John on Wine – A Taste of Redwood Valley…and bourbon…and mushrooms!

This piece ran originally as a wine column in the Ukiah Daily Journal on Thursday, October 19, 2015

This weekend, on Saturday, November 21 and Sunday, November 22, the wineries and distilleries of A Taste of Redwood Valley will host their 13th annual Holiday Wine Sale & Artisan Faire.


A simple, bring your own tasting glass complimentary wine and spirits tasting event, you’ll find live music, great discounts, arts & crafts, and holiday cookies, light fare, and more as you go from location to location throughout Redwood Valley.

Participating both days, visit Barra of Mendocino/Girasole Vineyards, Brown Family Wines, Frey Vineyards, Giuseppe Wines/Neese Vineyards, Silversmith Vineyards, and Testa Vineyards on either Saturday or Sunday.

Participating on Saturday only, visit American Craft Whiskey Distillery, Germain-Robin Distillery, and Graziano Family of Wines on Saturday or miss out.

Again, this is a free event, just grab your tasting glass and visit Redwood Valley for a great time, and stock up on wines for Thanksgiving dinner and beyond, at a great savings.


The Nation’s Best Bourbon might not be made anywhere near Bourbon County, Kentucky

Recently, I tasted Crispin Cain and Tamar Kaye’s new straight bourbon, and it was stunning. What a wonderful alternative to mass produced crap. Clean, pure, candied sipping heaven. I also got enough quotes for a stand-alone column around that one taste, so look for that in the future. In the meantime, remember American Craft Whiskey Distillery Low Gap Bourbon; find it, buy it. If visiting American Craft Whiskey and Germaine-Robin Distilleries on Saturday, November 21 during the 13th annual Holiday Wine Sale & Artisan Faire, bring a glass for complimentary tasting, and a credit card for a one day sale!

If you miss Saturday’s tasting and sale, you can still make an appointment to taste and purchase at the distillery’s retail location, by calling (800) 782-8145 to set a time and get directions.

After my bourbon tasting, I attended the Barra Vineyards winemaker’s dinner at Crush Italian Steakhouse in Ukiah, as a guest of Charlie and Martha Barra. Thank you!

The five course mushroom themed dinner was held in association with Visit Mendocino’s Mushroom and Wine Festival.

The Crush Chef’s Wine Dinner series recaps are among the most commented upon, a favorite among those who read my column, and this is not one of those dinners. Instead of being Crush’s event, featuring a winery, this was Barra’s event, held at Crush, and a brilliant choice as Crush has amply demonstrated an ability to prepare and serve a meal to highlight a winery’s wines.

Crush manager Kevin Kostoff welcomed the fortunate guests to Barra’s winemaker’s dinner, introduced his brilliantly able staff. Owners Doug and Debbie Guillon were introduced, and Doug explained that the wine dinners at Crush are served ‘family style’ with wine, food, and conversation passing freely. Charlie and Martha Barra were introduced, and Martha told the guests, “we are just very pleased that Charlie, at almost 89, is here with us, and we want to commemorate his 70th year in the vineyard tonight.” Winemaker Owen Smith introduced the six wines served, and Chefs Steve and Jason introduced the food dishes, almost too numerous to count.

The reception meet and greet appetizer course paired the 2014 BARRA of Mendocino Pinot Noir Rosé with a Mushroom Pâté.

One of four tables filled with happy Barra Winemaker's Dinner guests

One of four tables filled with happy Barra Winemaker’s Dinner guests

The seated first course paired two wines, the 2010 BARRA of Mendocino Pinot Grigio and 2014 BARRA of Mendocino Chardonnay with Dungeness Crab Lettuce Cup – Thai influenced flavors complemented by pickled shiitake mushrooms; Wild Mushroom Bisque – with thyme, roasted garlic, Parmesan; Porcini Mushroom Arancini – with tomato reduction sauce and fresh basil; and Kobe Beef Mushroom Tartare – accompanied by crispy shallots, toasted popover boats and Dijon drizzle.

2013 Barra of Mendocino Pinot Noir

2013 Barra of Mendocino Pinot Noir

The second course had two more wines, the 2013 BARRA of Mendocino Pinot Noir and 2011 BARRA of Mendocino Petite Sirah, for Braised Mushroom Shepherd’s Pie – made with onion reduction, chive, potato purée; Slow Roast Veal Shoulder – served with a mushroom Marsala reduction; Heirloom Polenta – mascarpone, fontina, rosemary; and Haricots Verts – with cippolini onions, portobello, and sea salt.

