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.

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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.
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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.

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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.

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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.

http://www.zinfandel.org/

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:

http://winehardware.com/agegetsbetterwithwine.aspx

http://www.amazon.com/Age-Gets-Better-Wine-2nd/dp/1934259241

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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My blog has been included on two lists of wine blogs, please consider clicking these two links to vote me up the lists. Thanks in advance for your support.

Vote for My Blog on LocalWineEvents.com!

Vote For My Blog on Wine Blog Network Rankings

Also, please recommend this blog in an email to any of your friends who like wine or food. Here’s the address for you cut and paste-ers:

http://johncesano.wordpress.com

Finally, if you haven’t already, consider subscribing to my blog; just enter your email address in the box that appears below my smiling picture on the front page.

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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.

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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.

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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.

NOTE: Scroll to the bottom of this post for an update. Thanks.

My niece Jennifer is pregnant. In November she wrote on facebook, “I would really love to enjoy a glass of Asti Spumanti champagne.”

Within minutes, a friend posted, “LOL! NEVER!”.

Huh? I had to chime in, and wrote, “In a world where caffeine, chocolate, raw oysters, unpasteurized cheese, tropical fruits, drugs that alleviate cold symptoms, nail polish, suntan lotion and hair dye, all of which in some amount may harm the fetus; wine in small amounts, sipped slowly with food, has been shown to increase fetal motility and result in more intelligent infants. I’m kind of the wine guy in the family, and would point you to the 1994 Wine Spectator article by Thomas Matthews, The Myths of Motherhood, or the study of 33,000 California woman showing that the 47% who drank moderately during pregnancy had zero incidence of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS); and the 1993 study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology by Little and Weinberg showing a higher successful birthrate among moderate consumers of alcohol than rates among abstainers. Find a doctor who reads, and enjoy the glass of Asti on Thanksgiving. The stress reduction and joy in the mother is healthy for the fetus. Just saying’.”

I do tend to go on.

Another friend of Jennifer, also pregnant wrote, “I don’t know you John, but as a fellow pregnant gal who can’t have anything she loves either, I L-O-V-E your post.”

Jennifer finished up the thread with, “Bwahaha, thanks uncle John,,,I’ve enjoyed a small glass of wine here and there…I’ve also enjoyed sushi, massages, pedicures, caffeine AND…of course…chocolate! Baby’s fine…he comes from good healthy stock”

In December, Jennifer posted, “I’m really craving a glass of good champagne…maybe spumanti” on her facebook wall.

I replied, “You know what Uncle John says…a glass is a healthy choice for you and the baby,”

Another friend wrote, “sorry, hopefully you can have one soon. When are you having that baby?”, written as though having a glass of wine, or bubbly, before the baby is born is unthinkable.

When Lisa, the mother of my only child Charlie, was pregnant, we attended a wonderful wine tasting in San Francisco. It was my birthday, and I did more than taste the many Zinfandels being poured at the event, I had a bit to drink that day. My wife, noticeably pregnant at 7 months, tasted; but after nosing and swirling the wine in her mouth, she spit it into large receptacles provided for that purpose. Although she drank no wine at all, she was subjected to many dirty looks, and one old woman actually hissed at her. There is an anti-alcohol sentiment ingrained in people who should know better.

A pregnant woman wants a small glass of wine to sip with a meal, and the instinctive response of her friends is shock and admonishment. The response is based on all of the information generally available. The next time you pick up a bottle of wine, look and you will find a warning mandated by the United States government, “According to the Surgeon General, women should not drink alcoholic beverages during pregnancy because of the risk of birth defects.”

While there is overwhelming evidence of health benefits associated with moderate consumption of wine in the general population, and specific health benefits to a pregnant woman and her fetus, the same United States government requiring that wineries put warning on their labels forbids including any information about healthful benefits associated with wine consumption; “a specific [health] claim on a label or in an advertisement, ” no matter how well documented, “is considered misleading.” and requires further detailed warnings of the risks of alcohol if included – said warnings being unable to fit on a wine label. Effectively, the government is engaged in censorship and prohibiting free speech. Worse, it requires warning, and disallows wineries from countering the warning with truthful statements.

With wineries muzzled, unable to present any information regarding health and wine, or pregnancy and wine consumption, gross distortions and outright lies are posted in pregnancy forums and spread by ignorant, but well meaning, friends. A quick google search of “wine and pregnancy” will lead to link after link of falsehood spread as truth – and the wine industry is prohibited from countering these lies with the truth.

