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John on Wine – Spotlight Winery: Phillips Hill Winery

This piece originally ran in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on June 11, 2015

On visits to the Anderson Valley, I have asked tasting room staff what wineries I should visit. While tasting Pinot Noir at the press tasting session during the recent Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival; and sommelier Chris Sawyer and I had a conversation about his favorite local producers in the area. Over and over again, people in the know mention Toby Hill and his Phillips Hill Winery as a ‘must visit’ and ‘must taste’ spot in the Anderson Valley.

Surrounded by green, the Phillips Hill sign welcomes visitors travelling on Hwy 128 between Philo and Navarro

Surrounded by green, the Phillips Hill sign welcomes visitors travelling on Hwy 128 between Philo and Navarro

Out past Gowan’s Oak Tree Fruit Stand and the turn off to the Philo Apple Farm, on Highway 128 between Philo and Navarro, is Phillips Hill, a winery and tasting room in a converted and historical apple drying barn facility.

The old apple drying barn is the new Phillips Hill winery tasting room site

The old apple drying barn is the new Phillips Hill winery tasting room site

When I arrived, the smell of freshly cut grass from the picnic area mixed with other outdoor scents; floral, herbal, wide open natural outdoor perfume of vineyard and orchard greeted me. I walked through the aroma room, where collected materials help prepare visitors for some of the scents they may encounter in the wines, then ventured upstairs to taste through Toby’s current releases in his beautifully appointed, rustic yet refined, tasting room.

The aroma room at Phillips Hill

The aroma room at Phillips Hill

Toby is an artist, both with canvas and wine. A native Californian and grandson of a grape grower, Toby earned a BFA from the California College of the Arts which has allowed him to more fully appreciate the efforts and artistry of grape growing. The name of his winery, Phillips Hill, honors both of his paternal grandparent’s family sides, as does his marriage of art and wine. Each label of the Phillips Hill Winery portfolio of wine is a miniature reproduction of an original abstract composition created by Toby.

Toby Hill's original artwork graces each Phillips Hill wine label

Toby Hill’s original artwork graces each Phillips Hill wine label

In 1997, Toby purchased land in the Mendocino Ridge appellation, overlooking the Anderson Valley, and made his first wine using 2002 Pinot Noir grapes grown on Oppenlander Vineyard, nearby in Mendocino’s Comptche. Ten vintages later, all five of the expanded line up of 2012 Pinot Noir wines made by Toby were rated 90-94 Points by Wine Enthusiast magazine, two were designated Editors’ Choice wines, and another designated a Cellar Selection wine.

Toby Hill

Toby Hill

Informed by his trained and professional experiences as a fine artist, Toby crafts wines of intent; pursuing elegance and ethereal power, wines with delicacies, subtleties, and nuances. Using native yeast, less intervention, believing less is more, Toby wants each wine he makes to be a genuine expression of the land the grapes come from, terroir driven wines, spending time he feels essential to making great wine in each vineyard his wines come from as they are being grown, respecting each farmer’s art.

Never content with yesterday’s accolades, always striving to make better wines, Toby has made pilgrimages to Burgundy, France, and has invited respected French winemakers to work with him at Phillips Hill Winery, all in an effort to craft “old meets new world” style wines, with flavors of clear discernible fruit notes offering a beginning, middle, and an end, hinged together in harmony and balance.

I first tasted Toby’s wines with his fiancé and partner, Nastacha Durandet at last year’s Anderson Valley barrel tasting event, and promised myself that I would return to write this piece. Natacha was born in France’s Loire Valley and her passion for wine tasting and collecting began early, leading her to work in some of France’s finest resorts alongside esteemed master sommeliers. Natacha’s background in culinary arts has allowed her to bring an elevated experience to tastings at Phillips Hill Winery for visitors and Muse Cru wine club members.

Natacha wears many hats at Phillips Hill Winery, overseeing the tasting room, wine club, marketing, and events, including sumptuous Muse Cru wine club dinners that take advantage of an on property commercial kitchen. If Natacha is in the tasting room when a Muse Cru wine club member visits, she will prepare a cheese and charcuterie plate, featuring seasonal terroir driven French, Spanish, and Italian cheeses, chosen to naturally pair perfectly with Toby’s terroir driven wines. Cheese and charcuterie plates are also available for purchase by the public and can be enjoyed with wine at picnic tables. Natacha also serves up four Muse Cru wine club dinners annually; Farm to Table, Dungeness Crab, Harvest, and Mushroom themed dinners.

Together, in everything they do at Phillips Hill Winery, Toby and Natacha strive to provide the best visceral experience for their customers; whether visiting their tasting room or picking up a bottle of wine in their local wine shop.

Inside the Phillips Hill tasting room

Inside the Phillips Hill tasting room

Toby poured a half dozen of his wines for me:

2013 Phillips Hill Chardonnay Ridley Vineyard Anderson Valley $30 – Really gorgeous wet stone minerality leading to clean pure Chardonnay apple, pear, and peach fruit.

2014 Phillips Hill Gewurztraminer Valley Foothills Vineyard Anderson Valley $20 – Deep honey, nectarine and apple, fleshy round mouthfeel, lemon peel citrus. This is an Alsatian styled dry Gewurztraminer, and I love it.

2013 Phillips Hill Pinot Noir Boontling Anderson Valley $28 – Candied cherry, cranberry, and cola mark this bright, round, wine.

2013 Phillips Hill Pinot Noir Anderson Valley $40 – Yeah. Multi layered, light Pinot funk, oak, tannin, dried herb mixed with strawberry and cherry fruit.

2012 Phillips Hill Pinot Noir Oppenlander Comptche Mendocino $45 – Toasty, deeper, rich, really nice round mouthfeel, earthy spicy notes come out with air, phenomenal balance, integration, seamless. A lovely touch of barnyard perfume. Darker blackberry meets rich chocolate covered cherry.

2012 Phillips Hill Tempranillo Lake County $35 – Great food wine, big gripping masculine married to feminine, massive depth, a treat.

