I came to work earlier this week to find a message from a wine club member:

“Given the morning news and arsenic in wine, could you report out on that? I would assume that organic grapes would yield healthier wines. But the morning news does make one curious. -Jeanine

A quick Google search of “Arsenic and Wine” led me to this: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/lawsuit-claims-high-levels-arsenic-found-some-california-made-wines/In the report, out of over 1,300 wines tested, higher levels of Arsenic than allowed in California’s water showed up in about a quarter of the wines, with less expensive wines disproportionately being those testing highest for Arsenic.

Alder Yarrow posted a piece on Vinography today, and in it he noted that Arsenic is naturally occurring in soils, and that water contains Arsenic, and that bentonite, a clay sometimes used for fining, may likely contain Arsenic. Yarrow, also correctly pointed out that this story may be much ado about nothing, or unnecessary scaremongering, or a horribly self-serving manufactured ‘crisis.’ The folks doing the testing also filed a class action suit and may materially benefit from their findings. Yarrow also correctly stated that water consumption is (hopefully) much greater than wine consumption, and that even taking the test results at face value, the results mean very little, with negligible – or no – real health risk posed to consumers. Yarrow also shared that apple juice contains far higher level of Arsenic than wine or water, with no genuine concerns raised. A commenter to Yarrow’s post also suggested that the correlation between less expensive wine and higher tested levels of Arsenic may owe to second and third pressings of grape skins and seeds, in an effort to squeeze every last drop of juice, leading to the higher Arsenic concentrations; and pointed to a similar ‘get it all’ link between apple juice production and high levels of Arsenic in that juice.

Pam Strayer also weighed in with a post on Organic Wines Uncorked. Strayer provided a link to a list of the 78 wines with the highest concentrations of Arsenic. The list, from the original story’s souce, is located on a site called TaintedWine.com, whose very name suggests an axe to grind. That said, as Strayer correctly points out in her excellent post, NONE of the wines listed was grown certified organically or certified biodynamically. Strayer also provides a list of inexpensive wines grown organically in her piece today. Some things to consider: Arsenic is found in many inorganic fertilzers. Arsenic is also used as an pesticide. Organic herbicides may not contain Arsenic. It seems possible, to me, that it may be the use, or overuse, of these Arsenic laden chemical processes in conventional agriculture, and run off of those chemicals, that leads to measurable concentrations of Arsenic in stream, river, and lake water; as much or more than a leaching of heavy metals from the soil. As Mendocino County has the highest concentration of organic and biodynamic grape growers in America, I am pleased that none of the listed offenders was organic. That said, bentonite can be used in organically grown wines, and water polluted by conventional commercial agribusinesses is used by everyone, conventional and organic growers alike, in frost mitigation and irrigation. It is likely that ALL wine contains trace amounts of Arsenic, but is also likely that the levels are lower in wines made from organically and biodynamically grown grapes. Even so, there really seems to be very little cause for concern in the reports, it sounds horrible which plays great on television, but is of likely little real health consequence. If the spectre of danger from Arsenic in wine concerns you, I would suggest that organically or biodynmically grown wines might be the way to go for you. To be clear, I am neither a doctor nor scientist, and have never played one on TV; and every time I leave the realm of fact, I am involved in conjecture. Educated, informed conjecture; but conjecture, nonetheless. I’ll come back to add any info of significance, should it become available, but for now I think we can turn the page on this story.

EDITED TO ADD: Thanks to winemaker Mark Beaman for correcting my spelling of bentonite. I would love to blame autocorrect for the misspelling, but the mistake was surely all mine. Thanks to Di Davis, who shared the observations of her husband Will, who IS a scientist, and points out that Arsenic is everywhere and in everything, and the real focus should not be on concentrations but on dosage. What dose of Arsenic are you incurring from drinking inexpensive wine with a higher concentration of Arsenic than is allowed for California’s water? Likely a lot lower than merits your concern or fear.

In addition to any material gain that may come from the lawsuit filed, the testing company is holding itself out as a solution for the spurious problem they have promoted, offering their testing services to the very wine brands they are suing, it has been reported. At least one winery has tried to seek benefit from this story, posting on Facebook that their wine has “No Arsenic” which likely violates at least two laws, the first against false advertising and the second against the health claim prohibition all wineries are required to follow.

Last weekend, The Solar Living Institute campus was the place to be on Saturday for Earth Day Festival 2012.

Organizers Spencer Brewer, Vicki Milone, and Ross Beck put on a terrific event, with an estimated attendance of over 1,500 to taste organic, made with organically grown, biodynamic, and sustainable wines, along with many certified organic food products.

