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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


John On Wine – Wine competitions and Barrel Tasting 101

Originally published on Thursday, January 15, 2015 in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper by John Cesano

Nine wines made from Mendocino County grapes took gold medal or higher honors at last November’s Grand Harvest Awards. They were:

• 2011 Handley Cellars Pinot Noir Anderson Valley ($32) Gold/Best of Class

• NV McFadden Vineyard Cuvee Rose Mendocino ($32) Gold

• 2013 Navarro Vineyards Grenache Mendocino ($27) Gold/Best of Class

• 2013 Navarro Vineyards Chardonnay Table Wine Mendocino ($15) Gold/Best of Class

• 2013 Navarro Vineyards Barbera Mendocino ($27) Gold

• 2012 Navarro Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Mendocino ($29) Gold

• 2012 Navarro Vineyards Mourvedre Mendocino ($29) Gold

• 2013 Navarro Vineyards Chardonnay Anderson Valley Premiere Reserve ($25) Gold

• 2012 Stephen & Walker Trust Winery Limited Chardonnay Botrytis Mendocino Ridge ($65) Double Gold/Best of Class/Best Late Harvest or Dessert

What does that mean? By itself, very little. About 99 out of 100 times when a wine takes a gold medal in a wine competition, no matter how many subsequent wine competitions it is entered into, it never manages to take another. Many in the industry, if they were honest, would let you know that gold medals awarded in a wine competition are just random, chance based, nonsense … but that doesn’t stop the wineries from blasting news of their awards to a waiting audience of consumers who seem to think such luck based honors have genuine meaning.

What I look for are wines that do take more than one gold medal, or the rarer unanimously voted double gold medal, or better still more than one double gold medal. I pour several wines that have earned more than one gold medal. Two have three double gold or higher (double gold and best of class, or double gold and best of show) awards. Not everyone will love these wines, because there are always wines that don’t appeal to someone but these are the wines to taste, these are the wines that are amazing, these are the wines to look for.


Seriously, if consumers rush to buy a gold medal winning wine at the store figuring that the wine must be good, probably significantly better than the other bottles on the shelf, then take a moment to appreciate how incredibly rare it is for a wine to be unanimously voted gold by a competition’s judges earning a double gold medal, and then have that happen again, and still again. That is a wine to seek out.

The Grand Harvest Awards are pretty much the last big wine competition of the year. Up next is not just the first big wine competition of the year, but the largest judging of American wines in the world, the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. Last year, more than 5,800 wines were entered into the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. This year’s judging took place earlier this month, with over 6,417 entries and the big winners will be poured at a celebratory grand tasting for the public on the second Saturday of February at Fort Mason in San Francisco. Next week, I’ll post the big Mendocino County grown wine winners from the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.


If you haven’t picked up you Barrel Tasting 101 ticket yet,  go online and get it for $20 instead of waiting until the event and spending more; $30 for the same $20 ticket. Of course, if money doesn’t mean anything to you, just pop on down to one of our local car dealerships and buy a new car for my son, I’m sure he would appreciate it.

Barrel Tasting 101 will feature wineries from Hopland to Calpella and Ukiah to Redwood Valley pouring barrel samples of future wines on the final weekend of Mendocino County’s Crab, Wine & Beer Fest on Saturday, Jan. 24 and Sunday, Jan. 25, 2015, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day. I attended my first barrel tasting weekend back in 1993, when it was a free event over one weekend in Sonoma County. I used to visit the wineries of the Alexander Valley on Friday evening, and then spend Saturday in the Dry Creek Valley and Sunday in the Russian River Valley. Quiet, uncrowded, low key, and incredibly enjoyable, I used to taste an incredible number of wines, spitting all, and had a terrific glimpse into the future. I also took advantage of some sale prices offered on futures, these wines tasted from barrel before being bottled. Last year, I attended the Anderson Valley barrel tasting weekend, which included the wineries of Yorkville Highlands, and might be better named as Barrel Tasting 128. It was as enjoyable as the old barrel tasting weekends in Sonoma County used to be, before they became the overcrowded drunk-fests that winery owners and staff report today.

