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John On Wine ­ – Book Reports

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Passport to Dry Creek Valley

Passport to Dry Creek Valley


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

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

Seghesio Gamberi e Fregola

Seghesio Gamberi e Fregola


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

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

Amphora

Amphora

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

Collier Falls at Family Wineries

Collier Falls at Family Wineries


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

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

Me at Truett Hurst

Me at Truett Hurst


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

Herb gardens at Truett Hurst

Herb gardens at Truett Hurst

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

The River at Truett Hurst

The River at Truett Hurst


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

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

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

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

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

Malm Cellars

Malm Cellars


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Salmon at DaVero

Salmon at DaVero


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

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

Meyer Lemonade at DaVero

Meyer Lemonade at DaVero


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

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

Serena Alexi at Passport to Dry Creek Valley

Serena Alexi at Passport to Dry Creek Valley


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

Under the shade at Ridge

Under the shade at Ridge


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

A paper bowl of yum at Kachina

A paper bowl of yum at Kachina


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

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

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

Oysters at Unti, fresh from Tomales Bay

Oysters at Unti, fresh from Tomales Bay


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

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

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

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

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

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

The courtyard at Michel-Schlumberger

The courtyard at Michel-Schlumberger

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

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

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

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

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

Last year, when I was going through all of my tasting notes to compile a best of varietal year end tasting list, I was shocked to see how many times I loved the Syrah wines I was poured. Far and away my favorite varietal per wine tasted last year, I have always thought of myself as a Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon guy, more than willing to spend a day, or night, with a supple Pinot Noir, but my Syrah notes from last year included more than a few “LOVE,” “OMG!,” and “F*** Me, that’s good!” declarations before settling into more refined descriptors.

Tasting Saracina Vineyard’s 2005 Mendocino County Syrah last year, I was stunned at how great a wine can be. I love a host of Rhone varietals, not just Syrah, but last year was a lightbulb year for me, as I came to realize how much I truly enjoy these harder to market, extraordinary wines that fall far outside what most consumers usually reach for: the typical Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonney, Merlot, or White Zin.

My secret, now not so secret, life dream is to work for a winery, helping them connect with their customers through traditional old school and new web 2.0 social media marketing initiatives, selling more wine faster, and then off duty, with the winemaker’s help, make a barrel of wine.

The wine I would want to make is a GSM, a blend of three Rhone varietals: Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre; using Châteauneuf-du-Pape as the model, and sourcing all the grapes from Mendocino County vineyards.

The only two problems with my now not so secret dream are that there don’t seem to be Marketing jobs in abundance available at the wineries near where I live, and Mourvedre doesn’t seem to be grown in Mendocino County anymore.

There is an organization dedicated to advancing the knowledge, and enjoyment, of wines made from Rhone varietal grapes, called the Rhone Rangers. The Rhone Rangers is the largest non-profit organization in the U.S. focused on Domestic Rhone producers.

Each wine, or wine type has a fan base, champions, and tastings.

I have written about the Zinfandel Festival with the events, each individually amazingly worthwhile, leading up to the Grand Zinfandel Tasting, put on by ZAP, the Zinfandel Advocates and Producers, and championed by Joel Peterson of Ravenswood.

The Rhone Varietals have their own events, a series of awesome seminars, and a Grand Tasting. The Rhone Rangers have a champion as well, Randall Grahm, bigger than life owner of Bonny Doon.

From the Rhone Ranger’s website:

In France’s Rhone Valley, twenty-two traditional grape varieties may be grown.  Twelve of these grapes are planted in the United States, including the best-known Syrah and Viognier, the up and coming Mourvèdre, Grenache, Roussanne and Marsanne, and the truly obscure (but delicious) Counoise, Cinsaut, Grenache Blanc and Picpoul. Plus Petite Sirah, whose parentage places it clearly in the Rhone.  Perhaps most exciting, most of these grapes play well with others, and most Rhone Rangers wineries produce blends as well as single-varietal wines.

On Saturday March 26, 2011 and Sunday, March 27, 2011, the Rhone Rangers are having a two day series of events in San Francisco, culminating in their 14th annual Grand Tasting at Ft. Mason.

I love events like these. I write about wines I enjoy, and try to taste as many wines as I can to broaden my experiences and be better able to establish context for new wine experiences. These tastings allow for many experiences in a short time frame.

I also try to write about Mendocino County wines. By no means a complete list, here is a list built using the Rhone Rangers’ list of groovy grapes cross referenced against the Mendocino Winegrape and Wine Commission’s website of the wineries and vineyards involved with Rhone varietal wines and grapes:

Wineries

Vineyards:

Marketing guru, “Sonoma” William Allen of Simple Hedonisms, a solid wine blog, is newly working with the Rhone Rangers and reached out to some of his fellow bay area wine bloggers to spread the word about the upcoming events, and has made a pair of tickets available to my readers but we’ll get to that in a little bit.

