John On Wine – Wine blends, both European and local

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, October 2, 2014

Recently, I received an email from David and Merry Jo Velasquez of Cannon Falls, MN; after visiting the tasting room where I work and finding this wine column, they visited France and suggested a column, “outlining the GSM grape varieties that make Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine so popular, and which winemakers are doing similar blends in Northern CA,” as well as exploring the “French law/custom [that] allows 13 grape varieties to be used in CdP wines…[and] other stringent requirements which were fascinating to learn about.” They also mentioned the “terroir” (the land, climate, the environment grape vines grow in) and sent some terrific photos.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape vineyard

Châteauneuf-du-Pape vineyard

Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a town in the Rhone wine region of southeastern France. Red varieties allowed are Cinsaut, Counoise, Grenache Noir, Mourvèdre, Muscardin, Piquepoul Noir, Syrah, Terret Noir, and Vaccarèse (Brun Argenté). White and pink varieties are Bourboulenc, Clairette Blanche, Clairette Rose, Grenache Blanc, Grenache Gris, Picardan, Piquepoul Blanc, Piquepoul Gris, and Roussanne. The 13 varieties historically mentioned by David and Merry Jo have expanded to 18, as today the Noir (black/red), Gris (grey), and Blanc (white) versions of individual grape varieties are considered separate.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape red grapes reaching maturity - note the rounded stones in the vineyard that the vines fight through

Châteauneuf-du-Pape red grapes reaching maturity – note the rounded stones in the vineyard that the vines fight through

Famed for GSM (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre) Rhone blends, some of my favorite wines tasted have come from Châteauneuf-du-Pape. By far, most of Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines are red, and most use Grenache as the base, or largest element, of their blends. Lighter in body, two things allow for wines of greater intensity:

First, yields are reduced with local laws prohibiting greater than 368 gallons to be produced per acre of fruit. By dropping fruit during the growing season, the remaining fruit receives greater vitality from the vine, and the result is greater flavor. Second, instead of holding the wines in oak barrels, and having the oak overpower the flavors of the grape, much of the wine is held in concrete containers, a neutral container that better protects against oxidation than oak during winemaking. Here, in northern California, there are a number of wineries using Rhone varietals who have purchased concrete ‘eggs’ to make their wine in.

Richly ripe white grapes from Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Richly ripe white grapes from Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Blends done right are wines greater than the sum of their parts. Often Cabernet Sauvignon, a big firm wine, will have some Merlot blended in as the Merlot will soften the wine; and the reverse is true, an overly soft Merlot can benefit from the backbone a little Cabernet Sauvignon can offer to the blended wine’s structure.

Just as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are often blended together, so too are Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, and Zinfandel and Carignane. There are many ‘classic’ blends, and they are classics because they work, the wines blended are often better than the wines held separate.

In California, as long as there is 75% or more of any single wine grape variety in the wine then that grape variety can be used on the label; in other words, the Zinfandel you buy at the store has at least 75% and up to a full 100% of Zinfandel in the bottle, but might contain some other wine grape varieties – up to 25% in total. There are many local wineries that make stellar blend wines, and do not bother with hitting 75% of any varietal, instead giving their blend wine a fanciful proprietary name like Black Quarto, Atrea Old Soul Red, or Campo de Stella.

In Europe, wines are named for the areas they come from, and a Châteauneuf-du-Pape red wine can be made from any of nine grape varieties and is most often a blend, while a red wine from Bordeaux will be made from a shorter list of grapes, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Carménère. Just as Châteauneuf-du-Pape has a protocol, part law and part tradition, for making wine, so too does Bordeaux, and nearly every other geographically identifiable wine area in Europe.

Meritage (rhymes with heritage, it is an American wine, not French, so please do not force a French mispronunciation) is a wine made outside of Bordeaux using the grapes used in Bordeaux, where an individual grape variety does not meet the minimum percentage threshold allowing the wine to receive a grape variety name. Starting as a California only association of blended wines, Meritage wines expanded first to the United States, and then internationally.

In all of the United States, there is only one geographically identifiable area that makes wines from an agreed upon list of grapes, and following an agreed upon production protocol, following the European model, but is by agreement among the participating wineries and not under force of law, and that unique in America area is Mendocino County, and the wines are Coro Mendocino.