Barrel Tasting 101 will feature barrel samples from Barra of Mendocino, Brutocao Cellars, Campovida, Cesar Toxqui Cellars, Graziano Family of wines, Jaxon Keys Winery, Jeriko Estate, McNab ridge, Milano Family Winery, Nelson Family Winery, Rivino, Saracina, Seebass Vineyards, Simaine Cellars, Terra Savia, and Testa Ranch. Each participating winery tasting room will also serve up Dungeness crab food pairing treats. To get your tickets for $20 instead of $30, visit http://bit.ly/1zS36ay and then, armed with your receipt, you’ll be given your logo tasting glass and map to begin your terrific wine adventure.


John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

John On Wine – Wine Tasting 101

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, November 6, 2014; written by John Cesano

Wine tasting is daunting for some folks. If you have never gone to a winery tasting room, for a wine tasting, the uncertainty of what to expect, can be a little scary, even intimidating.

Beer is simple, you go to the corner store, grab an ice cold six-pack out of the cooler, pay for it, take it home, open a bottle, and drink it. No one is judging you. It is just beer in a bottle, and then in your belly. Food pairings are not much of a concern with beer; chips, nuts, pretzels will all do just fine.

If you watch Frasier and his brother Niles in reruns, then you might think wine is pretentious and that the little rituals might trip you up and make you look foolish. Put any such concerns out of your mind.

For the most part, wine – to me, and to many Italian Americans in northern California – is food. Wine is just one more ingredient, or dish, among many, in a larger meal, and wine should complement your food and make it taste better.

One of my favorite things about a Chef’s Wine Dinner at a good restaurant, like Crush or Patrona here in Ukiah, is that perhaps six wines will be poured and perhaps ten food dishes will be served, and you are afforded the opportunity to try sips of different wines with different foods to see what pairings work for you, a wonderfully playful experiment of trial and error, or better yet trial and delicious success, over an entire evening…well, that is a great way to be awakened to the wonder of food and wine pairings, surrounded by 70 other people having the same sensory overloading experience, oohs and ahhs, and, as the evening goes on, groans of delighted contentment, everywhere.

The next of these opportunities is next Wednesday, November 12, 2014, when Chef Jesse Elhardt and his team at Crush pair mushroom dishes with the wines of Cesar Toxqui Cellars, at what I consider the premier event of the entire 2014 Mendocino County Mushroom, Wine & Beer Festival. Surprising no one, I have my ticket already. Tickets are $65 in advance, or $75 at the door, and include food, wine, tax & tip.


Cesar Toxqui will have his Cesar Toxqui Cellars wines featured at the Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush in Ukiah on Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Similarly, the premier event of the 2015 Mendocino County Crab, Wine & Beer Festival will be the McFadden Farm Winemaker Dinner at Crush on Wednesday, January 21, 2015. This dinner will be a crabapalooza, and as crab costs more than mushrooms, tickets are $75 in advance, and also includes food, wine, tax & tip. There will be no tickets at the door, as this event will sell out.

Contact Crush by calling (707) 463-0700 to make reservations for either of these two great opportunities to play with food and wine!

Visits to winery tasting rooms should be as much fun, or certainly more fun than they too often are, I’ll admit. If you are a novice, and want to feel comfortable, come and visit me at the McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room in Hopland. I’m in most every Tuesday through Friday from 10-5 each day, and my incredible team handles most of the other days. We’re the top rated tasting room in California by the San Francisco Chronicle, because we want you to enjoy yourself, because we give you an experience, and because we treat you with respect.

First things first, wine tasting should be complimentary. This isn’t liquid gold and rubies, it is fermented grape juice, and I am thrilled to do away with the pretension of Napa County for visitors to our humble tasting room. If you value your juice too greatly to pour a taste of it, or don’t know how to add the cost of samples to your cost of goods when setting prices, then Napa County is one county south, then another east. That said, while wine tasting is complimentary, tossing a bill or two in the jar is never frowned upon.

Next thing, and perhaps the most important thing to know: the dump bucket is your friend. I like to pour through all available wines, usually about a dozen, give or take, and if you try to drink a dozen pours then you will be drunk. I pour an ounce of wine in a nice big glass, and if you swirl the wine then you can break free some of the aroma molecules, and put your nose into the glass, and slowly sniff in all the smells. Then take a little sip, and see what flavors the wine has. The wine flavor will taper away, sometimes slowly, sometimes abruptly, and more flavor notes may be found here on the finish. Finally, dump the remaining wine from the glass into the bucket.

I let people experience the wine before I share the notes that the wines present to me. I also tell a little story about each wine, and put our wines in context by describing our farm, our growing choices, the winemaking styles, and much more. A visit with me can often last an hour, and involve a dozen wines, but a mere sip of each wine means less than an ounce consumed and critical judgment is still intact, so wine buying or wine club joining decisions are about the wine and not the result of alcohol making your decisions for you.

