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John On Wine – ­ A Mendo bubbly fest recap

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on April 10, 2014
Written by John Cesano

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Last Saturday, April 5th, I attended the inaugural Celebration of Mendocino County Sparkling Wines. I was not alone, more than 150 people showed up at Terra Savia in Hopland. Many were readers of this column who were kind enough to say hello, some were wine club members of the tasting room I manage, and some were brand new to me ­ but not brand new to having fun as they clearly knew what they were doing.

Alison de Grassi and Gracia Brown, the wonder twins from Visit Mendocino responsible for events and marketing, attended as did Mendocino County District Attorney David Eyster. The support for this great event was really impressive. The day was beautiful; I parked a short walk away from the site, and saw workers raking muddy leaves into a pile, the scent earthy, almost mushroomy, and wonderful.

A Gathering of friends

Birds were chirping many different songs in the trees around. The sky could not have been more blue or clear. Terra Savia operates from a large yellow metal building filled with art and custom handcrafted furniture of immense proportion. Within the space, a dozen tables were set up in a circle, each table a microburst of activity, color, and energy as each participating winery created their own presentation space.

Here are a few definitions for bubbly-centric wine terms that may prove useful as you read on: Brut means dry. Cuvee means blend. En tirage means time yeast and lees spend in the bottle before disgorgement. Lees are spent yeast, yeast that converted sugar into alcohol, heat, and carbon dioxide during fermentation. Blanc de Blanc means white of white and suggests that Chardonnay is the grape the wine is made from; as opposed to Blanc de Noir, a white wine made from red wine grapes, typically Pinot Noir, but given no time on skin after crush, so no color. A magnum is a bottle twice as large as normal, 1.5 L. vs, 750 ml.

Bubbly Gathering

Graziano poured their Cuvee #10 Sparkling Brut, a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Blanc from the 2010 vintage that spent three full years en tirage. This bubbly had the most clear lemon note of the sparkling wines being poured at the event, balanced by a rich yeastiness. Both Greg Graziano and Bobby Meadows poured for the assembled crowd.

Handley poured a 2003 Brut, made from 60 percent Pinot Noir and 40 percent Chardonnay, with flavors of steely mineral lemon and vanilla apple.

Guinness McFadden and Judith Bailey poured the 2014 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition double gold medal winning 2009 McFadden Reserve Sparkling Brut, a blend of 50 percent Chardonnay and 50 percent Pinot Noir that spent more than two-and-a-half-years on yeast and lees in the bottle before disgorgement. The flavors are bright, showing apple and grapefruit tempered by brioche and nut.

Nelson poured a nice NV Blanc de Blanc with bright lemon, pear, and apple notes.

I really liked the Paul Dolan NV Brut, a cuvee of 45 percent Chardonnay and 55 percent Pinot Noir, with 100 percent of the grapes from McFadden Farm. Bright, unapologetically crisp, with green apple, grapefruit, and pineapple.

Rack and Riddle poured for sparkling wines. I tasted their NV Brut, showing orange, cream, apple, and lemon; and a Brut Rose that was dry, dry, dry with strawberry over ice crispness.

Ray’s Station’s NV Brut offering was 65 percent Chardonnay and 35 percent Pinot Noir and was fairly broad and round with apple, pear, and bready notes. Although Brut suggests dryness, this seemed a touch sweeter ­ at least in comparison with the wine tasted just before this one. Margaret Pedroni captivated attendees as she described the wine she poured.

Roederer Estate poured from 1.5 liter magnums, which is nicely showy. Their NV Brut tasted of pear, green apple, nut, and lemon; the NV Brut Rose showed lovely balance and flavors of apple and strawberry.

Scharffenberger’s NV Brut tasted of dry yeasty ginger, citrus, and apple.

Signal Ridge garnered a lot of buzz from attendees, with tasters elevating the apple, almond and mineral flavored Brut into their top three tastes.

Terra Savia, the host for the event, poured their lovely 2009 Blanc de Blanc, showing bright apple and lemony citrus notes.

Yorkville Cellars doesn’t grow Chardonnay or Pinot Noir, the grapes typically found in sparkling wines, but Bordeaux varietals instead. Previously, Yorkville made a Sparkling Rose of Malbec, the only one I had ever tasted, and it was good. The current release I jokingly refer to as the cuvee of crazy, because the blend was unimaginable prior to it being poured for me: 51 percent Semillion, 24 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, and 25 percent Sauvignon Blanc. The result isn’t crazy at all, but rounder than is typical with the Bordeaux varietal fruit offering up flavors of grapefruit and cranberry.

Bubbly Feast

The food for this event was spectacular, and one of the most enjoyable aspects of the event was random pairings of different foods and sparkling wines. Some pairings elevated both the food and beverage, while other pairings oddly diminished the wine being tasted. There will be a Mendo Bubbly Fest next year, and I’ll attend again, but get out of your house and into the tasting rooms of these wineries to taste their sparkling wines this weekend, or soon, and bring a bottle or two home ­ not to serve on a special day, but to make a day special by serving them.

 

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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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John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

John On Wine ­ Alcohol: enough is enough!

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal on December 26, 2014 by John Cesano

 

Alcohol; it’s why we buy wine instead of soda, right? More alcohol must be better in a wine than less alcohol too, I mean it just stands to reason, don’t you think?

This question came to mind after I read a review of San Francisco Chronicle wine editor Jon Bonné’s new book The New California Wine. The review was written by Wine Spectator magazine’s senior editor, Napa, James Laube. Where most every review of Bonné’s book was complimentary, Laube seemed to almost have the knives out as he wrote his piece, “(Bonné)’s hardly enamored with much of (California wine),” is how the piece begins and it doesn’t get much nicer.

Why would one professional wine writer be so uncomplimentary, so unkind, so border-line rude? Wine Spectator reviews and rates wines on a 100 point scale, made famous by wine critic Robert Parker, and like Parker seems to award more points to fruit jam bombs made of Napa fruit with high alcohol levels. By contrast, Bonné seems to prefer wines of greater balance, greater drinkability, more food friendly wines, with lower alcohol.

Before I go on, I abhor numbers. Alcohol percentage, residual sugar, volatile acidity, the numbers that describe a wine only tell a small part of a wine’s story. Residual sugar alone, without a lot of other data may be suggestive of sweetness, but actual perception when tasted may be something different altogether. Wines must be tasted to be judged.

Okay, that disclaimer aside, I agree with Bonné. Many wines have alcohol levels that are just too damn high. Please, I would so much rather have a lighter styled wine that balances fruit and acid, and has a lower alcohol, so I can enjoy it with friends over a nice dinner than have to suffer another painfully hot, high alcohol wine that is so dense with flavor, so big and overpowering that it ruins the food it is paired with.

Whether an Anderson Valley Pinot Noir over 15 percent or a Dry Creek Zinfandel over 17 percent alcohol by volume, there just isn’t a good reason for these wines to be so hot, unless the winemaker was pandering for a high score from Spectator or Parker. Big alcohol wines also tend to garner high medals, I suspect, because judges’ palates are quickly blown out by high alcohol fruit bombs and are unable to fairly judge wines of greater subtlety and reserve, but upon tasting another monster wine break out the gold.

