, if this is a wine worth plunking down your hard earned dollars for.

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It is hard to discern subtle nuance, the difference between green apple and yellow apple, apricot and nectarine, plum and cassis, in a wine when your nose is assaulted by waves of woody, floral, citrus, or other fragrant notes of perfume or cologne, sometimes freshly reapplied in the car moments before entering a wine tasting.

Wine tasting in a spring garden with fresh and fragrant blooms is similarly unkind to the wines, as is tasting in a room that smells of recently applied paint, wood floor polish, or other maintenance or cleaning products.

Last Saturday, coincidentally my birthday, I was at the Presidio in San Francisco to take part in three tasting track sessions, each held in a different building located at the Parade Ground.

The parade grounds at the Presidio in San Francisco

The parade grounds at the Presidio in San Francisco

The Terroir Tasting track, held in the Observation Post offered an incredible view of both the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz, and grouped Zinfandels by appellation, so you could visit a table and taste wines from Mendocino and Lake Counties, or the Dry Creek Valley, or Lodi, or Paso Robles, or any of the other main growing regions for Zinfandel, and explore how these different growing regions affect the varietal’s characteristic notes.

I was joined by my friend June Batz, and we tasted Zinfandels from nearly every region. There were good wines from every growing region. It was a treat seeing Anne Alderette pouring wines for Dry Creek Valley and Zinfandel icon Joel Peterson wearing a stylish black cowboy hat.

Mendocino and Lake County wines lined up for tasting at the Terroir Tasting track

Mendocino and Lake County wines lined up for tasting at the Terroir Tasting track

The Sensory Tasting track was held at Herbst and was most similar to the old Grand Tasting, featuring the most producers in one spot, arranged alphabetically, pouring their Zinfandels. I talked with producers and tasted their Zinfandels made from Mendocino County grapes.

Carol Shelton, Carol Shelton Wines

Carol Shelton, Carol Shelton Wines

My good friend Carol Shelton poured me a taste of her 2012 Wild Thing Zinfandel, Mendocino County. We worked together eight years, she made great wine, and I traveled the country selling her wine. We worked a spectacular dinner together in Chicago. Made from organically-grown old-vine grapes, Carol’s Wild Thing showed plum and pepper with a little edge on the finish. $19.

Next up, I tasted a Zinfandel from Artezin, the 2012 Artezin Zinfandel, Mendocino, $18, made from bench fruit grown on the east side of Ukiah. The wine was medium bodied, but had a big nose, rich and deep, leading to a medium mouth of cherry and spice.

Edmeades Winery poured four Mendo Zinfandels; the 2011 Mendocino $20, 2010 Piffero $31, 2011 Shamrock $31, and 2010 Perli Vineyard $31. My favorite, the Perli Vineyard Zinfandel saw a little blending of Primitivo, some suitcase cuttings, and Merlot into the Zinfandel, and was grown above the fog line on the Mendocino Ridge, yielding bright acid to provide structure and balance for loads of spice and fruit notes of raspberry and darker berry.

Rich Parducci of McNab Ridge Winery

Rich Parducci of McNab Ridge Winery

Finally, I tasted three Zinfandels from McNab Ridge Winery, poured by winemaker Rich Parducci. First, I enjoyed the 2010 Cononiah $26, soft and drinkable with delicate white pepper and French oak smoothness, lovely classic Zin fruit from 100% Zinfandel grapes. Next, I tasted Rich’s 2011 Mendocino Zinfandel $18, which has a little Petite Sirah blended in, and is all chocolate and ripe berry cherry fruit. Finally, I tasted the 2011 Zinzilla $13, an unpretentious blend of Mendocino and Lodi grapes that I carried with me and paired with cheeses, an aged Gouda, a Manchego, a soft blue. Completely unfair to all of the other Zinfandels tasted but, when paired with cheeses, the Zinzilla was the best wine of the Sensory Tasting track.