Here’s another thing that is important to own: you are the boss of you, you are the ultimate judge of what you like and do not like. I pour Gold medal, Double Gold medal, Best of Class and Best of Show wines. I have wines that professional judges unanimously voted Gold, in competition after competition after competition. I pour great wines, AND YOU ARE FREE TO NOT LIKE THEM. Not everyone likes everything, and with 12 wines to pour, there is a great chance you’ll find one or two, or all 12, to like or not like.

As I pour, I do mention foods that each of the wines I pour pair well with, often sharing recipes, because a wine at first taste that was just good can be the best wine you’ve ever tasted when it accompanies   the right dish.

After running through all of my wines, with the nosing, sipping, and dumping, I always ask visitors if they would like to revisit any wines, because sometimes one sip just isn’t enough. I also like to recommend other wineries to visit based on what my visitors liked most, and perhaps a local place to eat between wine tasting visits.

I write about wine because I do not want anyone to be intimidated by it. I pour wine in much the same way. Nicely enough, there are many other incredibly friendly and fun folks pouring wine throughout Mendocino County, and every one of us would love to pour wine for you. We’re gentle with first-timers; if you haven’t been wine tasting yet, give it a try.


John On Wine – Spotlight Winery: Simaine Cellars

Note: This is an expanded version of the column that ran on September 4, 2014 in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper.

John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

Picture a winery, set amidst endless acres of rolling grapevine rows, more a castle than an ordinary structure, covered in ivy, with European supercars parked in front, fountains spraying water with misted droplets creating rainbows, trees carefully carved into topiary wine bottle shapes, a helicopter tied down beside the castle, and a sign welcoming visitors inside to enjoy a wine tasting for a nominal $20 tasting fee per guest. Haughty hosts judging your worth with practiced eye, pouring perfect half ounce pours with practiced hand. The wines, too often ultimately disappointing, unsurprisingly each an extension of style over substance. Not for me, thanks.

Simaine Cellars Wine Tasting & Gift Shop is gloriously the opposite of that; located at 3001 South State Street in the Redwood Square industrial park on the south end of Ukiah, one property north of the Redwood Health Club, in the rear row of businesses, where the Simaine signage at units 41 and 42 let you know you’ve arrived at the right place.

Simaine Cellars Doorway

Stepping through the door, you enter the gift shop, filled with colorful, handmade jewelry. Both Victor Simon, owner and winemaker, and Max, the winery dog, greeted me, and we walked through the gift shop and into the winery.

Simaine Cellars is all about function, and is a local example of a growing movement where wineries locate in urban industrial parks rather than in rural vineyard settings. Victor buys his grapes, then crushes, ferments, barrel ages, bottles his wine, pours it at tastings, and sells it, all from an intimate ‘no frills’ environment. The focus is squarely on the wines and with reduced overhead, they are made more affordable.

The large one room winery has barrels stacked high, wide and deep along one wall, a tasting bar on another wall, and cases of wine for tasting and sale on a third wall. The fourth wall is where a roll up door allows grapes to be delivered at harvest time. In the center, a table or two are available to sit, and if your timing is good, Victor will share a homemade lunch with you as you wine taste.

A Simple Bar

While you can find Simaine in shops and restaurants in Mendocino County, “the best wine sales happen in tasting rooms. Stores allow bigger sales, but tasting wines is always better, that’s why I do my special events” shared Victor. Once a month, Victor hosts a dinner concert in his winery, with a local restaurant providing the food. On September 13, Paula Samonte will sing before traveling to Rome, Italy to perform. Paula’s concert is called “Leaving Notes” which she literally does as a singer.

Victor generously poured through all of his wines. I believe all of the wines I tasted were made from grapes that came from Venturi Vineyard.

Tasting Simaine Cellars' Wines

2012 Simaine Sauvignon Blanc, Venturi Vineyard, $18, 14.6% alc. – Served pretty cold. White peach, pear, apple, vanilla instead of oaky, nice acid.

2010 Simaine Sangiovese, Venturi Vineyard, $25, 15.0% alc. – Dark color. Plum, coffee, dark rich cherry, chocolate. Lush, anise herb, all spice. The tart cherry on a cheesecake or jubilee dessert.

