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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John On Wine – Hopland Passport is October 19 & 20 this Fall

This piece originally ran in the Ukiah Daily Journal on October 10, 2013

Hopland Passport is coming up in just nine days, on Saturday, October 19th and Sunday, October 20th, 2013, from 11:00am to 5:00pm each day.

With fifteen participating wineries pouring their best wines, incredible food pairings at each stop, and opportunities to experience tours, art, and live music, Hopland is the place to be for wine lovers next weekend.

Weekend passes include a collectable logo glass, a wristband, and a real Passport to collect stamps in, and are just $45 online at http://www.DestinationHopland.com/store, or $55 at the event. The online store CLOSES on Thursday, October 17th at noon, so purchase your tickets early to get the discounted price.

Here is some of the fun you can expect if you attend:

Brutocao Cellars plans a football themed weekend with great tailgate food to pair with their award winning Estate wines. The Blues Pirates will perform a “half time” show. Do not miss the annual grape stomp competition!

Campovida will serve organic fare from their gardens, prepared by chef Adam Weiss from their sister property, Piazza de Campovida. Enjoy light bites with the wonderfully expanded line up of wines. Taking the time for a guided tour of the property’s gardens is a must do part of Passport.

Cesar Toxqui Cellars is all about food and wine pairings. Start on the porch with fruit infused cheeses paired with Chardonnay and Viognier, then move inside for BBQ tri tip and sausage with Zinfandels, before finishing your visit with a dessert of dark chocolate cake and Port.

Frey Vineyards pours their organic wines in the Real Goods Store at the Solar Living Center. On the menu, to pair with Frey’s no sulfite added wines, is curried chicken with fall chutney, a biodynamic cheese platter with fresh baguettes, marinated goat cheese, and roasted organic vegetables in a Frey Chardonnay marinade. Explore the grounds, celebrate sustainability, and catch local musicians performing.

Graziano Family of Wines offers up over thirty wines, mostly Italian varietals, and all but a few at under $20. Enjoy aged cheese, homemade tapenade, country pate, seasonal fruit, and an assortment of imported sausages, served with wines ranging from Anglianico to Zinfandel.

Jaxon Keys Winery & Distillery invites folks to sit on the covered veranda of their farmhouse tasting room and enjoy their wines with seasonal Mendo-sourced foods prepared by local chef Ellery Clark.

Jeriko Estate smartly offers up a classic pairing: pigs and Pinot. Enjoy three 2012 Pinot Noir wines; the Pommard clone, the Dijon clone, and a blend – the upper Russian River Pinot Noir, paired with wood roasted pork. Live music, tastes of the Gold Medal 2010 Sangiovese and barrel tastes of the 2012 Sangiovese, and San Greal Don 48 Chardonnay Vodka specialty cocktail recipe sharing round out a visit to this certified Biodynamic vineyard and cellar.

The McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room will show off the bounty of their bio-diverse, certified organic, family farm. Take a taste of any of over a dozen 90 point, or higher, rated wines and pair them with grilled organic grass fed beef from McFadden Farm. Enjoy the farm fresh goodness of their wild rice & artichoke heart salad. Guinness McFadden will visit both days and sign bottles of his wines as they are purchased..

McNab Ridge Winery will offer up a pirate themed Passport weekend, decked out in pirate garb, serving up Caribbean roasted pork tenderloin with a pineapple & apricot chutney over wild rice, paired with a gold medal winning dry Gewurztraminer. Over a dozen gormet dips & spreads, barrel tasting of a 2012 Pinot Noir, and bottle painting by Leslie Bartlomei are also on the menu, matey.

Milano Family Winery offers up smoked marinated Tri-Tip, veggies and dips, and aged Cabot Creamery cheeses, live music on both Saturday and Sunday, clothing and craft vendors, and a wide ranging line up of wines, from young sweet whites to aged dry reds.

Nelson Family Vineyards will pair their Estate wines with slices from Mendough’s Wood-Fired Pizza, including chevre and sun dried tomatoes, prosciutto and arugula, Gorgonzola and artickoke. Finish your tasting with their Ice Riesling.

Ray’s Station is pairing with Fork Catering again for some great taste combos; Korean Short Rib Sliders Creamy Slaw with Sriracha mayonnaise paired with 2011 Zinfandel; Grilled Cheese with Gruyère, caramelized onions and tomato jam paired with 2011 Ray’s Red Blend; Crispy Pork Skewers with cilantro, jalapeno and lime paired with 2011 Merlot; and Seven Layer Bars with coconut, butterscotch-chocolate chips, pecans and graham cracker crust paired with NV Brut.

Rivino Winery will be putting on a Canadian themed Passport this fall, with poutine paired with Chardon’eh. Music from the Barenaked Ladies, Neil Young, Bryan Adams and other Canadian artists will fill the air. Listen for owner’s Jason and Suzanne to lose their American accents as the weekend rolls on, slipping back into their Canadian accents.

Saracina will be hosting a squash party this year, featuring gourmet squash and pulled pork tacos to pair with some seriously delicious reds and whites. Live music will fill the air. Complimentary cave tours will be offered at 12:30, 2:30 and 4:00 p.m..

Terra Savia invites visitors to “laissez les bon temps roulez” – let the good times roll, with rich red, white, and bubbly wines paired with stuffed mushrooms and remoulade sauce, chicken and Andouille jambalaya, red beans and rice, couvillion – the fish stew, fried green tomatoes, and New Orleans bread pudding with rum sauce/lemon sauce. Beads, and music from Coffee Zombie Collective, will leave you feeling the joie de vivre – joy of life!

JOHN ON WINE – Spotlight Winery: Milano Family Winery

By John Cesano

A few months ago when launching this column, I said I would try to limit my use of the words love and adore, because with the way I feel about the area’s wines and people I could easily overuse both.

Well, I have been sparing enough that I hope you’ll forgive me now. I absolutely adore Deanna Starr.

Deanna and her husband Ted own Milano Family Winery at the south end of Highway 101 in the big old hop kiln. Deanna is also the winemaker at Milano.

I worked with Deanna when we were on the board of Destination Hopland together. Deanna is intelligent, funny, patient, thoughtful, and a joy to work with. Deanna is also a gracious hostess; last year, I attended a group meal Deanna hosted at Milano for tasting room folks from a number of local wineries in the middle of Hopland Passport after the first full day of pouring.

Milano Family Winery can’t be missed. Although it sits back off Highway 101, it’s the only big wooden hop kiln building with the word “WINERY” in giant letters posted on the side facing the road.

After parking, you can climb the stairs to the tasting room, or take in the menagerie on the south side of the winery.

I always visit the animals first. On my last visit, I saw chickens, turtles, ducks, pygmy goats, geese, sheep, and a llama. There are probably more, but I especially like seeing the giant turtles. Seeing them doesn’t make the wine taste better objectively but, since it always puts me in a good mood, the turtles may make the wines taste better subjectively for me.

The first thing you notice after climbing the stairs to the second floor and entering the tasting room is how well it is stocked with fun wine themed merchandise. After tasting wines at McFadden, I often send our guests who ask about particular wine accessories onward to Milano because of the incredible range of products offered.

There were 22 wines on the list when I visited. There is a modest tasting fee which Dawn, my tasting room host, waived for me. I tasted six wines. Here’s my notes:

2009 Chardonnay $16 ­ Caramel notes from oak, butter from malolactic fermentation, nice light apple fruit.

2009 Sangiovese, Palisades Vineyard $24 ­ Enjoyably drinkable. Cassis, plum, cedar. Approachable, not the spiced tannin edge of some Sangiovese. Nicely balanced with just enough acidity to provide structure for the fruit.

