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John On Wine – State of the Disunion

This piece was originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, September 3, 2015

With roughly three quarters of all the grapes grown in Mendocino County bought and used to make wine by Napa and Sonoma County wineries, why is it so hard to bring greater awareness of the quality of our wines to the greater wine drinking public?

The Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival is outstanding, and features what many consider to be the county’s most focused appellation and their best wines. In 2014, the dinner held the night before the event was well attended by wine media; this year, I found myself alone with the gathered winery owners and winemakers.

Taste of Mendocino, an event held in San Francisco to introduce restaurant and wine shop trade, distributors, and wine media to the bounty of the county, our wines and food, saw underwhelming attendance this year.

Hopland Passport attendance numbers have dipped in recent years, although the best wineries continue to increase their sales numbers from the event.

Too often, I see money wasted on marketers who promise the moon but can’t deliver the basics.

In Sonoma County, all of the wineries and vineyards belong to a single organization, are taxed and the resultant pool of money is used to increase the demand for Sonoma County wines and prices for their grapes. Two initiatives of note for the Sonoma County Vintners: conjunctive labelling and sustainable certification.

All wine produced in Sonoma County carries the name Sonoma County on the front label, with more precise geographic information allowed additionally, such as Dry Creek Valley or Murphy Ranch. County wide sustainable certification, even when it is a farcical sham, with (allegedly) cancer causing Monsanto Round Up, and even more egregiously toxic chlorpyrifos grown fruit receiving such certification, will allow greater market penetration for Sonoma County’s wines in health conscious outlets such as Whole Foods.

Lodi was once a name that winemakers would not put on a wine label, choosing California instead, as the general impression of Lodi grapes and the wines they produced was not favorable. Again, Lodi’s vineyards self-taxed and over the last twenty four years, the Lodi Winegrape Commission has done a great job, working with grape growers to improve viticulture, and wineries to make better wines. Lodi has a sustainability program that is not a sham, and worked with their growers to certify. Public relations and marketing efforts, constant and thoughtful, have led to increased grape prices and an acceptance of Lodi as a respected area for wine production.

Mendocino County once had a similar organization, the Mendocino Wine and Winegrape Commission (MWWC), but no longer. The group started poorly, with a scoundrel for a director embezzling funds from the group, and another directing business to their own company. It took a while, but eventually the group hired Megan Metz who did a good job promoting Mendocino County’s wines, but it was too little too late for the county’s vineyard owners and they voted MWWC out of existence after only five total years, and just two functional years, in operation, in a fit of myopic selfishness, over unrealized unrealistic expectations.

Megan Metz now heads up the Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrowers Association and is bringing a ton of the bay area’s consumers and trade to taste wines at the area’s wineries and events.

Lodi didn’t turn around their wine reputation or increase wine grape prices in two, or even five, years, but closer to twenty.

Our county is incredibly shortsighted and, worse, it is fractured. The Mendocino County wine scene isn’t just Hwy 128 vs. Hwy 101, but in each area there is division, with Yorkville cut off from Anderson Valley and Ukiah cut off from Hopland. Within the Anderson Valley, there is the Philo clique, and for Hopland there is the downtown crew. Meetings of each area’s local tourism group are often contentious.

Many wineries will not send wines for review or enter competitions, because of cheapness, and then complain that the county does not receive wine media coverage.

Out of the ashes of MWWC, the much smaller Mendocino Winegrowers, Inc. (MWI) was born, a voluntary dues paying collective of wineries and growers. Every winery and every vineyard should be paying members. If you own a winery or vineyard, and want to join and help increase the profile of our wines and prices for our grapes, visit MendoWine.com and then give Aubrey Rawlins a call at (707) 901-7629.

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Here are some more recommendations to improve the county’s reputation for wine and prices for grapes: Anderson Valley wines, along with all other wines made in county from our grapes, should have Mendocino County included on the label. Every winery should submit all of their wines to all major publications for review, and enter all of their wines in at least four major wine competitions each year. Every winery should be involved in public relations, marketing, and communications for each event they participate in. Best practice marketing should be introduced.

Bringing people to taste and buy our wines, wines labelled Mendocino County, and creating a genuine, not sham, county wide sustainability program, will increase demand, bring media attention, and yield higher prices for our grapes.