For a short time, 20 or more wineries were going to include, “To learn the health effects of wine consumption, send for the Federal Government Dietary Guidelines for Americans.” on their wine labels. The Dietary Guidelines, while almost wholly damning of alcohol consumption, bending to overwhelming scientific evidence included two new lines, “Alcoholic beverages have been used to enhance the enjoyment of meals by many societies throughout human history,” and, “Current evidence suggests that moderate drinking is associated with a lower risk for coronary heart disease in some individuals.”

Neo-prohibitionist and tramplers of the US constitution’s First Amendment, guaranteeing free speech, threw a fit. Rather than allow a winery to point at a government pamphlet in advertising or on a label, without mention of any health benefit; these forces for ignorance pushed through a new requirement: any winery mentioning the dietary guideline pamphlet must include a new warning on their label and promotional material, “this statement should not encourage you to drink or to increase your alcohol consumption for health reasons.”

Some of the information the government is preventing wineries from telling you about includes:

Men with high blood pressure who drink one or two drinks a day were 44 percent less likely to die from cardiovascular disease, according to a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Light-to-moderate alcohol consumption is associated lower risks of coronary heart disease, ischemic stroke, and total mortality in elderly men and women…These findings suggest that light-to-moderate alcohol consumption is associated with a reduced risk of dementia in individuals aged 55 or older, according to a six year study by Dr. Ruitenberg in the Netherlands, published in The Lancet

Moderate drinkers had 50% fewer deaths from coronary disease than abstainers, according to the 60 year Framingham Heart Study

Preliminary evidence in a Harvard study suggest that longevity may be increased in red wine drinkers, while European studies point to a possibility that Alzheimer’s and other cognitive degeneration may be postponed for moderate drinkers.

Light drinking pregnant women, not abstainers, have the best chance of delivering a baby of optimal weight, according to Dr. Robert Sokol of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse in Detroit.

Mentioned above, there is the study of 33,300 California women, 47% of whom drank moderately during their pregnancies. Not one had a baby with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.

There were fewer stillbirths and fewer losses of fetus due to early labor among women who consumed a moderate level of alcohol, according to a study by Little and Weinberg, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology

Children of moderate drinkers tend to score the highest on developmental tests at the age of 18 months, according to the book Alcohol and the Fetus, by Dr. Rosset and Dr. Wiener.

There is research that shows moderate drinking during pregnancy may actually help the development of the child after birth, according to a study by Dr. Whitten and Dr. Lipp of the University of California at San Francisco

But what about the government warning on the label warning about birth defects for pregnant women who choose to drink moderately? The government can’t lie, can they?

The campaign against drinking during pregnancy started in 1973 when several studies showed that heavy drinking during pregnancy can cause a condition known as ‘Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.’ These studies demonstrated that the children of many alcoholic mothers were born with a cluster of severe birth defects.“What the government conveniently chose to ignore” say Dr. Whitten and Dr. Lipp, is that “this syndrome is extremely rare, occurring only 3 times in 100,000 births, and only when the mother drinks abusively throughout her pregnancy”.

In the absence of valid, and useful information to the contrary, many people make grossly incorrect assumptions about wine and health, and wine and pregnancy. Our government forces wineries to print one sided, misleading, and possibly false information on their labels, and prohibits the dissemination of the many health benefits associated with moderate, responsible consumption of wine. This ridiculous censorship, combined with the efforts of anti-alcohol forces*, leads otherwise intelligent people to make a pregnant woman feel bad if she has a sip of wine.

If you don’t drink at all, don’t feel that you need to start if you become pregnant. If you abuse alcohol, stop; your life is at risk, as well as your baby’s if you become pregnant. If, however, you enjoy the responsible, moderate, consumption of wine with dinner, and you become pregnant, don’t feel compelled to abstain for the health of your unborn child.

Moderate consumption of wine during pregnancy is shown to lead to safer births and healthier, smarter children than those born to either abstainers or abusers of alcohol.

Sometimes, being between jobs is nice. Because I do not work for a winery or wine distributer, I am able to tell you the truth that those in the industry are prohibited from telling you. Just sayin’.

If you are reading this, and are pregnant, I toast you. The good news is that you can raise a glass in response. Cheers!


*see the ‘talking points’ memo created by these neo-prohibitionists to beat back mention of a possible health benefit in the official US Dietary Guidelines pamphlet at http://www.cspinet.org/booze/talkpoint2.htm .

sources:

http://www.beekmanwine.com/prevtopak.htm

http://www.framingham.com/heart/backgrnd.htm

http://www.winepros.org/wine101/wine-health.htm

http://www.rayjohnsononwine.com/health_benefits_wine.htm

http://www2.potsdam.edu/hansondj/healthissues/1084904085.htmlhttp://www.peele.net/lib/bottle.htmlhttp://www.thefreelibrary.com/Drink+up+anyway.+(Wine+Label+Censorship).-a0101174742

For those interested in the topic of alcohol and health, I recommend Gene Ford’s book , “The Science of Healthy Drinking”.