The Reserve and Barrel Tasting track, held at the Film Center, should have been my favorite track, and my two favorite wines of the day came from here, but the words “Reserve and Barrel” acted as a magnet for every overly perfumed woman, and the Film Center had recently received a splash of paint and application of floor wax, and I could not stand to taste wines in the room. I did get a pouring of 2012 Bedrock Wine Company Zinfandel, Monte Rosso, Moon Mountain, $50, which I took back outside to experience, and what another fine wine, in an endless series of them, Morgan Twain-Peterson has produced. Weighty, full, balanced, with big bold flavors of fruit and spice harmoniously blended.

The Film Center at the Presidio, site of the Reserve and Barrel Tasting track

The Film Center at the Presidio, site of the Reserve and Barrel Tasting track

While outside, Christopher Watkins, writer of 4488: A Ridge Blog, and manager of Ridge, stopped to say hello to me. We have enjoyed each other’s writing in the past, he has kindly linked to things I have written, and we both love the wines he pours daily. We shook our heads, together, at the unfortunate smells inside the Film Center that made outside tasting necessary, and he extended an invitation to quarterly tastings at Ridge which I leaped to accept.

Inspired by my meeting with Christopher, I ventured inside for one more taste; winemaker Eric Baugher poured me a barrel sample of the 2012 Ridge Vineyards Jimsomare Zinfandel. This wine will be bottled in March and be released in November but, tasted outside, was drinking beautifully now, with lush plum, cherry and strawberry fruit notes, wedded to a little classic pepper spice.

I am sure no one wears perfume to a wine tasting maliciously; I’m sure no one has had the gumption to ask you not to, explaining that the result is about as welcome as a fart in an elevator, for fear of causing you pain through embarrassment. I loved the Zinfandel Experience, but between building maintenance and perfume smells, I was driven right away from what should have been the most overwhelmingly amazing part of the experience after only two spectacular tastes.

Venues are booked well in advance, and the folks at ZAP had no idea that one of their tasting track locations was going to get some fresh paint and polish applied too shortly before a wine tasting. Nothing that can be done about that. The heavily perfumed women flocking to the Reserve Tasting was also beyond control, and can only be addressed through education.

Class dismissed.

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John On Wine ­ – Crab, wine & more

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on January 23, 2014 by John Cesano

 

This week, I look back at last weekend, reflect a bit, and look ahead to more events this week.

On Saturday night, I went to Patrona in Ukiah for a winemaker dinner boasting a very crab-centric menu, because the Mendocino County Crab, Wine & Beer Fest is going on. The meal also featured the sparkling and still wines of Roederer Estate winemaker Arnaud Weyrich from nearby Anderson Valley. I was thrilled to use the event as a reconnecting date, the first in over 20 years, with a dear friend, June Batz, who will likely be accompanying me to more wine events in the future.

Arnaud visited each table, welcomed guests to the event, and shared some information about the winery, and the night’s wines. Showing far more humility than I would have, he refrained from noting that one of the night’s wines, the Roederer L’Ermitage was named the #1 wine of 2013 by Wine Enthusiast magazine.

Some of the folks attending included Lorie Pacini and Allen Cherry, who are two of the biggest supporters of Mendocino County wines I know, Gracia Brown from Barra and Girasole along with her husband Joseph Love, and Christina Jones, owner/chef of Aquarelle restaurant in Boonville – who is doing her own winemaker dinner tonight, Jan. 23 at 6:30 p.m. with wines from Handley Cellars.

The three bubblies, Roederer Estate Brut, the L’Ermitage, and a Brut Rose, were everything you would hope and expect, simply perfect when paired with crab egg rolls, crab stuffed chicken, and an orange marmalade crepe with whipped cream respectively.

The two surprises of the evening were a pair of still wines, the 2012 Carpe Diem Chardonnay, barrel and tank fermented, with a majority of used oak, yielding a gorgeously balanced wine that paired beautifully with butter poached crab and avocado, and the 2011 Carpe Diem Pinot Noir, a delightfully characterful wine that went well with pork belly.

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Overheard at Barrel Tasting 101 last weekend: “Why is this Chardonnay cloudy? I think it is corked.”

Whoa there; a wine that is still in barrel, a wine not ready for bottling yet, a wine that has never seen a cork, can’t be “corked.”

