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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

Writing a post after 10 pm is not the way to get a ton of readers. Heck, writing an online piece doesn’t carry the same weight that writing a column for the local newspaper does. That said, I should do this more often, write a piece just because, small, for you and, as much as I love you, more importantly, for me.

Tonight I attended the second Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush in Ukiah, and it was fantastic. Again.

Owner Doug and Manager Dave are terrific, but they allow their staff the opportunity to shine and that is their genius.

Chef Jesse banged out some scallops that were, in a word, perfect. Want two words? Way perfect.

Chef Zack served up some little puff pastry and magic bacon things, I don’t know what they were, other than orgasmic, but I could have eaten another hundred, I’m sure.

For the second Chef’s Wine Dinner in a row, oysters were served as an appetizer. Feel free to serve them again at the third Chef’s Wine Dinner. They are great!

The rabbit was so good. If only more people would think of cute bunnies, I could have had more of the very popular and oh so yummy rabbit.

There was veal tartare with tuna in a mini cannelloni and an Insalata Nichoise, but there just wasn’t enough of the Nueske pork wrapped veal sweetbreads with porcini tortellini on our end of the table. Oh, what a dish!

Did I forget to mention the lobster creamed corn, or the lamb with saffron and breadcrumbs? Yeah, I ate those too.

Dessert was a homemade 100 proof lemoncello and vanilla Semifreddo.

I go on about the food, but I love food. I am not on a diet. If there is any good in being fat, then it is not having to be moderate in enjoyment of great food.

No Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush is possible without wine. This time, the wine came from Charlie and Martha Barra’s Barra of Mendocino and Girasole labels.

The Barra wines spend time in expensive French oak. I had the Chardonnay with scallops and lobster corn. Note: all corn should be lobster corn, let’s pass a law.

I had a Barra Cabernet Sauvignon with the lamb, rabbit, and a ratatouille that didn’t suffer for being a vegetable only dish. This growing boy loves his proteins.

The Girasole line runs to stainless steel and neutral oak. I enjoyed the Pinot Blanc with the oysters and Insalata Nicoise, and the Pinot Noir with the veal tartare and veal sweetbreads.

Charlie and Martha poured their Muscat Canelli with the dessert.

The best food and wine pairing of the night, by a mile, was the Girasole Pinot Noir with the bacon in puff pastry appetizer things. I do not know what they were, but they weren’t regular bacon. Imagine God made a pig pregnant, you can call the pig Mary if you want, but you do not have to if it makes you uncomfortable. Anyway imagine that a chef does magic chef things to God bacon, and sticks it in little bread bites, and that is what I ate, washing it down with gorgeous Pinot Noir.

I sat between Martha and Frank. Martha is Martha Barra. Frank is the father who brought his daughter, granddaughter, wife and friends to the dinner for his daughter’s birthday. She was 60, but she looked much younger. Good on you, young looking birthday girl!

Owen Smith, winemaker for Barra was at the dinner. It is always good to see Owen. Also attending was superstar marketer Gracia Brown. Gracia helped Crush, along with Martha and the Barra team, almost double the seats sold for this Chef’s Wine Dinner. Gracia and I last sat at the kid’s table at the Mendocino County Wine Competition awards dinner, and that is probably where I belong most often. Tonight, I mostly behaved and sat with the adults.

Some patrons told me that they read my words in the restroom, and I was surprised because I did not remember putting my phone number on the stall wall, but it turned out that the Crush crew posted my newspaper column reviewing their first Chef’s Wine Dinner for folks to read. Works for me.

Anyway, another spectacular evening. Happy diners, many new to a Chef’s Wine Dinner, eating, drinking laughing, talking, just plain having a great night. Before I wrap this post, kudos as well to the hostess and servers too. Everyone worked together to make tonight work for all.

I definitely love living where I do, and doing what I do, allowing me to share with you some of the best of it.

