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John on Wine- Coro Mendocino

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

John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coro Winemakers

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

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

Photographic credit: Larry Wagner

Photographic credit: Larry Wagner

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

Line up of Coro

Photographic credit: Larry Wagner

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

Salute

Photographic credit: Larry Wagner

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

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

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

2010 Coro Rankings

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John On Wine ­ – Question Corner

Originally published on December 5, 2013 in the Ukiah Daily Journal by John Cesano

My good friend, Amie Bunch, recently sent me a note asking, “This maybe a dumb question, but do they add sugar to wine?”

Here is the answer I sent her:

“Not a dumb question at all, it is a great question.

Wine gets sweetness and alcohol from the sugar that is in the grapes that the wine is made from.

In the vineyard, buds break out on the vines in the spring and grapes come from those buds. The vines take moisture from the earth and heat from the sun during the summer and grapes grow from the buds – small at first – but larger and larger and by fall’s harvest they have gone from bitter to sweeter. The measure of sugar in a grape at harvest is called brix and usually the higher the brix the more a grower gets paid for his grapes.

The sugar loaded grapes are squeezed, crushed, pressed, stomped, and otherwise rendered of their juice at the winery. Grapes become grape juice.

Fermentation, the changing of grape juice to wine, occurs when yeasts (naturally occurring or purposefully chosen inoculation) convert the sugars in grape juice to alcohol, heat, and carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide can be bled off, the heat can be controlled with cooling coils, and the alcohol can be manipulated to some degree.

In many red wines fermentation is complete, taken all the way to dryness and this can yield some high alcohol wines. As Zinfandel can often brix high, there are Zinfandels that drink hot with alcohol running 17 percent or higher.

Many sweeter wines – whites and rosé, have lower alcohol and higher residual sugar, because fermentation is stopped before the yeast can convert all of the sugar in the juice into alcohol. To stop fermentation coils around a stainless steel tank are super chilled, cooling the wine, and stopping the fermentation.

Okay, that’s the vineyard grape to juice to wine story.

Some vintages (simply another name for year when referring to grapes) are cool, too cold to yield the desired brix for a vineyard’s grapes. Big rains can do the same thing, especially if they come late in the season but before harvest, as the vines suck up the extra moisture which then decreases the ratio of sugar to water in the grape. Generally, growers do not love low sugar grapes. Same with the winemaker at the winery.

A natural fix for low sugar in the grapes would be simply to add some sugar.

Wineries in the U.S. are not allowed to add sugar to wines. It is illegal.

That said, grape concentrates can be added to the juice to bring sugars up and a low brix problem can be solved.

Oh, and it is alleged that some wineries – I’m thinking of one enormous producer of Chardonnay in particular – do in fact add sugar to their juice.

Now to break the rule; bubbly, champagne, sparkling wine – whatever you call it – does get sugar added to the wine. Instead of making the wine in a barrel or tank, the wine is made in the bubbly bottle and spends a year to a year and a half in the case of McFadden, as an example, with the yeast and lees (spent yeast and other small solids) before disgorgement (a process of removing those particulate solids). At disgorgement, a dosage (a dose) of sugar is added to the wine and the cork & cage are fitted. The small bit of unspent yeast acts upon the dosage and a secondary fermentation occurs.

Remember the carbon dioxide I mentioned before that is bled away? Well, now, trapped inside the bottle, this carbon dioxide becomes a part of the wine, and that added sugar is responsible for the bubbles in a bottle of bubbly.”

Yeah, I know the answer was a bit long winded, but she thanked me, writing back, “You rock! My friend asked me and I told her I didn’t think they did. I told her I would find out. I forwarded her your response and she was so impressed. I said, yeah, I have smart friends.’” Hopefully the answer, off the top of my head, was right.
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Next week is the big Coro Mendocino wine dinner at Crush Italian Steakhouse in Ukiah. Grab your reservation, don’t wait, do it now! What are you thinking? That they have hundreds of seats available? They don’t. Call now. (707) 463-0700. About 60 very lucky dinner guests will sit down on Wednesday, Dec. 11 at 6 p.m. for an amazing Chef’s Wine Dinner.

