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John On Wine – 2014 Mendocino County Fair Wine Competition results

NOTE: This piece will run on Thursday, August 14, 2014 in the Ukiah Daily Journal. Ordinarily I post here, archiving a column, after it runs in the newspaper. Because folks come to my site for news on Mendocino County wine, I have posted here online, before it runs in the paper, today.

The 2014 Mendocino County Fair Wine Competition, thanks to the hard work of the competition committee and judges, saw Mendocino County’s best wines win deserved recognition.

To see the complete results, head over to JohnOnWine.com where the awards are broken down three ways.

Since consumers already know what they like, Chardonnay or Zinfandel, Pinot Noir or Sparkling Wine, the first set of online results are broken down by category. Look for the variety of wine that you like most, and the County’s best will be listed with the top awarded wines at the top of each wine variety list.

Wineries want to know what awards they won, so the second set of results are ordered alphabetically by winery.

The third list is for the sports fans, folks who love competition, and lists wines by medal won; first Best of Show, then Double Gold medal, then Gold, and finally Silver.

At this competition, I always look to see whether Graziano Family of Wines or Navarro Vineyards, each with seemingly thousands of entries, takes the most Gold in a year. This year was a bit of a push. Navarro took nine Gold Medals or better and Graziano only took seven Gold or better, and while four of Navarro’s wines took Double Gold and only two of Graziano’s wines took Double Gold, one of Graziano’s Gold medal winning wines was also judged Best of Show White Wine – one of the competition’s two top honors. To me it is a tie, certainly both wineries have to be incredibly happy with the results.

Graziano’s Best of Show White Wine was the NV Saint Gregory Sparking Brut, Methode Traditionnelle. The John Parducci Best of Show Red Wine award winner went to The Hess Collection’s 2012 Artezin Zinfandel, Mendocino, a wine available in Napa and made from Mendocino County grapes.

Double Gold wines are wines that received unanimous Gold votes from the panel of judges seated for that flight, and were awarded to Navarro Vineyards (4), Husch Vineyards (2), Handley Cellars (2), Graziano Family of Wines (2), Artezin, McFadden Vineyard, Milano Family Winery, and Zina Hyde Cunningham.

Gold medals were awarded to Handley Cellars (5), Navarro Vineyards (5), Graziano Family of Wines (4), Brutocao/Bliss (3), Greenwood Ridge Vineyards (2), Tahto (2), Saracina Vineyards (2), Husch Vineyards, Jeriko Estate, Lula Cellars, Maple Creek Winery/Artevino, McFadden Vineyard, Meyers Family Cellars, Mud Pie, Philo Ridge Vineyards, Seebass Family Wines, and Testa Vineyards.

The day following the competition, I was pouring for and chatting with one of the judges, Mike Dunne of the Sacramento Bee. Mike shared that one of the biggest surprises of the competition was the strength of the Cabernet Sauvignon. I have previously written that Mendocino County can put out some great Cabernet Sauvignon, but we are not thought of as a Cab growing area. The judges got the message this year, with Husch Vineyards taking Gold, Brutocao taking Gold for the second consecutive year, and Milano Family Winery taking a Double Gold.

The Double Gold medal winning 2007 Milano Family Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, Hidden Hawk Vineyard was moved on for the John Parducci Best of Show Red Wine award consideration, and all of the judges tasted it then. Mike said that the wine was spectacular and many judges were talking about it – while still tasting it blind.

Dessert White was an incredibly strong category, with three Double Gold and two Gold for six entries, and the Double Gold medals spread around to wines made from grapes grown in three different areas of the county.

Some days, a wine just doesn’t drink as well as it should, and without taking away anything from the wines that took higher medals from the judges, I think Navarro’s Rose of Pinot Noir is a Gold medal worthy wine, even though it only earned a Silver. Same with the NV McFadden Sparkling Brut which, after taking a Best of Show at the California State Fair, only took Silver.

What do medals mean? How does a judge decide between voting Silver and Gold? Great question, I’m glad I asked it for you. One of the judges told me that as he tastes a wine, if he would like a case, if it is worthy of spending money to purchase in case quantity, then that wine gets a vote for Gold. If the same wine is tasty enough to inspire a purchase, but only a bottle or two, then that wine gets a Silver vote. Wines that make you want to finish the glass get a Bronze and wines that make you not want to finish the glass get a No Medal vote.

For you, I urge you to head over to JohnOnWine.com and find the complete list of winners, print it, and then go wine tasting, using the list as your guide. Then you can cast your own votes, buying a bottle or case, essentially casting your own vote on Mendocino County’s wines.

