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

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

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

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John On Wine – Mendocino County’s Green Wine Growers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I come from an organic tasting room, I understand organics. Biodynamic is good, but for me, ventures into practices of questionable value. Animals and a variety of plants on vineyard property is great for me, it provides a richer experience for me as a visitor. I don’t know if baby goats headbutting each other makes a better wine, but it is entertaining. Where biodynamics loses me is the whole cow horn thing. Cow horns are crammed full of cow manure, then planted on a full moon on an equinox, dug up six lunar months later on another equinox, added to a container of liquid made up of virgin’s tears, allowed to steep like a witch’s brew over another period of lunar cycles, and spread by a Catholic priest’s aspergillum throughout the vineyard in a rite reminiscent of the ritual sprinkling of Holy water. Poo-in-the-horn tea is just one of several preparations that are created to fortify the vineyard, strengthen the ecosystem, and produce wines more naturally.

I would love to see a vineyard test block where half the rows are grown organically, and the other half are grown biodynamically. I would like someone to show me empirical evidence of the superiority of biodynamics over mere organics; until then, I will look upon biodynamics with some skepticism, as some sort of ritualistic magic ju-ju voodoo.

I posed the question of measurable efficacy supporting biodynamic growing practices to Ann Thrupp, Director of Sustainability at Fetzer, and she responded, “I am aware of only a few scientific studies that have been done to compare biodynamic and organic vineyards (see literature by Professor john Reganold, for example). It is difficult to prove scientifically that there are improvements in quality, based on such studies…However, in blind tastings, many biodynamic wines score high.”

Cesar Toxqui makes great wine for Cesar Toxqui Cellars and is working to improve the biodynamic wines of Jeriko, which I am confident he will be able to do. Cesar knows of my skepticism, but will be trying to educate me regarding biodynamics in the near(ish) future, touring me from vineyard to winemaking at Jeriko.

Nance Billman, during my recent visit to Saracina, while acknowledging the over the top ritualism in some of the preparations involved in biodynamic farming, described a near miraculous almost immediate increase in vine vitality when those preparations are administered.

I have tasted many biodynamic wines, and they are almost universally good. I don’t think they are good because they are biodynamic per se; instead I think that the attention to detail, the commitment that goes with biodynamic farming leads a winery to make good wine. I have no proof that a biodynamic wine is any better than an organic wine, but I am confident that biodynamics don’t make a wine worse.

Paul Dolan, Bonterra, Mendocino Farms, Jeriko, Saracina, there are plenty of folks making great wine with biodynamic grapes. Everyone of them is earnest in their belief, their dedication; you can feel the passion for biodynamic farming. I would like to know what they know, because all I hear are anecdotal tales of magic, and it may just be me, but I can’t take the leap and need more science based evidence before I am buying that biodynamic farming is anything but effectless ritual.

I’m not ready yet to drink the poo-in-the-horn tea biodynamic kool-aid.

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I was approached a few months ago to answer some questions about sustainability for my winery that could appear on a website, and the piece was published yesterday.

I forwarded the questions to my boss who kicked them back to me to answer. I forwarded my answers to him for review, and while observing some of the answers were “over the top,” he suggested only one edit to correct a mistake.

I did not know it at the time, but my boss, an organic farmer for over 40 years, abhors the word “sustainable.” Guinness runs a CCOF certified organic farm and vineyard. CCOF organic means something. Demeter Biodynamic means something. Sustainable isn’t measured, it isn’t certified, and lots of wineries use the term to cloak themselves in a green-ness that they haven’t earned, cheapening the efforts of real organic and biodynamic growers.

In my naiveté, not yet knowing that perhaps I too am supposed to hate the word, I completed the sustainability survey.

Naive, well, not entirely. I researched the folks who were asking for the survey answers, and found the monthly Lempert Report Newsletter where the piece would be published was sponsored by Monsanto imagine.

A Google search of “Monsanto imagine” led me to several pages suggesting that Monsanto imagine is a greenwashing public relations effort on the part of Monsanto, an effort to blur the line obscure the chasm between themselves and responsible Earth friendly organic family farmers.

The answers Guinness found “over the top” were not included in the piece linked above. The following passages were edited out of the piece appearing on the site paid for sponsored by Monsanto imagine:

“At McFadden Vineyard, it is unthinkable that people would choose wines and foods made with synthetic chemical fertilizers, poisonous pesticides and herbicides, from bio-engineered Frankenfood seed over delicious, healthy, natural, organic, sustainable wines and foods.”

“Right is right, doing things right, the right way, doesn’t need to be measured. The thought of dumping poison on our food or using genetically engineered crop seed is unthinkable. At the end of the day, are you proud of yourself? Does your wine and food make people happier? We notice something that can be improved, and we get around to making those improvements; that the greener, more sustainable, or organic choice sometimes is the less expensive choice, or sells better, is just a bonus.”

