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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
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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.

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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:

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John On Wine – Drought

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

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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John on Wine ­ – Power of the Press

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal on October 3, 2013 by John Cesano

 

“You know, I’ve been parking right there, in front of your shop, a couple of dozen times, to go across the street to eat, and I never even knew there were tasting rooms here,” Gabe said when I asked him what brought him in today, “but I read about you in the paper, and so here I am.”

I would love to tell you that something I wrote here in the Daily Journal brought Gabe in. In July, when I wrote about the McFadden Wine Club Dinner, I had folks come in and buy tickets. When I wrote about my neighbors at Naughty Boy, I had folks visit there. Not record revenue days, but a column can inspire a few folks to visit the subject of a piece I write.

Monday morning, I had three couples and several individuals come in to taste, because a very complimentary piece ran in the San Francisco Chronicle on Sunday. Carey Sweet reviews winery tasting rooms, has for more than five years, has over 100 under her belt and rarely – maybe half a dozen times at most – gives out three and a half stars. Most tasting rooms earn two to three stars, and are great. McFadden is the first tasting room to take three and a half stars in over a year.

Monday mornings are often slow, but not this Monday morning. Monday ended up being busier, before noon, than both of the last entire weekend days.

That is the power of a good, and well read, review. Thanks to Carey Sweet of the Chronicle.

Sweet wrote, “Before I leave, Cesano pulls out a Destination Hopland map and offers suggestions on other tasting rooms I might enjoy checking out, plus tips on what’s most interesting to sample at each. He marks his favorite restaurants nearby.”

While there was plenty of cool stuff written about me, and McFadden, I am incredibly pleased that it was noted that I recommended other winery tasting rooms to visit, and local places to eat.

I do not see other winery tasting rooms as competition. I see the opportunity to work cooperatively with all of my neighbors along Hwy 101, from Hopland up to Redwood Valley and beyond. The more time folks stay in the area, the more they experience, the better impression we can all make.

Sure, I could focus on McFadden only. There are some winery tasting rooms that do focus only on themselves. They aren’t much fun to visit.

I volunteered to work with Destination Hopland and then took over some marketing tasks, because I believe that the wineries in the area make great wines, but the word just wasn’t getting out widely enough.

Did you know that the wineries of Hwy 128 took 82 medals at the recent Mendocino County Wine Competition, while the inland Mendocino wineries along the 101 and upper Russian River corridor took 100 medals? Wine Spectator wouldn’t tell you, they largely ignore Hopland, Ukiah, and Redwood Valley and to read their magazine or online output, you would think that Mendocino County was comprised of just Anderson Valley and the coast.

Virginie Boone writes about wine for Wine Enthusiast magazine, and the Press Democrat. Boone visits all of Mendocino County, not just the Anderson Valley; she judges at our wine competitions, attends our events, visits our tasting rooms, tours our vineyards, and as a result has a broader, better educated palate than her counterparts at other publications.

Trying to get media to visit Hopland has been a challenge. Jen Felice of Visit Mendocino told me that all of the writers who look to visit Mendocino County want to visit only Anderson Valley and the coast.

With a three star review for Campovida and a three and a half star review for McFadden, Carey Sweet of the Chronicle is helping people find their way to Hopland. With wine recommendations for a number of the area’s wineries in Wine Enthusiast, Virginie Boone is bringing folks to come and visit, or buy our wines.

I wanted to bring attention to the wines and wineries, the too often unmentioned or ignored wineries of inland Mendocino. That is why, beyond working to help Destination Hopland promote our wines, I reach a little farther and write about vineyards and wineries up to Redwood and Potter Valleys and down to Comminsky Station Road, just off Hwy 101, near the border with Sonoma County. I am grateful to be able to invite readers here in The Ukiah Daily Journal to come and taste our wines on a near weekly basis.

I also wanted to take the time to thank the wine writers from larger publications who do visit and write, writers like Carey sweet and Virginie Boone. Thank you!

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Hopland Passport is coming up soon, on Oct. 19 & 20, 2013; I hope you can go. Next week, I’ll write about the participating wineries and what treats each will share with folks who buy a weekend passport.

This week, I’m giving away a free ticket to Hopland Passport.

Send me an email to JohnOnWine@gmail.com and tell me why I should give you a free ticket. I’ll pick a winner sometime tomorrow and post the winner’s name online at JohnOnWine.com at the end of the reposting of this column.

Good luck!

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.

 

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John on Wine

Spotlight Winery: Nelson Family Vineyards

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal on August 22, 2013, by John Cesano

The Nelson family grew up farming in Mendocino County midway between Ukiah and Hopland since Herman and Clara bought their home ranch in 1952. Mostly plums that yielded prunes, the farm also had some grapes already planted, French Colombard and Carignane.