Here’s the working Chef’s menu: Mini Wedge Salads with Nueske bacon, blue cheese, tomato, and red onion; Dungeness Crab Cakes with tomato confit, basil aioli, and balsamic; Oyster Rockefeller ­ the original recipe from 1899; Steak Tartare with French mustard dressing, caper, crispy shallot, and chive; Slow roasted Aged Prime rib of Beef with creamed fresh horseradish and natural au jus; Twiced Baked Idaho Potatoes with cheddar, scallion, and crème fraiche; Creamed Spinach Au Gratin with nutmeg, gruyere, and shallot; Local Organic Roasted Carrots with maple, dill, and butter; and a dessert of Butterscotch Budino with chocolate, whipped cream, and caramel pearls. Ten local wineries will be pouring their Coro Mendocino heritage Zinfandel blend wines; they are Brutocao, Claudia Springs, Fetzer, Golden, McFadden, McNab Ridge, Mendocino Vineyards, Parducci, Philo Ridge and Ray’s Station. $65 covers dinner and wine, add tax and a tip, and the price is the bargain of the year. Count on Sparkling Brut to kick things off and dessert wine to end the night. Have you called yet? Stop reading, and start punching buttons, (707) 463-0700, and I’ll see you there.

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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.

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John on Wine – Crush keeps crushing it!

Originally published on October 31, 2013 in the Ukiah Daily Journal by John Cesano

Wine and food. For me wine is food, an ingredient that, when added to a dish, makes a dish taste better. Pair it with the dish and the Heavens open and angels sing.

I have written about the last two Chef’s Wine Dinners at Crush Italian Steakhouse in Ukiah. First I wrote a newspaper column about the amazing dinner featuring winemaker Alex MacGregor’s wines from Saracina, and then I wrote an online piece about the spectacular dinner that showcased Charlie and Martha Barra’s wines of both Barra and Girasole.

I eat at other spots, many with terrific wine lists, and I’ll get to them in future columns, but Crush just keeps on, well, crushing it.

Last week, I took the opportunity to attend the third Chef’s Wine Dinner in the ongoing series. The night featured the wines of Bonterra Organic Vineyards. These dinners have grown to become sold out events. You have to call and grab your tickets early. Two long tables in a private dining room, laid out with place settings heavy on the wine glasses, await the night’s patrons. Folks sit together, and courses are served family style, which encourages communication as platters of food from the kitchen are passed and the food and wine combinations elicit at first squeals of delight and then, later in the evening, deeper moans of over full contentment.The evening’s offerings are deceptively described as First Course, Second Course, and Dessert. I say deceptively, because there are so many more items arriving at the table than a mere three dishes.

Each “course” is actually comprised of four or five dishes. Dessert is often three dessert elements fused into one greater whole. There are often bonus tastes of passed appetizers. All told, these three courses yield ten to a dozen food experiences. I’ve described these nights as Chef Jesse off the leash, nights for him to do one thing and one thing only: impress every diner and leave a lasting impression that brings each guest back again and again. Jesse’s team of chefs do a fantastic job, and assemble at each evening’s close to take a well-earned round of applause. Of course, the front of house has to fire on all cylinders for a night like this to work, and from Manager Dave through his entire team of servers, everything on the service end just purrs.

Last week, Chef Jesse delivered braised pork belly, with a perched and poached quail egg, buerre monte, and chive sticks; a beets salad, with roasted red, golden & striped beets, goat cheese, citrus, and hazelnut champagne vinaigrette; Devils on horseback: Nueske bacon wrapping Point Reyes bleu cheese stuffed Medjool dates; and crab stuffed piquillo poppers, with Dungeness crab, avocado mousse, tomato, esplette, olive oil, and micro greens.

That was just the first course, and it was paired with the 2012 Bonterra Sauvignon Blanc, my favorite wine of the night, with sweet green fresh mown hay, light herb, candied lemon mint sweetness, lime and bright grapefruit notes. A 50/50 Lake/Mendocino County wine, it showed lovely balance, at once both lush and showing crisp acidity. It was a treat tasting pork belly and quail egg ­- don’t you love cutting into a perfectly cooked egg and having the yolk released to form a bonus sauce – yum. Anyway, it was a treat tasting this dish with a Sauvignon Blanc instead of a red wine. Great confidence in pairing on display. The beets salad and crab poppers were also tremendously delicious.

