Retired statistics professor Robert Hodgson has owned Fieldbrook Winery in northern California for 35 years. He collected data on scores wine competition judges gave the same wine tasted at different times at competitions and on scores wines received at different competitions.

“The second paper I wrote had to do with tracking wine through U.S. competitions. About 99 percent of the wines that get gold medals one place, get no award someplace else.

Several gold medal-winning wines were entered in five competitions. None of them got five golds. None of them got four golds. It’s amazing, the lack of consistency. I put together a study that showed these are the results you would get if this were a completely random process,” Hodgson told interviewer W. Blake Gray for a piece archived online at Wine-Searcher.

The gist of the reported analysis is that wine competition gold medals are nearly random and virtually unrepeatable.

Then there is this:

• NV McFadden Sparkling Brut – BEST OF SHOW – 2014 California State Fair Wine Competition

• 2009 McFadden Reserve Brut – GOLD MEDAL – 2014 Press Democrat North of the Coast Wine Competition

• NV McFadden Sparkling Brut – DOUBLE GOLD – 2014 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition

• 2009 McFadden Reserve Brut – DOUBLE GOLD – 2014 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition

• 2009 McFadden Reserve Brut – DOUBLE GOLD – 2013 Mendocino County Fair Wine Competition

• NV McFadden Sparkling Brut – DOUBLE GOLD – 2012 Mendocino County Fair Wine Competition

The June 15, 2014 issue of Wine Spectator magazine featured a list of 150 top sparkling wines for summer.

23 of the 150 sparkling wines were entered at the largest judging of American wines in the world, the 2014 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, where McFadden was the only bubbly producer to take two Double Gold (unanimous) medals for sparkling wines. Two of the 23 tied for Best of Show in Sparkling, and one of the 23 matched the two McFadden sparkling wines with a Double Gold, but fully 20 of 23 wines from Wine Spectator’s list of top sparkling wines failed to match the medal result of either of McFadden’s two Brut wines.

This only matters because the folks who defy the odds, the one verifiably repeatable Gold (or better) winning wine is McFadden’s Sparkling wine (and there are two to choose from) but Wine Spectator missed including the bubblies from this inland Mendocino producer for their list.

Recent invitations extended to Wine Spectator’s writer for our area to tasting events have received no reply, and the only previous reply from Wine Spectator to an event invite came a week after an event was over and was addressed to the wrong name. I do not think that inland Mendocino wineries, for the most part, receive much respect from much of the wine media.

By contrast, Wine Enthusiast magazine’s Virginie Boone has visited the farm, and included McFadden as an Editors’ Pick for Top Year End Bubblies and a Recommended Producer of Zinfandel. I had a chance to speak with the magazine’s Jim Gordon (who has tasted and rated three McFadden white wines 90 points and listed two as Editors’ Choice wines) and he told me he looks forward to visits to inland Mendocino County as part of his wine coverage.

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I agree that repeated Gold Medals are rare, incredibly rare, but I have worked at two places where it happened regularly; first with Carol Shelton when she was the winemaker at Windsor Vineyards and now at McFadden with our bubblies. While I would love to have hosted, as our guest, the Wine Spectator writer at our farm for a recent dinner and wine tasting with the owner Guinness McFadden, we have a tasting room open daily – I’m in on weekdays – from 10-5 in the heart of downtown Hopland and offer complimentary tasting, and even if I can’t get wine writers to visit a place with such great wine, everyone is invited to come and taste excellence (Wine Spectator writers included).

2010 Coro Rankings

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John On Wine ­ -
A wine dinner and Mendocino County loses a great friend

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal on March 13, 2014 by John Cesano

 

If you read this column, you know that I love wine, and I love food, but I really love wine and food together. I’ve written about the Chef’s Wine Dinners at Crush, each one featuring a different winery or brand: Saracina, Barra and Girasole, Bonterra, and Coro Mendocino. I wrote about the crab and bubbly pairing at Patrona that featured the sparkling wines of Roederer Estate. At the insistence of you, the folks who read this column, I ate at Uncorked, pairing a variety of plates with a flight of different wines. Up next, I’ll enjoy Testa Wines at Saucy in Ukiah during a four course wine dinner on Wednesday, March 26 starting at 6 p.m. The cost is only $60, includes wine and food, but does not include tax or gratuity.

This is a working menu and may change before the dinner, but it should inspire you to call and reserve a spot at the dinner. First course: Bosc pear, ricotta and rosemary ravioli in a dreamy sauce; served with Testa White, a blend of Sauvingon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Viognier, Muscat and Pinot Gris. Second course: little gem romaine, Pennyroyal blue cheese, red wine vinaigrette, white pepper cracker; served with Testa Grenache, a delicious wine with notes of light berry and spice. Third course: braised short ribs, red wine pan reduction, Peruvian potato & root vegetable gratin, sauteed dino kale; served with Testa Black, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignane and Petite Sirah. Dessert, the fourth course: brown butter pound cake, caramelized pineapple, sweet crème, Testa Charbono syrup; served with Sherry. I’ve made my reservation. To join the fun, you’ll need to call too, before all the seats are gone, (707) 462-7007.