Noted wine writer, Heidi Cusick Dickerson, shared, “What a dinner… Crush chef and crew get a high five and more for amazing flavors and combinations. Not fussy and so mushroomy… exquisite combinations. Well done and I am so happy to have been there to taste Barra of Mendocino wines with such thoughtful creative dishes. I thought the mushroom bisque with the Pinot Grigio would be my favorite and then there was the Pinot Noir and Arancini and then melt in your mouth veal with mushroom sauce, polenta and the Petite Sirah… Heavenly… Thanks to all.”

I’m a sucker for Arancini, stuffed risotto balls, and loved the wild mushroom bisque and the Kobe beef and mushroom tartare when put in the popover boats, but my favorite dish was created at the table by putting some of the rich mushroomy sauce from the slow roasted veal on top of the wonderfully creamy polenta made with chicken stock, cream, truffle oil, and butter.

As for the wine and food flavor combinations, I especially liked how the depth and flavors of the 2014 Barra Chardonnay paired with the richness of the mushroom bisque, and how the richness of the 2011 Barra Petite Sirah went with the rustic and richly flavored shepherd’s pie, but unsurprisingly, to me, it was the 2013 Barra Pinot Noir that paired most beautifully with the broadest array of mushroom based dishes, and especially well with the veal sauced polenta.

The dessert paired the 2014 Girasole Vineyards Muscat Canelli with Truffled Honey Panna Cotta – orange cookie, pear, vanilla bean; this was another wonderful pairing.

Martha and Charlie Barra

Martha and Charlie Barra

At dinner’s end, Martha presented Doug and Debbie with a wood boxed assortment of Barra’s finest wines, in recognition of the incredible job, above and beyond all expectation, done by the Crush crew, both front of house and in the kitchen. I must confess that I was very well stuffed after this incredible dinner.

Barra of Mendocino will be open both days of Redwood Valley’s 13th annual Holiday Wine Sale & Artisan Faire, so visit either day this weekend for complimentary wine tasting and fantastic sale prices.


The next Winemaker’s Dinner at Crush will be held Wednesday, January 20, 2016, and feature the wines of Seebass Family Winery. Contact Crush directly at (707) 463-0700 to get on “the list” as these dinners sell out early.




John on Wine: Myriad musings

Grape harvest throughout Mendocino County has begun, and will continue variety by variety, and appellation by appellation, through the month and possibly into October.

Last week, Sarah Reith wrote a terrific piece for this newspaper about this year’s harvest being earlier than ordinary, with grape grower Bill Pauli quoted as saying, “everything is earlier than normal…where we normally would start in the first week of September,” speaking of harvesting champagne grapes, “we’re finishing up [mid August].”

Reith also reported a 9 percent to 20 percent decrease in tonnage this year, due to low pollination. Devon Jones, executive director at the Mendocino County Farm Bureau, shared with Reith that in most years there is “a little bit of a break between white and red,” but this year, some growers “have to pick everything at once.”

My boss, Guinness McFadden, confirmed this as well, “on Thursday August 13th we picked our first grapes of the 2015 vintage, Chardonnay for a future Sparkling Brut. This is the earliest we’ve ever picked in my 45 years here. Everything seems to be ripening at once, so we’ll be pretty busy frantically trying to get each variety into fermenters at the optimum ripeness. It’s a challenge every year but this year will be even more so.”

Compact harvest seasons can lead to difficulties, as more growers are dependent on a limited seasonal harvest crew at the same time, and more trucks are showing up at wineries in a shorter time window. Smaller harvests are a bitter disappointment for growers, who make more money when they have more fruit to sell, but often lead to delight for wine consumers, as each of the fewer grapes on a vine receive more vitality and flavor than in plentiful years.

My two favorite times of the year are spring and fall. Spring, for the abundance of color, the visual delight that a vineyard presents; green vine shoots, yellow mustard between the rows, blue skies, white puffy clouds, and perhaps white or pink fruit tree blossoms nearby. Fall, for the rich scents, the aromatic delight that a winery presents; driving at midnight, windows down, breathing in the scents of freshly pressed juice during crush. I love living and working in the wine industry, acutely aware of the climate, and how weather can affect the wines that will come from each new vintage’s wine grapes.


Last week, I urged any vineyard or winery owners who were reading my column to visit MendoWine.com and then call executive director Aubrey Rawlins of Mendocino WineGrowers Inc, to join the group. My message about the value of cooperative marketing to improve the reputation of Mendocino County wines and increase the prices our growers see for their grapes was timely, but asking that folks call Aubrey was less timely.

I found out several days later that Aubrey and MWI had an amicable parting, with Aubrey pursuing opportunities in San Francisco, and MWI looking for a new executive director. Mendocino WineGrowers Inc. should have a wealth of qualified candidates apply for the position, as the best candidate chosen from many can help increase funding for the organization and meet the needs of the board and the member wineries and vineyards they represent.


