So, tomorrow, I get to pour for McFadden from 11:00 AM – 2:00 PM out in Ft. Bragg on the Mendo coast at the botanical gardens for Winesong. I will not be alone; there will be about 100 wineries and 50 food folks, so this is an amazing tasting for attendees.

After, my time at Winesong, I take off my McFadden hat and put on my John On Wine hat and come back to inland Mendo for the 3rd annual Barn Blending BBQ at Testa in Calpella, Ukiah adjacent. Maria Testa Martinson asked me to come back to one of my favorite local wine events, but this year to act as a judge of the blends that folks make, and help to choose a winning blended wine. The party starts around 6:00 PM, folks make up their blends, inspired by finished wine poured at each table, and appetizers, then a terrific dinner of BBQ treats and Italian pasta is served, and the night’s fun continues with dancing to the live music of Nashville recoding artist McKenna Faith.

Frey is going to have an organically good time at their Frey Wine Club Party at the Solar Living Center in Ukiah from 4:00 PM – 8:00 PM, with wine, food, and music.

Parducci Wine Cellars will host The Ford Blues Band at Spencer Brewer’s Acoustic Cafe concert series event from 6:00 PM – 10:00 PM.

If I could be in two places at once, the event I would most like to attend, in addition to the two I am tomorrow, is the Topel Fifth Birthday Party. This is the event for my Sonoma County friends who just do not have the energy to drive up to Mendocino County for Mendo wine fun. Mark and Donnis Topel live, grow grapes, and make wine right here in Hopland; I see them at the post office, or when they visit my tasting room often. In a move that guaranteed they would see more visitors and pour for more tasters, Mark and Donnis put their Topel Tasting Room smack dab in the middle of Healdsburg, just a nudge off the town square on Matheson. The party is going from noon until 7:00 PM, and someone is going to win a year’s membership in the Topel Wine Club, which is an awesome gift.

The town of Hopland in California’s Mendocino county is on Highway 101, 101 miles north of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge.

The town is rural, with a small town charm comprised in part by a measure of genuineness that city people who work and live in cubicles flee to find.

Hopland, named long ago for the hops grown and kilned to make the area’s beers, is now a town better associated with wines.

16 winery tasting rooms are located in or near the center of Hopland, and wineries from 15 miles north in larger Ukiah, Mendocino county’s county seat, are trying to join Hopland’s tourism group and be considered Hopland wineries and take part in Hopland wine events.

Wine is made from grapes and grapes are grown by farmers. It is the growing of grapes, the farming in the area, that best gives Hopland the down home character visitors perceive. Unlike the amusement park environment of boutiques and high end restaurants found in the counties to the south, Hopland has a few basic eateries, filled with real working men and women.

Hopland’s grapes are grown in an area also known as the Sanel Valley. There is no monolithically thought of grape grown in Hopland’s Sanel Valley, because the area is as diverse as the roughly individualistic farmers who make their living off the land.

With vineyards on the rocky slopes of Duncan Peak to vineyards on the bank of the upper Russian River, head pruned and trellised, irrigated and dry farmed, organically grown or raised biodynamically, planted to field blends or single varietal, the myriad grapes that are grown and the multitude of styles of wine produced from each of these different varietals makes for the greatest concentrated diverse wine tasting experience in the United States.

Of note is the greenness of the offerings in and around Hopland. In an industry where many supermarket brands of wine are made from plastic fertilizers, toxic pesticides, and poisonous insecticides, mass produced in environmentally hazardous monocultures, where only 2 percent of wineries produce wines made from certified organically grown or certified biodynamically raised grapes, roughly 25% of all the wines poured in Hopland’s tasting rooms are genuinely green.

As Pam Strayer wrote on Organic Wine Uncorked, “Wines made with pesticides contribute more than 450,000+ pounds of Roundup to California each year. That just can’t be a good thing for an ecosystem.”

I’m biased, working for McFadden Vineyard, but here’s the way all wineries should strive to be: McFadden Farm up in nearby Potter Valley not only grows 750 tons of grapes organically every year but is a family farm, growing and air drying organic herbs, raising organic grass fed beef, selling 100% pure wild rice, and more green, healthy, farm treats. With both solar panels and a hydroelectric plant on property, McFadden Farm has to look behind them to find the wineries that brag about being carbon neutral.