2006 Carignane, Hidden Hawk Vineyard $22 ­ Nice, rich, forward fruit notes of cherry, raspberry, and strawberry.

2006 Neese Merlot $24 ­ Sherry like vanilla and sweet fig, sweet tart cherry, tannin, tapering finish.

2006 Echo, Bells Echo Vineyard $37 – I (forgive me) love (there, I said it) this wine. Didn’t want to spit. Blackberry, cherry. Great mouth feel. Long lingering finish.

2006 Orange Muscat $29 ­ This was Dawn’s favorite. Honeyed apricot meets lovely citrus, wonderfully balanced. 15.2 percent alcohol.

Deanna holds her wines longer than many local winemakers, so you will find older vintages available at Milano Family Winery than at most – if not all – other local winery tasting rooms. The extra time gives her wines a chance to fully age, both in barrel and in the bottle. You have undoubtedly heard of people laying wines down, cellaring them, aging them; Deanna and Milano Family Winery do that for you so the wines you purchase are how Deanna would like you to taste them.

In addition to the varietal reserve, premium, and dessert wines available for tasting, Milano Family Winery produces some wine bottles that are blends with fun names such as Sunshine, Mistero, Big Ass Red, and Disaster Relief Red.

Wines are sold by the bottle, but Milano Family Winery also sells wines by the glass, which is perfect if you want to head back outside and enjoy a picnic lunch (BYOP: bring your own picnic) with wine at a wooden picnic table under a grape arbor next to the animals. Milano has a terrific spot for picnics.

The Milano Family Winery tasting room is open daily from 10 a.m. ­ 5 p.m.

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A Taste Of Redwood Valley will be hosting a winemaker dinner Friday, June 14, followed by their 21st annual special weekend of wine tasting on Saturday and Sunday, June 15 and 16. Participating wineries include Barra of Mendocino/Girasole Vineyards, Cole Bailey Vineyards, Frey Vineyards, Germain-Robin, Giuseppe Wines, Graziano Family of Wines, Oster Wine Cellars, Silversmith Vineyards, and Testa Vineyards. For more information, or to purchase tickets, visit ATasteOfRedwoodValley.com
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John Cesano is twice the man he was in high school. Literally, John weighs exactly twice what he once did many years ago.

The 21st annual fall Hopland Passport wine weekend, on Saturday, October 20 and Sunday, October 21, from 11:00 am until 5:00 pm each day, offers something for everybody, whether a first time wine event goer or a veteran of many Hopland Passport wine weekends.

Hopland Passport tickets are available online through noon on Thursday, October 18 at just $45 each. Tickets are available at any of the participating winery tasting rooms during the weekend for $55 each. Recommendation: don’t procrastinate, save $10 per ticket, go online and buy them early.

To fully and safely enjoy your Hopland Passport experience, with roughly 150 wines being poured by the sixteen Hopland Passport wineries, it is a great idea to use both full days for tasting. Enjoy the food offered by each tasting room. Listen to music, take tours, absorb the information that pourers give you. After nosing and tasting a wine, use the dump buckets provided to empty your glass of wine left from tasting, and take notes of your favorite wines so you can purchase those wines during the weekend’s sale prices. You will have a much better time trying to taste dozens of wines than trying to drink dozens of wines. Many wineries offer larger discounts to wine club members, so if you enjoy several wines poured at one tasting room, consider joining their wine club and enjoying bigger savings both during Hopland Passport and beyond.

New attendees will find a remarkably enjoyable opportunity to enjoy wine tasting at sixteen participating Hopland area tasting rooms, along with terrific food pairings chosen to highlight the flavors of the wines being poured, with each tasting room putting a unique spin on the weekend’s festivities with vineyard and garden tours, fun themed events, live music, contests, and special event specific discounts. Quite simply, Hopland Passport is the best wine tasting event value anywhere.

Veteran attendees will find many of their favorite winery tasting rooms doing what they do best, but will also find two brand new Hopland Passport tasting rooms to visit this time around.

Rivino Winery is one of the two newcomers pouring this fall. Closer to Ukiah than Hopland, off Hwy 101 on Cox Schrader Road, Rivino is no stranger to events, having hosted a long running and  well-attended weekly Friday Happy Hour wine and music gathering. Enjoy a Caddyshack themed Hopland Passport weekend in Rivino’s vineyard with live music by Nahara Ange and food inspired by the classic golf comedy. Be sure to taste the gold medal winning estate wines Rivino will be pouring.

New Kids on the Block, RIVINO will be doing it up right out of the blocks

New Kids on the Block, RIVINO will be doing it up right out of the blocks

The other new addition to the lineup of Hopland Passport winery tasting rooms is Naughty Boy Vineyards. Naughty Boy Vineyards pours from a new shop, WAA WAA, in downtown Hopland’s Vintage Marketplace building.  WAA WAA is short for Wine, Art, and Antiques x 2, as delightful collectible affordable vintage goods and inspired artwork share a retail location with wine made from grapes grown by Potter Valley’s Naughty Boy Vineyards.

Naughty Boy Vineyards at WAA WAA in Hopland's Vintage Marketplace

Naughty Boy Vineyards at WAA WAA in Hopland’s Vintage Marketplace

Naughty Boy will bring live music by Redbud to Hopland’s Vintage Marketplace, and will offer homemade Scottish Lox and other Hors d’Ouerves created to pair perfectly their wines. In addition to wine sales, antiques will be on sale at 30 percent off.

Sharing the Vintage Marketplace building in Hopland are three more winery tasting rooms, the McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room, Graziano Family of Wines, and Weibel Family Vineyards & Winery.

Vintage Marketplace, home to Naughty Boy, McFadden, Graziano, and Weibel

Vintage Marketplace, home to Naughty Boy, McFadden, Graziano, and Weibel

McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room, which I manage, will feature all the best from our own certified organic and biodiverse farm.  We’ll  grill up steaks from McFadden Farm’s own organic grass fed beef, seasoned with McFadden Farm organic herbs and herb blends, and a McFadden Farm wild rice salad, and offering the ingredients for sale so visitors can recreate the Passport offerings is what Guinness McFadden has been doing for years. This fall, there will be a big pot of farm fresh beans to go with all of the other great farm food.

In the back yard at McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room

In the back yard at McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room

Enjoy big discounts on everything in the Farm Stand & Tasting Room, with Guinness McFadden signing bottles of his award winning wines as they are purchased, including his double gold medal winning Sparkling Brut.

Graziano Family of Wines offers over thirty delicious reds, whites, roses and blends for you to enjoy, from Aglianico to Zinfandel, many at special Passport sale prices. Graziano will offer up imported meats and cheeses, homemade tapenade, and estate-grown olive oils to pair with their wines being poured.

Inside the Graziano tasting room

Inside the Graziano tasting room

Weibel welcomes back Fork Catering for a delectable array of appetizers including Grilled Tomatillo Cilantro Chicken Tacos, Heirloom Tomato Bruschetta, and Mini Grilled Cheese sandwiches with local artisan cheeses. Weibel will feature both their popular fruit and nut infused bubblies, as well as their handcrafted wines made from Redwood Valley grapes.

Yummy treats at Weibel

Yummy treats at Weibel

Three more winery tasting rooms are located in downtown Hopland, Cesar Toxqui Cellars, McNab Ridge Winery, and Brutocao Cellars.

Cesar Toxqui Cellars will be greeting guests on the porch with fruit infused cheeses and a wonderfully brisk new Chardonnay release. Once inside, you’ll enjoy delicious chicken curry, southern fried fish, homemade ceviche, and fried rice, and a new release 2007 Immigrant Zinfandel.