“Let’s have a cooking contest. We’ll make a fruit ice cream. I’ll use organically grown fruit from Mendocino County, and organic dairy products from Clover in Sonoma County. My competition has to use FrankenFruit, fruit from biogenetically engineered seed, grown with poisons, and cheap milk products loaded with Bovine growth Hormones. We’ll ask consumers which ice cream tastes better. I will win. Things that taste good always win out over things that don’t taste good. Growing organic, growing sustainably, is better for the environment, society, and the economy than the alternatives. Tastier too.”

Where sustainability pushes buttons for Guinness, Monsanto does it for me. I liked the piece I wrote, and the idea of Monsanto publishing a piece critical of their practices tickled me. While the piece didn’t get posted intact, you got to read the juicy parts here.

Genuine Green Revolution!

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I live in Ukiah and work in Hopland. Hopland is truly a small town. Businesses engage in cooperative efforts to help each other. The more we help each other, the more we end up helping ourselves.

I take pictures for Margaret at Weibel, and Margaret tries to save decorative plants at McFadden from being killed by my black thumb.

I want to see the Hopland Inn succeed. A successful Inn is a place late afternoon visitors to Hopland can stay after a more complete wine tasting, to possibly begin anew at another tasting room the following morning. I have knocked out a new marketing piece for Amie that better presents what the Inn offers, and am working on another smaller piece that can be created less expensively than my first.

Gary of Campovida, a local resort, escorts his guests to the Hopland Inn for afternoon cocktails at the Inn bar.

Margaret and I, Amie and Gary, none of us are rivals, competitors, but instead cooperative partners with a shared stake in the success of Hopland.

The people who live and work in Hopland, their love for the town, makes Hopland a place worth visiting. locals love playing bhost, and visitors are charmed by the small town friendliness set in the middle of amazing natural beauty.

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I sought a spot on the Board of Destination Hopland, and on the Hopland Passport working group. I welcome taking the social media marketing reins, and increasing our visibility. On top of my winery job, with uncompensated extra hours spent working at home, I am going to be spending more uncompensated hours doing what I do well for the benefit of others.

I am not a business owner, my extra work will not increase my ownership equity value. I am a wage, not a salary plus benefits, employee. I am taking on the extra work for two reasons; one is to benefit my employer, by helping to increase Hopland tourism, I benefit the person who signs my checks, and the other is because I saw an area where my skill set, my abilities, passion, and experience could improve what is being done for Hopland in a way no one else had done. I really look forward to the next year’s work.

The reward for my volunteer efforts has been increased requests for volunteer work. More business owners would like me to give up my time freely so as to work toward increasing their revenue. I can’t say that I blame them for asking, but today I found myself drawing a very clear line: I have more than enough on my plate. I will meet every commitment I’ve made with professionalism and pride, to the best of my ability; but I am not taking on any more unpaid gigs.

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Next Friday, August 5, 2011, at 7:00pm, the winners of 35th Annual Mendocino County Wine Competition will be announced at a farm to table dinner hosted at Jeriko Estate north of Hopland. The event is open to the public, come and taste Mendocino County’s best wines at the Grand tasting, paired with a locally harvested dinner. Tickets are just $75, or $65 for wine industry members, and the event will sell out, so hit the link above and buy your tickets now.

I’ll be there, representing McFadden Vineyard, hoping for some Gold. While we are cooperative, not competitive, I would gladly lug some bling from Jeriko to McFadden after the event. Just sayin’.


				
		
	

Ever since I started working in Hopland, I’ve been making new friends. One of the newest is Amie Bunch, the gal who does everything at the Hopland Inn. Amie and I both had the day off today, and we chose to spend some of our time visiting Saracina Vineyards, a winery just a bit north of Hopland.

Amie Bunch, Ingemar Dog, and Nancy Billman at the mouth of the caves at Saracina Vineyards

Upon arriving we were met by owner John Fetzer and tasting room manager Nance Billman. John is a local icon, and is helping to rebuild downtown Hopland. Nance and I serve together on the board of Destination Hopland, and are working on the subcommittee involved in producing Hopland Passport events. John graciously wished us a good visit, as he headed off for bottling new wines, and Nance led us to the caves where wines are barrel aged for a tasting and tour.

Saracina is a 620 acre ranch where grapes are grown both organically and biodynamically. Organic grapes are farmed without synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides. Biodynamic grapes are raised organically with other fruit and/or vegetables, not in a monoculture, with animals present. Saracina has 700 olive trees, a mix of 6 different Italian and Spanish varieties, and sells it’s own olive oil – I fell in love with their olive oil over a year ago and have purchased it from the tasting room several times, it is far more “alive”, flavorful and delicious, than typical store brands. Additionally, 3 million bees on property make a delicious local honey for guests of Saracina. Chickens, sheep, and goats round out the biodynamic menagerie.

