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John on Wine – Spotlight Winery: Phillips Hill Winery

This piece originally ran in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on June 11, 2015

On visits to the Anderson Valley, I have asked tasting room staff what wineries I should visit. While tasting Pinot Noir at the press tasting session during the recent Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival; and sommelier Chris Sawyer and I had a conversation about his favorite local producers in the area. Over and over again, people in the know mention Toby Hill and his Phillips Hill Winery as a ‘must visit’ and ‘must taste’ spot in the Anderson Valley.

Surrounded by green, the Phillips Hill sign welcomes visitors travelling on Hwy 128 between Philo and Navarro

Surrounded by green, the Phillips Hill sign welcomes visitors travelling on Hwy 128 between Philo and Navarro

Out past Gowan’s Oak Tree Fruit Stand and the turn off to the Philo Apple Farm, on Highway 128 between Philo and Navarro, is Phillips Hill, a winery and tasting room in a converted and historical apple drying barn facility.

The old apple drying barn is the new Phillips Hill winery tasting room site

The old apple drying barn is the new Phillips Hill winery tasting room site

When I arrived, the smell of freshly cut grass from the picnic area mixed with other outdoor scents; floral, herbal, wide open natural outdoor perfume of vineyard and orchard greeted me. I walked through the aroma room, where collected materials help prepare visitors for some of the scents they may encounter in the wines, then ventured upstairs to taste through Toby’s current releases in his beautifully appointed, rustic yet refined, tasting room.

The aroma room at Phillips Hill

The aroma room at Phillips Hill

Toby is an artist, both with canvas and wine. A native Californian and grandson of a grape grower, Toby earned a BFA from the California College of the Arts which has allowed him to more fully appreciate the efforts and artistry of grape growing. The name of his winery, Phillips Hill, honors both of his paternal grandparent’s family sides, as does his marriage of art and wine. Each label of the Phillips Hill Winery portfolio of wine is a miniature reproduction of an original abstract composition created by Toby.

Toby Hill's original artwork graces each Phillips Hill wine label

Toby Hill’s original artwork graces each Phillips Hill wine label

In 1997, Toby purchased land in the Mendocino Ridge appellation, overlooking the Anderson Valley, and made his first wine using 2002 Pinot Noir grapes grown on Oppenlander Vineyard, nearby in Mendocino’s Comptche. Ten vintages later, all five of the expanded line up of 2012 Pinot Noir wines made by Toby were rated 90-94 Points by Wine Enthusiast magazine, two were designated Editors’ Choice wines, and another designated a Cellar Selection wine.

Toby Hill

Toby Hill

Informed by his trained and professional experiences as a fine artist, Toby crafts wines of intent; pursuing elegance and ethereal power, wines with delicacies, subtleties, and nuances. Using native yeast, less intervention, believing less is more, Toby wants each wine he makes to be a genuine expression of the land the grapes come from, terroir driven wines, spending time he feels essential to making great wine in each vineyard his wines come from as they are being grown, respecting each farmer’s art.

Never content with yesterday’s accolades, always striving to make better wines, Toby has made pilgrimages to Burgundy, France, and has invited respected French winemakers to work with him at Phillips Hill Winery, all in an effort to craft “old meets new world” style wines, with flavors of clear discernible fruit notes offering a beginning, middle, and an end, hinged together in harmony and balance.

I first tasted Toby’s wines with his fiancé and partner, Nastacha Durandet at last year’s Anderson Valley barrel tasting event, and promised myself that I would return to write this piece. Natacha was born in France’s Loire Valley and her passion for wine tasting and collecting began early, leading her to work in some of France’s finest resorts alongside esteemed master sommeliers. Natacha’s background in culinary arts has allowed her to bring an elevated experience to tastings at Phillips Hill Winery for visitors and Muse Cru wine club members.

Natacha wears many hats at Phillips Hill Winery, overseeing the tasting room, wine club, marketing, and events, including sumptuous Muse Cru wine club dinners that take advantage of an on property commercial kitchen. If Natacha is in the tasting room when a Muse Cru wine club member visits, she will prepare a cheese and charcuterie plate, featuring seasonal terroir driven French, Spanish, and Italian cheeses, chosen to naturally pair perfectly with Toby’s terroir driven wines. Cheese and charcuterie plates are also available for purchase by the public and can be enjoyed with wine at picnic tables. Natacha also serves up four Muse Cru wine club dinners annually; Farm to Table, Dungeness Crab, Harvest, and Mushroom themed dinners.

Together, in everything they do at Phillips Hill Winery, Toby and Natacha strive to provide the best visceral experience for their customers; whether visiting their tasting room or picking up a bottle of wine in their local wine shop.