From the Rhone Rangers’ website, here’s info on the events, with links to buy tickets:

NEW: RHONE RANGERS WEEKEND PASS Spend a weekend with the Rhone Rangers!  Our weekend pass ticket, new for 2011, includes tickets to all three educational seminars with early VIP admission (with the trade) to the Grand Tasting on Sunday. And the $150 price is a $40 savings over the price of the individual tickets.  Winemaker dinner not included.  Limited availability. BUY TICKETS: $150/each.

March 26, 2011, 1:00 – 2:15 PM. Seminar #1 – GREEN RANGERS: SUSTAINABLE, ORGANIC AND BIODYNAMIC AMERICAN RHONES. Sustainability has recently become a buzzword in the world of wine, but it has been an essential part of the practices of many Rhone Rangers wineries for decades. Join us for a discussion among sustainable, organic and biodynamic producers, and taste wines from each as we explore how and why Rhone producers sit at the forefront of sustainability in American wine. Participating wineries include: AmByth Estate, Bonny Doon Vineyard, J. Lohr, Landmark, Montemaggiore, Qupe and Terre Rouge. BUY TICKETS: $45/each.

Saturday, March 26, 2011, 2:45 PM – 4:00 PM. Seminar #2 – MOURVEDRE ON THE MOVE. Dark, brooding, meaty, loamy, and agreeable, Mourvedre is a grape for Rhone fanatics. Long known for its ability to add structure and age-worthiness to blends, American Rhone producers are pushing Mourvedre to new heights both on its own and in its traditional blending role. Taste six different Mourvedre-based wines from up and down the west coast — both varietals and as leading roles in blends — and learn why Mourvedre is on the move! Participating wineries incllude: CORE, David Girard, Folin Cellars, Kenneth Volk, Quivira, Tablas Creek and Tercero.BUY TICKETS: $45/each.

Saturday, March 26, 2011. 6:00 – 9:30 PM. RECEPTION, WALK-AROUND TASTING, DINNER WITH THE WINEMAKERS AND LIVE AUCTION. Our Saturday events conclude with more than 15 top Rhone Ranger wineries participating in a tasting of current and library releases, dinner with the winemakers and live auction at Dogpatch Studios, 991 Tennessee St in San Francisco. Catering will be provided by Girl & the Fig (the well-loved Sonoma food purveyor and restaurant, famous for its Rhone-Alone wine list). Two menu options: Crispy Duck Confit or for Vegetarians: Spring Pea Ravioli with Asparagus and Wild Mushrooms (choose your option when you purchase your ticket). Participating wineries include: Bonny Doon, Caliza, Clos Saron, Folin Cellars, J. Lohr, Kukkula, Landmark, Quady North, Quivira, Qupe, Ridge, Rock Wren Wines, Stolpman,Tablas Creek, Tarara, Terre Rouge, Terry Hoage, Thacher and Waterbrook. Proceeds benefit the Rhone Rangers Scholarship Fund. Attendance limited to 200. Seating with any particular winemaker is not guaranteed; winemakers will offer their wines to each table, giving everyone a chance to taste any wine offered that evening. Advance tickets only; no tickets available at the door. BUY TICKETS: $125/each.

Sunday, March 27, 2011, 11 AM – 12:30 PM. Seminar #3 – WILD WINES AND THE STORIES OF HOW THEY CAME TO BE. Whether it’s a 12% alcohol Syrah, a Viognier made with a month of skin contact, a Rhone blend made from grapes that European winemakers consider suitable only for blending, or a dessert wine made from air-dried Mourvedre, Rhone Rangers producers are pushing the envelope in a myriad of ways. Come taste these unusual wines from eight winemaking pioneers, as they share with you the inside stories on their wildest wines and how and why they headed off into uncharted territory.  Participating wineries include: Big Basin Vineyards, Caliza, Clos Saron, Katin, Pax Mahle Wines, Stolpman, Tarara and Terry Hoage. Ticket includes VIP early admission (at 12 noon) to the Grand Tasting (along with invited members of the trade & media).  BUY TICKETS: $100/EACH.


Sunday, March 27, 2011 2:00 – 5:00 PM. 14th ANNUAL RHONE RANGERS GRAND TASTING. The weekend culminates with the Grand Tasting, where over 2,000 people are expected to come taste over 500 wines from more than 100 Rhone Rangers wineries. For a list of participating wineries, click here. Sample gourmet foods from 25 or more specialty food purveyors, including cheese, bread, olive oil, charcuterie, fruits and other sweets and chocolates. A silent auction will feature Rhone Rangers wines and wine-related items; proceeds from the auction will benefit the Rhone Rangers Scholarship Fund. This event takes place at the Fort Mason Festival Pavilion.  Come out for a great afternoon of wine, food and fun. BUY TICKETS: $45/EACH ($40 if purchased by 2/25/2011).

