Local Hopland Wine Notes:

I had the opportunity to visit winery tasting rooms other than my own in the last week.

Right in Hopland, I visited SIP! Mendocino and Bernadette poured me some wines. Using a Jedi mind trick, she grabbed a bottle, and waving her hand at me said, “you’re going to like this.” Of course, I did like it, and bought a bottle of the 2008 Tahto Petite Sirah, Potter Valley. Deep rich dark berry, herb, chocolate and spice, nicely integrated.

The next day, I returned to SIP! and tasted with Angela, running into Gary Krimont and Hopland’s own Kit, co-owner of the Superette grocery store in Hopland. I tasted a couple of Rhone offerings, a Grenache and a Syrah, both were yummy, but really an appetizer for what came next.

We scooted next door to Cesar Toxqui’s tasting room. There is a big buzz surrounding Cesar and his wines. After having made wines for many local wineries, Cesar started making wines for himself as well. In a tasting room more relaxed than most, Cesar, with Gary’s help, poured his way through his wines. I tasted wines of depth, fullness, character. Starting with solid grapes, the fermenting juice is punched down twice a day by hand with extended maceration. If you don’t speak wine geek, that means Cesar wrings the grapes and skins for all the best flavor they will yield.

Everything I tasted was delicious, from Cesar’s Chardonnay and Pinot Noir to his Zinfandel and Heirloom, a wine that has a little of the previous Heirloom blended into it, which itself had a little of the previous vintage blended in, and so on, so that the wine you taste is a wine of all time, a magic representation of everything Cesar has done from day one. There is a rumor that Heirloom III will be unveiled at this weekend’s Spring Hopland Passport.

After tasting the 2009 Cesar Tozqui Cellars Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley and 2009 Cesar Tozqui Cellars Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley side by side, I was surprised to find the Anderson Valley Pinot from Mendocino County was drinking more beautifully, was more velvety, than the Russian River Valley Pinot from Sonoma County grapes. I grew up on Dry Creek Valley Cabs and Zins and Russian River Valley Pinots, and developed a “house palate,” preferring the tastes of the wines grown in the places I grew up. If I had been asked to guess which wine was which, based on taste alone, I would have guessed wrong, because I am prejudiced to prefer Russian River Valley Pinots. My second favorite AVA for Pinot Noir is the Anderson Valley, so the side by side tasting was both a treat and instructive.

I bought a bottle of Cesar’s Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, forgetting that there is a generous reciprocal inter winery discount for the tasting room staff of the Hopland wineries. I was doubly thrilled with my purchase after the discount.

The next day, after closing up my tasting room, I headed to Jaxon Keys for an inter winery mixer.

Jaxon Keys is a Wilson winery. Ken and Diane Wilson own some premier winery properties in Sonoma County, and bought and renamed the Jepson winery and distillery, hired Fred Nickel, a knowledgeable and skilled local winemaker, to increase the quality of the wines, and moved the tasting room from a low shed like building to a huge, lovely old estate house on a hill overlooking the vineyards.

Vicki Milone played host to tasting room staff from several Hopland area wineries, with folks coming from Dry Creek Valley wineries in Sonoma County as well. Everyone brought food, and wine, and shared a nice two hours of relaxed fellowship.

The yummiest food treat, which I will be stealing without reservation, was cream and blue cheese with orange marmalade infused figs and toasted pecans on a round pastry. It turns out the round pastry was from Pillsbury giant crescent rolls, sliced while and remaining rolled. Thank you Bev for bringing the taste treat – for me – of the night and sharing where the recipe came from. I will be making these for a future Second Saturday in Hopland to pair with our wines at the tasting room.

I enjoyed a number of the wines Vicki poured and am looking forward to when more of Fred’s wines come on line.

At the mixer, I met Victor Simon, winemaker at Simaine in Ukiah. I will be visiting and tasting very soon.

I also had a bottle find me, instead of me going out to find it, last week. When I returned from a three day weekend, I found my dear friend Serena Alexi had brought a bottle of 2005 Wellington Vineyards Zinfandel, Sonoma Valley. I have not opened it yet, but I am sure to write nice things here when I do.

The folks at Brown-Forman in Kentucky who own Fetzer Vineyards in Hopland sent me six bottles a couple of months ago, but only four were delivered as two were damaged in transit. Although Concha y Toro in Chile is buying Fetzer, Maria from Brown-Forman contacted me today to see about replacing the two bottles. It is a mark of class, of professionalism, that a company that has effectively sold Fetzer already is continuing their first class marketing efforts on behalf of the brand.