Live music, vendors, and exhibits – along with perfect Summer like weather – rounded out the incredible inaugural FREE festival event.

Having worked the event, I appreciate all the work put in by Spencer, Vicki and Ross that allowed so many folks to highlight an important aspect of the area we live in – our everyday care for the Earth.

Mendocino County has the highest concentration of green vineyards and wineries anywhere in America, and for the campus of the Solar Living Institute to play host to many of them on a site dedicated to responsible eco balanced living, in Hopland, was a powerful example of cohesive messaging through thoughtful event management.


Piazza de Campovida had a soft opening last weekend in Hopland at the location previously known as Lawson’s Station, the former home of the McNab Ridge Winery tasting room.

Piazza de Campovida is home to an Inn, a Taverna, and a Pizzeria. The Inn is open now. The Taverna and Pizzeria were open only for the weekend to work out any wrinkles.

The second soft opening will be next Friday through Sunday to serve the visitors for the Hopland Passport wine weekend, in the Taverna and outside on the patio.

Soon after, the restaurant remodel will be finished, and both the Taverna and Pizzeria de Campovida will open for regular service at the Piazza.

This summer, another tap room and restaurant is supposed to open in Hopland where the old Hopland Brewery was located.

Together with Burgers My Way, Jalos Taco Truck, Blue Bird Café, Subway, and both the Hawk’s Nest Bar & Grill and Pepperwood Steakhouse at Hopland’s Sho-Ka-Wah casino, these new Hopland restaurants will provide a more complete Hopland destination experience for visitors who come for wine tasting at our 17 tasting rooms or a weekend getaway.

While there are 16 winery tasting rooms in the Hopland area, don’t forget SIP! Mendocino, a tasting room serving many hard to find Mendocino county wine labels, and look for new winery tasting rooms to open in the not too distant future.

Both Campovida on Old River Road and Piazza de Campovida on Highway 101 provide lodging, and it is the sincere wish that needed renovation, repair, and reopening of the historic Hopland Inn may occur some day in the future. There are also many hotels in nearby Ukiah for visitors to our area.

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again and again in the future, but things are hopping in Hopland.

On Thursday, I had the good fortune to return to The Drive With Steve Jaxon on KSRO 1350 AM to talk about Hopland Passport, coming up next weekend on May 5 & 6 from 11:00 am to 5:00 pm each day.

One dozen wineries made a bottle of wine available for possible tasting on air. Here’s a list of the wines:

2006 Milano Echo, Bells Echo Vineyard

NV (2009) McFadden Sparkling Brut, McFadden Farm

2009 Jaxon Keys Estate Primitivo, Michael’s Reserve, Norma’s Vineyard

NV Rack & Riddle Blanc de Noirs, Sonoma County

2009 Atrea Old Soul Red by Saracina

2009 Weibel Merlot, Mendocino County

2009 Enotria Barbera, Mendocino County

2010 Parducci Small Lot Blend Pinot Noir, North Coast

2010 Jeriko Estate Pinot Noir, Dijon Clone

2010 Cesar Toxqui Cellars Grenache, Mendocino

2009 McNab Ridge Pinotage, Napoli Vineyard

2010 Campovida Viognier Estate Grown

A bit limited by time, we tasted just five of these delicious wines, but they were a great representation of what Hopland will be offering wine quality wise during Hopland Passport.

Steve Jaxon’s favorite winery name was Jaxon Keys, which he remembered as Jepson, before the purchase and changes made by Ken and Diane Wilson.

In spite of time limits, I managed to compare the best attributes of Hopland Passport, value and accessibility, with the least favorable attributes of a larger event, price and unavailability. Subsequently, it was pointed out that my comparison was less than deft and I apologize to anyone listening Thursday afternoon that took umbrage. I tend to toil away well and then once a year I do something stupid, hopefully this was it for 2012. My only consolation is that my words will have as little negative effect on a perpetually sold out world class event as the effect of saying I prefer stainless steel Chardonnay would have on the sales of millions of cases of Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay…none.

Just like my last visit to KSRO, the boards lit up like a Christmas tree when we announced that there were some tickets to Hopland Passport available to be won.

I did manage to say a lot of good, smart, things too and we had a great time. I love seeing Mike DeWald dissolve into laughter as he works the board for Steve Jaxon. I am always heartened to see others who get to do jobs they love too. My thanks again to Steve and Mike for being such great hosts, I hope to see each of you if you do make it up to Hopland next weekend.

