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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!

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…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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

__________

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Genuine Green Revolution!

__________

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

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

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

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

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

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

__________

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

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

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

__________

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

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


				
		
	

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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