I worked for a winemaker who used to make gorgeously flavorful wines, good bodied wines, gold medal winning wines, and rarely did she produce a wine at or above 14 percent alcohol by volume. These were the easiest to sell wines I’ve ever experienced. People ordered, but most importantly they reordered, and in quantity, because the wines were so good.

Sadly, she has turned to the dark side, and is putting out some wild beasts, up and over 15 percent alcohol today. More attention, higher ratings, easier golds; From some quarters, anyway.

Joel Peterson, a few years back suggested the three most common flaws of Zinfandel were too much alcohol, too much oak, and too much sugar. As the big boss man behind Ravenswood, a famous Zin house in Sonoma, Peterson should know. That said, both Peterson and his son Morgan Twain Peterson crank out some pretty huge wines.

The wines of inland Mendocino County are not uniformly low alcohol, but many are. Whether from cool climate Russian River adjacent or mountain shade properties in or near Hopland, or the higher altitude fruit grown at the north end of Potter Valley, there are some absolutely delicious wines grown and produced in our area. Zinfandel, and Coro Mendocino ­ the Zinfandelcentric blend I mention often, under 14 percent alcohol; Pinot Noir without a barnyard funk or filled diaper aroma; Chablis-like bright and unoaked Chardonnay; and Cabernet Sauvignon that you can take your time getting to know instead of a Cabernet that is so forward you feel like pressing charges. This is some of what we do so well here, and what some folks – notably the wine critics who seem to get a little too much wood over wines with a little too much wood and alcohol – don’t seem to get.

Wine Enthusiast magazines’ Virginie Boone visits inland Mendocino more often, and perhaps familiarity breeds understanding, because she rates many of our wines about two to five points higher than the folks who don’t visit as often over at Wine Spectator.

Jon Bonné tastes wines from all over, often, and has placed a light, low alcohol, almost Beaujolaisesque Zinfandel made entirely from inland Mendocino grapes on one of his annual Top 100 Wines lists.

I get a chance to taste a lot of our wines, and I may have developed a strong preference for what we do, because on a recent visit outside the county, I found wine after wine just too big for me to enjoy. I love Wine Spectator magazine for the articles, but personally I prefer Wine Enthusiast magazine and Jon Bonné’s San Francisco Chronicle reviews of our wines. I find I am more often in agreement.

Want high alcohol? Go to a bar. Want a food-friendly wine you can enjoy with food? Consider a wine from the area, with under 14 percent alcohol for a start. As always, the best way to find out whether you like a particular wine or not is to go wine tasting. Many local winery tasting rooms offer complimentary wine tasting and are open up until New Year’s Eve – although a few that sell bubbly will be open at least a half of that day too.

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EDITED TO ADD ONLINE: I received the following comment tacked on to another recently archived column in response to the newspaper version of this week’s column:

“This is regarding your UDJ article published today (12/26/13). I was going to email you but didn’t see an email listed. In any event, I have to agree with your general assessment of the multitude high alcohol wines out there. Which is why I drink mostly sparkling! I have worked for Roederer Estate for six years and have learned that sparkling is incredibly versatile with food as well as being on the lower end of the scale at 12%. One last thing, in reference to Wine Enthusiast’s Top 100 of 2013, did you know Roederer’s 2004 L’Ermitage is rated number one? I believe it’s the first time a California Sparkling has garnered the top spot, so worth mentioning.
Cheers, Julie in Ukiah”

I could not agree more. Fantastic comment, great observation, and well deserved acclaim for the 2004 Roederer L’ Ermitage, and yes, you are right, this is the first time that a sparkling wine has topped Wine Enthusiast magazine’s annual Top 100 Wines list.

I had just written for Destination Hopland that there are bubblies to be tasted at Graziano, Jeriko, McFadden, Nelson, Rack & Riddle, Ray’s Station, and Terra Savia; but county wide Roederer, Scharffenberger, Yorkville Cellars, and Elke over on Hwy 128, and Paul Dolan up in Ukiah, all have to be added to the list. As a county, we may have the nation’s greatest concentration of premium bubblies, and they are indeed both enjoyably lower in alcohol and spectacularly food friendly when paired with the right foods. Taste this week, choose a favorite, and stock up for New Year’s Eve!

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I do love bubbly, and I would love to have them all to taste for a future column, maybe in advance of Valentine’s Day next year.

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John on Wine

Spotlight Winery: Albertina Vineyards

Originally Published in the Ukiah Daily Journal on August 8, 2013 by John Cesano

Along with my friend Gracia Brown, I spent a wonderful afternoon with Fred and Alberta Zmarzly at their remote, terraced-hillside vineyards tasting wine, eating some salami and cheese on crackers, and getting to know each other a little better.

Fred and Alberta met in Belmont at a nightclub called the Swiss Chalet, the band playing that evening was the Warlocks. The Warlocks would shortly after change their name to the Grateful Dead. Alberta also changed her name, taking Fred’s, Zmarzly, when they married.

For those keeping score at home, Gracia has previously graced columns both here in print and my online blog, for having been the talented and hardworking representative of the county’s wine industry when she worked for the Mendocino Winegrape and Wine Commission, and more recently as Martha and Charlie Barra’s current marketing superstar.

Together, Gracia and I left Hopland as we first traveled west, and then south and up, up, upward until we came to the cabin home of Fred and Alberta. Fred met and welcomed us, wearing relaxed farmers garb; blue jeans, a faded blue polo shirt, brown work boots, and a ball cap emblazoned “SIP! Mendocino” ­ which is where Albertina’s wines can be purchased in Hopland.

With a cooler filled with wine tasting and picnic provisions, we walked from Fred’s home, past a water pond, and up into the Albertina vineyards, a nudge over 400 acres around the side and up Duncan Peak.

As we walked, Fred shared that having moved from Buffalo, NY to California, and then on to Santa Rosa, he and Alberta were looking for a place to raise cattle and farm when they found a real estate ad offering a “pond, hunting, and lodge.” The ad stretched the lodge part, but they bought the place in 1983, rebuilt the cabin home and refurbished the other two “lodge” buildings in 1985 and 1986, decided to go into grapes in 2000, took care of water needs in 2001, and actually planted their Albertina vineyards in 2002.

Albertina means “little Alberta” in Italian, and is what Alberta’s father called her as a child. Now the name allows Fred to share his love for his wife with each bottle of wine made from their grapes.

On a knoll with 25 mile views, under the shade of oak trees in the center of the vineyards we tasted the 2009 Albertina Cabernet Sauvignon ($26). Made by Penny Gadd-Caster, who made Jordan’s Cabernet for 13 years, at Rack & Riddle in Hopland, this was a supple and smooth red, rich and redolent, with powerful blackberry fruit against a backdrop of leather, chocolate, and violet, with lighter supporting fruit notes of cherry and strawberry. A gorgeously integrated wine, there is a terrific nose to mouth to finish continuity of notes.

Fred sells 40 tons of fruit to Constellation, a giant in the industry with more than 50 wine brands in the U.S., and splits the rest between Rack & Riddle and Greg Graziano for turning into Albertina wines.