Another recent guest, Jason Stanford wrote on his blog, “A couple of days ago I got to go on what might be the best radio show in America not named Fresh Air, Radio Lab or This American Life: The Drive with Steve Jaxon on KSRO. Steve and his producer Mike DeWald get ridiculous guests. When I was on Wednesday, I followed someone from The Daily Show, and the Sklar Brothers came on after me. I felt like the comedian at the strip joint.”

I totally felt what Jason wrote, with a previous visit sandwiched in between days featuring Lily Tomlin and Andy Dick, I wonder at my great good fortune and the fun oddities that life sometimes presents.


Herb Crust Pizza with Shamrock Goat Cheese from Willits

With Pizza on my mind last weekend because of the opening of Pizzeria de Campovida, and set up for the McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room with the folks from Shamrock Artisan Goat Cheese as my neighbors at the Earth Day Festival, I was reminded of a terrific pizza recipe that owes much to a good friend Nancy Cameron Iannios and much to Barefoot Contessa Ina Garten, but a whole lot to organic and delicious local ingredients.

Ina Garten made some savory onion tarts that I stole the topping recipe for and used with pizzas. When I complained about my terrible pizza crust in conversation, Nancy shared her herb crust recipe.

The things that I do that make the recipe pop: After cooking down sliced onions, I revive them using organically grown stainless steel held McFadden Chardonnay and cook them down again. I use organically grown air-dried McFadden Farm herbs for the dough that makes the crust. I use Shamrock goat cheese. These three seemingly small choices make a huge difference; quality ingredients increase the finished pizza flavor tremendously.

Like any pizza, the additional toppings can be changed to suit your mood and what’s tasting great seasonally, but in addition to the onions and goat cheese, for those that don’t read Ina’s recipe, I add tomato slices, Parmigiano-Reggiano, basil and olive oil.

There are many terrific herb crust dough recipes online, again the key is to use organic air dried herbs. Many commercial herbs are irradiated which boils off volatile oils resulting in weak flavored herbs; find a local organic grower that air dries their herbs. Visit your local healthy co-op market.


That’s it. Have a pizza. With wine. In an eco-friendly way. And thanks again Steve and Mike.


I grew up with Zinfandel. When I was a kid, my dad Charlie and his friends would hunt almost every weekend; duck hunting, pig hunting, deer hunting. Our freezer was always full of meat. I grew up thinking that everyone was Italian, and that everyone hunted. My folks never took me to see Bambi.

My dad was part of a group of about 20 guys who went in together to lease large pieces of property to hunt. Their hunting clubs were scattered all over Mendocino and Sonoma Counties. For a long time, we hunted the 12,500 acre Rockpile Ranch straddling both Mendocino and Sonoma Counties, being the largest piece of property in either county. I remember my dad taking me for weekends to the club. I would ride in a jeep or truck during the day as the men looked for a large pig, or buck. Lunches would invariably be Salumi and Cheddar on hard French bread rolls. Any game taken would be field dressed, then cleaned and hung back in camp at the end of the day. After cleaning up after the day’s hunt, the men would cook a big dinner. Polenta, meats, Italian sauces, pasta, vegetables, salad, Zinfandel.

Growing up, all the Italian men I knew drank Zinfandel. It came in jugs, it wasn’t complex, it was good and it was cheap. It went into the food, and into coffee cups and high ball glasses, styrofoam cups and complimentary collector jelly glasses from the gas station – free with an 8 gallon purchase.

I crushed Zinfandel grapes when I was my son Charlie’s age, just 12 years old, and the juice was made into wine that I was allowed to taste with food.

Zinfandel has been my first wine love, my longest loved wine, my favorite wine for most of my life.

Big, bold, very red, often high in alcohol, with flavors of brambly raspberry and black pepper spice; Zinfandel is as big as Cabernet Sauvignon in body, structure, and flavor profile but more affordable. Although DNA tests have shown Zinfandel is really the grape varietal Crljenak Kaštelanski from Croatia, and also Identical to Italy’s Primitivo grape, it has been thought of as California’s grape by generations of California’s wine drinkers.

Years ago, I attended the ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates and producers) tasting, a tasting of Zinfandels put on at Fort Mason in San Francisco in January. Hundreds of Zinfandels to taste. Thousands of people tasting. A perfect day spent tasting some iconic Zinfandels, like Carol Shelton’s Rockpile Zin, and discovering new stars.

ZAP is marking the 19th Zinfandel festival this year with the theme Zin in Paradise, and it isn’t just the incredible Saturday Grand Zinfandel Tasting, but three days of events. Tickets are still available for most of the events.


