­­John On Wine – Spotlight winery: McNab Ridge Winery

This piece will run in the Ukiah Daily Journal weekly wine column on Thursday, January 29, 2015

Rich Parducci has a famous name, not just in Mendocino County, but in the world of California wine. John Parducci founded Parducci Wine Cellars, and was a genuine icon in the wine industry before his passing.

Together, after losing control of the eponymous winery, John and Rich Parducci started McNab Ridge Winery, and today Rich is both the winemaker and chief salesperson, traveling the country and pouring his wines for buyers.

I met Rich for a tasting of current releases at his beautifully appointed tasting room, a large yellow building with lots of warm wood, comfortable couches, and art on the walls, located on Highway 101 in downtown Hopland.

Let me start off by saying that I like Rich and I like his wines. Here are some brief tasting notes along with conversational snippets from my visit:

2013 Sauvignon Blanc – Grapefruit, pear, melon, grass, ultra ripe. Classic. White Oak Ranch.

Wine inspires conversation, and among the many topics we covered, Rich advocated cunjunctive labeling for Mendocino County wines, as is required in Sonoma County, to better let folks in the marketplace develop a greater awareness of Mendocino County as a wine region. With so much of Mendocino County’s grapes purchased by Napa and Sonoma County wineries for their wines, labeling some of the wines that are made here as Anderson Valley, or Redwood Valley, or as coming from an individual vineyard, rather than using Mendocino County on the label, hurts all the County’s wine makers. Like in Sonoma County, the more specific or smaller American Viticultural Area designation can be used, but only in addition, rather than instead of, the larger County appellation designation.

2013 Chardonnay – 100% barrel fermentation, 100% malolactic fermentation. Cream, butter, oak, nice apple and pear fruit. Napoli vineyard.

Tine’s White – Sweeter, but not too sweet, about 1% residual sugar, nice balancing acid, showing stone fruit nectarine, spicy floral notes.

2013 French Colombard – Rich described this wine, coming from 40 year old, head pruned, old vine Redwood Valley grapes, as “a patio pleaser.” Riesling-esque, Patty, our tasting room host, had my mouth watering as she described pairing it with a lemon grass and coconut scallop soup. Niemi Vineyard.

2012 Pinot Noir – Lighter styled, cherry, perfume, cigar, from a Russian River Valley vineyard near John Ash.

Fred’s Red – A dead solid, inexpensive everyday red wine for enjoying. Blackberry, Raspberry, Blueberry. Spice. Herb. Oak.

I asked Rich, noting the presence of oak in many of the wines tasted, about John’s general preference for minimally oaked or unoaked wines. Rich told me, “a lot of times, I would just do it and beg forgiveness later. John’s style is my style, showcase the fruit. If you mask it with oak, are you really being true to the grape? When you buy it, I want it to be enjoyable, approachable.” Rich has found a nice balance with his wines, and where oak is used it does not dominate the fruit, but adds a layer of flavor or body, in support of the wine.

2012 Pinotage – Smooth red fruit, dark berry, strawberry, rose. Napoli Vineyard.

Rich talked about the 2014 vintage: “some varieties sugar ripened so quick, fruit couldn’t keep up, herbaceous. A little more time, flavors matured.”

2011 Merlot – Soft, lovely Burgundy color, herb, spice, plummy cherry and soft berry.

2012 Zinzilla – 95% Mendocino, 5% Lodi. Spiced raspberry juice. Begging for burgers, brats, any grilled meat.

2012 Mendocino Zinfandel – Darker, pepper, lovely nose. Rich ripe berry fruit mouth.

2012 Cononiah Zinfandel – Lovely red purple color. Bright rich fruit. Oak.

2012 Old Vine Zinfandel – Bar-X Ranch, planted in 1939. Blackberry and raspberry, dusty cocoa.

2013 Old Vine Zinfandel – An early taste. LOVE IT. At 16% alcohol, I would often be a little scared, but this wine has fantastic balance and numbers mean nothing in the face of the lovely raspberry and strawberry fruit notes.

Rich commented, aware of my pleasure, “If you don’t have good grapes, you aren’t going to make good wine…it is the grapes.”