Fred next poured us some of his 2009 Albertina Cabernet Franc, Meredith’s Reserve ($24).

Outdoors, comfortably seated with friends, new and old, I tasted Fred’s Franc. Layers of flavors, red raspberry fruit, licorice, herb, pepper, and red plum played in a fruit forward styled enjoyable drinkable, soft, medium bodied wine.

Fred told us a bit about farming grapes and said there are really 12 things a farmer needs to do to make good grapes, irrigation being one of those things. Joking that his endeavors might be saintly, like Jesus he turns water into wine, but he’s not as good at it because it takes Fred 1/2 million gallons of water to make 3,000 gallons of wine each year.

After walking through the vineyard and seeing where a small portion came through a recent fire started by a tractor exhaust spark, we returned to the cabin home and met Alberta who had been resting during the hottest part of a very hot summer day.

The Zmarzly home is comfortable and charming, with a lovely antique stove and oven that definitely caught both Gracia’s and my eyes. We were also impressed with the casts of bear prints and the bear tales Alberta and Fred shared.

Paired with salami, cheese, and crackers, we tasted the 2009 Albertina Merlot, Lorelei’s Reserve ($24). Perfumed plum in a glass, the Merlot was the third of three Bordeaux varietal reds grown on the Zmarzly Family Vineyard to impress and please. Supporting notes included warm candied cherry and herb.

The four of us alternately sat and stood, conversations were weaved, stories told. We got to hear about the liquor stills that Alberta’s family had on the ranch where she grew up, and how the Feds blew the stills up, and while some folks got prosecuted, her father got off.

We heard about how the town of Hopland has changed over the years, since the Zmarzlys first came to town in 1983 until 2011 when I started managing a tasting room in town.

We talked about farming, conventional and organic ­ the Albertina vineyards are sustainably farmed.

Four hours passed and three wines were tasted. This was a standout experience for me, a wonderfully enjoyable and relaxed day chatting over wine. Fun.

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John Cesano, an ardent Deadhead, listened to the almost 24-year-old, October 9, 1989 Hampton Coliseum “Warlocks” show while putting this column together, in honor of Fred and Alberta’s meeting at a show by the band 24 years earlier still.

The 21st annual fall Hopland Passport wine weekend, on Saturday, October 20 and Sunday, October 21, from 11:00 am until 5:00 pm each day, offers something for everybody, whether a first time wine event goer or a veteran of many Hopland Passport wine weekends.

Hopland Passport tickets are available online through noon on Thursday, October 18 at just $45 each. Tickets are available at any of the participating winery tasting rooms during the weekend for $55 each. Recommendation: don’t procrastinate, save $10 per ticket, go online and buy them early.

To fully and safely enjoy your Hopland Passport experience, with roughly 150 wines being poured by the sixteen Hopland Passport wineries, it is a great idea to use both full days for tasting. Enjoy the food offered by each tasting room. Listen to music, take tours, absorb the information that pourers give you. After nosing and tasting a wine, use the dump buckets provided to empty your glass of wine left from tasting, and take notes of your favorite wines so you can purchase those wines during the weekend’s sale prices. You will have a much better time trying to taste dozens of wines than trying to drink dozens of wines. Many wineries offer larger discounts to wine club members, so if you enjoy several wines poured at one tasting room, consider joining their wine club and enjoying bigger savings both during Hopland Passport and beyond.

New attendees will find a remarkably enjoyable opportunity to enjoy wine tasting at sixteen participating Hopland area tasting rooms, along with terrific food pairings chosen to highlight the flavors of the wines being poured, with each tasting room putting a unique spin on the weekend’s festivities with vineyard and garden tours, fun themed events, live music, contests, and special event specific discounts. Quite simply, Hopland Passport is the best wine tasting event value anywhere.

Veteran attendees will find many of their favorite winery tasting rooms doing what they do best, but will also find two brand new Hopland Passport tasting rooms to visit this time around.

Rivino Winery is one of the two newcomers pouring this fall. Closer to Ukiah than Hopland, off Hwy 101 on Cox Schrader Road, Rivino is no stranger to events, having hosted a long running and  well-attended weekly Friday Happy Hour wine and music gathering. Enjoy a Caddyshack themed Hopland Passport weekend in Rivino’s vineyard with live music by Nahara Ange and food inspired by the classic golf comedy. Be sure to taste the gold medal winning estate wines Rivino will be pouring.

New Kids on the Block, RIVINO will be doing it up right out of the blocks

New Kids on the Block, RIVINO will be doing it up right out of the blocks

The other new addition to the lineup of Hopland Passport winery tasting rooms is Naughty Boy Vineyards. Naughty Boy Vineyards pours from a new shop, WAA WAA, in downtown Hopland’s Vintage Marketplace building.  WAA WAA is short for Wine, Art, and Antiques x 2, as delightful collectible affordable vintage goods and inspired artwork share a retail location with wine made from grapes grown by Potter Valley’s Naughty Boy Vineyards.

Naughty Boy Vineyards at WAA WAA in Hopland's Vintage Marketplace

Naughty Boy Vineyards at WAA WAA in Hopland’s Vintage Marketplace

Naughty Boy will bring live music by Redbud to Hopland’s Vintage Marketplace, and will offer homemade Scottish Lox and other Hors d’Ouerves created to pair perfectly their wines. In addition to wine sales, antiques will be on sale at 30 percent off.

Sharing the Vintage Marketplace building in Hopland are three more winery tasting rooms, the McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room, Graziano Family of Wines, and Weibel Family Vineyards & Winery.

Vintage Marketplace, home to Naughty Boy, McFadden, Graziano, and Weibel

Vintage Marketplace, home to Naughty Boy, McFadden, Graziano, and Weibel

McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room, which I manage, will feature all the best from our own certified organic and biodiverse farm.  We’ll  grill up steaks from McFadden Farm’s own organic grass fed beef, seasoned with McFadden Farm organic herbs and herb blends, and a McFadden Farm wild rice salad, and offering the ingredients for sale so visitors can recreate the Passport offerings is what Guinness McFadden has been doing for years. This fall, there will be a big pot of farm fresh beans to go with all of the other great farm food.

In the back yard at McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room

In the back yard at McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room

Enjoy big discounts on everything in the Farm Stand & Tasting Room, with Guinness McFadden signing bottles of his award winning wines as they are purchased, including his double gold medal winning Sparkling Brut.

Graziano Family of Wines offers over thirty delicious reds, whites, roses and blends for you to enjoy, from Aglianico to Zinfandel, many at special Passport sale prices. Graziano will offer up imported meats and cheeses, homemade tapenade, and estate-grown olive oils to pair with their wines being poured.

Inside the Graziano tasting room

Inside the Graziano tasting room

Weibel welcomes back Fork Catering for a delectable array of appetizers including Grilled Tomatillo Cilantro Chicken Tacos, Heirloom Tomato Bruschetta, and Mini Grilled Cheese sandwiches with local artisan cheeses. Weibel will feature both their popular fruit and nut infused bubblies, as well as their handcrafted wines made from Redwood Valley grapes.

Yummy treats at Weibel

Yummy treats at Weibel

Three more winery tasting rooms are located in downtown Hopland, Cesar Toxqui Cellars, McNab Ridge Winery, and Brutocao Cellars.

