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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

John on Wine- Friends don’t let friends Vacu-Vin

By John Cesano

Updated:   04/04/2013 10:58:27 AM PDT

(NOTE: This piece was edited down for the paper from a longer piece that ran here in the blog years ago. -John)

One of my wine industry jobs was with the Wine Appreciation Guild, one of the industry’s largest publishers of wine books and a one-stop distributor of both wine books and accessories. My job was to sell wine books and wine accessories to winery tasting rooms, wine shops, and other specialty merchants in 42 California counties.

There was one item I refused to sell.

Vacu-Vin. There is no wine preservation system more ubiquitous. Gwyneth Paltrow told Oprah that it is a “must-have” in her kitchen. Every frau and pretentious wine poser in the country has one. Sales of the devices number in the tens of millions.

For the one or two of you who are unfamiliar with Vacu-Vin, here’s what the manufacturers say:

“The Wine Saver is a vacuum pump, which extracts the air from the opened bottle and re-seals it with a re-usable rubber stopper. Place the re-usable stopper in the bottle and extract the air from the bottle using the Wine Saver pump. A “click” sound tells you when you have reached the optimum vacuum level. The vacuum slows down the oxidation process which makes it possible to enjoy your wine again at a later date. The question “how often do I have to pump?” is a thing of the past. The unique and patented vacuum indicator will emit a “click” sound when the correct vacuum is reached.”

The Wine Appreciation Guild carried them, and everyone I worked with wanted them to sell in their stores.

I had a problem. To my mind, the Vacu-Vin doesn’t work:

“The “Vacu-Vin” device as submitted was evaluated to determine efficacy in reduction of oxidative spoilage in opened wines. Using the protocol described above, the “Vacu-Vin” device was found to have no measurable effect in reduction of oxidative spoilage.” -Gordon Burns, ETS Laboratories, 1204 Church Street, St. Helena, CA 94574

and:

“Vacu-vin” doesn’t work, It never has. Sensorily – to me anyway – the Vacu-vin was a shuck. You could track the deterioration in each sample. Indeed, just recorking the wine worked equally as well ­ or as badly.

The (Wall Street) Journal asked Professor David Roe of the Portland State University chemistry department to test the gizmo. At best he achieved a vacuum of somewhat less than 70 percent. In just 90 minutes, he reported, the vacuum pressure diminished by 15 percent.

I asked Professor Roe to repeat his test with a newly purchased (newer, ‘improved’, model) Vacu-Vin. The results? “The pump is more efficient, but no more effective,” he reports. “The vacuum is the same, around 70 to 75 percent. And the leak rate is the same: After two hours you lose 25 percent of the vacuum. Overnight ­ 12 hours ­ the vacuum is totally gone.” -Matt Kramer, “A Giant Sucking Sound And That’s All”

and:

“Unnecessary equipment: There’s no clear need for Vacu-Vin Vacuum Wine Saver and other wine-preservation systems, our tests suggest.

A lot of people turn to wine-preservation systems that seek to retard or stop oxidation, the chemical process that degrades wine. If you’re among those who swear by such systems, we have surprising news, based on our tests of four widely known brands: No system beat simply recorking the bottle and sticking it in the fridge.” – Wine Spectator.

and:

Getting the air out: The Vacu-Vin Vacuum Wine Saver, $10, uses rubber stoppers (two are provided) with a pump that sucks out air.

We tested three varietals with the systems on three different occasions for three different periods of time. For comparison, we also stoppered one bottle with its own cork. After all the bottles spent time in our wine cellar, expert wine consultants compared their contents in blind taste tests with freshly opened bottles. If our trained experts, with nearly 60 years in the business, couldn’t discern among wine storage systems, most consumers probably can’t, either. So just go ahead and cork it (you can turn the cork over if it’s easier to get in). But try not to wait more than a week or so to drink the wine, and sooner is better.” – Consumer Reports, December 2006

 

 

 

I would tell the buyers for the winery tasting rooms, the wine shops, and the kitchen stores that the Vacu-Vin doesn’t work ­ but it didn’t stop most of them, because you, the home customer, wanted to buy and use these things.

When I see a wine bar using a Vacu-Vin, I won’t drink any but the first glass from a bottle.

Here’s the deal: when you open wine and let it breathe, you are letting tannins dissipate, alcohol flush burn off, and fruit come forward. You’ll find that the hot, harsh, and closed Cabernet at opening becomes a smooth delicious beverage with blackberry and currant notes with a little time. Oxygen is wine’s friend initially.

