2015 SFCWC Logo

For my 300th post to John on Wine, I find it fitting that I am posting a list of the medal winning wines, each proudly sporting a Mendocino County AVA on the label, recently earning honors at the 2015 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, the largest judging of American wines in the world with 6,417 entries this year.

While you might be tempted to print this list and taste the top awarded, Best of Class and Double Gold, then Gold medal winning wines, there are several wines that took Bronze medals that are delicious enough that I have purchased them. What may drink like a Bronze on one day, may show Gold quality on another. Pretty much, just about every wine on this list merits a taste.

I have written for years about the quality of Mendocino County winegrapes, and the delicious wines they make. This list is filled with example after example of what I have written about, in newspaper column after newspaper column, and the additional posts that find their way online.

All of the Gold medal winning wines will be poured at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition Public Tasting on Valentine’s Day, Saturday, February 14, 2015 from 1:30pm-5:00pm at the Festival Pavilion at Fort Mason Center in san Francisco. Advance tickets are $65, and available online now. Tickets at the door are $80, but will probably be unavailable…get your tickets now.

2014 SFCWC Public Tasting Guinness some more

I’m posting this list while it is still news, although a version will also run in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, January 22, 2015, but may have the Bronze medal winners edited out due to space restrictions. Fortunately, online, no such restrictions exist.

Congratulations to all of the wineries, winemakers, and grape growers responsible for these excellent Mendocino County wines:

BEST OF CLASS
2013 Balo Vineyards Pinot Gris, Anderson Valley, $24.00; and
2013 Castello di Amorosa Late Harvest Gewurztraminer, Anderson Valley, $39.00.

DOUBLE GOLD MEDAL
NV McFadden Farm Sparkling Cuvee Brut Rose, Potter Valley, $32.00;
2012 Seebass Family Wines Grand Reserve Chardonnay, Mendocino, $34.00;
2013 Angeline Winery Reserve Pinot Noir, Sonoma-Mendocino, $18.00;
2013 Greenwood Ridge Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir, Mendocino Ridge, $30.00;
2012 Campovida Pinot Noir, Oppenlander Vineyard, Mendocino County, $45.00;
2012 Roadhouse Winery Platinum Label Pinot Noir, Weir Vineyard, Yorkville Highlands, $79.00;
2010 Ledson Winery & Vineyards Estate Petite Sirah, Redwood Valley, $42.00; and
2012 Navarro Vineyards Mourvedre, Mendocino, $20.00.

GOLD MEDAL
2013 Bink Wines Randle Hill Sauvignon Blanc, Yorkville Highlands, $22.00;
2013 Navarro Vineyards Chardonnay, Mendocino, $19.00;
2012 Husch Vineyards Special Reserve Chardonnay, Mendocino, $26.00;
2013 Navarro Vineyards Premiere Reserve Chardonnay, Anderson Valley, $25.00;
2013 Seebass Family Wines Family Chardonnay, Mendocino, $30.00;
2012 Artevino Chardonnay, Maple Creek Estate, Yorkville Highlands, $36.00;
2013 V. Sattui Winery Riesling, Anderson Valley, $25.00;
2013 Rivino Winery Estate Viognier, Mendocino, $25.00;
2013 Handley Cellars Pinot Gris, Anderson Valley, $20.00;
2013 Navarro Vineyards Pinot Gris, Anderson Valley, $19.50;
2011 Handley Cellars Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, $32.00;
2013 Paul Dolan Pinot Noir, Potter Valley, Mendocino County, $30.00;
2012 Balo Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, $45.00;
2012 Bink Wines Pinot Noir, Thomas Vineyard, Anderson Valley, $45.00;
2012 McNab Ridge Winery Zinfandel, B Var X Talmage, Mendocino County, $26.00;
2012 St. Anne’s Crossing, Zinfandel, Mendocino, $28.00;
2012 Trinitas Cellars Zinfandel, Mendocino, $28.00;
2011 Sanctuary Wines Zinfandel, Butler Ranch, Mendocino, $39.99;
2012 Graft Wines Conviction, Mendocino, $36.00;
2012 Bonterra Vineyards, Merlot, Mendocino County, $13.99;
2012 McNab Ridge Winery, Merlot, Mendocino County, $16.00;
2012 Seebass Family Wines Grand Reserve Merlot, Mendocino, $38.00;
2013 Kimmel Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Potter Valley, $13.99;
2013 Lucinda & Millie Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendocino County, $14.99;
2012 Brutocao Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, Hopland Contento Estate, $19.99;
2012 Urban Legend Cabernet Sauvignon, Gusto Vineyard, Mendocino, $34.00;
2012 Topel Estate Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendocino, $38.00;
2012 Sunce Winery & Vineyard Alicante Bouschet, Dempel Vineyard, Mendocino County, $28.00; and
2013 Husch Vineyards Old Vines Heritage, Mendocino, $30.00.