Saracina Vineyards, a biodynamic environment, not a grape monoculture

I think Saracina is beautiful, peaceful, comfortable. I have always loved visiting Saracina. Sharing Saracina with Amie, and her beautiful dog Ingemar (named after the 12 year old boy character in the Swedish film My Life s a Dog) was fun, getting to see a winery anew through fresh eyes is always good. Sharing a visit with a cute girl, woman really, but younger than me, so girl in my mind, is terrific.

Nance poured us through her wines. We tasted:

2009 Saracina Sauvignon Blanc $23 – Grapes grom the estate, and from the nearby Redwood Valley. A grassy Sauvignon Blanc with wet stone minerality, pear and citrus against nice acidity.

Nance Billman, Tasting Room Manager, Saracina Vineyards

2010 Atrea “The Choir” $20 – Roussanne and Viognier, a Rhone white blend. Nice for being unique. Bright, clear, drinkable, a little zing of youth, floral honeysuckle and pear.

As a bonus, we got to meet Patty Rock, John Fetzer’s wife, when she came into the cave to provide Nance change for the tasting room register.

Patty Rock and Nance Billman

2010 Saracina Chardonnay $18 – Unoaked and zero malolactic. Tropical banana, pear, pineapple, citrus. Fruit driven, round, nice soft acidity showcases the abundant fruit. The clearest expression of banana I’ve ever experienced.

2009 Saracina Pinot Noir Klindt Vineyard Anderson Valley, $38 – the grapes come from the Klindt vineyard, right behind Handley. My first reaction was an expletive, which usually means a wine has taken my breath, and words, away. Great beautiful nose, lovely mouth. Smooth strawberry jam flabor, light oak, rose petal, dried raspberry. Smooth soft tannin.

2007 Atrea “Old Soul” Red $25 – Zinfandel, Syrah, Petite Sirah, and Malbec. Think Coro Mendocino-esque. Drinkable multiberry blend with cocoa notes; raspberry, blueberry, strawberry, blackberry. Soft, but a little punch.

2009 Saracina “Pick & Shovel” Zinfandel $28 – the vines for this wine are grown right atop the caves. Bright, raspberry, herb, tannin and acid.

2007 Saracina Syrah Rogers Creek Sonoma Coast $32 - This Syrah comes from the Petaluma Gap portion of the Sonoma Coast AVA. This is a muscular Syrah, pepper jerky nose, meaty smoky blackberry flavors.

2003 Saracina Syrah McDowell – Library – $35 – Old vine? Planted 1889. Soft mouth, soft fruit expression.

My favorite Syrah tasted anywhere last year was a (now sold out) 2005 Saracina Syrah with grapes coming from both the Eagle Point and Potato Patch (high elevation) Vineyards. Until today, I thought of Saracina as a Syrah house. Nance bristled the first time she heard me say that a week ago. Today, while I enjoyed the 2007 Sonoma Coast Syrah, I also really enjoyed the 2010 Chardonnay, and bought a bottle of the 2009 Klindt Vineyard Pinot Noir. I have absolutely no room for more wine, I don’t have temperature controlled storage, there are many reasons I shouldn’t have bought even one bottle, but the Pinot was just too delicious. It waved its hand in front of my face, pulled the Jedi mind trick on me, “you will buy me” I heard it say into my head, and there I was picking up a bottle.

Amie picked up a bottle of wine, and a bottle of olive oil, and a bottle of honey. Ingemar was not allowed in the caves, but resting in shade outside enjoyed water and dog biscuits provided by Nance.

I had never traveled the caves before, after all, a cave is a cave, right? Well, I was wrong, there was a winery version of an Army of Chinese Terra Cotta Soldiers on display. Vessels, previously buried, had been artistically transformed.

Surprising Art Hidden in the Caves

Outside the caves, Saracina was just as beautiful as ever.

Amie texting a welder friend pictures of the cool metal chairs gracing Saracina

Not pictured is the gorgeous Saracina “barn” where a morning Hopland Passport meeting was held. Absolutely beautiful in all respects, it provides John and Patty the opportunity to host a special meal, or entertain, featuring their wines of course.

I visited Dunnewood Vineyards in Ukiah recently.

The first thing I learned is that the Dunnewood Vineyards name was all marketing, and no one knows where they got that name. The good news is that most of the wine in the Dunnewood Vineyards tasting room carries the Mendocino Vineyards label, and I can grasp where that name came from.


Located in Ukiah, north of town, at 2399 North State Street; the sign for Dunnewood Vineyards is the most visible clue that a winery exists in this industrial zone outside Ukiah city proper. The winery location features vineyards around, an old front building doubling as tasting room and office, and a rather large winery facility in rear.