Okay, stepping off my soapbox, I have to say that McFadden Farm produces fewer than 5,000 cases of wine and the efforts of a million case winery to be carbon neutral are substantially more involved than for what is more a Farm than a winery.

Parducci Wine Cellars, a Ukiah winery with a satellite tasting room in Hopland at the Solar Living Institute, has a commitment to the environment, a passion that is palpable, and is a shining example that doing things green, the right way, can actually end up saving money as the focus on reuse, reduce, and recycle ends up costing less than wasteful use and unnecessary spending.

Parducci is a huge winery. Their wines are uniformly delicious. They are carbon neutral. Relying on natural compost has allowed better tasting wines from healthier vineyards as unnatural fertilizers have been eliminated, and at a substantial cost savings. Similarly, reclaiming and naturally filtering all run off water from operations has made for a healthy ecologically diverse biome in the midst of their home vineyards, while reducing consumption of water – again, generating a cost savings.

Fetzer Vineyards is the 800 pound gorilla of Hopland area wineries, and was recently bought by Concha y Toro, a Chilean wine company demonstrating terrific green business sense with Fetzer. Fetzer produces millions of cases of wine, and this year I saw more organic grapes headed to Fetzer from local family vineyards than ever before. Of course, I believe that certified organic grapes make great wine, but the energy savings in sourcing as much of your needed grapes locally for a giant winery like Fetzer, as trucks travel shorter distances and use less fuel, is enormous.

Occasionally, I taste wines at events with other wine writers, and I abhor the elite wine snobbery I too often hear when the wines of Fetzer are discussed. Because Fetzer’s wines are produced in enormous quantities and are widely available throughout the country in stores and restaurants, there is a bias against Fetzer; the assertion being that good wine, wine worthy of tasting, can only come from small hand crafted wines with limited distribution costing an arm and a leg.

Let me call bullshit on that. I will agree that spending five times what you would spend on a bottle of Fetzer’s wines will allow you to select a spectacular bottle of wine – if you know what you are doing. You can easily spend an enormous amount on a not very good bottle of wine if you don’t know what you are doing, but you can’t buy a bad bottle of Fetzer wine and buying affordable wine rocks.

I was sent a six bottle assortment of Fetzer wines last year, and was impressed with the quality of the wines. The Riesling, which I have heard described as cloyingly sweet by people who admitted not having tasted one from Fetzer in over a decade, had the petrol notes I associate with quality collectable Rieslings costing much more and terrific balance between sweet notes and acid. All of the wines were good, well structured, all were drinkable, and all had fantastic QPR, or Quality/Price Ratio – they are great value wines.

The only knock I have with Fetzer, and something I imagine Concha y Toro will address in time, is that they don’t have a Hopland tasting room.

I would love to see a tasting room, right on highway 101 in downtown Hopland, where Fetzer could pour their wines. The wines of their all-organic sister winery Bonterra could be poured in the same location. Allowing people to taste wines regularly lets folks know how good the wines really are.

Another Hopland vineyard and winery without a Hopland tasting room is Topel Winery. Mark and Donnis Topel make some amazingly great wine, but chose to situate their tasting room in a location with greater traffic.

I shared a table with Mark at a wine event last year, and it worked out great, as I poured McFadden’s Sparkling Brut, amazing white wines, and delicious reds, and Mark poured his spectacular reds which are denser than McFadden’s style. The result was pretty nice as there was a compatible flow.

Mark and Donnis saw to it that I had the opportunity to taste their wines last year, dropping off a bottle here and there. I also tasted a half dozen Topel Winery wines during the event we worked together.

I once described the red wines of Topel Winery as being possibly the best from Hopland, but that is unfair to Topel’s wines. Mark and Donnis produce some of the best wines anywhere. Lush, dense, rich, multi noted, yet completely drinkable. Gorgeously balanced wines. I love the Cabernet Sauvignon, Meritage, and Estate Blend red wines from Topel Winery.