The festival kicks off Thursday evening with the Good Eats & Zinfandel Pairing at Fort Mason’s Herbst Pavillion. Celebrity chef Beverly Gannon will be serving up Hawaiian Regional Cuisine with Zinfandels, along with 49 other chefs and wineries. As I read the list of wineries, restaurants, and dishes being served, my mouth goes into watering overdrive mode, and I am actually excited about attending this event. The list is too long to print here, but go to the event page and look at the amazing bounty of food, and the participating wineries, and get yourself to this event! If you are looking for me, I’ll be the very happy, short, round, bearded man in line in front of you for more yummy food and wine.

On Friday, I am going to sit down with a group of about 150 people at the Intercontinental Mark Hopkins Hotel in San Francisco for Flights, a showcase of Zinfandel.

The panelists will discuss blending, Zinfandel’s uniqueness, preferred blending varietals, and each panelist will bring a proprietary blended Zinfandel to pour and discuss.

The wineries, panelists and Zinfandels include:

  • Ridge Vineyards, winemaker Eric Baugher, 2007 Zinfandel Paso Robles and the 2007 Geyserville
  • Three Wine Company, winemaker and proprietor Matt Cline, 2007 Old Vine Zinfandel, California and 2007 Old Vines, California (Field Blend)
  • JC Cellars, founder and winemaker Jeff Cohn, 2007 Imposter Blend and 2007 Sweetwater Zinfandel
  • Robert Biale Vineyards, winemaker Steve Hall, 2007 Aldo’s Vineyard Zinfandel and 2007 Stagecoach Zinfandel
  • Bedrock Wine Company, winemaker and proprietor Morgan Twain Peterson, 2007 Heirloom Wine, Sonoma Valley and 2007 Ravenswood, Bedrock Vineyard Zinfandel, Sonoma Valley

Friday Evening, also at the Mark Hopkins, is an Evening with the Winemakers, Benefit Live Auction and Dinner, where Chef Beverly Gannon will prepare:

  • Asian Duck Tostada
  • Blackened Ahi with Sweet Thai Chili Sauce, Wasabi Micro Greens, Tobiko, Mashed Potato in Filo Cup
  • Smoked Salmon Pinwhhels with Chipotle-Chili Fresh Fruit Salsa
  • Kalua Pork and Goat Cheese Won Tons with Mango Chili Sauce
  • Terrine of Foie Gras, BBQ Eel, Potato Pineapple Compote, Vanilla Syrup and Spicy Micro Greens
  • Lamb Shank Canneloni with a Poached Fig Demi-Glaze Double Cut Lamb Chop, Lavendar Honey Glazed Baby Carrots
  • Chocolate Macadamia Nut Tart

I had the opportunity to take part in a high end food and wine dinner like this when I helped winemaker Carol Shelton, who had the Best in Class Zinfandel at the California State Fair – a Zinfandel with four gold medals – pour her Zinfandel and other favorite wines at the best Meet the Winemaker dinner I have ever attended. The dinner was at Susan and Drew Goss’ Zinfandel restaurant in Chicago’s River North area, near the Fonterra Grill and Spago. Without exception, the sold out (it sold out in under 3 hours, a record for the restaurant) 110 seat restaurant’s diners enjoyed one of the best dining experiences of their lives. Many hundreds of bottles were opened and consumed (I helped Carol taste them all earlier that day and found all 5 TCA tainted corked bottles – unlucky me) and Susan Goss prepared a multi course menu around Carol’s wines that amazed, delighted and thrilled everyone who attended the dinner.

This is going to be one of those kind of once in a lifetime dining experiences and Beverly’s menu looks even more fantastic than Susan’s menu. In addition to the incredible sit down mind blowing meal with Zinfandels poured to pair with each course, there will be 25 or so one of a kind Zinfandel themed live auction lots to bid on during the evening.

ZAP’s Zinfandel Festival culminates Saturday with the epically huge Grand Zinfandel Tasting in both the Herbst and Festival pavilions at Fort Mason in San Francisco from 2 p.m. – 5 p.m., ZAP members get an hour start on the general public and can taste from 1 p.m. – 5 p.m.

Over the years, ZAP’s Zinfandel festival has grown, more than doubling in size. The number of Zinfandels poured couldn’t be tasted by any one person, be they veteran wine reviewer or liver compromised bum.

Plastic lined garbage cans are provided throughout the festival and serve as giant wine spittoons. I hate spitting out perfectly good wine, but it is the only way to go as an attempt is made to taste as many Zinfandels as possible before my palate is completely blown out by the plethora of high alcohol hugely bodied monster Zinfandels.

I am thrilled to be attending this years Grand Zinfandel Tasting, and getting an early 10 a.m. start as part of the media tasting. I will have my red wine notebook and pen with me.