A Quintet of Coro Mendocino Wines

A Quintet of Coro Mendocino Wines

Coro is Italian for Chorus and, just as a chorus should be a harmonious blending of voices, Coro wines should be a harmonious blending of grape varieties. Every Coro Mendocino starts with Zinfandel, Mendocino County’s most planted grape, and must contain no less than 40% and no more than 70% Zinfandel. Of note is that there is not enough Zinfandel, 75% minimum, to label the wine as a Zinfandel. The supporting ‘blend’ grapes include Syrah, Petite Sirah, Carignane, Sangiovese, Grenache, Dolcetto, Charbono, Barbera, Primitivo, plus up to 10% “free play” where an individual participating Coro Mendocino winery can allow their signature style to shine through, with an Anderson Valley winery blending in some Pinot Noir or inland Mendocino winery blending in some Cabernet Sauvignon as an example. None of the supporting blend grapes is to exceed the percentage of Zinfandel in the finished wine.

Coro Mendocino wines also adhere to winemaking protocols, with wine chemistry limits and oak and bottle aging spelled out for participants. Perhaps the most unique aspect of the Coro Mendocino program is that each winery puts their wines through a rigorous quality assurance regimen; first the wines are blind tasted several times as barrel samples by all the participating wineries with constructive criticism offered up for each wine in an effort to produce the very best wines possible, and then the wines go through a pass/fail, Coro/No-Coro, blind tasting before they may carry the Coro Mendocino label.

Each Coro within a vintage, winery to winery, is different, just as each Coro within a winery, vintage to vintage, is different, and yet there is a thread that ties all Coro Mendocino wines together, in much the same way that all wines from Châteauneuf-du-Pape or Bordeaux are tied together, but with an assurance of quality.

Barra, Brutocao, Clos du Bois, Fetzer, Golden, McFadden, Parducci, and Testa each made a Coro in the most recently released vintage, 2011, and the wines can be tasted and purchased at each individual winery’s tasting room, or all can be purchased at SIP! Mendocino in Hopland. The best of the Coro from each vintage, produced from organically grown grapes, is also available at the Ukiah co-op and on Patrona restaurant’s wine list in Ukiah.

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John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

John On Wine ­ – Thank you

By John Cesano

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal on Wednesday, November 27, 2013

I like that we kick-off the holiday season with a giving of thanks. Facebook has featured 30 days of thanks – a note about something that moves someone to thanks – posted each day in November, 30 notes of thanks with several of my friends participating.

These many notes of thanks and the other upbeat, positive, and inspirational messages have made Facebook more joyful this month. I’ve participated; it isn’t a stretch imagining me writing 30 notes in 30 days, after all. A few of my notes touched on wine, pouring it, tasting it, writing about it, drinking it. I’ll be doing a bit more of that here.

First, I want to thank Guinness McFadden for giving me a job, for hiring me to take over your tasting room in Hopland. You hired an unknown quantity, I had never worked as a tasting room employee before. I hope your risk has been rewarded. Thanks to the wines and other foodstuffs from the farm that you provide me with, our numbers have never been better and we have the highest rated tasting room in the over five year history of San Francisco Chronicle tasting room reviews. I love that you tell me what, not how, and allow me to do my job with an amazing amount of freedom. I am thankful to be able to do something I am very good at.

I also want to thank my crew: Eugene, Gary, Ann, Juanita and Catrina for giving our visitors the same care I would give them, and freeing me up for days off.

I want to thank Bob Swain and, now sainted, Raphael Brisbois for making the wines I sell. You two have made wines with tons of medals and 90-plus ratings from Guinness’ grapes, and I am extraordinarily grateful to be able to pour them. Thanks also to Bob for sitting down with me and tasting 11 wines for a piece that ran online in March of 2010. Parducci Wine Cellars and Paul Dolan Wines were the first inland Mendocino County wines to get a feature piece written by me. I’ve asked Bob to sit down with me again and when he does, I’ll be thankful and write an updated piece featuring Parducci for the newspaper.

I’m thankful for Kelly Hancock, my editor at the Ukiah Daily Journal. Your stellar work editing previous pieces made saying yes to writing this column easier.

Thanks to my predecessor, Heidi Cusick Dickerson, a better wine writer than I am, for being constantly supportive of my efforts and for sending folks my way.

Thanks to so many local folks for being so welcoming, helpful, and ­ again ­ supportive. Alan, Louis and Hairy Putter, Di Davis and the entire Davis family, Lorie Pacini and Allen Cherry; thanks to all of you.

Thanks to all of the winery tasting room folks, owners and employees, from Potter Valley to Ukiah, Redwood Valley to Talmage, and Capella to Hopland. There are so many more features yet to write. Some of you, I’ve visited but haven’t written up yet; I will, after visiting again.