The large winery facility is owing, in part, to Dunnewood/Mendocino Vineyards being owned by wine giant Constellation. All Mendocino County grapes for Contellation Brand wines are made into wine at this facility. More interesting, from a “green” Mendocino County wine industry perspective, Mendicino Vineyards makes certified organic grown grape wines.

From Constellation’s website:

Mendocino Vineyards comes from the proverbial heart and soul of organic viticulture, Mendocino County. Bordering California’s rugged Pacific Coast, the county is enveloped by the cool morning fog that rolls in from the ocean and settles on the vineyards to produce wines with bright green apple flavors and a crisp, clean finish. It’s here that our team crafts this world-class wine that exemplifies environmental integrity by employing the strictest certified organic farming practices.

It may be unfair, but I don’t think of corporate responsibility and eco awareness when I think of of worldwide business conglomerates, yet Constellation seems to embrace and support Mendocino County’s eco spirit in their grape growing and winemaking choices surrounding their Ukiah facility.

Helen Kelley poured wines for me at the tasting bar. Helen is the office manager, and her pride in the winery and wines was evident.

2009 Mendocino Vineyards Chardonnay Mendocino County $12 clear color of light straw, nose of apple, pear, lemon, nice fruit shown. Tasty tropical sweetly candied fruit flavors. Nice body. Very, very long finish. Made with organic grapes sourced from about Mendocino County.

2003 Dunnewood Vineyards Coro Mendocino $35 Winemaker George Phelan has a lighter bodied, brighter Zinfandel based wine. 64.6% Zinfandel, 25.7% Syrah, and 9.7% Sangiovese. Nice fruit, raspberry and mixed berry, and cedar wood spice.

1997 Dunnewood Tawny Port Signiture Napa Valley $19 A charbono port, really really nice. Rich, sweetly delicious, plummy goodness.

Helen poured me a library selection, the 1979 Dunnewood Tawny Port California Limited Edition $28. At first nose, I wasn’t in love, it is tobacco juice tar color, but I came stuck with it to find plum dark fruit, sticky caramel apple and fig. I would enjoy trying to pair this with a fig reduction sauced pork. Helen shared a story of having to hand fill the unusual shaped bottles, and how at the end of the task, she was a syrupy, sticky, sweet mess.

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Last week, I stopped in at Jeriko Estate in Hopland to taste a local Mendocino County Brut Rosé for a Valentine’s Day bubbly write up.

As long as I was there, I tasted the 2009 Jeriko Estate Pinot Noir Mendocino 14.3% alc $38 as well. Lovely Burgundy color, delightful dried cranberry nose, delicious lush cranberry and cherry fruit flavors. Lingering finish, Nice acid. Well balanced.

J.J. Cannon, my host in the tasting room, told me that this was winery owner Danny Fetzer’s favorite wine, the wine he most often has a glass of when choosing from among the winery’s releases.

J.J. also serves as the wine club manager, and has grown the membership to a bit over 150 members, about an 18% increase, in a relatively short period of time. Founder’s Club members receive a case, discounted 20%, spread over 3 shipments each year. Estate Club members receive two cases, discounted 25%, spread over 12 shipments each year. Cellar Club members receive a half case monthly at a 30% discount. Other benefits include a big discount on wines purchased at the tasting room on the day you sign up for a wine club membership, an annual wine club member appreciation party, wine club pick up parties, complimentary reserve wine tasting for members and guests, and special pre-release priority and prices. Wine club members can choose all white, all red, or a delicious mix of both with each wine club shipment.

Wandering about the tasting room area, I noticed some lovely jewelry available for purchase. It turns out the jewelry from Hook & Loop Jewelry Designs is made by winery owner Danny Fetzer’s niece Christina McDonald and her partner Rasean Powell. I would encourage the introduction of additional items of interest to warm the feeling of the tasting room area. Books on wine, wine accessories, art, jewelry, olive oils and foodstuffs placed about the tasting room would increase movement, and warm the experience immensely.

Outside the Tuscan styled and colored main building, the vineyards were readied for the upcoming spring and bud break a month or two away. A fountain burbled, olive trees decorated the property, and baby goats played on the property’s neighboring hillside.

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Two events I attended last year are coming up and I highly recommend them for lovers of Petite Sirah or Pinot Noir respectively:

Dark & Delicious Petite Sirah and Food Event
February 18, 2011
6:00pm – 9:00pm
Rock Wall Wine Company
2301 Monarch Street
Alameda, CA 94501

40 top Petite Sirah wine producers and 30 top bay area restaurants and caterers, one night, stain your teeth purple.