The Second Course featured both a 2011 Bonterra Pinot Noir, just rated 90 points by Wine Enthusaiast, and a 2010 Bonterra Zinfandel. The Pinot Noir was meaty, with strawberry, cherry, and dark rich rhubarb; really drinkable, just lovely, supple yet delicate. The Zinfandel was soft yet bold, spicy with raspberry and strawberry, vinuous anise herb, and a touch of pepper spice.The big treat came pairing these two wines with Chef Jesse’s dishes for the second course: local J-bar-S bison 8 hour (tasted like 48) ragu, with pancetta, tomato, (phenomenal) handmade herbed gnocchi, basil, ricotta, and Reggiano; cracked pepper seared Ahi tuna with chanterelle mushrooms and a Bonterra Pinot Noir reduction; potatoes au gratin, Yukon golds with saffron cream, gruyere, and fresh herbs; and roasted delicate squash with creamed Swiss chard, celery root, and caramelized shallot salt.

Holy foodgasm! The bison gnocchi rigotta ragu dish with Zinfandel was stunningly perfect. The Ahi and chanterelles was gorgeous. The veggie dish with creamed swiss chard was divine.

Dessert was a (local) apple strudel of filo, toasted walnuts, cinnamon, Chantilly crème, and homemade ice cream, paired with the Bonterra Muscat which featured aromatic honeysuckle, floral and sweet-tart pear and mandarin notes, finishing with a zing.

As I have attended each of the Chef’s wine dinners at Crush, I had more than one diner ask if there was always this much food, as numerous a selection of excellent tastes, or whether this was a unique abundance. I am happy to say that for $50-$65 per person, depending on the wines being featured, the Chef’s wine dinners at crush in Ukiah are always the best wine dinner experience and a bargain as well.

Up next: On December 11, 2013, Chef Jesse and the entire Crush Ukiah team will deliver another breathtaking multi dish, multi course, meal and the wines featured will be the 2011 Coro Mendocino wines, Mendocino County’s celebration of grapes and winemaking, heritage Zinfandel blends, from Brutocao, Claudia Springs, Fetzer, Golden, Mendocino Vineyards, McFadden, McNab Ridge, Parducci, Philo Ridge, and Ray’s Station. With so many powerhouse wineries involved, and the other dinner these wines are poured at going for $500 per couple, the $65 per person tickets – to taste the entire line up of Coro Mendocino wines with the consistently breathtaking food creations of Chef Jesse – will sell out faster than any previous Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush. Secure your spot today by calling (707) 463-0700 and I’ll see you there!

One of the biggest differences between winemaking in Europe and the United States is that wine made in Europe is made following a protocol established by and for the geographically identifiable area the wine is made in, while wine made in the United States is made with near complete freedom.

A Mendocino County wine might be Chardonnay or Malbec. Napa Valley is likely to contain Cabernet Sauvignon, but could instead contain Sangiovese. Russian River Valley wine bottles could be Pinot Noir or Semillion. In the United States, we have to label our wines with the grape varietal, because there is no rule, rhyme, or reason about what each area can put into the bottle.

When you buy a bottle of Bordeaux at the wine shop, you know which grapes the wine can be made from based on long established historical protocol, and you can have a solid expectation of style, based on every other Bordeaux wine you have ever purchased. Same for Burgundy, Tuscany, and Chianti.

Identified DOCG in Italy Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (controlled designation of origin guaranteed), AOC in France, – appellation d’origine contrôlée (controlled designation of origin), or other assurance of area protocol control, when you pick up a European wine, your expectations are based on where the wine came from.

In the United States, there is no similar geographically identifiable area making wine following a protocol – almost.

Unique in the entire United States is the Coro Mendocino program, established by a collaborative group of winemakers known as the Consortium Mendocino.

Every time you hold a Coro Mendocino wine, from any vintage, from any winery, you are holding something with connections to every other Coro Mendocino wine ever made.

Every Coro Mendocino wine is made from 100 percent Mendocino County grapes, by a Mendocino County winery, in the county, and contains Zinfandel first and foremost, between 40 percent and 70 percent, with no single blending grape varietal exceeding the percentage of Zinfandel used. Blending grapes come from a list of varietals historically grown in Mendocino County alongside Zinfandel, and are typically either Italian varietals – Sangiovese, Dolcetto, Charbono, Barbera, and Primitivo, or Rhone varietals – Syrah, Petite Sirah, Carignane, and Grenache.

Each winery is also allowed up to 10 percent free play, where a single unlisted varietal may be added to the blend. In the last 10 years, I can think of two wines that took advantage of the “free play” to add some Cabernet Sauvignon.