SILVER MEDAL
NV McFadden Farm Sparkling Cuvee Brut, Potter Valley, Mendocino, $40.00;
2013 Yorkville Cellars Sparkling Malbec Brut Rose, Rennie Vineyard, Yorkville Highlands, $36.00;
2013 Jaxon Keys Winery & Distillery Sauvignon Blanc, Mendocino, $18.00;
2013 McFadden Farm Sauvignon Blanc, Potter Valley, Mendocino County, $16.00;
2013 Paul Dolan, Sauvignon Blanc, Potter Valley, Mendocino County, $18.00;
2013 Campovida Reserva Campo di Stelle, Mendocino County, $36.00;
2013 Yorkville Cellars Eleanor of Aquitaine, Randle Hill Vineyard, Yorkville Highlands, $28.00;
2013 Kimmel Vineyards Illuminate Chardonnay, Potter Valley, $9.99;
2013 Girasole Vineyards Estate Grown Chardonnay, Mendocino, $13.00;
2013 Toad Hollow Francines’s Selection Unoaked Chardonnay, Mendocino, $14.99;
2013 Brutocao Cellars Chardonnay, Hopland Estate, $17.00;
2013 McFadden Farm Chardonnay, Potter Valley, Mendocino County, $16.00;
2013 Rivino Winery Estate Chardonnay, Mendocino, $22.00;
2013 Handley Cellars Estate Chardonnay, Anderson Valley, $25.00;
2013 Navarro Vineyards Estate Bottled Gewurztraminer, Anderson Valley, $19.50;
2013 Handley Cellars Riesling, Anderson Valley, $22.00;
2013 V. Sattui Winery Dancing Egg Riesling, Anderson Valley, $24.00;
2013 Bonterra Vineyards, Viognier, Mendocino County, $12.99;
2013 Campovida Campo Dos Roble Viognier, Mendocino County, $34.00;
2013 McFadden Farm Pinot Gris, Potter Valley, Mendocino County, $16.00;
2013 Philo Ridge Vineyards Pinot Gris, Nelson Ranch, Mendocino, $20.00;
2013 Campovida Rose di Grenache, Trails End Vineyard, Mendocino County, $34.00;
2012 Brutocao Cellars Estate Slow Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, $28.00;
2012 Husch Vineyards Estate Bottled Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, $25.00;
2013 Navarro Vineyards Methode a’l Anciene Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, $29.00;
2010 Panthea Winery & Vineyard Siren Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, $32.00;
2012 Calista Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, $40.00;
2013 Castello di Amorosa Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, $49.00;
2012 Handley Cellars Pinot Noir, Hellava Vineyard, Anderson Valley, $42.00;
2012 Handley Cellars Reserve Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, $42.00;
2011 Husch Vineyards Knoll Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, $40.00;
2010 Nelson Hill Pinot Noir, Deep End Vineyard, Anderson Valley, $42.00;
2010 Panthea Winery & Vineyard Estate Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, $42.00;
2013 V. Sattui Winery Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, $42.00;
2010 Woodenhead Pinot Noir, Wiley Vineyard, Anderson Valley, $60.00;
2013 Navarro Vineyards Zinfandel, Mendocino, $19.50;
2013 The Organic Wine Works Zenful Zin Zinfandel, Mendocino, $14.95;
2012 Paul Dolan Zinfandel, Mendocino County, $25.00;
2012 Cesar Toxqui Cellars Split Rock Zinfandel, Mendocino, $30.00;
2011 Seebass Family Wines Old Vine Zinfandel, Mendocino, $37.00;
2012 Campovida Primitivo, Dark Horse Vineyard, Mendocino County, $36.00;
2012 Wattle Creek Winery, Primitivo, Yorkville Highlands, $30.00;
2012 BARRA of Mendocino Estate Grown Sangiovese, Mendocino, $18.00;
2013 Sottomarino Winery Sangiovese, Mendocino County, $28.00;
2012 Jaxon Keys Winery & Distillery Anna Mac Syrah, Mendocino, $19.99;
2009 Bink Wines Hawks Butte Syrah, Bink Estate Vineyard, Yorkville Highlands, $30.00;
2012 Seebass Family Wines Grand Reserve Syrah, Mendocino, $38.00;
2011 Seebass Family Wines Syrah, Mendocino; $43.00;
2012 McNab Ridge Winery Petite Sirah, Mendocino County, $18.00;
2012 Jaxon Keys Winery & Distillery Jon Vincent Grenache, Mendocino, $22.00;
2013 Navarro Vineyards Grenache, Mendocino, $27.00;
2012 Greenwood Ridge Vineyards Estate Merlot, Mendocino Ridge, $27.00;
2011 Albertina Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, Zmarzly Vineyards, Mendocino, $28.00;
2010 Rivino Winery Estate Cabernet Franc, Mendocino, $36.00;
2009 Terra Savia Meritage, Sanel Valley Vineyards, $22.00;
NV Bliss Family Vineyards Estate Blissful Red, Mendocino, $9.99;
2012 Jaxon Keys Winery & Distillery Farmhouse Red, Mendocino, $14.99;
2013 Navarro Vineyards Navarrouge, Mendocino, $16.00;
2012 Post & Vine Old Vine Field Blend, Testa Vineyards, Mendocino, $28.00;
2011 Soda Rock Winery Entourage Red Blend, Mendocino County, $26.00;
2009 Bonterra Vineyards The McNabb, McNabb Ranch, Mendocino County, $49.99;
NV Cesar Toxqui Cellars Multiple Vintages Heirloom Cinco, Mendocino, $35.00;
2011 McFadden Farm Coro Mendocino  Mendocino, $37.00;
2012 Topel Estate Blend, Mendocino, $38.00;
2012 Stephen & Walker , Chardonnay Botrytis, Mendocino Ridge, $65.00; and
2013 Jaxon Keys Winery & Distillery Elle Port, Mendocino, $35.00.