Every vineyard, every winery, every tasting room in Hopland has a story to tell. I hope to tell a few of those stories this year – better yet, capture the words of the farmers, winemakers, and tasting room managers and pass them on along with some notes on some of the great wines being poured in Hopland.

I woke up looking forward to doing some wine tasting. My plan was to go to Fetzer’s beautiful tasting room and gardens at their hospitality center in Hopland. Well coated against the cold, the day was beautiful, the mountains misty as ribbons of fog bedecked the mountain folds surrounding the Ukiah Valley.

I hadn’t visited the Fetzer tasting room in seven years, it isn’t really conveniently located, but I wanted to taste their dozen wines and find a jewel or two to recommend as a drinking wine, and perhaps a few more that would pair well with foods. I wanted to write about wines that were available in every store, and at prices that are affordable to anyone that can find their way to my blog.

Fifteen minutes south I turned off the 101 and drove down the empty Tuesday morning road to the Fetzer property. I drove over a bridge spanning the Russian River and came upon what had been the hospitality center for Fetzer.

Signs forbidding entry blocked the roads onto the property, previously maintained gardens gone wild, “for sale” signs. I began to suspect that I would not be tasting Fetzer’s wines.

I continued another few miles up the road to Fetzer’s winemaking facility. It is huge, and quiet in the post harvest, between Christmas and New Year’s Day, way that almost all wineries are quiet. I drove to the Administration building, and the receptionist confirmed my suspicion: I would indeed not be tasting Fetzer wines.

Note to Brown-Forman: How about putting a tasting room on 101 in Hopland, where Brutocao, McFadden, McDowell, Dogwood/Three Families, and Graziano all have tasting facilities? You could have one facility for your Fetzer, Bonterra, and Sanctuary brands. Not as grand as your previous Fetzer Hospitality Center, closed about three years, but accessible and economically sustainable. Just asking’.

I woke up prepared to taste wines, and I was not going to be deterred by a mere tasting room closure. I got back on the 101 and headed south another half hour to Healdsburg, where Mendocino County’s Topel Winery has located their tasting room at 125 Matheson across from the Oakville grocery.

Walking in the tasting room door at Topel, I was welcomed almost immediately by Kevin Roach. Kevin asked what types of wines I prefer as he welcomed me to taste. I let him know I prefer Reds, but enjoy whites as well, and asked him to pour me his four favorite wines out of the fourteen available, the ones most likely to knock my socks off.

Kevin first poured me a glass of the 2007 Pinot Noir, Serendipity, Monterey. While I swirled and sniffed the wine, I looked over the tasting room. Attractive, well laid out, lots of dark wood and copper. Wood cabinets for Topel branded clothing, and for literature display. A smaller (VIP?) private tasting room with table is available as well.

Kevin told me that the grapes for the 100% Pinot came from the Chalone Vineyard, which is located in the Gabilan Mountain range. The Topel website identifies the grapes as coming from Monterey County’s Serendipity Vineyard. Wherever the grapes came from in Monterey County, 2007 was kind to these grapes, and the wine was luscious, with cherry sweet tart and raisoned cranberry aromas and raspberry and cherry flavors. Round, smooth, and balanced. This wine was wonderful. $28/bottle.

Wine #2 was Topel’s 2005 Estate Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. 92% Cab, 4% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot. I was pleased to taste this wine. I am a Sonoma County boy, born and raised. the wines I grew up with, tasted, sold, were Sonoma County wines. I live in Ukiah now, in Mendocino County, and I wanted this wine to taste good, I wanted the grapes from my new home to be good ones.

The 2005 Cab had a really low tannin load, was very approachable, with light herb and dark red cherry and berry fruit on the nose and repeating in the mouth. Velvety, smooth, soft, and balanced, with nice subtle notes. This is not a typical brick bat Cab, but a nicely drinkable Cab. $36/bottle.

Wine # 3 was the one year newer, just released three weeks ago, 2006 Estate Reserve Cabernet. 96% Cab, 2% Merlot, 2% Petit Verdot. Same wine, again smooth. A little more tannin evident, but soft. Similar nose and flavor profile to the 2005 Cab; with chocolate and black cherry. Definitely younger, a little edgy. I would let it lay down a while longer. $36/bottle.