2013 Cabernet Sauvignon – Oh, I wanted a plate of roast beef to enjoy with a glass of this dark red wine. Blackberry, cassis, dusty cherry, toasty oak.

2012 Mendo Largo – This reserve wine from Ruddick Vineyard spent 20 months in French oak, and is very nice, but tight. More bottle time will yield great rewards. Cocoa, thick, rich red.

2012 Petite Sirah – Rich told me, “my favorite is Petite.” This Petite has a great nose, shows tannin, and is decidedly dry. Dark, dark, dark. Earthy, berry and spice jam.

2013 Carisma – Juicy cranberry with a citrusy floral finish. Low achol, 9%. Second bleed off after fermentation on skins. 100% Syrah.

Rich described the Carisma as “a sweet, slightly effervescent red wine, meant to be chilled.”

2009 John Parducci Signature Series Port – Yummm. Sweet, not hot. Deliciously rich and complex. Bonus points for a Port made from Portugal’s grape varieties: 44% Touriga Nacional, 17% Touriga Francesca, 16% Tinta Barroca, 12% Tinta Cao, and 11% Tinta Roriz.

Torte Chocolate Port – Deep, delicious fruit, married to a tootsie roll. A Port blend similar to the one just described, but infused with premium chocolate.

For more information, visit Denise or Patty in the McNab Ridge Winery tasting room in Hopland for a wine tasting, or visit http://www.mcnabridge.com

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Rich is also a Board member of Zinfandel Advocates & Producers, ZAP, the industry’s promotional organization for the Zinfandel grape variety and the wine it makes.

Rich will be pouring at ZAP’s Zinfandel Experience at the Presidio in San Francisco this weekend, on Saturday, January 31, from 11:00 am until 5:00 pm, and I will be there to taste all of the wines made from Mendocino County’s grapes, plus Zinfandel made by some of my favorite producers from outside the area.

The Tasting is a great opportunity to taste an astounding assortment of Zinfandel wine, poured by winery owners and winemakers, and tickets are still available at http://www.zinfandelexperience.com/#!purchase-tickets/cnye with prices ranging from $70 to $170 for a day’s tasting.

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John On Wine – Wine competitions and Barrel Tasting 101

Originally published on Thursday, January 15, 2015 in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper by John Cesano

Nine wines made from Mendocino County grapes took gold medal or higher honors at last November’s Grand Harvest Awards. They were:

• 2011 Handley Cellars Pinot Noir Anderson Valley ($32) Gold/Best of Class

• NV McFadden Vineyard Cuvee Rose Mendocino ($32) Gold

• 2013 Navarro Vineyards Grenache Mendocino ($27) Gold/Best of Class

• 2013 Navarro Vineyards Chardonnay Table Wine Mendocino ($15) Gold/Best of Class

• 2013 Navarro Vineyards Barbera Mendocino ($27) Gold

• 2012 Navarro Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Mendocino ($29) Gold

• 2012 Navarro Vineyards Mourvedre Mendocino ($29) Gold

• 2013 Navarro Vineyards Chardonnay Anderson Valley Premiere Reserve ($25) Gold

• 2012 Stephen & Walker Trust Winery Limited Chardonnay Botrytis Mendocino Ridge ($65) Double Gold/Best of Class/Best Late Harvest or Dessert

What does that mean? By itself, very little. About 99 out of 100 times when a wine takes a gold medal in a wine competition, no matter how many subsequent wine competitions it is entered into, it never manages to take another. Many in the industry, if they were honest, would let you know that gold medals awarded in a wine competition are just random, chance based, nonsense … but that doesn’t stop the wineries from blasting news of their awards to a waiting audience of consumers who seem to think such luck based honors have genuine meaning.

What I look for are wines that do take more than one gold medal, or the rarer unanimously voted double gold medal, or better still more than one double gold medal. I pour several wines that have earned more than one gold medal. Two have three double gold or higher (double gold and best of class, or double gold and best of show) awards. Not everyone will love these wines, because there are always wines that don’t appeal to someone but these are the wines to taste, these are the wines that are amazing, these are the wines to look for.