Parducci, located in Ukiah, is opening a satellite tasting room in Hopland at the Solar Living Center. John March, who poured the wines of Magnanimus Wine Group at Campovida in Hopland, will be the tasting room manager of the new tasting room facility. I wondered aloud how a Ukiah winery with their own Ukiah tasting room was going to be pouring at this weekend’s Spring Hopland Passport weekend, and why every Ukiah or Redwood Valley winery couldn’t pour. I thought that the collaboration between Parducci and the Solar Living Center was a weekend fling, but am thrilled to welcome Parducci, a winery I love, and John March, a terrifically talented brand ambassador, to Hopland full time.

The Solar Living Center does attract a large share of hippie, marijuana smoking, young folk, and I suggested jokingly to John that he find out which Parducci wine pairs best with weed. That said, my tasting room is the closest to the new medical marijuana dispensary opening up in Hopland, and may I suggest that the 2007 McFadden Vineyard Coro Mendocino would go wonderfully with a nice bong load of Mendocino County’s sticky icky. I have to start practicing saying that with a hand wave, in my own Jedi mind trick style.

__________

Three Big Events:

This coming weekend, April 30 and May 1, there are two big wine events going on; Spring Hopland Passport, and Passport to Dry Creek Valley; plus Hospice du Rhone will be held April 28-30.

Although I question the sense, or dollars and cents, of spending $125 to visit 46 wineries, tickets are pretty much SOLD OUT for the Dry Creek Valley Passport. There is just no possible way to visit that many wineries. It doesn’t matter what each is offering if you can’t possibly experience it. That said, pick and choose your favorites, get swept up in the traffic and crowds, and enjoy some very delicious wines, paired with the delightful food treats.

Last year, I attended Spring Hopland Passport, took two full days, visited all the participating wineries, enjoyed some very delicious wines (100 of them) from 21 labels, paired with delightful food treats. I wrote a Spring Hopland Passport recap last year. Visit the official Hopland Passport site, where tickets can be bought for just $35, which seems a far more reasonable cost considering the number of wineries that can be visited in one or two days.

A few highlights of what a $35 Spring Hopland Passport ticket buys: Cesar Toxqui Cellars will offer authentic Filipino cuisine to pair with vertical tastings and barrel tastings. Jaxon Keys will have tri-tip sliders and live music by the Felt-Tips. Jeriko Winery will be roasting pig and chicken and have live acoustic music. McFadden Vineyard will pour all of their wines, run big two day only sales, and cook up organic grass fed cube steak from the McFadden Farm seasoned with grilling herbs, lemon pepper and garlic powder also grown organically at McFadden farm, McFadden Farm Wild Rice and artichoke heart salad, and a green salad with McFadden Farm organic salad herbs. McNab Ridge will be pouring current releases, barrel samples and a Coro vertical while offering a selection of dips and speads, marinated chicken thighs with grilled pineapple, and jumbo shrimp with a zesty horseradish cocktail sauce. Mendocino Farms wine will be poured at Campovida while Ken Boek leads garden tours and Les Boek and his band provide music. Milano Family Winery will be serving tri-tip and have live music by Marc Hansen. Nelson Vineyards will be offering up organic Mendough’s wood-fired pizza with their estate wines. Parducci’s wines will be paired with Magruder Ranch grass fed pulled pork and lamb sliders with Asian slaw while The Dirt Floor Band plays at the Real Goods Solar Living Institute. Saracina Vineyards wines will be paired with smoked chicken and porcini crepes, grilled hanger steak tartines, and beet spoons catered by Janelle Weaver, exec chef of Kuleto Estate Winery. Terra Savia will be pairing wine and olive oil tastings with Hawaiian fare while Hui Arago’s band plays Hawaiian music. Weibel Family Vineyards will be pairing wines with treats from Fork Catering. Thanks to Heidi Cusick Dickerson and Hopland Passport for pulling all of this information together. Ticket prices rise $10 on the day of the event, so pre-purchase your tickets online or at any Hopland winery tasting room.

The 19th Annual Hospice du Rhone will bring together over 1,000 Rhone wines from over 130 Rhone wine producers for three days in Paso Robles, CA. There are several events, tastings, seminars, meals, and you can pick and choose which events to buy tickets to with prices ranging from $100-$155, or you can buy a weekend package ticket for $795, getting you into most of the events.

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.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,829 other followers