Chemistry limits (sugar, acid and pH), use of oak barrels, and both barrel and bottle aging are also addressed by the protocol to assure a somewhat uniform expectation of style within the Coro Mendocino program.

Each Coro Mendocino wine undergoes rigorous quality tasting trials. Initially, the wines are tasted up to four times by the participating winemakers who make and share notes of constructive criticism in an effort to see each wine reflect the high quality standards embodied by Consortium expectations.

A Selection Panel of five members of Consortium Mendocino – at least three being participating winemakers – conducts a pass/fail qualifying selection tasting. Pass, and you get to label your wine Coro Mendocino and sell it proudly beside every other Coro Mendocino made at $37. Fail and you’ve got nothing. You don’t have Coro and, without the minimum 75 percent needed, you don’t have Zinfandel. John Cesano’s “Random Red” wouldn’t likely sell for $37 or have the cachet a wine labeled Coro Mendocino has.

On Saturday, June 22, Consortium Mendocino will release the 2010 vintage Coro Mendocino wines at a 10th Anniversary Release Party at the Little River Inn. The 2010 vintage was produced by 10 wineries: Brutocao, Claudia Springs, Fetzer, Golden, McFadden, McNab Ridge, Mendocino, Parducci, Philo Ridge, and Ray’s Station.

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A five course meal prepared by chef Marc Dym begins with a passed appetizer course, paired with a white or sparkling wines from each Coro winery, the remaining courses are seated; the three middle courses each feature three or four of the Coro Mendocino wines, grouped by weight, lighter, medium, and heavier, and paired with gourmet dishes. The final course is dessert and paired with your favorite of the 10 tasted Coro Mendocino wines.

Tickets are for couples, include the five course meal and the first tastes of each of the 2010 vintage wines, and a full set of all ten Coro Mendocino wines. The cost is $500 for a couple ticket and, with the 10 bottles of wine plus a five course dinner with wine for two, is a bargain. I attended last year, and wrote quite favorably about the experience.

This year, in celebration of the 10th anniversary of Coro Mendocino, there will also be an exclusive V.I.P. tasting of Coro 1.5L magnums, on the night before the release party. Limited to the first 30 release party guests that reserve a spot at $75 per person, Coro wines from the last 10 years, and by producers current and past, will be opened and enjoyed from 4:30 ­ 6:30 p.m. on Friday, June 21.

To secure your seats at the release party dinner, and possibly the magnum tasting too, call the Little River Inn at (707) 937-5942.
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John Cesano works for McFadden, one of the ten 2010 vintage Coro producers. John, in his role as a local wine writer, has written about the Coro Mendocino program frequently, not because he works for a producer but because he he feels the program can be a critically important introduction to what, at their best, Mendocino County’s wines are about. 

Coro Mendocino, I’ve written about it before, but with a rare tasting coming this weekend, it bears writing about again.

A group of Mendocino County winemakers create a Zinfandel based wine blend where Zinfandel accounts for between 40 and 70% of the finished wine. The remainder is limited to classic Mendocino County varietals, but a winemaker can use any varietal, traditional or not, up to 10% to create the best wine possible. The idea is to capture the heart (Coro is Italian for heart) of Mendocino County, the heart of the vintage, in a bottle.

There are 13 winemakers who take part in the Coro Mendocino cooperative association, and all the winemakers must approve a Coro in a blind group tasting prior to the blend being allowed to be called a Coro Mendocino.

Each Coro Mendocino is different. In a single vintage there could be 13 different Coro Mendocino wines, each with a different blend of grapes, each grown in a different part of the county, each blended by a different winemaker. All delicious, none closely resembling the next. Each Coro Mendocino is sold for $37, is bottled uniformly, carries matching labels, with the winery name noted but subordinate to the Coro Mendocino identification.

This Saturday, April 16, 2011 Sip! Mendocino in Hopland will be hosting a tasting of 10 different 2007 Coro Mendocino producers from 6-9 pm. Graziano, McDowell, McFadden, Fetzer, Golden, Dunnewood, Brutocao, Philo Ridge, Parducci, and McNab Ridge will be poured. The cost is only $20 for the general public, and Sip! Mendocino wine club members may take part at no charge.