Greg Nelson, Herman and Clara’s son, is now the lead Nelson working Nelson Family Vineyards, west of Hwy 101 on Nelson Ranch Road.

Greg Nelson pouring wine made by his son Chris Nelson in the Nelson Family Vineyards Tasting Room

Greg Nelson pouring wine made by his son Chris Nelson in the Nelson Family Vineyards Tasting Room

“I used to tell folks we were 7 miles south of Ukiah but now I just tell them to turn at the strawberries and follow the road back,” Greg told me as he shared how giving directions to the tasting room and event grove has become easier since leasing a front piece of the ranch to the very visible Saecho strawberry farmers.

Over the years, grapes were ripped out and replaced with more desirable varietals. The French Colombard made way for Zinfandel, and in 1974 the Nelsons planted Riesling which is now the oldest grapes grown on the ranch.

Greg told me that today, his son Tyler takes care of the farming, his son Chris is the winemaker, and Greg stays busy selling grapes and wine. “I knock on the door, if they decide to buy, I make the deliveries,” said Greg, as the wines of Nelson Family Vineyards are self-distributed.

While September 11, 2001 was a horrifically tragic day, Greg says the economic downturn turned into a blessing for Nelson Family Vineyards. Unable to find employment post 9/11, Chris moved back home to the ranch and became a winemaker producing his first wine, a Pinot Grigio in 2003.

A few years later, Greg figured 2006 or so, Chris, who played both classical and electrical guitar and had a love of music started promoting concerts at the grove at Nelson Family Vineyards. Now, there is a regular summer concert series, with performances the fourth Friday of each sunny month, plus other events throughout the year from weddings to charity fundraisers.

In addition to leasing land for Saecho’s strawberries, the Nelsons lease land for cattle raising and to Doug Mosel’s Mendocino County Grain Project, which grows wheat, rye, triticale, oats, and lentils. Mendough pizza often shows up at Nelson events and there are times that the pizza dough is made from flour from the grains grown on the ranch, in a wonderful but coincidental circle.

Greg said that Tyler grows grapes both conventionally and organically. Three vineyards are organic, while the others are, “fish friendly, low impact, and sustainable.”

Given the chance to pass on a message to the folks who read this column, Greg said, “we’re very grateful to the community we were all raised in.”

The gardens in front of the tasting room, originally designed and planted by Kate Frey are beautiful. Inside the tasting room Elliot Little photography graces the walls, local pottery, olive oil, and farm goods also offered, beside logo branded clothing and wines.

Greg poured the complete lineup of Nelson Family Vineyards wines for me.

The NV Brut, $28, made at Rack & Riddle in Hopland, tasted of apple cider, pear, and grapefruit. I didn’t ask, but I would guess a 60 percent Chardonnay, 40 percent Pinot Noir blend.

The 2011 Chardonnay, $21, showed light toasty oak and nice fruit, more apricot than apple. Rich.

The 2011 Pinot Grigio, $18, was lemon peel and high acid, wet river stone, and pear.

The 2012 Viognier, $21, was easy to enjoy, with edge free approachability, and light citrus playing against apricot.

The 2011 Pinot Noir, $28, exhibited classic Pinot funk, along with a light earthy cherry note.

The 2008 Zinfandel, $25, was nice. Not overly smoky or overly stripped. Soft, medium light raspberry, herb, and black pepper spice.

Barn Blend 2012, $25, is the wine made from the blend put together at the annual Barn Blend party at Nelson. This blend of Cabernet sauvignon, Zinfandel, Petit Verdot, and Viognier was soft, soft, soft, showing blackberry jam and herb.

The 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, $28, had nice chewiness, tannin, oak, blackberry, briarwood, herb, and spice.

The 2009 Riesling, $19, comes off the oldest vineyard on the ranch. Light honey on a medium heavy body, petrol, and nectarine.

The 2009 Orange Muscat, $21, is a nice fruit basket of a wine with white pear and white peach providing balance for the sweeter orange and floral notes.

We finished up with the 2009 Ice Riesling, $25. At 16.2 residual sugar against 12.5 percent alcohol, this is a really nice dessert wine with concentrated honeyed pear, peach, apricot, and caramel marzipan. The finish narrows down to a clear apple note.

Greg shared that 2011 was a challenge in the vineyards, with a little botrytis here and there; and by contrast, “2012 was a lot easier, it was a cakewalk, it was the perfect growing season.”

Visit the Nelson Family Vineyards tasting room, at 550 Nelson Ranch Road, off Highway 101, down the road behind the strawberries. Open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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John Cesano has more than 200 posts about wine archived at JohnOnWine.com

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