It almost goes without saying, but eat before, during and after the event, be safe, and consider public transportation.

DISCLOSURE: ZAP is covering my attendance to events with a press pass. I love this event and would have gushed about the event if I was paying out of pocket to attend. I will be writing a couple of articles after the event. One will focus on the events generally, the other will include tasting notes for Zinfandels tasted over the weekend. Full disclosure requires that I think Julie Ann Kodmur is an angel.

Age Gets Better With Wine, New Science For A Better & Longer Life, 2nd Edition by Richard A. Baxter M.D.

Age Gets Better With Wine starts with an interesting look at consumption of wine through history.

Richard A. Baxter, M.D. searching for keys to longevity with quality, and wanting to separate the scientifically sound wheat from the quackery inspired chaff, surveyed medical literature and eliminated everything that wasn’t rooted in legitimate research to see what remained. Baxter found wine was one of the answers to longevity and healthy living.

Baxter outline the science of aging and the perils of disease and degeneration, and the countering effects of antioxidants. Wine possesses powerful antioxidant qualities.

Vitamin supplements, herbal supplements and natural cures show scant, if any, evidence that they will help you live longer, prevent cancer or Alzheimer’s disease, or measurable improve life quality in any measurable way.

Age Gets Better With Wine holds that wine is a food, and as part of a healthy diet has healthful benefits.

Baxter diplomatically demonstrates a prejudice against information concerning healthful consumption of alcohol. In 1974, presented with evidence of decreased cardiovascular disease among moderate alcohol consumers, the National Institutes of Health demanded censorship of the 25 year Framingham Heart Study.

In the 30 intervening years, numerous studies have consistently confirmed and clarified the Framingham Heart Study results, and expanded the health benefits to conditions beyond originally reported – “the overall risk of death from all causes is significantly lower in moderate drinkers as compared to abstainers and to heavy drinkers.”

When plotted on a graph, the benefits of moderate consumption fit what is known as a “J-shaped curve.” The graph starts with an odds ratio of 1.0 for abstainers, whether looking at cardiovascular disease, or overall mortality, then dips to below 1.0 for moderate consumption before climbing above 1.0 for abusive consumption. Typically, the best health benefit is achieved by the consumption of between 1-3 glasses of wine.

Countries with higher rates of wine consumption had lower mortality rates than countries with lower levels of wine consumption.

While alcohol consumption, generally, created a J-shaped curve when lotting the relative risk of all cause mortality against alcohol consumed, not all alcohol was the same. Wine consumption produced the lowest dips, the greatest measured health benefit, of all alcohol; greater than beer or spirits.

Wine has polyphenols, other alcohols do not. Polyphenols are the aromatic molecules that give wine the nose of bouquet and aroma. Polyphenols are also powerful antioxidants. Most polyphenols are concentrated in the grape skin; since red wines are made red by allowing the crushed skins to ferment with the juice, coloring the juice red, red wines also have higher concentrations of polyphenols.

The antioxidant properties of wine polyphenols lead to enhanced wound healing, anti cancer effects, kidney protection, lowered cataract risk, decreases cardiac risk, and improves cardiac event survival.

The most well known polyphenol is resveratrol. Resveratrol holds great promise in aiding the body fight the effects of age, and it has been isolated and made available, separate from wine, in pill form.

With thousands of prestigious institutions publishing the results of research on the health benefits of wine, there does not exist the same evidence that isolated beneficial compounds can be captured and delivered in pill form with any efficacy.

About resveratrol, Baxter writes, “The benefits of wine aren’t attributable to a single molecule out of the thousands, and out of the context of a meal. An analogous account is the surprising finding that taking vitamin supplements may actually do more harm than good, a consensus view among experts now. It just isn’t the same thing as eating whole foods and drinking real wine.”

Resveratrol seems to be the super polyphenol, fighting aging, diabetes, arthritis, osteoporosis, and even decreases “hot flashes” in menopausal women.

Stressing again the differences between moderate consumption and abuse, and general alcohol consumption and wine consumption, Baxter lists 13 anti cancer properties of wine polyphenols.

A fun fact, for wine drinkers anyway, is that researchers found wine drinkers had a 30 pint higher IQ than beer or spirits drinkers.

Baxter reports there is an emerging consensus that the risk of Alzheimer’s disease may be reduced by up to 80% by regular consumption of a glass or two of red wine with dinner.

Age Gets Better With Wine is an important book, researched and referenced, on the general benefits of healthy drinking;Richard A. Baxter, M.D. has written the definitive book on the specific anti aging properties contained in wine.