Be sure to taste the McFadden Vineyard Coro, it is 60% Zinfandel, 27% Syrah, and 13% Petite Sirah; add it up and you get 100% delicious. Rich warm cherry and berry fruit, chocolate, herb, rich and full, big yet easily drinkable, with a long, lingering, tapering finish. I may be biased, I am the Tasting Room Manager and Wine Club Coordinator at McFadden Vineyard, but I think it may be the most delicious of the 2007 Coro Mendocino wines. The great news is that on Saturday you can taste them all side by side and decide for yourself which is your favorite.

Until ZAP has the sense to invite all the Coro Mendocino wines to be poured at January’s annual Grand Zinfandel Tasting in San Francisco at Ft. Mason, this is your best, least expensive opportunity to taste the line up. Call Sip! Mendocino to secure your spot at Saturday night’s tasting, (707) 744-8375.

EDITED TO ADD: Amusingly, because it demonstrates my fallibility, it turn out Coro does NOT translate as Heart going from Italian to English. Coro is Chorus. Cuore is Heart. I am not as fond of the imagery of tasting the Chorus of Mendocino County. Romantic that I am, Coro SHOULD be Heart. Thanks to Eugene Gonsalves for catching my error, allowing me to note if not correct it.

I’ve missed you. Thanks to everyone who visited John On Wine, looking to see if my favored iMac was repaired and if I was back to writing new posts; thank you for your loyalty, kindness, and patience.

I took my computer to Simon Kerbel, an Apple certified Mac specialist who runs his Mac Angel business out of his Sebastopol home. My computer was repaired in less time and at much less cost than I had initially feared, and I highly recommend Simon to any North Coast wine country Mac owners who find themselves in need of repair or upgrade. Simon, Mac Angel, macangel.biz, (707) 861-0606.

My writing station; a PC, and my iMac with a second display monitor to work with.

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ZAP, Zinfandel Advocates & Producers, is an organization that celebrates Zinfandel, the red wine varietal grape, and works to bring attention to Zinfandel, publicizing the varietal’s primacy as the wine that is California’s own.

Earlier this year, I wrote about the Zinfandel tasting events surrounding ZAP’s 19TH Annual Zinfandel Festival; the Zinfandel Festival is held late in January each year at San Francisco’s Ft. Mason.

All varietal wines bottled in California, from Alicante Bouschet to Zinfandel, must have at least 75% of the varietal named on the bottle to be varietally named or the wine must be called table wine. Zinfandel often has a little Carignane blended in, just as Cabernet Sauvignon often has a little Merlot, and Sauvignon Blanc often has a little Semillon. These blends are traditional because over time these wine blends have often improved the unblended wines they came from. The sum is greater than the parts, winemaking as alchemy – gold (medals) from the crucible of the wine lab or cellar. There are wines that take the blending farther, and end up with no single varietal reaching the necessary 75% required for varietal naming on the bottle, 40% Zinfandel, 35% Carignane, 25% Grenache as an example; sometimes these wines, often tasting incredibly delicious, carry the name “Red Table Wine.”

Wine lists and market shelves are not set up for “Red Table Wines” or “White Table Wines,” and many wonderful expressions of a winemaker’s art become unwieldy, difficult to market or sell, wines.

ZAP is dedicated to Zinfandel and has required that the wines poured at their major tasting, the Grand Zinfandel Tasting, be Zinfandel, containing at least 75% Zinfandel.

Last year, at the Flights Zinfandel panel presentation tasting, an exploration of Zinfandel blends, many of the wines were “Red Table Wines,” with no varietal reaching 75% content. Some of the blends were the winemaker’s art, cellar or barrel blends, but some of the blends came from what are known as field blends.

Zinfandel has been planted in California a very long time, many old vines are from century blocks, plantings at least 100 years old. Many of these old vineyards have other grape varietals intermixed with the Zinfandel, some Carignane vines planted among the Zinfandel vines. At harvest, the winemaker could pick everything at once, crush it all at once, age it all together, and, in time, bottle a blended wine, a field blend.

ZAP has announced that with a unanimous vote of their Board of Directors, traditional Zinfandel blends, based on historical field blends, where Zinfandel is the dominant grape variety and Zinfandel accounts for at least 34% of the blend, may be poured at the 2011 Grand Zinfandel Tasting at next year’s 20th Zinfandel Festival.