The final wine I tasted was the 2006 Topel Estate Blend. 45% Cabernet. 45% Syrah Noir, 5% Merlot, and 5% Petit Verdot. I have never heard of Syrah Noir, Kevin explained that it was a clone of Syrah. The grapes for this unique blend come from Topel’s vineyards on Duncan Peak, west of Hopland in Mendocino County.

Kevin told me that this wine is owner Mark Topel’s favorite wine, I found it unusual. with notes of plum, prune, and fig newton. Again, virtually no tannin load, another incredibly soft wine. I want to retaste this wine the most. The unusual blend led to unusual flavors, and this might be the best, most versatile food pairing wine I tasted at Topel. $36/bottle.

All four wines were soft, supple, balanced, approachable, very drinkable. Tannin providing structure to hand fruit on, but staying out of the way of enjoying the wines. Well oaken, but not oaky. In a word: smooth.

I want the Pinot to drink, the Cabs to have with grilled tri tip, and the Estate blend to get to know better.

I set out to taste affordable wines, under $20, and ended up tasting wines in the $20-$40 range instead. My mission to taste and recommend inexpensive, available, good wines has not been forgotten; but I am really glad I stopped in to taste these four wines from Topel Winery.

My last blog entry, about how the wine industry could do a better job of marketing their product and how wine writers could try to reach beyond the small circle of people they write for and try to reach a larger audience through a serious decrease in snobbery, seems to have struck a chord.

I have seen links to my article receive tweets and retweets, diggs, and email forwardings. My blog numbers have exploded. I have gone from nowhere to the #4 top blog on Wine Blog Network Rankings.

Most importantly, I started a conversation; a real one with differing viewpoints. I am thrilled and amazed at the number of people that have found their way here to my blog, I am so incredibly grateful that some of you felt moved enough to share your thoughts here, on facebook, and by email.

This blog entry is about you, my readers, and what you have had to say in response to my last entry. Here is our conversation so far, please feel free to keep it going.

Shannon L., blog author’s friend, Dec 27 2009 8:46 PM

Walmart and Costco also sell Menage a Trois. Costco being the cheapest at $6.99 a bottle.

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Kelly Doyle Mitchell, owner of juicyplants.com, Dec 27 2009, 8:52 PM

Great read! Loved what he had to say about marketing and the (over)pricing in restaurants!

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John Cesano, blog author, Dec 27 2009, 8:59 PM

Again, better with food than by iteslf, but an absolutely GREAT food wine, and only $1.17 per glass from Costco. Wow. Beer prices for this wine’s superior food pairing qualities. That’s what the wine industry should be telling folks.

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Rob McLean, article inspiration, Dec 27 2009, 9:39 PM

Ok, so I am starting to see some of the light. My parents drank wine but mostly the famous box wines you’d find while at the grocery chain.
I being of the industrial worker type always enjoyed beer and shots as opposed to wine. I must admit a little wine does go a long way, at least to my head.
Appreciate the nod from this writer and friend, I will keep reading and eventually perhaps even change my beer drinking tunes. Admittedly Mr.Cesano already has me looking at the wine in my grocery outlet with more interest. Just haven’t committed as of yet.
Keep it up John, you are the future when it comes to a friendly voice in the wine writing community. I am sure of that.

Always
RK McLean

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Nancy Cameron Iannios, Oregon’s best tasting room and wine club manager, Dec 28 2009, 10:38 AM

