John on Wine – Mendocino County’s best wine party is this Saturday!

This piece was originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, July 9, 2015.

In two days, on Saturday, July 11, 2015, my favorite winery party is happening again; once again, it is time for the Annual BBQ Dance Party at McFadden Farm, and yes it is open to the public, not a wine club member exclusive event. Before reading too much farther, pull out your cell phone and call the Hopland tasting room at (707) 744-8463 to get your tickets.

Yes, I work at McFadden, and touting our own event in the column may seem self-serving, but if I didn’t work for Guinness then I would still attend every year, happily buying my tickets to attend; the party is just that good.

Held the second Saturday of July every year, the party is at McFadden Farm, at the very north end of Potter Valley, and officially runs from 5:00 pm until 11:00 pm, but the reality is that folks show up as early as 10:00 am and set up tents or park a camper and then either swim in the Russian River, where it starts, on McFadden Farm, or head out and explore Potter Valley, Redwood Valley, and Ukiah, before returning to check in at 5:00 pm and enjoy the wine and appetizer reception or tour the farm and vineyards with Guinness McFadden himself.

Guinness’ daughter Anne-Fontaine McFadden is a California Culinary Academy graduated chef, and brings a team of San Francisco chef friends to the farm to prepare farm fresh vegetable dishes, salads, and desserts. I never get an advance menu, because each year, they decide what to make after checking what is tasting best, and the farm to table freshness is only matched by the deliciousness of each dish.

The sit down dinner is Mendo simple, but extraordinary. Mendocino Organics is providing the pigs this year, and Mac Magruder is supplying the lamb. Wach year, for the best barbecue you’ve ever tasted, Mac opens up a couple of whole pigs, takes the bones out, and stuffs them full of fresh organic McFadden herbs, sews them shut, and cooks them whole; the result being deliciously flavored meat and herbs, nose to tail. Mac also places a couple of lambs in huge buckets with McFadden red wine and dried McFadden herbs, to infuse delicious flavor into the meat before grilling it.


Of course, no McFadden BBQ dinner would be complete without McFadden wine on the table. Each table gets an assortment of bottles, and there is plenty of trading table to table, which just increases the sense of party and community. This year, among the handful of new wines that will be poured first at the party, count on enjoying both the new 2012 McFadden Coro Mendocino release and our new dry (0.4 residual sugar) 2014 McFadden Riesling. As always, McFadden bubbly will flow, no party should ever be held without the top awarded sparkling wine available anywhere.

The Kelly McFarling Band will perform live, with a dance floor set up, and after dinner folks definitely take to the dance floor. Does wine make people dance better? You be the judge, but I can assure you that there is wine, and a little sugar boost from dessert, to get folks moving and grooving.

Each attendee has the opportunity to take advantage of special dinner exclusive wine prices, with order sheets available, and there is a raffle drawing of McFadden Farm goods and treats from the tasting room that folks can win.

Every year, after the band stops for the night, someone jacks an iPod full of music into the sound system, and the fun continues, usually well beyond the official 11:00 pm end time, and into the early morning hours, before the last folks call it a night (or morning) and head for their tents and overnight camping. With the music going late, if you are camping overnight and want to get to sleep early, set your tent up somewhere on the 500 acre farm that is away from the party.

Tickets are $85 each for the general public; McFadden Wine Club members can pick up two tickets per membership at $70 each; and children, 12 and under, are just $20 each.

I’ve attended wine club dinners that cost as much, but charge for each glass of wine after the first, or don’t have a live band, and none I’ve been to offer overnight camping. One price, and everything is included; we want you to fall in love with McFadden Farm, and you will if you come to our party,

Again, the party is this Saturday, so call today or tomorrow, between 10:00 am and 5:00 pm, to get your tickets through the tasting room. The phone number is (707) 744-8463. Cheers, and see you there!