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I met Virginie Boone a couple of years ago. Virginie tasted wines from Mendocino and Lake County for Wine Enthusiast magazine and then rated them on a 100 point scale and wrote a review of each. The old Mendocino Winegrape & Wine Commission, through Jan Mettler of Boss Dog marketing, invited Virginie up to visit some of Mendocino County’s more unique wineries and tasting rooms, and I was fortunate enough to score a visit with Virginie for McFadden. The first thing I noticed was that Virginie was relaxed, not stuffy or pretentious, but smiling and pleased to be visiting a beautiful area on a gorgeous day, and being able to taste wines made the day more joyous for her. Virginie let me know up front that she was a bit pressed for time, had a couple more stops to make and could taste perhaps four wines. I ended up pouring nearly a dozen wines, telling a little story about each, completely blowing her schedule (if you have visited the McFadden tasting room on a weekday when I’m in, then you know I do hour long experiences and not slam-bam tastings), and she was quite gracious about the hijacking of her time.

I also took the opportunity to pour a wine she had recently rated lower than I felt was right, letting her know it was our fastest selling wine; an amazingly food-friendly wine, and a wine made from the same grapes that another writer had raved about and put on his year end Top 100 Wines list. I pointed out that sometimes wines tasted through a “Parker” filter come up short but, when tasted in place, the different flavors that a piece of land and climate give to a wine can expand the envelope of what is considered varietally correct, like the way McFadden’s Zinfandel is a lower alcohol, Beaujolais-esque, sweet tart candy noted delight instead of a high alcohol fruit jam bomb.

Virginie, to her credit, ended up including McFadden as a “recommended producer” of Zinfandel in a feature piece she wrote over a year later. Virginie visited the county often, more often than many of her counterparts at other publications. She came up to the farm in Potter Valley, toured with Guinness, picked her own corn, which just minutes later was served up with wild rice salad and beef from the farm, all washed down with delicious wine and bubbly.

We ended up as an editor’s pick for Best Year End Sparkling Wine in the magazine. More widely, Virginie sat as a judge, tasting the county’s best wines at the Mendocino County Wine Competition and was open to visits to attend events like the upcoming Celebration of Mendocino County Sparkling Wine on April 5 and the spring Hopland Passport on May 3 & 4. If this feels eulogy-like, it is. Virginie hasn’t passed away, but has been asked to review the wines of Napa and Sonoma counties for Wine Enthusiast. Fortunately, Virginie also writes for the Press Democrat and hopefully her visits to our county will still inform some of the pieces she writes there. Taking over the taste, rate, and review duties for Mendocino and Lake County wines at wine Enthusiast is Jim Gordon. Jim knows wine and wine writing, as the former managing editor of Wine Spectator and the producer of the annual Symposium for Professional Wine Writers in Napa. Earlier this week, I sent an email inviting Jim to several Mendocino County wine events. I hope Jim visits at least as often (more often is great) as Virginie did, and I would share that Anderson Valley is not the entirety of Mendocino County, and there are excellent wines and new styles to be found outside of Napa County, if you open yourself up to them. Welcome Jim Gordon.

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John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

John On Wine ­ Alcohol: enough is enough!

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal on December 26, 2014 by John Cesano

 

Alcohol; it’s why we buy wine instead of soda, right? More alcohol must be better in a wine than less alcohol too, I mean it just stands to reason, don’t you think?

This question came to mind after I read a review of San Francisco Chronicle wine editor Jon Bonné’s new book The New California Wine. The review was written by Wine Spectator magazine’s senior editor, Napa, James Laube. Where most every review of Bonné’s book was complimentary, Laube seemed to almost have the knives out as he wrote his piece, “(Bonné)’s hardly enamored with much of (California wine),” is how the piece begins and it doesn’t get much nicer.

Why would one professional wine writer be so uncomplimentary, so unkind, so border-line rude? Wine Spectator reviews and rates wines on a 100 point scale, made famous by wine critic Robert Parker, and like Parker seems to award more points to fruit jam bombs made of Napa fruit with high alcohol levels. By contrast, Bonné seems to prefer wines of greater balance, greater drinkability, more food friendly wines, with lower alcohol.

Before I go on, I abhor numbers. Alcohol percentage, residual sugar, volatile acidity, the numbers that describe a wine only tell a small part of a wine’s story. Residual sugar alone, without a lot of other data may be suggestive of sweetness, but actual perception when tasted may be something different altogether. Wines must be tasted to be judged.

Okay, that disclaimer aside, I agree with Bonné. Many wines have alcohol levels that are just too damn high. Please, I would so much rather have a lighter styled wine that balances fruit and acid, and has a lower alcohol, so I can enjoy it with friends over a nice dinner than have to suffer another painfully hot, high alcohol wine that is so dense with flavor, so big and overpowering that it ruins the food it is paired with.