BRONZE MEDAL                                                        
2013 Bonterra Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc, Mendocino/Lake, $12.99;
2013 Husch Vineyards Renegade Sauvignon Blanc, Mendocino, $18.00;
2013 Navarro Vineyards, Sauvignon Blanc, Mendocino, $18.00;
2013 Bliss Family Vineyards Chardonnay, Hopland Estate, $9.99;
2013 Bonterra Vineyards Chardonnay, Mendocino County, $12.99;
2013 Naughty Boy Vineyards Chardonnay, Thorton Ranch, Potter Valley, $14.00;
2013 Parducci Wine Cellars Small Lot Blend Chardonnay, Mendocino County, $13.00;
2012 Shooting Star Chardonnay, Mendocino County, $13.00;
2013 Husch Vineyards Estate Bottled Chardonnay, Mendocino, $15.00;
2013 Husch Vineyards Vine One Chardonnay, Anderson Valley, $18.00;
2013 Seebass Family Wines, Grand Reserve Chardonnay, Mendocino, $32.00;
2013 Jim Ball Vineyards Chardonnay; Mendocino Ridge, $35.00;
2012 Bonterra Vineyards Chardonnay, Blue Herron Vineyard, Mendocino County, $49.99;
2012 La Follette Wines Chardonnay, Manchester Ridge Vineyard, Mendocino Ridge, $47.99;
2013 Castello di Amorosa Gewurztraminer, Anderson Valley, $25.00;
2013 Handley Cellars Gewurztraminer, Anderson Valley, $20.00;
2013 McFadden Farm Gewurztraminer, Potter Valley, Mendocino County, $16.00;
2013 Philo Ridge Vineyards Gewurztraminer, Ferrington Vineyard, Anderson Valley, $20.00;
2013 Greenwood Ridge Vineyards Estate Riesling, Mendocino Ridge, $18.00;
2013 McFadden Farm Riesling, Potter Valley, Mendocino County, $18.00;
2013 Route 128 Winery  , Viognier, Opatz Family Vineyards, Yorkville Cellars, $19.00;
2013 Philo Ridge Vineyards Viognier, Nelson Ranch, Mendocino, $20.00;
2013 Campovida Marsanne, Bonofiglio Vineyard, Mendocino County, $32.00;
2013 Via Cellars Tocai Friulano, Fox Hill Vineyard, Mendocino County, $25.00;
2013 Seebass Family Wines Fantasi Rose of Grenache, Mendocino, $16.00;
2013 Bonterra Vineyards Pinot Noir, Mendocino County, $13.99;
2013 Navarro Vineyards Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, $19.50;
2012 Parducci Wine Cellars Small Lot Blend Pinot Noir, Mendocino, $14.00;
2011 Naughty Boy Vineyards Organic Grown Pinot Noir, Potter Valley, $23.00;
2010 Naughty Boy Vineyards Organic Grown Pinot Noir, Potter Valley, $23.00;
2013 Jaxon Keys Winery & Distillery Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, Mendocino, $34.00;
2012 Balo Vineyards Suitcase 828 Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, $38.00;
2009 Harmonique The Noble One Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, $39.00;
2009 Nelson Hill Pinot Noir, Deep End Vineyard, Anderson Valley, $36.00;
2011 Philo Ridge Vineyards, Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, $36.00;
2012 Artevino Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, $40.00;
2010 Panthea Winery & Vineyard Pinot Noir, Londer Vineyard, Anderson Valley, $42.00;
2011 Handley Cellars Pinot Noir, RSM Vineyard, Anderson Valley, $52.00;
2010 Philo Ridge Vineyards Pinot Noir, Marguerite Vineyard, Anderson Valley, $50.00;
2012 Bliss Family Vineyards Estate Zinfandel, Mendocino, $9.99;
2012 Bonterra Vineyards Zinfandel, Mendocino County, $13.99;
2011 Brutocao Cellars Zinfandel , Hopland Estate, $19.99;
2012 Carol Shelton Wines Old Vines Wild Thing Zinfandel, Mendocino County, $19.00;
2012 Weibel Family Vineyards & Winery Zinfandel, Mendocino County, $16.95;
2012 Jaxon Keys Winery & Distillery Mae’s Block  Zinfandel, Mendocino, $24.00;
2012 Jaxon Keys Winery & Distillery Etta’s Block Zinfandel, Mendocino, $22.00;
2013 Husch Vineyards Old Vines Zinfandel, Mendocino, $25.00;
2013 Navarro Vineyards Old Vine Zinfandel, Mendocino, $27.00;
2012 Philo Ridge Vineyards Zinfandel, Firebrick Vineyard, Mendocino, $26.00;
2012 Oak Cliff Cellars Zinfandel, Firebrick Hill, Redwood Valley, $35.00;
2012 Woodenhead Zinfandel, Mariah Vineyard, Mendocino Ridge, $46.00;
2011 Brutocao Cellars Primitivo, Hopland Contento Estate, $19.99;
2013 Sottomarino Winery Primitivo, Mendocino County, $32.00;
2011 Muscardini Cellars Barbera, Pauli Ranch, Mendocino County, $38.00;
2013 Navarro Vineyards Barbera, Mendocino, $27.00;
2011 Brutocao Cellars Quadriga, Hopland Estate, $19.99;
2012 Route 128 Winery  Syrah, Opatz Family Vineyard, Yorkville Highlands, $24.00;
2012 Greenwood Ridge Vineyards Estate Syrah, Mendocino Ridge, $27.00;
2013 Navarro Vineyards Syrah, Mendocino, $27.00;
2010 Simaine Cellars Syrah, Venturi Vineyards, Mendocino, $25.00;
2009 BARRA of Mendocino Estate Grown Petite Sirah, Mendocino, $22.00;
2012 Navarro Vineyards Petite Sirah, Mendocino, $27.00;
2010 Notarius Petite Sirah, Heart Arrow Ranch, Mendocino, $24.00;
2012 Parducci Wine Cellars True Grit Reserve Petite Sirah, Mendocino County, $29.00;
2012 Theopolis Vineyards Petite Sirah, Yorkville Highlands, $36.00;
2012 Graft Wines Grenache, Dark Horse Vineyard, Mendocino County, $32.00;
2012 Bliss Family Vineyards Estate Merlot $9.99;
2012 Brutocao Cellars Merlot, Hopland Bliss Estate, $19.99;
2011 Terra Savia Merlot , Sanel Valley Vineyards, Mendocino County, $15.00;
2012 Weibel Family Vineyards & Winery Merlot, Mendocino County, $16.95;
2009 Artevino Merlot, Maple Creek Estate, Yorkville Highlands, $40.00;
2013 Bliss Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Hopland Estate, $9.99;
2012 Bonterra Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendocino/Lake, $13.99;
2012 Husch Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendocino, $23.00;
2010 Terra Savia Cabernet Sauvignon, Sanel Valley Vineyards, Mendocino County, $22.00;
2012 Navarro Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendocino, $29.00;
2011 Paul Dolan Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendocino County, $25.00;
2012 Greenwood Ridge Vineyards Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendocino Ridge, $35.00;
2013 The Organic Wine Works Organic A’Notre Terre, Mendocino, $14.95;
2012 Jaxon Keys Winery & Distillery Assemblage, Mendocino, $24.00;
2012 Yorkville Cellars HI-Roller Red, Mendocino, $19.00; and
2011 McFadden Farm Late Harvest Riesling, Potter Valley, Mendocino County, $18.00.

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John On Wine – Nodding to Cliché

Originally published on New Year’s Eve, December 31, 2014, in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper.

New Year’s Eve. Which cliché should I bow to? Should I write about sparkling wines to enjoy tonight? Should I offer up a list of New Year’s resolutions? Why choose? I’ll touch on both, and more, this week.