Parducci Wine Cellars of Ukiah in Mendocino County will be pouring at Dark & Delicious

The 8th Annual Pinot Noir Summit
Saturday, February 26, 2011
11:30am – 6:45pm
Hilton San Francisco
750 Kearny Street
San Francisco, CA 94108

Blind taste 32 or 64 top Pinot Noir wines, rate them, attend workshop seminars, enjoy the results of the blind tasting while enjoying these and more Pinot Noir paired with hors d’oeuvre.

Mendocino County’s Handley Cellars of Philo in the Anderson Valley and Rack & Riddle of Hopland will be pouring at the Pinot Noir Summit.

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Finally, Tierra, art, garden, wine in Ukiah will be closing their doors after the end of this month. If you live in or near Ukiah, stop in Wed-Sat 11am-6:00pm, and help out by purchasing a thoughtfully artful gift for a friend or something beautiful for your home, and save 30-70$ off most items.

Tierra is located at 312 N School Street in Ukiah.

I am sorry that Nicole Martensen and Nicholas Thayer’s Tierra will disappear from Ukiah, I will miss it. I wish I had visited more often.

This month, Napa County vintners began spraying their vineyards with pesticides in an attempt to fight infestation of European grapevine moths.

The half inch insect lays eggs in April, and the larvae starts feeding at bud break on grape flowers, then later generations on young grapes, and a third generation on mature grapes.

Since September 2009, after destroying a nine acre Napa Valley vineyard’s crop, when the culprit moth was identified, nearly 30,000 moths have been trapped in the county, and plans are being made to quarantine over 300 square miles of Napa County.

Although the moth is not a long distance flier, it does seem able to ride on equipment from vineyard to vineyard, vineyard to winery, and winery to winery. Neighboring Sonoma County is gearing up to institute quarantine protocols to help control moth movement.

Mendocino County, known for environmentally friendly farming practices, sustainable and fish friendly agriculture, organic and biodynamic grape growers and wineries, is facing a quarantine of nearly 6,000 vineyard acres after first one moth was found just south of Ukiah on a back yard grape vine, then more recently another 30 have been found north of Ukiah.

Tony Linegar, Mendocino County Agricultural Commissioner, suspected the moths were transported from Napa when fruit was moved from Napa County to a winery near Dunnewood’s now infested Chardonnay vineyard. Roughly 650 traps are being set in Mendocino County. Linegar believes this may be the second year the moths have been in Mendocino County, and the worst may be yet to come.

Mendocino County wineries use pomace, the residue of pressed grapes, for natural fertilizer. Alarmingly, the European grapevine moth larvae, left inside the grapes, can sometimes survive pressing and end up in pomace. Several Mendocino County wineries regularly import Napa and Sonoma County winery pomace. The problem could very well have been laid right at the feet of the vines already.

Linegar is asking all vineyards within a kilometer of Dunnewood’s infested vineyard to spray with a larvicide.

Purportedly organic insecticides do exist, and are hoped to be effective.

Only 3 of 18 Insecticides for Lobesia botrana (European Grape Vine Moth) on grape are approved for use in organic vineyards. I found no information on approved insecticide use in biodynamic vineyards.

Bruce Phillips, a Napa Valley grape grower, worries about “the long term sustainability of organic and biodynamic practices,” in the face of forced spraying to combat the spread of, or damage from, the moth.

Mendocino County bills itself as “America’s Greenest Wine Region,” and the threat posed by the European grapevine moth is not just to the grape crops but to an entire way of growing grapes.

The County of Napa Agricultual Commissioner’s website states, “Studies of the European grapevine moth internationally show that larvae feed primarily on the flowers and fruit of the grape, and that they can also feed on number of other hosts, including olives, blackberries, cherries, nectarines, persimmons and pomegranates. “

There is further concern that after grape harvest, moths may spend the winter cacooned in olive trees on vineyard properties.

Jim Allen, the Solano County Agricultural Commissioner, describes the threat posed by the moth as having “a potential for complete crop loss.”

A Final Report of  an International Technical Working Group brought together to fight the European Grape Vine Moth in California’s north coast, dated February 10, 2010, recommends that suppression measures include ovicides, larvicides, mating disruption, and mechanical control measures. Three generations of the pest impact vineyards; the first from bud break to fruit set, the second from pea sized grapes to ripening, and the third from ripening to harvest. Whether there are any beneficial organisms that might prey on, or control, the moth is unknown at this point.

The second and third generations cause the most damage not just by direct feeding on mature grapes but by predisposing the crop to grey mold, fungus, and rot through webbing and leaving of excrement inside the grapes.

Since their discovery in Napa County; in addition to Sonoma and Mendocino Counties, the moth has been found in Merced, Fresno, and Solano Counties.

After a few years of drought, this year’s rains seemed intent on making up for past failings and every day brought torrential pouring. In between what felt like an endless succession of days with showers of felines and canines, on the one single day filled with sunshine and blue skies, I visited Parducci Wine Cellars. The abundance of photography in today’s winery feature is owing as much to the beauty of Parducci’s vineyards and winery as it is owing to an incredibly rare clear and warm day, filled with color and the promise of Spring.