When attending wine tasting events, much of the buzz, the hot wine, the tastiest pairing morsel, gets spread by Twitter tweets. When tweeting you can use the Rhone Rangers Twitter handle @RhoneRangers and the hashtag #RRSF.

Okay, to have a chance to win a FREE pair of tickets ($90 value) to the Rhone Rangers Grand Tasting in San Francisco on March 27, 2011 from 2:00-5:00pm, just leave a comment naming one Mendocino County winery that you would like to see make and pour a Rhone styled wine at the event, now or in the future. Let me make this simple, name a Mendocino County winery and you will have a valid entry – and I named about 20 in this post – be sure to include your name and a valid email address so I can contact you if you win. I will randomly choose one winner Thursday, March 10, 2011 at 5:00pm. One entry per person, prize is admission to the event for two, you are on your own getting to the event. Good luck to the entrants and thanks to William and the Rhone Rangers.

Here are a dozen possible wine gifts for the holidays; call ‘em John’s dirty dozen, or John’s twelve gifts for the twelve days of Christmas, or whatever you want. They are presented in no particular order. If you click on the name, you will be taken to a webpage where you can find out more about the product, or order the item. Cheers!

Vindel X Glass

21 oz., Set of 4,

Sale Price $10.72

Available from the Wine Hardware Stores, Napa, Sonoma, Walnut Creeek, South San Francisco and online. Wine glasses without the stem means no broken glass stems and fewer accidents as sweeping hands (I’m Italian and there are lots of sweeping hands in a family conversation) move above these stem free wine bowls. Nice shape, nice size, nice weight, nice glasses. GREAT price, buy 8 or 12 at this price.

Vinturi

Wine Aerator

1 at $39.95, 2 or more at $29.95 each

Available at the Wine Hardware Stores and online. I have written in wonder as just opened, closed nose, not ready to drink bottles are transformed by this amazing little device. Just hold it over your glass, pour your wine from the bottle through this aerator, the wine bubbles, burbles, breathes, and in just seconds the wine in your glass is drinkable, open, enjoyable. I am skeptical of gizmos and gadgets, but this is an amazing wine tool for the impatient.

Forge de Laguiole Rosewood Handle Corkscrew

$160

Available at the Wine Hardware Stores and online. In Laguiole France there is a Forge, the Forge de Laguiole, and artisans produce the most amazing cutlery and corkscrews in the world. There are a number of folks who sell knock off junk from Thiers France or Asia with a Laguiole name. IWA (International Wine Accessories) tried to pass off just such a mass produced cheap knock off using video of hand crafting from the Forge to sell their inferior items – some people believe lies and deception are just marketing tools in service of sales. Not inexpensive, but heirloom quality, hand crafted corkscrews from the Forge de Laguiole run from $160 to over $200, and are the ultimate gift for the wine connoisseur in your life.

Private Preserve

$9.59

Available online and in better wine shops. This magical gas in a can is heavier than oxygen and doesn’t so much displace all of the oxygen laden air in an opened bottle of wine as it sinks below the oxygen laden air and blankets the wine from oxygen, protecting and preserving wine (and oils and vinegars) between glasses. Keeps wines yummy, keeps oils from going rancid and vinegars from going musty.

Sideways

$11.99

Available online, and possibly the sale table at Blockbuster. A lot of wine folks mock this movie, and it interesting to note (if you are a wine geek) that the featured character Miles’ treasured Cheval Blanc often possesses a considerable percentage of Merlot, a varietal which Miles detests. That said, I love this movie. There is one passage that brings tears to my eyes, for what I think is a beautiful expression of the wonder of wine. Walk in the Clouds and Bottle Shock together don’t reach the greatness of this best wine movie ever.

The Corker

$10-$17.95

Available online (sort of) and at art and craft shows. This is the best bottle stopper ever. One size fits all. No flavor transfer bottle to bottle. Easy to Use. Wines don’t leak on their side in the fridge. Champagnes (and two liter sodas) stay bubbly upright in the fridge. Oils and vinegars stay yummy longer. Break it by accident, or through clumsy mishap, and they fix it for free. I often pair this with Private Preserve (above) for long term storage of liquids with great effect. Online is difficult because these guys are on the road all the time, and because their website sucks. Best thing to do is find the Corkers you want online, over 100 decorative images can be seen online, and send an email directly to Fred, the cork boss. Let him know the corks you want, he’ll send you a quote, you send him credit card info, he sends you cork; weird, but it works, as they don’t really have operators standing by, bins of separated corks, item numbers, or a shipping department. They are old school crafters and artists in a studio. Corkerguy@aol.com is Fred’s email to get the ball rolling.

