June 25, 2014
April 10, 2014
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Last Saturday, April 5th, I attended the inaugural Celebration of Mendocino County Sparkling Wines. I was not alone, more than 150 people showed up at Terra Savia in Hopland. Many were readers of this column who were kind enough to say hello, some were wine club members of the tasting room I manage, and some were brand new to me but not brand new to having fun as they clearly knew what they were doing.
Alison de Grassi and Gracia Brown, the wonder twins from Visit Mendocino responsible for events and marketing, attended as did Mendocino County District Attorney David Eyster. The support for this great event was really impressive. The day was beautiful; I parked a short walk away from the site, and saw workers raking muddy leaves into a pile, the scent earthy, almost mushroomy, and wonderful.
Birds were chirping many different songs in the trees around. The sky could not have been more blue or clear. Terra Savia operates from a large yellow metal building filled with art and custom handcrafted furniture of immense proportion. Within the space, a dozen tables were set up in a circle, each table a microburst of activity, color, and energy as each participating winery created their own presentation space.
Here are a few definitions for bubbly-centric wine terms that may prove useful as you read on: Brut means dry. Cuvee means blend. En tirage means time yeast and lees spend in the bottle before disgorgement. Lees are spent yeast, yeast that converted sugar into alcohol, heat, and carbon dioxide during fermentation. Blanc de Blanc means white of white and suggests that Chardonnay is the grape the wine is made from; as opposed to Blanc de Noir, a white wine made from red wine grapes, typically Pinot Noir, but given no time on skin after crush, so no color. A magnum is a bottle twice as large as normal, 1.5 L. vs, 750 ml.
Graziano poured their Cuvee #10 Sparkling Brut, a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Blanc from the 2010 vintage that spent three full years en tirage. This bubbly had the most clear lemon note of the sparkling wines being poured at the event, balanced by a rich yeastiness. Both Greg Graziano and Bobby Meadows poured for the assembled crowd.
Handley poured a 2003 Brut, made from 60 percent Pinot Noir and 40 percent Chardonnay, with flavors of steely mineral lemon and vanilla apple.
Guinness McFadden and Judith Bailey poured the 2014 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition double gold medal winning 2009 McFadden Reserve Sparkling Brut, a blend of 50 percent Chardonnay and 50 percent Pinot Noir that spent more than two-and-a-half-years on yeast and lees in the bottle before disgorgement. The flavors are bright, showing apple and grapefruit tempered by brioche and nut.
Nelson poured a nice NV Blanc de Blanc with bright lemon, pear, and apple notes.
I really liked the Paul Dolan NV Brut, a cuvee of 45 percent Chardonnay and 55 percent Pinot Noir, with 100 percent of the grapes from McFadden Farm. Bright, unapologetically crisp, with green apple, grapefruit, and pineapple.
Rack and Riddle poured for sparkling wines. I tasted their NV Brut, showing orange, cream, apple, and lemon; and a Brut Rose that was dry, dry, dry with strawberry over ice crispness.
Ray’s Station’s NV Brut offering was 65 percent Chardonnay and 35 percent Pinot Noir and was fairly broad and round with apple, pear, and bready notes. Although Brut suggests dryness, this seemed a touch sweeter at least in comparison with the wine tasted just before this one. Margaret Pedroni captivated attendees as she described the wine she poured.
Roederer Estate poured from 1.5 liter magnums, which is nicely showy. Their NV Brut tasted of pear, green apple, nut, and lemon; the NV Brut Rose showed lovely balance and flavors of apple and strawberry.
Scharffenberger’s NV Brut tasted of dry yeasty ginger, citrus, and apple.
Signal Ridge garnered a lot of buzz from attendees, with tasters elevating the apple, almond and mineral flavored Brut into their top three tastes.
Terra Savia, the host for the event, poured their lovely 2009 Blanc de Blanc, showing bright apple and lemony citrus notes.