Every one of these wines is a winner, and made more delicious for having been poured on the property with Toby as my guide. Reflecting on the three Pinot Noir wines, Toby shared, “that’s one of the great things about buying fruit from different vineyards; these are terroir driven, and I want that different personality to be expressed.” Mission accomplished.

A modest $5 tasting fee is waived with purchase, and case orders receive a 20% discount. Phillips Hill Winery is located at 5101 Highway 128, Philo. For more information, call (707) 895-2209 or visit http://www.phillipshill.com.

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John Cesano of John on Wine

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John On Wine: Spotlight winery – Knez Winery

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, March 5, 2015

ABC television’s ‘Schoolhouse Rock’ taught us that, “three is a magic number.” Knez Winery has the magic three going on three ways.

Three vineyards: Demuth Vineyard, Cerise Vineyard, and Knez Vineyard, all organic and farmed following biodynamic practices.

Three wine grape varieties: Pinot Noir, Syrah and Chardonnay.

Three wine shepherds: vineyard manager Ryan McAllister, winemaker Anthony Filiberti and tasting room manager Margaret Pedroni.

To have a glass in hand, swirling free some heady rich aromas, to sip and taste the many layered depth, to experience all that is wonderful about the wines of Knez Winery in the Anderson Valley, you have to visit their beautiful, stylish, tasting room in the Madrones, an upscale collection of winery tasting rooms, restaurant and inn, on Highway 128 in Anderson Valley’s town of Philo.

Knez Tasting Room on Hwy 128 in Philo

Knez Tasting Room on Hwy 128 in Philo

My friend Margaret runs the Knez Vineyard tasting room, and visiting with her last month, and with Jennie Stevens on a previous visit, I tasted through all of the current releases at Knez.

Straight up: Damn, these are some seriously good wines. I am so happy for Margaret that each day at work involves pouring wines that she can be proud of, thrilled to pour and excited to share the story of.

Of course, each wine Margaret pours starts as grapes grown by Ryan on one of the three vineyards, and then is made into a stunning wine by Anthony, before Margaret decides it has matured enough to be poured. Thoughtful decisions naturally arrived at, by skilled managers, make each taste a special moment to experience and savor.

The Demuth Vineyard is 15 acres planted 30 years ago by the Demuth family at 1,400 to 1,700 feet elevation, and dry farmed. There are two blocks of Pinot Noir, planted to Wadenswil and Pommard clones, totaling seven acres, and Chardonnay, planted to old Wente clone, totaling eight acres.

The 2013 Knez Winery Chardonnay, Demuth Vineyard, Anderson Valley, $39, saw a little malolactic, part of it saw new oak, some used oak, and some was held in stainless steel. The result is a multi-noted wine with nuance and complexity; delicate white peach, cream custard, pineapple, citrus. 93 Points from Antonio Galloni.

The 2012 Knez Winery Pinot Noir, Demuth Vineyard, Anderson Valley, $47, shows rose petal, violet, herb, spice, cedar, oak, brambly persimmon, candied cherry, and orange peel. 93 Points from Antonio Galloni.

The Cerise Vineyard was planted in 1995, and grows 10 different clones of Pinot Noir in 15 blocks on 38 acres planted on sloping shallow at 700 to 1,100 feet elevation.

2011 Knez Winery Pinot Noir, Cerise Vineyard, Anderson Valley, $47, was plummy, with sherry pungency, and a steamed artichoke heart earthy vegetal component, supporting the fruit, in a tight band of many flavors. 93 Points from Antonio Galloni.

2011 Knez Pinot Noir, Cerise

2011 Knez Pinot Noir, Cerise

The 2012 Knez Winery Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, $34, takes grapes from both vineyards, about two-thirds Cerise and one-third Demuth. One taste and you can hear angels sing! Dark black cherry, balancing green tea and lush fruit, smooth but evident tannins, together provide mouthfeel and promise age worthiness. This wine is an iron fist in a leather glove. 90 Points from Antonio Galloni.

2012 Knez Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley

2012 Knez Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley

The Knez Vineyard is six acres, was planted in 2009, and connects Demuth to Cerise, at 1,200 to 1,600 feet elevation. Four acres of Pinot Noir are planted above two one-acre block, the first planted to Syrah and Viognier and the second planted to Pinot Gris, Friulano and Malvasia.

The 2013 Knez Winery Syrah, Knez Vineyard, Anderson Valley, $39, shows big meaty animal fruit, with white pepper and floral notes. This Syrah has remarkable intensity, like a tightly wound spring, and shows surprising minerality considering the youthfulness of the vineyard. Bright, tight tannins. Will cellar well. 95 Points from Antonio Galloni.

Winemaker Anthony Filiburti has crafted some real gems for Knez Winery.

Antonio Galloni was noted wine critic Robert Parker’s man for California wine reviews in the Wine Advocate, before striking out on his own, then buying Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar review guide, and creating his own subscription wine review platform, Vinous. The consistently high scores for these wines from Galloni are merited, and validate the program at Knez Winery.

Knez has also found their way onto San Francisco Chronicle wine editor Jon Bonne’s current (and previous) ‘Top 100 Wines of the Year’ list.

Do yourself a huge favor, visit Margaret at her tasting room, Thursday through Monday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., at The Madrones, 9000 Highway 128, Philo CA 95466, or call (707) 895-3365 for information about joining a wine club.

WHISKEY, WHISKEY, WHISKEY

My favorite distillery, the American Craft Whiskey Distillery, will host their first Grand Whiskey Tasting event this Saturday, March 7, 2015, 1 p.m. at the distillery in Redwood Valley.

Jack Crispin Cain tasted through his array of liquid treats with me for a previous piece.

Jack Crispin Cain tasted through his array of liquid treats with me for a previous piece.

Distiller extraordinaire Jack Crispin Cain will pour a variety of Low Gap treats, including the 2-year-old Malted Wheat whiskey, Corn Barley Blended whiskey, Malted Rye Whiskey, barrel tastings of the Bourbon to be released October 2015, and more.

Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman’s Facebook group, Mendocino Bourbon Group, has grabbed up all of the spots. Happily, I am in the group, am pleased to purchase a ticket, and I’ll be attending with notebook so I can recap the event here in a future post.

The next chance for the general public to taste and purchase many of the whiskeys directly will be during A Taste of Redwood Valley, on Father’s Day weekend, Saturday, June 20 and Sunday, June 21, 2015.

Easier might be stepping up to the bar at Ukiah’s newest restaurant, Ritual, where Low Gap Whiskey is served.

 

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John On Wine – Second Annual Anderson Valley Barrel Tasting

 

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, August 7, 2014
Written by John Cesano

John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

 

Last weekend, I visited a dozen winery tasting rooms in the Anderson Valley during their successful Second annual Barrel Tasting Weekend. This barrel tasting weekend is held later than is typical for other areas, but lets the Pinot Noir made in Anderson Valley by most producers show a little better — worked for me. With oaks on one side and redwoods on the other, the vineyards of Anderson Valley are well framed by nature. Throughout the rest of this column, if I write Pinot then you may assume I meant Pinot Noir.

• Foursight – Joe Webb poured me his 2013 “Zero” Pinot that will be bottle late in August, held in oak 2-7 years (zero new oak), with about a third whole cluster fermentation, it was delightful with bright fruit notes and showed well. Next, he poured his 2013 Charles Vineyard Pinot, the same in all other respects, but with one-third new oak barrels, a firmer wine that paired well with salumi. Finally, Joe poured his 2013 Foursight Clone ’05, a Pinot using Pommard ’05 clone on 50% percent new oak; I loved this wine, showing the herbal undertones that make for a memorable sinuous vinous Pinot.

• Philo Ridge – 2012 Marguerite Vineyard Pinot was woody, cherry fruit, pretty straightforward, good acidity. 2013 Estate Pinot (AV) – Barrel sample could be wine now, close to finish. Drinking great. Winery chef K.C. McClure prepared a watermelon gazpacho that paired brilliantly with the bolder flavors of a 2013 Testa Primitivo. K.C.’s mushroom tartlets were delicious with the poured Pinot.

• Seebass – Newcomers to the Anderson Valley, Seebass grows grapes near Talmage on their own 100-acre farm. Tasting room manager Jill poured a sample of Mysteriös , a blend being bottled as we speak, and due out this November. The wine may be a blend of vintages, 2011 and 2013, and varietals, possibly Zinfandel, Merlot, Grenache, and Syrah, lush, juicy, bright, yummy, and fun.

• Lichen – Owner Doug Stewart produces a Solera, a multi vintage wine, and the sample of one due in September was gorgeous. Rich, ready, cherry berry fruit, layers of flavor, herb, twenty kinds of yum. In addition to great Pinot, some of my favorite in the valley, I bought a sparkling wine, bright mineral steely fruit, clean crisp, refreshingly delicious; and tasted a blend white, lush juicy stone, pear, grapefruit, lovely acid to fruit.

• Balo – I tasted finished wines, no barrel samples, and all were good, but my focus was barrel samples, so I left – but not before tasting a slice of pizza fresh from the oven, made simply with San Marzano tomatoes, cheese, and basil on a crust so delicious it could be served undressed as artisan bread. Balo does stand out for hospitality and thoughtfulness, offering free bottles water, immaculate bocce courts, lavender, pet-friendly fenced poop-pen for dogs – an enjoyable place to visit!

EDITED TO ADD: Okay, I wrote for the newspaper column that Balo was not pouring barrel samples, but I was wrong. I only visited the tasting room, and didn’t check out the obvious place for barrel samples: the barrel room in the adjacent winery building, down slope from the tasting room.. Oops.

The lovely lavendar gardens at Balo Vineyards

The lovely lavendar gardens at Balo Vineyards

• Greenwood Ridge Vineyards – I was fortunate to have Buzz pour for me, he was knowledgeable, passionate, and enthusiastic. Owner Allan Green deserves credit for the best named wine I tasted: 2012 Hundred Point Pinot Noir. Buzz told me that, “Allan makes his Pinot more in the traditional manner, less fruit,” and, “2012 was good, but 2013 was perfect. We picked early because the grapes were ready then.”

The bridge at Greenwood Ridge Vineyards

The bridge at Greenwood Ridge Vineyards

• Handley Cellars – Travis Scott poured two barrel samples; 2013 Vittorio Vineyard Primitivo, Redwood Valley perfume, fruit and 2013 Vittorio Petite Sirah, remarkably soft, light for a Petite. Vittorio is an early generation Testa family member. Travis also poured 2010 Vittorio’s Selected Red Table Red, light, super easy to drink, herb garden and berry patch, 13.5 percent alc.

• Phillips Hill – Buildings are an old apple drying facility. The 2013 Oppenlander Pinot was spectacularly drinkable right now, if a tiny bit green. Cherry, spice, herb, will be bottle March/April 2014. The extra time in barrel will yield acid integration, and structure will become more silky. Aromatics will become more pronounced. At Phillips Hill, they pick at lower Brix, have higher acid, the fruit is there, but the alcohol is lower; instead of a higher alcohol wine that overpowers food. I loved all tastes.

• The Apple Farm – Travis Scott at Handley sent me on to Phillips Hill where I tasted my day’s favorite wine and where I asked Toby if I could come back for a more comprehensive tasting. Margot at Phillips Hill sent me on to The Apple Farm where I bought a case of Bates & Schmitt organic apple juice. That’s how you do it!

• Edmeades – 2013 Zinfandel, Gianoli Vineyard, Mendocino Ridge – fruit slightly muted in nose, but nice weight coming on, depth, roundness, dark as opposed to bright, brambly raspberry, spice; 2013 Zinfandel, Peril Vineyard, Mendocino Ridge – more integrated. The Gianoli is good, but I like this better. Edges have been softened. Rounder; 2013 Syrah, Perli – black pepper, first and foremost, then vegetal and herbaceous undertone supporting dark fruit. Food included a ground lamb slider and pasta salad of orzu, basil, sun dried tomato, goat cheese, zucchini, hazel nut, and sherry olive oil.