Often time, Chardonnay in barrel is held “sur lies” or with the spent yeast of fermentation to provide the wine with a little weightiness or richer mouth feel. Barrel samples of these wines will be cloudy. Similarly, red wine barrel samples are colored, but often not clear. I will write more in advance of the next barrel tasting event I point to.

The most important thing to know about barrel tasting is that wines tasted from barrel are not finished wines, some do not taste particularly good, but will eventually yield delicious bottled wines. Barrel tasting provides clues, hints, at what you might expect from future wines. Some wineries offer cases sales on wines tasted from barrels, wines that are not released yet, but will be released in the future, and these offerings and sales are known as “futures.”

Tasting room folks that I talked to reported an interesting mix of folks attending the event; some who knew what a barrel tasting was about, other folks who were open to learn, and still other folks who were interested in consuming as much wine and crab as they could for $10.

June and I visited Maria and Rusty at Testa Vineyards in Calpella on Sunday, and it was great to see the crew working, pouring wines, serving up tasty treats.

Rusty pulled samples from the barrels in the cellar; I enjoyed the barrel samples I tasted, and thought the Petite Sirah would be great held separate instead of used up in blending. Charbono, Carignane – all my old favorites – tasted great from the barrel. Rusty is usually busy manning the grill, barbecuing chicken or oysters for an event, when I see him, so it was a treat to hear him talk about the wines and wine making.

Back upstairs and outdoors, we enjoyed tastes of current release bottled wines with Maria, paired with mighty delicious crab spread atop a slice of toasted French bread. Well, yum.

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The folks at Ole Smoky Tennessee Moonshine contacted me and asked me if I would be interested in writing about their Blackberry Shine and Champagne cocktail, the MoonMosa. I’ve written about spirits when I visited with Crispin Cain and the folks from Germain Robin in Redwood Valley, and I work for a place with two Double Gold sparkling brut wines, so, sure, why not?

I received a mason jar of Ole Smoky Blackberry Moonshine. The packaging is fantastic.

Gary Krimont, a friend and wine industry socialite, helped me evaluate this unique beverage.

First, Moonshine might be pushing it. While the folks at Ole Smoky do produce a few products at 100 proof, the Blackberry Moonshine is just 40 proof, or 20 percent alcohol.

Honestly, the lower alcohol is a good thing, as it made this an easily enjoyed, flavorful sipper. The aroma is pure blackberry pancake syrup, but the flavor is more complex and layered. We mixed equal parts Shine and Brut, and both Gary and I felt that the cocktail was less than the sum of its parts. If you see one on a retail shelf, pick up a jar, and enjoy Ole Smoky Blackberry Moonshine by itself, it is light enough to drink uncut, and too delicious to dilute.

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Saturday is my birthday, and I will be attending ZAP, the Zinfandel Advocates and Producers Zinfandel Experience event at the Presidio in San Francisco. Sessions include a Sensory Tasting, a Terroir Tasting, and a Reserve & Barrel Tasting. Two Mendocino County wineries participating are McNab Ridge Winery in Hopland and Edmeades Estate Winery in Philo, and I look forward to tasting their Zinfandel, plus the Zinfandel wines made by many friends outside the county as well.

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Crab Fest continues this weekend, with the big events moving to the coast.

The Crab Cake Cook-Off & Wine Tasting Competition will take place this Saturday, Jan. 25 from noon to 3 p.m. under the big white tent at the corner of Main and Spruce in Ft. Bragg.

There is an all you can eat crab dinner, with wine, from 6 to 9 p.m., that Saturday night at Barra in Redwood Valley.

A host of winery tasting rooms along Highway 101 inland, and Highway 128 on the way to the coast, will be offering up crab taste pairings with their wines this last weekend of the Crab Fest, so get out and enjoy the bounty of our county.

The San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition is the big daddy of wine competitions, the largest judging of American wines in the world. This year’s competition started on Tuesday and finished today. There were 5,825 wine entries for the judges to taste. The very best wines earned a Gold Medal, a Double (unanimous) Gold Medal, or Best of Class award. There were also Sweepstakes awards for Best red, white, bubbly, dessert, etc.