“ZAP’s role in telling the complete, historically accurate story of Zinfandel will be enhanced by the inclusion of classic California field blends as part of the annual Festival and as part of the organization’s educational repertoire,” explains Joel Peterson, winemaker at Ravenswood, and ZAP Board member, “the Zinfandel field blend is the type of wine that would have made California famous 80 years ago, if it hadn’t been for Prohibition, this wine would have been California’s Bordeaux, Chateauneuf-du-Pape or Chianti—a blended wine made from grapes chosen by the people of the region, through mostly trial and error, to produce the best wine they thought the region could produce.  In other words, a fine regional wine only associated with California made no where else in the world.”

Zinfandel blends that come from winemaker choices in the cellar or lab, but use the same grapes traditionally found in classic field blends, and meet the Zinfandel dominant and 34% Zinfandel minimum content, are eligible to be poured as well.

The grape varieties for these Zinfandel field blend inspired wines can be Alicante Bouschet, Barbera, Black Malvoisie, Burger Carignane, Grand Noir de la Calmette, Grenache, Lenoir, Mataro (Mourvedre), Black Muscat, Negrette, Peloursin, Petite Bouschet, Petite Sirah, Semillon, Syrah, Tempranillo, and/or Teradalgo – and, of course, Zinfandel.

Closer to home, Coro Mendocino is a cooperative venture where 11 Mendocino County wineries make individual Zinfandel dominant blends; the idea is to produce wines featuring the best grapes of Mendocino County, thematically similar in style, yet unique to the individual winery’s vision, the blend containing 40-70% Zinfandel, with blending grapes being Syrah, Petite Sirah, Carignane, Sangiovese, Grenache, Dolcetto, Charbono, Barbera, and/or Primitivo. Winemakers may also blend in up to 10% free choice in creating their wine. Wines must have at least 1 year in barrel and at least 6 months in bottle before release. The alcohol level must fall between 12.5% and 16%, pH, total acidity, glucose/fructose enzymatic, volatile acidity, and malic acid also have agreed upon ranges. Oak barrels may be 25%-75% new oak.

The 11 wineries of Coro Mendocino are Brutocao, Mendocino Vineyards, Fetzer, Golden, Graziano, McDowell, McFadden, McNab Ridge, Pacific Star, Parducci, and Philo Ridge Vineyards. The 2007 vintage release party will be 6:00 pm on Saturday, June 26, 2010 at the Little River Inn on the Mendocino Coast. Dinner for two, with a tasting of all the wines, and a complete set of all 11 2007 Coro Mendocino wines to take home is just $480. For reservations, call toll free (888) 466-5683.

Some Coro Mendocino wines could be poured at ZAP’s Grand Zinfandel Tasting, but others would be excluded because of varietal choices in conflict with ZAP’s traditional field blend varietal list.

Yesterday, I asked Julie Ann Kodmur, ZAP’s publicist extraordinaire, about an odd anomaly I noticed in the list of ZAP approved field blend grapes. From my e-mail to Julie:

Semillon is a white wine grape. I know that there are numerous instances of white wine grapes being planted in “Zinfandel fields” or barrel blended, but I wondered at the inclusion of Semillon on the list in your press release, but the exclusion of other Bordeaux whites like Sauvignon Blanc. I also wonder at the inclusion of Rhone reds, but the exclusion of Rhone whites like Marsanne.

Are the heritage wines limited to those blended from the list below, or are other varietals allowed? I imagine some Mendocino Coro wines would be excluded if this list is set, while other Mendocino Coro wines, perhaps showing better Zinfandel blend characteristics might be excluded, if the list of varietals above is complete, finite, closed.

It almost seems as if a small handful of winemakers got together and made a list of grapes grown in their wine property blocks and called it a day.

Julie kindly forwarded my note to Zinfandel superstar winemaker Joel Peterson of Ravenswood, who responded today:

Hi John,

Thanks for your comments on the list of grapes included in the Zinfandel field blends.  The inclusion of Semillon in that particular list was the result of an accident.  While we recognize that there were many white grapes that appeared in some of these plantings, (Palomino, Sauvignon Vert, Berger, and French Colombard, to name a few others), the number of vines was usually so small as to be insignificant and they did not warrant inclusion.  While these grapes were on our original list, it was decided by the ZAP board that they be stricken from that list.

The list of Heritage Blend grapes is derived from a number of sources; experience of people in the field with their own old vineyards and various historical records from the era that these blends were being formulated. Understand that the key word here is “Heritage” Field Blends.  While I realize there are a number of other blends being made today that include Cabernet and other varieties not on the list, they would not be included as Zinfandel heritage field blends.  This was meant to be a historical reference point and an augmentation to our understanding of Zinfandel and its kin.