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Seriously, if consumers rush to buy a gold medal winning wine at the store figuring that the wine must be good, probably significantly better than the other bottles on the shelf, then take a moment to appreciate how incredibly rare it is for a wine to be unanimously voted gold by a competition’s judges earning a double gold medal, and then have that happen again, and still again. That is a wine to seek out.

The Grand Harvest Awards are pretty much the last big wine competition of the year. Up next is not just the first big wine competition of the year, but the largest judging of American wines in the world, the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. Last year, more than 5,800 wines were entered into the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. This year’s judging took place earlier this month, with over 6,417 entries and the big winners will be poured at a celebratory grand tasting for the public on the second Saturday of February at Fort Mason in San Francisco. Next week, I’ll post the big Mendocino County grown wine winners from the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.
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If you haven’t picked up you Barrel Tasting 101 ticket yet,  go online and get it for $20 instead of waiting until the event and spending more; $30 for the same $20 ticket. Of course, if money doesn’t mean anything to you, just pop on down to one of our local car dealerships and buy a new car for my son, I’m sure he would appreciate it.

Barrel Tasting 101 will feature wineries from Hopland to Calpella and Ukiah to Redwood Valley pouring barrel samples of future wines on the final weekend of Mendocino County’s Crab, Wine & Beer Fest on Saturday, Jan. 24 and Sunday, Jan. 25, 2015, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day. I attended my first barrel tasting weekend back in 1993, when it was a free event over one weekend in Sonoma County. I used to visit the wineries of the Alexander Valley on Friday evening, and then spend Saturday in the Dry Creek Valley and Sunday in the Russian River Valley. Quiet, uncrowded, low key, and incredibly enjoyable, I used to taste an incredible number of wines, spitting all, and had a terrific glimpse into the future. I also took advantage of some sale prices offered on futures, these wines tasted from barrel before being bottled. Last year, I attended the Anderson Valley barrel tasting weekend, which included the wineries of Yorkville Highlands, and might be better named as Barrel Tasting 128. It was as enjoyable as the old barrel tasting weekends in Sonoma County used to be, before they became the overcrowded drunk-fests that winery owners and staff report today.

Barrel Tasting 101 will feature barrel samples from Barra of Mendocino, Brutocao Cellars, Campovida, Cesar Toxqui Cellars, Graziano Family of wines, Jaxon Keys Winery, Jeriko Estate, McNab ridge, Milano Family Winery, Nelson Family Winery, Rivino, Saracina, Seebass Vineyards, Simaine Cellars, Terra Savia, and Testa Ranch. Each participating winery tasting room will also serve up Dungeness crab food pairing treats. To get your tickets for $20 instead of $30, visit http://bit.ly/1zS36ay and then, armed with your receipt, you’ll be given your logo tasting glass and map to begin your terrific wine adventure.

 

John On Wine – The Spirits of Christmas

This piece was originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Christmas Eve, December 24, 2014

If Santa needed any additional Christmas cheer this Christmas Eve, he would have to look no farther than Redwood Valley.

Here in Mendocino County’s Redwood Valley, Jack Crispin Cain is distilling some of the best spirits I have ever tasted, with his wife and partner Tamar Kaye. and sons, Devin Cain and Crispin D. Cain, under a variety of names for their various products; Greenway Distillers, American Craft Whiskey Distillers, and Tamar Distillery.

Founders of Greenway Distillery, Crispin Cain and Tamar Kaye. (Photo courtesy of Greenway Distillery)

Founders of Greenway Distillery, Crispin Cain and Tamar Kaye. (Photo courtesy of Greenway Distillery)

F. Paul Pacult’s Spirits Journal Magazine came out with their “Top 75 5-Star Spirits” list, and Jack Crispin Cain’s Absinthe made the list.

Earlier this year, in Emma Janzen’s piece for Serious Eats, 10 Absinthes You Should Be Drinking, Janzen wrote, “Some scholars say absinthe made with a wine or grape base will taste naturally superior to those made with neutral grains or beets, and … Germain-Robin Absinthe Superieure from Greenway Distillers ($50 for 375 mL) makes a strong case for the argument.