Wonderful John! This is my favorite blog yet. I truly believe this would be a worthy submission for national publication with one of the big wine magazines…you should give it a try! I’m definitely going to pass it along to all of my So. Oregon wine associates. It is something that needs to be addressed! I cannot tell you how many guests have stepped right up to the tasting bar with an immediate disclaimer: “please don’t laugh at me if I don’t taste the wine correctly…I’ve never done ‘this’ before.”
First and foremost, wine should be fun and the stigmas associated with wine do need to loosen up. You don’t have to comment on the nose. It’s not necessary to recognize the nuances. You needn’t concern yourself with whether or not you are holding the glass correctly. Wine is meant to be enjoyed. You either like it or you don’t and you definitely do not have to agree with what you read or with what you hear. Reviews aren’t the final authorative word; they are merely one person’s perception and opinion. Each person’s taste buds allow for the final personal review.
The absolute beauty of wine is that it’s subjective. Each person’s experience is as unique as their own fingerprints. Tasting notes are more of an exercise in creative writing than they are a carved in stone description. I’ve seen many a concerned guest struggle to pick up on a flavor that is suggested in tasting notes. A gracious host/hostess can immediately address such concerns and save the whole experience.
I totally agree that you needn’t depend upon the price tag on a bottle of wine in order to enjoy an enhanced food experience. My daughter Rachel turned me onto Bogle Merlot about a year ago. You can purchase it at almost every supermarket for about $7.99. It has allowed me to have a dinner by candlelight experience in between paychecks on more than one occasion!

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John Cesano, blog author, Dec 28 2009, 3:57 PM

Robert Parker Jr. just gave a Napa wine you’ve never heard of (Dana Estates’ 2007 Lotus Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon), that you’ll never see (only 250 cases made), that you wouldn’t buy ($275 for a bottle of last year’s release), a perfect 100 point s rating. seriously, who really cares? Way to go wine industry, just keep shoveling that news that no real person cares about.

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Shannon L., blog authors friend, Dec 28 2009, 4:49 PM

I love what Nancy has to say. I believe she should submit it so some publication!
I admit, I buy my wine purely by if I like the picture or the title of the vineyard on the label!
I either like it, or I don’t. That simple.

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Shannon E., Wine Goddess, Dec 28 2009, 6:53 PM

[Parker] has to sell his newsletter and books. Look at his audience. Those dudes (readers) need to think they have something up on everyone else. Don’t sweat it just use it in your comedy routine (who is Dana? Is she THAT hot?)

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John Cesano, blog author, Dec 28 2009, 7:06 PM

Today, I checked in with the twitterati of winedom, and the big news was that Robert Parker, THE wine critic, had deigned to grant a 100 point score to a Napa Cabernet you have never heard of (Dana Estates’ 2007 Lotus Vineyard Cab), will never see a bottle of in person (only 250 cases produced), and can’t afford ($275/bottle for last year’s release, this year’s will likely be more). Really, who cares, besides a bunch of wine geek, Frasier Crane wanna-be, Napa cult Cab, fan boys? This news will not effect one single person I know.

Let me say it again clearly to wine writers and the wine industry: give real people news that they can use. Tell real people about wines that are readily available, do not cost an arm and a leg, and pair well with the food people eat at dinner time. Give people a reason to try your product, instead of writing for each other about things real people will never care about.

Just sayin’.

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Josh, author of drinknectar.com, Dec 29 2009, 8:58 AM

This was a very good and well written piece. The wine industry is behind the curve when it comes to 1) vision and 2) marketing and 3) distribution (don’t get me started here)

I love to debunk the wine snobbery of it all. There are a few good wine writers trying to do the same. Both John and Nancy are spot on in their comments too.

Josh @nectarwine (twitter)

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Tamara, author do sipwithme.blogspot.com, Dec 29 2009, 9:03 AM

Good article and I hear what you’re saying, but I personally find it more interesting to taste (and read about) quality over quantity. Not just wine either, same goes for beer. I can drink a tall boy for next to nothing or I can indulge in a deliciously handcrafted local ale. I’d pay 5 times the amount for the microbrew… and I’d be more likely to read a review about it too. Same for food for that matter. Do you want to read about a Big Mac you can get for under $5 or do you want to read about and taste the juicy gourmet kobe beef hamburger loaded with toppings you could never imagine on a burger (like a quails egg!)? News that you can use is good, but it has to be more than just about value. Just sayin’. icon_wink.gif

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John Cesano, blog author, Dec 29 2009, 10:41 AM

Tamara, your points are valid…as far as they go. When I visited friend in Oregon a couple of months ago, I did not drink a single Budweiser, but I did enjoy a handcrafted IPA or two at Wild River Brewing in Grants Pass. When I listed my 10 Perfect Foods, Kobe beef made the list. I have waxed poetic over wines that most folks, outside of the circle of wine geeks (and yes I consider myself one), will never taste as well.