With a more robust MWI, events like Taste of Mendocino can be brought home and marketed to consumers, with invitations going out four months in advance, with follow ups three months, two months, one month, two weeks, one week, and two days out; and the marketing materials should be provided to each participating winery or food vendor, to send out the invitations to each of their email lists. Taste of Mendocino could be, should be, as successful as Winesong, but it would take increased participation from all of our wineries.

I would love to see wine writers asking us to come taste our wines, because of the disproportionate number of awards taken by Mendocino County wines in competition and staggering number of 90+ rated wines in review, because we created must-attend events through planning and cooperative marketing following best practices, because over and over wine labels carry Mendocino County’s name, because we defended and enhanced our claim of being “America’s greenest grape growers”, because we grew up and behaved like adults for the betterment of all instead of like petulant selfish children with no thought or plan for the future.

Until we start acting responsibly, in larger numbers, in a cooperative participatory manner, Napa and Sonoma County wineries will be happy to continue to buy our grapes on the cheap, and wine writers will continue to dismiss us as the county that couldn’t get along.

John On Wine – An early Thanksgiving


Susan Johnson and John Cesano at Passport to Dry Creek Valley

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Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, May 14, 2015

I know I am supposed to save up all my gratefulness for the year and post it in a cliché Thanksgiving post toward the end of November, but Thanksgiving is coming early this year.

During the recently passed Hopland Passport event, one of our visiting tasters told me that she wished she could have my job. Everybody sees greener grass outside their lives; I would love to have Anthony Bourdain’s job, but I do recognize how blessed I am.

The Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley invited me to attend the Passport to Dry Creek Valley for the third consecutive year, and I am extraordinarily grateful. This year, I was accompanied by my good friend, Susan Johnson. Susan and I used to travel the country doing tradeshows, winemaker dinners, and corporate events for wineries, and then moved together to work for the Wine Appreciation Guild where we visited hundreds of wineries and tasting rooms throughout California.

Susan now works for a company that provides winemakers the tools to make great wine, and of course I pour great wine at one job and write about great wine in my other job. Although we came at each wine tasted from a different perspective, Susan looking at what could have made a wine better and me taking each wine as it is, we both were absolutely impressed front to back with the line ups at media check in host winery DaVero, Gustafson Family Winery, and Seghesio. Talty did the best job amplifying social media marketing, Selby had the best single bite of food, and Blanchard had the best ‘story’ wine.

DaVero produces organic or biodynamic wines from Italian varieties, and I shared the names of some Mendocino growers when asked by winemaker Evan, but if you grow grapes in the county, certified organic or biodynamic, and they are Italian varieties, then Evan wants to hear from you. Terrific wines that you will not taste anywhere else, plus they have farm goods for sale — and you know how much I love an organic farm stand & tasting room!

Gustafson is a long drive from any other winery, but absolutely worth the time to get there. Best winery views ever, fantastic wines, whimsically wonderful presented tasty food creations, and a dream property for vacation rental. Gustafson joins Preston and Truett-Hurst as one of my three favorite Dry Creek places to spend an afternoon with wine and food.

In spite of my desire to visit new wineries each Dry Creek Passport, Seghesio pulls me in year after year. Between wine, food, and music this is probably the most dependably solid stop for complete satisfaction.

Within seconds of a #DCVPassport post by me, about any participating winery, Talty was sharing or retweeting it. Visit them if you like Zin, Zin, or Zin. Selby’s duck and andouille sausage gumbo with crayfish cornbread was the best food I tasted all weekend. Blanchard had the best music with the Rosetown Ramblers covering Grateful Dead tunes, and each bottle sold of their “Helicopter” blend sees a donation to help the families of our military’s special operators.

Two days before our own Hopland Passport, I attended a general meeting of Mendocino Winegrowers Inc. at Barra of Mendocino. I would love to sit at a table with Charlie and Martha Barra, George Lee, Ed Berry, Leroy and Mary Louise Chase, and just shut up for a change. Listening to these, and other great growers, is so wonderful, and helps me in my education about Mendocino wine. I gratefully accepted an invite to visit the Chase Vineyard on a future date, and am thankful for the opportunity to tell a future story about wine from a great vineyard.

Hopland Passport. For me, it is a week of preparation, two days of intense energy output, and nearly a week of putting my tasting room back together afterward. Although people have reported that attendance may have been lighter than in the past, you couldn’t tell it by our numbers. I have everyone to thank, all of the team at the farm, the tasting room team, our chef team, and especially all of our visitors for more than doubling our numbers from last spring’s Passport event.