Thanks especially to the folks at Barra and Girasole: Martha, Charlie, Katrina, and my tasting buddy Gracia; and to Maria Testa at Testa Vineyards, who always has a smile and a good glass of red. I do not know what they put in the drinking water up in Redwood Valley, but I appreciate your every kindness.

Thanks to Bernadette Byrne at Sip! Mendocino in Hopland for helping point a few of the folks behind the labels you pour my way. Two of the biggest treats that I am most thankful for are meeting Fred and Alberta of Albertina Vineyards, and Mario and Danelle of Rosati Family Wines; a pair of husband and wife couples, growing grapes, making wine and selling it in entirely too much anonymity. I loved your wines and enjoyed spending time with you – thank you for making me feel so welcome. For those reading this, wines from both Albertina and Rosati are available at Sip! Mendocino.

I get invited to things because I write. Thanks for all of the invitations to events, dinners, and tastings. I see some of the same folks at various events and two people I am very thankful for are Sheriff Tom Allman and District Attorney David Eyster of Mendocino County. These two do more than merely administrate, they care about and constantly engage the people in the communities they serve. I am thankful for such dedicated public servants.

I got a head start with hundreds of McFadden wine club members who already knew me, but the response to this column from the public has been surprising to me. I am thankful to each and every person who reads my column. It is still slightly unsettling to have people I’ve never met, in places other than wine shops, recognize me and compliment me on a column they read and remember. Whether I’ve been in line to get coffee, seated at a restaurant, or on the firing line at the gun club, you have come up to me to tell me you read my column and even if I am not used to being recognized, I am thankful for your readership and humbled by your feedback.

I’ll be in my tasting room today until 5 p.m. to help people with their very last minute Thanksgiving wine selections and while the room will only be closed one day for Thanksgiving, I will very thankfully take most of four days off, enjoying a family dinner on Thursday, and trying to buy some great cookware on a Friday sale. Maybe, I’ll taste some wines on the weekend for a future column, which would make my editor thankful. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!
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Here’s some extra “thank you”s for my online readers to wade through. Thanks to my son Charlie; you are, by and large, a good boy. Thanks to Heather from Ft. Bragg; it is nice when we find the time to walk paths together. Thanks to Millesima USA, who inexplicably named this blog one of the Top Ten Wine News Blogs being written.

Top 10 Wine New Blog Award

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John on Wine

Spotlight Winery: Rosati Family Wines

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal on September 5, 2013 by John Cesano


In 1980 Mario and Danelle Rosati bought 960 acres just off Highway 101 at Comminsky Station Road, 1.7 miles south of Squaw Rock, near where Mendocino County borders Sonoma County. The ranch has grown to 1,500 acres with another 1,300 acre companion ranch, and is mostly natural and unplanted land.

Told at purchase that all of the buildings would have to be torn down, Mario completely rehabbed and restored a large red barn, which is now the nicest guest house you might imagine, filled with wood and stone, a showplace kitchen, soaring open space; both comfortable and gorgeous at once.

“Maybe one plank from the original barn is left,” Mario told me, as he welcomed me for a tasting and dinner.

A lawyer by training in Palo Alto, Mario graduated from U.C. Berkeley’s law school and joined a small firm, Wilson Sonsini, in 1971. The firm grew from nine to more than 600 lawyers, and is now global. Mario went from associate to partner in 1975, to having his name included in the firm’s name, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati.

The seeds of Rosati Family Wines were planted in 1971 when Mario’s boss and firm founder John Wilson asked, “do you like to drink wine,” before assigning him a new client: Ridge Vineyards.

For those unfamiliar, Ridge is one of the most revered wineries in California, and the wines produced from their various Monte Bello Ridge vineyards are highly sought after. The 2007 Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon is currently going for $160 at the winery, as an example.

David Bennion, a founding partner at Ridge, and Mario worked together for years; and with the purchase of his Mendocino County ranch, Mario invited Dave up to hunt for mushrooms. Mushroom hunting became pig hunting too, and after having visited for years, Dave suggested that grapes might grow well on the ranch.

Using precious Monte Bello bud stock from Ridge, David helped Mario plant 10 acres to Cabernet Sauvignon on a mountain ridge with elevation ranging from 1,000 to 1,200 feet in 1987. Subsequently, vines were filled in and an additional three acres were planted with Jimsomare bud stock. Jimsomare is one of four Monte Bello ridge vineyards that Ridge considers estate vineyards. Peter Chevalier is the vineyard manager for Mario and Danelle.