Inside the Phillips Hill tasting room

Inside the Phillips Hill tasting room

Toby poured a half dozen of his wines for me:

2013 Phillips Hill Chardonnay Ridley Vineyard Anderson Valley $30 – Really gorgeous wet stone minerality leading to clean pure Chardonnay apple, pear, and peach fruit.

2014 Phillips Hill Gewurztraminer Valley Foothills Vineyard Anderson Valley $20 – Deep honey, nectarine and apple, fleshy round mouthfeel, lemon peel citrus. This is an Alsatian styled dry Gewurztraminer, and I love it.

2013 Phillips Hill Pinot Noir Boontling Anderson Valley $28 – Candied cherry, cranberry, and cola mark this bright, round, wine.

2013 Phillips Hill Pinot Noir Anderson Valley $40 – Yeah. Multi layered, light Pinot funk, oak, tannin, dried herb mixed with strawberry and cherry fruit.

2012 Phillips Hill Pinot Noir Oppenlander Comptche Mendocino $45 – Toasty, deeper, rich, really nice round mouthfeel, earthy spicy notes come out with air, phenomenal balance, integration, seamless. A lovely touch of barnyard perfume. Darker blackberry meets rich chocolate covered cherry.

2012 Phillips Hill Tempranillo Lake County $35 – Great food wine, big gripping masculine married to feminine, massive depth, a treat.

Every one of these wines is a winner, and made more delicious for having been poured on the property with Toby as my guide. Reflecting on the three Pinot Noir wines, Toby shared, “that’s one of the great things about buying fruit from different vineyards; these are terroir driven, and I want that different personality to be expressed.” Mission accomplished.

A modest $5 tasting fee is waived with purchase, and case orders receive a 20% discount. Phillips Hill Winery is located at 5101 Highway 128, Philo. For more information, call (707) 895-2209 or visit http://www.phillipshill.com.

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John On Wine – My favorite Crush Chef’s Wine Dinner yet

This piece originally ran in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, February, 5, 2015

The recent Chefs’ Wine Dinner at Crush Italian Steakhouse in Ukiah featuring McFadden Farm in Wednesday, January 21st 2015 was special for me. You have read six previous posts where I spread my love for these dinners all over the page, and we were finally going to be doing one for McFadden. What a treat.

First dose of love goes to Gracia Brown from Visit Mendocino County; Gracia brokered the deal between Kevin Kostoff at Crush and me at McFadden, bringing us together in joyful partnership, so McFadden’s top awarded and highly rated wines could be paired with Chef Jesse Elhardt’s unrivaled cuisine to offer inland Mendocino a premier event during the Mendocino County Crab, Wine & Beer Fest.

The dinner would also be special, because it would mark Guinness McFadden’s first major public outing after heart surgery at the end of November.

Tickets for the dinner sold faster than any previous Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush, without Crush getting to send an email invitation to their previous dinner attendees, thanks to you, the readers of John On Wine in the Ukiah Daily Journal and the Wine Club Members and other McFadden newsletter subscribers. Kudos also to Nick Karavas, the exemplary bar manager at Crush, who talked up the dinner in house, and sold quite a few tickets as well.

Reception

The evening started with a reception appetizer of Dungeness Arancini with panko, saffron-sherry aioli, fried dill sprig. These rice balls, topped with crab were wonderfully delicious, and paired perfectly with the 2013 McFadden Chardonnay (90 Points – Wine Enthusiast Magazine); a perfect way to kick off the evening.

Arancini

After the meet and greet reception in the dining room bar area, Kevin invited the full house to move to the private glass-walled dining room and find a seat for the rest of the night’s dinner, served family style, which I love as it makes for a much more social evening.

Guinness

Once seated, owner Doug Guillon welcomed everybody to Crush and promised a wonderful evening for all, a promise kept. Chef Jesse described the appetizer course previously enjoyed, and the various dishes we would all soon enjoy. Guinness McFadden talked about his McFadden Farm and how his land influences the grapes that make the wines that would be served. Guinness introduced me and challenged me to be as brief in my remarks. I described our appetizer wine, and the two wines chosen for the first course.

Bacon wrapped, crab stuffed, shrimp

The first course dishes included Nueske Bacon Wrapped Stuffed Jumbo Prawns with dungeness mix, bistro sauce, buerre monte, and chive; 1914 Crab Louie Salad with butter lettuce, endive, marinated tomato, avocado, orange, and haystack; and Crab “toast” with garlic, reggiano, basil, lemon aioli, chili, and olive oil.