Links to buy Age Gets Better With Wine:



DISCLOSURE: I received a sample copy of Age Gets Better With Wine for review from The Wine Appreciation Guild.

I tried to recreate a meal I used to cook often about 25 years ago; steamed chicken thighs, stuffed with ham, swiss cheese, and green onions – a healthy version of Chicken Cordon blue. I wasn’t able to extricate the thigh bone from the center of the thighs, so I rolled the deboned thighs and used cooking twine to tie them around the other ingredients completely.

Instead of steaming in water, I used an entire bottle of $1.99 2007 FoxBrook Sauvignon Blanc California. I tried to drink a glass of this wine, but poured it out, choosing to cook with it instead. Where another Sauvignon Blanc might have a note of cat pee in the nose, this wine tasted of piss. Not a wine I will ever buy again.

I served the Cordon Blue-esque Chicken up with a creamy chicken rice, to which I added a ton of butter and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

I paired dinner with a 2008 Fetzer Vineyards Valley Oaks Chardonney California. Clear pale gold  in color, this 13% alc wine has a ton of notes and flavors for an under $9 wine at Lucky supermarket. Crisp apple and citrus nose gives way to tropical fruit, grapefruit, and apple, balanced by oak and sweet cream, in the mouth. A nice medium bodied Chardonnay with a long light finish characterized by apple and acidity. I liked it lots, and saved the rest of the bottle with a Wine Preserva flavor saver disc.

Overall, a pretty tasty and moderately showy meal.


Speaking of showy meals, I’ll be auditioning for Gordon Ramsey’s Masterchef on FOX in 11 days. If you live in Atlanta, Denver, Kansas City, Miami, New Orleans, Chicago, San Francisco, or Los Angeles, open casting calls are coming up; for more information, here’s a link: http://www.3ballproductions.com/masterchef.html

Jennifer Pitchke, a reader of my blog left this comment about the audition process:

Just wanted to let you know I went to the New York auditions and it was nothing like I expected so I wanted to give you heads up. I thought it would be like a one on one. Nope–you will be asked to stand with up to 8 others at one time to plate and they go down the line and you have maybe two minutes with them so back those two minutes good because I sure didn’t. My food rocked but felt I could have handled the Q&A better. Good Luck.

If you have read about the real audition process for American Idol auditioners, not the select few put through to see Simon Cowell and the gang, then Jennifer’s description is familiar. I don’t have cancer, a dead wife, or a very ill or disabled family member to exploit through the audition process, FOX loves the sob backstory in casting their reality shows, but I can cook and have personality; hopefully that will be enough. I will happily keep my healthy family and miss out on being cast if it really comes to that.

I had planned to serve involtini, polenta, and red sauce with a solid red wine. I’m adding a pesto sauce to the mix, so I can “paint” my white presentation plate with the red (homemade Italian red sauce), white (polenta), and green (pesto) of the Italian flag, and lay my sliced pinwheels of involtini across the flag in a line.

The presentation is better, the flavors still work great, and the food allows me to tell my story of growing up watching my Italian American father Charlie Cesano cooking, and how it has inspired my brother Thomas , myself, and my 12 year old son Charlie to be the primary cooks in our kitchens.

CBS has CSI; NBC has Law and Order. Both have spun off myriad incarnations.

FOX has Gordon Ramsey. Hells, Kitchen, Kitchen Nightmares, Cookalong, and coming later this year Masterchef.

Masterchef is another BBC import, and turns amateur but passionate cooks into cheftestants, competing against each other, until only one is left.

I am going to be attending a casting call in San Francisco later this month, bringing the elements to plate a prepared dish with five minutes preparation – a different thermos for each part of the dish, presentation plate, spoon, tongs, cutting board, knife, steel, towels, napkin.

I’m bringing my involtini on polenta with homemade Italian red sauce, and a bottle of red wine. I think wine is part of a meal, and ingredient of the dish. So I’ll also be bringing wine, corkscrew, and wineglass as well as all of the food pack. I think I may look for a cooler with wheels and handle.

I’m hoping my brother auditions in either New Orleans or Los Angeles, we could be the Masterchef version of Top Chef’s Voltaggio brothers.


I applied for a fellowship award to attend this year’s Symposium for Professional Wine Writers at Meadowood Napa Valley, February 16-19, 2010.

On the Symposium  website’s page for Fellowship Opportunities, it says, “awardees will be notified by telephone and or e-mail by January 8, 2010, and their names will be posted on the Fellowship page at the Symposium website…those who are not awardees will be notified by e-mail.”