Graziano, Handley, McFadden, Nelson, Paul Dolan, Roederer Estate, Scharffenberger, Signal Ridge, Terra Savia, and Yorkville Cellars all poured bubblies at last year’s Celebration of Mendocino County Sparkling Wines.

Opening a bottle from any of these producers should be a cause for celebration, rather than a response to a celebration, as they are delightful sparkling wines and merit being opened and enjoyed on a more regular basis than only for special occasions.

I believe that it is better to open a bottle of sparkling wine to make an occasion special than to wait for a special occasion to open a bottle of sparkling wine. Make your days better; drink wine with meals, celebrate the ordinary, create your own extraordinary reality.

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I reviewed many of the county’s sparkling wines here: http://johnonwine.com/2014/04/10/a-mendo-bubbly-fest-recap/ and I would encourage you to read those reviews online, or simply visit a winery tasting room to taste bubblies for yourself.

Many of the county’s best sparkling wines are also available at the Ukiah Co-op.

Two small updates on the county’s sparkling wines since I wrote the reviews in April: Graziano’s 2010 Cuvee #10 Sparkling Brut was judged Best of Show at the 2014 Mendocino County Fair Wine Competition and McFadden’s NV Sparkling Cuvee Brut was judged Best of Show at the 2014 California State Fair Wine Competition. Conveniently, Graziano and McFadden are open daily for tasting, and have neighboring tasting rooms less than ten steps apart in downtown Hopland.

This year’s Mendo Bubbly Fest event will return to Terra Savia on Saturday, April 11, 2015; look to this column for more news, including where to get tickets, as the event nears.

Resolutions. Ugh. Does anyone really stick to these things?

Each year, I promise to get out and taste more wine, and farther afield, but work and home conspire to keep me from traveling far or often, at least as far or often as I would like.

I did make a couple of trips over the hill to visit the wineries of Hwy 128 here in Mendocino County, largely in response to invitations by the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association to their Pinot Noir Festival and Barrel Tasting Weekends. This year, I would like to return for those events, for the Alsace festival, and for visits to individual wineries for spotlight winery pieces. Let’s see how we do with that desire.

I’ve lost some weight, over a case of sparkling wine worth of weight, and I will lose more weight this year. This has meant more cooking at home, where I control the calories going into the food I consume. I resolve to continue to find wine friendly recipes that pack a ton of flavor into as few calories as possible.

When I attended the mushroom dinners at Crush Italian Steakhouse and Barra of Mendocino last month during the Mendocino County Mushroom, Wine & Beer Fest, I was dieting. I will continue to attend the best wine dinners that I am invited to, and write them up here for you, this year. Not diet friendly, I’ve learned a little portion control, so these dinners are both deliciously wonderful and not disastrously destructive to my dietary goal of continued weight loss.

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For me, wine is food, one more dish among many in a larger meal, and makes that meal better. I often exhort or encourage you, my readers, to try a particular wine with food, because I believe that sublime wine and food pairings are the path to greater wine enjoyment (and consumption).

I also think that these special food and wine dinners are the best opportunity for you to get out and experience several wines and several dishes to find out for yourself what pairing is all about, and hopefully inspire you to do more at home for yourself, your friends, and your family.

That possibility means that I will try to attend a few extra wine dinners, and at more restaurants, in 2015.

Anyway, I would like you to make a resolution for me, if you can. Please resolve to enjoy at least one more bottle of Mendocino County wine in 2015 than you did in 2014. Thanks and cheers!
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One more thing: Thank you to the many people who donated new unwrapped toys or cash – which I bought more toys with – in support of the Toys For Tots efforts at McFadden. After a storm impacted kick off, you stepped up and brought more toys than we had previously collected. Thank you, thank you, thank you!
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Edited to add for online archived version of column:

On New Year’s Eve, I joined Leo Laporte, Mike Elgan, and Tonya Hall in Petaluma at TWiT.tv’s Brick House for an online streaming 24 hour charity fundraiser for UNICEF, and I poured some sparkling wines and mentioned both JohnOnWine.com and McFaddenFarm.com during the segment.

Most people watching do not then go to a website when it is mentioned, so the numbers watching must be incredible, because within an hour I had 800 folks visit here and 32 orders for sparkling wine were placed through McFaddenFarm.com or Amazon.com.

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I had a great time, and was even segment-crashed by Marilyn Monroe, so the event was a touch disjointed but fun nonetheless.

Here’s a link to view an archived copy of the segment: http://youtu.be/VG9nhLiTT30?t=11m55s

Enjoy!

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John On Wine – A New Zin Tradition

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal on Thursday, August 28, 2014

John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

On a sunny Saturday in August, I spent some time in Sonoma County’s Dry Creek Valley at the ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates & Producers) Simply Summer Celebration, an inaugural event billed as “a new Zin tradition.”

A large white tent was set up in the center of Ridge Vineyards’ Lytton West Vineyard and over 125 Zinfandels were poured by the 50 wineries set up underneath the canopy, with Petaluma’s Pizza Politana set up just outside the tent and serving wood-fired artisan pizzas and a mixed green salad for the over 400 assembled wine lovers that day.

I love Zinfandel, but it can be a pretty big varietal, often tending toward high alcohol and massive dense fruit jam bomb flavors. On a hot day, outside, with plenty of sun, surrounded by other tasters, I was pleased to be writing for the Ukiah Daily Journal, as I could focus on the few wines made from Mendocino grapes and sensibly limit my tastes.

First up, I tasted the wine that won the John Parducci Best of Show Red Wine award at the recent 2014 Mendocino County Fair Wine Competition, the 2012 Artezin Wines Zinfandel, Mendocino, $17. Pouring it was winemaker Randle Johnson.

Artezin is a Napa winery, part of The Hess Collection, and the grapes for this top medal winning Zinfandel come from all over inland Mendo, including from Laviletta Vineyard on Mill Creek Road in Talmage, Seebass Family Vineyard and Paul Dolan’s Dark Horse Ranch on Old River Road near Talmage, Brown Vineyard in Redwood Valley, and Eddie Graziano’s Rovera Ranch near Calpella, among several others.