While I am prepping food for dinner, I usually open a bottle, or more than one bottle if cooking for friends, pour a little of each in a separate wine glass, so I can repeatedly swirl and sniff each. I am looking for the wine to open and become perfect. At that point, I recork the bottle so I can just open, pour, and seal all the way through the meal. I know the last glass will be as good as the first. If not perfect, every glass is pretty darn good.

If I opened the wine, let it breathe, and then ignored it, the fruit would follow the tannins, and perfect would become sad. Oxygen, so important to a wine at opening, becomes wine’s enemy afterward. Leaving a wine open ruins wine over time.

Pumping the air out of a bottle of wine with a Vacu-Vin strips the wine of some aroma and bouquet. Each time it is used it can harm the wine. To me, a couple of seconds is like hours of damage. Kramer described the loss of delicate notes in his piece for spectator.

The Vacu-Vin doesn’t even create a complete vacuum. As tested, fully 25-30 percent of the air, and oxygen, remains inside the bottle ­ before the Vacu-Vin fails and all of the air, and oxygen returns. To me, the worst think about the Vacu-Vin is that consumers are fooled into a false sense of preservation security and don’t seek another, effective, method to save the aroma, bouquet, and flavors of a bottle of wine in between glasses.

Matt Kramer and the Wall Street Journal engaged a University science department professor who measured the Vacu-Vin’s fail using drills and tubes and meters, all very high tech. Similar high tech methods were used by Gordon Burns of ETS Laboratories and the testers at Consumer Reports.

At work, in the tasting room, I use 100 percent pure Argon, an inert gas that is heavier than oxygen, from a large tank. Shooting a little into a bottle, then recorking it, allows the Argon to settle and provide a protective blanket between wine and oxygen. Smaller home versions are available, with Private Preserve, a nitrogen/argon mix, the most easily found. More expensive, but also more efficacious, WineSave is 100 percent pure food grade Argon in a can available at WineSave.com

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John Cesano does not get a kickback from private preserve or winesave, but wishes he did.
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John On Wine blog bonus -

I polished a popular piece posted previously here, and it was published in the printed paper, perhaps a partial week ago.  (Note: sorry for the alliteration, once started, that last sentence wrote itself).

I also visited Matheson Tri-Gas, a commercial supplier and asked about the cost of an Argon tank for the serious hedonist, the folks who care about preserving quality of wine glass to glass, and those foodies who want to prevent cooking oil from becoming rancid and vinegars from becoming musty.

A small tank (it isn’t really small, but it is smaller than a commercial tank) runs about $100. The regulator runs another $100. The hose, nozzle, and other fittings runs a third $100. Initial cost: $300. from that point on, tank can be filled or refilled with Argon for about $30 and a small (big really) tank would last practically forever used at home.

John on Wine – Spotlight winery: Testa Vineyards

By John Cesano
Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal on March 28, 2013

Comfy. Comfy is how I feel when I visit Testa Vineyards, just north of Calpella at 6400 N. State Street.

From the rustic metal farm antiques used as installed art decorations to the red checked cloths covering wood-round topped wine barrels, and from country music playing on the radio to old wooden picnic tables – all surrounded by head pruned old vine vineyards, a lake, mustard growing between the vines when I visited, and a three bedroom vineyard rental guest house with a winemaker’s dream: a cellar for barrels and cases. Testa Vineyards has a warm, unpretentious, welcoming vibe; Testa is defined by its comfortableness.

The Testa family has farmed grapes in Calpella for more than 100 years. Maria Testa Martinson is the fourth generation of Testas to farm, but the first generation to make wine from those grapes.

Photo credit: Di Davis, Diane Davis Photography

The wines Maria Testa Martinson, her husband Rusty, and their family make from the grapes that they grow on their ranch are simply delicious.

Maria is so completely likeable, so nice, so positive, so sweet, and her personality is paired with a tireless drive that has seen Testa quickly grow a loyal local following of fans.

Testa wines started with three labels; White, Black (red), and Rosé. Simple as that.

With success at wine competitions ­ almost everything Testa makes took a Gold medal at last year’s Mendocino County Wine Competition, and constant promotion ­ I’ve seen Maria pouring her Testa wines from Raley’s Supermarket to Saucy restaurant

in Ukiah, Testa has grown to add some varietally labeled wines, and Maria is hoping to release a 2011 Coro Mendocino wine in the summer of 2014 as well.