Cesar Toxqui Cellars will be greeting guests on the porch with fruit infused cheeses and a wonderfully brisk new Chardonnay release. Once inside, you’ll enjoy delicious chicken curry, southern fried fish, homemade ceviche, and fried rice, and a new release 2007 Immigrant Zinfandel.

Cesar Toxqui Cellars tasting room

Cesar Toxqui Cellars tasting room

There will be barrel tasting at McNab Ranch Winery, with the opportunity to buy futures of their 2010 Cononiah Zinfandel. Be sure to try spicy Asian peanut pasta salad paired with McNab’s French Colombard. Traditional favorites, the spreads/dips and bottle painting by local artist Leslie Bartolomei, will return.

A little something to enjoy with McNab Zin barrel samples

A little something to enjoy with McNab Zin barrel samples

Brutocao promises a Wine Zombie Apocalypse: “serving some finger lickin’ good treats paired with award winning Estate Wines. Go out on a limb and be the best dressed zombie and win a prize. It will be a horrific good time with grape stomps, bocce ball and un-dead music by “Third Party”.  Wines to die for!”

Bocce at Brutocao

Bocce at Brutocao

Just west of downtown Hopland, on Mountain House Road, you’ll find both Rack & Riddle and Terra Sávia.

Rack & Riddle is a custom sparkling wine house. Many of the area’s best bubblies are made at Rack & Riddle, including double gold medal winners for both McFadden and Terra Savia. Rack & Riddle also produces both sparkling and still wines of their own – all delicious. Enjoy them with Rack & Riddle’s lime & shrimp ceviche, warm tri-tip sliders, chips & guacamole.

It's not a real wine event without a working tractor - at Rack & Riddle

It’s not a real wine event without a working tractor – at Rack & Riddle

Terra Sávia offers not just delicious wines and a terrific bubbly rouge, but fantastic olive oil. A tasting of Olivino’s quality olive oils will likely make you regret a lifetime’s use of a previously favored store brand. Always a great stop, enjoy wine, food, art, music, and olive oil.

Relax at Terra Savia, a lovely Passport stop

Relax at Terra Savia, a lovely Passport stop

Just south of downtown Hopland is Milano Family Winery. Enjoy Milano’s scrumptious smoked & marinated Tri-Tip, an abundance of fresh veggies and dips, as well as delicious, aged to perfection Cabot Creamery Cheeses. On Saturday, “Headband” will play rock & roll, blues, jazz.  On Sunday, “Frankie J” will play. Don’t miss the clothing & craft vendors that always set up at Milano during Hopland Passport.

Milano is a great stop with wine, food, crafts, and music, a festival within a festival

Milano is a great stop with wine, food, crafts, and music, a festival within a festival

East of downtown Hopland, on Old River Road, you’ll find Campovida. No Hopland Passport wine weekend is complete without a tour of Campovida’s gardens, led by master gardener Ken Boek. Campovida is another amazing, only in Hopland, blend of wine, food, art, music, and heartfelt hospitality.

Take a taste of Campovida's wines from their tasting room into their gardens

Take a taste of Campovida’s wines from their tasting room into their gardens

North of downtown Hopland, heading back toward Rivino on Hwy 101, Hopland Passport stops include Jeriko Estate, Saracina, Jaxon Keys, and Nelson Family Vineyards.

Jeriko Estate features biodynamically grown hand crafted Pinot Noir, and often serves up pork -  which goes great with Pinot.

Jeriko will be pouring Pinot, perhaps paired with pork

Jeriko will be pouring Pinot, perhaps paired with pork

Saracina is deservedly famous for the Rhone varietal wines and Rhone inspired twists that winemaker Alex MacGregor brings to Saracina. Try a Chardonnay with a touch of Viognier, enjoy a Rhone red blend, tour real wine caves, enjoy the peaceful setting designed to make you relaxed and more open to all that the wines, food pairings, and music are trying to convey.

Saracina is a series of paintings just waiting to happen, absolutely beautiful

Saracina is a series of paintings just waiting to happen, absolutely beautiful

Jaxon Keys Winery & Distillery offers a prohibition era themed weekend, “our Speakeasy will be open for business, serving bootleg wine to all who dare break the law of Prohibition. We will have barrels of wine, gallons of contraband brandy and vodka all for the asking. No G-Men to worry about! We’ve paid them to look the other way for the weekend. Live music on the deck, awesome food prepared by Taste of Perfection Catering, and all our wines flowing freely, experience the Prohibition era for yourself!”

Just Kicking it at Jaxon Keys

Just Kicking it at Jaxon Keys

Exactly half way between Hopland and Ukiah, Nelson Family Vineyards invites crowd pleaser Mendough’s Wood-Fired Pizza back.  Enjoy Nelson’s estate wines, paired with delicious pizzas made with fresh and local ingredients including chevre and sun dried tomatoes, prosciutto and arugula, Gorgonzola and artichoke all atop the most incredible crust you’ve ever had. Nelson’s Ice Riesling is a perfect way to end your visit to Nelson, and your Hopland Passport wine weekend.

Pizza and wine in the grove at Nelson

Pizza and wine in the grove at Nelson

Coming to Hopland too late to officially participate in the fall Hopland Passport, Frey from Redwood Valley will be having a Grand Opening of their new tasting room in the Real Goods store at the Solar Living Institute in Hopland. This 17th Hopland tasting room may not be in the passport, but they will be offering up delicious food pairings to go with their sulfite free, vegan, wines.

Frey will be opening their new tasting room during Passport in Hopland

Frey will be opening their new tasting room during Passport in Hopland

In addition to Piazza de Campovida which opened in time for last spring’s Hopland Passport, this fall’s event will see the new Hopland Ale House opening; both spots will offer beer and food for sale during and after Passport hours. An 18th tasting room, SIP! Mendocino, will be open for tastings of Mendocino County wines from outside the area as well.

For more information, or to purchase tickets, please visit www.DestinationHopland.com

Okay, if you’ve read this far, and I expect that few will, here’s your reward. If you simply leave a comment about any one of the wineries that will participate at this year’s fall Hopland Passport between now and noon on Friday, October 12, you will be entered into a random drawing for two tickets ($110 value) for Hopland Passport. If you want to double your drawing entries from one to two, make the comment about the tasting room I manage. I’ll add an announcement of the winner here, to this post and on the facebook page of Hopland Passport on or before Monday, October 15, 2012. Good luck!

Photo credits: If the photo looks great, it came from Diane Davis Photography. If the photo is okay, I yoinked from the winery’s website. If the photo is meh, then I took it.

I visited Dunnewood Vineyards in Ukiah recently.

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


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

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

From Constellation’s website:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tierra is located at 312 N School Street in Ukiah.

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

This weekend, Saturday, October 23 and Sunday, October 24, from 11:00AM to 5:00PM each day, the wineries of Mendocino County’s town of Hopland, located on Highway 101 less than an hour north of Santa Rosa, join together for the 2010 Fall Hopland Passport Weekend.