I attended the Taste of Downtown in Ukiah, as a guest of the folks who put it on, and I wanted to report that the event was fantastic. Always an opportunity to taste wine and beer for three hours, after work, on a Friday, this year there was food bites offered by several local restaurants and food purveyors. The day was over 100 degrees, so my tastes were white and light.

I started at KA Salon, where owner Karina Andrade put out a table of food treats from chocolate covered strawberries to crudités and watermelon to charcuterie, all to pair with the offerings of her winery partner, Jason from Rivino. I’ve been on a Viognier kick lately, and Rivino’s Viognier is a pleaser; tasty, layered, flavorful.

In front of Schat’s Bakery, I tasted the 2013 McNab Ridge Sauvignon Blanc Mendocino County; aromatic, with grassy juniper met by melon, pear, and peach notes.

Chop Chop had a booth on the street and was serving up hoison chicken bao sandwiches with a wild green salad and herb mix, and the bite was so tasty that I went into the new restaurant to get some food to take home after the festival. Pho has come to Ukiah! Oh, by far, the presentation on the bao was the best at the event, tasty and beautiful!

Jim poured me a taste of his dry Naughty Boy rose, it tasted like crushed strawberries over ice, and tasted great paired with the June harvest vegetable tapenade of squash, carrots, onion, and garlic with electric lemon vinaigrette and goat cheese on a potato crostini from Saucy’s booth.

The folks from the Hopland Sho-Ka-Wah casino couldn’t have been nicer, giving away free chicken wings and fun prizes. I got a free dinner for two. Thanks!

Tahto served up a Sauvignon Blanc, made more complex with a little Semillon and Grenache Blanc blended in; rounded, nice weight, and a perfect summer sipper. Bonterra’s Sauvignon Blanc was lush, yet restrained, with a brightness on the finish.

There were panko crusted potato spinach garlic croquettes served up at the Ocotime booth, the sauce is the bomb, but might have overpowered the more subtle flavors of the croquet, not that it mattered much as I paired it with one of my new recent favorite wines, the 2014 Jaxon Keys Viognier.

I got a pretty decent pour of the Jaxon Keys Viognier and also tasted it with the lamb stuffed mushroom caps with onion, garlic, parmesan and cream cheese, topped with bread crumbs from Stan’s Maple Café booth, and the fresh June harvest empanada with parsley chimichurri from the Tango Foods booth, and the wine worked with everything.

Involving the local restaurants in this year’s Taste of Downtown, and tasting instead of pouring, made this the best one I’ve been to. Kudos to the entire team that put on this fun and tasty event.

Today was a freaky good day at work in the McFadden tasting room, and then at home. Busy as hell, but spread out perfectly, allowing me to keep up on hand washing and buffing wine glasses. Two wine club sign ups. A friend of Guinness, my boss, will likely be making Coro release party dinner reservations for himself and his wife. Lots of wine and meat sold in advance of the Memorial Day weekend.

All that’s just good.

Freaky good is a 14.29% pay raise. Freaky good is getting another six-month marketing job. Freaky good is getting an expense paid invite to fly to Hawaii and stay at a resort for six days with three days of work to do. Like three bolts of lightning, all that happened. Today was freaky good.

As much as one wall in my house is screaming for a big screen TV, I think I’ll be putting the extra money toward a new-to-me used car with fewer miles and much better gas mileage. Heck, the money I save on gas might just pay for a big screen TV before too long.

I got a huge resupply of meat, wine, olive oil, herbs, wild rice and employee pay checks right at closing which kept me over an extra hour late making sure things got put away, but as I got the raise with the resupply, it was all good. That, and we really needed the resupply before tomorrow.

Tomorrow is going to be really busy with lots more people stopping in to get set with wine and food from our farm for the long weekend.

I went to dinner at Sho Ka Wah Casino in Hopland tonight. Sho Ka Wah has partnered with several area lodging and winery tasting rooms to offer their guests greater value to their Player’s Club membership. We’ll soon be a featured winery at Sho Ka Wah, so I wanted to see what that actually meant.