2010 Simaine Zinfandel, Venturi Vineyard, $25, 16.3% alc. – Dusty cocoa, Lush fruit, fruit, fruit. These wines are the exact opposite of light wines, but no high alcohol flavor. Balanced ripeness. Cherry. jammy berry, pepper spice.

2010 Simaine Syrah, Venturi Vineyard, $25, 15.7% alc. – Coffee and cherry and raspberry and bright cherry fruit meet purple dark plum and cassis fruit.

2010 Simaine Primitivo, Venturi Vineyard, $150, 16.4% alc. – Available only to wine club members and in the tasting room. Deep dark cherry, berry. Remarkably smooth. I loved this wine; sadly it is nearly sold out.

2010 Simaine Carignane, Venturi Vineyard, $40, 15.6% alc. – 105 year old vines, dedicated to grower Larry Venturi’s mom: Elvie’s Block on the label. Victor told me, “low yield, not too many tons per acre, gives so much character for the wines,” and I agree. Cherry, rose, and vanilla played really well against the notes of Victor’s salsa at lunch. Light, but full of flavor.

2010 Simaine Merlot, Venturi Vineyard, $40, 15.1% alc. – Soft mouth, dusty spice, blackberry, cherry, rhubarb. A touch of mint. The finish is long and lingering. Good acid, food friendly

2010 Simaine Petite Sirah, Venturi Vineyard, $40, 15.1% alc. – Nicely not overpowering. Smooth, soft tannins. Rich on palate. Tannins this soft on a wine this rich is remarkable. “All my wines are free run juice, so full body but smooth,” was Victor’s explanation. Dense blackberry, anise, pepper.

Victor Simon of Somaine Cellars

There was cherry accented or cherry leading the way notes in practically every red wine. They were all big wines, but smooth. They all were delicious, but would be made more so with food. I really liked the wines, and the overall style shown by Victor Simon at Simaine Cellars.

Simaine wines are made from fry farmed and organically grown grapes, using only free run juice, the juice that comes simply from the weight of grapes on top of grapes, and not pressed grapes for additional juice. Victor returns the skins to the vineyard they came from to be used as compost. Simaine wines are French oak aged and made from one varietal, not blended; and each wine is from one vineyard, which receives vineyard designation on the finished wine bottle.

Victor works at the winery every day, and to make that tolerable, enjoyable even, he makes himself lunch every day, and makes enough so he can share with you, if you are there at the time. If you miss lunch, there is always homemade fresh salsa and chips available because, as Victor explained, “I make salsa and beans every day, my wines are full body and go really well with spice.”

I enjoyed Tillamook peppercorn and crushed red pepper cheddar cheese quesadillas; fresh beans made with whole beans, red onion, jalapeno; and salsa made with Roma tomatoes, red onions, garlic, jalapenos, and cilantro – all made fresh by Victor.

Lunch with Wine Tasting at Simaine

Over and over again, one wine after the next, without exception, I found Victor’s Simaine wines to be rich, deeply flavored, but smooth and incredibly well integrated. These were wines of weight but remarkably soft tannin. Each wine delivered on the promise made in the smelling of it; the nose leads seamlessly to the mouth, and on to the finish. They also paired spectacularly with food.

Visit Simaine Cellars to taste and talk with Victor, or peruse www.Simaine.com for more information.

Victor and Max

I had a visit at work from a reader, not to taste wine, but to tell me that she reads my column each week and, even though she isn’t really much of a wine drinker, I write so everyone can understand what I am writing about and she likes the column. I wanted you to know I appreciate your kindness and was humbled that you sought me out to share it. Thank you, and thank all of you, my readers.

John On Wine – 4th annual Testa Blending Party and Winesong

Two great wine events on one day

John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine


I’m giving you a touch over two weeks notice, so I hope to see many of you, because on Saturday, Sept. 6 there are two of my favorite Mendocino County wine events.

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 4th annual Blending Party from 6 to 10 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 fifth Black blend would rely heavily on the blend put together by the wine blend judged best at the 3rd 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, Charbono, 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.

I know I like wines that are well integrated, where nose leads to mouth and on to finish seamlessly, with a food-friendly touch of acid to balance an abundance of cleanly discernible fruit notes. Of course, this year’s other judges may prefer high-alcohol fruit-jam-bombs that obliterate food flavors, so finding a way to make a blend to please all palates might be a better road to victory than trying to please mine alone.