Inland Mendocino County Wineries, from Hopland to Ukiah and Calpella to Potter Valley, won 20 GOLD Medals, 7 DOUBLE GOLD MEDALS, 4 of the 5 BEST OF CLASS awards, and 1 SWEEPSTAKES Award on August 3, 2012 at Friday night’s 36th Annual Mendocino County Wine Competition Awards Dinner.
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BELLS ECHO VINEYARD
3580 Feliz Creek Road, HOPLAND, CA
GOLD – 2009 Syrah, Mendocino County $24
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BLISS FAMILY VINEYARDS
13500 S Hwy 101, HOPLAND, CA
GOLD – NV Schoolhouse Red Blend, Mendocino County $12
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BONTERRA VINEYARDS
2231 McNab Ridge Road, HOPLAND, CA
DOUBLE GOLD and SWEEPSTAKES RED – 2009 The McNab Red Blend, Mendocino County $36
DOUBLE GOLD and BEST OF CLASS CHARDONNAY – 2010 Chardonnay, Mendocino County $14
GOLD – 2010 Viognier, Mendocino County $14
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CHIARITO VINEYARD
2651 Mill Creek Rd, UKIAH, CA
DOUBLE GOLD – 2009 Nero D’Avola, Mendocino County $32
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GIRASOLE VINEYARDS
7051 N. State Street,  REDWOOD VALLEY, CA
GOLD – 2011 Pinot Blanc, Mendocino County $13
GOLD – 2010 Pinot Noir, Mendocino County $16
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GRAZIANO FAMILY OF WINES
13275 Hwy 101 Suite 3, HOPLAND, CA
DOUBLE GOLD – 2010 Graziano Chenin Blanc, Mendocino County $15
GOLD – 2009 Monte Volpe Sangiovese, Mendocino County $18
GOLD – 2009 Saint Gregory Pinotage, Mendocino County $18
GOLD – 2011 Saint Gregory Pinot Blanc, Mendocino County $15
GOLD – 2009 Saint Gregory Pinot Noir, Mendocino County $19
GOLD – 2010 Saint Gregory Pinot Meunier, Mendocino County $20
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JAXON KEYS WINERY
10400 Hwy 101, HOPLAND, CA
GOLD and BEST OF CLASS ZINFANDEL 2010 Mae’s Block Zinfandel, Mendocino County, Ravazzi Vineyard $24
GOLD- 2009 Petite Sirah Mendocino County, Allie Keys Vineyard $24
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McFADDEN VINEYARD
13275 Hwy 101 Suite 5, HOPLAND, CA
DOUBLE GOLD- NV Sparkling Brut, Potter Valley, McFadden Farm $25
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PARDUCCI WINE CELLARS

501 Parducci Road, UKIAH, CA
and the Solar Living Center, 13771 S Hwy 101, HOPLAND, CA
DOUBLE GOLD – 2009 Petite Sirah, Mendico County $11
GOLD and BEST OF CLASS CABERNET SAUVIGNON – 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendocino County $11
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PATIANNA ORGANIC VINEYARDS
Old River Road, HOPLAND, CA
GOLD- 2010 Sauvignon Blanc, Mendocino County $17
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PAUL DOLAN VINEYARDS
501 Parducci Road, UKIAH, CA
and the Solar Living Center, 13771 S Hwy 101, HOPLAND, CA
GOLD and BEST OF CLASS SAUVIGNON BLANC – 2011 Sauvignon Blanc, Potter Valley $18
GOLD – 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendocino County, $25
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SARACINA
11684 S Hwy 101, HOPLAND, CA
GOLD – 2011 Sauvignon Blanc, Mendocino County $22
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TESTA VINEYARDS
6400 North State Steet, CALPELLA, CA
DOUBLE GOLD – 2010 Carignane, Mendocino County $25
GOLD – 2011 Rose of Carignane, Mendocino County $18
GOLD – 2010 Charbono, Mendocino County $40
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WEIBEL FAMILY VINEYARDS
13275 S Hwy 101 Suite 1, HOPLAND, CA
GOLD – 2010 Orange Muscat, Mendocino County $15
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Mendocino County’s HIGHWAY 101 Wineries – EASY TO VISIT, EASY TO LOVE.

Wine made in an industrial park? That could be the new focus of my wine writing, and provide endless material with great wine after great wine made and released by winemakers who would rather put limited resources into securing the best grapes or equipment instead of an architectural wonder, a castle, an imposing edifice created to humble or impress visitors.

The wine theme parks, with landscaped gardens and fountains, almost universally charge for tastings, and those fees can climb to well over $50 per theme park, um, winery. The winemakers who toil away in decidedly more modest industrial business parks almost never charge to taste their wines, and set low fees which are applied to a purchase when there is a charge.

Last week, I wrote a recap about the wineries of the Vinify Winery Collective at 3358 Coffey Lane in Santa Rosa. There are a number of individual winemakers using different spaces in the same business park, making some of my favorite juice, as different in style but similar in amazing quality as Kevin Kelley’s the NPA and Salinia to Carol Shelton’s eponymous winery.

More recently, I had the opportunity to visit Victor Simon at Simaine, his winery hidden away in the Redwood Square industrial park at 3001 South State Street #42, on the south east corner of the intersection of South state and Plant, at the south end of Ukiah.