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Zinfandel Advocates and Producers, ZAP, is holding a Simply Summer Celebration on Saturday, August 16, 2014 from noon to 3:30 pm at Lytton West Vineyard, 1040 Lytton Springs Road, Healdsburg, California 95448. Tickets are $45 for ZAP members and $60 for non-members, and available on ZAP’s webpage, Zinfandel.org, with over 50 wineries participating, including Artezin who took the John Parducci Best of Show Red Wine award at the 2014 Mendocino County Wine Competition, Edmeades from Mendocino County, and Carol Shelton Wines with their Mendocentric Wild Thing Zin. Tickets include ½ pizza and salad from Pizza Politana and there will be music to enjoy. I’ll be there, I hope you will too.

In May 2010, I recapped the Spring Hopland Passport in a piece here. I recognize I lack humility, but I really thought I wrote the best piece on the event – period.

As Secretary on the Board of Directors for Destination Hopland, the non profit responsible for putting on Hopland Passport and increasing tourism to Hopland, I reached out to fellow online wine writers last fall, inviting them to attend the 20th annual Fall Hopland Passport.

Funny how I went from writing about the event one year to helping put it on the next.

Surprising me, I have to hand my “best piece covering Hopland Passport” crown to someone else.

Where I visited all the wineries, tasted over 100 wines, wrote mini notes, and shared some pictures, all in one big post, our new recap champ visited all of our wineries, and shared some words, but her photography is better than my writing will ever be, and she gave each winery their full due, offering up a 16 part event recap.

Diane Davis, better known as Di to the industry folks in the area, posts her words and pictures at Winestyle Living; Sharing the Tales, History & Images of Wine Country. There were several pieces written after last Fall’s event, but Di’s posts stood out for me. I recognized in her work the passion I feel for the area I write about. This wasn’t a job, a gig, for Di, but an opportunity to put the wineries she loves in the best light. I can feel Di’s heart in her work.

Softening the blow of not having written the best Hopland Passport recap piece are the overly nice things Di wrote about me when covering McFadden Vineyard, “When you walk into the tasting room you are greeted by John Cesano, a combination of an exceptional wine talent and a seasoned entertainer. You will learn more about wine in the time you spend there than you will learn about wine in hours of internet searching. If John doesn’t satisfy your curiosity with his bits of wisdom, just ask, he can fill in the blanks.”

Di’s real artistry is in the terrific photos, capturing of the families of McFadden. There are pictures of Guinness McFadden, his lovely girlfriend Judith, his brother Tommy, and his daughter Fontaine. There are pictures of Ann, who works nearly every Second Saturday, and her husband Mark. In addition to pictures of me, there is a wonderful picture of my red haired son Charlie, who worked with Mark outside cooking while Ann worked inside with me pouring and selling wine. Lots of wine.

I know that every winery of Hopland had to smile as they read Di’s words and viewed the journal of photographic art she posted for each.

Here are the links to her pieces, written from November 2011 through January 2012, all in one place.

If I can’t write the best Hopland Passport piece, I can re-host it.

McNab Ridge Winery

McFadden Vineyard

Graziano Family Winery

Weibel Family Winery

McDowell Winery

Cesar Toxqui Cellars

Brutocao Cellars

Parducci Wine Cellars

Milano Family Winery

Rack & Riddle Custom Wine Services

Terra Sávia

Jeriko Estate

Jaxon Keys Winery & Distillery

Saracina Vineyards

Nelson Family Vineyard

Campovida

Di is putting on reverbcon, a social media conference in the hidden wine country of Hopland, April 10-12, 2012. By the time Di is finished, Hopland may not be so hidden anymore.

Ever since I started working in Hopland, I’ve been making new friends. One of the newest is Amie Bunch, the gal who does everything at the Hopland Inn. Amie and I both had the day off today, and we chose to spend some of our time visiting Saracina Vineyards, a winery just a bit north of Hopland.

Amie Bunch, Ingemar Dog, and Nancy Billman at the mouth of the caves at Saracina Vineyards

Upon arriving we were met by owner John Fetzer and tasting room manager Nance Billman. John is a local icon, and is helping to rebuild downtown Hopland. Nance and I serve together on the board of Destination Hopland, and are working on the subcommittee involved in producing Hopland Passport events. John graciously wished us a good visit, as he headed off for bottling new wines, and Nance led us to the caves where wines are barrel aged for a tasting and tour.

Saracina is a 620 acre ranch where grapes are grown both organically and biodynamically. Organic grapes are farmed without synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides. Biodynamic grapes are raised organically with other fruit and/or vegetables, not in a monoculture, with animals present. Saracina has 700 olive trees, a mix of 6 different Italian and Spanish varieties, and sells it’s own olive oil – I fell in love with their olive oil over a year ago and have purchased it from the tasting room several times, it is far more “alive”, flavorful and delicious, than typical store brands. Additionally, 3 million bees on property make a delicious local honey for guests of Saracina. Chickens, sheep, and goats round out the biodynamic menagerie.