If you think you have the skill set to achieve cooperation from rugged individualists, Mendocino Winegrowers Inc. wants your cover letter and resume. Visit MendoWine.com to find out more about the organization, and then send your cover letter and resume by email to info@mendowine.com soon. The larger the applicant pool, the better for the Mendocino wine industry as a whole.

This weekend is Winesong, the wine immersive charity event benefiting the Mendocino Coast Hospital Foundation. Visit Winesong.org for more info and to get last-minute tickets, if any are still available; $150 tickets for Saturday include full access to the wine and food tasting from 11-2 and live/silent auction after, commemorative Winesong tasting glass and tray, and festival seating at the live auction. $250 reserve tickets get all of the above, plus Reserve Seating under the Live Auction Tent, catered gourmet lunch, commemorative Winesong tote, and 2015 Artist of the Year note cards.


On Friday evening, I get to pour the Mendocino County Fair Best of Show White Wine, the McFadden Sparkling Brut, at a pre-event VIP reception at a residence just north of the Mendocino Village, and the next day I get to pour a larger selection of medal winners from the Mendo Wine Comp, including McFadden’s Double Gold Pinot Noir and Gold Sauvignon Blanc. There will be 100 wineries, each pouring wines they are equally proud of, which means an incredible wine tasting opportunity, and a great chance to help raise funds for a very worthy cause. I hope to see you there.

This Saturday is also the evening for Testa’s sold out Blending Party in Calpella. I’m going, and will again get to join some judges much better than me, and I hope to see you there too.




John on wine – Two upcoming local wine events

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, August 27, 2015

John Cesano holding down the McFadden tasting table at Winesong! 2014. Photo by Linda Compisi

On Saturday, Sept. 12, two of my favorite Mendocino County wine events are being held. One may be the county’s largest wine event for the year, the other is smaller but more dear to me. First, let’s start with my favorite: Testa Vineyards is having their 5th annual Blending Party from 6 to 11 p.m., and it is at Testa Ranch in Calpella, right here near Ukiah. Before making a Coro red blend, Maria Testa Martinson and husband Rusty Martinson had their Black wine, a blend of wines made from the different red grape varieties grown on Testa Vineyards.

The wine changes each year as different wines and percentages find their way into the mix and become the finished wine. I attended the first Testa barn blend party and sat with local industry luminary Kelly Lentz, and although we each had different ideas about what blend would yield the best wine, we came to find that it was nearly impossible to blend a bad wine from Testa’s juice. Last year, Maria announced that Testa’s sixth Black blend would rely heavily on the blend put together by the wine blend judged best at the 4th annual Testa Blending Party. I was honored to be one of three judges and, together with my fellow judges, we reconfirmed that there are many paths to a delicious Testa blend as we tasted through 25 different wines created by folks sitting at 25 different tables. This year, from 6 to 7 p.m., guests will enjoy appetizers and try to unleash their inner winemaker, blending Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignane, Zinfandel, and Petite Sirah into a possible winning blend.

From 7 to 8 p.m., it is scrumptious dinner time, with catering champs Bella Ciba returning. During dinner, the judges will pick this year’s Blending Party wine winner. Don Willis returns with his accordion to play early in the evening.

A hint to blend a winning wine: last year, the judges tasted each of the four blending wines and independently found we agreed upon our favorite, and unsurprisingly the winning blend was the one relying most heavily on that favored variety.

After dinner, from 8 to 10 p.m., DJ Bob will have the party guests up and dancing. Of course, this being Mendocino County, and a wine event, times may be flexible a bit, so show up on time, and roll with the flow.

The food is great, the blending is fun, the wine is terrific, the music is fantastic, and the Testa Family — Maria and Rusty, their kids, their aunts and uncles — they are all just the nicest people. Tickets are $80, Testa wine club members get a 25 percent discount, and with limited seating you’ll want to get your tickets early; tickets are nearly sold out. Visit TestaRanch.com/order, or call Maria at (707) 391-7273 to get your tickets now.

The second Sept. 12 wine event is Winesong, a charity auction and wine tasting, enjoying its 31st year, held at the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens located in Fort Bragg. More than 100 wineries will pour tastes, over 50 food purveyors will offer bites, and nine different musical groups will perform and entertain from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. during the Winesong wine and food tasting.

A charity auction runs from 2 to 5 p.m., with a special gourmet lunch additionally available. “The centerpiece of Winesong weekend is our Charity Auction, featuring both a silent and live auction.  Excitement builds in the Auction Tents with lively bidding for over 200 lots, featuring spectacular wines from the world’s most prestigious wine producers, rare vintages, large format bottles plus special vertical and horizontal collections.