Been Doon So Long

$29.35

Available directly from the author through the book’s website. You can even get signed, first edition, copies of the book. I was lucky enough to get a review copy of this book just before I was going to buy it, unexpected, unsought, but incredibly welcome. This was, far and away, my favorite book of the year, and I read a ton. I reviewed this book earlier this year, and simply gushed with praise. The author, Randall Grahm, is a winemaker I revere, and a brilliant writer who used his prodigious writing skills in marketing service of his wines. This book is a collection of those writings, a greatest hits if you will. Parody, satire, wit and a reinvention of literature’s most famous works. This book brought me great joy. I imagine anyone who loves wine, literature, or ideally both will cherish this book.

Wine Shield

$5.95/6 pack

$29.95/50 pack

Available from the Wine Hardware Stores and online. This is one of the quirkiest, oddest, yet brilliant and effective wine preservation concepts ever. Each individual package contains one flexible plastic floating disc, self adjusting for interior bottle width, that can be inserted into a bottle and floats on the surface of the wine protecting the wine from oxidation. Great for a stocking stuffer, I reviewed these positively this year in an earlier article and think they are great for packing away in a suitcase for traveling wine lovers – perfect for wines in the hotel room.

Wine country flavored Oils and Vinegars

$10-$125

Available from Tres Classique and online. Wineries typically have olive trees and make and sell olive oil, because the harvest, press, and bottling schedule is complementary for wine making operations. Many wineries produce and sell their own oils and vinegars. Terra Savia and Saracina are two of my favorite local wineries producing olive oils. There is a company in wine country that doesn’t make wine, but concentrates strictly on the most delicious gourmet flavored oils and vinegars. I have purchased cases and cases and given away dozens of bottles over the years, often paired with a Corker above, and everyone has loved them. From individual bottles of Lemon Splash, aged Balsamic and Truffle infused oil to gift boxes containing an assortment of delicious treats, Tres Classique is a wine country favorite of mine.

Vivid Wine Decanter

47 oz

$39.95

Available from Wine Enthusiast online. Face it, most people don’t have a decanter, and although largely unnecessary, they are cool. This one is a great size, shape and price. Winner, winner, duck with cherry reduction dinner.

Modularack

$15.97-$300

Available from Wine Hardware Stores and online. These are a cool, at home, solution for wine bottle storage. These precut wood pieces can be fit together to make a freestanding wine rack, and as your wine collection grows you can just add more levels. The Wine Steward, a great wine shop in Pleasanton California, uses double deep Modularack with optional display topper wine storage and display in their store in a richly handsome manner.

Tickets to 2011 ZAP Zinfandel Tasting

Jan 29, 2011 Grand Zinfandel Tasting $70

Jan 27, 2011 Good Eats & Zinfandel Pairing, Jan 28, 2011 Flights, Jan 28, 2011 Evening With The Winemakers Dinner, and the Jan 29, 2011 Grand Zinfandel Tasting $500

Available online. Almost a year ago, back in January, I wrote some pretty good pieces (modesty and humility are overrated – no one wrote a better recap) about attending three of the four tasting events. Each event was incredible. I grew up with Zinfandel, it is one of my favorite wine varietals, and the ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates and Producers) Zinfandel Festival is one of my favorite events each year. Tickets to the Grand Zinfandel Tasting is a must, but if you are fortunate enough to be well off, go for full immersion and buy tickets for all four events.

Thanks for perusing my 2010 list of 12 favorite wine related gifts for this holiday season. Any, or all, would make great gifts for a wine lover. I hope you have a wonderful holiday season, and feel the touch of Christmas spirit and cheer.

Disclosure: I worked for Wine Appreciation Guild (Wine Hardware Stores are WAG’s retail outlets), sold The Wine Steward their floor racks, sold Corkers for Fred, and applied to market ethically for VWE (parent company of IWA).

I hope some of you took the chance to attend the Sonoma County Harvest Fair and taste some of the over 1,000 wines available to taste. I would love to sit down with a judge and find out how back to back days of tastings of around 100 wines can be accomplished while giving a fair taste to all of the wines submitted.

There is a phenomenal wine writer who doesn’t have much use for wine bloggers beyond the fodder they make for some of his best writing. Ron Washam, Hosemaster of Wine, is also a Sonoma County Harvest Fair judge.

There are more mockably horrible wine blogs than useful wine blogs offering value. Washam, in his Hosemaster role, points out the absurdity of many, perhaps most famously the blog that pairs wine and kaftans. No, Kaftan is not a food that pairs nicely with wine, but a piece of women’s clothing. I believe that Washam spearheaded a movement to see Wines and Kaftans awarded a Wine Blogger Award this year.