First, the food was terrific. I had Prime Rib ($7.77 on Thursday for Player’s Club members, and the membership card is free). The meat was perfectly done, and I ordered mine with salad, baked potato, and grilled garlic green beans. I also had a $5 glass of Gold Medal winning Merlot made from Mendocino County grapes by my Hopland winery neighbor, and friends, at Weibel.

There were several tables enjoying wine with dinner, which was heartening to see.

The promotional efforts for a featured winery by Sho Ka Wah were impressive, with large signage, prominent placement on the wine list, and laminated full color table cards suggesting glasses or bottles of wines from the featured winery.

I’m working a wine event in San Francisco on June 11, Taste of Mendocino (#TOM12 for you twitterers).  Wineries, breweries, farmers, crafters, artists, and entertainers bring much of what makes Mendocino County amazing and presents it in the city for the trade, press, and general public to experience.

Taste of Mendocino leads to lots of great press, sales, and subsequent visits for the participants.

Last year Guinness poured at Taste of Mendocino with his daughter who lives in San Francisco, Anne-Fontaine. This year, something came up, so I’m doing the pouring.

Guinness told me today that he’ll be loaning me a farm vehicle to drive to San Francisco as my van has more miles than it takes to go to the moon and is missing on two of six cylinders, which results in a less than optimum ride and atrocious mileage.

Did I mention things are going freaky good today?

Tomorrow morning, I get cable TV installed at my new apartment. Tomorrow afternoon, I head into work before escaping with all three days of a three-day weekend off. Tomorrow evening, I have a good friend coming from Santa Rosa with a dresser and mirror for me and we’ll have wine and dinner in my new place.

I think my son intends to have a friend stay over tomorrow night, so dinner may be unfancy and easy: pizza, but good pizza. Pizza made better by wine for the adults and better by soda for the teens.


Wineries I have to mention soon because I forgot them in a recent post of some of my favorites: Testa Vineyards in Calpella, Sonoma-Cutrer in Santa Rosa (they say Windsor, but whatev), Topel with vineyard in Hopland and tasting room in Healdsburg, Toad Hollow in Healdsburg, and Keller Estates in Petaluma.

Also coming soon-ish will be actual wine reviews when I taste seven rosé wines in seven days. The lucky seven include

2010 Testa Vineyards Rosé of Carignane – Mendocino,

2010 Monte Volpe (Graziano) Sangiovese Rosato – Mendocino,

2009 Cesar Toxqui Cellars Rosé (of Zinfandel) – Mendocino,

2010 Muscardini Rosato di Sangiovese – Monte Rosso Vineyard,

2011 Toad Hollow Dry Rosé of Pinot Noir – Sonoma County,

2011 V. Sattui Winery North Coast Rosé, and

2010 Chimney Rock Rosé of Cabernet Franc – Stags Leap District Napa Valley.

3 purchased, 2 gifts, and 2 samples sent to me by folks hoping for a review. I also know that “lucky seven” wines was a bit of lazy writing, wines aren’t lucky, but I wanted to write lucky seven and fortune is smiling on me today, and will likely continue to do so, if for no other reason than I’ll be enjoying these wines very soon.


Get out of your house this three-day weekend and visit a winery tasting room near where you live. Find a wine you genuinely like and buy it. If you don’t find a wine you love, hurray, you’ve saved yourself from buying a bottle untasted at Costco that you wouldn’t have loved.  If the person pouring wines for you educates and entertains, if they do a really good job, throw them a tip. Trust me, they’ll appreciate it.

Oh, and just because you didn’t like Chardonnay, don’t assume they are all the same – they aren’t. Try every wine you can. If you like it, great. If you love it, better, buy it. If you don’t love it, pour the remainder in the bucket provided. No one likes everything, but you should at least try wines being offered. Today, I poured Riesling for someone who “hates” Riesling and of course they bought two bottles of it. Why? Because not all Rieslings are the same. Oh, and because today was a freaky good day.


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