• Gowan’s Oak Tree – I bought a mixed bag with four different squash, a dozen ears of white corn, a bag of mixed fruit, plots, plums, peaches, and apples, and a bottle of water. Water is always good on a 100-degree day when tasting wine.

• Toulouse Vineyards – Vern Boltz, owner, winemaker, was as cordial as his tasting room was comfortable. He poured me his 2013 Pommard ’04 clone Pinot; deep, gnarly, cheery fruit with a sexy hint of green, herbal, loamy, a beautiful Pinot in the barrel.

Pinot Noir grapes growing at Toulouse Vineyards

Pinot Noir grapes growing at Toulouse Vineyards

• Baxter Winery – Owners Claire and Phil Baxter poured their 2013 Vlenti Vineyard, Mendocino Ridge, a note of brown sugar, light in mouth, soft; 2013 Weir Vineyard, Yorkville Highlands, 30 percent whole cluster fermentation, more red than purple color, expressive fruit while elegantly light, candied cherry and rose petal; and 2013 Langley Vineyard, Anderson Valley, cranberry, strawberry, and finally cherry, lighter end of the spectrum fruit flavors, but a nice little basket of mixed fruit, a little herb and floral and earth in support of fruit, well integrated. These three will be bottled later in 2014 and ship May 2015. Baxter is making elegant wine I enjoyed.

• Elke Vineyards – 2013 Boonville Barter, simple, direct, bright cherry noted. 2013 Blue Diamond picked two weeks earlier, more Burgundian, focused more on dirt than fruit. 35 percent new oak, 11 months on oak. 2 years in bottle before release. I loved this wine. Hard candy cherry fruit.

 

I spent the last weekend barrel tasting at some Anderson Valley winery tasting rooms, a guest of the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association. By Friday, I will have taken the VERY RAW notes below and, with a little polish and serious editing, will turn in something tighter to run in Thursday, August 7’s Ukiah Daily Journal as a finished wine column.

I’ll provide all of the pictures below and let my editor use what she prefers. I’ll delete use of the F-bomb, still quite intact below, and try to paint a mini portrait of each place I visited. I would love to return and write some single winery spotlight columns.

Anyway, I thought I would give my online readers a glimpse into how a column is created, with a before (these notes, cut and pasted directly from my tablet) and after (the column I’ll post after it is published).

Cheers!

Foursight

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2013 ZERO New Oak Pinot delightful! bright notes! fruit showing well.

33-35 whole cluster, 13.3-13.5 alc, 2-7 year barrel. Bottle 27 and 28 of August.

12, 13, 14 all easy to make, un memorable because of no challenges.

2013 Charles Vineyard Pinot – Same wine but with 33% new oak

Little higher tannin with 2/6 barrels new, makes acid (brightness) less perceptible. Oak offers or brings out a smoky note. Firmer. Paired with Salumi straightens this right out, demonstrating once again the incredible food pairing magic found with Pinot. Instant yum.

2013 Foursight Clone 05 – Pommard 05 on 50% new oak.

Showing the herbal undertones that make for a memorable sinuous vinous Pinot.

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Kristy Charles, Joe Webb.

Anderson Valley, where oaks meet redwoods, with grapes providing the bridge.

Philo Ridge

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2012 Marguerite Vineyard Pinot woody, green (in a good way) cherry fruit, pretty straightforward. Dry farmed above the Holmes Ranch, good acidity.

2013 Estate Pinot (AV) – Could be wine, close to finish. Drinking great.

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Watermelon Gazpacho is fanfuckingtastic, but mushroom and Pinot are the better pairing.

2013 Testa Primativo Philo Ridge’s first Primitivo. Stands up nicely to the intensely spicy gazpacho. Recipe in pic.

K.C. Is the caterer. McClure Fred and heather’ winery Chef.

Seebass

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TR Mgr Jill initially overwhelmed by tasters. Carboy samples of the Mysteriös are being bottled as we speak and released Nov. Greg made, NV, 2011 and 2013. Zin, Merlot, Grenache, Syrah blend. Lush, juicy, bright, yummy, fun. $45

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Lichen

slope sandy loam nutrient poor, nutrient added through irrigation. Incredibly low vigor, crappy land, so we plant incredibly densely, per vine yield is super low, but high skin to pulp, 4000 vines per acre, yield ends up good, and flavors are ideal. 1000 case per year. Moving forward, all the sparkling will be estate. Bubbly is done right here

Dan: 60 Noir 40 Gris white blend. 2013 is so similar to 2012, 2011 was miserable. Lush juicy stone, pear, grapefruit, lovely acid to fruit.

Bubbly, williamette Valley. Bright mineral steely fruit, clean crisp, refreshingly delicious.

Two vintage Solera with three vintage due September. 2011-2013 Solera is gorgeous. Rich, ready, cherry berry fruit, layers of flavor, Herb, twenty kinds of yum.

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Doug Stewart, founder and previous owner of Breggo

I work for a place that makes the best bubbly in the county, and I have tons at home, and I don’t have a winemaker’s salary but a Hopland tasting room manager’s salary, so finding myself buying a bottle of Lichen’s Bubbly tells you all you need to know about how good if is.

Balo

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Washed glass with water…2012 Pinot Noir Blanc. Still white from Noir. Floral perfume, surprisingly sharper edge in mouth than nose suggests, crisp, pear apple .

2012 Pinot Gris grapes from Mary Elke. Spice, mellow, round. A touch of funk nose and finish.

2013 Vin Gris of Pinot Noir. Dry. Lovely salmon color, same funk.

Jerry Garcia and Dawg mandolin David Grisman’s Shady Grove playing. Pizza tapes?

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Pizza is from San Marzano. Salt, tomato, cheese, crust. Delicious enough it doesn’t need meat, but a touch salty. The crust was great, even without topping, similar to a air pocket blessed sourdough or pretzel, this was an artisanal bread all by itself.