Cesar Toxqui Cellars tasting room

Cesar Toxqui Cellars tasting room

There will be barrel tasting at McNab Ranch Winery, with the opportunity to buy futures of their 2010 Cononiah Zinfandel. Be sure to try spicy Asian peanut pasta salad paired with McNab’s French Colombard. Traditional favorites, the spreads/dips and bottle painting by local artist Leslie Bartolomei, will return.

A little something to enjoy with McNab Zin barrel samples

A little something to enjoy with McNab Zin barrel samples

Brutocao promises a Wine Zombie Apocalypse: “serving some finger lickin’ good treats paired with award winning Estate Wines. Go out on a limb and be the best dressed zombie and win a prize. It will be a horrific good time with grape stomps, bocce ball and un-dead music by “Third Party”.  Wines to die for!”

Bocce at Brutocao

Bocce at Brutocao

Just west of downtown Hopland, on Mountain House Road, you’ll find both Rack & Riddle and Terra Sávia.

Rack & Riddle is a custom sparkling wine house. Many of the area’s best bubblies are made at Rack & Riddle, including double gold medal winners for both McFadden and Terra Savia. Rack & Riddle also produces both sparkling and still wines of their own – all delicious. Enjoy them with Rack & Riddle’s lime & shrimp ceviche, warm tri-tip sliders, chips & guacamole.

It's not a real wine event without a working tractor - at Rack & Riddle

It’s not a real wine event without a working tractor – at Rack & Riddle

Terra Sávia offers not just delicious wines and a terrific bubbly rouge, but fantastic olive oil. A tasting of Olivino’s quality olive oils will likely make you regret a lifetime’s use of a previously favored store brand. Always a great stop, enjoy wine, food, art, music, and olive oil.

Relax at Terra Savia, a lovely Passport stop

Relax at Terra Savia, a lovely Passport stop

Just south of downtown Hopland is Milano Family Winery. Enjoy Milano’s scrumptious smoked & marinated Tri-Tip, an abundance of fresh veggies and dips, as well as delicious, aged to perfection Cabot Creamery Cheeses. On Saturday, “Headband” will play rock & roll, blues, jazz.  On Sunday, “Frankie J” will play. Don’t miss the clothing & craft vendors that always set up at Milano during Hopland Passport.

Milano is a great stop with wine, food, crafts, and music, a festival within a festival

Milano is a great stop with wine, food, crafts, and music, a festival within a festival

East of downtown Hopland, on Old River Road, you’ll find Campovida. No Hopland Passport wine weekend is complete without a tour of Campovida’s gardens, led by master gardener Ken Boek. Campovida is another amazing, only in Hopland, blend of wine, food, art, music, and heartfelt hospitality.

Take a taste of Campovida's wines from their tasting room into their gardens

Take a taste of Campovida’s wines from their tasting room into their gardens

North of downtown Hopland, heading back toward Rivino on Hwy 101, Hopland Passport stops include Jeriko Estate, Saracina, Jaxon Keys, and Nelson Family Vineyards.

Jeriko Estate features biodynamically grown hand crafted Pinot Noir, and often serves up pork -  which goes great with Pinot.

Jeriko will be pouring Pinot, perhaps paired with pork

Jeriko will be pouring Pinot, perhaps paired with pork

Saracina is deservedly famous for the Rhone varietal wines and Rhone inspired twists that winemaker Alex MacGregor brings to Saracina. Try a Chardonnay with a touch of Viognier, enjoy a Rhone red blend, tour real wine caves, enjoy the peaceful setting designed to make you relaxed and more open to all that the wines, food pairings, and music are trying to convey.

Saracina is a series of paintings just waiting to happen, absolutely beautiful

Saracina is a series of paintings just waiting to happen, absolutely beautiful

Jaxon Keys Winery & Distillery offers a prohibition era themed weekend, “our Speakeasy will be open for business, serving bootleg wine to all who dare break the law of Prohibition. We will have barrels of wine, gallons of contraband brandy and vodka all for the asking. No G-Men to worry about! We’ve paid them to look the other way for the weekend. Live music on the deck, awesome food prepared by Taste of Perfection Catering, and all our wines flowing freely, experience the Prohibition era for yourself!”

Just Kicking it at Jaxon Keys

Just Kicking it at Jaxon Keys

Exactly half way between Hopland and Ukiah, Nelson Family Vineyards invites crowd pleaser Mendough’s Wood-Fired Pizza back.  Enjoy Nelson’s estate wines, paired with delicious pizzas made with fresh and local ingredients including chevre and sun dried tomatoes, prosciutto and arugula, Gorgonzola and artichoke all atop the most incredible crust you’ve ever had. Nelson’s Ice Riesling is a perfect way to end your visit to Nelson, and your Hopland Passport wine weekend.

Pizza and wine in the grove at Nelson

Pizza and wine in the grove at Nelson

Coming to Hopland too late to officially participate in the fall Hopland Passport, Frey from Redwood Valley will be having a Grand Opening of their new tasting room in the Real Goods store at the Solar Living Institute in Hopland. This 17th Hopland tasting room may not be in the passport, but they will be offering up delicious food pairings to go with their sulfite free, vegan, wines.

Frey will be opening their new tasting room during Passport in Hopland

Frey will be opening their new tasting room during Passport in Hopland

In addition to Piazza de Campovida which opened in time for last spring’s Hopland Passport, this fall’s event will see the new Hopland Ale House opening; both spots will offer beer and food for sale during and after Passport hours. An 18th tasting room, SIP! Mendocino, will be open for tastings of Mendocino County wines from outside the area as well.

For more information, or to purchase tickets, please visit www.DestinationHopland.com

Okay, if you’ve read this far, and I expect that few will, here’s your reward. If you simply leave a comment about any one of the wineries that will participate at this year’s fall Hopland Passport between now and noon on Friday, October 12, you will be entered into a random drawing for two tickets ($110 value) for Hopland Passport. If you want to double your drawing entries from one to two, make the comment about the tasting room I manage. I’ll add an announcement of the winner here, to this post and on the facebook page of Hopland Passport on or before Monday, October 15, 2012. Good luck!

Photo credits: If the photo looks great, it came from Diane Davis Photography. If the photo is okay, I yoinked from the winery’s website. If the photo is meh, then I took it.

In May 2010, I recapped the Spring Hopland Passport in a piece here. I recognize I lack humility, but I really thought I wrote the best piece on the event – period.

As Secretary on the Board of Directors for Destination Hopland, the non profit responsible for putting on Hopland Passport and increasing tourism to Hopland, I reached out to fellow online wine writers last fall, inviting them to attend the 20th annual Fall Hopland Passport.

Funny how I went from writing about the event one year to helping put it on the next.

Surprising me, I have to hand my “best piece covering Hopland Passport” crown to someone else.

Where I visited all the wineries, tasted over 100 wines, wrote mini notes, and shared some pictures, all in one big post, our new recap champ visited all of our wineries, and shared some words, but her photography is better than my writing will ever be, and she gave each winery their full due, offering up a 16 part event recap.

Diane Davis, better known as Di to the industry folks in the area, posts her words and pictures at Winestyle Living; Sharing the Tales, History & Images of Wine Country. There were several pieces written after last Fall’s event, but Di’s posts stood out for me. I recognized in her work the passion I feel for the area I write about. This wasn’t a job, a gig, for Di, but an opportunity to put the wineries she loves in the best light. I can feel Di’s heart in her work.