The producers start by making a house wine from honey and apples from an old family recipe, which they then distill into the base for the blanche absinthe. Botanical-wise, they replaced many of the usual woody and earthy herbs with “sweet, friendly flavors” like lavender, lemon verbena, and lemon balm. The final results are outside the box in the best of ways; heavy pear brandy aromas introduce the flavor, which ends up tasting effortlessly light-bodied. An opening of subtle wood and tobacco shift into a breezy, bright smack of mint at mid-palate, then cools off into a clean, fresh finish.”

St. John Frizel wrote up the Low Gap Wheat Whiskey that Crispin crafts at his American Craft Whiskey Distillery for Men’s Journal magazine, describing the flavors as smooth and round, having been crafted using cognac pot stills.

In a tasting of spirits at the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America gathering this year, Double Gold medals were awarded to both Crispin’s Russell Henry London Dry Gin and his DSP CA 162 Straight Vodka.

My friend Margaret Pedroni described Crispin’s Rose Liqueur best, “sex in a glass.” The floral rose aromas and flavors are rich yet lively.

This summer, I enjoyed both the best martinis and the best gin and tonics made with Russell Henry Gin. An exciting new addition to the line-up is Russell Henry Dark Gin, a barrel aged gin that spent its time in two new bourbon barrels and a 350 liter Cognac barrel.

Whiskey, whiskey, whiskey. Low Gap 100 Proof Bavarian Wheat Whiskey, Low Gap Single Barrel #1, and Low Gap Malted Rye (Clear) Whiskey. Knocking back a shot of this would be such a waste, when sipping and savoring each delicious drop of liquid is called for.

Crispin started with DSP CA 162 “Straight” Vodka and it is perfect. Then, when it seemed the last thing the world needed was another flavored vodka, he offered up DSP CA 162 Vodka Citrus Reticulata var. Sunshine (tangerines and tangelos), DSP CA 162 Vodka Citrus Medica var. Sarcodactylis (Buddha’s-hand citrons), and DSP CA 162 Vodka Citrus Hystrix (Malaysian limes and their leaves), and, lo and behold, it turns out that the world is a better place for these three gorgeous flavored vodkas.

Each of Crispin’s spirited offerings is like candy; clean, specific, clear, flavor notes. There is a joy, a delightful happiness, that cuts through the mundane and ordinary, and makes you be still, appreciating the extraordinary brilliance of the art of distillation done spectacularly.

Germain-Robin Brandy is at the heart of Crispin’s spirit distillations. I first tasted Germain-Robin Brandy, which is really a cognac, but has to be called brandy as it is made in Mendocino county and not Cognac, France, in a head to head to head blind taste off with Hennessy XO and Courvoisier XO back in 1997 or so, and was blown away by how much better the Germain-Robin was at $100 than a pair of famous $200 Cognacs.

Hubert Germain-Robin and Ansley Coale started Germain-Robin, crafted and sold several brandies, including their top of the line XO, and were quickly heralded as one of the top cognac producers in the world by several publications. Today, in addition to cognac styled brandy, Germain-Robin produces Grappa, an apple brandy reminiscent of a Calvados, an eau de vie-esque brandy of pears, and a solera blending of infusions and exotica called Crème de Poette.

Crispin worked with Germain-Robin’s brandy makers and benefited from their knowledge. Today, co-located with the Germain-Robin brandy distillery, Crispin has access to the finest cognac pot stills and other craft method tools and takes advantage of the opportunity to use them. The result is sublime.

To purchase the best cognac quality brandy, whiskey, vodka, gin, absinthe, and assorted concoctions, visit the distilleries’ storeroom at 3001 S. State #35 in Ukiah, but be sure to call (707) 486-7899 for a reservation.

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John On Wine – A New Zin Tradition

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

John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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John on Wine – Hooking up

 

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal today, Thursday, July 31, 2014
By John Cesano

John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

The new format for the Ukiah Daily Journal, color splashed throughout, looks great but comes with a cost; deadlines for columns are earlier, much earlier. I used to enjoy the incredible luxury of being able to attend a weekend wine event, write a recap draft for a column on Monday, brush it up and submit it on Tuesday, and see it run on Thursday, which was great. Now, I have to submit my column by noon on Friday, before the weekend’s events, for this Thursday wine column. I attended the Second annual Anderson Valley Barrel Tasting weekend last weekend, but with a deadline before the event, I’ll have to write about last weekend this week to send by tomorrow, so you can read about it all next week. The column used to feel fresh; now it feels like some columns are about things nearly two weeks old.