Participating wineries include Brutocao Cellars, Fetzer Vineyards, Graziano Family of Wines, Jaxon Keys, Winery, Jeriko Estate, McDowell Valley Vineyards, McFadden Vineyards, McNab Ridge Winery, Magnanimus Wines, Milano Winery, Nelson Family Vineyards, Patianna Vineyards, Rack & Riddle, Terra Savia, Saracina, and Weibel Family Vineyards.

I attended the Spring Hopland Passport Weekend, and wrote of my experiences, visiting each participating winery and tasting an even 100 wines – it helped that I could use both days.

Two day tickets are available online for $35, or for $45 at any of the participating wineries on the day of the event.

Saturday shuttles are available for only $15, picking up from and delivering to a host of Ukiah hotels. The shuttles run all day between the participating wineries.

Each winery puts their best foot forward; food treats are provided that pair well with wines served, live music, arts and crafts, artisanal honeys and olive oils are among the treats offered by the wineries. For two days, you get to travel from winery to winery, tasting wines, savoring tasty foods, surrounded by the beauty of Mendocino County’s vineyards and wineries. A wristband, tasting glass, and a map make for a weekend of discovery.

Tastings like this are one of the best ways to expand your wine tasting experiences, learn which wine varietals you prefer, and perhaps develop an appreciation for a wine region you aren’t fully familiar with.

Every person tasting in the spring version of the Passport Weekend was happy, smiling, enjoying themselves, and having a great time. I loved visiting all of the Hopland wineries earlier this year. I encourage you to come to Hopland this weekend, and hope you have as wonderful a time as I did.

Earlier this year, I was asked how long I have lived in the Mendocino County town of Ukiah and I answered that I had lived here just a couple of years. In my head, I was a temporarily displaced Sonoma County resident.

Shortly after, talking with my brother, I again said that I had been in Ukiah a couple of years. My brother laughed and said I had been in Ukiah closer to five years.

I was surprised, but he was right; I moved to Ukiah five years ago, but traveled for work, sleeping more nights in hotels than my own bed each year. This year, I eliminated the travel, and took the time to breathe, to look around, to relax. I have begun to think of myself as someone from Ukiah for the first time.

Last weekend was Passport Weekend in Wine Country. I could taste wines in Napa’s Rutherford Appelation or San Luis Obispo, Dry Creek just finished ther Passport Weekend, and the Sonoma Valley is still to come; but I made a decision to taste the wines from my home and attended the Hopland Passport Spring 2010 wine tasting event.

Hopland is a small town in Mendocino County, choking Highway 101 down to one lane each direction, the first town in Mendocino County driving north up 101, and about 15 minutes south of Ukiah, the county seat. Green mountains on the west side of town stretching north and south, and valley spreading to the east. Vineyards sprouting green with new growth, lavender, poppies, floral explosion of perfume and color. I’m not gifted describing beauty, but the weekend was knockout gorgeous, a feast for all the senses.

I visited over a dozen locations, experienced almost twice as many wine brand labels, and tasted just over 100 wines. The weekend was about much more than just the wines tasted; it was about the beauty of our county, the overarching commitment to green practices, change and hope as well. I came away from the two days more than a little more in love with where I live. I didn’t love every wine I tasted, but I can easily say that every winery had something positive for me to write about, and at least one wine I enjoyed without qualification.

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My first stop, coming south from Ukiah, was at Nelson Family Vineyards. Located down Nelson Ranch Road, on the west side of Hwy 101 (look for the strawberry farm of Saecho, and head west), the winery is reached by walking up a winding garden path from the parking area below. Floral growth adding color and scent to the day, did make taking nosing notes on the wines a touch more difficult, but their beauty made the challenge worthwhile.

2008 Nelson Family Vineyards Estate Pinot Grigio $16 – Clear, steely mineral, floral honeysuckle, apple. Nice fruit.

2008 Nelson Family Vineyards Estate Viognier $21 – Clear. Citrus, Orange blossom, apricot, apple.

2008 Nelson Family Vineyards Estate Zinfandel Rose $16 - ¾  Zin, ¼ Pinot. Lightly rose colored. Nice acid. Juicy strawberry.

2008 Nelson Family Vineyards Estate Riesling $16 – sweet honeyed apricot, peach, pear. Honey (yes, I know I mentioned it twice).

2009 Nelson Family Vineyards Estate Orange Muscat $21 – Mineral, sweet peach, lemon citrus, floral honey. The mouth delivers more sweetness than the nose suggests.

2009 Nelson Family Vineyards Estate Barn Blend $23 – I was told the blend is a majority Zin, with about 10% each of Cab and Merlot, and 5% Viognier. I thought it a little young, but rich, with a dusty chocolate nose; easily quaffable with lots of mixed berry and cherry fruit notes.

2007 Nelson Family Vineyards Estate Zinfandel $23 – Nicely soft, lighter bodied, but full flavors, this Zin has enough acid to make your mouth want that next mouthful of raspberry jam and boyesnberry pie flavor. Spice and fruit.

2007 Nelson Family Vineyards Estate Cabernet Sauvignon $23 – “Oh yeah,” is what I thought to myself. Love at first sniff. Black plum, dark fruit notes, delicious jammy blackberry and cassis notes.

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Jaxon Keys Winery & Distillery is Ken & Diane Wilson’s first winery in Mendocino County. The Wilsons are known for making premium wines at a number of Sonoma County wineries, and bought what had been known as Jepsen Winery & Distillery, changing the name to honor Wilson’s grandfathers Jack Wilson and Cecile Keys.

Two huge changes, both for the better: the Wilsons have restored the historic hilltop on-property farmhouse and moved the tasting operations to the picturesque farmhouse, and the Wilsons brought winemaker Fred Nickel to Jaxon Keys.

Jaxon Keys’ hilltop farmhouse tasting room

The tasting room has a refrigerator with meats, salami, coppa, prosciutto, and mortadella at $4.95, and cheeses, white cheddar, sharp cheddar, plain jack, garlic jack, and Sicilian jack at $5.95 available to purchase. I can picture buying a little meat and cheese, sitting in a chair on the wraparound farmhouse porch, looking out over the valley vineyards, and sipping wine with meats and cheeses.

The wines, for the most part, are made from Estate grown grapes. One of my favorite wines, the 2007 Jaxon Keys Zinfandel Mae’s Block, had a great nose for a wine available at $6/bottle when purchased in a case. Pepper spice, berry fruit and herb. Solid Zin, not big, but good.

I did not love all of the wines, but the Wilsons are known for quality, and Fred Nickel who took over the winemaking duties only late August last year is a Mendocino County winemaking institution. Nickel knows the area’s fruit and how to make wines with soul from those grapes. I look forward to what will happen at Jaxon Keys moving forward. I think it safe to say that great grapes, great facility, great winemaker, and great owners will lead to a complete portfolio of first class wines.

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Saracina Vineyards starts with a visually striking architectural aesthetic. A lake, olive trees, circles of lawn, the wine cave ( a real one, dug into a hillside over two years), tree trunk tables, groovy designer chairs as (surprisingly) comfortable as they are cool looking, all lead to zen calm in which to perceive the land’s bounty.