Other auction highlights include original art from acclaimed California artists, vacations packages and highly coveted international wine getaway packages to Tuscany, South Africa, France, Spain, South America the Caribbean, and other enchanting parts of the world.  Rounding off the travel offerings are one and two night getaway trips to the West’s most romantic inns, resorts, and spas.  Coupled with the Wine & Food Tasting, the day can’t be beat…” is how the event website describes the most exciting part of the day’s events.

Winesong is presented by the Mendocino Coast Hospital Foundation with proceeds benefiting the Mendocino Coast District Hospital.

Tickets are $150 for the entire day, wine and food tasting, silent auction, and live auction, or $250 for reserve seating and a three course meal prepared by a celebrity chef to enjoy during the auction. To purchase tickets, or for more information, visit Winesong.org.

That’s it, two great events, just over two weeks away. Pick one, or the other, or — like me — both and I’ll see you on Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015.

mwc gold

Over 250 wines were entered for judgement at the 37th annual Mendocino County Wine Competition, the oldest continuous wine competition in the nation, and 43 Gold Medals and 12 unanimous Double Gold Medals were awarded at a dinner held at the Mendocino County fairgrounds in Boonville on Friday, August 7, 2015. Two of the Double Gold Medal winners were also chosen for the competition’s Best of Show honors. Here are the big winners this year:

NV McFadden Vineyard Sparkling Cuvée Brut, Made with Organically Grown Grapes, Estate Grown & Family Owned, Methode Champenoise, Potter Valley $25

2012 Panthea Winery & Vineyard Single Vineyard Selection Pinot Noir, Klindt Vineyard, Anderson Valley $42


Blush and Rosé
·2014 Handley Cellars Rose of Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley $22

Late Harvest (Dessert) White
·2014 Husch Estate Bottled Late Harvest Gewurztraminer, Anderson Valley $25

·2013 Bonterra Vineyards Made with Certified Organic Grapes Merlot $15

Petite Sirah
·2011 Barra of Mendocino Petite Sirah $22

Pinot Noir
·2012 Handley Cellars Estate Pinot Noir, RSM Vineyard, Anderson Valley $52
·2012 Lula Mendocino Pinot Noir $45
·2013 Blue Quail Estate Grown & Family Owned, Made from Organically Grown Grapes, Pinot Noir, McFadden Vineyard, Potter Valley $24
·2012 Panthea Winery & Vineyard Single Vineyard Selection Pinot Noir, Klindt Vineyard, Anderson Valley $42

·2014 Navarro Vineyards Riesling Deep End Blend, Anderson Valley $29

Sauvignon Blanc
·2014 Handley Cellars Sauvignon Blanc, Anderson Valley $22

Sparkling Wine
NV McFadden Vineyard Sparkling Cuvée Brut, Made with Organically Grown Grapes, Estate Grown & Family Owned, Methode Champenoise, Potter Valley $25

·2012 Navarro Vineyards Old Vine Zinfandel $27



Blended Red
·2011 Brutocao Family Vineyards Estate Bottled and Produced Quadriga, Hopland Ranches $24
·2012 Monte Volpe Barrel Aged Primo Rosso $11
·2013 Navarro Primo Rouge $15

Blended White
·2014 Navarro Vineyards Edelzwicker, Anderson Valley $16
·NV Testa Vineyard White Blend $20

Blush and Rosé
·2014 Seebass Family Wines Rose Fantasie, Seebass Vineyards $28

Cabernet Sauvignon
·2013 Barra of Mendocino Organically Grown Grapes Cabernet Sauvignon $20
·2013 Parducci True Grit Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon $30

·2013 Moniker Wine Estates Chardonnay $25
·2014 Navarro Vineyards Chardonnay $19
·2013 Parducci Small Lot Blend Chardonnay $13

·2014 Navarro Vineyards Gewurztraminer Cuvee Traditional, Anderson Valley $16

Italian Red
·2012 Monte Volpe Aglianico $28
·2012 Monte Volpe Barrel Aged Primitivo $28

Late Harvest (Dessert) White
·2013 Greenwood Ridge Vineyards Late Harvest Riesling, Mendocino Ridge $36
·2012 Stephen & Walker Botrytis Chardonnay, Mendocino Ridge $75

Other Red Varieties
·2013 Saint Gregory Barrel Aged Pinot Meunier $20

Other White Varieties
·2013 Bonterra Vineyards Made with Certified Organic Grapes Viognier $13
·2014 Enotria Moscato $11
·2013 Enotria Barrel Fermented Arneis $15
·2014 Husch Chenin Blanc $12