Softening the blow of not having written the best Hopland Passport recap piece are the overly nice things Di wrote about me when covering McFadden Vineyard, “When you walk into the tasting room you are greeted by John Cesano, a combination of an exceptional wine talent and a seasoned entertainer. You will learn more about wine in the time you spend there than you will learn about wine in hours of internet searching. If John doesn’t satisfy your curiosity with his bits of wisdom, just ask, he can fill in the blanks.”

Di’s real artistry is in the terrific photos, capturing of the families of McFadden. There are pictures of Guinness McFadden, his lovely girlfriend Judith, his brother Tommy, and his daughter Fontaine. There are pictures of Ann, who works nearly every Second Saturday, and her husband Mark. In addition to pictures of me, there is a wonderful picture of my red haired son Charlie, who worked with Mark outside cooking while Ann worked inside with me pouring and selling wine. Lots of wine.

I know that every winery of Hopland had to smile as they read Di’s words and viewed the journal of photographic art she posted for each.

Here are the links to her pieces, written from November 2011 through January 2012, all in one place.

If I can’t write the best Hopland Passport piece, I can re-host it.

McNab Ridge Winery

McFadden Vineyard

Graziano Family Winery

Weibel Family Winery

McDowell Winery

Cesar Toxqui Cellars

Brutocao Cellars

Parducci Wine Cellars

Milano Family Winery

Rack & Riddle Custom Wine Services

Terra Sávia

Jeriko Estate

Jaxon Keys Winery & Distillery

Saracina Vineyards

Nelson Family Vineyard

Campovida

Di is putting on reverbcon, a social media conference in the hidden wine country of Hopland, April 10-12, 2012. By the time Di is finished, Hopland may not be so hidden anymore.

Local Hopland Wine Notes:

I had the opportunity to visit winery tasting rooms other than my own in the last week.

Right in Hopland, I visited SIP! Mendocino and Bernadette poured me some wines. Using a Jedi mind trick, she grabbed a bottle, and waving her hand at me said, “you’re going to like this.” Of course, I did like it, and bought a bottle of the 2008 Tahto Petite Sirah, Potter Valley. Deep rich dark berry, herb, chocolate and spice, nicely integrated.

The next day, I returned to SIP! and tasted with Angela, running into Gary Krimont and Hopland’s own Kit, co-owner of the Superette grocery store in Hopland. I tasted a couple of Rhone offerings, a Grenache and a Syrah, both were yummy, but really an appetizer for what came next.

We scooted next door to Cesar Toxqui’s tasting room. There is a big buzz surrounding Cesar and his wines. After having made wines for many local wineries, Cesar started making wines for himself as well. In a tasting room more relaxed than most, Cesar, with Gary’s help, poured his way through his wines. I tasted wines of depth, fullness, character. Starting with solid grapes, the fermenting juice is punched down twice a day by hand with extended maceration. If you don’t speak wine geek, that means Cesar wrings the grapes and skins for all the best flavor they will yield.

Everything I tasted was delicious, from Cesar’s Chardonnay and Pinot Noir to his Zinfandel and Heirloom, a wine that has a little of the previous Heirloom blended into it, which itself had a little of the previous vintage blended in, and so on, so that the wine you taste is a wine of all time, a magic representation of everything Cesar has done from day one. There is a rumor that Heirloom III will be unveiled at this weekend’s Spring Hopland Passport.

After tasting the 2009 Cesar Tozqui Cellars Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley and 2009 Cesar Tozqui Cellars Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley side by side, I was surprised to find the Anderson Valley Pinot from Mendocino County was drinking more beautifully, was more velvety, than the Russian River Valley Pinot from Sonoma County grapes. I grew up on Dry Creek Valley Cabs and Zins and Russian River Valley Pinots, and developed a “house palate,” preferring the tastes of the wines grown in the places I grew up. If I had been asked to guess which wine was which, based on taste alone, I would have guessed wrong, because I am prejudiced to prefer Russian River Valley Pinots. My second favorite AVA for Pinot Noir is the Anderson Valley, so the side by side tasting was both a treat and instructive.

I bought a bottle of Cesar’s Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, forgetting that there is a generous reciprocal inter winery discount for the tasting room staff of the Hopland wineries. I was doubly thrilled with my purchase after the discount.

The next day, after closing up my tasting room, I headed to Jaxon Keys for an inter winery mixer.

Jaxon Keys is a Wilson winery. Ken and Diane Wilson own some premier winery properties in Sonoma County, and bought and renamed the Jepson winery and distillery, hired Fred Nickel, a knowledgeable and skilled local winemaker, to increase the quality of the wines, and moved the tasting room from a low shed like building to a huge, lovely old estate house on a hill overlooking the vineyards.

Vicki Milone played host to tasting room staff from several Hopland area wineries, with folks coming from Dry Creek Valley wineries in Sonoma County as well. Everyone brought food, and wine, and shared a nice two hours of relaxed fellowship.

The yummiest food treat, which I will be stealing without reservation, was cream and blue cheese with orange marmalade infused figs and toasted pecans on a round pastry. It turns out the round pastry was from Pillsbury giant crescent rolls, sliced while and remaining rolled. Thank you Bev for bringing the taste treat – for me – of the night and sharing where the recipe came from. I will be making these for a future Second Saturday in Hopland to pair with our wines at the tasting room.

I enjoyed a number of the wines Vicki poured and am looking forward to when more of Fred’s wines come on line.

At the mixer, I met Victor Simon, winemaker at Simaine in Ukiah. I will be visiting and tasting very soon.

I also had a bottle find me, instead of me going out to find it, last week. When I returned from a three day weekend, I found my dear friend Serena Alexi had brought a bottle of 2005 Wellington Vineyards Zinfandel, Sonoma Valley. I have not opened it yet, but I am sure to write nice things here when I do.

The folks at Brown-Forman in Kentucky who own Fetzer Vineyards in Hopland sent me six bottles a couple of months ago, but only four were delivered as two were damaged in transit. Although Concha y Toro in Chile is buying Fetzer, Maria from Brown-Forman contacted me today to see about replacing the two bottles. It is a mark of class, of professionalism, that a company that has effectively sold Fetzer already is continuing their first class marketing efforts on behalf of the brand.

Parducci, located in Ukiah, is opening a satellite tasting room in Hopland at the Solar Living Center. John March, who poured the wines of Magnanimus Wine Group at Campovida in Hopland, will be the tasting room manager of the new tasting room facility. I wondered aloud how a Ukiah winery with their own Ukiah tasting room was going to be pouring at this weekend’s Spring Hopland Passport weekend, and why every Ukiah or Redwood Valley winery couldn’t pour. I thought that the collaboration between Parducci and the Solar Living Center was a weekend fling, but am thrilled to welcome Parducci, a winery I love, and John March, a terrifically talented brand ambassador, to Hopland full time.

The Solar Living Center does attract a large share of hippie, marijuana smoking, young folk, and I suggested jokingly to John that he find out which Parducci wine pairs best with weed. That said, my tasting room is the closest to the new medical marijuana dispensary opening up in Hopland, and may I suggest that the 2007 McFadden Vineyard Coro Mendocino would go wonderfully with a nice bong load of Mendocino County’s sticky icky. I have to start practicing saying that with a hand wave, in my own Jedi mind trick style.

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Three Big Events:

This coming weekend, April 30 and May 1, there are two big wine events going on; Spring Hopland Passport, and Passport to Dry Creek Valley; plus Hospice du Rhone will be held April 28-30.