Parducci Wine Cellars Sign

Parducci is at the north end of Mendocino County’s only city of size, Ukiah, and is an iconic winery in the north coast. I grew up seeing bottles of Parducci Petite Sirah on the tables of my Italian family’s other Italian friends. Parducci was a genuine touchstone winery for an Italian American growing up in the wine country of California’s north coast.

A decade ago, the reputation of Parducci was on the wane. While occasionally making wines that tasted good, most wines produced were not wines I would willingly purchase. The tasting room itself was dark, overcrowded with ill considered dusty tchochkies no one would conceivably purchase; the experience of tasting wines at Parducci felt oppressive and left me feeling depressed.

At about the same time, I was noting that the initial attempts to make Organic wines by a number of wineries were being met with dissatisfaction in the marketplace. Nearly all Organic wines faded quickly, having little to no cellaring potential. By the time an Organic wine had aged and mellowed, it wasn’t very good anymore.

After a February Petite Sirah tasting, Dark & Delicious, with 45 Petite Sirah producers pouring their wines, I wrote favorably about Parducci’s True Grit Petite Sirah, I liked it very much, it was delicious. In response, both Parducci vibe director Selina Luiz and Parducci marketing and sales coordinator Kelly Lentz invited me to visit the winery for a taste and tour.

Through the front door, tasting room on the left and divano (lounge in Italian) on the right.

When I accepted their invitation and set a date I was not expecting great things. Oh, how I revel in having my ignorance smacked out of me by great wine after great wine…but we’ll get to the wines in a moment; first, it is time for some recent Parducci history.

John Parducci left Parducci, then later started a different winery in 1999, after not seeing eye to eye with partners in an investment group. A couple more quick ownership changes led to a businessman trying to run the winery from Chicago. The timing of the changes in ownership coincides with my Parducci tasting room visits that left a negative impression.

I did not know that the winery was no longer Parducci family held, but the lack of hands-on family owners walking the vineyards and tasting the wines are likely the cause for the unfortunate fall in quality I had experienced.

Paul Dolan, Tom Thornhill Jr. and his sons Tim Thornhill and Tom Thornhill III formed Mendocino Wine Company, and in 2004 they bought Parducci. Together, the Dolan and Thornhill families are committed to operating their business in an environmentally sustainable way. Together, they have both grapegrowing and winemaking experience and are intimately tied to the land of Mendocino County.

Parducci is a completely different winery than the place I visited only 10 years earlier. There is a justified pride in virtually everyone that works there. Parducci isn’t just about making wine that tastes good, Parducci is doing it in the best possible way as stewards of the Earth.

Parducci and their Mendocino Wine Company partner brand Paul Dolan Vineyards share this dedication, bordering on religious zeal. Working with local neighbor Mendocino County farms, grapes purchased come from family owned farms. The grapes are grown in a fish friendly manner. The grapes are often CCOF certified Organic grapes. Some of the wines are even Demeter certified Biodynamic wines. Water is captured, naturally filtered and stored for reuse. Power use has been decreased and many energy needs are met through capturing and using solar energy. Packaging and labels are lighter, smarter, degradable, recyclable, and earth friendlier. Offsets have been purchased and the winery is carbon neutral. Pomace and composted waste is used in the vineyards for fertilizer. In a nutshell, Parducci and Mendocino Wine Company are the greenest wine operation in the United States.

This isn’t a northern California hippy ethic run wild, this is the cutting edge of forward thinking smart business. Mendocino Wine Company, Parducci, and Paul Dolan Vineyards aren’t just making wine for today, but creating a business that will be in place 100 years from now for future Dolan and Thornhill family members to continue to sustain profitably.

When droughts force extreme water conservation measures, and focus environmental concerns about fish deaths due to water being pumped out of rivers to protect against frost damage to crops, Parducci has created a ready reserve of usable reclaimed water. Parducci has demonstrated greater vitality in plants fertilized with free compost and pomace versus expensive synthetic chemical fertilizers. Owls living in boxes on the property naturally protect the grapes from hungry birds and replace nasty pesticides. Energy prices never go down, but Parducci is less reliant on the grid for power.

Grapes on the left with pomace and compost are more vital than grapes on right with purchased fertilizer

I was impressed beyond all expectations, beyond imagination. More than one person acknowledged that Parducci had experienced a dimming between the Parducci family ownership and the Dolan/Thornhill families’ ownership. Mendocino Wine Company, Parducci, and Paul Dolan Vineyards employees were all smiling, proud and happy. There is a palpable difference that can be felt when comparing either the general vibe or wine quality under absent owners and the family run local ownership provided by the Dolan and Thornhill families.