The wine was lush, showing clear berry, cherry, spice and herb notes up front, leading to red and purple fruit, including pluots. There is a lot happening in this wine, well integrated, marked by balance and finesse. 14.5% alcohol but doesn’t drink hot, feels like 13.9%.

Randle asked about the Mendocino Wine Competition, and if his award meant that the judges chose it above the best Cabernet Sauvignon, best Syrah, best Petite Sirah, best Carignane, over the best of all of Mendocino County’s red wine varieties, and not just above all of Mendocino County’s Zinfandels – which would be an impressive feat by itself. I told Randle that, yes, his Zinfandel was chosen best of all red wines entered into competition. Randle responded, “this award means more to me than a 95 in Wine Spectator.”

Josh Wagner, an employee at one of Kendall Jackson’s other wine concerns, poured three wines for Edmeades of Philo, between Boonville and Navarro, in Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley. I tasted a 2012 Edmeades Zinfandel, Mendocino, $21, a blend of Zin, Petite Sirah, and Syrah, a decent weight wine at 14.7% alc but a little soft in the mouth, without discernable oomph. Next, Josh poured the 2012 Edmeades Zinfandel, Perli Vineyard, $31, a Zin, Merlot & Syrah blend, that tasted like a walk through the black pepper forest, with oak, anise, and plummy meaty raspberry. Finally, I tasted the 100% Zinfandel offering from Edmeades, a 2011 Shamrock Vineyard, with fruit taken at 2,800 feet in elevation. Lighter mouth feel than the Perli, but not dismissible at all. Plenty of flavors, and a wine that begs to be paired with food, where herbs and fruit would pop.

Carol Shelton poured her eponymous wines, and I tasted her 2012 Carol Shelton Wines Wild Thing Old Vines Zinfandel, Mendocino, $19. Carol’s Zinfandel showed brambly bright raspberry and darker blackberry, with herb and black pepper. I worked with Carol from 1993 to 2001, and have an affinity for her wines. Not too big at 14.5%, but certainly not too light. This would be a Goldilocks’ choice wine. 83% Zinfandel , 15% Carignane , and 2% Petite Sirah; the 92% of grapes coming from Mendocino County are from the Cox Vineyard, just north of Ukiah.

Not Mendocino County, but close, I tasted a wine from Chacewater Wine from over in neighboring Lake County’s Kelseyville. The 2012 Chacewater Zin, Sierra Foothills, $20, ran 14.5% alc and had dusty rhubarb, cherry, and oak notes throughout.

Bonus non-Mendo Zinfandel tastes: I tasted the 2012 Barefoot Cellars Zinfandel, Lodi, $7, because winemaker Jennifer Wall had done such a good job with social media marketing, inviting those who ZAP indicated would be attending to come and taste her wines. The Barefoot Zinfandel had smoky, woody, darker color and flavors without being heavy, with a dominant dark strawberry jam note.

Beltane Ranch winemaker Kevin Holt poured their inaugural 2012 Beltane Ranch Estate Zin, $44. I visited Beltane Ranch in the Sonoma Valley’s Glen Ellen with my friend Serena Alexi earlier this year. A blend of Zin, Alicante Bouschet, Carignane and Petite Sirah, the wine drank young, with intense flavors of black raspberry jam, herb, and oak supporting the fruit in this 15.5% Alc wine.

I tasted the 2012 Ridge Lytton Springs, as a good guest should always taste the host’s wine. At just 70% Zinfandel with 21% Petite Sirah, 6% Carignane, and 3% Mourvedre, this wine is technically not a Zinfandel, although it is sufficiently Zinny to me and, if grown and made one county north, could be called a Coro. 14.4% in alc and loaded with flavor, plenty of brambly ripe berry and a little firm. This is a wine that can lie down and improve with cellaring.

I recognized plenty of other wine writers, and saw that some of my favorite other Zinfandel producers were pouring, but as the attendance grew to over 400, counting winemakers, I decided to call it a day, and headed home to relax in an air conditioned room. That night, I baked spicy chicken wings and paired them with the 2012 Artezin Zinfandel, the Mendo Best of Show red, and that pairing may have best defined a simply summer celebration and new Zin tradition, as it was perfect.

Here’s a link to the Zin friendly baked chicken wing recipe.

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

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

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

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

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John On Wine ­ – A tale of two Passports

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

John Cesano of John On Wine

It was the best of Passports…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

_____

…It was also the best of Passports.

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

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

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

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

 

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John On Wine ­ – Book Reports

Originally published on October 17, 2013 in the Ukiah daily Journal by John Cesano

I love wine. I love books. I don’t always love wine books. Wine books can be so dry as to be boring, or rely so strongly on the reader having a rich knowledge of wine that it can alienate most folks.

Let me share a few wine books that I do love, each for a different reason: The first hasn’t even been released yet. Wine Business Case Studies – Thirteen Cases from the Real World of Wine Business Management, published by the Wine Appreciation Guild is due out in November this year, and will be available at the Sonoma State University book store.

I was bemoaning the public’s love for corks, when screw caps are a superior closure for wine bottles and Elliott Mackey, one of the top wine book publishers in the country, sent me an advance copy of a case study that looked at corks vs. screw caps from a business perspective: The Great Cork Debate 2012: Cork Stages a Comeback, written by Tom Atkin and Duane DoveI knew, from talking to several distributors and retailers, that if all other things are equal then a wine bottle under cork sells faster than a bottle under screw cap. This isn’t the article to address wine closures, but the case study Elliott sent over from the upcoming book was thoughtful, well researched and compelling.

While I was grateful for the advance peek at the great cork debate case study, I was surprised and thrilled to find that Elliott had also sent a case study titled Dark Horse Ranch Vineyard – A Mendocino County, California, Biodynamic Winemaker Explores Future Directions, written by Liz Thach, PhD, MW, Sonoma State University Wine Business Institute.

I am a big fan of Paul Dolan and his Dark Horse Ranch Vineyard. I have contemplated writing a tasting room review of Truett-Hurst in Sonoma County’s Dry Creek Valley, even though I focus on inland Mendocino wineries and vineyards, because Paul Dolan is an owner and has spread his biodynamic farming ethos to Truett Hurst.