Didn’t find any barrel action.

Free bottles water, immaculate bocce courts, lavender, pet friendly fenced poop pen for dogs, really just super enjoyable place to visit.

Greenwood Ridge Vineyards

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2012 hundred point Pinot Noir – same as 2012 GRV estate below, but with 7 months longer in new French oak. “Allen makes his Pinot more in the traditional manner, less fruit.” – Buzz  (Best name ever.)

2012 was good, but 2013 was perfect. We picked early because the grapes were just ready then.

2013 GRV Pinot Noir bottle sample of barrel pull, lovely vibrant burgundy color. Dry cherry, pepper spice. No idea when will be bottled…”in the next year, I suppose” – TR Gal

2012 GRV Pinot Noir green, mildly astringent, herbal, firm tart cherry.

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Hurray for Buzz, the great TR guy at GRV, who called me on my inland Mendo focus, not enough love for 128. I told him about my mission statement from early on, to write about the area Wine Spectator ignores. He nodded his assent that a Wine Spectator cover for Anderson Valley Pinot Noir is greater than a focus on inland Mendo in an inland Mendo newspaper. I’m just been trying to cast a light on an area that otherwise gets no press.

Handley Cellars

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Barrel Samples poured by Travis Scott

2013 Vittorio Vineyard Primitivo, Redwood Valley perfume, fruit,

2013 Vittorio Petite Sirah, remarkably soft, light for a Petite.

2010 Vittorio’s Selected Red Table Red (finished wine example)

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Vittorio is an early generation Testa family member.

Light, super easy to drink, herb garden and berry patch, 13.5% alc.

All French Oak Barrels at Handley. About $1,400 each.

Exclusive Tasting Menu

Chocolates that pair with reds

Barbeque on the patio

Sausages.

Many happy people in them lovely, cool, comfortable tasting room.

Phillips Hill – Must Return for a feature!

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Buildings are an old apple drying facility

2013 Oppenlander (Comptche – 10 miles east of Mendocino) Pinot Noir – spectacularly drinkable right now, if a tiny bit green. Cherry, spice, herb, will be bottle Mar/Apr 2014. The extra time in barrel will yield: Acid and brightness will integrate and structure will become more silky. Aromatics will become more pronounced.

1,400 cases all in.

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At Phillips Hill, they pick at lower Brix, have higher acid, the fruit is there, but the alcohol is lower; instead of a higher alcohol wine that overpowers food, this wine – the 13.5% alc 2011 Oppenlander still has earthy floral tobacco notes, plenty of character. Completely unfair, because it is finished, not a barrel sample, but best wine of the day.?

Toby was welcoming. Pointed out how lovely the open air tasting was, the breeze making moot the 100 degree temps everywhere else.

Margot Federkiel, asst winemaker was my pourer and a wealth of helpful info and passion.

The Apple Farm

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>>>>Travis Scott at Handley sent me on to Phillips Hill where I tasted my day’s favorite wine and where I asked Toby if I could come back for a more comprehensive tasting. Margot at Phillips Hill sent me on to The Apple Farm where I bought a case of Bates & Schmitt organic apple juice. That’s how you do it!

Edmeades

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2013 Zinfandel, Peril Vineyard, Mendocino Ridge – more integrated. The Gianoli is good, but I like this better. Edges have been softened. Rounder, but less distinct.

2013 Zinfandel, Gianoli Vineyard, Mendocino Ridge – fruit slightly muted in nose, but nice weight coming on, depth, roundness, dark as opposed to bright, brambly raspberry, spice

2013 Syrah, Perli – black pepper, first and foremost, then vegetal and herbaceous undertone supporting dark fruit.

Lamb burger – way yummy. Thank you!

Pasta salad – basil, sun dried tomato, goat cheese, orzo, zucchini, hazel nut, , sherry olive oil.

2010 Perli Zin – perfume, lighter styled, not over powering, almost delicate.

2011 Champ de Reves Pinot Noir 14.5 certainly lighter than the Zins and beastly Syrah, brighter balanced candied cherry, light herb…at least that is what I’m getting after the fully flavorful lamb slider.

Shyla poured barrel samples and brought out food. Best, most engaging member of the staff.

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Beautifully manicured property, one of my favorite winery views anywhere, terrific food, interesting wines.

Gowan’s Oak Tree

I bought a mixed bag with 4 different squash, a dozen ears of white corn, a bag of mixed fruit, plots, plums, peaches, and apples, and a bottle of water. The water is always good on a 100 degree day tasting wine.

Toulouse Vineyards

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What a comfortable tasting room, wine barrel stools and tables, everyone can sit and relax. Thoughtful.

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2013 Pommard 04 (heat sterilized version of the 05). Oh, I get why my favorite Pinot at last year’s Mendo Wine Comp was from Toulouse. Deep, gnarly, cheery fruit with a sexy hint of green, herbal, loamy, a beautiful Pinot in the barrel.

Vern knows the Pommard is showing great, but having separate lot Pinots makes for separate open bottles for tastings and isn’t ideal for a smaller winery…but he might bottle a barrel of this. Look for it.

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Vern Boltz, owner, winemaker, was as cordial as his tasting room was comfortable.

Baxter Winery

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2013 Valenti Vineyard, Mendocino Ridge, 4 miles from coast, 12.5% $48 the brown sugar on your breakfast oatmeal. Light, light, light in mouth, soft, not quite enough fruit or depth today.

2013 Weir Vineyard, Yorkville Highlands $48 30% whole cluster fermentation leading to redder than the previous wine’s more purple color. Okay, liking this one more, better more expressive fruit while still elegantly light. Candied cherry and rose petal.

2013 Langley Vineyard, Anderson Valley $48

These three will be bottled later in 2014 and ship May 2015. Cranberry, strawberry, and finally cherry…lighter end of the spectrum fruit flavors, but a nice little basket of mixed fruit, a little herb and floral and earth in support of fruit. Well integrated.

Claire and Phil Baxter doing the pouring.