Petite Sirah
·2012 McNab Ridge Petite Sirah $18
·2012 Navarro Vineyards Petite Sirah $27

Pinot Gris/Grigio
·2014 Navarro Vineyards Pinot Gris, Anderson Valley $19.50

Pinot Noir
2013 Drew Limited Selection Pinot Noir, Valenti Vineyard, Mendocino Ridge $45
·2013 Greenwood Ridge Vineyards Estate Bottled Pinot Noir, Mendocino Ridge $30
·2012 Handley Cellars Pinot Noir Mendocino $25
·2009 Harmonique Elegance’, Anderson Valley $48
·2012 Maggy Hawk Hawkster Anderson Valley Pinot Noir $66
·2012 Maggy Hawk Stormin’ Anderson Valley Pinot Noir $66
·2012 Spell Estate Pinot Noir, Alder springs Vineyard $50
·2012 Spell Estate Pinot Noir, weir Vineyard, Yorkville Highlands $50

·2014 Greenwood Ridge Vineyards Riesling, Mendocino Ridge $19

Sauvignon Blanc
·2014 Brutocao Family Vineyards Estate Grown, Produced & Bottled Sauvignon Blanc, Feliz Vineyard $14
·2014 McFadden Vineyard Estate Grown & Family Owned, Made from Organically Grown Grapes, Sauvignon Blanc, Potter Valley $16
·2014 McNab Ridge Unoaked Sauvignon Blanc $12
·2014 Navarro Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc $18

·2012 Handley Cellars Syrah, Kazmet Vineyard, Redwood Valley $25
·2012 Seebass Family Wines Grand Reserve, Estate Grown, Syrah, Mayacama Bench Block $42

·2012 Parducci Small Lot Blend Zinfandel $12
·2012 Navarro Vineyards Zinfandel $19.50
·2012 Woodenhead Unfined & Unfiltered Zinfandel, Guido Venturi Vineyard $34
·2013 Woodenhead Unfined & Unfiltered Zinfandel, Mariah Vineyard, Mendocino Ridge $42

The results are spread throughout the county, and evenly; of the 55 wines taking Gold or better from wineries with a Mendocino County tasting room, the results were split right down the middle between Hwy 128 and Hwy 101 wineries. Another competition I always look at is the one between two of the county’s most prolific producers; this year Greg Graziano took six Gold or better to Navarro’s five Gold or better, but three of Navarro’s awards were Double Gold., so pretty much another draw.

The awards dinner was a treat. The food was terrific. Janelle Weaver served up McFadden organic grass fed beef, grilled corn, potato salad, and a green salad, with French bread. I got to sit with a lovely couple visiting from Philadelphia who read of the event in my column, we talked about wine, delicious places to eat in Philadelphia, and the Grateful Dead. I saw many wine industry friends, winery owners, winemakers, tasting room staff, and competition judges, and was already in a great mood, applauding medal wins for friends, before the Gold, Double Gold, and Best of Show honors were announced for Guinness McFadden’s Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, and Sparkling Brut, respectively. The great news made an already lovely night even more magical, and I am grateful to the incredible team of volunteers and wine judges who made it all happen.

NEW NV McF  Cuvee Brut

Congratulations to everyone involved, winery participants, competition crew, chef team, consumer attendees, and to all the lucky tasters who will visit our county’s winery tasting rooms to sample these top medal winning wines.

John Compisi is an online wine writer, lives in northern Sonoma County with his wife Linda, and visits Mendocino County often.

John was invited by Consortium Mendocino to sit in on the winemaker blending trials for the 2012 vintage of Coro Mendocino wines.

John produced a four part series of stories from the experience, and here are links to those four stories: Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV

John is a friend, a good writer, and I am happy to share links to his stories about Mendocino County’s flagship wine, Coro, and help spread the word about these wines.


Recently, Sip! Mendocino in Hopland played host for the release of the 2012 vintage of Coro Mendocino wines, the uniquely Mendocino Zinfandel-centric cooperative wine program, with the 2012 Coro Mendocino blends of Barra of Mendocino, Brutocao Cellars, Clos du Bois, Golden Vineyards, McFadden Farm, Parducci Wine Cellars, Ray’s Station, and Testa Vineyards each being unveiled.

2012 was a terrific vintage for reds, a warmer than average year, with near perfect growing conditions, yielding richly flavorful wines. Each winery produced their own version of Coro, with notes from each of the participating winemakers during pre-bottling blind barrel tastings to guide them.