This is a text book, a collection of case studies and is meant to explore a variety of subjects that students in a university level wine business program would benefit in exploring. Definitely not for everyone, I loved the advance look and will be picking up a copy upon release.

The second book is a wine book with broader appeal for folks who love Mendocino County wine. Mendocino Roots & Ridges ­ Wine Notes From America’s Greenest Wine Region, written by Heidi Cusick Dickerson with photography by Tom Liden, is a phenomenal wine book, lushly gorgeous in both writing and photographic art.

Heidi Cusick Dickerson wrote a weekly wine column here in The Ukiah Daily Journal before I did and reading her columns, I was always impressed with her ability to paint a picture with words, a picture so well defined that I would want to visit the subject of her piece so I could experience the beauty she shared each week. I have no problem admitting that Heidi is a better writer than I am, and her work set the bar for quality I try to attain.

Tom Liden, similarly, is spectacularly skilled in his ability. As a professional photographer in wine country, many of the images he has captured tell a story that words alone could not do justice to.

Together, Heidi and Tom, in Mendocino Roots & Ridges, combine words and photographic art to give readers a rich sense of what makes scores of Mendocino County’s wineries so special. My copy is autographed by both Heidi and Tom, and if you were looking for a perfect wine book to present as a gift to a friend, there are a number of autographed copies available at the McFadden Farm stand & Tasting Room in Hopland. The price is an incredibly reasonable $29.95.

The final book I wanted to share with you is for wine geeks like me: Been Doon So Long, A Randall Grahm Vinthology. Randall Graham is the genius, iconoclast, mad man owner and winemaker of Bonny Doon – one of my absolute favorite wineries.

In support of his brand, Randall wrote satirical pieces for his winery newsletter. Been Doon So Long is a collection of some of the best satirical pieces written by Randall over the years.

Included are brilliantly executed parodies of notable literary works including Don Quixote, Catcher in the Rye, and A Clockwork Orange. Each parody allows Randall to comment on the wine industry, and often pokes fun and sometimes derision at a host of subjects within the industry.

In the book’s center, at its core, is the book’s masterwork, a parody of Dante’s Divine Comedy. In Da Vino Commedia: The Vinferno, there are nearly 60 pages with beautiful illustrations by Alex Gross, Randall tells the tale of being taken “doon” through the nine circles of wine hell. After pointing out the sins of the industry in fullness, Randall writes of being made to face his own sins and a desire to save himself from mortal zin, um sin.

Filled with zingy references to pompous personages and elite estates, this book is a little insider-ish; but even a wine non-geek will appreciate the skill behind the turns of phrase, even if not fully appreciating the target of Randall’s barb. That’s it, three great books. This weekend, attend Hopland Passport; next weekend, pick up a book.

When you have to eat your words, use a Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel to wash them down.

Recently, I wrote that while the Passport to Dry Creek Valley is the big daddy of wine events, Hopland Passport is the better value.

I’m a little jaded, I work for what I think is the best tasting room in Hopland; the wines we pour and the food we serve with them are unmatched in quality, so I allowed my pride for what we do half an hour north of Healdsburg with our wine and food at our event to color my writing.

I write about wine while running a tasting room; and in the past I used to sit on the board of, and then did marketing for, Destination Hopland – the folks who put on Hopland Passport. Perhaps, I was a touch biased in my piece for the local paper.

I received a media invite to Passport to Dry Creek Valley from Anne Alderette and Melissa McAvoy, two superstars of media outreach hired by the Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley (WDCV) to make magic happen.

Passport to Dry Creek Valley

Passport to Dry Creek Valley


I have shared my opinion, long held, that Hopland Passport is the better event value for some time now, and in email exchanges I included a past piece where I wrote as much along with several other wine event recap pieces when corresponding with Anne and Melissa before Passport to Dry Creek Valley.

On the last Saturday in April, I drove to Seghesio Family Vineyards in Healdsburg proper, and was allowed to check in a little early. I am glad that media check in was at Seghesio because the food and wine served up set the tone for much of what would follow.

Seghesio Gamberi e Fregola

Seghesio Gamberi e Fregola


Gambero e Fregola (the most deliciously fried shrimp ever, covered in a romesco, served on a bed of lemon zest cous cous), Penne Bolognese, and homemade Seghesio Italian Sausage were paired up with reds of wonderful body and flavor. With a terrific band laying down great electric jazz jams, I enjoyed one perfect Italian varietal wine after another, with my favorite two being the 2010 Sangiovese and the 2010 San Lorenzo Estate wines.

Next great stop: Amphora Winery, where my high school classmate Karen Mishler Torgrimson works. Amphora is one of over a half dozen wineries that operate in a winery complex just off of Dry Creek Road. Previously, I had focused on Amphora’s Zinfandel, after all, when in Rome and all of that. This time, I tasted Chardonnay to pair with both fresh shucked oysters and a tuna croquette. The oysters were delicious, and the tuna croquette tasted exactly like a good tuna melt tastes – which is a compliment because I love tuna melts on toast. The Chardonnay pushed the limits of tropicality (yeah, I make up words when they don’t but should exist), also a good thing. I also tasted a 2007 Amphora Cabernet Franc, Pedroni Vineyard that showed great fruit and body.

Amphora

Amphora

In the same complex of wineries as Amphora is Dashe. Mike Dashe buys grapes from my boss for his wines (and gets huge acclaim), so I always look in when I’m in the area. Dashe shares a tasting room with Collier Falls and it was actually Collier Falls that was on the passport for this tasting room, although all of the family wineries were pouring.

Collier Falls at Family Wineries

Collier Falls at Family Wineries


One of our wine club members, Jenny Candeleria, was greeting folks at Collier Falls and she pointed me to some wines to taste and made sure I got a plate of food. Lots of red and white country western check and hay bales, and the Steve Pile Band laying down bluesy country music. I enjoyed Estate Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel and a country cover I heard cowboy Bob Weir also cover countless times in concert. The food was simple hearty fare with a terrific sandwich of pulled bbq smoked meat and slaw and the chocolatiest chocolate brownie anywhere.