 

I received a big “thank you” from someone who sells wine for a piece I wrote recently. I couldn’t remember the piece, even when reminded what it was about. I write pieces, turn them in, and move on, but the longer time between turn in and reader reaction means I may seriously have forgotten what I wrote, so please be patient as I ask you to remind me.

 

I’m writing this not as complaint, but explanation. I receive invitations to wine events, and I like to recap them. My hope is that if I describe something well enough then a reader will want to attend an annual event the following year. I have seen posters advertising events with my own quoted words, and I am heartened; I would love more folks to benefit from a bump in event ticket sales because of something I have written – even something written in recap the year before. I’ll still do recaps of events I attend, but they will come out a little later than they used to. What my column can continue to do well, and in a timely manner, is promote events before they happen, offered up in a calendar of upcoming events or featured in a section of a column. I would like to do that better, and for that I am using this week’s column to ask for help. I’ve got to ask folks in the wine industry to help me out getting the great events in front of readers. I won’t be mentioning every anniversary, wine club pick up party, or sale, but if the wineries in Redwood Valley, Anderson Valley, Yorkville Highlands, greater Hopland, or throughout the county are having a major collaborative event, Passport, barrel tasting, or other big festival, please reach out to me at least one month in advance so I can get a good mention. A press invite is always appreciated as well, so I can attend and write up the event – hopefully, you’ll save the write up and use it the following year in your marketing efforts to bring more people to visit and taste your wines. WineSong, Mushroom Train, Mendo Crab & Wine or Mushroom & Wine Fest events … you too. Let me know well in advance, so I can let my column readers, both in the paper and online, know about your event so they can buy tickets and come to your events. I can’t come to every winery dinner, I have to pick and choose. With almost 100 wineries hosting wine club events, picnics or dinners, and every wine friendly restaurant putting on a version of a chef’s wine dinner, I can’t possibly afford either the time or money that attending all would entail. That said, if your event is amazing (I’m looking at you, Testa, with your blending party, with dinner, and McKenna Faith playing live, and fantastic blend judges; and you, Crush Ukiah – when are we going to do a McFadden dinner?), then reach out to me and I’ll try to promote your event. Coro Mendocino, I’ve written about you about 205 times and moderated a TV shoot with your winemakers; keep me in mind when you send your press releases and when you make your press invitations for future events.

 

Visit Ukiah, Visit Mendocino, Mendocino Winegrowers Inc.; I need your help to help broadcast the best wine news. You know how to reach me, please do, again with both news in advance of your events, and an invite to those you would like me to cover.

 

Owners and winemakers, send me an email and let’s taste through your wines one fine weekend day, we can do it in an hour, and then you can show me your vineyard, winery, tasting room, whatever you are proud of, with the result being a spotlight winery feature. Bob, Hoss, Rich, and Greg – you’ve each offered up a taste, let’s set up a date. Everyone else, just reach out. I’m a cheerleader for the industry. I haven’t written harshly of any wines in this column. That is easy when there are always so many great things to write about. Bottom line: if you are involved in wine events, please let me know about your events; JohnOnWine@gmail.com is the email to use. Want to send wine or something else through the mail? John Cesano, 13275 S Hwy 101 #5, PO Box 624, Hopland, CA 95449 works great.

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Tomorrow, is the Mendocino County Fair Wine Competition. The judges will gather and taste through the morning and afternoon, deciding on Bronze, silver, and Gold medals for wines. The rare wine to take unanimous Gold votes from the judges will get Double Gold medals. Top medal winners will be tasted again for Best of Class, Best Red, Best White, Best Sparkling, and Best Dessert honors. The best part of it all is the award ceremony and dinner that will follow the judging at the Mendocino College Student Plaza from 6-9 p.m. I love it and attend every year. Enjoy a delicious three course dinner prepared by the Mendocino College Culinary Arts program led by Chef Nicholas Petti of Mendo Bistro, while sampling award winning wines from the competition.