I empathize with Washam’s pain in dipping into the pool of mediocrity that is most wine blogging. The only good is that, by contrast, my writing is tolerable. My personal moment of horror came when I was but one of only two wine writers attending a press event hosted by a winery that wanted coverage of an announcement. Over lunch, the other writer was asked by a winemaker about his writing, and I died inside when he said he pairs wine and 50’s television shows. Trapped by rules of etiquette, I couldn’t leave in disgust, or ask aloud, “are you kidding me?” Put on the spot, asked for an example, he paired the Chardonnay we were tasting with Dragnet, explaining that you would have to drag a very wide net to find a Chardonnay so memorable. I was nearly ill on the spot. I wanted to ask my hosts if they considered us equals, if his worthlessness was what they saw when they looked at me.

When I got home and looked up his website, I found that he had used the Dragnet pairing only days before and for a completely different wine. He was not only a jack ass, but his little parlor trick uniqueness was purely shamtastic.

I recognize that everyone who opens himself up by writing, also opens himself up for judgment and ridicule. I am okay with that, I don’t put on airs, or take myself too seriously. I know what I know, and I try to share it. I write about what interests me, what grabs my attention. But I know my words will never elevate me into the ranks of the world’s most read and respected wine writers and reviewers. I write because I enjoy it, and I am gratefully amazed that people find their way to my site to read my meandering prose.

Back to Ron Washam, in his role as a wine judge; I would love to ask Washam if, when tasting 100 Sonoma County Chardonnays, a number in the California over sweet, barrel fermented, malolactic style, a more subtle French styled Chardonnay, like those submitted by Sonoma-Cutrer just get overlooked, either through palate fatigue or because they are different. Is a wine of French styling punished for not being typically Sonoma County?

Seriously, I am entertained with his writing so much that I would just like to meet him for a beer and let him hold forth on just about any topic.

Besides the head scratchingly poor performance of Sonoma-Cutrer’s Chardonnays (which I love) with the judges at the Sonoma County Harvest Fair, another disappointment was the absence of some of my other favorite winery’s wines. I would love to taste the Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays of Keller Estates against those of Sonoma-Cutrer, and against the wines of each varietal awarded Best of Class honors.

Often as I tasted the wines that won Double Gold Medals or Best of Varietal honors, I was reminded of other wines I have tasted, and I wished I could taste wines from outside the county side by side with the best of Sonoma County. Roederer Estate from the Anderson Valley against Gloria Ferrer for sparkling, Handley from the Anderson Valley against Eric K James for Pinot Noir, Swanson from Rutherford against Mazzocco for Merlot, and Parducci from Ukiah against Simi for Petite Sirah as examples.

I love tasting wine. I love pairing wine and food and friends, not with kaftans or television shows or movies.

Recently, I wrote about tasting wines from Virginia with a group of fellow wine bloggers (not one of whom compared the wines to an article of clothing or media art). The best part of the tasting was learning that Virginia wineries are capable of producing palatable wines. There was a concern that the wines would be judges good, for a Virginia wine. Which is a dismissive way of saying it doesn’t stand up to a California wine. I have to say that I would love to have tasted the Virginia Viogniers I tasted against the Sweepstakes White winner from the Sonoma County Harvesty Fair from Alexander Valley Vineyard.

It is only by stretching, tasting every chance you can, that you find yourself pleased and surprised on occasion. Just as the quality of the Virginia Viogniers was a welcome treat, earlier this year I blind tasted a Sierra Foothills Pinot Noir from Deaver that was delicious, yet if I could have seen the label first, I probably would have passed.

I don’t mention it in my reviews because I don’t think it matters, but I have noticed that many more wineries than in the past feel comfortable abandoning the natural porous cork as a closure for their wines, and I am seeing more synthetic corks, and screwcap Stelvin closures. Screwcaps are big, and getting bigger. Boxes are also being tried with greater acceptance. Sebastiani is moving from glass bottles to three liter boxes for their Pepperwood Grove wines, following on the heels of the market success of Bandit and other tastier than customary box wines.

I am going to be taking part in a tweet-up, tasting the Sebastiani made Pepperwood Grove box wines, and tweeting my tasting notes at the same time that tasters at a Sonoma live tasting are tweeting their notes.

I hope that I will find deliciously drinkable, affordable wines, in greener recyclable packaging that protects the wine inside from oxidation throughout. My goal in writing is to find solid food wines that I can recommend to my friends who aren’t big wine drinkers and are unlikely to pop for a $30+ wine on a regular basis. Living in Mendocino County, the greenest wine county in America, green practices are increasingly important to me. I would love to point at affordable wines that make meals taste better than any other beverage that might be paired at the table with family and friends.

It is ironic that I am going to be tasting box wines, in that I only just found that Ukiah, my hometown, is home to two manufacturers of capsules and foil for wine and sparkling wine bottles.

In defense of my Ukiah business neighbors, at least one features Made In America capsules, their products are recyclable, as is glass, and the tide isn’t turning so fast that either company is threatened in the near term.