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BricChickXan was here, we talked about our love of more elegant wines. Baxter is making them. Turns out, we both enjoyed some 2011 vintage treats amidst the cries of Hugely Overextracted Overoaked Oversugared High Alcohol Fruit Jam Bomb fans.

Elke Vineyards

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2013 Boonville Barter, more CA styled, $20 everyday wine – ready to drink in Oct or Nov after Sep bottling, simple, direct, bright cherry noted.

2012 Boonville Barter bottled deeper with age, and a teeny bit of funk…or that could be the sweat of the people in this little hot box of a tasting room. A surprising depth and complexity, considering the straightforward simplicity of the 2013.

2013 Blue Diamond picked two weeks earlier, more Burgundian, focused more on dirt than fruit. 35% new oak, 11 months on oak. 2 years in bottle before release. Loved this. One of the nicest wines of the weekend. Hard candy cherry fruit

2011 Blue Diamond – Holy fuck, this has a dose of that funk that Pinot is known for. I have tasted, by and large, some pretty funk free wines over the weekend, but I’m finishing on one with tons of unapologetic edge. No apologies needed, this is some seriously flavorful juice, with a showing of slightly more vinous tinged cherry and strawberry fruit.

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Great Gris packaging, boxless bag, greener and possibly avoid the stigma.

The Second Annual Anderson Valley Barrel Tasting Weekend is so big that it isn’t just Anderson Valley wineries involved.

The wineries along Hwy 128, from Yorkville Highlands up through the Anderson Valley, will be having a Barrel Tasting weekend this Saturday, July 26 and Sunday, July 27 from 11-4 each day.

From the Anderson Valley Barrel Tasting website:

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Enjoy unprecedented access to winery cellars, taste yet-to-be-released wines, and purchase futures of your favorites at a special barrel tasting weekend price! Explore the area, discover new wineries, and enjoy a beautiful summer weekend in Mendocino’s Pinot country!

Participating wineries will feature previews of new wines, from Pinot Noir to Zinfandel, along with current releases. Attendees will receive a logo glass and a wristband, which grants access to the events for both Saturday and Sunday.

Participating wineries for 2014 include: Balo Vineyards, Baxter, Bink, Brutocao Cellars, Edmeades, Elke, Foursight Wines, Goldeneye Winery, Greenwood Ridge Vineyards, Handley Cellars, Harmonique, Husch, Knez, Lichen, Lula Cellars, Meyer Family, Maple Creek, Philo Ridge Vineyards, Phillips Hill, Witching Stick and Yorkville Cellars.

Check out their special offers HERE.

We encourage you to taste responsibly and to book your trip with one of the transportation companies listed below. Designated drivers are welcome to attend the event, free of charge.

You are also encouraged to bring a picnic lunch with you – participating wineries will have limited food, and what better way to enjoy the scenery at one of our beautiful wineries and tasting rooms than to eat alfresco? You can pick up a prepared lunch at one of the cafes listed below.

TRANSPORTATION COMPANIES
Riley Cab Company
Vintage Vine Tours
Mendocino Wine Tours

LUNCH/CAFES

Boontberry Farms (707) 895-3576
Mosswood Market
The Boonville General Store
Lemon’s Philo Market

Why a summer barrel tasting? Aren’t most held in the spring?
The majority of our wineries produce high-end Pinot Noir, and Pinot really tastes best right before bottling time. By holding a barrel tasting in the summer, attendees will be able to evaluate the wines in a nearly finished state, instead of young wines that will change dramatically during the aging process.

So, when you buy futures, you know exactly what you’ll be receiving the next year!

Map of Anderson Valley
Okay, the folks over in the Anderson Valley said it well, but let me say that the wines, the Pinot Noir in particular, produced there is spectacular. Barrel tasting events are an interesting experience for folks new to the format, and a terrific opportunity to take advantage of sizable sales offered on purchases of futures, wines before release, based on tastes at these events for seasoned tasters.

$20 is a more than fair price, especially considering that all of Hwy 128’s winery areas are represented and that each winery is  doing something special.

Here are the specials to be found at each participating winery, with purchase of a $20 ticket:

Purchase yours Here!

ANGEL CAMP – Please join us inside the Balo Winery to taste barrel samples of our 2013 Angel Camp Estate Pinot Noir and our new release, 2013 Les Amoureuses Estate Pinot Noir. We will be offering 20% off and free shipping for case purchase of 2012 Estate Pinot Noir and 2013 futures.

BALO – Come sample our 2013 Estate Pinot Noir and 2013 Suitcase 828 Pinot Noir from the barrel, which is proving to be a stellar vintage. Enjoy a picnic with pizzas from our wood fired oven and play a game of Bocce. Enjoy 20% savings on your wine purchase and sign up for our futures program and Wine Club

BAXTER  – Meet winemaker Phillip Baxter as he personally guides you through barrel samples of his 2013 Pinot Noirs. Compare the vineyards directly with the current vintage and sign up for futures with complimentary shipping. Our stylish tasting room is on the West side of 128 in downtown Philo. 707 895 3173.

BINK is offering barrel samples of 3 different Pinot Noir clones and a daily raffle for a bottle of Reserve Thomas Vineyard Pinot Noir.  There will be summer wine specials as well.  Join the Wine Club and receive 25% off.

BRUTOCAO invites you to “be a king for the day”. All tickets holders will receive a 25% discount. Taste 2013 Primitivo from the barrel and purchase futures at a special price.

EDMEADES invites you to sample two of our 2013 vineyard-designate Zinfandels from the Mendocino Ridge AVA.  We will be pouring wines from both the Perli and Gianoli vineyards paired with small bites.

ELKE – TBD

FOURSIGHT will offer a special preview of the fantastic 2013 estate Pinot Noirs out of barrel, alongside current releases and small bites.Futures of the 2013 Pinots will be available at a special barrel tasting price.

GOLDENEYE WINERY will be offering the following discounts: 10% off 6 packs and 15% off 12 packs!

GREENWOOD RIDGE – In addition to 2013 barrel samples, we will pouring our 2012 Hundred Point Pinot Noir along with local cheeses.