Not in the front row of building spaces, but around to the back row, Simaine is an unprepossessing space, with a nondescript edifice, completely hiding the amazing winemaking going on behind the doors of the business park space.

Opening the door to Suite 42, I was stunned by the amount of colorful non wine merchandise that decorated the small retail tasting room space. Victor’s wife Brenda creates one of a kind shadowbox gifts, jewelry, necklaces, and earrings, which are available for purchase at Simaine.

The name Simaine is a contraction of Victor’s last name, Simon, and Brenda’s maiden name, Maine; Simon and Maine becoming Simaine.

Passing through the cozy retail space, visitor’s enter Victor’s work space, a full winery with a small kitchen space and a couple of tables for relaxed tasting and possible eating.

Open daily, from 10 until 5, Simaine is both a labor of love and an enormous time commitment for Victor. With summer heat in Ukiah often proving debilitating, Victor chooses to start work many summer days at 4:00 am, and there is plenty of work to do as Victor is a one man winery crew; owner, winemaker, and cellar rat all rolled into one.

Working with certified organic growers, Victor makes 100% unblended varietal, 100% unblended vineyard designate wines, treating the grapes and the wine as gently as he can, and chooses exclusively French oak barrels for the flavors they impart to his wines, blending neutral and newer oak held juice for his finished product.

I consider myself very lucky to have been invited by Victor to taste his wines at lunch time, with Victor preparing the fixings for Carne Asada tacos for a small group that had gathered. The reality is that Victor works every day, and long hours, so part of his relief comes in a daily preparation of lunch for himself and whoever happens to arrive at the winery at the right time. Limousine drivers, knowing Victor’s lunchtime habits, are known to deliver gleeful tasters to Simaine just after noon.

The first wine I tasted was the 2009 Simaine Sauvignon Blanc, Mendocino County, Larry Venturi Vineyard, $18. Grown in gravelly soil next to the Russian River, these certified organic grapes were dry farmed and come from 45 year old vines. Stainless steel fermentation, then French oak held seven month to add a vanilla note, this Sauvignon Blanc has beautiful melon, lemon, citrus, and a decidedly Mendocino grapefruit note. A truly lovely wine, it shows great balance of acidity and sweetness, fruit and oak.

The second wine tasted was Victor’s 2007 Simaine Syrah, Larry Venturi Vineyard, $25. Soft, silky, and Smooth. Chocolate, and a mix of red and dark fruit. Cherry meets plum, with nice smooth, tight grain, oak imparting a vanilla kiss.

Victor’s other lucky guests around the lunch table included a local musician Steve, Angela from SIP! Mendocino in Hopland, and neighbor Mark from Domaine Charbay. My luck grew as it turned out Mark had a Korean wife, they put up their own kimchi, and Victor had a jar that he opened for me to test Mark’s assertion that both Victor’s Sauvignon Blanc and Syrah paired wonderfully with kimchi.

Kindly described, kimchi could be called pickled cabbage. More accurate would be fermented, and it wouldn’t be wrong to say rotted. Kimchi is a powerfully pungent mix of cabbage, peppers, garlic, and fish oils, sealed in a clay vessel, and buried until ripe, very very ripe. I spent one year in Korea, love the country, and the food. I love kimchi, but my son’s mother used to scream when I brought any commercially available kimchi into the house. Hearing that not one, but two wines had been found, both delicious on their own, that paired with kimchi, did seem a little farfetched – I was sceptical.

Well, let me say here and now, Mark was completely correct. The Syrah was an OMG match for kimchi, and the Sauvignon Blanc though a completely different pairing was equally perfect.

Simaine produces just 2,500-3,000 cases of wine each year, small lots of high quality wine. Although the only wines available for purchase when I visited were the Sauvignon Blanc and Syrah, Victor has several wines in barrels, some so ready for bottling, and “if things work out,” there may be, ” a 4th of July Release Party,” for some of those wines currently in barrel, said Victor.

Coming soon will be releases of Sangiovese, a new Syrah, Petite Syrah, Carignane, Merlot, two Zinfandels, and a new Sauvignon Blanc.

Victor pulled barrel samples of his 2009 Carignane $35. Made from 65 year old vines, the wine is gorgeous, with lush fruit – red raspberry, cranberry, rhubarb, strawberry, cherry, hern, and spice. Nicely balanced by acid, very drinkable.

I also got to taste the 2009 Petite Sirah from barrel. Oh! Chocolate, round, ripe, smooth, incredibly soft tannins, rich fruit of blue berry, blackberry and plum. Well balanced.

Much of Simaine’s wine is allocated and goes directly to wine club members who receive four bottles four times per year. While Victor ships, most customers come and enjoy the big Pick Up Parties thrown at the winery with, “music, food, wine, everything.”