With nearly every wine writer writing about wines that regular folks will never taste, it just perpetuates the wine industry’s failures to effectively market their wines to a wider audience. If you venture from Oregon to Napa, I’ll look forward to reading your review of the 2007 Dana Estates Lotus Vineyard Cabernet. Your prose is solid, and, as I am a self-professed wine geek, it would be interesting to read your review of a wine no one I know will never taste.

Handcrafted beers, and even Kobe beef, are available to the average consumer. Many of the wines I read reviews of are not.

You seem to be likening the wines I would recommend regular folks try with their meals, over the beer or iced tea they currently drink, to a 24 ounce can of Budweiser. It is just that attitude, dare I say snobbery, that puts so many people off ordering wine.

I love quality. I acknowledge that many more $20 wines will appeal to my palate than $10 wines, and there is a great likelihood that I will enjoy a $40 wine more than a $20 wine; but I’m not writing for myself, or for a circle of other wine writers. I have chosen to write for my friends, most of whom are just just regular folks, most of whom too rarely drink wine. I will write try to find “value” wines that taste good, or pair well with food, review and recommend them. I’ve taken on the job the industry doesn’t do, trying to get regular folks to drink wine now and again.

I think I’m on the right track, this was my most read blog entry by far.

Thanks for the comment. I love your blog and I’m adding it to my blog roll.

John

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John Vitale, editor & publisher of Washington Tasting Room Magazine, Dec 29 2009 1:48 PM

I read your post “So, you don’t get wine writers or the wine industry?” with a big grin on my face.

Cheers, keep up the good work on your blog!

John Vitale

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Scott Casey, Man of Mystery, Dec 29, 2009 9:59 PM

Love your Blog John. I agree with you 1000% wine beats all drinks when it comes to food.

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Nancy Cameron Iannios, Oregon’s best tasting room and wine club manager, Dec 29 2009, 10:10 PM

I’m definitely not trying to get into any debates, but I’m 100% behind John on this entire subject. I’m not convinced that a high priced bottle of wine is a guarantee of “quality”. I personally prefer red wines that have been fermented in New French Oak rather than American Oak. The cost of New French Oak is much more expensive than American Oak so wine producers have to cover their costs by pricing their wines accordingly. New French Oak aging is my personal preference but it’s not an indication of whether or not the wine is of higher “quality”. From my experience there are lots of marketing ploys involved in determining price points. For the most part, these price points have absolutely nothing to do with the actual quality of the wine and have more to do with a marketing manager’s opinion about what is going to make their product move at the best percentage of profit. Some people automatically see value in something with a higher price tag on it, but wine is no different than any other product…it’s about supply and demand and impressions left through marketing efforts. Most “impressions” in the wine industry are created with a sense of snobbery that appeals to a specific market. I think the point that John is trying to make is about industry “impressions” that leave the ordinary person feeling that wine is unapproachable. The “ordinary” person accounts for a much higher percentage of the buying population. So, purely from a numbers standpoint, the wine industry could probably sell more product to a wider audience if they were to take the snob appeal out of their product.

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John Cesano, blog author, Dec 29 2009, 11:37 PM

Nancy, I always welcome your comments. You have a viewpoint I respect, and as the best Oregon tasting room and wine club manager I know, your opinions enrich this blog.

To be fair, I am thrilled with Tamara’s comment as well. I would love people to look at my entries as the beginning of a conversation. I welcome comments, and mine is not the only valid viewpoint. It is entirely possible, perhaps probable, that I will be completely wrong in something I write. Tamara’s thoughts were so well presented that I added her to my blogroll immediately.

As Tamara’s blog is about visiting every Oregon tasting room in a year, it is more than likely that the two of you, Nancy and Tamara, have met.

I tried to taste wines at Fetzer’s tasting room in Hopland today, only to find it was closed about 3 years ago. Instead, I tasted some delicious wines from Topel Winery of Mendocino County at their tasting room in Healdsburg. While I’ll be putting up a new entry tomorrow recapping my visit to Topel’s tasting room, I can say that getting out to taste inexpensive wines looking for some jewels will be hampered if large wine groups are closing their brand’s tasting rooms.