In an increasingly competitive and green business environment, it will require the best people to sell natural cork, glass bottles, and capsules; there are likely to be fewer advocates for tradition like Joel Peterson of Ravenswood in a world moving in the direction of more democratic and common sense packaging led by Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon.

I have cooked chicken in a liquid of alfredo tomato sauce with roasted peppers, sautéed mushrooms, and carmelized onions. I’m going to grab a glass, fill it with wine, enjoy good food, and watch the Giants in game one of the playoffs with Atlanta.

Maybe next time we meet here, I’ll have something more focused to say.

In October 2006, I took my then nine year old son Charlie to the Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, CA to experience Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon performed by Roger Waters, principal lyricist, founding member, bass player and co-lead vocalist of Pink Floyd.

Roger Waters injected politics into his concert, performing Leaving Beirut, a musical retelling of being taken in by an Arab family in Lebanon when a younger, poorer, Waters was caught hitchhiking in a torrential downpour. The song included strong criticism of President George W. Bush and his choice to bring war to Iraq. Waters also wrote political messages on a lighter than air inflatable pig that was carried from the stage into the audience and (unlawfully) released. Messages on our pig included “Habeas Corpus Matters A Lot” “Impeach Bush Now” and “Vote Nov. 2nd””

Waters’ messages of peace over war, human rights over torture and illegal imprisonment, and disapproval of our involvement in the war in Iraq was met with general approval in Mountain View, although I did hear a few people complain about paying to be lectured to and not liking it. Several East cost performances of Leaving Beirut were met with even greater displeasure. In all cases, jeers were turned to cheers as Leaving Beirut was followed by Sheep from the Pink Floyd album Animals – the irony lost on most.

During the war in Vietnam, Rock music was a vehicle for political expression, and years later Waters again used it to marry the power of words, music, and crowd. Compared to the near endless supply of mindless pop acts dancing through lip synched performances featuring auto-tuned recordings, I was grateful for Waters’ artistry and ability to move and educate me.

I can almost hear you asking, “so, four paragraphs about music John, what does this have to do with wine?” Thanks for asking.

I received a copy of Been Doon So Long, a Randall Grahm Vinthology, by Randall Grahm.

A couple of quick notes; I revere Randall Grahm, I was three days away from buying this book when it was delivered to my door for me to read and review courtesy of Amy Cleary of UC Press. When I worked selling wine books and wine accessories for the Wine Appreciation Guild, I used to arrange my sales trips to allow me to wake up in Santa Cruz so I could enjoy Bonny Doon wines at their tasting room for breakfast.

Randall Grahm is the owner and Winemaker of Bonny Doon Vineyard. Randall Grahm and Bonny Doon are nearly synonymous, so inextricably are the two linked for wine lovers. Randall Grahm became well known as one of the pioneers of Rhone varietal wines in California (Cinsault, Grenache, Mouvedre, Marsanne, Roussane, Viognier), and was at least equally well known for his mold breakingly unique wine labels (Chuck House, Ralph Steadman). Grahm found additional substantial success with relatively obscure Italian varietals.

Fortunately for anyone who loves wine, literature, and wine literature, Randall Grahm is also famous for his marketing prowess, which included  his writings in a Bonny Doon Newsletter. While the Bonny Doon Newsletter was intended to aid the mercantile, to promote and sell the wine, the Newsletter became more ambitious, educating and sharing Grahm’s point of view.

Randall Grahm’s writings for the Newsletter were not limited to mere articles alone, or pre-blog blog entries in print medium; they included brilliantly executed parodies of notable literary works including Don Quixote, Catcher in the Rye, and A Clockwork Orange. Couched inside of each parody, Grahm commented on notions Doon-ian, and often poked fun and sometimes derision at a host of subjects enological or viticultural satirically. Grahm also parodied literary poets like Ginsberg in poesy, and popular song lyrics – including Have a Cigar from Roger Waters of Pink Floyd.

Been Doon So Long is a collection of these writings from the newsletter, as well as articles, speeches and essays. Sure to please his many fans, and educate a legion of new ones, Randall Grahm has also written a wonderful review on the history of his many wine labels.

The quality of literary playfulness, genius, makes this work of literary parody a great literary work in its own right.

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

As Grahm has grown older, he has grown wiser, and Grahm has reconsidered his priorities. A young daughter Amelie and a health scare have caused Grahm to focus his energy; his spiritual path has seen him divest himself of over 2/3rds of his labels and decrease his case production to less than 10% of Doon’s previous output. He writes with passion about wanting to make honest wines that represent the place they come from, that have Terroir.