Asked what other Mendocino County wineries should be doing to bring positive attention to our wines and wineries, Victor said, “start making very premium wine – stop selling $48 cases – different styles, balanced, good wines. Just make Mendocino County wines popular because they’re good.”

I can attest that Victor Simon and Simaine are doing just that, and they’re doing it out of a little industrial business park space at the south end of Ukiah.

I applaud Simaine for keeping the notion alive that a wine writer covering just business park produced wines could write about great wines without end.

No matter how much you love your job, a day off is often a welcome thing.

I arranged to take four days off, Thursday through today, Sunday, and I had an absolute blast.

Thursday morning I awoke realizing I had to pop into work because I failed to enter my last order of the day before with the correct discount for a Wine Club Member ordering the Wine of the Month, 35%, so a quick trip into the office to void one order while reentering a new correct order started my day off.

My next stop was the Windsor Golf Course in Sonoma County where I would join my friends Fred, Gary, and Fred’s brother Richie to play as a team in the 15th Annual Wine Country Golf Classic, a charity tournament run by Cornerstone Media with the proceeds going to fund efforts to make meaningful communication possible with young people, to effect positive changes.

I had not golfed in over a year, and I am a terrible golfer anyway, but I have golfed with Fred and Gary many times in this tournament, and have golfed with Fred and Richie on off days while working in Florida, they know I am terrible, but we have a great time together, it is a best ball format tournament and I can contribute a little while being carried, and it is a fun day and for the kids.

Great lunch, champagne toast, winery teams, kegs of Bear republic on the course along with oysters and bloody Marys and mojitos (I didn’t find them but I really didn’t need them) and Bahama mama jello shots and wine and champagne and water and cookies and a painter and a River Rock Casino hand of 21 and more fun scattered about the course, plus an incredible dinner and live and silent auction to go with your golf would be enough for most people, but I got a terrific bonus: I shot well! I had booming drives, solid approach shots, birdie putts; maybe my best day of gold, certainly my best at this tournament, and together with my teammates, we took a second place award.

Friday, I had a morning meeting with a friend going back to elementary school, Mike. Mike is either the hardest working, or smartest working, or luckiest working person I know – I suspect it is a lot of the first two and a little of the last. I could list the series of business successes he has had, but it just comes off sounding unreal. The super cool news is that we might have the opportunity to work together on a future project, possibly with yet another friend from elementary school, Arne. Mike also is the man behind the authentic Pablo Sandoval panda hats you see at baseball games. Mike, the exclusive supplier, gifted me one of the incredible hats, and if there is any question as to how cool a panda hat is, my 14 year old son stole it immediately upon seeing it and has worn it without break the last three days.

Next, I went to visit another school friend, Karen, at the Dry Creek Valley winery she works at, Amphora Wines. It was funny, but it was kind of like seeing myself. Karen enjoys working for her winery, is competent, and a solid representative for her wine brand. I tasted her wines, loved the 2006 Amphora Zinfandel, Rivet Vineyard the most, perhaps because it reminded me most of the wines I grew up on. Many Zins are a little too much or too little of this or that, but the Amphora Rivet Zin has full fruit with a dose of pepper in the proportion I am fond of.

To get to Amphora, I passed by Dashe, another Dry Creek Valley winery, but one I know to use grapes from my employer’s vineyard. At Dashe, I tasted a 2009 Riesling. At work I taste a 2009 Riesling daily, made with grapes from the same vineyard and vintage. It was wild how grapes identifiably McFadden could yield two completely different wines. I bought a bottle, and now have to track down a Montelena Riesling made from McFadden Farm grapes so I can pour the trio for my staff at work.

Speaking of work and staff, I got a phone call from work when the mouse for the computer stopped working. I would rather get a call than not if there is a problem when I am away from my tasting room, and together we got things working, but the wireless mouse from my office isn’t in my office anymore.

After returning home to Ukiah, after my panda hat was stolen by my son, I went to the sports bar at Branches to visit with my longtime friend Serena. I shared time with Serena and Serena’s childhood friends. Serena works for Sonoma Valley wineries; on her last visit Serena brought me a Wellington Zin, on Friday she brought me a 2010 Muscardini Cellars Rosato di Sangiovese, Monte Rosso Vineyards Sonoma Valley. I imagine it will be similar to the Petroni Vineyards Rosato di Sonoma I tasted last year, as that wine’s grapes came from the neighboring vineyard. I am grateful for the treat, but more grateful for the good company.