Mario gave me a ride from the “barn” up to the vineyards, about 800 feet above the Russian River below. The grape set looked spectacular, but Mario told me that his winemaker, Zelma Long, would drop about half the grapes and, during sorting after harvest, Zelma and Danelle would further reduce the yield, until only about 1 ton of the best, most flavorful grapes remain to make the vintage’s wine.

Zelma Long’s Cabernet Sauvignon winemaking credentials are as solid as they come, making stellar Cab for both Robert Mondavi in the 70s and Simi in the 80s and 90s.

Zelma and Alex MacGregor work together at John and Patty Fetzer’s Saracina winery to turn Rosati’s Cabernet grapes into wine.

I tasted five vintages of Rosati Family Wines Cabernet Sauvignon, 2000, 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007.

Tying each of the five vintages together was a rich earthy quality, a chewiness, firm tannins, a “dustiness” that echoes the best of Napa Cab’s “Rutherford dust” quality, and clear rich ripe fruit.

Mario said of the 2000, “when we first bottled this, it had so much tannin, but now Š” as he poured it for me. With age, this wine showed rich dark chocolate and cherry notes, and still had enough tannin left that this was a hold or drink wine.

Opening a bottle from one of the last three cases, Mario poured the 2004, which showed bright cherry berry fruit in the nose and was so enjoyably easy to drink. Perfect right now, with light tannin and oak providing a backdrop for earthy, dusty, cassis, blackberry and cherry in the mouth and a long beautiful finish.

The 2005 is classic Cabernet, all earthy dark fruit, plummy blackberry, boysenberry, and tannin. Pretty big, lay it down and hold, or drink.

2006 Rosati Family Cabernet Sauvignon is a gorgeous, food friendly, not overpowering, but bursting with candy like blackberry and black currant wine. Earthy, oaky, tooth coating chewiness upon opening gives way to rich and bright fruit, beautifully balanced and integrated, a lively and delightful wine.

The 2007 is plummy rich, dense, and packed with dark fruit. Maribeth Kelly brought an aerating decanter and this wine, which is a definite hold, a wine that can be laid down longer still to benefit, was magically turned into a drink.

Rick Berry and Maribeth were guests at a dinner Mario and Danelle kindly invited me to share, with fresh salmon caught by Rick being served. Steaks were also grilled with the most delicious rub, and were a perfect pairing for the several vintages of Rosati Cabernet at the table.

In Mendocino County both SIP! Mendocino in Hopland and the Mendocino Wine Shop in Mendocino carry Rosati Cabernet Sauvignon, and it is well worth a visit to either to try some, especially at a surprisingly affordable price of $32-$33.
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This piece was written over a month ago. This morning, I received an email announcing the release of the 2010 Ridge Monte Bello Cabernet at $160 per bottle. These Rosati wines are like those Ridge wines, but you get five bottles for the price of one.

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John on Wine

Spotlight Winery: Albertina Vineyards

Originally Published in the Ukiah Daily Journal on August 8, 2013 by John Cesano

Along with my friend Gracia Brown, I spent a wonderful afternoon with Fred and Alberta Zmarzly at their remote, terraced-hillside vineyards tasting wine, eating some salami and cheese on crackers, and getting to know each other a little better.

Fred and Alberta met in Belmont at a nightclub called the Swiss Chalet, the band playing that evening was the Warlocks. The Warlocks would shortly after change their name to the Grateful Dead. Alberta also changed her name, taking Fred’s, Zmarzly, when they married.

For those keeping score at home, Gracia has previously graced columns both here in print and my online blog, for having been the talented and hardworking representative of the county’s wine industry when she worked for the Mendocino Winegrape and Wine Commission, and more recently as Martha and Charlie Barra’s current marketing superstar.

Together, Gracia and I left Hopland as we first traveled west, and then south and up, up, upward until we came to the cabin home of Fred and Alberta. Fred met and welcomed us, wearing relaxed farmers garb; blue jeans, a faded blue polo shirt, brown work boots, and a ball cap emblazoned “SIP! Mendocino” ­ which is where Albertina’s wines can be purchased in Hopland.

With a cooler filled with wine tasting and picnic provisions, we walked from Fred’s home, past a water pond, and up into the Albertina vineyards, a nudge over 400 acres around the side and up Duncan Peak.