On a recent visit, Maria opened everything and we tasted through the entire current lineup. Here’s my notes:

NV Testa Vineyards White, $20 ­ The wine I tasted happened to be all 2010 vintage grapes, although labeled NV (non vintage), and the blend was Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Muscat Canelli, and Chenin Blanc. Testa’s White had nice floral notes being met by citrus aromas, following nicely to a mouthful of crisp stone fruit notes.

2011 Testa Vineyards Rosé, $18 ­ This tasted so nice, I forgot I was tasting critically and just thought, “yum.” Strawberry over ice.

2010 Testa Vineyards Charbono, $40 ­ Really nice, rich, full nose, soft tannin, nice acid, solid finish, velvety black and delicious dark fruit.

2010 Testa Vineyards Carignane, $25 ­ Beautiful bright cherry, dusty plum,+ herb and spice.

2010 Testa Vineyards 100 ANNI (100th anniversary) Old Vine Zinfandel, $40 ­ My favorite of the day, but I am partial to Zinfandel. Lighter styled, yet fully flavorful fruit, herb, and pepper spice notes.

2009 Testa Vineyards Black Due, $20 ­ Due means “two” in Italian, because this is the second Black release. Almost equal parts Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignane, and Petite Sirah. Rich, round, dry berry and cherry fruit with herb and cassis.

The Black Tre (Three) from 2010 is set to be bottled late May.

Wines getting close to being sold-out include the Black, Charbono, and Old Vine Zinfandel. While that is bad, sad news, the good news is that new yummy releases will follow shortly.

The Testa Vineyards tasting room is open Friday ­ Sunday, from 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. each day.

I was fortunate to have Maria’s 92-year-old (I suspect she could run circles around me) aunt Lee visit the tasting room while I was there tasting wines. Lee planted Testa’s Charbono grapes 50 years ago and was a joy to chat with as she shared her thoughts on subjects ranging from Risotto (Arborio rice is not to be used) to Zinfandel (lower alcohol is better), and from harvesting Zinfandel (just after the first couple of grapes go to raisin) to flavoring pasta water with Zinfandel (it can be tasty but isn’t pretty). Adorable, I found Maria’s aunt Lee to be a font of wisdom and experience.

I attended the first Testa Wine Club dinner and blend party and had a great time. A highlight was the barbecued oysters that Rusty and his buddies cooked up – my mouth still waters just thinking about them. I missed last year’s event, but I have marked my calendar and will travel from pouring wines at Winesong on the coast in Ft. Bragg on Sept. 7 to join Maria, Rusty, their family, friends, and fans later that day at this year’s Testa event. I may even have the enviable task of helping judge the blends put together by the event’s attendees.

John Cesano has written about wine at Johnonwine.com over the last four years. John cringes looking back at his unedited pieces, but has no intention of fixing them.

_____

Okay, so there’s the piece that ran in last Thursday’s Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper, and was posted on their website too.

A little bonus info, more blathery than I am allowed in print where I am limited by word counts and space considerations:

I absolutely adore Maria. Of course, I adore lots of people in the wine industry, but Maria is just an extra special spirit. This may sound weird, but the inside of my head is a weird place; Maria is the perfect embodiment of an Italian grandma, but hot.

Maria reminds me of my neighbor growing up, Mrs. Bordessa, and of the Italian moms who cooked up the cioppino, or the spaghetti, or the gnocchi for their sons – who were my dad’s friends  so it seemed we were on a permanent Italian meal invite.

There is a comfortableness being around an Italian family, with simple, filling, delicious food and lots of vino. The mom, or grandma, proudly serving up home dishes better than any restaurant.

Maria reminds me of all of the iconic women who worked so hard, not just without complaint but cheerfully, to make a better home, a better table, for their family and friends.

While those women in my memory are all old, Maria is not. She is young, vital, attractive, and just a joy to be around.

Every time I have met one of Maria and Rusty’s children, the young Martinsons are also cheerful and helpful.

Similarly, I have met Testa women from the generations before Maria’s, and the whole darn family are just like so many families I knew growing up – Faraudo, Ratto, Lisignoli, Andretti, a whole bunch of families with names ending in a vowel (like mine). Hard working, devoted to family, welcomingly hospitable.