Yorkville Cellars doesn’t grow Chardonnay or Pinot Noir, the grapes typically found in sparkling wines, but Bordeaux varietals instead. Previously, Yorkville made a Sparkling Rose of Malbec, the only one I had ever tasted, and it was good. The current release I jokingly refer to as the cuvee of crazy, because the blend was unimaginable prior to it being poured for me: 51 percent Semillion, 24 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, and 25 percent Sauvignon Blanc. The result isn’t crazy at all, but rounder than is typical with the Bordeaux varietal fruit offering up flavors of grapefruit and cranberry.
The food for this event was spectacular, and one of the most enjoyable aspects of the event was random pairings of different foods and sparkling wines. Some pairings elevated both the food and beverage, while other pairings oddly diminished the wine being tasted. There will be a Mendo Bubbly Fest next year, and I’ll attend again, but get out of your house and into the tasting rooms of these wineries to taste their sparkling wines this weekend, or soon, and bring a bottle or two home not to serve on a special day, but to make a day special by serving them.
February 26, 2012
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Every wine region that wants to successfully compete for the public’s attention and good prices for grapes and wines has an organization tasked with promoting the quality of the grapes grown and the wines made in their area.
Lodi uses the Lodi Winegrape Commision to do effective work convincing buyers that their central valley grapes are being grown in a green fashion. Sonoma County is represented by Sonoma County Vintners and the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission (these two share the same physical address). Napa has the Napa Valley Vintners Association. Paso Robles has the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance.
As a peripheral member of the local wine industry, I am thankful that Mendocino County has the current incarnation of the Mendocino Winegrape & Wine Commission (MWWC).
MWWC represents 343 winegrape growers and 91 wineries in Mendocino County.
Megan Metz is MWWC’s Executive Director, having been promoted to the position in October, 2011 after a successful turn as MWWC’s Director of Marketing and Communications beginning February of 2011.
Megan and her incredible staff including Gracia, Courtney, and Jen, assisted by Josh and Jan, help Mendocino County’s winegrape growers through an ongoing series of viticulture educational forums aimed at helping growers increase the quality and value of their grapes, by acting as co-hosts of eco-wine symposiums, and working with growers to contain and eradicate the European Grapevine Moth (EGVM) in the county.
MWWC is instrumental in collecting and making available information vital to the county’s winegrape growers like the recent water updates concerning Russian River frost regulations.
Hosting an online grape marketplace, MWWC helps our winegrape growers sell their fruit and, through focused marketing events that focus on the county’s vineyards and growing areas, MWWC works to maintain the price that Mendocino County fruit commands in hard times and help that fruit increase in price in good times.
At last year’s incredibly successful Taste of Mendocino event in San Francisco, MWWC brought Mendocino County’s bounty to San Francisco and played host first to trade and media and then the general public for tastings that saw winery tasting rooms grouped by the AVA, growing area, their wines predominately came from.
My boss, Guinness McFadden, was proud to pour his wines ordinarily tasted in our Hopland tasting room under a banner for Potter Valley. As the first grower to plant grapes in Potter Valley, growing organically from day one, that Potter Valley sign flying in San Francisco was enormously important to Guinness.
Social media savvy, MWWC had trade and media guests tweeting using the #TOM12 hashtag. From my tasting room over 100 miles away, I was able to steer attendees directly to Guinness using those same tools.
Destination Hopland is charged with hosting two major events each year, a Spring and a Fall passport event for our area’s 16 member wineries, our Hopland Passport. We are fortunate that under Megan, MWWC partners directly with Mendocino County’s various wine region organizations. In addition to Destination Hopland, MWWC also directly helps A Taste of Redwood Valley, Yorkville Highlands Growers & Vintners Association, and the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association.
MWWC has helped Destination Hopland improve our website, making Jen available to provide the text on each page. MWWC has also helped with advertising and marketing, aiding with ad placement in upscale glossy publications, while tasking Jan with disseminating effective press releases to help Hopland achieve the media notice we wish to gain for our local winery members.
Megan also stepped in to host a winemaker dinner for visiting press members to Hopland Passport last year, leading directly to beneficial media attention.