Although I question the sense, or dollars and cents, of spending $125 to visit 46 wineries, tickets are pretty much SOLD OUT for the Dry Creek Valley Passport. There is just no possible way to visit that many wineries. It doesn’t matter what each is offering if you can’t possibly experience it. That said, pick and choose your favorites, get swept up in the traffic and crowds, and enjoy some very delicious wines, paired with the delightful food treats.

Last year, I attended Spring Hopland Passport, took two full days, visited all the participating wineries, enjoyed some very delicious wines (100 of them) from 21 labels, paired with delightful food treats. I wrote a Spring Hopland Passport recap last year. Visit the official Hopland Passport site, where tickets can be bought for just $35, which seems a far more reasonable cost considering the number of wineries that can be visited in one or two days.

A few highlights of what a $35 Spring Hopland Passport ticket buys: Cesar Toxqui Cellars will offer authentic Filipino cuisine to pair with vertical tastings and barrel tastings. Jaxon Keys will have tri-tip sliders and live music by the Felt-Tips. Jeriko Winery will be roasting pig and chicken and have live acoustic music. McFadden Vineyard will pour all of their wines, run big two day only sales, and cook up organic grass fed cube steak from the McFadden Farm seasoned with grilling herbs, lemon pepper and garlic powder also grown organically at McFadden farm, McFadden Farm Wild Rice and artichoke heart salad, and a green salad with McFadden Farm organic salad herbs. McNab Ridge will be pouring current releases, barrel samples and a Coro vertical while offering a selection of dips and speads, marinated chicken thighs with grilled pineapple, and jumbo shrimp with a zesty horseradish cocktail sauce. Mendocino Farms wine will be poured at Campovida while Ken Boek leads garden tours and Les Boek and his band provide music. Milano Family Winery will be serving tri-tip and have live music by Marc Hansen. Nelson Vineyards will be offering up organic Mendough’s wood-fired pizza with their estate wines. Parducci’s wines will be paired with Magruder Ranch grass fed pulled pork and lamb sliders with Asian slaw while The Dirt Floor Band plays at the Real Goods Solar Living Institute. Saracina Vineyards wines will be paired with smoked chicken and porcini crepes, grilled hanger steak tartines, and beet spoons catered by Janelle Weaver, exec chef of Kuleto Estate Winery. Terra Savia will be pairing wine and olive oil tastings with Hawaiian fare while Hui Arago’s band plays Hawaiian music. Weibel Family Vineyards will be pairing wines with treats from Fork Catering. Thanks to Heidi Cusick Dickerson and Hopland Passport for pulling all of this information together. Ticket prices rise $10 on the day of the event, so pre-purchase your tickets online or at any Hopland winery tasting room.

The 19th Annual Hospice du Rhone will bring together over 1,000 Rhone wines from over 130 Rhone wine producers for three days in Paso Robles, CA. There are several events, tastings, seminars, meals, and you can pick and choose which events to buy tickets to with prices ranging from $100-$155, or you can buy a weekend package ticket for $795, getting you into most of the events.

Wine writers usually write about wineries and winemakers, tasting rooms and wines, but far too often don’t give full credit to the vineyards, winegrape caretakers, and the land the grapes grow on that shape the wines we enjoy.

The San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition is a pretty big deal in the world of wine competitions. This year, this largest wine competition of American wines saw over 5,000 wines entered into competition from 23 US states. Of course, most of the wines came from California, and many of the wines entered were made with grapes grown in Mendocino County grapes.

All of the wines awarded medals – Bronze, Silver, Gold, Double (unanimous) Gold, Best of Class (best of varietal, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, etc.), and Sweepstakes (Best red, white, bubbly, dessert, etc. of Competition) – will be poured for the public at the SFCWC Public Tasting at the Festival Pavilion at the Fort Mason Center in San Francisco on Saturday, February 19, 2011 from 2:00pm – 5:00pm.

I have pulled the 170 wines being poured, made from Mendocino County grapes, by wineries in and out of Mendocino County, so that you can try a Terroir tasting. By planning ahead, preparing a tasting list of Mendocino County wines, there is the opportunity to taste unique varietal characteristics found in Mendocino County’s wines, what makes Chardonnay made from Manchester Ridge grapes so good or how Barbera, Sauvignon Blanc and Syrah each find a fullness of expression when grown in Mendocino County. The opportunity to explore and learn the profile of award winning Anderson Valley Pinot Noir or Mendocino Zinfandel by tasting several award winning examples in one place is rare, but well worth the effort – especially when the opportunity presents itself so richly.

I will visit wineries, mostly in Mendocino County, this year and write about the wines they make. I will have less opportunity to write about vineyards, although the sustainable, organic, and biodynamic green-ness of Mendocino County grape growing allows for compelling stories. The individual appellation promotional efforts for the Anderson Valley, Hopland, Redwood Valley, Ukiah, and the overarching Mendocino Winegrape and Wine Commission will focus their efforts on promotion of the county’s wineries, but not vineyards – it is a tougher story to tell effectively.

The results of the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, 170 award winning wines identified as being made from grapes harvested in Mendocino County – plus countless more wines improved by the addition of Mendocino County grapes in wines labelled as coming from North Coast or California – and having a tasting list of of those 170 medal winning Mendocino County wines, allows tasters to experience the land of the county, the area within the county, individual vineyards, as much or more than tasting the winemaker’s art or the winery style imprint.

Regularly, I would suggest folks throughout the San Francisco bay area come north up highway 101 to Mendocino County to visit our vineyards and wineries, taste our wines and olive oils,  join our wine clubs, stay overnight in our lodgings, dine in our restaurants, visit more wineries, a farmer’s market, garden, museum, or hot springs, maybe ride on the Skunk Train, drive through redwood forests, visit our wild coast, and at the end of your visit, return home with a trunk full of delicious Mendocino County bounty.

Saturday, February 19, instead, I would urge you to visit San Francisco’s Fort Mason, and take part in your own exploration of Mendocino County wines at the Public Tasting of SFVWC medal winners.

This list is a celebration of Mendocino County’s Winegrape growers, congratulations on having your excellence recognized and awarded:

39 North Wine Company 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Mendocino County $30 SILVER

39 North Wine Company 2007 Petite Sirah Mendocino County $30 SILVER

Albertina Wine Cellars 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Mendocino Zamarzly Family Vineyards $20 GOLD

Amorosa Bella NV Dry Sparkling Brut Mendocino County Amorosa Balla $30 BRONZE

Artevino 2009 Chardonnay Yorkville Highlands Mendocino County $30 GOLD

Artezin Wines 2009 Zinfandel Mendocino County $18 SILVER

Artezin Wines 2007 Petite Sirah Mendocino County $25 BRONZE

Balance by Heath Dolan 2007 Red Field Blend Mendocino $24 SILVER

Barra of Mendocino 2007 Pinot Noir Mendocino $20 SILVER

Barra of Mendocino 2006 Sangiovese Mendocino $18 BRONZE

Baxter 2007 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley Run Dog Vineyard $45 SILVER

Baxter 2007 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley Toulouse Vineyard $45 SILVER

Baxter 2007 Pinot Noir Mendocino Oppenlander Vineyard $60 DOUBLE GOLD

Baxter 2006 Carignane Mendocino Caballo Blanco $32 SILVER

Black Goose Wines 2006 Zinfandel Mendocino County Bartoloma Vineyards $26 BRONZE

Bliss Family Vineyards 2009 Chardonnay Mendocino Estate Bottled $10 SILVER

Bliss Family Vineyards 2009 Merlot Mendocino Estate Bottled $10 SILVER

Bliss Family Vineyards 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Mendocino Estate Bottled $10 SILVER