HANDLEY CELLARS will be offering barrel samples, an exclusive tasting menu as well as Barbeque on the patio.

HARMONIQUE – Meet Winemaker Bob Klindt and owner Moira Conzelman. Preview 2013 Vintage Pinot Noirs and taste the newly released 2009 un-oaked Chardonnay.Karina Lyons of Heritage Oak Barrels will also be on hand to discuss the art of the barrel. Finger foods served

HUSCH VINEYARDSis excited to debut a barrel sample of 2013 Old Vine Heritage. Be among the first to try this special wine and purchase futures at a 20% discount. A barrel sample of our Estate 2013 Pinot Noir will also be offered. Enjoy complimentary tasting from our collection of award-winning wines paired with home-made hummus on the back deck. Relax at one of our picnic tables amongst the vineyard and winery.

KNEZ will offer 2013 Barrel Samples of Cerise and Demuth and discounts of 15% off 11 bottles or fewer, 20% off 12 bottles or more!

LAZY CREEK –  TBD

LICHEN ESTATE will be offering up to 20% savings plus free shipping (on full case purchases) on 2013 Pinot Noir from the barrel.

LULA will be offering futures on 2013 Pinot Noir, a contest each day to win a magnum of our 2012 Pinot Noir, food and fun!

MAPLE CREEK will be sampling out of barrel our 2013 Pinot Noir’s (Weir Vineyard, Yorkville and Anderson Valley vineyard) and our 2013 Estate Chardonnay along with various library wines. We will offer a 20% discount on all wines to the ticket holders and we will have some artisan cheeses to sample as well.

MEYER FAMILY CELLARS invites you to sample our latest barrels of Cabernet and Syrah. On Saturday we’ll have wood-fired pizzas from our earthen oven and on Sunday, local gourmet food-pairings in the tasting room.  Enjoy our grapevine shaded picnic tables, green grass lawn and bocce court.  15% discount.

PHILLIPS HILL – Join the winemaker for a tasting of 2013 barrel samples and current releases paired with some amuse bouche. Futures of 2013 Pinot Noir will be offered at a special price

PHILO RIDGE will offer 2012 Pinot Noir from the barrel with food pairings of Pennyroyal goat cheese, crostini and mushroom cream cheese spread.  Futures pricing on the 2012.

SEEBASS – TBD

YORKVILLE CELLARS will be offering futures and tasting barrel samples our 2012 Richard the Lion-Heart, a unique blend we put together of the six Noble Red Grapes of Bordeaux (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec, Carmenere and Cabernet Franc). You can also taste each of those wines as a separate varietal and be treated as a club member for the day enjoying special savings. Our Wine Club members will receive additional discounts. Organic vineyard tours available.

Did I mention that you get a collectable logo glass for the event at check in? This is another “must do” event brought to you by the folks at the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association.

John On Wine ­ – Events, future and past

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, May 8, 2014
Written by John Cesano

Mother’s Day Brunch ­ I wish my mom was alive. I would love to get her a corsage and take her to a lovely Mother’s Day Brunch; my son with us and grandson and grandmother spending time together; a glass or two or three of bubbly, or bubbly mixed with orange juice. I really miss my mom.

If you have the opportunity to take your mother or grandmother – or best of all, both – out for brunch this Mother’s Day Sunday, May 11th, consider Barra of Mendocino at 7051 North State Street in Redwood Valley, just minutes north of Ukiah. Enjoy a lovely brunch from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m., with a glass of wine while a three piece jazz ensemble plays, and then take pictures together in Barra’s colorful gardens bursting in bloom.

Brunch tickets are $35 each, although Barra Wine Club members get a $25 price, and children 12 and under are $12; and you can secure your tickets today, or by noon tomorrow, by calling the winery at (707) 485-0322. Tell Katrina that John sent you.

Love your mom, and enjoy your Sunday!

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The Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival is coming up quickly on Friday, May 16 and Saturday, May 17, and tickets for several dinners are sold out; while the remaining dinners, technical conference, and the grand public tasting event are nearly sold out. If you love Pinot Noir, then go to http://www.avvwines.com for more information and to get your tickets before you can’t.

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CigarBQ 2014 ­ I attended the first CigarBQ back in 1998, which makes the 2014 edition the 17th annual event. CBQ is the premiere cigar, wine and golf fundraiser in the Sonoma County wine country and the main event ­ the mouth watering barbecue – will be held at Robert Young Estate Winery in Geyserville from 4 to 8 p.m. on Saturday, August 16th. This year, 10 cigar brands will be on-site along with more than 40 of Sonoma County’s best wineries, beer, food, music, and friends.

Guests will enjoy an afternoon of cigars provided by Davidoff, Camacho, and Cusano, premium wines, Lagunitas Brewing, music, and friends; all while raising money for the Council On Aging and Meals on Wheels. A $150 ticket price includes barbecue, wine, cigars, and a limited edition wine glass. Buy your tickets at http://www.cbqwinecountry.org.

Golfers will enjoy taking part in the CBQ tournament the day before, on Friday, August 15, with a 10:30 a.m. shotgun start. The cost is $79 per golfer. Contact hans@cbqwinecountry.org for more information, or to get your golf tickets.

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Hopland Passport ­ Another successful Hopland Passport is finished and in the books. This is the one event that I have to work and do not get to attend. I know that the folks who did attend, and visited us had a great time. Every now and again, I use the column to throw out a thank you or two, or 10. The rest of the column will give you a glimpse nto what goes into putting on an event like Hopland Passport as I spread thanks.

Thanks to all my Hopland winery neighbors, owners and workers alike; together, we make Hopland Passport happen, we shape what it is that our guests experience. Thanks to the folks up at the farm, from Shana and Andrea in the office, who keep track of my requests and make sure my expenses and revenue are accurately tracked; to Jose, Ernesto, Benny, and everyone else who does the hard work, the farming of all that I am able to offer in our farm stand & tasting room. With Guinness driving a huge truck and a team of workers, you move a shipping container worth of items from the farm in Potter Valley to the shop in Hopland, and then make it all disappear again. There aren’t thanks enough for me to give to adequately express my appreciation and gratitude for what you do.