These best of the best wines will be poured at Ft. Mason in San Francisco at a Public Tasting on Saturday, February 15, 2014 from 1:30-5:00pm. Tickets regularly sell out, click HERE to buy your tickets.

I’ve pulled together a list of all of the wines made from Mendocino County grapes that won a Gold Medal or higher at the 2014 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition – I wonder which of the two Double Gold Medal Dry Sparkling wines from Mendocino County I’ll toast the winners with…maybe both!

Best of Class Chardonnay $15.00-$19.99
2012 Husch Vineyards Chardonnay, Estate Bottled, Mendocino $15.00

Best of Class Grenache
2012 Campovida Grenache, Dark Horse, Mendocino County $36.00

Double Gold Medal Dry Sparkling
NV McFadden Vineyard Cuvée Brut, McFadden Farm, Potter Valley $25.00

Double Gold Medal Dry Sparkling
2009 McFadden Vineyard Special Reserve Brut, McFadden Farm, Potter Valley       $40.00

Double Gold Medal All Other White Varietals
2012 Campovida Roussanne, Bonofiglio, Mendocino County $32.00

Double Gold Medal Pinot Noir Up to $19.99
2012 Navarro Vineyards Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley $19.50

Double Gold Medal Pinot Noir $30.00-$34.99
2010 Handley Cellars Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley $32.00

Double Gold Medal Pinot Noir $50.00 and over
2011 Cakebread Cellars Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley $50.00

Double Gold Medal Pinot Noir $50.00 and over
2010 Handley Cellars Pinot Noir, RSM Vineyard, Anderson Valley $56.00

Double Gold Medal Zinfandel Up to $19.99
2012 Navarro Vineyards Zinfandel, Mendocino $19.50

Double Gold Medal Zinfandel $25.00-$29.99
2012 Husch Vineyards Zinfandel, Old Vines, Mendocino $25.00

Double Gold Medal Merlot $10.00-$14.99
2011 Bliss Family Vineyards Merlot, Estate, Mendocino $13.95

Double Gold Medal Cabernet Sauvignon $30.00-$34.99
2011 Moniker Wine Estates  Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendocino County $30.00

Double Gold Medal All Red Blends $25.00-$34.99
2012 Husch Vineyards Heritage, Old Vines, Mendocino $28.00

Gold Medal Sauvignon Blanc $14.00-$19.99
2012 Husch Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc, Mendocino $14.00

Gold Medal Sauvignon Blanc $14.00-$19.99
2012 Husch Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc, Renegade, Mendocino $18.00

Gold Medal Chardonnay $10.00-$14.99
2012 Kimmel Vineyards Chardonnay, Kimmel Vineyards, Potter Valley $14.99

Gold Medal Chardonnay $10.00-$14.99
2012 Parducci Wine Cellars Chardonnay, Small Lot Blend, Mendocino County $13.00

Gold Medal Chardonnay $15.00-$19.99
2012 Naughty Boy Vineyards Chardonnay, Thornton Ranch, Potter Valley $15.50

Gold Medal Chardonnay $25.00-$29.99
2011 Husch Vineyards Chardonnay , Special Reserve, Mendocino $26.00

Gold Medal Chardonnay $25.00-$29.99
2012 Navarro Vineyards Chardonnay, Premier Reserve, Anderson Valley $25.00

Gold Medal Chardonnay $25.00-$29.99
2012 Seebass Family Wines Chardonnay, Seebass Vineyards, Mendocino     $29.99

Gold Medal Chardonnay $25.00-$29.99
2012 Wattle Creek Winery Chardonnay, Yorkville Highlands $25.00

Gold Medal Chardonnay $40.00 and over
2011 La Follette Wines Chardonnay, Mendocino Ridge $48.00

Gold Medal Chardonnay $40.00 and over
2012 Tom Eddy Wines Chardonnay, Manchester, Mendocino $55.00

Gold Medal Gewurztraminer
2012 Highway 253 Gewurztraminer, Mendocino County $16.99