Last night, looking at the site’s page for registration, I found the statement, “Fellowship recipients will be notified by January 15, 2010.”

I thought I would know whether the writing samples I provided scored well enough with five judges to earn a Fellowship award by tomorrow, and I was already antsy, anxious, at waiting. Now I think I may have to wait another week before finding out my fate.


I did win two tickets to a terrific food and wine tasting Friday evening, February 19, 2010 (and yes, I can attend the Symposium and tasting on February 19, 2010), Dark & Delicious 2010 in Alameda, CA. Dark & Delicious pairs Petite Sirah from great producers with foods prepared by some of the top chefs in the Bay Area.

I am hugely excited to taste great wines and foods, I love Petite Sirah, so this is right up my alley. I am also going to get to meet some other wine bloggers, including Eric Hwang. Eric handles social media marketing for Windsor Vineyards, I used to handle tradeshow marketing for Windsor Vineyards.

I think there might be a few tickets left, here’s the link to info: http://psiloveyou.org/dd10/

Thank you Jo Diaz for running a ticket contest.


The mailman has been busy. I received the winter issue of Washington Tasting Room, an attractive, colorful new wine magazine, featuring beautiful photography and solid written content. Recipes, feature articles on selected wineries, a tasting room calendar of special events, and wine columns make this a worthy stand out magazine. I love that the writing puts me right in some of Washington’s tasting rooms, tasting wines; my wine knowledge is limited to California wines, mostly north coast wines, so any magazine that can educate me while entertaining is a must read.

I loved reading about Yakima’s downtown restaurants waiving corkage fees for folks who bring a wine bought that day from a neighboring downtown Yakima tasting room. The news piece quotes a restaurant owner “We’ll wash two glasses any day to sell more dinners…the program is working. The wineries love it and they’re sending customers our way.”

Thanks to John Vitale for sending me this complimentary copy.

From the Wine Appreciation Guild, I received Dr. Richard Baxter’s “Age Gets Better With Wine.” You’ll read my review when I read it – I’m in the middle of a novel so embarrassingly trashy I won’t share the title. I’ve skimmed Age Gets Better With Wine, and I look forward to getting into it soon; with 20 pages of references listed, it appears to be a solid work, and yet my skim suggested a user friendliness. More later.

Also from the Wine Appreciation Guild, I received a new wine preservation system. I am half way through my evaluation of the product and will post a review over the weekend.

Thanks to the Wine Appreciation Guild.


Completely not related to wine or food, the mailman also delivered a package from a good friend Mike Jasper. The outside of the package was torn, trampled, dirty, cut, a letter of apology from the post office was included. The contents appear perfect however. Jasper sent me a boxed set of 4 discs covering the complete season one of A&E’s Rollergirls. I think Jasper actually knows some of the girls, and when visiting him a while back, we watched an episode and I was stunned by the “there is room on television for anything” aspect of the show’s existence. I am delighted to receive this fine gift, although it will likely wait some time before I view it.

Jasper also sent the October 2009 issue of Playboy so I could read the feature on the 1970s Oakland Raiders.

While I might read this issue of Playboy for the articles, I’m pretty sure my 12 year old son wouldn’t even glance at the Raider article, so I have to put this away.

Thanks Jasper.


I was just going to put a pair of tri tips on the grill, when I got a call from my local grocery…my order of pork belly is available for me to pick up. Hurray, this is going to be a great week of eating in the Cesano house.

I’m thinking of trying Top Chef cheftestant Kevin Gillespie’s pork belly recipe.

As always, I’ll let you know how it goes.

Since moving my blog here from myspace, I have tried to keep my blog entries focused on content that could stand alone, timeless pieces that could be read any time in the future and maintain relevance. I didn’t want to write overly personal or topical pieces.

Today, I am breaking my own rules to say many things, all in one blog entry, none of the things I share today merit their own full entry, but taken together you may get a better glimpse into the writer of the other stand alone entries, past and future, in my blog.


Although I rent and have no home renovation skills at all, I love watching Home & Garden television, I imagine owning my home and making it feel comfortable, warm and inviting. Recently, I have enjoyed watching a show from HGTV Canada called Holmes on Homes. Mike Holmes helps out home owners who fall victim to shoddy and shady contractors; instead of doing ‘mere’ renovations, Holmes starts with a disastrously botched job performed by a previous “professional contractor” and corrects myriad deficiencies. Although I have none of Holmes’ skill, I admire his “make it right” ethos, and find his television show compelling.

I feel I lack artistry in my writing. I do not have the beautiful turn of phrase, wit, or ability to paint a picture with word easily that I find in the writing of some other writers. It used to bother me that my writing lacked elegance. Instead of an artist, I felt like a laborer.