The cave at Saracina Vineyards

The 2007 Saracina Sauvignon Blanc is an unapologetically layered white. About a liter of aroma and flavor shoehorned into a 750 ml bottle. Mineral, lemon, citrus, crisp peachy pear and melon. Round and full mouth, crisp acid without tartness, bank, complexity, a showy white. $15

I tasted the Sauvignon Blanc with a creamy goat cheese spread on a cracker, the goat cheese really pulled out steely lemon and pear notes.

Olive Oil – “OMG,” was my first thought and became my first note upon tasting the Hopland made oil pressed from the olive trees of Saracina. 4 varietals, estate grown, from 700 trees, blended together, make a deliciously flavorful olive oil, nothing like the bargain priced supermarket olive oil you’ve tasted before. $12

2006 Saracina Atrea Old Soul Red – A Zin, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Malbec blend. Saracina got the “soul” part of the name right, this wine has soul. Red & Black fruit blend, blackberry, cherry, raspberry, nice tannin and oak. Well balanced. Delicious. I asked why blend these grapes, was it a field blend, a barrel blend, why this blend? I was told that this “Mendo blend” was by design a blend of the county’s most iconic grapes. $25

Estate Bee Honey – Again, simply delicious. $12

2003 Saracina Syrah – Hillside fruit, a gorgeous Syrah, the kind that if people tasted they would buy. Lush, full dark juicy fruit, herb, spice, and a floral perfume. $18

2005 Saracina Syrah – Eagle Point (1,500 feet above sea level) and Potato Patch (2,200 feet above sea level) vineyards are the source of this rich intensely pub, blackberry, boysenberry noted wine. Leathery, supple, nice tannin and oak. – $32

I tasted the 2007 Saracina Petite Sirah, but I paired it with a chicken teriyaki falafel. I don’t know what this food treat was meant to pair with but it bulldozed the flavors of the Petite Sirah. I want to taste this wine again by itself. The falafel did remind me, fondly, of some of the food I tasted in the parking lots outside Grateful dead shows long past. – $38

The chairs in the shade, with a lake view, are prime real estate at Saracina Vineyards

Overall, a wonderful experience.

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Jeriko Estate is a popular site with a sprawling Tuscan style building with lovely landscaped garden. When I arrived on Saturday, the crowd was so large, and enthusiastic, that I nearly gave up, preparing to leave, planning to come back on a calmer day.

The landscaped garden at Jeriko Estate

Then a spot in a quiet corner of the tasting bar opened, with a dump bucket in front of the empty stool, and I swooped.

2008 Jeriko Estate Sauvignon Blanc $19.50 – Varietally correct. Mown hay, grass, floral, pear nose. Bright mineral pear and apple with light citrus flavors.

Natural Blonde Chardonnay $12.95 – Tart, yet round. Tart apple. Striking crispness and acidity. This is a Chardonnay to pair with bi-valve shell fish in place of a steely mineral Sauvignon Blanc.

2006 Strawberry Blonde Rose $12.95 – Light salmon color. Nice strawberry, raspberry, and kiwi fruit notes.

2006 Jeriko Estate Pinot Noir $38 – Smoke, oak, dried cherry flavors follow a nose of the same. Very direct. Spice, herb, and oaky vanilla add texture, rounding edge.This represents a lull in the crowds at Jeriko Estate on Santurday

Outside, in a round tent in the front gardens, bubblies were being poured. The tent smelled of must, perhaps having not fully dried after recent rains, or perhaps from a recent storage, but the subtle bright crisp apple fruit and citrus notes, toasty, floral, and slight mineral quality of the 2005 Jeriko Estate Brut Rose $48.95 were impossible to appreciate until I took my glass out and away from the tent.

It was nice to see goats scampering on the other side of a vineyard fence.

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One mile east of Hopland, on Hwy 175, Gary Breen and his wife Anna Beuselinck have purchased and are restoring the 5 year closed former Fetzer Wine & Food Center, newly christened Campovida (Field of life).

Magnamimus Wine Group, headed by Owsley Brown III, will be offering a full range of wines, tours of the property’s abundant gardens, and hosting wine and food events.

Magnanimus Wine Group at Campovida

I can say that a buzz running throughout the weekend, underneath the immediacy of the festivities and fun, wine and wonder, was a hope that Campovida and Magnanimus succeed, and that the property never close again.

Magnanimus offers wines on four labels; Mendocino Farms, Old River Cellars, Talmage Collection, and Ukiah Cellars.

2008 Ukiah Cellars Chardonnay, Beckstoffer and McDowell Vineyards, $16 – Clear, brilliant, pale gold. Apple & pear nose, tart fruit, but not aggressively tart. Light cream and vanilla apple flavors.

2006 Old River Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, Ponderosa Vineyard (near Grass Valley in the Sierra Foothills), $19 – Nice, lush fruit. Supple and complex, approachable black berry fruit.

2006 Talmage Collection Pija Blend, Mattern Ranch, $25 – A field blend, roughly 50% Zin and 45% Petite Sirah (with a smudge, about 5% Charbono from Venturi Vineyards). Bright, lush, bursting fruit of cherry and berry, with integrated acid, oak, and tannin.

2006 Talmage Collection Syrah, Maria Vineyard, $32 – Dark purple, chewy cherry nose gives way to more full flavors of cocoa, black berry and currant.

2005 Mendocino Farms Redvine Series, Heart Arrow and fairbairn Ranches, $25 - 75% Cab, 13% Petite Syrah, and 12 % Syrah. Cab fruit is obvious. Blackberry rich. lush, juicy, soft, and delicious.

2005 Mendocino Farms Syrah, Fairbairn Ranch, $32 – Delicious burst of fruit, black berry and raspberry mix. Berry fruit medley. Lush, more than the typical Syrah.

2008 Mendocino Farms Zinfandel (Barrel Sample), Dark Horse Vineyard. – Really nice round fruit, accessible dark berry fruit. Incredible potential.

I toured the gardens with Ken Boek, and if you visit Campvida and Magnanimus you need to set at least an hour aside to walk with Ken. Part gardener, part historian, Ken is an invaluable asset. Hearing Ken tell about he and Julia Child traveling into Ukiah to buy comfortable shoes (they both wore 10 1/2 Men’s size sneakers) brings the food center back to life.

The gardens at Campovida

Ken’s brother played at the outdoor covered patio as part of a three piece acoustic group.

This seemed, to me at least, to be a very successful “soft” opening for Magnanimus and Campovida, and another grand opening celebration is being planned for June.

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Weibel Family Winery and Vineyards is out Hwy 175, past Campovida, past Hopland’s Indian casino, halfway to nowhere. Rural, centered in a valley, the winery’s tasting room is on the upper level of a two story building, and has a deck overlooking half of creation. An absolutely inspiring view.

Weibel Family and Winery

Road I Red - 75% Merlot, 25% Syrah. Easily drinkable red, soft tannins, cherry, oak, round, light. $10

Road I White – 50% Chardonnay, 50% Sauvignon Blanc. An interesting blend with apple, hay, grass, citrus, pear, floral honeysuckle. $10

2008 Weibel Estate Sauvignon Blanc $14.95 – Mown hay, melon, citrus, pear nose. Drinkable lemony apple pear fruit mouth. easy.