Gold Medal Riesling RS<1.49
2012 Handley Cellars Riesling, Anderson Valley $22.00

Gold Medal Riesling RS<1.49
2012 Navarro Vineyards Riesling, Anderson Valley $19.50

Gold Medal Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio $15.00 and over
2012 Handley Cellars Pinot Gris, Anderson Valley $20.00

Gold Medal Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio $15.00 and over
2012 Navarro Vineyards Pinot Gris, Anderson Valley $19.50

Gold Medal Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio $15.00 and over
2012 Philo Ridge Vineyards Pinot Gris, Marguerite Vineyard, Anderson Valley $21.00

Gold Medal Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio $15.00 and over
2012 Philo Ridge Vineyards Pinot Gris, Klindt Vineyard, Anderson Valley $20.00

Gold Medal All Other White Varietals
2012 Campovida Arneis, Spirit Canyon, Mendocino County $36.00

Gold Medal Dry Rose RS<1
2012 Campovida Rose di Grenache, Riserva, Mendocino County $34.00

Gold Medal Grenache
2012 Navarro Vineyards Grenache, Mendocino $29.00

Gold Medal Pinot Noir Up to $19.99
2011 Bliss Family Vineyards Pinot Noir, Estate, Mendocino $14.99

Gold Medal Pinot Noir $50.00 and over
2011 Tom Eddy Wines Pinot Noir, Manchester, Mendocino $60.00

Gold Medal Zinfandel $20.00-$24.99
2010 Brutocao Cellars Zinfandel, Hopland Estate, Mendocino $22.00

Gold Medal Merlot $15.00-$19.99
2011 Bonterra Vineyards Merlot, Mendocino County $15.99

Gold Medal Merlot $25.00-$29.99
2010 Byrd Vineyard Merlot, Byrd Vineyard, Mendocino County $29.00

Gold Medal Cabernet Sauvignon $30.00-$34.99
2010 Parducci Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, True Grit Reserve, Mendocino County $30.00

Gold Medal Bordeaux Blends $30.00-$39.99
2009 Alder Springs Vineyard Estate 13 Tasks, Alder Springs Vineyard, Mendocino $39.00

Gold Medal All Other Red Varietals
2012 Campovida Negroamaro, Chiarito, Mendocino County $36.00

Gold Medal All Red Blends Up to $14.99
2012 Kimmel Vineyards Redessence, Kimmel Vineyards, Potter Valley $14.99

Gold Medal All Red Blends $15.00-$24.99
NV Cesar Toxqui Cellars Heirloom IV, Mendocino $24.99

Gold Medal White Dessert RS>4
2011 McFadden Vineyard Late Harvest Riesling, McFadden Farm, Potter Valley $18.00

Gold Medal White Dessert RS>4
2012 Stephen & Walker Chardonnay Botrytis, Mendocino Ridge $65.00

Mendocino County is a farm county. We grow grapes that are often sold and blended into Sonoma and Napa county wines to make them better. It is really nice to see so many wines held separate, made from Mendocino County grapes, and recognized for their excellence. Congratulations to the grape growers, winemakers, winery owners who made these wines possible; and thanks to the terrific crew of judges at this year’s San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. We consumers, tasters, and folks working in the tasting rooms are grateful to you all.

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John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

John On Wine ­ – Thank you

By John Cesano

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal on Wednesday, November 27, 2013

I like that we kick-off the holiday season with a giving of thanks. Facebook has featured 30 days of thanks – a note about something that moves someone to thanks – posted each day in November, 30 notes of thanks with several of my friends participating.

These many notes of thanks and the other upbeat, positive, and inspirational messages have made Facebook more joyful this month. I’ve participated; it isn’t a stretch imagining me writing 30 notes in 30 days, after all. A few of my notes touched on wine, pouring it, tasting it, writing about it, drinking it. I’ll be doing a bit more of that here.

First, I want to thank Guinness McFadden for giving me a job, for hiring me to take over your tasting room in Hopland. You hired an unknown quantity, I had never worked as a tasting room employee before. I hope your risk has been rewarded. Thanks to the wines and other foodstuffs from the farm that you provide me with, our numbers have never been better and we have the highest rated tasting room in the over five year history of San Francisco Chronicle tasting room reviews. I love that you tell me what, not how, and allow me to do my job with an amazing amount of freedom. I am thankful to be able to do something I am very good at.