Truett Hurst. I do not know what caused me to stop in, but I am so glad I did. Preston has been my longtime favorite place to spend an afternoon in the dry creek Valley, with their great wines, arbor shaded picnic tables, and bocce courts. Before my visit to Truett Hurst was done, I had a new favorite Dry Creek Valley stop, or a tie between two favorites, one old, one new.

Me at Truett Hurst

Me at Truett Hurst


I was greeted at the door by a lovely schoolteacher from Ukiah, where I live, who works some weekends at the winery. Upon check in, she told me that after getting some wine, I needed to head out back for some food and then, if I could make the time for a short walk, I had to go sit in a chair beside the river. Best advice all weekend!

Herb gardens at Truett Hurst

Herb gardens at Truett Hurst

The tasting room building is comfortable, well laid out, features two tasting bars, upright refrigerators filled with yummy picnic provisions, and spectacular photographic art that let me know immediately: I was in a winery with biodynamic wines. The animal photos told of wines made from grapes grown in a biodiverse and organic manner, with a touch of ritualistic magic on the side.

The River at Truett Hurst

The River at Truett Hurst


The tasting room staff at Truett Hurst Winery confirmed that they had recently received their Demeter Biodynamic Certification, a many year process, and then listing the owner partners they surprised me: Paul Dolan, iconic Mendocino County grower, winemaker, and a past guest at our Wine Club Dinner, was one of the owners. I like Paul Dolan a ton, and was now, perhaps, predisposed to like Truett Hurst.

Okay, a quick review of biodynamic growing practices: start with organic growing; no synthetic pesticides, insecticides or fertilizers – No Monsanto RoundUp! Next, grow beneficial cover crops to fix nitrogen, attract beneficial insects, and possibly provide some food (fava beans do go great with a nice Chianti). Now bring in some happy animals; chickens to eat less than beneficial insects, sheep to mow the covercrops down, and of course the animals leave behind a natural and unmanipulated fertilizer for the grapevines. Okay, now comes the magic: take a cow horn, fill it with cow poo, and bury it by the light of the moon on one solstice. Near six months later, unbury the cow poo filled cow horn on the next solstice and place it in a barrel full of collected rainwater, or virgin tears, to steep, making a cow poo horn tea. Do not drink the tea, but instead use the liquid preparation to spray the vines. Seriously, you have to do this if you want Demeter Certification. I don’t know if the ritual magic has any real benefit, but I know that time spent in the vineyard with the grapevines is never bad, so while maybe not any better than simply growing organically with maybe some biodiversity in the mix, it isn’t a bad thing. Heck, maybe the magic does great things, I don’t know, but I do know the practice has passionate adherents, like Paul Dolan. Cesar Toxqui, another winemaker from my area is another true believer and he, like Paul, makes great juice.

Anyway, back to the juice. I tasted the 2011 Red Rooster Old Vine Zinfandel, a solid offering made even more solid when I stepped into the large back yard and found three delicious treats to pair it with served up by Peter Brown, the chef at the Jimtown Store: Pork Rillettes (think phenomenally flavorful pork pate), deliciously light slaw with lots of nice acid and herb, and possibly the weekend’s best bite, a mascarpone and pistachio stuffed date. The pourers were generous with pours, and I took a decent 4 oz of the 2011 White sheep Pinot Noir with me as I walked through flower and herb gardens, planted to attract beneficial insects but also offering up the most intensely pungent natural perfume, and on a short distance to where I found groupings of red Adirondack chairs arranged under tree shade on the bank of a calming babbling river – it looked more like a creek, but why quibble?

The peacefulness, sitting comfortably in a chair, glass of delicious Pinot Noir at hand, the lovely earthy dried cherry aromas and flavors, everything at Truett Hurst made me happy.

Who has the biggest balls in wine country? The folks at Malm Cellars, that’s who. Enormous cajones, I tell you. Words I thought I would never write: “and I poured out the Chateau d’Yquem,” but the folks at Malm had me writing it before I was done visiting them.

Malm Cellars

Malm Cellars


I had friends in the Dry Creek Valley, tasting wines, but had no idea where they were; my phone and mobile internet coverage were non-existent for most of the day throughout the valley. At one point, I headed back to Hwy 101, for a wi-fi connect, and in checking out #dcvpassport tweets, I got into an exchange with Lori Malm, no relation, about Malm Cellars, and decided to visit them.

Hardest to find winery of Passport to Dry Creek Valley may go to Malm Cellars. Like many of my favorite adult juice makers, Malm makes their wines in an industrial park. Down a dead end (W. North) street,  behind a row of buildings, I found them at last.

The food was flavorful, from butter drenched scampi shrimp to simple but perfectly executed bbq, and the wines were delicious from a 2012 Sauvignon Blanc through a 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, but if I had any criticism it would be that the food flavors were a bit intense, overpowering the wines a bit. I just took them separately, along with lots of water in between.

A major highlight of the entire Passport to Dry Creek Valley weekend event came when I tasted, side by side, a 2005 Chateau d’Yquem (rated 97 points by Wine enthusiast, 97 points by Wine Spectator, and 92 points by Robert Parker’s wine advocate) at $429 for a 375 ml half bottle up against a 2010 Malm Cellars Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc at $97 for a 375 ml half bottle.

At $429 for a half bottle, I do not taste a lot of Chateau d’Yquem, a late harvest, botrytis blessed Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc blend, usually 80%/20%. This was a terrific wine, as you would expect, but I liked the 2010 Malm Cellars Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc more. It wasn’t even close.

I will forever be impressed with Malm’s courage to compare themselves with the best, and prove they are better.

I will also be picking up a bottle to pair with foie gras, ordered in from outside the state, because a wine this good demands a pairing this great. Malm Cellars is located at 119 W. North Street near Moore Lane in Healdsburg.

I finished day one on Westside Road, near West Dry Creek Road, at DaVero Farms & Winery, but I would recommend starting there instead of finishing there. It was hot Saturday afternoon, and most of DaVero’s offerings were arrayed outdoors among the organic and Biodynamic fields, where shade was short.