As we walked, Fred shared that having moved from Buffalo, NY to California, and then on to Santa Rosa, he and Alberta were looking for a place to raise cattle and farm when they found a real estate ad offering a “pond, hunting, and lodge.” The ad stretched the lodge part, but they bought the place in 1983, rebuilt the cabin home and refurbished the other two “lodge” buildings in 1985 and 1986, decided to go into grapes in 2000, took care of water needs in 2001, and actually planted their Albertina vineyards in 2002.

Albertina means “little Alberta” in Italian, and is what Alberta’s father called her as a child. Now the name allows Fred to share his love for his wife with each bottle of wine made from their grapes.

On a knoll with 25 mile views, under the shade of oak trees in the center of the vineyards we tasted the 2009 Albertina Cabernet Sauvignon ($26). Made by Penny Gadd-Caster, who made Jordan’s Cabernet for 13 years, at Rack & Riddle in Hopland, this was a supple and smooth red, rich and redolent, with powerful blackberry fruit against a backdrop of leather, chocolate, and violet, with lighter supporting fruit notes of cherry and strawberry. A gorgeously integrated wine, there is a terrific nose to mouth to finish continuity of notes.

Fred sells 40 tons of fruit to Constellation, a giant in the industry with more than 50 wine brands in the U.S., and splits the rest between Rack & Riddle and Greg Graziano for turning into Albertina wines.

Fred next poured us some of his 2009 Albertina Cabernet Franc, Meredith’s Reserve ($24).

Outdoors, comfortably seated with friends, new and old, I tasted Fred’s Franc. Layers of flavors, red raspberry fruit, licorice, herb, pepper, and red plum played in a fruit forward styled enjoyable drinkable, soft, medium bodied wine.

Fred told us a bit about farming grapes and said there are really 12 things a farmer needs to do to make good grapes, irrigation being one of those things. Joking that his endeavors might be saintly, like Jesus he turns water into wine, but he’s not as good at it because it takes Fred 1/2 million gallons of water to make 3,000 gallons of wine each year.

After walking through the vineyard and seeing where a small portion came through a recent fire started by a tractor exhaust spark, we returned to the cabin home and met Alberta who had been resting during the hottest part of a very hot summer day.

The Zmarzly home is comfortable and charming, with a lovely antique stove and oven that definitely caught both Gracia’s and my eyes. We were also impressed with the casts of bear prints and the bear tales Alberta and Fred shared.

Paired with salami, cheese, and crackers, we tasted the 2009 Albertina Merlot, Lorelei’s Reserve ($24). Perfumed plum in a glass, the Merlot was the third of three Bordeaux varietal reds grown on the Zmarzly Family Vineyard to impress and please. Supporting notes included warm candied cherry and herb.

The four of us alternately sat and stood, conversations were weaved, stories told. We got to hear about the liquor stills that Alberta’s family had on the ranch where she grew up, and how the Feds blew the stills up, and while some folks got prosecuted, her father got off.

We heard about how the town of Hopland has changed over the years, since the Zmarzlys first came to town in 1983 until 2011 when I started managing a tasting room in town.

We talked about farming, conventional and organic ­ the Albertina vineyards are sustainably farmed.

Four hours passed and three wines were tasted. This was a standout experience for me, a wonderfully enjoyable and relaxed day chatting over wine. Fun.

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John Cesano, an ardent Deadhead, listened to the almost 24-year-old, October 9, 1989 Hampton Coliseum “Warlocks” show while putting this column together, in honor of Fred and Alberta’s meeting at a show by the band 24 years earlier still.

The 21st annual fall Hopland Passport wine weekend, on Saturday, October 20 and Sunday, October 21, from 11:00 am until 5:00 pm each day, offers something for everybody, whether a first time wine event goer or a veteran of many Hopland Passport wine weekends.

Hopland Passport tickets are available online through noon on Thursday, October 18 at just $45 each. Tickets are available at any of the participating winery tasting rooms during the weekend for $55 each. Recommendation: don’t procrastinate, save $10 per ticket, go online and buy them early.

To fully and safely enjoy your Hopland Passport experience, with roughly 150 wines being poured by the sixteen Hopland Passport wineries, it is a great idea to use both full days for tasting. Enjoy the food offered by each tasting room. Listen to music, take tours, absorb the information that pourers give you. After nosing and tasting a wine, use the dump buckets provided to empty your glass of wine left from tasting, and take notes of your favorite wines so you can purchase those wines during the weekend’s sale prices. You will have a much better time trying to taste dozens of wines than trying to drink dozens of wines. Many wineries offer larger discounts to wine club members, so if you enjoy several wines poured at one tasting room, consider joining their wine club and enjoying bigger savings both during Hopland Passport and beyond.