Saracina Vineyards, a biodynamic environment, not a grape monoculture

I think Saracina is beautiful, peaceful, comfortable. I have always loved visiting Saracina. Sharing Saracina with Amie, and her beautiful dog Ingemar (named after the 12 year old boy character in the Swedish film My Life s a Dog) was fun, getting to see a winery anew through fresh eyes is always good. Sharing a visit with a cute girl, woman really, but younger than me, so girl in my mind, is terrific.

Nance poured us through her wines. We tasted:

2009 Saracina Sauvignon Blanc $23 – Grapes grom the estate, and from the nearby Redwood Valley. A grassy Sauvignon Blanc with wet stone minerality, pear and citrus against nice acidity.

Nance Billman, Tasting Room Manager, Saracina Vineyards

2010 Atrea “The Choir” $20 – Roussanne and Viognier, a Rhone white blend. Nice for being unique. Bright, clear, drinkable, a little zing of youth, floral honeysuckle and pear.

As a bonus, we got to meet Patty Rock, John Fetzer’s wife, when she came into the cave to provide Nance change for the tasting room register.

Patty Rock and Nance Billman

2010 Saracina Chardonnay $18 – Unoaked and zero malolactic. Tropical banana, pear, pineapple, citrus. Fruit driven, round, nice soft acidity showcases the abundant fruit. The clearest expression of banana I’ve ever experienced.

2009 Saracina Pinot Noir Klindt Vineyard Anderson Valley, $38 – the grapes come from the Klindt vineyard, right behind Handley. My first reaction was an expletive, which usually means a wine has taken my breath, and words, away. Great beautiful nose, lovely mouth. Smooth strawberry jam flabor, light oak, rose petal, dried raspberry. Smooth soft tannin.

2007 Atrea “Old Soul” Red $25 – Zinfandel, Syrah, Petite Sirah, and Malbec. Think Coro Mendocino-esque. Drinkable multiberry blend with cocoa notes; raspberry, blueberry, strawberry, blackberry. Soft, but a little punch.

2009 Saracina “Pick & Shovel” Zinfandel $28 – the vines for this wine are grown right atop the caves. Bright, raspberry, herb, tannin and acid.

2007 Saracina Syrah Rogers Creek Sonoma Coast $32 - This Syrah comes from the Petaluma Gap portion of the Sonoma Coast AVA. This is a muscular Syrah, pepper jerky nose, meaty smoky blackberry flavors.

2003 Saracina Syrah McDowell – Library – $35 – Old vine? Planted 1889. Soft mouth, soft fruit expression.

My favorite Syrah tasted anywhere last year was a (now sold out) 2005 Saracina Syrah with grapes coming from both the Eagle Point and Potato Patch (high elevation) Vineyards. Until today, I thought of Saracina as a Syrah house. Nance bristled the first time she heard me say that a week ago. Today, while I enjoyed the 2007 Sonoma Coast Syrah, I also really enjoyed the 2010 Chardonnay, and bought a bottle of the 2009 Klindt Vineyard Pinot Noir. I have absolutely no room for more wine, I don’t have temperature controlled storage, there are many reasons I shouldn’t have bought even one bottle, but the Pinot was just too delicious. It waved its hand in front of my face, pulled the Jedi mind trick on me, “you will buy me” I heard it say into my head, and there I was picking up a bottle.

Amie picked up a bottle of wine, and a bottle of olive oil, and a bottle of honey. Ingemar was not allowed in the caves, but resting in shade outside enjoyed water and dog biscuits provided by Nance.

I had never traveled the caves before, after all, a cave is a cave, right? Well, I was wrong, there was a winery version of an Army of Chinese Terra Cotta Soldiers on display. Vessels, previously buried, had been artistically transformed.

Surprising Art Hidden in the Caves

Outside the caves, Saracina was just as beautiful as ever.

Amie texting a welder friend pictures of the cool metal chairs gracing Saracina

Not pictured is the gorgeous Saracina “barn” where a morning Hopland Passport meeting was held. Absolutely beautiful in all respects, it provides John and Patty the opportunity to host a special meal, or entertain, featuring their wines of course.

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.

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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.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jaxon Keys’ hilltop farmhouse tasting room

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

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

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

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

The cave at Saracina Vineyards

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

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

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

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

Estate Bee Honey – Again, simply delicious. $12

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

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

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

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

Overall, a wonderful experience.

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

The landscaped garden at Jeriko Estate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Magnanimus Wine Group at Campovida

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The gardens at Campovida

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

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

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

Weibel Family and Winery

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

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

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

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

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

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

The historic Hop Kiln location of Milano Family Winery

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Terra Sávia Olive Oil facility and winery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Very drinkable wines from really nice fruit.

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

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

Rack & Riddle custom wine services

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

McNab Ridge Winery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guinness McFadden at his winery’s tasting room

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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McDowell Valley Vineyards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bocce courts at Brutocao Cellars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sip! Mendocino in downtown Hopland

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

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