Saturday, I headed back to work for the third straight day off, this time to bring in food pairing treats for Second Saturday, a special day each month for Hopland area tasting rooms.

Next, I visited Denise at the McNab Ridge tasting room. Denise and McNab Ridge started Second Saturday, and it was fun seeing Diane Davis and her crew taking professional pictures for Denise’s website. Denise also cooked an incredibly delicious dish, Thai green curry shrimp couscous; it definitely made my Second Saturday dish pale by comparison. I tasted a French Colombard. You don’t see many folks making a straight Colombard anymore, but it was a tasty throwback treat. I actually like French Colombard and Chenin Blanc bottlings, while not noble they can be great performers. I also tasted the McNan Ridge Coro Mendocino vertical from 2003 through 2007, liking the ’04 and ’07 best, and a seriously great barrel sample of the Cononiah Zinfandel.

After McNab Ridge, I popped back into my tasting room to buy a jar of McFadden Farm organic onion powder. My timing was great because I got to help Ann ring up a 70 herb jar sale for a customer who was using our herbs as wedding favors for her son’s Hopland wedding.

On the way home, I visited and tasted at Nelson Family Vineyards at the north end of the Hopland Valley. I ran through the reds and whites, all just solid. I am enjoying tasting Mendocino County wines, noticing similarities and differences. I loved the 2007 Nelson Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon. Lush, round, soft tannins, delicious. I bought a bottle, a really nice find as my winery doesn’t make a Cab and I had a hole in my wine rack just screaming for a Cab.

Today, I took my son Charlie, in his panda hat, to a baby shower for my niece, Charlie’s cousin, Jenny Jen Jen and her procreator Jeremy, then I went to visit friends old and new at a mini class reunion. My friend Rob and his wife came to Santa Rosa from Kingman, AZ and his friend Tony hosted a barbeque for Rob. I got to see Karen again, plus Shannon and Ken, all longtime friends from school. The day was more about Budweiser than wine, but I brought a bottle of red and white for my hosts. Time flew too fast, as it often seems to when you wish there was more to spend with friends.

I returned to the baby shower just in time for the unwrapping of presents, visited with family, answered a question or five about Social Media Marketing for my sister in law, and gathered my son up to return home.

Work clothes for the upcoming week have been washed, and are now in the dryer. My four days off were great, but it is time to get back to work.

 

Tierra – art, garden, wine

312 N School St

Ukiah, CA 95482

(707) 468-7936

 

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Also scheduled for Saturday, April 9, 2011, just about 15 minutes away from the Tierra event, half a dozen Hopland winery tasting rooms will be taking part in Second Saturday.

Each Second Saturday of the month, the participating Hopland winery tasting rooms have special one day one sales, prepare tasty treats to pair with their wine, and stay open an hour later.

As an example, McFadden Vineyard tasting room will be offering their stainless steel fermented, no malolactic 2009 Chardonnay, Potter Valley, made from organically grown grapes, at 35% off the regular case price which brings the per bottle price down to $10.40 each for your 12 bottles. The pairing snack will be a toothpick skewered medley of French bread, cheese, and apple – which will all show different notes in the day’s featured Chardonnay; and the tasting room will be open an extra hour, from 10:00 AM until 6:00 PM.

Other wines available for tasting include two Pinot Noirs, two Zinfandels, the Coro Mendocino, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurtztraminer, and two Rieslings. All McFadden Vineyard wines can be purchased at the tasting room or arranged to be shipped to your home or to a friend or family member as a gift.

With five different wine clubs, you can choose the perfect one for yourself or as a gift, and we will ship at special low wine club member rates either four bottles three times a year, or six bottles four times a year, with or without the addition of some of the non-wine items grown organically at McFadden Farm in nearby Potter Valley. While our shipping rates are low, local wine club members often elect to pick up their orders and save that cost.

Non-wine items like McFadden Farm Organic Herbs, Herb Blends and Dried Herb Wreaths, McFadden Farm Organic Beef, McFadden Farm Garlic and Wild Rice, Marinades, Pottery, McFadden Logo Hats and Shirts, McFadden Logo Riedel Wine Glasses, Wine Themed Shirts, and Wine Accessories are also available for purchase at the tasting room, or can be arranged to be shipped as a gift to a friend or family member.

Other Hopland winery tasting rooms taking part in April 9, 2011 Second Saturday include Cesar Toxqui Cellars, Graziano, Jaxon Keys, McNab Ridge, Milano Winery and Weibel. Other winery tasting rooms may participate as well.

DISCLOSURE: I am the tasting room manager and wine club coordinator for McFadden Vineyard which is why I was able to share so much about their Second Saturday in Hopland activities.

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