I suspect the list as it exists is not complete and will undergo some modification.  The key to additions is that they exist in significant proportion in existing Heritage Field Blends or in pertinent reference literature concerning these blends.

I hope this is helpful.

Joel

If you read my companion pieces from this year’s ZAP Zinfandel Festival, you know I hold Joel in the highest esteem. In those pieces, I wrote, “I tasted wines that ranged from 100% Zin to a wine where Zinfandel was not the predominant grape. I wondered when a Zin stops being a Zin. I asked Joel, “how much Zinniness (yes, it is a real word, I invented it) is required in a wine to be considered appropriate for inclusion at ZAP?” when we met over lunch at a ZAP event back in January. Joel said, “It is an interesting subject, and the wines that are being made from these mixed black blends have the potential to be some of the best, most singular wines California can produce. It is good to get the conversation about them started again. We lost the thread with the advent of Prohibition and in the process lost what might have been the wine that was our equivalent of Bordeaux, Chateauneuf du Pape, or Chianti. Blended wine made from grapes chosen by the people of that region to represent the best most representative wine that region could produce. Zinfandel is California’s own. There is nothing that even comes close. These talks of blending [Zinfandel] instead of Cabernet or Chardonnay; Zinfandel, Heritage, whatever it will be called, will be how we establish ourselves against European wines.”

Joel’s words then led me to suggest that ZAP might do just what they did, open the Zinfandel Festival up to more wines to be poured. Joel’s words today provide a foundation for a better understanding of ZAP’s announcement.

Yesterday, the folks behind the 2010 Wine Blog Awards opened nominations in a number of categories. I went to facebook and pretty much asked for a nomination. My very good friend, and a supremely talented writer, Nancy Cameron Iannios nominated my wine blog in the Best New Wine Blog category.

If you read my blog regularly, and feel moved to do so, here’s a link to the nomination site; you can second my nomination through April 7 at:

Click here to be taken to a place you can second my nomination, thanks!

Here is the kind nomination post Nancy left for my nomination:

I am writing to nominate JohnOnWine.com for a Wine Blog Award in the Best New Wine Blog category.

John’s blog is well read and highly ranked. His posts aren’t puff pieces, but often run t thousands of words; he writes with passion and it is felt in each article he writes.

John started in April 2009, and has 66 posts, his writing has gotten better, richer, more full month by month, post by post.

Consider his event recaps, they are the most complete, often surpassing the descriptions of wine writers who have been around the scene many more years:

Celebrating V. Sattui Winery’s 125th Anniversary

19TH Annual Zinfandel Festival

The Biggest Petite Event of them all – Dark & Delicious

Passion for Pinot Noir, a recap of the Pinot Noir Summit

John’s interview with Ravenswood’s Joel Peterson and Bedrock Wine Company’s Morgan Twain-Peterson was a must read:

A conversation with Ravenswood’s Joel Peterson and Bedrock Wine Company’s Morgan Twain-Peterson

I look forward to each winery review John writes, it is almost like being there:

Feature Spotlight: Toad Hollow Vineyards

Featured spotlight winery: Keller Estates

Mendocino Wine Company: Parducci and Paul Dolan Vineyards

I tried to taste Fetzer’s, but tasted Topel Winery’s wines instead.

John provides wine reviews:

Nine Fine Wines reviewed, with my food pairings. All socially conscious.

2005 Toad Hollow Merlot Reserve, Richard McDowell Vineyard, Russian River Valley

As well as wine book and accessory reviews:

Getting Doon with Been Doon So Long

Age Gets Better With Wine

Friends don’t let friends Vacu-Vin

Finally, John handles tougher more controversial aspects of wine, wine and health, wine blogger ethics, proposed wine excise tax increases, and entertains while he educates his readers:

Wine and pregnancy, a healthy mix.

So, you don’t get wine writers or the wine industry? I know why.

Will Trader Joe’s be forced to sell Seven Buck Chuck?

Who is behind the “Alcohol-Related Harm and Damage Services Act of 2010″ Initiative?

With respect to all of the talented first year wine bloggers nominated, I think John Cesano has to be given serious consideration for this award. John’s work is not just well read, it is referenced, tweeted, retreated, linked, and commented on with great regularity.

Thanks again to Nancy; in the spirit of full disclosure, Nancy runs a business offering consultants to wineries in need of a little help, and I am one of Nancy’s consultants.