New attendees will find a remarkably enjoyable opportunity to enjoy wine tasting at sixteen participating Hopland area tasting rooms, along with terrific food pairings chosen to highlight the flavors of the wines being poured, with each tasting room putting a unique spin on the weekend’s festivities with vineyard and garden tours, fun themed events, live music, contests, and special event specific discounts. Quite simply, Hopland Passport is the best wine tasting event value anywhere.

Veteran attendees will find many of their favorite winery tasting rooms doing what they do best, but will also find two brand new Hopland Passport tasting rooms to visit this time around.

Rivino Winery is one of the two newcomers pouring this fall. Closer to Ukiah than Hopland, off Hwy 101 on Cox Schrader Road, Rivino is no stranger to events, having hosted a long running and  well-attended weekly Friday Happy Hour wine and music gathering. Enjoy a Caddyshack themed Hopland Passport weekend in Rivino’s vineyard with live music by Nahara Ange and food inspired by the classic golf comedy. Be sure to taste the gold medal winning estate wines Rivino will be pouring.

New Kids on the Block, RIVINO will be doing it up right out of the blocks

New Kids on the Block, RIVINO will be doing it up right out of the blocks

The other new addition to the lineup of Hopland Passport winery tasting rooms is Naughty Boy Vineyards. Naughty Boy Vineyards pours from a new shop, WAA WAA, in downtown Hopland’s Vintage Marketplace building.  WAA WAA is short for Wine, Art, and Antiques x 2, as delightful collectible affordable vintage goods and inspired artwork share a retail location with wine made from grapes grown by Potter Valley’s Naughty Boy Vineyards.

Naughty Boy Vineyards at WAA WAA in Hopland's Vintage Marketplace

Naughty Boy Vineyards at WAA WAA in Hopland’s Vintage Marketplace

Naughty Boy will bring live music by Redbud to Hopland’s Vintage Marketplace, and will offer homemade Scottish Lox and other Hors d’Ouerves created to pair perfectly their wines. In addition to wine sales, antiques will be on sale at 30 percent off.

Sharing the Vintage Marketplace building in Hopland are three more winery tasting rooms, the McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room, Graziano Family of Wines, and Weibel Family Vineyards & Winery.

Vintage Marketplace, home to Naughty Boy, McFadden, Graziano, and Weibel

Vintage Marketplace, home to Naughty Boy, McFadden, Graziano, and Weibel

McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room, which I manage, will feature all the best from our own certified organic and biodiverse farm.  We’ll  grill up steaks from McFadden Farm’s own organic grass fed beef, seasoned with McFadden Farm organic herbs and herb blends, and a McFadden Farm wild rice salad, and offering the ingredients for sale so visitors can recreate the Passport offerings is what Guinness McFadden has been doing for years. This fall, there will be a big pot of farm fresh beans to go with all of the other great farm food.

In the back yard at McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room

In the back yard at McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room

Enjoy big discounts on everything in the Farm Stand & Tasting Room, with Guinness McFadden signing bottles of his award winning wines as they are purchased, including his double gold medal winning Sparkling Brut.

Graziano Family of Wines offers over thirty delicious reds, whites, roses and blends for you to enjoy, from Aglianico to Zinfandel, many at special Passport sale prices. Graziano will offer up imported meats and cheeses, homemade tapenade, and estate-grown olive oils to pair with their wines being poured.

Inside the Graziano tasting room

Inside the Graziano tasting room

Weibel welcomes back Fork Catering for a delectable array of appetizers including Grilled Tomatillo Cilantro Chicken Tacos, Heirloom Tomato Bruschetta, and Mini Grilled Cheese sandwiches with local artisan cheeses. Weibel will feature both their popular fruit and nut infused bubblies, as well as their handcrafted wines made from Redwood Valley grapes.

Yummy treats at Weibel

Yummy treats at Weibel

Three more winery tasting rooms are located in downtown Hopland, Cesar Toxqui Cellars, McNab Ridge Winery, and Brutocao Cellars.

Cesar Toxqui Cellars will be greeting guests on the porch with fruit infused cheeses and a wonderfully brisk new Chardonnay release. Once inside, you’ll enjoy delicious chicken curry, southern fried fish, homemade ceviche, and fried rice, and a new release 2007 Immigrant Zinfandel.