I had the honor of tasting wines with the winemaker, Bob Swain. Bob carved out a huge and generous chunk of his morning to taste wines with me, and the tasting was set up in the divano (lounge). First, let me say that my concerns about the quality issues of previous Organic wine attempts by other wineries were answered by the wines themselves. All 11 wines I tasted were delicious. Bob explained that dedication and commitment in place, the efforts to make sustainably responsible wines must always be viewed with making wines that are marketable.

Bob Swain, winemaker for both Parducci and Paul Dolan Vineyards

Rather than making 100% Organic wine, Parducci makes wines from 100% Organic grapes. The difference? The wines may have added sulfites, a naturally occurring wine ingredient, if needed to ensure a safe and healthy shelf life. Sustainable and green winemaking is not a business suicide pact. Making even “green”re wines that don’t taste good is not part of Parducci’s green business model.

Bob poured wines from both Parducci and Paul Dolan Vineyards from the Mendocino Wine Company.

Here’s my tasting notes:

2007 Paul Dolan Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc, Mendocino County $18 – 13.5% alc. 3,900 cases made. CCOF certified Organic. Citrusy. nice acid. Hella food wine. 100% stainless. Crisp rich fruit. Stone fruit.

2008 Paul Dolan Vineyards Chardonnay, Mendocino County $18 – 13.5% alc. 4,140 cases made. CCOF certified Organic. No malolactic. 20% barrel fermented oak, 80% stainless steel. Pear and apple. light cream. Nice structure. No flab.

2007 Parducci Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley $25 – 14.5% alc. Bottled exclusively for Ruth’s Chris Steak House. Warm, round, rich cherry. Light tartness balanced by dark fruit. Smooth texture. Nice spice box component.

Bob Swain in the divano, tasting room in the background

2007 Paul Dolan Vineyards Filigreen Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley $33 – 14.5% alc. 180 cases made. Filigreen Farms. 100% Organically grown grapes. CCOF Certified. Demeter Biodynamic in all but name. Our bottle was slightly, so very slightly, some people would not notice slightly, paired with food it might not matter slightly, corked. Still, the wine was tastable, nice vanilla nose. Cocoa. Dark cherry berry fruit with oak.

2007 Paul Dolan Vineyards Pinot Noir, Mendocino County $30 – 14.5% alc. Just nosing this wine made me smile, wonderful Pinot aromas. Jammy cherry and stone fruit, less wood. Fruit powered Pinot with aromas and flavors of cherry, berry, with a kiss of oak, toast, cream, and vanilla. Lush, elegant, drinkable.

2005 Parducci Grenache, Mendocino County $25 – 14.5% alc. Nice dark garnet. Berry & Cherry fruit nose. Flavors of strawberry with rose petal. Lush, yummy juice. Dense with fruit and spice flavor, with a floral fruit and spice nose. I could nose this all day long and be in ecstasy. Nice, fun, good. A Rodney Dangerfield wine; the varietal gets no respect, but we’re talking about a huge star here.

2007 Paul Dolan Vineyards Zinfandel, Mendocino County $25 – 14.5% alc. 2,925 cases made. CCOF certified Organic. Bright jammy raspberry, pepper, and spice. Straight ahead Zinfandel.

Great wine starts in the vineyard, in this case a CCOF certified Organic vineyard.

2006 Paul Dolan Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendocino County $25 – 13.5% alc. 2,950 cases made. CCOF certified Organic. “[EXPLETIVE DELETED] me, that’s good!” Nice tannin tickle. Blackberry, earthy, stone, mineral, leather. Big, round, full. Deee-lushious. Okay, I made up a word, but I had to, this wine is worthy of new descriptors.

2006 [Paul Dolan Vineyards] Deep Red, Mendocino County $45 – 14.5% alc. 770 cases made. 100% Demeter certified Biodynamic. 100% Dark Horse Vineyards; 57% Syrah, 31% Petite Sirah, 12% Grenache. Deep Red represents the winemakers attempt to best capture the best expression of the single vineyard for the vintage. Plum, blueberry. The land and varietals are both speaking with an earthiness from the vineyard and spices from the Syrah, Petite Sirah and Grenache.

2005 Parducci Coro Mendocino $35 – 55% Zinfandel, 20% Syrah, 15% Petite Sirah, 10% Grenache. A host of Mendocino County winemakers have joined together to each produce a special Zinfandel blend that sings of the Mendocino County earth it comes from, their effort’s branded individually, but each being named Coro Mendocino (Coro is chorus in Italian). Red fruit. Raspberry from the Zinfandel and strawberry from the Grenache have the loudest voices. Supporting notes of cedar and spice are carried by the Syrah and Petite Sirah. A lovely and exciting harmony.