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Denise Slattery, triovintners.com, Dec 30 2009 8:00 AM

Hi – This is a great summation of what’s screwed up in this industry. I like what I have read here. Thanks very much. Couple of things to add: I make wine and have a small winery which is holding on financially but a bit stressed at this time (who isn’t?) I would say the hardest job I have (besides cleaning barrels and tanks!) is marketing my wine. It’s not just about pouring samples in a tasting room. It’s really a 360 degree process that requires me to have everything buttoned up in terms of marketing and communications. Fortunately I really enjoy this part and like the challenge, but I am stunned at how stupidly the industry has organized itself, especially with regard to the point scale / medal winning / incomprehensible review system that we are all (consumers and trade alike) forced to contend with. I loathe kowtowing to the point-people and therefore do not send wine to WS or WA for review. But I second guess myself on this decision with each new release….”What if we actually got a high score on a wine from WS? That’s good for business. Right?”

Most of the wineries in this county (and there are something like 6,000 +) are small, family-run operations that are thriving because they are focused on small lot productions and a hand-crafted product. Making only 250 cases of a particular wine for me is mostly a matter of economics, not about creating an aura of exclusivity. Is the wine better because there’s less of it? Not necessarily. Does it cost more to make because there is less of it? Of course. But I think the point should not be lost on consumers that when it’s gone, it’s gone. So, pay attention and try it because it’s going to provide an experience for you. Not because so-and-so gave it 100 points. Right?

Finally, the craziest obstacle to promoting more everyday wine consumption is the insane restrictions that states apply to the sale of wine. As long as these hold-over restrictions from prohibition continue, and the three-tier system is protected, wineries are prevented from direct to consumer trade in many states. I can deal with the TTB compliance issues (which are also tedious and arcane but primarily there to capture tax revenue) but I loathe the three-tier system and believe this is a restriction of free trade. I think it’s down right anti- American!

To each and every one of you, thank you for writing this blog entry. Your opinions and viewpoints, uniquely yours, benefit us all when shared, and enrich my blog tremendously. Keep reading, keep commenting, keep sipping. Consider signing up as a subscriber of the blog too, Thanks! -John

I have a friend named Rob who isn’t really a wine guy. Rob isn’t alone, many people aren’t into wine.

The wine industry has allowed a perception that wine is more special than beer to permeate society. Working guys drink beer. Fancy pant elites drink wine.

I don’t know of any other industry that would purposely allow barriers to purchase to exist like this.

With wine, we’re not talking about unattainably expensive status symbol luxury items like Rolex watches, but there are many people who would more willingly buy a Rolex watch than a bottle of wine. With the Rolex, you know what you bought, an expensive, investment grade, time piece.

People just don’t know about wine, and not knowing are afraid to order it.

By allowing wine to be perceived as complex, a beverage for learned experts, the industry has fostered a fear in consumers. “I’m not James Bond, I don’t know a good vintage, or even a wine type; I’ll just have a beer, or a shot of tequila, or a Mojito, or a coke, or iced tea…anything but wine. I don’t want to look stupid in front of my friends or the waiter or the shop keeper.”

At the same time that Bacardi was marketing their rum through aggressive Mojito promotion, and selling more rum than ever, the wine industry was allowing fear to continue to be a wall most people won’t climb to try their product.

I could scream.

I read the blogs of many wine writers, pick up the wine magazines, keep up on marketing trends. 100 point wine ratings, 5 star ratings, indecipherable wine speak, Frasier Crane-esque reverence paid to a handful of producers of wines not available to the general public or too expensive to justify buying. Open a door or window and let’s get some air in here; most of what you’ll read about wine is from writers who have bought into the failed marketing of the industry – of absolutely no interest to anyone outside of the community of wine cognoscenti. Yawn.

Wine is so much better with most meals than beer, or iced tea, or coke, or just about any other beverage, but the industry is not getting that message across; it also hurts that restaurant wines cost triple what they would in a store and wine service is generally poor.