In the back yard, we cook the organic grass-fed beef from our farm, and make up our wild rice and artichoke heart salad, plus toss a green salad, and our two contract chefs did a terrific job. I love knowing food is being taken care of, because I can’t leave the tasting room bar. We received a ton of compliments on perfectly cooked medium rare beef. Thanks to my son Charlie and his longtime friend Grey. We missed Mark, and look forward to his return if he is free in the future. Of course, we couldn’t cook unless someone went shopping. Thanks to Judith for picking up everything we needed for the weekend, and for having an eye for making things look better, more attractive, and making us all better.

In the tasting room, I lost my right hand gal, Ann, who attended Passport after working the last six beside me. Ann did come in early Saturday morning, before Passport to help set the tasting room, and I thank her. I looked to my staff to step up and be the team that makes losing Ann for the weekend a less than catastrophic loss. Thank you Juana for not only working your scheduled shift, but for shouldering more of the responsibility for our success, for ensuring our guests had an enjoyable time.

I also had two first time behind our bar helpers, Kellie and Tina, who poured for the many tasters and kept our ship afloat. Thank you to both of you. Thanks to Guinness for providing me the opportunity to do what I do, what we all do. Thanks for chatting with visitors, for signing their bottles, for all this and so much more. Finally, thanks to the folks who came to Hopland Passport, a week after Dry Creek Passport and while the Beerfest in Boonville was going on. Your support makes what we do possible, and I can’t thank you enough. Let’s do it all again this fall, on Saturday, October 18 and Sunday, October 19. See you then!

 

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John On Wine – Celebration of Mendocino County Sparkling Wines

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal on February 27, 2014 by John Cesano

Destination Hopland, the non-profit group charged with promoting tourism for the Hopland area wineries, is sponsoring a new event on Saturday, April 5 and invited participation from sparkling wine producers from throughout Mendocino County. A “Celebration of Mendocino County Sparkling Wines” will be held from noon to 4 p.m. at Terra Savia, 14160 Mountain House Road, Hopland. Eleven local producers will come together at Terra Sávia winery in Hopland to showcase their finest offerings. Great and classic food pairing treats for sparkling wines will be served, like smoked salmon, local oysters, pate, canapés, fresh strawberries, artisan breads and, for dessert, delicious lavender infused sponge cake. Classical guitarist Joel DiMauro will be performing. Participating wineries include:

Graziano Family of Wines

Handley Cellars

McFadden Vineyard

Nelson Family Vineyards

Paul Dolan Vineyards

Rack & Riddle

Ray’s Station

Roederer Estate

Scharffenberger Cellars

Signal Ridge

Terra Savia

Tickets are $55 and available online at mendocinosparkling.brownpapertickets.com.

The folks at Wine Enthusiast magazine taste a lot of wine, well over 10,000 wines each year, I am sure. Last December they announced their Top 100 wines of 2013, and the #1 wine of the year was the 2004 Roederer Estate L’Ermitage. The 2014 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, with 5,825 wines entered, was the largest judging of American wines in the world. The only winery in the nation to win two Double Gold Medals (unanimous Gold from the judges) for sparkling wines was McFadden Vineyard for the NV McFadden Sparkling Brut and the 2009 McFadden Reserve Sparkling Brut.

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Bubbly in Mendocino County is spectacularly good, the quality high, while the prices are remarkably affordable. Far too many people open a bottle of sparkling wine only to celebrate a special event, when a good quality bubbly is an absolute delight when enjoyed as a before-dinner cocktail, or when paired with a host of foods from oysters to salmon bagels and poached eggs with caviar to chicken breasts in a citrus glaze.

Some sparkling wines that will be poured have notes of green apple and grapefruit, unapologetically crisp, while others will showcase a bready, yeasty, brioche character. Lemon, hazelnut, and toffee are notes you might taste in a sparkling wine, or rose petal and strawberry notes from a sparkling rosé.

Cuveé is a word that you will see on more than one label. Cuveé means blend, and a sparkling wine with a cuvee designation is likely a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes, with perhaps a small amount of Pinot Meunier.

You will also see NV on a bottle or three, and this is also a blend, but a blend of different vintages. NV means non-vintage. The folks who produce sparkling wines in Mendocino County scrupulously refer to our bubblies as sparkling wines and never Champagnes. Practically the same thing, but we respect that real Champagne comes from Champagne, France. That said, most of us understand and do not mind when our customers use the terms sparkling wine and Champagne interchangeably.

Here’s a thumbnail sketch into how sparkling wine is made: Grapes for sparkling wine are picked earlier than for still wine, at lower sugar, usually in August. Chardonnay is picked for a Blanc de Blanc, Pinot Noir is picked for a Blanc de Noir, and a blend of the two is often picked for a Brut or Brut Rosé. After crushing the grapes for juice, the wine is made in the bottle, rather than an oak barrel or stainless steel tank.

A little active yeast in the bottle feeds the sugar – this is fermentation and where the alcohol comes from. The fruit notes come from the grapes. The wine spends time with unspent yeast, and spent yeast, also known as lees and picks up some yeasty or bready notes.

By tilting the bottle toward a neck down position, and giving the bottle little turns, the yeast and lees collect at the neck end of the bottle. This process is known as racking and riddling. The neck end of the bottle is submerged in a below zero freeze bath so a solid plug of yeast and lees can be formed and removed.

A second fermentation happens when a small dose of sugar, or dosage, is added to the wine and the cork and cage are affixed to the bottle. A small amount of unspent yeast remains in the bottle and eats the dosage, resulting in carbon dioxide, the bubbles that make sparkling wines so fun. This is how good bubbly is made. I hope you’ll get a ticket to the inaugural Mendo Bubbly Fest; If you do, then I’ll definitely see you there. Cheers!

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John Cesano pouring one of two Double Gold Medal awarded McFadden Sparkling Brut wines.

 

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