2006 True Grit Parducci Petite Sirah, Mendocino County $30 – 14.5% alc. Big, but nicely structured integrated tannins. Beautiful berry fruit. To me, this is Parducci’s flagship varietal, and you can taste Mendocino County terroir in each sip. I love this Petite. Just an incredibly drinkable wine for a wine so big. Huge burstingly ripe blackberry, cherry and pepper notes are balanced by chocolate, vanilla and caramel. A real fruit bomb. Really long, lingering finish.

The eleven wines from Mendocino wine Company I tasted

Tasting with Bob was a huge treat. I was thrilled to find that Parducci, once the pride of Mendocino County wineries, was again making great wines – possibly the best wines they had ever made; and were doing it all in an environmentally friendly way.

Here are two important notes about prices: wine club members save about 20% off most wines, and wine shops and markets often have sale prices on wines, so shop well.

After my tasting, Selina Luiz and Kelly Lentz took me on a tour of the lower home vineyard. I already knew a lot about the things they were telling me about the basics of grape growing, but I will never pass up an opportunity to walk through a vineyard on a beautiful day.

Mendocino County beauty abounds

I did learn that Parducci manages their water flow precisely, with gauges throughout the vineyards to help determine when vines really need water. The winery has experienced both a water savings and a more deliciously “happy” grape.

These vines have been getting plenty of rain. Later in the year, they will receive water only when they really need it.

If you live in or visit wine country in February – April, you will often see cover crops grown in the area between the rows of vines. These cover crops keep the vines from growing out of control, allowing the vitality to flow to the grapes when they come later, rather than the vine when there are no grapes. The cover crops also fix nitrogen and can be turned back into the ground providing nutrition for the grapes.

Cover crops can include clover, mustard, lavender, and fava beans

The folks at Parducci are justifiably proud of co-owner Tim Thornhill’s water reclamation, cleaning and purifying system. 100% of water used at the winery is reclaimed and recycled. Initially pumped up a hill to two holding tanks where gravity and active enzyme processes begin to clean used water, gravity and mother nature take over, and the water flows down the hill, through marshes and cleaning channels, to a wetlands area, where waterfalls and pumps provide the final aeration. Think of Willy Wonka, but instead of chocolate Tim Thornhill has made dirty water clean and reusable again, and created an area of beauty in an of itself. The fresh water wetlands have brought a large variety of wild animals to add to the diversity the flora provide.

This willow tower helps filter water traveling from hillside tanks to the wetlands below.

Water is channeled slowly by plants and grasses which consume waste and leave the water cleaner for the passage

Tim’s water recycling project yields visual benefits

Kelly stands at the edge of the water filtering marsh of tall grasses and plants.

One of four Willy Wonka-esque waterfalls that aerate the water

After our vineyard and wetlands tour, Selina excused herself to attend to other tasks – that evening Parducci and Paul Dolan Wines hosted a Sauvignon Blanc tweet up and meet up – and Kelly carried on, taking me on a tour of winery grounds.

A beautiful piece of functional art. The only thing more beautiful would be a bocce court. Hint, hint.

Kelly unlocked and showed me the old cellar tasting room under the original Parducci house. The old cellar has been turned into a museum.

A 50th Anniversary commemorative large format bottle of 1980 vintage Parducci Cabernet Sauvignon

Kelly took me to the actual wine cellar, where wines are aged. Something not regularly seen at other wineries is the large collection of oak containers; not mere barrels, but enormous vessels that reach floor to very high ceiling.

More than triple my height, each of these casks is larger than the Pods contestants on Fox Reality’s Solitary live in.

These “baby” tanks are 1/5-1/4 the size of the monsters previously pictured.

A nice walk in the sun brought us back from the cellars to where the day started for me. Along the way, I had to take one more outdoor picture to show how beautiful the day was.

I am a visual person, and the day was filled with gorgeous colors popping against the greenest of greens

Back inside, we visited the tasting room which was bright and had a nice selection of items for sale than complimented the wines. Most wineries are not packed early midweek during the rainy season, so I asked Kelly to jump into a shot where there were two folks tasting. Now there are three.

A selection of wine books, food treats, vineyard clothing and other items available for purchase with wines

The tasting room crew caught between smiles

Three folks lined up at the tasting room bar. I see people are on their reds.

I had a really good time at Parducci. The wines were all great. Bob Swain was incredibly generous with his time and free with his commentary which I valued greatly. Kelly Lentz and Selina Luiz were wonderful hosts and terrific representatives. I came away impressed with the value of local family ownership of a winery, it has made such a huge difference for Parducci. I also am amazed and impressed by the Dolan/Thornhill dedication to environmental sustainability and economic success. In just six short years, they have outpaced every other winery in America and are a model for others to borrow from. If being green is the new religion in wine, they are the leaders of the church, and I am a new convert.

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