Crab Salad
Crab Toast

Many said that the first course was so rich, that by itself, the meal was complete, and every other dish was a bonus. The bacon wrapped prawn with crab was a meal highlight, although the crab salad showing notes of bright sweet citrus and the crab toast (think garlic toast but with crab, so a million times better) made the plate a celebration of delicious taste experiences.

Very happy guests

The first course featured two wines: NV McFadden Cuvee Rose (Gold Medal – 2014 Mendocino Wine Competition, Gold Medal – 2014 Grand Harvest Awards, and Double Gold Medal – 2015 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition); and the 2013 McFadden Pinot Gris (90 Points and Editor’s Choice – Wine Enthusiast Magazine) – Guinness’ favorite wine. The Brut Rose showed lovely ripe red fruit notes of strawberry, cherry and watermelon, and the Pinot Gris is a lighter wine with pear and apple flavors richer than ordinary for the variety. The two wines, each in their turn, brought out the subtle, and not subtle, flavors of Jesse’s dishes.

Crab!

Plates cleared, Jesse introduced his second course: Garlic Roasted Whole Crab with lemon, olive oil, and fresh herb; Zinfandel Braised Short Ribs with 4 hour natural jus, baked carrot purée, crispy shallot, and micro intensity; Roasted Jumbo Delta Asparagus with shallot sea salt, balsamic reduction, and chive; and Potato Gnocchi Gratin with fresh herb, cream, caprino, and house made bread crumb. I introduced the 2012 McFadden Old Vine Zinfandel (95 Points – Just Wine Points/Wine X), possibly the only Zinfandel light enough not to overpower crab, yet flavorful enough to stand up to Zinfandel braised short ribs. Every bite of food was a delight, but gnocchi speaks to my Italian heart, and I loved Jesse’s version…and his dedication, having handmade 1,500 individual gnocchi for the dinner.

Zin braised short ribs
Asparagus

Gnocchi

For dessert, by request, Chef Jesse recreated a much loved pairing from his December 2013 wine dinner that featured Coro Mendocino wines, a Butterscotch Budino with dual chocolate and butterscotch layers, chocolate pearls, salted butter crunch, toasted crab & coconut crumble (okay, the toasted crab and coconut crumble were a new crab-centric addition for tonight’s meal), paired again with the 2011 McFadden Late Harvest Riesling (Best of Class – 2013 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, 4 Star Gold Medal – 2014 Orange County Fair Wine Competition, Double Gold Medal – 2014 Mendocino County Fair Wine Competition).

Dessert

The dinner was so good, the service so excellent, that although the ticket price for a crab dinner with wine was higher than any previous dinner (still a bargain at just $75), and included tax and tip, attendees spontaneously passed a collection basket for the servers to increase the tip, with the basket filling with $20 bills.

The owners' toast

The evening was great, and I want to thank everyone at Crush, from the folks who ordered our wines (thanks!), to those that cooked the dinner, and from those who served us all, to Doug and Debbie Guillon, our fantastic hosts for the evening. All night, and again all the next day, person after person told me how enjoyable everything about the evening was.

If you missed out, and many did – we could easily have sold out two nights – don’t fret, there are more Chef’s Wine Dinners planned for this year, and the next will feature the 2011 vintage of Coro Mendocino, the county’s flagship wine, a Zinfandel dominant red wine blend. The Coro dinner at Crush is going to be on Wednesday, March 18, 2015, and will likely feature the winemakers of Barra, Brutocao, Clod du Bois, Fetzer, Golden, McFadden, Parducci, and Testa, with wines big enough to allow Jesse to showcase the depth of his ragu and other hearty Italian fare. To reserve your seat early for the March 18 Coro dinner at Crush, call (707) 463-0700.
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This weekend, on Saturday, February 7, join me at the 10th annual International Alsace Varietals Festival for a full day of events in the Anderson Valley, with many Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, and Riesling wines, starting with an educational session in the morning, the big grand tasting in the afternoon, and a winemakers’ dinner in the evening. For more information, visit www.avwines.com/alsace-festival.

 

If there is any question about how much I love doing what I do, inside my tasting room or outside, pouring my wines or any of the county’s best wines, this picture captured by Aubrey Rawlins of Mendoicino Winegrowers Inc should answer that question amply. I love pouring wines for folks.