I craft each piece, word by word. It is work. It is always easier when I have something to say than when I sit down at the computer searching for something to say. To that end, I will not post just to post, but only post the entries that have a reason for being.

I have come to accept that, instead of an artist, I am a craftsman with words. If I keep at it, I hope to emulate Mike Holmes and become a highly skilled master craftsman, by adopting the “make it right’ attitude for my own writing.

I will confess that my work often needs multiple readings and edits before I post it, and I still find myself making additional edits to published work all too often.


30 years ago, I acted in musical and dramatic theater. A teacher and director helped me make a dramatic interpretation piece more real; he instructed me to imagine delivering the lines to a real person I knew, make the monologue one half of a conversation by holding the receiver of the lines as real in my imagination as possible. The result was an enormously improved audition piece, a conversation (even only one side) is better than a monologue.

I have found myself using the same device recently in my writing. So, you don’t get wine writers or the wine industry? I know why. was really inspired by an ongoing online conversation I was having with a mostly non-wine drinking friend. In writing with Rob in mind, I didn’t come off as disingenuous criticizing wine writers and the wine industry as a wine writer and oft time part of the wine industry. Similarly, when I wrote Wine and pregnancy, a healthy mix. I was inspired by the experiences of my niece. In writing with Jennifer in mind, I didn’t feel like just one more man bloviating on women’s issues.

I will try to write with a point of view, create well crafted work, and make it all feel like the beginning of a conversation.


Your comments mean so much to me. I appreciate the effort each of you who have made in commenting on my writing. I get a tingle of electricity, a thrill, each time I see a new comment on my blog. I welcome comments. Conversations are not one sided; while my initial blog entry may start a conversation, it is the input of each of you that enrich this blog. I am often in awe of the generosity and artistry some of you demonstrate in writing the comments you leave.

Charlie Olken is a supertar commenter; his comments appear on the pages of many of the “important” and most read wine bloggers. Olken’s comments often are more eloquent and well written than the post he is responding to.

This blog has a Charlie Olken. Nancy Howard Cameron Iannios is a friend from high school, and we are much better friends today than we ever were in high school. Nancy has a wealth of unique past experiences, lives in Oregon with her incredibly generous and perfect-for-her husband Aris and their young daughter Lia, and she is hugely skilled as an Oregon winery tasting room and wine club manager. This morning, Nancy’s older daughter Rachel gave birth to a baby boy, Zak. Let this be the first blog, wine or otherwise, to welcome Zak to the world.

Nancy has contributed comments to this blog, and to various facebook posts, that make me just shake my head wondering what I did to deserve such a good friend.

That Nancy’s comments are often better written than my original post is a testament to Nancy’s generosity and intelligence.

Nancy is a welcome and appreciated contributor to this blog.


I had wanted to write Friends don’t let friends Vacu-Vin for many years, and it may have been one of the easiest pieces for me to write. It was a letter to everyone who has one or is considering buying or gifting one.

Writing it put me back in touch with Eliiott Mackey from the Wine Appreciation Guild (thanks to Shannon Essa). In a little online back and forth, Elliott recommended a topic or two for me to consider writing about. One topic was wine and health, another was censorship.

These two topics obviously inspired my piece on wine and pregnancy, so, thanks Elliott.

Greater thanks go to Nancy for her brilliant comment response to the entry. I think Nancy’s heartfelt personal sharing allowed for many of the wonderful responses from women that followed. Thanks to Vinogirl (I don’t know your ‘real’ name), Grace, Tamara, and Karen for both your thoughts and your support.

Each of your contributions added texture and value to my original post.


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I think my two best pieces of writing from the archive that I wrote when the blog was on myspace, but are getting missed by you here are A tale of two Merlots and My Piner High School Class of 1979 Reunion Weekend Recap; give them a read if you get the chance. While typically workmanlike in their construction, I occasionally paint a picture with words in each.


I headed over look at Rick Bakas’ site http://rickbakas.com/ and was impressed with the beauty found in the pictures of food that grace his pages. Food porn.

I have been relying too long on my iPhone’s 2 megapixel camera for my site’s photography. While the best camera in the world is the one you have with you, and my iPhone is always with me; inspired by Back to Bakas, I bought a new 10.1 megapixel camera and some new plates that will present food well for future shoots.


I am heading to Tierra, an art, garden and wine bar in Ukiah, hoping they are open in Mondays, I want to taste some wines from local winemakers. I also want to find some pork belly to cook. I wonder what I’ll post about next entry. Hmmm.


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