 

Tickets are just $55 and available at www.mendowine.com; get your tickets before they stop sales.

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John Cesano writes the popular wine blog John On Wine at www.johnonwine.com

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Editor’s note:

 

We really appreciate all of our unpaid columnists and the work they put in so that we may meet out deadlines. Our roster of local writers have done a great job submitted timely, relevant and informative articles for our readers to enjoy, and they deserve a big tip-of-the-hat for their efforts.

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EDITED TO ADD: I love my editor, Kelly Hancock, and I must have seemed grudgey, or just outright bitchy, for her to have come in to add her note. I am touched by her sweetness, and apologize for any bitchiness on my part.

My intent was to say, “Hey, I’ve got this deadline, and it lends itself to promotion of future events, so you wine area tourism groups, or county tourism groups, or wine groups, or restaurants, or wineries – send me a heads up if you have something truly noteworthy for me to mention, and extending an invite might get the event written up some time after.”  Of course, that isn’t enough words to fill a column, so I may have chosen an intemperate word or set a tone not really intended, with the extra words I did use.

 

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John On Wine ­ – Spirits, dinners, passports, festivals, and a movie

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, April 24, 2014, written by John Cesano

John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

Jack Crispin Cain is the man behind Greenway Distillers, Inc. and American Craft Whiskey Distillery, co-located with Germain-Robin in Redwood Valley. Cain invited me to taste two new Low Gap whiskeys. Crispin also creates Crispin’s Rose Liqueur, Absinthe Superiure, Fluid Dynamics Barrel Aged Cocktails, Russell Henry Gins, and DSP CA 162 Straight Vodka.

Very much a family affair, Cain’s two sons Devin and Crispin Dylan were working on the next lime vodka when I arrived for a private tasting, and wife Tamar is involved in growing the roses for the Rose Liqueur and the herbs for the Absinthe. Tamar will also be the editor of a book due this fall, “Rural Cocktails of Mendocino County” that will be collaboratively written by Brian and Kate Riehl, as well as Jack Crispin Cain, and feature cocktails built around Cain’s spirits.

First up for tasting was a new Low Cap 2 Year Bavarian Hard Wheat Whiskey made from malted wheat and aged in used Port, Cognac, and Minnesota barrels. The color was natural, from the barrels, and not the darker color you find from whiskeys produced with caramel flavor and color additives. The new Whiskey has a natural perfume of butterscotch and cereal grain, candied wheat, and is incredibly smooth.

Cain’s 2010 Low Gap Whiskey earned a 5 star review and a 100 point rating. Reviewers will need to add another star and a few more points to their rating systems. The flavors of all of Cain’s spirits are pure, clean, with delicate identifiable notes. Cain explained that by using no artificial flavorings, only real fruit and other pure ingredients, and careful distilling techniques with direct fire and a copper onion shaped still, fermentation enzymes and yeasts leaving no sugars, and a host of other refined decisions, the quality of his spirits, already high, will continue to improve and then be maintained indefinitely.

I also tasted a 2011 blended Corn and Barley Whiskey, running 43 percent alcohol by volume (ABV). The flavors are not as direct as the Bavarian Hard Wheat Whiskey, but more layered at a very subtle level with a little bite on the end; the classic corn whiskey flavor definitely comes through.

I tasted four vodkas from Cain’s DSP CA 162 label. The unflavored vodka has a super clean taste with light wheat notes. The lime vodka, made from an infusion of Malaysian lime and leaf was delightful for the pure candied lime note. The tangerine was a touch lighter in the mouth, delicate, and again showed candied fruit ­ this time tangerine. The citron vodka was bright and round with intensely concentrated sweet fruit.

Cain poured a barrel aged gin, 47 percent ABV, not yet released but gorgeous with a taste between gin and whiskey. The gin was aged in two new Bourbon barrels and one used Cognac barrel. There is a natural sweetness from both the cereal and the oak. Look for this to be bottled and sold as “Russell Henry Dark Gin” toward the end of the year, hopefully before Christmas. Spirits are often blended to make a tasty cocktail. I find that every spirit Cain makes is already cocktail delicious, sipping sweetly straight.