If there was a ‘typical’ Coro in 2012, which there wasn’t, it would have been made with 50 percent Zinfandel, 17 percent Petite Sirah, 16 percent Syrah, 6 percent Carignane, 4 percent Primitivo, 3 percent Charbono, 2 percent Barbera, 1 percent Grenache, and 1 percent Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend — that’s what I get when I averaged the components for each of the eight wines poured at Sip.

All of the wines were tasty, with the stellar fruit of 2012 showing well. Each individual winery will sell their wines at about $40 through their tasting rooms, and all eight will be available for purchase at Sip in Hopland, beginning in the next week or so. Look for the Coro wines grown organically to show up at the Ukiah Co-op soon.

McFadden will release the 2012 Coro at their Annual Farm Party on Saturday, July 11 (call 744-8463 for tickets), and each of the other seven wineries will find the right time and way to release their new wine. When you see them, taste them, you’ll enjoy each.

One of the folks I work with invited me to join her large family on the coast for a camping weekend, which allowed me the opportunity to see some of our county’s more rural, and beautiful, areas; that, and I got to enjoy lots of delicious authentic Mexican food, paired with McFadden’s Late Harvest Riesling, 2011 Coro and award winning Sparkling Cuvee Brut. Thank you to Juanita Plaza and all of her family for making me feel so welcome.

While on the coast, I visited Sally Ottoson’s Pacific Star Winery, located on the west side of Highway 1, 12 miles north of Fort Bragg at the 73.58 milepost. Open daily from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Pacific Star is a popular destination for tourists visiting Mendocino’s coast.

Picnicking on the Mendocino Coast is possible at Pacific Star Winery. (Photo by John Cesano)

Picnicking on the Mendocino Coast is possible at Pacific Star Winery. (Photo by John Cesano)

When I visited, Holly poured me six wines for a $5 tasting fee. The glassware was INAO (Institut National des Appellations d’Origine). The egg shape bowl of INAO glassware is designed to fully enhance the concentration of aroma and allow the wine to be swirled without spilling. Noted wine critic Robert Parker called INAO glasses, “The finest inexpensive tasting glass in the world,” and I was pleased to taste from them.

Holly attends to several tasters at family-friendly Pacific Star Winery. (Photo by John Cesano)

Holly attends to several tasters at family-friendly Pacific Star Winery. (Photo by John Cesano)

First up was the 2013 Pacific Star Orange Muscat, a sweeter, but not too sweet at less than 1 percent residual sugar, white wine. An apricot and floral nose gives way to a mouth of ripe stone fruit, herb, and mown hay.

Sally holds her white wines in stainless steel, rather than oak, for brighter fruit expression, and many of the wines are poured through an aerator to further accentuate the fruit notes.

2012 Pacific Star Viognier — grassy peach and pear with a touch of astringency

In 2006, Sally found there were fault lines under the property, and that was the inspiration for Pacific Star’s NV It’s My Fault, a non vintage red wine, made from a “secret blend” of six varieties. Sally used to make a Coro wine, so this is like that…sort of.

The nose gave up notes of raspberry, cola, herb, cherry, blackberry, mint and light oak. The tannins were a little tight, the oak was evident, and there were sweet tart black cherry, raspberry and darker berry notes in the mouth taste.

2012 Pacific Star Tempranillo, with fruit from Lake County, chocolaty, blueberry, and blackberry, with supple tannin, was really nicely balanced, and had good mouthfeel.

Holly told me that Charbono was Sally’s flagship wine, and the grapes came from Eddie Graziano’s farm in Calpella.

2012 Pacific Star Charbono — Really lovely wine nose of deep full multi-noted blackberry, cassis, oak, and dusty cocoa earthiness. The mouth showed medium firm tannin, and there was plenty of aging potential for this wine. I picked up berry fruit, earthiness, leather, and tart blackberry.

2012 Pacific Star Cabernet Sauvignon — I picked up slightly greener, more vegetal, vinous notes with herb supporting a nose of raspberry and blackberry fruit, and a mouth of bright, slightly tart blackberry.

On the coast, Pacific Star Winery is a lovely place to visit, taste wine and enjoy a picnic lunch. Don’t fret if you show up without food, as there are packages of meats, cheeses and crackers available for purchase in the tasting room.

I finished up my weekend with a visit to see Crispin Cain and Tamar Kaye at their American Craft Whiskey Distillery to pick up a bottle of their two-year Rye Whiskey as a gift for my stepfather. While there, I sampled the latest barrel sample of the Bourbon, cut from last tasting’s 60 percent alcohol to 41 percent with collected rain water, and it tasted great. I also tasted their son Devin Cain’s 1850 Cocktail, based on the Sazerac, and ended up buying a bottle for myself.