Whether an Anderson Valley Pinot Noir over 15 percent or a Dry Creek Zinfandel over 17 percent alcohol by volume, there just isn’t a good reason for these wines to be so hot, unless the winemaker was pandering for a high score from Spectator or Parker. Big alcohol wines also tend to garner high medals, I suspect, because judges’ palates are quickly blown out by high alcohol fruit bombs and are unable to fairly judge wines of greater subtlety and reserve, but upon tasting another monster wine break out the gold.

I worked for a winemaker who used to make gorgeously flavorful wines, good bodied wines, gold medal winning wines, and rarely did she produce a wine at or above 14 percent alcohol by volume. These were the easiest to sell wines I’ve ever experienced. People ordered, but most importantly they reordered, and in quantity, because the wines were so good.

Sadly, she has turned to the dark side, and is putting out some wild beasts, up and over 15 percent alcohol today. More attention, higher ratings, easier golds; From some quarters, anyway.

Joel Peterson, a few years back suggested the three most common flaws of Zinfandel were too much alcohol, too much oak, and too much sugar. As the big boss man behind Ravenswood, a famous Zin house in Sonoma, Peterson should know. That said, both Peterson and his son Morgan Twain Peterson crank out some pretty huge wines.

The wines of inland Mendocino County are not uniformly low alcohol, but many are. Whether from cool climate Russian River adjacent or mountain shade properties in or near Hopland, or the higher altitude fruit grown at the north end of Potter Valley, there are some absolutely delicious wines grown and produced in our area. Zinfandel, and Coro Mendocino ­ the Zinfandelcentric blend I mention often, under 14 percent alcohol; Pinot Noir without a barnyard funk or filled diaper aroma; Chablis-like bright and unoaked Chardonnay; and Cabernet Sauvignon that you can take your time getting to know instead of a Cabernet that is so forward you feel like pressing charges. This is some of what we do so well here, and what some folks – notably the wine critics who seem to get a little too much wood over wines with a little too much wood and alcohol – don’t seem to get.

Wine Enthusiast magazines’ Virginie Boone visits inland Mendocino more often, and perhaps familiarity breeds understanding, because she rates many of our wines about two to five points higher than the folks who don’t visit as often over at Wine Spectator.

Jon Bonné tastes wines from all over, often, and has placed a light, low alcohol, almost Beaujolaisesque Zinfandel made entirely from inland Mendocino grapes on one of his annual Top 100 Wines lists.

I get a chance to taste a lot of our wines, and I may have developed a strong preference for what we do, because on a recent visit outside the county, I found wine after wine just too big for me to enjoy. I love Wine Spectator magazine for the articles, but personally I prefer Wine Enthusiast magazine and Jon Bonné’s San Francisco Chronicle reviews of our wines. I find I am more often in agreement.

Want high alcohol? Go to a bar. Want a food-friendly wine you can enjoy with food? Consider a wine from the area, with under 14 percent alcohol for a start. As always, the best way to find out whether you like a particular wine or not is to go wine tasting. Many local winery tasting rooms offer complimentary wine tasting and are open up until New Year’s Eve – although a few that sell bubbly will be open at least a half of that day too.

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EDITED TO ADD ONLINE: I received the following comment tacked on to another recently archived column in response to the newspaper version of this week’s column:

“This is regarding your UDJ article published today (12/26/13). I was going to email you but didn’t see an email listed. In any event, I have to agree with your general assessment of the multitude high alcohol wines out there. Which is why I drink mostly sparkling! I have worked for Roederer Estate for six years and have learned that sparkling is incredibly versatile with food as well as being on the lower end of the scale at 12%. One last thing, in reference to Wine Enthusiast’s Top 100 of 2013, did you know Roederer’s 2004 L’Ermitage is rated number one? I believe it’s the first time a California Sparkling has garnered the top spot, so worth mentioning.
Cheers, Julie in Ukiah”

I could not agree more. Fantastic comment, great observation, and well deserved acclaim for the 2004 Roederer L’ Ermitage, and yes, you are right, this is the first time that a sparkling wine has topped Wine Enthusiast magazine’s annual Top 100 Wines list.

I had just written for Destination Hopland that there are bubblies to be tasted at Graziano, Jeriko, McFadden, Nelson, Rack & Riddle, Ray’s Station, and Terra Savia; but county wide Roederer, Scharffenberger, Yorkville Cellars, and Elke over on Hwy 128, and Paul Dolan up in Ukiah, all have to be added to the list. As a county, we may have the nation’s greatest concentration of premium bubblies, and they are indeed both enjoyably lower in alcohol and spectacularly food friendly when paired with the right foods. Taste this week, choose a favorite, and stock up for New Year’s Eve!

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I do love bubbly, and I would love to have them all to taste for a future column, maybe in advance of Valentine’s Day next year.

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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!

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