Blooms Winery on Whidbey 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Mendocino County Blooms Vineyard $30 SILVER

Bonterra Vineyards 2009 Chardonnay Mendocino County Bonterra $14 SILVER

Bonterra Vineyards NV White Table Blend Mendocino County Bonterra $10 SILVER

Bonterra Vineyards 2009 Rosé Mendocino Bonterra $14 DOUBLE GOLD

Bonterra Vineyards 2009 Pinot Noir Mendocino County Bonterra $20 GOLD

Bonterra Vineyards 2008 Zinfandel Mendocino County Bonterra $16 GOLD

Bonterra Vineyards 2008 Merlot Mendocino County Bonterra $16 SILVER

Bonterra Vineyards 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Mendocino Bonterra $16 SILVER

Bonterra Vineyards NV Red Table Blend Mendocino County Bonterra $10 GOLD

Brutocao 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Mendocino Feliz Vineyard Estate Bottled $14 BRONZE

Brutocao 2009 Chardonnay Mendocino Bliss Vineyard Estate Bottled $16 SILVER

Brutocao 2008 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley Estate Bottled $28 BRONZE

Brutocao 2007 Quadriga Mendocino Hopland Ranch Estate Bottled $24 SILVER

Brutocao 2007 Merlot Mendocino Bliss Vineyard Estate Bottled $20 SILVER

Brutocao 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Mendocino Hopland Ranch Estate Bottled $22 GOLD

Cahill Winery 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Cole Ranch $20 BRONZE

Calstar Cellars 2009 Chardonnay Mendocino Ridge Manchester Ridge $35 BEST OF CLASS

Calstar Cellars 2007 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley Londer Estate $50 BRONZE

Cameron Hughes Wine 2007 Syrah Mendocino County Yorkville Highlands $12 GOLD

Carol Shelton Wines 2007 Zinfandel Mendocino County Cox Vineyard $24 BRONZE

Castle Rock Winery 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Mendocino County $10 SILVER

Claudia Springs Winery 2009 Viognier Redwood Valley Lolonis Vineyard $24 SILVER

Claudia Springs Winery 2009 Pinot Gris Anderson Valley Klindt Vineyard $18 BRONZE

Claudia Springs Winery 2007 Zinfandel Mendocino $24 SILVER

DeLoach Vineyard 2007 Pinot Noir Redwood Valley Masut $45 BRONZE

Edmeades 2008 Zinfandel Mendocino County $18 BRONZE

Esterlina 2009 Riesling Cole Ranch $20 SILVER

Esterlina 2009 White Dessert Cole Ranch $28 BRONZE

Foursight Wines 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Anderson Valley Charles Vineyard $20 SILVER

Foursight Wines 2009 Gewurtztraminer Anderson Valley $20 GOLD

Foursight Wines 2008 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley Charles Vineyard Zero New Oak $25 BRONZE

Foursight Wines 2008 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley All In Charles Vineyard $35 BRONZE

Frey Vineyards Ltd 2009 Chardonnay Redwood Valley Biodynamic $14 BRONZE

Frey Vineyards Ltd 2009 Sangiovese Mendocino Organic $13 BRONZE

Frey Vineyards Ltd 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Mendocino Organic $15 SILVER

Girasole Vineyards 2009 Merlot Mendocino $13 SILVER

Girasole Vineyards 2009 Hybrid Red Mendocino $13 GOLD

Greenwood Ridge Vineyards 2008 White riesling Mendocino Ridge Estate Bottled $18 SILVER

Handley Cellars 2009 Gewurtztraminer Anderson Valley $18 SILVER

Handley Cellars 2009 Pinot Gris Anderson Valley $18 SILVER

Handley Cellars 2008 Pinot Noir Mendocino County $25 SILVER

Handley Cellars 2007 Pinot Noir Mendocino $25 BRONZE

Handley Cellars 2007 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley $30 GOLD

Harmonique 2006 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley The Noble One $50 SILVER

Harmonique 2006 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley Elegance $53 SILVER

Harmonique 2006 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley Delicace $55 SILVER

Harmonique 2006 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley Oppenlander $55 SILVER

Heron Wines 2009 Cabernet sauvignon Mendocino $14 BRONZE

Husch Vineyards 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Mendocino $14 BRONZE

Husch Vineyards 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Mendocino Renegade $18 SILVER

Husch Vineyards 2009 Chardonnay Anderson Valley Vine One $18 BRONZE

Husch Vineyards 2009 Chardonnay Mendocino $15 BRONZE

Husch Vineyards 2008 Chardonnay Mendocino Special Reserve $25 SILVER

Husch Vineyards 2009 Gewurtztraminer Anderson Valley $14 SILVER

Husch Vineyards 2009 Muscat Canelli Mendocino $15 SILVER

Husch Vineyards 2007 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley Knoll $38 SILVER

Husch Vineyards 2007 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley Reserve $35 GOLD

Husch Vineyards 2009 Zinfandel Mendocino Old Vines $25 GOLD

Husch Vineyards 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Mendocino $21 SILVER

Husch Vineyards 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Mendocino Reserve $35 SILVER

Husch Vineyards 2009 Late Harvest Gewurtztraminer Anderson Valley $20 SILVER

J. Keverson 2007 Sangiovese Mendocino $20 GOLD

Jacuzzi Family Vineyards 2009 Barbera Mendocino County $17 BEST OF CLASS

Jaxon Keys Winery 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Mendocino $15 GOLD

Jazz Cellars 2007 Petite Sirah Mendocino Eaglepoint Ranch Vineyard $40 SILVER

JK Estates 2008 Pinot Noir Mendocino $13 SILVER

Kendall-Jackson 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Mendocino Grand Reserve $20 SILVER

Kimmel Vineyards 2008 Chardonnay Potter Valley Kimmel Vineyards $32 SILVER

Kimmel Vineyards 2007 Merlot Mendocino Kimmel Vineyards $38 SILVER

La Follette Wines 2008 Chardonnay Mendocino Ridge Manchester Ridge $48 SILVER

Le Vin Vineyards 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Mendocino County Le Vin Vineyards $36 BRONZE

Ledson Winery & Vineyards 2009 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley $60 SILVER

Martella Wine 2007 Petite Sirah Mendocino Heart Arrow Ranch $35 SILVER

Martella Wine 2007 Cabernet sauvignon Mendocino Heart Arrow Ranch $55 BRONZE

Maysie Cellars Rosé of Sangiovese Mendocino County $13 SILVER

McFadden Vineyard NV Brut Potter Valley McFadden Vineyard $25 SILVER

McFadden Vineyard 2009 Gewurtztraminer Potter Valley McFadden Vineyard $15 BRONZE

McFadden Vineyard 2008 Pinot Gris Valley McFadden Vineyard $15 BRONZE

McFadden Vineyard 2007 Zinfandel Potter Valley McFadden Vineyard $19 SILVER

McNab Ridge Winery 2009 Roussanne Mendocino Shadow Brook Farms $15 SILVER

McNab Ridge Winery 2007 Petite Sirah Mendocino $18 BRONZE

McNab Ridge Winery 2009 Pinotage Mendocino Napoli Estate $20 SILVER

Mendielle Vertu 2007 Merlot Mendocino Destination Valley Vineyard $27 SILVER

Meyer Family Cellars 2009 Chardonnay Anderson Valley $22 BRONZE

Meyer Family Cellars 2006 Syrah Yorkville Highlands $28 BRONZE

Milano Family Winery 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Mendocino Queirolo Vineyard $29 BRONZE

Milano Family Winery 2006 Echo Bordeaux Blend Mendocino Rells Echo Vineyard $37 SILVER