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Passport is truly a team effort, and we all work hard to make it as fun as possible; I think we succeeded. Now, if you’ll all come and pick up all of your paid for wine, I’ll be even more thankful.

Thanks to Tom Liden, Mendocino winery photographer, for your kind words of encouragement about the words I write weekly. Thanks also to all of my other readers for your words of support; I confess that I am still a little freaked out when I’m recognized for my writing and the compliments about individual pieces I have written, but I am enormously grateful. Within the last two weeks, three different people have told me they enjoy the recaps of the Chef’s Winemaker Dinners at Crush; that makes the piece I’ll be writing about the May 20 Graziano dinner all the easier to write.

Thanks to Aubrey Rawlins, executive director of Mendocino Winegrowers Inc., for recommending me for a winery writing gig. The funny thing is I already loved the wines and winery involved, had planned a visit for a future spotlight winery piece here, and this might be the easiest gig ever, a two for one opportunity.

Thanks to Janis MacDonald and Kristy Charles of the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association for invitations to all of your events, and for treating the Ukiah Daily Journal wine guy the same as the folks from Wine Enthusiast, San Francisco Chronicle, and Wine Spectator; it is appreciated, if a little surreal and humbling.

I will next be attending the 18th annual Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival on May 14-17; with a welcome dinner on Thursday (tonight) at Balo Vineyards, the Technical Conference on Friday at the Fairgrounds in Boonville (seriously, it may sound boring, but the tech conferences that Anderson Valley puts on are a highlight of each event) and a Casual BBQ at Lula Cellars that evening, a Press Tasting at Scharffenberger Cellars on Saturday morning followed by the Grand Tasting at Goldeneye Winery.

On Sunday, May 17, I’ll be headed to The Barlow in Sebastopol to taste Mendocino County’s Gold Medal awarded wines from the recent 2015 Press Democrat North Coast Wine Challenge. Friday, June 19, I’ll be at the Coro Mendocino 2012 Vintage Release Party & Multi-Course Dinner at Dogpatch Wine Works in San Francisco (tickets available at Sip Mendocino in Hopland, ask to sit at the McFadden table), and the next day, June 20, I’ll be at the Metreon in San Francisco for the 11th annual Pinot Days.

In between all this, I’ll be visiting vineyards, wineries, and tasting rooms for future pieces, or simply my own further education and enjoyment.

None of my opportunities would be possible without invitations from others, and those invitations come because I write for you, my readers, here in the Ukiah Daily Journal and online at JohnOnWine.com and you are the reason I have a life worthy of gratitude, of thanks, and of appreciation. I’m not waiting until Thursday, November 26, Thanksgiving day 2015; let me say it now (and possibly again then): Thank you!

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John On Wine – John gives thanks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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John On Wine – Mendocino County’s Green Wine Growers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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John on Wine – Hooking up

 

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal today, Thursday, July 31, 2014
By John Cesano

John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

The new format for the Ukiah Daily Journal, color splashed throughout, looks great but comes with a cost; deadlines for columns are earlier, much earlier. I used to enjoy the incredible luxury of being able to attend a weekend wine event, write a recap draft for a column on Monday, brush it up and submit it on Tuesday, and see it run on Thursday, which was great. Now, I have to submit my column by noon on Friday, before the weekend’s events, for this Thursday wine column. I attended the Second annual Anderson Valley Barrel Tasting weekend last weekend, but with a deadline before the event, I’ll have to write about last weekend this week to send by tomorrow, so you can read about it all next week. The column used to feel fresh; now it feels like some columns are about things nearly two weeks old.

 

I received a big “thank you” from someone who sells wine for a piece I wrote recently. I couldn’t remember the piece, even when reminded what it was about. I write pieces, turn them in, and move on, but the longer time between turn in and reader reaction means I may seriously have forgotten what I wrote, so please be patient as I ask you to remind me.