2006 Weibel Estate Zinfandel $16.95 – Zin nose of dark wild raspberry. Drinkable. Acid, balanced by tannin. Raspberry rut. Not overly peppery or spicy.

Looking at the view from the deck is your payment for the drive out to Weibel, finding enjoyable wines puts you squarely in the plus column for the trip.

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Milano Family Winery is located in an old Hop Kiln just south of Hopland on Hwy 101.

The historic Hop Kiln location of Milano Family Winery

Rewarding visitors, Milano played host to several local artists including Tres Classique, Ukiah’s specialty flavored oil and vinegar producer.

Milano Family Winery Big Ass Red is a Cabernet based blend of 12 varietals. Owner and winemaker Deanna Starr’s intent was to create a wine that can be brought to any dinner, that can pair with as many dishes possible, that would please the broadest range of palates. Light, lush, not tannic, very accessible, mixed fruit basket. $16

Milano Family Winery Big Ass Blond, a Chardonnay and Viognier blend, is made with the same intent, broad appeal. Lush fruit, apple pie and fig. $16.

2006 Milano Family Winery Malbec $29 - Nice nose of blackberry. Dark of color. Lush, fruit forward. Plum, blackberry and cassis. Really nice wine.

A potato bar, baked potatoes and a variety of possible toppings, made for a fun interactive food pairing option.

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Just southwest of town, Terra Sávia (Wise Earth) is home to Olivino, a state of the art, organic certified, custom press to make olives into olive oil.

The Terra Sávia Olive Oil facility and winery

Earlier, I wrote that I was wowed by the olive oil made from the olives of Saracina. This is where the olives were transformed into olive oil.

Ordinarily, a sizable number of wineries make olive oil because the seasons for grapes and olives are complimentary and allow year round activity.

In Terra Sávia, when olive season is finished, grapes grown around the property are made into wine by Jim Milone, longtime Hopland grapegrower and winemaker.

2006 Terra Sávia Blanc de Blancs $25 – Bright and yeasty granny smith apple flavors with bubbles.

2008 Terra Sávia Chardonnay $15 – Stainless steel held. Bright, crisp, but not tart, expressive apple.

NV Terra Sávia Pinot Noir $18 – Delicious warm cherry notes. Balanced, smooth. Paired with sauteed mushrooms valuable to taste: *shudders* “oh, that is it!”

Both the 2006 Terra Sávia Meritage $20 (very nice) and 2007 Terra Sávia Cabernet Sauvignon $18 (umm, yummy) paired well with some delicious meat available for pairing. My notes are sparse; these were wines number 58 and 59 of the day, and I was getting treated to a tour of the facility and explanation of the olive oil making process.

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General observations from day 1: It didn’t matter whether it was the second or last winery I visited, I always grabbed my notebook and camera and invariable had to return to my car for my tasting glass; I was so intent on notes and pictures that the glass was always an afterthought.

The Zinfandels I tasted were not the high alcohol fruit bombs, buried in pepper, that I have become used to. The Zinfandels of Mendocino County, or the Hopland portion of the county anyway, are more accessible, lighter, wines of a little more restraint.

The move in Chardonnay away from oak and toward stainless steel, and away from malolactic fermentation, has led me to taste some unpleasantly stridently tart apple Chardonnays lately, but the Chardonnays I tasted from Hopland, while crisp, were not overly tart.

Very drinkable wines from really nice fruit.

Another unmistakable mark of Hopland wines is the commitment to green practices, sustainable farming, organic grapes, biodynamic farms, and eco ethic that paints the wine industry locally as “Red, White, and Green.”

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Day 2, Sunday, of Hopland Passport weekend found me sitting outside Rack & Riddle custom wine services, waiting for 11:00 am and the beginning of my tasting day.

Rack & Riddle custom wine services

Rack & Riddle is a custom crush facility with a special emphasis and ability to create sparking wines in the Champagne Method, and is located near Terra Sávia, to the southwest of Hopland.

Bruce Lundquist, formerly of J Champagne, and Rebecca Faust, formerly of Piper Sonoma Champagne, are the co-founders of Rack & Riddle.

Last year, Rack & Riddle crushed 6,000 tons for 4-5 dozen clients, producing 225,000 cases of sparkling and 175,000 cases of still wines.

There is a great view from the bar at Rack & Riddle

With VP of Business Development Mark Garaventa pouring, I tasted some bubblies for breakfast.

2009 Nuestro Vino Sauvignon Blanc $7.99 – Citrus fruit. Bright lemon. Crisp. Clean. Delicious.

NV Rack & Riddle Blanc de Blanc $18 – 100% Chardonnay. Crisp, clean, light zing, lemon, apple – not tart, but crisp. Pale, nice small bubble. Great fruit. Great mousse. Light yeasty yum.

NV Nuestro Vino Brut $10.99 – 60% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir. yeasty. Pretty apple. Rounder. Floral and pear. Nice mousse.

NV Rack & Riddle Rosé $24.00 – Light berry, cherry, strawberry mix and apple. Light creamy yeast.

2008 Nuestro Vino Meritage $9.99 – 55ish% Cabernet Franc, 22.5ish% each Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Really? $10 Meritage? And it tastes good? Yes it does.

In addition to the Rack & Riddle label, the Nuestro Vino (our wine) label is a unique effort dedicated to make affordable wines, with Spanish language labels, aimed at the hispanic community, a niche currently underserved.

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I parked my car, grabbed my notebook, camera AND my glass. All the rest of the winery tasting rooms were within walking distance in downtown Hopland (only a few blocks long).

McNab Ridge Winery was pouring roughly 18,000 wines, clearly with the intent that tasters never leave the downtown Hopland tasting room location. I might be exaggerating, McNab only poured seventeen wines.

McNab Ridge Winery

The Parducci family is a famous winemaking family in the area, and McNab represents the family’s continuing winemaking presence. McNab Ridge Winery boasts the “Parducci Family’s 4-generation commitment to excellence in Mendocino County Winemaking.”

The first wine poured, a 2009 McNab Ridge Winery Sauvignon Blanc, $12, while clear in the bottle, appeared slightly blush in my glass, but that is only because I am a dumb ass and forgot to rinse my glass after my last wine at Rack & Riddle, a red wine. Glass rinsed, the Sauvignon Blanc was the same color in my glass as the bottle, and was nicely crisply citrusy, with a grassy note, and melon-y pear fruit in the mouth.

Seeing a long list of wines to taste shortened my notetaking, but here’s some more:

2008 McNab Ridge Winery Chardonnay $15 – Light gold. Oak, butter, vanilla and toast. OMG, my first noticeably oak barrel Chardonnay of the weekend. Tropical fruit and apple.

2008 McNab Ridge Winery Rousanne $15 - Pear and apricot, honey, round.

2007 McNab Ridge Winery Carignane $18 – Nice deep unclouded red color. Cherry, tannin. soft, round, and nice all by itself (or with only 3% Zin blended).

McNab Ridge Winery Fred’s Red $10 - Purple color. lighter. Cherry berry juiciness.