After dinner, from 8 to 10 p.m., there will be dancing as McKenna Faith and her band perform. McKenna is a Nashville recording artist, a genuine star, from right here in Ukiah, and incredibly talented. I’m an old Deadhead, not really a Country Western kind of guy, but enjoyed every moment McKenna played last year; quality transcends genre. 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 $70, Testa wine club members get a 25 percent discount, and with limited seating you’ll want to get your tickets early; this event sells out and no tickets are available at the door.

Visit TestaRanch.com/order, or call Maria at (707) 391-7273 to get your tickets now.

The second Sept. 6 wine event is Winesong, a charity auction and wine tasting, enjoying its 30th year, and is 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 benefitting 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. 6, 2014.

NOTE: This poster did not run in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper version of my wine column today, but I added it here for my online archived copy:




John On Wine – Drought

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on March 27, 2014
By John Cesano


Brave the storm to come, for it surely looks like rain.” ­ – 1972, Look Like Rain, Grateful Dead

Rain, water, drought, shortage, rationing, voluntary reductions, mandatory reductions; Thoughts of our current situation swirl like water about a drain. I’m a winery tasting room guy. I know finished wine, whether it is good, what notes it has and how to describe it. I know a little bit about growing and winemaking, but really just the basics.

When it comes to the crisis facing everyone in Mendocino County, not just the vineyards and wineries, I had to reach out and talk with some folks more knowledgeable than I am on the subject. I spoke with Zac Robinson, President of the Mendocino WineGrowers, Inc., the voluntary coalition of growers and producers working to promote Mendocino County grape grower and wine interests to the general public. Robinson grows grapes both inland, on the Russian River between Ukiah and Hopland, and in the Anderson Valley, and then turns them into wine for his winery, Husch Vineyard.

Robinson described the problems facing the entire community as stemming from a two year drought, stating “the Navarro River is at the lowest level ever for this date, and “things are pretty dire.” Robinson outlined measures that vineyards and wineries are taking in the face of water shortages including adding nearly 50 new wind machines, installing double drip irrigation lines, and installing soil moisture monitoring probes. This is on top of water use reductions of approximately 67 percent since the previous drought of record, 1976-77.

The fans minimize the use of sprinkler water for frost protection and later to mitigate the highest heat of summer, but at a cost as the fans are pretty noisy for residential neighbors to endure. Soil moisture monitoring probes allow more intelligent application of moisture as needed, and double drip lines involve a second irrigation drip line with emitters tasked only to the weakest vines in a vineyard. Double drip lines allow about a 30 percent reduction in water as regular summer drip irrigation can be delayed for weeks as only the vines most in need are taken care of earlier. Later pruning also reduces water demands, as it leads to later bud break and decreases the period when frost protection water use might occur.

In spite of all of the efforts by growers, Robinson shared that “holding ponds aren’t full, the watershed is bone dry, and there will be August decisions (as) we’re not going to have enough water to get the crop through the year (and) we’ll have to choose which vineyards get less water.”

All this, while most of Mendocino County’s vineyards face 50 percent mandatory reductions in water use from various governing boards and agencies.

Not to demonize the “demon weed,” but marijuana accounts for nearly the same water use amount of all of the family farmed multi-generational vineyards in the county, with marijuana acreage just a small fraction of the legal and regulated agricultural vineyards. A walk in a vineyard is a joy; a walk in much of the county a danger due to illegal growth, armed guards, booby-trapped paths, and poisoned lands.

I’m not anti-marijuana, but I support legalizing and taxing it, as well as subjecting growers to the same water restrictions grape growers face. I do oppose illegal grows on public land, diverting water, and ruining existing ecosystems. While vineyards may be the most visible sector of the agricultural community, non-vineyard agriculture (irrigated pastures and orchards) are the largest user of water in the county, using water at much greater rates per acre.

This piece isn’t meant to be an “us vs. them” piece, but a look at where we all are at, together, now and where we all should be looking to go to decrease the severity of drought consequences as a community in the future. Janet Pauli, Chair of the Mendocino County Inland Water & Power Commission, was able to provide a pretty good map for the future.

Pauli first made clear the severity of our current drought, based on insufficient rain October to present, “this is the new drought of record’ and may be a level of severity that hasn’t occurred in over 400 years based on tree ring data.” This surpasses the often recounted 1976-77 drought of record. Pauli said the path forward required progress on two tracks. The first is reoperation and the second is increased storage at Lake Mendocino.