 

I’m writing this not as complaint, but explanation. I receive invitations to wine events, and I like to recap them. My hope is that if I describe something well enough then a reader will want to attend an annual event the following year. I have seen posters advertising events with my own quoted words, and I am heartened; I would love more folks to benefit from a bump in event ticket sales because of something I have written – even something written in recap the year before. I’ll still do recaps of events I attend, but they will come out a little later than they used to. What my column can continue to do well, and in a timely manner, is promote events before they happen, offered up in a calendar of upcoming events or featured in a section of a column. I would like to do that better, and for that I am using this week’s column to ask for help. I’ve got to ask folks in the wine industry to help me out getting the great events in front of readers. I won’t be mentioning every anniversary, wine club pick up party, or sale, but if the wineries in Redwood Valley, Anderson Valley, Yorkville Highlands, greater Hopland, or throughout the county are having a major collaborative event, Passport, barrel tasting, or other big festival, please reach out to me at least one month in advance so I can get a good mention. A press invite is always appreciated as well, so I can attend and write up the event – hopefully, you’ll save the write up and use it the following year in your marketing efforts to bring more people to visit and taste your wines. WineSong, Mushroom Train, Mendo Crab & Wine or Mushroom & Wine Fest events … you too. Let me know well in advance, so I can let my column readers, both in the paper and online, know about your event so they can buy tickets and come to your events. I can’t come to every winery dinner, I have to pick and choose. With almost 100 wineries hosting wine club events, picnics or dinners, and every wine friendly restaurant putting on a version of a chef’s wine dinner, I can’t possibly afford either the time or money that attending all would entail. That said, if your event is amazing (I’m looking at you, Testa, with your blending party, with dinner, and McKenna Faith playing live, and fantastic blend judges; and you, Crush Ukiah – when are we going to do a McFadden dinner?), then reach out to me and I’ll try to promote your event. Coro Mendocino, I’ve written about you about 205 times and moderated a TV shoot with your winemakers; keep me in mind when you send your press releases and when you make your press invitations for future events.

 

Visit Ukiah, Visit Mendocino, Mendocino Winegrowers Inc.; I need your help to help broadcast the best wine news. You know how to reach me, please do, again with both news in advance of your events, and an invite to those you would like me to cover.

 

Owners and winemakers, send me an email and let’s taste through your wines one fine weekend day, we can do it in an hour, and then you can show me your vineyard, winery, tasting room, whatever you are proud of, with the result being a spotlight winery feature. Bob, Hoss, Rich, and Greg – you’ve each offered up a taste, let’s set up a date. Everyone else, just reach out. I’m a cheerleader for the industry. I haven’t written harshly of any wines in this column. That is easy when there are always so many great things to write about. Bottom line: if you are involved in wine events, please let me know about your events; JohnOnWine@gmail.com is the email to use. Want to send wine or something else through the mail? John Cesano, 13275 S Hwy 101 #5, PO Box 624, Hopland, CA 95449 works great.

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Tomorrow, is the Mendocino County Fair Wine Competition. The judges will gather and taste through the morning and afternoon, deciding on Bronze, silver, and Gold medals for wines. The rare wine to take unanimous Gold votes from the judges will get Double Gold medals. Top medal winners will be tasted again for Best of Class, Best Red, Best White, Best Sparkling, and Best Dessert honors. The best part of it all is the award ceremony and dinner that will follow the judging at the Mendocino College Student Plaza from 6-9 p.m. I love it and attend every year. Enjoy a delicious three course dinner prepared by the Mendocino College Culinary Arts program led by Chef Nicholas Petti of Mendo Bistro, while sampling award winning wines from the competition.

 

Tickets are just $55 and available at www.mendowine.com; get your tickets before they stop sales.

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John Cesano writes the popular wine blog John On Wine at www.johnonwine.com

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Editor’s note:

 

We really appreciate all of our unpaid columnists and the work they put in so that we may meet out deadlines. Our roster of local writers have done a great job submitted timely, relevant and informative articles for our readers to enjoy, and they deserve a big tip-of-the-hat for their efforts.

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EDITED TO ADD: I love my editor, Kelly Hancock, and I must have seemed grudgey, or just outright bitchy, for her to have come in to add her note. I am touched by her sweetness, and apologize for any bitchiness on my part.

My intent was to say, “Hey, I’ve got this deadline, and it lends itself to promotion of future events, so you wine area tourism groups, or county tourism groups, or wine groups, or restaurants, or wineries – send me a heads up if you have something truly noteworthy for me to mention, and extending an invite might get the event written up some time after.”  Of course, that isn’t enough words to fill a column, so I may have chosen an intemperate word or set a tone not really intended, with the extra words I did use.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coffee – Black Oak
Tea – Mendocino Tea
Cream –

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

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

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John On Wine – 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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