In an effort to achieve his goal of producing wines with Terroir, Randall Grahm is moving his wine operations from Santa Cruz to San Juan Bautista to grow grapes in the limestone rich soil, perhaps from seed, without irrigation or trellising, dry farmed and head grown; he wants to make Rhone and Italian varietals , wild and profoundly original, complex and emotionally resonant of the land itself.

In addition to Randall Grahm’s passionate views on Terroir, Grahm opines on the superiority of a screw cap to a cork as a bottle closure, the general banality of California Chardonnay, the adult theme park that is the Napa Valley with its focus on lifestyle instead of life, and his abhorrence of point scores for wine (they are fixed, reductionist while wine is living, ever changing).

Randall Grahm’s incredible grasp of the esoteric, his depth of wine knowledge, his passion for grape growing, his literary bent, and sheer talent brought together in Been Doon So Long caused me to feel unadulterated awe as I read his words, to shake my head in admiration (and a touch of NV) at his writing skill. More than once, reading in a public place, as I came upon a particularly naughty passage, I burst out in laughter causing those around me to seek the cause.

Randall Grahm fights the fights, going against the grain, doing things the hard way, in an effort to make something special. I have always loved that he makes un-boring wines. Doing things Grahm’s way has meant having to write messages on an inflatable pig – or the Doonian equivalent. Newsletters, Radio, interviews, meet the winemaker dinners, anything and everything in service of educating a public unfamiliar with Bonny Doon’s unfamiliar wines. I like wine with a message. Grahm’s wines are message laden beverages – communicating unusual varietals, unique techniques used to produce them, visually artistic labels, and the wealth of information printed on them ; similarly his book is filled with messages, sometimes stuffed into satire, and further wrapped in the cloak of parody, or song, or poesy. Delectable, complex, textured, dense and filling.

Been Doon So Long, A Randall Grahm Vinthology is not Wine For Dummies; but if you have someone in your life who loves wine or literature, or in a perfect world loves both, this book would make an incredible gift that will be appreciated greatly.

I read over 100 wine books while working as a wine seller and marketer, while working for wine book publisher the Wine Appreciation Guild, and as a consumer and lover of wine. Simply put; I have never enjoyed a book on wine as much as I enjoyed Randall Grahm’s Been Doon So Long.

DISCLOSURE: I received Been Doon So Long, A Randall Grahm Vinthology as a sample from Amy Cleary at UC Press. My love of the book Been Doon So Long is in no way linked to how I came to receive the book.

In the past, stainless steel wine tanks for fermentation and storage of wines required Nitrogen gas be pumped into the headspace between the surface of the wine and the interior top of the tank to blanket the wine from oxygen, and special gas outflow venting.

David Coleman, eccentric genius winemaker and founder, with his wife Ayn, of Adler Fels Winery, is credited with inventing the adjustable top fermentation tank while at Chateau St. Jean in the 70’s.

Coleman’s tank lid design allowed for variable volume of wine to be fermented or stored without harmful oxygen in the headspace. Coleman felt that pumping Nitrogen into the tank was rougher on the wine than necessary.

David Coleman’s tank design featured a lid that was lowered down the inside of an open top wine tank and held in place on top of the wine surface by means of a chain and pulley system.

The next major innovation in stainless steel tanks was the floating lid. Amity Vineyards claims the first wine tanks with a floating lid in 1981.

Like Coleman’s original adjustable top fermentation tank, the floating top tanks allow variable capacity without exposing the wine contained inside to air and oxygen via a tank lid that can be lowered by means of a chain and pulley system onto the surface of the wine, then sealed against the tank sides my inflating a tube contained within the lid’s side. The main improvement comes from a lid that floats and does not require a chain from the lid to a structure above the tank to hold the lid in place on the surface of the wine.

Recently, I unfavorably reviewed the Vacu-vin wine saver wine preservation pump and stopper system. The Vacu-vin was shown not to work over and over again in laboratories, did not maintain wine flavors any better than the old cork in blind tastings, led to wines suffering an aroma stripped nose, and didn’t maintain the marginal partial vacuum created. The product was a complete and total failure.

In response to my Vacu-vin evaluation and review, Shannon Essa, who I worked with at the Wine Appreciation Guild, asked me if I was familiar with Wine Preserva, and offered to send a couple of samples for me to test. Elliott Mackey of the Wine Appreciation Guild did the sending, but my thanks go to both Elliott and Shannon.

Made in Melbourne, Australia by inventor Barry Rees, the Wine Preserva is a flexible disc that floats on the surface of wine in a bottle. The makers claim of Wine Preserva claim its use protects wine from air and oxygen in between glasses, lengthening the time that a wine may be enjoyed, up to five days.

Available in packs of 6 or 50, each Wine Preserva comes in its own protective packaging. The protective individual Wine Preserva wrapper can be opened in the center of the top and bottom, and a fork provided in the 6 or 50 pack can be used to move the Wine Preserva from its wrapper into the wine bottle to be protected.