Last November, at the Mendocino County Wine & Mushroom Fest event Wine and Mushroom Train that MWWC and Visit Mendocino jointly hosted at Camp Mendocino, Megan appeared at my side as I poured wines for an exuberant crowd. Megan calmly told me that she needed my help, that a speaker came down ill, and that I would need to give a talk to assembled media including writers from Sunset Magazine, Edible Marin & Wine Country, O – The Oprah Magazine, Taste of Home, Vegetarian Times, Popular Plates, Intermezzo, Newsweek, and Cooking Light.
Megan made clear that as an emergency guest speaker, I wasn’t to be wearing my McFadden hat, or my Hopland hat, but that she wanted me to speak about all of Mendocino County’s wines, focusing as much as possible on the different growing regions throughout the county.
Megan and MWWC saw that every wine growing region in Mendocino County enjoyed press attention from the gathered media, that the focus was on the winegrape growers as much as it was on the wines of the county.
I started at McFadden in March last year, and joined the Destination Hopland Board in July last year. For me, Megan and her crew are the only MWWC I have ever known.
I attended the hearing and spoke in support of MWWC, of Megan, and of the incredibly effective crew that has been assembled to help market the winegrapes and wines of Mendocino County.
Let me be blunt, not only is MWWC doing a great job but with even the central valley wine organizations engaging in what appears to be a bit of greenwashing, without MWWC the other wine areas are poised to eat Mendocino County’s lunch.
I was surprised to find semi organized opposition by some growers at the meeting, with a saddening lack of civility, cogency, or willingness to acknowledge any of the positive works MWWC has accomplished for growers and wineries under Megan. Some of the speakers were unpleasantly ugly, repeatedly interrupting testimony in support of MWWC’s continuance and spewing vitriolic comments tinged with a paranoiac worldview that I don’t share.
I am grateful to one grower who would not want to be identified, who I know to be intelligent through our shared involvement in Hopland wine industry events, who explained that the opposition by some growers stems from the notion that MWWC was forced into existence at the insistence of a major buyer of fruit within the county, under threat of blackballing the county’s growers if MWWC was not voted for back in 2006. My serious thanks to you for sharing your passionately held view, you provide a much needed perspective lacking in the presentations made during the hearing.
MWWC during the first four years of existence, prior to Megan and her crew taking charge, is not the Commission I know, it was explained to me. Malfeasance bordering on criminal and ineptitude bordering on tragic were common, I was told.
I came to understand some of the opposition to the continuance of MWWC, but I think that such a stance is both myopic and irresponsible.
Getting rid of MWWC just as it is well formed and ready to build on the last year’s marketing successes seems nearly stupid, akin to cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face. Myopic, because growers can expect to see their grapes valued less, and prices remain flat or decrease, if their opposition is the majority view, as other areas continue to successfully market their grapes to buyers through their commissions, organizations, alliances, and associations. In the ‘bad’ past, MWWC’s director and staff operated under the guidance of a board made up of member growers. If malfeasance and ineptitude were the order of the day, then it seems to me that those board members – and those Commission members who didn’t bother to join the board or a committee – are the people ultimately responsible for the first four years of Commission failure. Every person who spoke against MWWC’s continuance spoke of the past; not one spoke of the present.
I’m the new guy. I don’t see the past. I don’t know the politics. I judge things on their face. MWWC under Megan Metz and the crew she has assembled are doing a fantastic job, and they want to improve their efforts on behalf of Mendocino County’s winegrape growers and wineries.
I respect a difference of opinion, and am able to place disagreement in context thanks to the perspective shared by others who have been active locally in this industry for decades. I know that the opposition by growers is not monolithic, and the vote will be close. I also find that those who spoke in support of MWWC’s continuance spoke intelligently, citing specific events and results, mostly from prepared statements, while opposition was offered in incoherent and angry rants. I am heartened that most growers I know are not like the speakers I described, but instead are intelligent, thoughtful, friendly, and open to fair consideration of a reasonable proposition. I believe that this is true of most of Mendocino County’s growers.
I’m a tasting room manager, not a vineyard or winery owner, so I don’t have a vote, but I urge the voting Commission members to return a favorable vote when a referendum is called. According to MWWC’s twitter page, “MWWC renewal ballots to be sent out within 60 days from 2/23″