Cesar Toxqui Cellars tasting room

Cesar Toxqui Cellars tasting room

There will be barrel tasting at McNab Ranch Winery, with the opportunity to buy futures of their 2010 Cononiah Zinfandel. Be sure to try spicy Asian peanut pasta salad paired with McNab’s French Colombard. Traditional favorites, the spreads/dips and bottle painting by local artist Leslie Bartolomei, will return.

A little something to enjoy with McNab Zin barrel samples

A little something to enjoy with McNab Zin barrel samples

Brutocao promises a Wine Zombie Apocalypse: “serving some finger lickin’ good treats paired with award winning Estate Wines. Go out on a limb and be the best dressed zombie and win a prize. It will be a horrific good time with grape stomps, bocce ball and un-dead music by “Third Party”.  Wines to die for!”

Bocce at Brutocao

Bocce at Brutocao

Just west of downtown Hopland, on Mountain House Road, you’ll find both Rack & Riddle and Terra Sávia.

Rack & Riddle is a custom sparkling wine house. Many of the area’s best bubblies are made at Rack & Riddle, including double gold medal winners for both McFadden and Terra Savia. Rack & Riddle also produces both sparkling and still wines of their own – all delicious. Enjoy them with Rack & Riddle’s lime & shrimp ceviche, warm tri-tip sliders, chips & guacamole.

It's not a real wine event without a working tractor - at Rack & Riddle

It’s not a real wine event without a working tractor – at Rack & Riddle

Terra Sávia offers not just delicious wines and a terrific bubbly rouge, but fantastic olive oil. A tasting of Olivino’s quality olive oils will likely make you regret a lifetime’s use of a previously favored store brand. Always a great stop, enjoy wine, food, art, music, and olive oil.

Relax at Terra Savia, a lovely Passport stop

Relax at Terra Savia, a lovely Passport stop

Just south of downtown Hopland is Milano Family Winery. Enjoy Milano’s scrumptious smoked & marinated Tri-Tip, an abundance of fresh veggies and dips, as well as delicious, aged to perfection Cabot Creamery Cheeses. On Saturday, “Headband” will play rock & roll, blues, jazz.  On Sunday, “Frankie J” will play. Don’t miss the clothing & craft vendors that always set up at Milano during Hopland Passport.

Milano is a great stop with wine, food, crafts, and music, a festival within a festival

Milano is a great stop with wine, food, crafts, and music, a festival within a festival

East of downtown Hopland, on Old River Road, you’ll find Campovida. No Hopland Passport wine weekend is complete without a tour of Campovida’s gardens, led by master gardener Ken Boek. Campovida is another amazing, only in Hopland, blend of wine, food, art, music, and heartfelt hospitality.

Take a taste of Campovida's wines from their tasting room into their gardens

Take a taste of Campovida’s wines from their tasting room into their gardens

North of downtown Hopland, heading back toward Rivino on Hwy 101, Hopland Passport stops include Jeriko Estate, Saracina, Jaxon Keys, and Nelson Family Vineyards.

Jeriko Estate features biodynamically grown hand crafted Pinot Noir, and often serves up pork –  which goes great with Pinot.

Jeriko will be pouring Pinot, perhaps paired with pork

Jeriko will be pouring Pinot, perhaps paired with pork

Saracina is deservedly famous for the Rhone varietal wines and Rhone inspired twists that winemaker Alex MacGregor brings to Saracina. Try a Chardonnay with a touch of Viognier, enjoy a Rhone red blend, tour real wine caves, enjoy the peaceful setting designed to make you relaxed and more open to all that the wines, food pairings, and music are trying to convey.

Saracina is a series of paintings just waiting to happen, absolutely beautiful

Saracina is a series of paintings just waiting to happen, absolutely beautiful

Jaxon Keys Winery & Distillery offers a prohibition era themed weekend, “our Speakeasy will be open for business, serving bootleg wine to all who dare break the law of Prohibition. We will have barrels of wine, gallons of contraband brandy and vodka all for the asking. No G-Men to worry about! We’ve paid them to look the other way for the weekend. Live music on the deck, awesome food prepared by Taste of Perfection Catering, and all our wines flowing freely, experience the Prohibition era for yourself!”

Just Kicking it at Jaxon Keys

Just Kicking it at Jaxon Keys

Exactly half way between Hopland and Ukiah, Nelson Family Vineyards invites crowd pleaser Mendough’s Wood-Fired Pizza back.  Enjoy Nelson’s estate wines, paired with delicious pizzas made with fresh and local ingredients including chevre and sun dried tomatoes, prosciutto and arugula, Gorgonzola and artichoke all atop the most incredible crust you’ve ever had. Nelson’s Ice Riesling is a perfect way to end your visit to Nelson, and your Hopland Passport wine weekend.