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I attended a Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush featuring the wines of Yorkville Cellars last night. For a recap of the meal, visit my online wine blog http://www.JohnOnWine.com where I will post a stand-alone story with every bite and sip getting its due.

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This weekend, I am attending Passport to Dry Creek Valley, the sold-out event in Sonoma County. Together with my girlfriend, June, I will be an appreciative guest of the Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley. The event is sold out. This event always sells out. Next week, my wine column will be a recap of the travels by June and myself through the Dry Creek Valley.

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For those who want a Passport experience, Hopland Passport in Mendocino County is two weekends away, on May 3 and 4, and a $45 ticket online in advance (tickets are $55 if you procrastinate) will allow Passport holders to visit 17 winery tasting rooms — tasting fees waived — to taste wines paired with scrumptious food offerings at each stop. For $2.65 per winery attendees will enjoy wine and food tastes with many tasting rooms hosting live music or fun tours, and with some wineries offering their best sale prices of the year, as well as 30 prizes given away in drawings. Hopland Passport is a must attend wine event. For tickets, go to http://www.DestinationHopland.com/store.

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Individual events at this year’s Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival are selling out. If you love Pinot Noir, then this is a series of events, a festival, for you. Dinners, tastings and more on May 16 and 17. Tickets available at http://www.avwines.com/anderson-valley-pinot-noir-festival.

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If you have Netflix, I highly recommend the movie SOMM, a documentary following candidates attempting to become Master Sommeliers. The single-minded devotion to a subject, to a goal is impressive, as is the sheer narcissism of most of the candidates. Not always attractive, this glimpse into the highest levels of wine geekdom is nonetheless educational and entertaining.

 

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John On Wine – Drought

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on March 27, 2014
By John Cesano

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Brave the storm to come, for it surely looks like rain.” ­ – 1972, Look Like Rain, Grateful Dead

Rain, water, drought, shortage, rationing, voluntary reductions, mandatory reductions; Thoughts of our current situation swirl like water about a drain. I’m a winery tasting room guy. I know finished wine, whether it is good, what notes it has and how to describe it. I know a little bit about growing and winemaking, but really just the basics.

When it comes to the crisis facing everyone in Mendocino County, not just the vineyards and wineries, I had to reach out and talk with some folks more knowledgeable than I am on the subject. I spoke with Zac Robinson, President of the Mendocino WineGrowers, Inc., the voluntary coalition of growers and producers working to promote Mendocino County grape grower and wine interests to the general public. Robinson grows grapes both inland, on the Russian River between Ukiah and Hopland, and in the Anderson Valley, and then turns them into wine for his winery, Husch Vineyard.

Robinson described the problems facing the entire community as stemming from a two year drought, stating “the Navarro River is at the lowest level ever for this date, and “things are pretty dire.” Robinson outlined measures that vineyards and wineries are taking in the face of water shortages including adding nearly 50 new wind machines, installing double drip irrigation lines, and installing soil moisture monitoring probes. This is on top of water use reductions of approximately 67 percent since the previous drought of record, 1976-77.

The fans minimize the use of sprinkler water for frost protection and later to mitigate the highest heat of summer, but at a cost as the fans are pretty noisy for residential neighbors to endure. Soil moisture monitoring probes allow more intelligent application of moisture as needed, and double drip lines involve a second irrigation drip line with emitters tasked only to the weakest vines in a vineyard. Double drip lines allow about a 30 percent reduction in water as regular summer drip irrigation can be delayed for weeks as only the vines most in need are taken care of earlier. Later pruning also reduces water demands, as it leads to later bud break and decreases the period when frost protection water use might occur.

In spite of all of the efforts by growers, Robinson shared that “holding ponds aren’t full, the watershed is bone dry, and there will be August decisions (as) we’re not going to have enough water to get the crop through the year (and) we’ll have to choose which vineyards get less water.”

All this, while most of Mendocino County’s vineyards face 50 percent mandatory reductions in water use from various governing boards and agencies.

Not to demonize the “demon weed,” but marijuana accounts for nearly the same water use amount of all of the family farmed multi-generational vineyards in the county, with marijuana acreage just a small fraction of the legal and regulated agricultural vineyards. A walk in a vineyard is a joy; a walk in much of the county a danger due to illegal growth, armed guards, booby-trapped paths, and poisoned lands.