Reoperation involves support of Congressman Jared Huffman’s Fixing Operations of Reservoirs to Encompass Climatic and Atmospheric Science Trends Act (FORECAST) so we can conserve water in our biggest pond, Lake Mendocino. Currently, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers follow required water control instructions from a manual dating back to the 50s, which saw them release water in the spring of 2013 without any evidence of a storm coming in after. Assuming weather prediction is better now than in the 50s, sensible on-the-ground decisions could be made saving unnecessary future water releases from occurring.

Lake Mendocino exists as part of a larger U.S. Army Corps of Engineers flood control project, authorized by Congress in the 50s, and intended to proceed in three stages. Stage one was the building of the Coyote Valley Dam, completed in 1959, creating the current Lake Mendocino. Stage two involved the building of the Warm Springs Dam, completed in 1982, creating Lake Sonoma. Stage three involves coming back to raise the Coyote Valley Dam 36 vertical feet, doubling the water storage capacity of Lake Mendocino. Stage three has not happened. Pauli said that feasibility studies are costly, but needed to move forward and while $1.2 million has been brought to bear, $4 million more is needed to see the study through to completion. Funding comes from the Federal government, matched by a local coalition including Potter Valley, Redwood Valley, Mendocino County, City of Ukiah, and Russian River Flood Control groups. Next congressional action is required, and Pauli said that in the past U.S. Senator (CA) Diane Feinstein “has helped us with funding for the Feasibility Study. We believe that the project is feasible and should be championed by our elected representatives as nearly “shovel ready”. We are hoping that raising Coyote Dam might become the “water supply poster child” for increasing storage in the State of California.”

If feasible, the current estimate of enlarging Lake Mendocino is $300 million, with perhaps 25 percent local funding needed, and would require a year for authorization plus whatever time the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would need to enlarge the existing dam. Similarly, Congressman Huffman’s FORECAST Act requires successful passage into law, a couple of years of studies, and another couple of years before implementation. The greatest problem about droughts is that with their end, so too ends the quest for solutions to drought conditions.

Everyone in Mendocino, Sonoma Counties face drought conditions now and should come together to act now and continue to act together in the future as a community to address ways to minimize the impacts of future droughts. According to Mendocino WineGrowers, Inc., farmers in the wine industry and wineries relying on grapes anticipate losses of up to $100 million this year due to the drought and a combination of mandatory and self-imposed responsible water reduction measures. Grapes just won’t be as plump, there will be fewer and this will lead to less wine made. Do whatever you can to conserve water now. I remember the conservation measures that existed in 1976-77 that are not in effect in homes now.

Support your local, legal, agriculture; help them through this drought by taking on extra water conservation measures at your home and business, and contact Congressman Jared Huffman and voice your support for his FORECAST Act, and contact Senator Diane Feinstein and let her know you would really love to see the Coyote Valley Dam raised 36 vertical feet as soon as practical. Consider your local city councilmember’s and county supervisor’s support for these needed protections of our beautiful county as well. As Mendocino County residents, we’re really in this together.



John On Wine ­ – Crab, wine & more

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on January 23, 2014 by John Cesano


This week, I look back at last weekend, reflect a bit, and look ahead to more events this week.

On Saturday night, I went to Patrona in Ukiah for a winemaker dinner boasting a very crab-centric menu, because the Mendocino County Crab, Wine & Beer Fest is going on. The meal also featured the sparkling and still wines of Roederer Estate winemaker Arnaud Weyrich from nearby Anderson Valley. I was thrilled to use the event as a reconnecting date, the first in over 20 years, with a dear friend, June Batz, who will likely be accompanying me to more wine events in the future.

Arnaud visited each table, welcomed guests to the event, and shared some information about the winery, and the night’s wines. Showing far more humility than I would have, he refrained from noting that one of the night’s wines, the Roederer L’Ermitage was named the #1 wine of 2013 by Wine Enthusiast magazine.

Some of the folks attending included Lorie Pacini and Allen Cherry, who are two of the biggest supporters of Mendocino County wines I know, Gracia Brown from Barra and Girasole along with her husband Joseph Love, and Christina Jones, owner/chef of Aquarelle restaurant in Boonville – who is doing her own winemaker dinner tonight, Jan. 23 at 6:30 p.m. with wines from Handley Cellars.

The three bubblies, Roederer Estate Brut, the L’Ermitage, and a Brut Rose, were everything you would hope and expect, simply perfect when paired with crab egg rolls, crab stuffed chicken, and an orange marmalade crepe with whipped cream respectively.