It took me three bottles to develop a proficiency, I was not initially deft getting the Wine Preserva into the bottle from the wrapper without touching the disc with my fingers. I am not the most graceful or patient person, but I have mastered the action required.

Here’s a link to a “how to” video:

http://www.winepreserva.com/howitworks.html

The disc is a circular clear plastic disc. the center utilizes bubble wrap type bubbles to ensure floatation, and the outer edge is radial cut to provide a flanged adjustable surface allowing one Wine Preserva to fit a variety of different bottles.

I bought some inexpensive wine from the grocery store to use to test the Wine Preserva. I opened twin bottles of a 2008 FoxBrook Cabernet Sauvignon, California, made by Bronco in Ceres, CA. Although the same price as Charles Shaw, $1.99, I can not say it was as good.

The wine at opening was a bright burgundy red in color, and showed youth. The nose had notes of dusty cocoa and dark blackberry fruit. The wine was light, thin, with a little tannin and was a little green with not quite ripe blackberry and cherry flavors in the mouth, with a plummy finish. with 12.5 alc, it was wine, it was unremarkable, it was not bad, it just was not particularly good either, it had no wow. After getting baseline tasting notes upon opening, I poured 1 cup from each of the two bottles (which i used to marinate a pair of tri tip roasts). I inserted a Wine preserva disc into one of the bottles, and put the original cork back in each bottle. I stored both wines in the back corner of a dark closet for 96 hours.

I opened a bottle of 2008 Rodney Strong state Vineyards Russian River Valley pinot Noir, Sonoma County, $13.48. Having tasted the FoxBrook made me want to taste a wine I liked. A deep garnet in color, this wine had quite a bit more body and complexity. 14.4 % alc, it had a nice round rich mouthfeel, medium bodied, spice, cherry and rose petal and pefume nose, floral rose, herb and spice, leading to oooh candy cherry in the mouth, and a long lingering tapering finish. I did pick up some green notes of youth, and will happily go back to the 2007 vintage and let the 2008 age a bit more.

I had one glass of the Rodney strong Pinot, and put a Wine Preserva into this bottle as well – for a full 5 days.

Okay here’s the results:

After 4 days, the FoxBrook Cabernet protected by the Wine Preserva disc had maintained the dusty cocoa and fruit nose, and there was still fruit evident in the mouth. The Foxbrook Cab sealed with the cork alone was nothing, the nose was lighter and the mouth was spent and off putting, making me want to wipe my tongue off.

After 5 days, the Rodney Strong Pinot was still drinkable, the aroma and flavors maintained and still present and lively.

Available at the Wine Hardware stores in Sonoma, Walnut Creek, St. Helena, and South San Francisco, or online at http://winehardware.com/ for $5.99 for a 6 pack or $29.99 for a 50 pack; I can report they work as advertised and add only $0.60 – $1.00 to the price of a bottle of wine while allowing the wine to be enjoyed at a maintained drinkable quality for days. While many people laughingly say, “I always finnish the bottle,” this is a great and inexpensive tool for those who drink more for flavor than effect. Wine doesn’t come with a funnel to aid in immediate consumption for a reason; and Wine Preserva allows the 6th glass in a bottle to taste like the first glass in a bottle, days after the wine is opened, at an additional cost of just $0.10 – $0.17 per glass for home use.

The Wine Preserva is a simple, elegant, logical wine preservation device. It works in a wine bottle exactly like a floating lid works on a stainless steel wine fermentation and storage tank.

“Greenies” will appreciate that Wine Preserva is both recyclable and biodegradable, and can be left in the bottle, and does not alter a bottle’s recyclability. Packaging materials are made from recyclable paper and plastic as well.

_____

Yesterday, the mailman brought a sample copy of Randall Grahm’s book “Been Doon So Long.” Thanks to Amy Cleary at UC Press; as I revere Randall Grahm, I will be getting into this beautiful book very soon.

_____

Disclosure: the Wine Preserva discs evaluated in this review were provided by the Wine Appreciation Guild.

It is silly, but the FTC requires these ridiculous disclosures by online wine writers at the risk of an $11,000 fine. I am not required to make the same disclosure if this article appears in traditional print media. This week, it was suggested that Gwyneth Paltrow does not have to disclose gifts she writes about in her online blog, because celebrities can’t be bothered to keep track of all their gifts. It appears the rules only apply to online writers who do not make money or have fame.

I am not paid to evaluate or review anything sent to me, I do not benefit from sales of anything I recommend. If I received a sample, and didn’t like it, I probably wouldn’t write about it. If I receive a sample and I do like it, you’ll probably read about it.

No promises, no guarantees, full disclosure. Greater transparency, and I think honesty, than most wine publications that take money from the people they review. I’ll try never to violate the trust I ask you to place in me when you read a review or evaluation from me.

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