2007 McNab Ridge Winery Grenache $20 – Nice light round rhone blender, Smooth, soft, easy cherry fruit burst.

2007 McNab Ridge Winery Zinister $20 – Dark brambly raspberry fruit and deep color.

2006 McNab Ridge Winery Zinfandel $18 - Zin aroma of fruit, oak, spice and pepper. Softer and rounder in mouth than expected. Good fruit, nice aroma, little apiece pepper barrier to enjoyment.

2005 McNab Ridge Winery Coro $37 – I was told this pairs well with the meatballs being served. No, the meatballs overpower the Coro, and it remains untasted for me.

2007 McNab Ridge Winery Cabernet Sauvignon $18 – A really nice Cabernet. Varietally correct and easily drinkable. Blackberry, cassis, cherry, oak, vanilla, tannin.

2006 McNab Ridge Winery Petite Sirah $18 – Black and blue berry fruit bomb. Dense and concentrated.

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It is often said that great wine starts in the vineyard. As much as it is the case with many of the Hopland area wineries, it is safe to say that the grapes of Guinness McFadden, grown organically for 40 years, are the wines being poured – the vineyard is the wine.

It was a treat to see Guinness himself at his McFadden Vineyards tasting room.

Guinness McFadden at his winery’s tasting room

2006 McFadden Vineyard Chardonnay $13.25 - Round, not tart, apple fruit. Pear.

2006 McFadden Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc $13.25 – Wow. Forward nose. Mown hay, muted catp, citrus, lemon, pear, apple, tart, crisp, but not too much so.

2008 McFadden Vineyard Sparkling $25 – 60% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir. Brut. Crisp apple. deliciously spritely.

2008 McFadden Vineyard Pinot Gris $16 – Soft accessible. Nice hit of sweet honey. Clean. Pear and floral.

2006 McFadden Vineyard Riesling $18 - Interesting hay (S.B. like) note. Light sweetness, honey, pear, orange blossom.

2006 McFadden Vineyard Pinot Noir $10 (blowing out the last 100 cases, and it is great!) – “ooh!” Makes me yearn for mushroom to pair it with. Cherry, oak, earth, herb, round.

2007 McFadden Vineyard Zinfandel $19 – Dusty raspberry fruit. Incredibly approachable.

Out behind McFadden, I enjoyed a little BBQ tri tip; a wild rice, pea, artichoke, tomato and feta salad; and a raspberry vinaigrette feta spring leaf lettuce mix salad.

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Grazinno Family of Wines is right next door to McFadden in downtown Hopland. The family of wineries include Graziano, St Gregory, Enotria, and Monte Volpe.

Whites were being poured at a table in the rear of the tasting room, and reds at the bar.

I’m still waiting to hear that my card was pulled for the mixed case of Graziano wine.

The whites were all on ice, and although I tried, it just isn’t worth the effort to try to taste frozen wines for notes. Chardonnay and Riesling, near freezing, differ little; but bring up in temperature and differences abound. I will come back, taste the whites, and get nose and flavor notes on the wines poured on a future visit.

2006 St Gregory Pinot Noir Reserve $25 - Soft, muted fruit of cherry, and oak.

2007 St Gregory Pinotage $17 – Smoky, brambly fruit. smooth.

2006 Monte Volpe Sangiovese $17 – Nice dark color. Accessible fruit and dusty herb spice.

2006 Graziano Zinfandel $17 – Perfumed cherry(?!) note. Round. Soft.

2007 Enotria Dolcetta $17 – Mice dark purple fruit. Blackberry, boysenberry. Easy to drink.

2006 Enotria Barbera $17 – Raspberry herb. Soft, round, and jammy.

Paired with a Brie Blue blend cheese, similar to a Cambozola, the 2005 Graziano Petite Sirah $17 was positively sublime. I’ll be honest, I thought the Petite Sirah was shy (?!), until paired with the cheese, and then it exploded. Rich, dark, plummy fruit on nose; raison notes on berry explosion.

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McDowell Valley Vineyards

McDowell Valley Vineyards had some incredible sales, but as the wines would be sold out soon, I didn’t taste them. These are the wines I did taste:

2008 McDowell Valley Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc $15 – Baked pear and apple fruit pie.

2008 McDowell Valley Vineyards Grenache Rose $15 -  Dry, crisp, cranberry, raspberry, strawberry over ice.

2008 McDowell Valley Vineyards Viognier/Rousanne $22 – 64% Viognier, 36% Rousanne. A real treat. Light cream and fruit, like a handmade ice crierm. Vanilla, floral, citrus, orange; round pear, apple. Herb. Complex. Layered.

2005 McDowell Valley Vineyards Coro $37 – 52% Zin, 48% Old Vine Syrah. Cocoa chocolate dust. oak. Round. Accessible. Full flavored, but all the sharp edges smoothed. Wild black raspberry, cherry.

2006 McDowell Valley Vineyards Coro $37 – 55% Zin, 35% Syrah, 8% Petite Sirah, 2 Grenache Noir. Blackberry, strawberry, cherry, blueberry. Fruit basket.

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The last Hopland winery left on my passport for me to visit was Brutocao Cellars. Most of the wines I would taste were made by Fred Nickels (now with Jaxon Keys), but Brutocao is in good hands with David Brutocao taking over as winemaker, assisted by Paul Zellman and Hoss Milone.

Paul did the pouring of the wines and it was a treat to benefit from his experience.

Bocce courts at Brutocao Cellars

Brutocao has bocce courts, where the Italian bowling game bocce can be played while sipping wines and enjoying food.

2009 Brutocao Cellars Rosé Estate Bottled Hopland Ranches $14 – Strawberry over ice.

2008 Brutocao Cellars Sauvignon Blanc Estate Bottled Feliz Vineyard $14 - Crisp lemony citrus. Pear and melon.

2007 Brutocao Cellars Reserve Chardonnay Estate Bottled $25 – Great fruit, nice balance  of oak. Not too manipulated. Nice and drinkable.

2009 Brutocao Cellars Gewurtztraminer Alexander Valley $15 - Sweet light honey. Apricot nectar, spice, pie notes.

2007 Brutocao Cellars Pinot Noir Estate Bottled Anderson Valley $28 – Dried cherry, earth, mushroom. Beautiful burgundy. Lush, drinkable, nice buy itself, but what a food wine!

2007 Brutocao Cellars Zinfandel Estate Bottled Hopland Ranches $22 - Rich raspberry, blackberry earthy spice. Chocolate leather.

2007 Brutocao Cellars Primitivo $22 – Really lush, dense, and delicious.

2005 Brutocao Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Bottled Contento Vineyard $25 – Dark dark purple. Dusty cocoa, blackberry. Lush, supple, slightly vinous, cassis.

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Well, that’s it. I had a great time, tasted a lot of great wines, came to understand better the flavor profiles of the varietals planted around my new home. A terroir that lends to more accessible wines, fewer monster fruit bombs, a lot more subtlety and varietally correct flavors coming through from vineyard to glass.

I plan to stop in to “Sip! Mendocino” in downtown Hopland, a one stop tasting room for numerous wineries who don’t have their own tasting room in the are.

Sip! Mendocino in downtown Hopland

DISCLOSURE: I was the guest of the Hopland Passport Association. Thank you for your hospitality.

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