Pizza and wine in the grove at Nelson

Pizza and wine in the grove at Nelson

Coming to Hopland too late to officially participate in the fall Hopland Passport, Frey from Redwood Valley will be having a Grand Opening of their new tasting room in the Real Goods store at the Solar Living Institute in Hopland. This 17th Hopland tasting room may not be in the passport, but they will be offering up delicious food pairings to go with their sulfite free, vegan, wines.

Frey will be opening their new tasting room during Passport in Hopland

Frey will be opening their new tasting room during Passport in Hopland

In addition to Piazza de Campovida which opened in time for last spring’s Hopland Passport, this fall’s event will see the new Hopland Ale House opening; both spots will offer beer and food for sale during and after Passport hours. An 18th tasting room, SIP! Mendocino, will be open for tastings of Mendocino County wines from outside the area as well.

For more information, or to purchase tickets, please visit www.DestinationHopland.com

Okay, if you’ve read this far, and I expect that few will, here’s your reward. If you simply leave a comment about any one of the wineries that will participate at this year’s fall Hopland Passport between now and noon on Friday, October 12, you will be entered into a random drawing for two tickets ($110 value) for Hopland Passport. If you want to double your drawing entries from one to two, make the comment about the tasting room I manage. I’ll add an announcement of the winner here, to this post and on the facebook page of Hopland Passport on or before Monday, October 15, 2012. Good luck!

Photo credits: If the photo looks great, it came from Diane Davis Photography. If the photo is okay, I yoinked from the winery’s website. If the photo is meh, then I took it.

This Saturday, Earth Day, April 21, 2012, is going to be crazy busy in Hopland, the wine area I work in. Check it out:

EARTH DAY CALENDAR OF EVENTS FOR APRIL 21 IN HOPLAND

EARTH DAY FESTIVAL 2012 at the SOLAR LIVING INSTITUTE; join Hopland Passport participating wineries BRUTOCAO, GRAZIANO, JAXON KEYS, MCFADDEN, MCNAB RIDGE, MILANO, PARDUCCI, SARACINA, TERRA SAVIA, and WEIBEL plus other eco conscious wineries and food providers from 11:00 am – 5:00 pm for this FREE celebration of sustainability.

Dog Hike, box lunch, and wine tasting at SARACINA with winery owner John Fetzer. 10:00am – 1:00pm, $25 person or $45 couple.

NELSON FAMILY VINEYARDS wine club blending party with a catered lunch. 12:00 pm – 3:00 pm, $35 person – wine club only.

SIP! MENDOCINO tasting of all ten 2008 Coro Mendocino wines, including Hopland Passport participating wineries BRUTOCAO, MCFADDEN, MCNAB RIDGE, PARDUCCI, and WEIBEL. 6:00 pm – 8:00 pm, $20 person or FREE with a SIP! MENDOCINO wine club membership.

MCNAB RIDGE WINERY Wine Club Winemaker’s Dinner with Rich Parducci at the North Street Cafe in Ukiah, 6:30 pm reception, 7:00 pm dinner, $75 person.

PIZZERIA de CAMPOVIDA, grand opening weekend, wood-fired pizza and hand crafted brews at the TAVERNA, at PIAZZA de CAMPOVIDA.

Pick and choose and you really can’t go wrong. I’m going to be working the rare weekend day. While Gary holds down the fort at the McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room, I will be at the Earth Day Festival at the Solar Living Institute in Hopland. I’ll be pouring and selling McFadden wines and offering jars of organic and air dried herbs and herb blends, and boxes of 100% pure wild rice, from McFadden Farm for sale from 11:00 am to 5:00 pm.

The entire McFadden crew will be in Hopland. Ann will be taking her dog for a walk at Saracina, then coming to the Festival. Eugene will be working at Graziano, next door to McFadden where Gary will be. Guinness McFadden will be coming to Hopland to pour his 2008 Coro Mendocino at SIP! Mendocino that evening.

I hope to be able to get a table for Ann, Eugene, Gary, and myself – plus Guinness if he’ll join us – at the new pizza and pint place in town between shutting down our tasting rooms and events, and heading over to SIP! to try some Coro wines.

You know where I’m going to be, maybe I’ll see you this Saturday.

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.

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