Muscardini Cellars 2009 Barbera Redway Valley Pauli Ranch $38 SILVER

Naughty Boy 2009 Chardonnay Potter Valley Thornton Ranch $13 GOLD

Naughty Boy 2007 Pinot Noir Potter Valley NB Vineyard $24 SILVER

Navarro Vineyards 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Mendocino Cuvee 128 $18 BEST OF CLASS

Navarro Vineyards 2009 Chardonnay Mendocino  $13 BRONZE

Navarro Vineyards 2009 Chardonnay Anderson Valley Premiere Reserve $25 SILVER

Navarro Vineyards 2009 Gewurtztraminer Anderson Valley Estate Bottled  $19 SILVER

Navarro Vineyards 2009 Muscat Blanc Anderson Valley $19 SILVER

Navarro Vineyards 2009 Pinot Gris Anderson Valley $19 GOLD

Navarro Vineyards 2009 Pinot Noir Mendocino $19 SILVER

Navarro Vineyards 2009 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley Methode a l’Ancienne $29 SILVER

Navarro Vineyards 2009 Zinfandel Mendocino $19 GOLD

Navarro Vineyards 2009 Zinfandel Mendocino Old Vine $25 SILVER

Navarro Vineyards 2009 Syrah Mendocino $25 BEST OF CLASS

Navarro Vineyards 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Mendocino $35 SILVER

Navarro Vineyards 2009 Navarrouge Mendocino $14 BRONZE

Navarro Vineyards 2009 Late Harvest Gewurtztraminer Anderson Valley $35 SILVER

Oak Cliff Cellars 2007 Pinot Noir Mendocino County $35 SILVER

Oak Cliff Cellars 2008 Zinfandel Mendocino County Curtis Ranch $28 BRONZE

Parducci Wine Cellars 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Mendocino County $11 GOLD

Parducci Wine Cellars 2009 Chardonnay Mendocino County $11 GOLD

Parducci Wine Cellars 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Mendocino County $11 GOLD

Parducci Wine Cellars 2009 Sustainable White Mendocino County $11 BRONZE

Parducci Wine Cellars 2007 Petite Sirah Mendocino County $11 BRONZE

Parducci Wine Cellars 2007 Petite Sirah (True Grit) Mendocino $30 SILVER

Parducci Wine Cellars 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Mendocino County $11 BRONZE

Patianna 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Mendocino Estate Grown Organic Grapes $16 GOLD

Patianna 2009 Chardonnay Mendocino Estate Grown Organic Grapes $16 BRONZE

Patianna 2007 Pinot Noir Mendocino Made With Organic Grapes $20 BRONZE

Paul Dolan Vineyards 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Mendocino County $18 GOLD

Paul Dolan Vineyards 2009 Chardonnay Mendocino County $18 BRONZE

Paul Dolan Vineyards 2007 Pinot Noir Mendocino County $30 SILVER

Paul Dolan Vineyards 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Mendocino County $25 SILVER

Phillips Hill 2009 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley Wiley $40 BRONZE

Philo Ridge Vineyards 2009 Gewurtztraminer Anderson Valley Ferrington Vineyards $18 BRONZE

Philo Ridge Vineyards 2009 Pinot Gris Anderson Valley Klindt Vineyards $18 BRONZE

Philo Ridge Vineyards 2007 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley $24 GOLD

Rock Wall Wine Co 2009 Viognier Mendocino $18 SILVER

Rock Wall Wine Co 2008 Petite Sirah Mendocino $22 BRONZE

Rosa D’Oro Vineyards 2009 Tocai Friulano Mendocino County $16 BRONZE

Route 128 Winery 2007 Syrah Torkville Highlands Opatz Family $24 SILVER

Scharffenberger Cellars NV Brut Mendocino $19 SILVER

Stephen & Walker 2009 Late Harvest Chardonnay Mendocino Ridge $65 BRONZE

Stonehedge Winery 2007 Malbec Mendocino Terroir select $15 SILVER

Terra Savia 2009 Chardonnay Mendocino $14 DOUBLE GOLD

Terra Savia 2009 Chardonnay Mendocino Sanel Valley Vineyard Reserve $18 SILVER

Terra Savia 2009 Meritage Mendocino Sanel Valley Vineyards $18 BRONZE

Trinitas Cellars 2007 Zinfandel Mendocino JMR & Comrado Old Vine $25 GOLD

Trinitas Cellars 2007 Rhone Cuvee Mendocino JMR & Comrado Old Vine $20 GOLD

Truett Hurst Winery 2009 Rhone Blend Mendocino Dark Horse $40 SILVER

VJB Vineyards & Cellars 2009 Tocai Friulano Mendocino County $22 GOLD

Volante Vineyards 2006 Petite Sirah Redwood Valley Thompson Vineyards $18 BRONZE

Williamson Wines 2009 Viognier Mendocino County Frolic $34 SILVER

Willowbrook Cellars 2008 Chardonnay Mendocino Ridge Manchester Ridge $34 DOUBLE GOLD

Windsor Vineyards 2007 Petite Sirah Mendocino County $10 SILVER

Windsor Vineyards 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Mendocino County $18 SILVER

Yorkville Cellars 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Yorkville Highlands Randle Hill $17 SILVER

Yorkville Cellars 2009 Eleanor of Aquitaine Yorkville Highlands Randle Hill $25 SILVER

Yorkville Cellars 2009 Semillon Yorkville Highlands Randle Hill $20 SILVER

Yorkville Cellars 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Yorkville Highlands Rennie Vineyard $28 SILVER

Yorkville Cellars 2008 Cabernet Franc Yorkville Highlands Rennie Vineyard $25 SILVER

Yorkville Cellars 2008 Petit Perdot Yorkville Highlands Rennie Vineyard $28 SILVER

Yorkville Cellars 2008 Hi-Roller Red Mendocino County $18 SILVER

Zina Hyde Cunningham 2009 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley Reserve $60 SILVER

On Thursday, May 6, 2010, I got to be the guest chef at the Chardonnay tasting and TweetUp at Parducci Wine Cellars in Ukiah.

I cooked for three days, and am pleased with how my food turned out.

At the actual event, I chose to go outside and enjoy the company of friends rather than remain inside, near the food, so people would feel more free to talk abut the food and so I would not have to hear anyone opine that they make a superior risotto.

I spent the majority of the event on the back patio of Parducci, near the vineyards, and was joined by two classmates, two newly met Hopland winery employees (wineries are cooperative, I thank Jeriko Estates and Milano Family Winery for mixing with me at Parducci), the mother of my son, four friends from Santa Rosa, and another friend who flew in from Florida to attend.

One of my friends did report that someone inside did indeed boast to making a better risotto, which may have inspired some discreet finger flying on the patio, along with laughter.

After the event, I went back to the Cellar (guest) House at Parducci, where I had done the cooking, with some friends where we had some more wine, more conversation, more laughter. I wish I had thought to invite Cindy up to join us when she stopped by to say thank you, and all of the folks from Parducci for that matter. Cindy and Rochelle, and everyone else at Parducci were great to work together with.

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CESANO-DOLAN APPLE MUSHROOM RISOTTO

Ingredients:

Chicken broth – 6 cups

Olive oil – 3 tablespoons

Portobello mushrooms (thinly sliced) – 1 pound

White mushrooms (thinly sliced) – 1 pound

Saffron threads – .02 ounces

Shallots (diced) – 1 whole

Apple (fine dice) – 2/3 of a large apple

Arborio rice – 1 1/2 cups

2008 Paul Dolan Vineyards Chardonnay – 1/2 cup

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Sea salt to taste

Chives (finely chopped) – 3 tablespoons

Butter – 4 tablespoons

Parmesan cheese (freshly grated) – 1/3 cup

Directions:

1. At least two hours prior to cooking, soak the saffron threads in 2 TBS of the chicken broth to allow the full color and flavor to be released.