The two surprises of the evening were a pair of still wines, the 2012 Carpe Diem Chardonnay, barrel and tank fermented, with a majority of used oak, yielding a gorgeously balanced wine that paired beautifully with butter poached crab and avocado, and the 2011 Carpe Diem Pinot Noir, a delightfully characterful wine that went well with pork belly.


Overheard at Barrel Tasting 101 last weekend: “Why is this Chardonnay cloudy? I think it is corked.”

Whoa there; a wine that is still in barrel, a wine not ready for bottling yet, a wine that has never seen a cork, can’t be “corked.”

Often time, Chardonnay in barrel is held “sur lies” or with the spent yeast of fermentation to provide the wine with a little weightiness or richer mouth feel. Barrel samples of these wines will be cloudy. Similarly, red wine barrel samples are colored, but often not clear. I will write more in advance of the next barrel tasting event I point to.

The most important thing to know about barrel tasting is that wines tasted from barrel are not finished wines, some do not taste particularly good, but will eventually yield delicious bottled wines. Barrel tasting provides clues, hints, at what you might expect from future wines. Some wineries offer cases sales on wines tasted from barrels, wines that are not released yet, but will be released in the future, and these offerings and sales are known as “futures.”

Tasting room folks that I talked to reported an interesting mix of folks attending the event; some who knew what a barrel tasting was about, other folks who were open to learn, and still other folks who were interested in consuming as much wine and crab as they could for $10.

June and I visited Maria and Rusty at Testa Vineyards in Calpella on Sunday, and it was great to see the crew working, pouring wines, serving up tasty treats.

Rusty pulled samples from the barrels in the cellar; I enjoyed the barrel samples I tasted, and thought the Petite Sirah would be great held separate instead of used up in blending. Charbono, Carignane – all my old favorites – tasted great from the barrel. Rusty is usually busy manning the grill, barbecuing chicken or oysters for an event, when I see him, so it was a treat to hear him talk about the wines and wine making.

Back upstairs and outdoors, we enjoyed tastes of current release bottled wines with Maria, paired with mighty delicious crab spread atop a slice of toasted French bread. Well, yum.


The folks at Ole Smoky Tennessee Moonshine contacted me and asked me if I would be interested in writing about their Blackberry Shine and Champagne cocktail, the MoonMosa. I’ve written about spirits when I visited with Crispin Cain and the folks from Germain Robin in Redwood Valley, and I work for a place with two Double Gold sparkling brut wines, so, sure, why not?

I received a mason jar of Ole Smoky Blackberry Moonshine. The packaging is fantastic.

Gary Krimont, a friend and wine industry socialite, helped me evaluate this unique beverage.

First, Moonshine might be pushing it. While the folks at Ole Smoky do produce a few products at 100 proof, the Blackberry Moonshine is just 40 proof, or 20 percent alcohol.

Honestly, the lower alcohol is a good thing, as it made this an easily enjoyed, flavorful sipper. The aroma is pure blackberry pancake syrup, but the flavor is more complex and layered. We mixed equal parts Shine and Brut, and both Gary and I felt that the cocktail was less than the sum of its parts. If you see one on a retail shelf, pick up a jar, and enjoy Ole Smoky Blackberry Moonshine by itself, it is light enough to drink uncut, and too delicious to dilute.


Saturday is my birthday, and I will be attending ZAP, the Zinfandel Advocates and Producers Zinfandel Experience event at the Presidio in San Francisco. Sessions include a Sensory Tasting, a Terroir Tasting, and a Reserve & Barrel Tasting. Two Mendocino County wineries participating are McNab Ridge Winery in Hopland and Edmeades Estate Winery in Philo, and I look forward to tasting their Zinfandel, plus the Zinfandel wines made by many friends outside the county as well.


Crab Fest continues this weekend, with the big events moving to the coast.

The Crab Cake Cook-Off & Wine Tasting Competition will take place this Saturday, Jan. 25 from noon to 3 p.m. under the big white tent at the corner of Main and Spruce in Ft. Bragg.

There is an all you can eat crab dinner, with wine, from 6 to 9 p.m., that Saturday night at Barra in Redwood Valley.

A host of winery tasting rooms along Highway 101 inland, and Highway 128 on the way to the coast, will be offering up crab taste pairings with their wines this last weekend of the Crab Fest, so get out and enjoy the bounty of our county.


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