In 1838, the first cocktail was created in New Orleans featuring French brandy and Peychaud bitters, and by 1850, that first cocktail, the Sazerac, had achieved popularity. Over the years, the recipe has been tweaked, with the addition of absinthe and sugar, and American rye whiskey replacing French brandy.

I love Devin’s 1850, and I love the absinthe ice cream that Crispin and Tamar make for events, but I don’t like absinthe. Crispin told me that similarly most folks would not drink straight vanilla, but enjoy vanilla ice cream, as both vanilla and absinthe are powerfully flavorful on their own. Thanks for helping me understand my own confusing and seemingly contradictory tasting experience.

Devin, like his father, worked at Germain-Robin Alambic Brandy and learned the art and science of distilling there before making use of that knowledge to craft the craft whiskeys, gins, vodkas, liqueurs, absinthe and bourbon I have enthused about here previously.

Devin’s version of the 1850 cocktail, or Sazerac, is informed by his time with Alambic, tasting aged and new brandies, and noting their differences; Devin’s 1850 Cocktail is made from newer brandy aged and colored by French oak barrels, made more flavorful by infusion of sassafras, vanilla, dried fruit, and other exotica, and clear wheat whiskey instead of the rye I expected, plus absinthe in a 1 part per 500 parts ratio.

Creating each individual element, and then finding the perfect blend of those elements, involved nearly 100 tasting trials over the course of a full year, but that level of attention to detail is something that I have come to expect, and appreciate, from everything coming out of the family’s American Craft Whiskey Distillery.

This is a perfect cocktail, a whole glorious bottle of perfectly blended cocktails, and an improvement on the standard Sazerac, bringing a welcome memory of my last New Orleans visit home to Ukiah.

John On Wine – Get your tickets now

This post will be published on Thursday, April 9 in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper

Every so often, I use my column as an event listing for my readers. Today is one of those days. While certainly not a complete list of wine country events, here are some incredibly worthwhile things to do, and most will sell out in advance, so do not dawdle, get your tickets now.

Saturday, April 11 – The annual Celebration of Mendocino County Sparkling Wines – Mendocino County’s best sparkling wines from Elke Vineyards, Graziano Family of Wines, McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room, Parducci Wine Cellars, Nelson Family Vineyards, Roederer Estate, Scharffenberger Cellars, Signal Ridge Cellars, Terra Sávia Winery, and Yorkville Cellars, paired with fresh oysters from Tomales Bay with Mignonette or Somendo ranch lemons, paella Valenciana, assorted cheeses with fresh bread from Schat’s Bakery, strawberries with melted Swiss dark Chocolate, Meyer lemon almond cake, and live music. Tickets are $55 online in advance and TODAY IS THE LAST DAY FOR ADVANCE TICKETS! GET YOUR’S HERE, $65 at the door. This is THE Event to go to if you love sparkling wine and great food, and is happening this Saturday – get your tickets NOW!

Saturday, April 18 – Earth Day at Barra of Mendocino – Join the Barra family in a celebration to honor Mother Earth and the rich bounty of Mendocino County, from 10-5. Be the first to taste Barra’s organic olive oil made from olives grown on the family farm of Bella Collina.  Translated as, “Beautiful Hillside,” this area provides gravelly soil for these trees to thrive right alongside Barra’s prized Petite Sirah and Zinfandel vines.  While you’re at it, taste newly released vintages of organic wines, and enjoy the gardens and scenic surroundings.  For more information:  (707) 485-0322

Saturday, April 25 & Sunday, April 26 – Passport to Dry Creek Valley – Over one weekend, Passport guests are welcomed into nearly 50 wineries throughout Dry Creek Valley, each offering a unique pairing of premium wine, gourmet food and entertainment. Take a vineyard tour for a grape-to-glass look at Dry Creek Valley wine. Sample exclusive vintages, rarely available to taste. Meet winemakers and grapegrowers – the generations of people behind the wine and magical ‘Dry Creek Valley spirit’. Savor exquisite food and wine pairings from acclaimed chefs. I LOVE Dry Creek Passport, will be attending for the third year in a row, and with so many wineries participating, no two Passports are the same. Enjoy! Tickets are $141.38 and available online at www.drycreekvalley.org

Thursday, April 30 – Thirsty Thursday at SIP! Mendocino in Hopland – Tickets are $20, or one free ticket per SIP! wine club membership. Each month offers a different terrific tasting. Last month I enjoyed a tasting of five wonderful Sake paired with delicious Sushi from Oco Time, this month could be anything from a pairing of the County’s best Alsatian whites with the foods of Alsace, or Pinot Noir with mushroom risotto. For more info, and to grab your tickets, call (707) 744-8375.