I will say, with what limited humility I am able to muster, that I too think I have the Best New Wine Blog in the English reading world, and that I am certainly worthy of being a nominated finalist for consideration. Just sayin’.

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Yesterday there was another tweetup built around wine. From 5pm-7pm, people opened bottles of wine and tweeted about them. Some tweeps banded together, turning a tweetup into a meet up, to enjoy wine and fellowship, and then tweet about the experience.

These wine tweetups were started by Rick Bakas, who handles Social Media Marketing chores for St. Supery. Initially, the theme wine was California Cabernet, and a huge number of people opened, tasted, and tweeted about the experience, using the hashtag #CaliCab, allowing a streaming shared experience across space. Did a number of people visit St. Supery, or open a bottle of St. Supery Cab? Sure, they did.

In the wake of success, other wine tweetups followed. There have been Sauvignon Blanc (#SauvBlanc), Washington state Merlot (#WAMerlot), and yesterday was a celebration of the winemaker’s art at blending (#WineBlends).

I visited Parducci near my home in Ukiah for the March 4 Sauvignon Blanc tweetup and had a great time; I returned again yesterday to taste two wine blends.

First things first, I want to say that the tasting room gals were not only smiling hugely, but laughing freely; Parducci has some of the friendliest, most welcoming staff in the industry.

One of the wines, the 2006 Paul Dolan Vineyards Deep Red, Mendocino County, I had tasted last month with the winemaker Bob Swain. Here are my notes from then: $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. Yesterday, I was much less analytical, enjoying the wine with some delicious Greek food made at a Ukiah shop I didn’t know exists – but will be visited often now. My notes, limited by twitter’s character limits, were much simpler; 100% Demeter Biodynamic grapes, soft tannins, red fruit, delicious flavors, utterly drinkable.

The second wine was initially made exclusively for Whole Foods, but is now available at Safeway; the 2008 Parducci Sustainable White is 41.5% Chenin Blanc, 38% Sauvignon Blanc, 12% Viognier, 7.5% Muscat Canelli, and 1% Fruilliano, but 100% delish. crisp, yet fruity, unpretentious, accessible, easily drinkable.

Although I have a stack of wine books to read and review, sent to me at no cost, I bought Paul Dolan’s book, True To Our Roots: Fermenting A Business Revolution, at the tasting room and look forward to reading and reviewing it when I can get the time.

Next month’s event will be Chardonnay (#Chardonnay), and is scheduled for May 6. If you can visit a Chardonnay producing winery, like Parducci, it is completely worthwhile. You shouldn’t need an excuse to get out after work, and enjoy a little wine and food, and meet some new, like minded people. There is a rumor that Parducci is going to drag Cinco de Mayo out an extra day and have a taco truck park next to the tasting room; I hope the rumor is true. I love real tacos, I love Chardonnay; I want to find out which Chardonnay pairs best with Al Pastor.

If you can’t make it to a winery, buy a bottle of Chardonnay (French White Burgundy will do, but look for something either local to where you live or exciting to try, open it about a half hour before the appointed time to let it breathe and open up, then taste and tweet with the rest of us, starting at about 5pm.

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I got a Google alert last night just before bed, letting me know that I had been mentioned by name in someone else’s blog.

I didn’t find the post particularly complimentary; quite the opposite, I felt I had been insulted.

To be honest, I was a bit pissed. I didn’t really mind the post in and of itself, and the author was perhaps justified in his feelings about me and my actions; I just thought the author should have posted his thoughts as a comment to the article that offended him and perhaps a worthwhile conversation could occur. Instead, without contacting me, and without providing a full context, he took issue with my decision to publish the contact information, easily found using Google, of the authors of the ill considered 12,775% wine tax increase initiative they are trying to qualify for the November ballot.

Rather than count to 100, I got out of bed and crafted a comment of my own, but (perhaps fortunately) it was lost in the internet ether. I wrote my response again and posted it by email.

Having responded, I found I didn’t really care much anymore, my anger had dissipated, and reading some of the other posts on his site, I realized I had read his work before, and found just about every post I wasn’t in to be enjoyable.

Here’s a link to his original piece, along with my response which he edited in and then responded to.

I’m sure it wasn’t his intention, but you’ll find Tom Johnson’s LouisvilleJuice blog listed over in the right column where I have my blogroll.

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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