I think that Maria strikes a resonate chord in me, by being a living embodiment of an archetype I grew up with, and one I associate with great meals, and that resonance is a major reason for my feeling of comfort at Maria and Rusty’s winery.
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Okay, one more random note that wouldn’t fit in a column: Di Davis, professional photographer extraordinaire, provided the photographic art for this piece. I send Di advance copies of my columns so she can send a photo to run with each weekly column. Di captured the spirit of Testa beautifully, with two of their most iconic wines and the family dog. Comfortable families have dogs. This just works.

I never would have taken this picture. I also couldn’t have imagined the picture Di captured of me that I now use practically everywhere across the social media universe.

I am incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to collaborate with Di each week. I enjoy not knowing what artwork she will send me, but knowing it will always be perfect…and a lovely surprise.

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Thanks for reading. Pick up the Ukiah Daily Journal tomorrow, and every Thursday, to read my latest blather.

Cheers,

John

An Introduction to John on Wine

By John Cesano
Updated:   03/28/2013 10:28:30 AM PDT

Welcome to what will be a weekly column on wine that will run each Thursday here in the Ukiah Daily Journal.

I shared my disappointment with folks here at the Journal when the Wine Wednesday pages disappeared with the loss of the Mendocino Winegrape & Wine Commission last year.

Editor K.C. Meadows suggested I write a weekly wine column then, but I already had a few part time jobs to go with my full time job managing the McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room and didn’t want to commit to 700 words on wine each week. I had to decline.

More recently, UDJ Features Editor Kelly Hancock asked me again to consider writing a weekly wine column.

Hancock edited the piece I submitted last year in advance of the fall Hopland Passport event until it fit the space available, cutting half the words while leaving the piece intact. It was a solid piece of editing.

In addition to appreciating Hancock’s editing skills, I also liked that – in spite of having submitted 16 pictures of other winery tasting rooms – Hancock used a picture of me that she had taken from a previous Passport event and had on file. Anyone who knows me will tell you I am not immune to a kind ego stroke.

After weighing the pros and cons of writing a weekly column, I decided that, with Hancock as an editor I feel comfortable with, being allowed to write a number of columns in advance and “spiking” them, I would be free of the time pressure of a deadline.

My focus will be wine and the winery tasting rooms along the 101 corridor, from Hopland to Redwood Valley and Ukiah to Potter Valley. I’ll try to paint pictures with words and hopefully give readers reasons to visit these tasting rooms.

Some columns will look at a particular varietal like Chardonnay or Zinfandel, with descriptions of some of my favorite local examples. Other columns will feature a style or type of wine, like rosé or sparkling wines, and again I will describe some outstanding wines within the column.

I’ll write about my favorite wine books, my favorite wine accessories, and wine preservation systems.

I’m a cheerleader for the industry and for our area. You will not find me writing that a winery sucks, that their staff are rude, or that their wines are vile; I’ll stick to the places I like most, writing about the wineries that do a great job, about the things they do well, about the friendly and helpful people who are the face of the winery, and about the very yummiest wines from each winery I write about.

You’ll read pieces in advance of Taste of Redwood Valley, Taste of Downtown (Ukiah), and Hopland Passport as well as about the area’s best individual winery events from Saracina’s Pig and Pinot feast at their ranch to McFadden’s Wine Club Dinner for 225 with overnight camping on the bank of the Russian River. I’ll outline the 101 corridor participants in the county’s Crab & Wine Festival and Wine & Mushroom Fest.

I’m not Frasier Crane, I’m not a wine snob, but I picked and crushed my first wine grapes when I was 11. I worked in vineyards as a teen. I put together my first restaurant wine list in my twenties. I sold many thousands of cases of wine, and traveled the country talking about wine, in my thirties. In my forties, I visited winery tasting rooms in 42 counties selling wine books and wine accessories. Now, at 52, I manage retail sales for McFadden, and provide design and marketing services to some local tourism groups.

I’ll be writing about what I know and love. I’ll try to write without pretension, most often using first names – ­ wine is a first name industry. I’ll try to use columns to answer questions about wine. I hope you’ll read and perhaps be moved to experience some of what I share with you.

My greatest challenge will be to limit the use of words like love and adore. I love so many places and wines and adore so many people in our local wine industry that I fear sounding repetitive.

Sometimes when I have too much to say on a subject to fit the confines of this newspaper column, my extra words can overflow on the UDJ online version of my column.

John Cesano manages the McFadden Farm Stand and Tasting Room in Hopland and has a popular wine blog, also called John on Wine.

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