I’m not anti-marijuana, but I support legalizing and taxing it, as well as subjecting growers to the same water restrictions grape growers face. I do oppose illegal grows on public land, diverting water, and ruining existing ecosystems. While vineyards may be the most visible sector of the agricultural community, non-vineyard agriculture (irrigated pastures and orchards) are the largest user of water in the county, using water at much greater rates per acre.

This piece isn’t meant to be an “us vs. them” piece, but a look at where we all are at, together, now and where we all should be looking to go to decrease the severity of drought consequences as a community in the future. Janet Pauli, Chair of the Mendocino County Inland Water & Power Commission, was able to provide a pretty good map for the future.

Pauli first made clear the severity of our current drought, based on insufficient rain October to present, “this is the new drought of record’ and may be a level of severity that hasn’t occurred in over 400 years based on tree ring data.” This surpasses the often recounted 1976-77 drought of record. Pauli said the path forward required progress on two tracks. The first is reoperation and the second is increased storage at Lake Mendocino.

Reoperation involves support of Congressman Jared Huffman’s Fixing Operations of Reservoirs to Encompass Climatic and Atmospheric Science Trends Act (FORECAST) so we can conserve water in our biggest pond, Lake Mendocino. Currently, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers follow required water control instructions from a manual dating back to the 50s, which saw them release water in the spring of 2013 without any evidence of a storm coming in after. Assuming weather prediction is better now than in the 50s, sensible on-the-ground decisions could be made saving unnecessary future water releases from occurring.

Lake Mendocino exists as part of a larger U.S. Army Corps of Engineers flood control project, authorized by Congress in the 50s, and intended to proceed in three stages. Stage one was the building of the Coyote Valley Dam, completed in 1959, creating the current Lake Mendocino. Stage two involved the building of the Warm Springs Dam, completed in 1982, creating Lake Sonoma. Stage three involves coming back to raise the Coyote Valley Dam 36 vertical feet, doubling the water storage capacity of Lake Mendocino. Stage three has not happened. Pauli said that feasibility studies are costly, but needed to move forward and while $1.2 million has been brought to bear, $4 million more is needed to see the study through to completion. Funding comes from the Federal government, matched by a local coalition including Potter Valley, Redwood Valley, Mendocino County, City of Ukiah, and Russian River Flood Control groups. Next congressional action is required, and Pauli said that in the past U.S. Senator (CA) Diane Feinstein “has helped us with funding for the Feasibility Study. We believe that the project is feasible and should be championed by our elected representatives as nearly “shovel ready”. We are hoping that raising Coyote Dam might become the “water supply poster child” for increasing storage in the State of California.”

If feasible, the current estimate of enlarging Lake Mendocino is $300 million, with perhaps 25 percent local funding needed, and would require a year for authorization plus whatever time the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would need to enlarge the existing dam. Similarly, Congressman Huffman’s FORECAST Act requires successful passage into law, a couple of years of studies, and another couple of years before implementation. The greatest problem about droughts is that with their end, so too ends the quest for solutions to drought conditions.

Everyone in Mendocino, Sonoma Counties face drought conditions now and should come together to act now and continue to act together in the future as a community to address ways to minimize the impacts of future droughts. According to Mendocino WineGrowers, Inc., farmers in the wine industry and wineries relying on grapes anticipate losses of up to $100 million this year due to the drought and a combination of mandatory and self-imposed responsible water reduction measures. Grapes just won’t be as plump, there will be fewer and this will lead to less wine made. Do whatever you can to conserve water now. I remember the conservation measures that existed in 1976-77 that are not in effect in homes now.

Support your local, legal, agriculture; help them through this drought by taking on extra water conservation measures at your home and business, and contact Congressman Jared Huffman and voice your support for his FORECAST Act, and contact Senator Diane Feinstein and let her know you would really love to see the Coyote Valley Dam raised 36 vertical feet as soon as practical. Consider your local city councilmember’s and county supervisor’s support for these needed protections of our beautiful county as well. As Mendocino County residents, we’re really in this together.

 

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