John Cesano pours wine at an event focused on Mendocino County's organic, biodynamic grown wine grapes and the wines made from those grapes. (Photo by Aubrey Rawlins)

Here’s the column that was born at this incredibly fun wine press event, enjoy:

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John On Wine – Mendocino County’s Green Wine Growers

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal on Thursday, September 25, 2014

On a sunny Tuesday not long ago, I had the opportunity to pour wines at Danny Fetzer’s Jeriko Estate dirty dog river bar over an alfresco taco bar lunch for a group of influential wine writers and buyers in place of my boss, Guinness McFadden, who was at McFadden Farm for his 24th consecutive annual certification inspection as an organic grower of wine grapes, herbs, and beef.

His absence was understandable to all assembled, as the event was focused on Mendocino County’s organic and biodynamic grown wine grapes and the wines made from those grapes; all of the winery owners present had been through similar inspections.

Upfront, I want to thank Mendocino Winegrowers, Inc, our membership based wine and grape marketing group, for putting on a three day series of tastings; and I want to thank the attendees: Wine Enthusiast Magazine’s Jim Gordon, San Francisco Chronicle Carey Sweet, CIA Greystone’s Robert Bath, Huffington Post’s Mary Orlin, Ferry Plaza Wine Bar’s Peter Granoff, BevMo’s Jim Lombardo, 7×7 Magazine’s Courtney Humiston, Wine Business Monthly’s Mary Collen Tinney, Gary Danko’s Andrew Browne, and Writing Between the Vines’ Marcy Gordon (who once hosted me at her home for a tasting of Virginia’s best wines).

I also have to thank Ann Krohn of Frey Organic Wine; Ann either asked me a question or offered a kind comment that inspired me to launch into a monologue on what, to me, makes the Mendocino County wine scene special. When finished, I knew I had delivered a wine column.

In a previous job, I visited hundreds of winery tasting rooms in 42 California counties and saw the good and bad, but too rarely did I see the great. Too often, winery tasting room personnel would silently evaluate the worth of a visitor, judging based on the car you drove up in or the color of your credit card, and try to extract your money in the least amount of time while pouring the fewest number of wines.

I love being in a place that celebrates complimentary pouring, I tell folks they are at a tasting, not a bar, and explain what the dump bucket is used for, and give visitors an experience, an hour long tasting of 12 or more wines, with a story for each wine, and when finished I hope our guests feel a connection to the farm our grapes come from.

I would love to believe that I am the best tasting room manager on the planet, but the love that I feel for the grapes and wines that come from my farm is echoed in the presentations by my counterparts at winery tasting room after winery tasting room throughout Mendocino County.

Fully 75% of the wine grapes grown in Mendocino County end up bought and made into wines by wineries in Napa and Sonoma Counties. Mendocino is a farm county. Our county is also home to the greatest concentration of certified organic and biodynamic wine grape growers, which is important to consumers who wish to avoid Monsanto Round Up grown wines (often misleadingly labeled “sustainable”).

Being a farm county with an emphasis on green growing practices, the wines are more closely tied to the land, and a land that has been farmed proudly.

Tasting room managers feel that pride, and we share a similar passion as we share remarkably similar stories with our guests.

Personally, I get to see the vintage play out on Guinness’ face, good or tough. Everything is tied to the land, the farm. I am pouring a direct extension of that farm. These are not wines made from bought grapes; the connection between grapes and wine is far more visceral for me and, after a shared wine experience, I hope the folks who taste with me feel a sense of that connection as well.

At the river bar lunch, I poured the 2014 California State Fair Best of Show Sparkling Wine for the day’s tasters, and a Pinot Gris that attendee Jim Gordon had rated 90 points and designated an Editors’ Choice wine, before inviting them all to stop by and taste all the other wines at the tasting room another attendee, Carey Sweet, had rated the highest in over five years of tasting reviews in the San Francisco Chronicle.

I am not shy, and made use of the opportunity I had, but I could have just as easily been pouring the wines for any of the other wineries present that day, and my message would have been just as passionate, just as compelling. The other wines made from organic grapes, biodynamic grapes, poured were from some of the county’s most iconic growers and wineries: Barra of Mendocino, Frey Vineyards, Handley Cellars, and the day’s host Jeriko Estate.

I’m not knocking wines made with Round Up, although Googling “Round Up Health Risks” might leave you conventional wine averse, or turning to wines labeled organic, made with organically grown grapes, or biodynamic, and I would completely understand. The folks at the river bar on that sunny Tuesday enjoyed delicious wines, and every single person from a winery was as proud of those wines as you can be. The wines were made by wineries that care about the land, and so that care is translated to the wine. I believe this is at the core of what makes Mendocino County wines special.

For more on the subject of genuinely green wines, I recommend Pam Strayer’s wine blog, Organic Wines Uncorked, at www.winecountrygeographic.blogspot.com

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).

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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 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!

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