2. Warm the chicken broth, with saffron thread infusion in a sauce pan over low heat.

3. In a small pan, over medium heat, saute the apple in 1 TBS olive oil, about 2 minutes. Reserve the apple and liquid.

4. In a large saucepan, heat 2 tbsp of olive oil over medium fire. Add the mushrooms and stir. Cook the mushroom for 5 minutes or until tender. Then remove the mushrooms including the liquid. Add the reserved apple to the mushrooms. Set it aside.

5. In a frying pan, add one tablespoon of olive oil. Stir the shallots and cook for at least 1 minute. Add the Arborio rice and stir continuously for about 2 minutes to coat with oil. Pour the wine when the rice changed its color to pale gold. Stir continuously until the wine has been fully absorbed by the rice. Then add half a cup of broth to the rice and stir continuously until the broth is absorbed. Continue introducing half a cup of broth while stirring the rice. Make sure the liquid is well absorbed.

6. Remove the rice from the heat and add apple and mushrooms with liquid, Parmesan, Butter and chives. Stir continuously then season with salt and pepper. Serve hot.

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DOUBLE PIE CRUST

Ingredients:

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup shortening

1/2 cup water

1 egg

Directions:

1. In a large bowl, combine flour and salt. Cut in shortening until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in water until mixture forms a ball. Divide dough in half, and shape into balls. Wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight.

2. Roll out dough on a floured counter. Don’t over work it. Use as directed in pie recipe.

3. Brush both the bottom crust and top crust with a little beaten egg

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APPLE PIE FILLING

Ingredients:

9 cups (about 2 1/2 pounds) – Granny Smith apple

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1/4 cup packed brown sugar

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons tapioca flour

1 1/3 tablespoon butter

Pie Crust Topping:

2 tablespoons milk

1/8 cup white sugar

Directions:

1. Peel and thinly slice the apples.

2. Combine apple and lemon juice in a large bowl.

3. Combine brown sugar, granulated sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, salt, and tapioca flour in a small bowl, mix well.

4. Sprinkle combined dry ingredients over apples and toss well to evenly coat the apples.

5. Preheat oven to 425° F.

6. Put mixture in a strainer over a large bowl, let sit 30 minutes until juices collect in bottom of bowl, drain juices, boil juices with a teaspoon of butter until reduced, and pour back over the apple mixture.

7. Spoon the mixture into an unbaked pie shell. Dot 1 tablespoon butter on top of the fruit. Cover with the top crust. Seal and crimp the edges. Brush the top with milk and sprinkle with 1/8 cup sugar. Make 5 two inch slits in the top pie crust.

8. Cook on lowest oven rack level, on a baking sheet at 425° for 15 minutes, then turn down heat to 375° and cook for another 20 – 25 minutes , or until golden brown.

9. Let cool for 4 hours on a wire rack.

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CESANO-PARDUCCI CHARDONNAY APPLE ICE CREAM

Ingredients:

5 cups whipping cream

2 1/2 cups half and half

2 1/2 cups whole milk

2 1/2 cups plus 6 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon vanilla

1/2 teaspoon salt

4 cups apple

1/4 cup apple butter

1/4 cup 2008 Parducci Chardonnay

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Directions:

1. Peel, core, and dice the apples; saute the apples with lemon juice, Parducci Chardonnay, apple butter, and 6 tablespoons sugar, about 5 – 6 minutes, until soft. Refrigerate mixture.

2. Scald milk until bubbles form at edge of pan, remove from heat. Add sugar and salt. Stir until dissolved.

3. Stir in half and half, vanilla extract, and whipping cream. Cover and refrigerate 30 minutes.

4. Combine refrigerated apple and cream mixtures.

5. Place refrigerated mixture into cooled 6 quart ice cream can, filling ice cream can no more than 3/4 full as it will expand during freezing.

6. Following the directions on your 6 quart ice cream maker, mix for 20-40 minutes until smooth and mixture approaches a solid soft serve consistency.

7. Pack ice cream into containers, allowing 1/2 inch for expansion, and freeze several hours to ripen and harden home made ice cream.

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I don’t normally cook using recipes at home, but I had to create recipes, then multiply the ingredients by a factor of 2 for the ice cream, 3 for the risotto, and 4 for the pies, so I could put together a shopping list and submit a budget for the event.

I was trying to bring out, or tie to, the flavors of apple in the Chardonnays my food would be paired with; I added apple to a perfected mushroom risotto recipe. The risotto was delicious, but the apple flavor was completely hidden by the mushroom flavor. In the future, I would either eliminate the apple and go back to a perfect, and easier, recipe, or I would triple the apple called for. The only result of using 1 diced apple to 2 pounds of mushroom was to make the dish seem a little brighter.

I loved the apple caramel that formed when I reduced the juices from the apple pie mixture so much that I did the same thing with the ice cream apple mixture. It isn’t on the recipe, but I am prone to make adjustments on the fly.

The ice cream, on first taste, makes me shudder each time. The longer it can ripen in the freezer, the better the overall flavor as the apple flavor spreads through the frozen vanilla cream.

I will say that the risotto was the bomb, the apple pie was perfectly firm (I hate mushy apple pie), and the ice cream was so very delicious.

I made the ice cream on Tuesday. I made the apple pies on Wednesday, and I made the risotto on Thursday, finishing four minutes before the event start time.

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I did not set out to make a meatless menu. If I had been tasked to cook to pair with a red wine, I would have started with a meat protein. To make up for the lacking, here’s a bonus recipe that I cooked last night, full of meaty goodness:

I had my butcher slice 1 1/4″ steaks from a large tri tip roast.

Season both sides of the steaks with salt, pepper, fried Italian herbs, lemon pepper, garlic salt, and/or any other dry spice ingredients you regularly enjoy.

I fired up the Weber, using a Jack Daniel’s briquet and whisky barrel wood mix, let the briquets fully ash, got the wood smoking, and then spread it all evenly.

Rather than direct grilling; I bought a two layer rack with offset holes that sits on top of the grill, and I placed the meat on the rack. Flame ups are eliminated, smoke gets up to the meat, and the meat cooks slower, allowing a more true BBQ flavor to be imparted to the meat. The meat spent over an hour (indirect BBQ is MUCH slower than direct grilling) under the hood, turned, and butter was placed on the steaks to melt just before the meat was pulled to rest.

While resting inside on my cutting board, I spread each steak with some Cambozola cheese, and that melted over each steak as well.

So incredibly good.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jaxon Keys’ hilltop farmhouse tasting room

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

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

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

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

The cave at Saracina Vineyards

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

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

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

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

Estate Bee Honey – Again, simply delicious. $12

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

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

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

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

Overall, a wonderful experience.

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

The landscaped garden at Jeriko Estate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Magnanimus Wine Group at Campovida

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The gardens at Campovida

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

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

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

Weibel Family and Winery

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

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

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

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

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

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

The historic Hop Kiln location of Milano Family Winery

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Terra Sávia Olive Oil facility and winery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Very drinkable wines from really nice fruit.

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

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

Rack & Riddle custom wine services

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

McNab Ridge Winery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guinness McFadden at his winery’s tasting room

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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McDowell Valley Vineyards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bocce courts at Brutocao Cellars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sip! Mendocino in downtown Hopland

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

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