Salmon at DaVero

Salmon at DaVero


A welcome bite of skewered salmon, with a very little farm olive oil, lemon, and salt, reminded me why I consider salmon a perfect food. Paired with Malvasia Bianca, a varietal I first fell in love with years ago when Bonny Doon’s Randall Grahm was introducing many of America’s wine lovers to it, I was pretty happy. The DaVero Sagrantino, a rose berry Italian red varietal, went great with bites of grilled lamb and rustic pizza slices.

One of the things that impressed me about Passport to Dry Creek Valley was that each of the participating wineries had a 5 gallon thermos cooler for water, each with a matching “hydration station” sign. I took advantage of the offered water at every stop, consuming far more water than the amount of wine I tasted. Kudos to the folks at WDCV for the thoughtful and caring touch. Hey, Destination Hopland, I’m looking at you, follow suit, okay?

Meyer Lemonade at DaVero

Meyer Lemonade at DaVero


DaVero went one step further. In addition to the hydration station water, DaVero provided Meyer lemonade. Thank you, thank you, thank you. In the heat of the afternoon, this was a most appreciated touch. You are the bomb!

Day two, I was joined by my good friend Serena Alexi. Serena has joined me for other tastings, and has helped me by making sure I get the good picture, or taste the yummy wine, or pick up my notebook when I leave. That, and she knows more folks in Sonoma County’s wine industry than I do these days.

Serena Alexi at Passport to Dry Creek Valley

Serena Alexi at Passport to Dry Creek Valley


Our first great stop was Ridge Vineyards. Everything, as expected, tasted great, but my favorite was the 2011 Zinfandel, made from Benito Dusi’s grapes in Paso Robles. Paired with the Sonoma duck mole and corn spoon bread prepared by feast catering, this was a great start to our day.

Under the shade at Ridge

Under the shade at Ridge


Kachina Vineyards is off Dry Creek Road about as far as any winery has ever been off any road. It is way the hell back off the road, a decent drive. The location is worth the travel. Remote, quiet, and bucolic, Kachina welcomed guests with a quiet and relaxed greeting…and homemade corn nuts. Kachina is off the grid, relying on solar energy to power their endeavors. The sun was out and Serena and I found a couple of comfortable wooden chairs at a table in the shade and set up base camp, leaving only to try a new wine and quickly return to the comfort of our camp.

A paper bowl of yum at Kachina

A paper bowl of yum at Kachina


I found myself favoring a Sangiovese Rose at Kachina, and a terrific simple rustic grilled meat, onion, potato and tomato dish.

Back to the road, we made our way next to Unti Vineyards. I think Unti Vineyards was the favorite stop on day two for both Serena and me. 

Everything Unti did at Passport, and they did a lot, worked effortlessly. Okay, that isn’t fair, there was obviously a lot of work that went into everything, but it was presented so well as to seem effortless.

Oysters at Unti, fresh from Tomales Bay

Oysters at Unti, fresh from Tomales Bay


The wines, from a 2012 Rose, through Grenache, Segromigno, Montepulciano, and Zinfandel were all excellent. The food, from the best guacamole ever (www.poormansbutter.com) and the tastiest oysters from the famed Tomales Bay Oyster girls (you’ve got to try the sassy pink horseradish sauce) outdoors, to the indoor food: truffled duck liver terrina with grilled bread and truffled salt, meatballs “dabe glace” with roasted red pepper salad, and eggplant caponata bruschetta, was varied and uniformly outstanding. The music, when we were visiting, was provided by the local high school’s jazz combo, and they were great.

Proof for the existence of a loving God: Truffled Duck Liver at Unti

Proof for the existence of a loving God: Truffled Duck Liver at Unti

The reds at Unti Vineyards were excellent, but Sunday was a scorcher, hotter than Saturday, which made me really appreciate the 2012 Rose, a Grenache/Mourvedre blend, so juicy crushed berry over ice yummy, and the 2012 Cuvee Blanc, a blend of Vermiento, Grenache Blanc, and Picpoul, that paired perfectly with the oysters.

Because, I was so impressed with Truett Hurst the day before, I returned to share my find with Serena. We have often visited Preston before, and she could see easily why I loved this spot as much. Serena also liked the wines, the herb and flower gardens, the food from Jimtown store, and the comfy chairs by the river.

The final stop for this year’s Passport to Dry Creek Valley was at Michel-Schlumberger. I decided to visit, finally, because the winery fields two teams that I golf against each year in a wine country invitational tournament at the nearby Windsor Golf Course each year, and because they put up fellow wine blogger Hardy Wallace as he transitioned from a Really Goode Job to a great one.

The courtyard at Michel-Schlumberger

The courtyard at Michel-Schlumberger

What a lovely spot, again a bit of a drive off a main road, off West Dry Creek and up Wine Country Road, Michel-Schlumberger offered up a gorgeous courtyard, shaded places to sit and enjoy their wines and food offerings, and a very skilled Spanish flamenco styled guitarist.

I had a delightful Pinot Blanc paired with a cucumber and grape gazpacho, served in the cool cellar, that made me glad we were finishing our weekend at Michel-Schlumberger, a perfect last taste on a hot day.

I wrote, perhaps foolishly that, at $45, Hopland Passport was a better value than the $120 Passport to Dry Creek Valley. I visited the same number of wineries that participate at Hopland Passport, 17, and wrote up the 9 I loved when visiting Dry Creek Valley. I expect the experiences would be the same at either event, visit 8-9 each day, and absolutely love a little over half.

That said, next year, I could visit a completely different 17 wineries at Dry Creek Valley, and a completely different 17 the year after. With a greater number of tickets sold, and at the higher price, participating wineries can spend more and offer more, knowing they will see substantial reimbursement checks. Every Dry Creek Valley winery treats folks like McFadden does in Hopland -or better, with the crazy large reimbursement money to do it. The signage, the hydration station water coolers, comfort stations, spectacular food, live music, the appreciation of marketing, the emphasis on quality media outreach; we in Hopland could learn a lot more from our friends to the south.

Passport to Dry Creek Valley rocked my socks off, and is the undisputed heavyweight wine weekend event champion of the world. The preceding words were washed down with a glass of 2010 Seghesio Cortina Zinfandel from a bottle I bought shortly after checking in.

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