The next time you are in a nice restaurant, you will see many if not most people drinking beer or iced tea instead of wine. I can assure you that given a wine recommendation that would suit their meal better, and offered a glass of that wine at a reasonable price, most everyone would be drinking and enjoying both their wine and their meal more. I blame the wine industry for poor marketing.

Rather than be one of thousands of other wine writers bleating about the same unattainable cult wines, effectively bragging to my fellow wine writers about the wines I am drinking, I want to write about wine for the guy that would rather have wine with his meal but doesn’t want to feel like an ass.

Although wine knowledge is never ending, wine is simple. Let me say that again; Wine Is Simple.

Take the wine I drank my Christmas meal with, a 2008 Menage a Trois from Folie a Deux winery in Napa County’s St. Helena; while the wine goes for $12 a bottle, I just found the same wine on sale at Lucky’s supermarket for $8.99, so price needn’t be an obstacle to having good wine with food.

I appreciate that there are a wealth of wines in supermarkets that run from $8 – $20 per bottle, and some are good and some aren’t. I’ll try to taste a number of them and give you my recommendations.

Menage a Trois is a playful way of saying that the wine is a blend of three grape varietals, Cabernet Sauvignon, the king of reds, big, structured, dense, with black berry and currant notes, Merlot, Cab’s softer sister red, rounder, fleshier, with cherry notes, and Zinfandel, a brash, in your face red, with raspberry notes.

You have heard, “red wine with meat.” With three red wines in one bottle, this wine is a great wine for pairing with a host of meat dishes from hamburgers and hotdogs to pork shoulder and flank steak. Pasta in an Italian red sauce, Caesar salad; heck, I could drink this wine with just about anything and be happy.

Wine shouldn’t be about inviolable rules, but I will share a few “wouldn’t be a bad idea”s with you along the way.

The “wouldn’t be a bad idea” for today is not overfilling your wine glass just because you have the room to do so. My wine glasses are large, either 16 or 20 ounces, and I pour no more than 4 ounces in my glass. I get to swirl the wine, let it breathe, let the bowl of the wine glass collect wonderful scents, bury my nose in the glass, and inhale all the aroma and bouquet the wine has to give. A sniff and a sip, can change a bite of already good food into something almost transcendent. Doesn’t always, but, oh is it nice when it does!

I can get about six glasses of wine from a bottle at 4 ounces per glass. That means my $8.99 sale bottle of 2008 Menage a Trois is costing me about a buck and a half per glass.

The wine industry should be telling you that you can get a great wine to pair with food at home for about a buck and a half a glass.

That’s a lot more valuable information to most consumers than knowing about another garage winery whose entire release is sold out but just got a 10 page write up in a major wine publication after scoring a perfect 100 points in a possibly not blind tasting.

I’ll be visiting Fetzer and Bonterra in Mendocino County, doing some wine tasting close to home this week, hopefully I will be able to make some more recommendations. I also want to taste some of Topel Winery’s wines, they are also from nearby, but their tasting room is in Healdsburg, so tasting for me will have to wait a bit. I also should be seeing some wine accessory samples arrive this week that a distributer said they would send; I’ll try those out and let you know what I think. I’m also going to try cooking polenta a different way, and I’m going to make another batch of involtini this week. Lots of things to write about, I hope you’ll keep checking in.

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If you do have the time, and are near Healdsburg, CA stop into the Topel Winery tasting room and taste some wines before year’s end. They have a 2007 Sauvignon Blanc, Grace at $130/case ($1.80/glass) , 2004 Hidden Vineyard Cabernet at $190/case ($2.64/glass), and 2005 Cuvee Donnis Syrah at $150/case ($2.08/glass). These prices are discounted 43 – 51% per case, promo codes are “Grace”, “Hidden”, and “Donnis”, and the sale only runs through the end of December.

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Edited to add: A friend, and reader of my blog, Shannon let me know that the 2008 Menage a Trois was $6.99 at Costco. Seriously, at $1.16 a glass, this wine costs less per ounce than the bottled water I bought at the Fairplex in Pomona, CA at the beginning of this month. Buy it, pair it with meat. Thank me later.

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