I also want to thank my crew: Eugene, Gary, Ann, Juanita and Catrina for giving our visitors the same care I would give them, and freeing me up for days off.

I want to thank Bob Swain and, now sainted, Raphael Brisbois for making the wines I sell. You two have made wines with tons of medals and 90-plus ratings from Guinness’ grapes, and I am extraordinarily grateful to be able to pour them. Thanks also to Bob for sitting down with me and tasting 11 wines for a piece that ran online in March of 2010. Parducci Wine Cellars and Paul Dolan Wines were the first inland Mendocino County wines to get a feature piece written by me. I’ve asked Bob to sit down with me again and when he does, I’ll be thankful and write an updated piece featuring Parducci for the newspaper.

I’m thankful for Kelly Hancock, my editor at the Ukiah Daily Journal. Your stellar work editing previous pieces made saying yes to writing this column easier.

Thanks to my predecessor, Heidi Cusick Dickerson, a better wine writer than I am, for being constantly supportive of my efforts and for sending folks my way.

Thanks to so many local folks for being so welcoming, helpful, and ­ again ­ supportive. Alan, Louis and Hairy Putter, Di Davis and the entire Davis family, Lorie Pacini and Allen Cherry; thanks to all of you.

Thanks to all of the winery tasting room folks, owners and employees, from Potter Valley to Ukiah, Redwood Valley to Talmage, and Capella to Hopland. There are so many more features yet to write. Some of you, I’ve visited but haven’t written up yet; I will, after visiting again.

Thanks especially to the folks at Barra and Girasole: Martha, Charlie, Katrina, and my tasting buddy Gracia; and to Maria Testa at Testa Vineyards, who always has a smile and a good glass of red. I do not know what they put in the drinking water up in Redwood Valley, but I appreciate your every kindness.

Thanks to Bernadette Byrne at Sip! Mendocino in Hopland for helping point a few of the folks behind the labels you pour my way. Two of the biggest treats that I am most thankful for are meeting Fred and Alberta of Albertina Vineyards, and Mario and Danelle of Rosati Family Wines; a pair of husband and wife couples, growing grapes, making wine and selling it in entirely too much anonymity. I loved your wines and enjoyed spending time with you – thank you for making me feel so welcome. For those reading this, wines from both Albertina and Rosati are available at Sip! Mendocino.

I get invited to things because I write. Thanks for all of the invitations to events, dinners, and tastings. I see some of the same folks at various events and two people I am very thankful for are Sheriff Tom Allman and District Attorney David Eyster of Mendocino County. These two do more than merely administrate, they care about and constantly engage the people in the communities they serve. I am thankful for such dedicated public servants.

I got a head start with hundreds of McFadden wine club members who already knew me, but the response to this column from the public has been surprising to me. I am thankful to each and every person who reads my column. It is still slightly unsettling to have people I’ve never met, in places other than wine shops, recognize me and compliment me on a column they read and remember. Whether I’ve been in line to get coffee, seated at a restaurant, or on the firing line at the gun club, you have come up to me to tell me you read my column and even if I am not used to being recognized, I am thankful for your readership and humbled by your feedback.

I’ll be in my tasting room today until 5 p.m. to help people with their very last minute Thanksgiving wine selections and while the room will only be closed one day for Thanksgiving, I will very thankfully take most of four days off, enjoying a family dinner on Thursday, and trying to buy some great cookware on a Friday sale. Maybe, I’ll taste some wines on the weekend for a future column, which would make my editor thankful. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!
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Here’s some extra “thank you”s for my online readers to wade through. Thanks to my son Charlie; you are, by and large, a good boy. Thanks to Heather from Ft. Bragg; it is nice when we find the time to walk paths together. Thanks to Millesima USA, who inexplicably named this blog one of the Top Ten Wine News Blogs being written.

Top 10 Wine New Blog Award

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