Saturday, May 2 & Sunday, May 3 – Hopland Passport – Closer to home, Hopland’s Passport event is manageable, and just the right size to be able to visit all the participating wineries without rushing. I’ll be working at McFadden, of course, and think we offer up the event’s best wines and food from our certified organic farm, but there is also proudly offered food and wine pairings at Brutocao, Campovida, Cesar Toxqui, Frey, Graziano, Jaxon Keys, Jeriko, McNab Ridge, Milano, Nelson, Rivino, and Terra Savia. Two day ‘early bird’ tickets are $45 and available at www.destinationhopland.com or $55 at participating wineries during the event. This is probably the best event value of the bunch.

Sunday, May 10 – Mother’s Day Brunch at Barra of Mendocino – Honor the special women in your life this Mother’s Day with a brunch celebration at BARRA of Mendocino Winery.  Enjoy a scrumptious brunch buffet with friends and family. Take in the sounds of a three piece jazz ensemble, stroll through blooming gardens and take family photos. Honor the women in your life with this special day of pampering! Brunch will be served from 10:00 am – 1:00 pm. Reservations are required and children are welcome. $35 for adults/ Special Pricing for Wine Club Members (limit two tickets per member) and $12 for children under 12 years of age. To purchase tickets, please call Katrina at (707) 485-0322, or drop by Barra’s tasting room at 7051 N. State Street in Redwood Valley. My son Charlie took his mother Lisa last year and both reported that it was a lovely event. Do this for Mother’s Day.

Friday, May 15 through Sunday, May 17 – 18th annual Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival – Taste the world-class Anderson Valley Pinot Noirs of more than 50 producers from around California and savor perfectly paired foods designed to complement the exceptional Anderson Valley Pinot wines. I had a spectacular time last year, and look forward to attending again this year. If you love Pinot Noir, or even like it, you will be impressed with the incredibly high quality of the valley’s flagship variety. Various tasting, technical conference, and winemaker dinner tickets are available, ranging from $50 to $135 for each event, online at www.avwines.com

Wednesday, May 20 – Graziano Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush Italian Steakhouse – Greg Graziano makes terrific, well priced wines. His tasting room is right next to mine, and I know he has legions of fans for his wines. I’ve written many times about how great the chef’s winemaker dinners at Crush are; they operate like a well-buttered machine. I do not need to see a wine list or menu to know how good this is going to be. I’ve got my ticket already. Tickets are $75, dinner, wine, tax and tip inclusive; call Crush at (707) 463-0700 for tickets.

Friday, June 19 – 2012 Coro Vintage Release Party – Join the Coro winemakers for a gourmet dinner for two paired with our wines and take home a complete set of the 2012 vintage. Seating is limited. Reservations required. $700 per couple. Includes the full collection of the 2012 vintage ($320 value) and complimentary valet service. The 2012 vintage consists of 8 wineries: Barra of Mendocino, Brutocao Cellars, Clos du Bois, Golden Cellars, McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room, Parducci Wine Cellars, Ray’s Station, and Testa Vineyards. Coro Mendocino 2012 Vintage Release Party Friday, June 19th 2015 6:00 – 10:00pm at Dogpatch WineWorks, San Francisco. For the most fun, ask to sit with Guinness McFadden or me, John Cesano; we tell great Irish stories or perform stupid magic tricks, and I’ll leave it to you to guess who does which. Tickets are available at SIP! Mendocino in Hopland; or call (707) 744-8375. Do this for Father’s Day.

Friday, June 19 through Sunday, June 21 – A Taste of Redwood Valley – The weekend kicks off with a Friday night winemaker’s dinner at Barra, tickets are $65, and the fun continues with two day weekend tasting tickets at either $30 in advance or $35 at the event. Three day tickets are discounted at $90. Participating wineries and distilleries include Barra/Girasole, Brown, Frey, Germain-Robin/Craft Distillers, Giuseppe/Neese, Graziano, Silversmith, and Testa. Get your tickets in advance online at www.atasteofredwoodvalley.com

Saturday August 22 – Yorkville Highlands Wine Festival – This family-friendly festival and auction is at Meyer Family Cellars this year. Festivities start at 1pm. Highlights will include tasting scores of award-winning wines made and grown within the Highlands around Anderson Valley.  The price includes a delicious farm-fresh lunch and scrumptious desert, a tempting silent auction where you can bid on rare bottles and hundreds of bargains galore. There’s always the riotous grape stomp along with other wild and wacky games. Advance tickets are $45, or $60 during the event, and available at www.yorkvillehighlands.org


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