UPDATE:

I have caused a bit of an uproar with a wine column that ran Thursday, May 2, 2013. This column was recycled and used.

My wine and pregnancy piece was actually written 4 years ago and was an extension of an online conversation with my niece who was pregnant. Much of the basis for the article was a long article regarding the science of moderate consumption during pregnancy that appeared in Wine Spectator before my son was born.

My son’s mom had the very occasional half glass of wine with a meal, and my son was the tallest boy in his grade throughout elementary school each year, played as a center on CYO, city, and school basketball teams, and regularly crushed any standardized test he took.

I am pretty sure my mom had more than a single drink of alcohol, and probably smoked, when she was pregnant with me, as did the mothers of many of the people I know who are my age. The people I know, of my generation, seem to be doing well.

I posted this piece here in 2010 and it generated positive feedback. I was contacted by some pregnancy forums, and thanked for the post.

I was completely ignorant of the information accumulation regarding drinking while pregnant, or the move beyond Fetal Alcohol Syndrome to include lower birth weights and other symptoms to identify a larger collection of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorders, existing now.

In addition to a counterpoint column from our county’s public health officer and other letters in the paper following my column, I have heard from members of the medical community who shared that we live in a county with serious drug addiction problems and, for these people, alcohol is a drug, and it is better to be absolutist and say that no amount of alcohol is safe during pregnancy than give folks, who the piece wasn’t written for, a sense that they are not likely harming their child with their abuse.

I also was contacted by some mothers with adopted children that do suffer from FASD and/or FAS. The stories they shared were personal, tragic, and compelling. They, too, would urge that no alcohol be consumed during pregnancy, and each said that spending a week, or even a day, with their children would drive the point home more strongly than any words.
Obviously, I would never have allowed the piece to be recycled for my newspaper wine column if the response years ago to the same piece online wasn’t overwhelmingly positive.

I apologize for the outrage I caused with my recycled piece, but hope the conversations started through the controversy lead to more informed choices. I, for one, probably learned the most.

John

About a decade ago, there was a very active ABC movement among the wine community. ABC stands for Anything But Chardonnay.

The country was awash in rivers of Chardonnay, it was being ordered in bars and restaurants by the glass and bottle in amazing volumes.

The Chardonnay grape produces a juice that, when fermented, yields wine notes of crisp green apple and possible tropical notes like pineapple if cold fermented. Wine made from Chardonnay can seem sour in its tartness.

A secondary fermentation, malolactic fermentation, can transform malic acid notes of tart green apple to lactic acid notes of butter and cream.

Another winemaking method of changing Chardonnay’s flavors is to age the wine in oak barrels instead of holding the juice in stainless steel tanks. The oak barrel can impart notes of oak, toast, clove, caramel, butterscotch, and vanilla on the Chardonnay. Additional, more intense oak flavors are achieved when the Chardonnay is fermented, not just aged, in oak.

I think Kendall-Jackson is largely responsible for the enormous increase in Chardonnay’s popularity.

Kendall-Jackson sourced Chardonnay grapes from all over California, and ran all of the juice through malolactic and held the wine in oak barrels. The result was a buttery wine of oak, toast, cream and vanilla. Kendall-Jackson sold so much wine that other wineries were making Kendal-Jackson Chardonnay through custom crush relationships, as much as 250,000 cases of a label at a time.

People came to expect all Chardonnays to taste of butter, toast, cream, and vanilla.  Soon, other wineries were hiding the varietal character of Chardonnay, the unique fruit notes, by increasing their use of malolactic fermentation and oak aging.

There was a time when all Chardonnays were boringly the same. Bottles of oak and butter, the fruit nearly gone.

It was said that if you put a rock through malolactic fermentation, held it in oak, and slapped a Kendall-Jackson label on it, it would taste of oak, toast, cream, and vanilla, with very little fruit, and someone would put it in their mouth to find out.

Thus was born the ABC crowd. Anything But Chardonnay, give me something that tastes like grape, varietally correct, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Chenin Blanc, Marsanne, Riesling, Gewurtztraminer, Viognier, Pinot Gris, anything still held in stainless, anything with fruit notes please.

If you have seen the incredible wine movie Sideways, you heard Miles, the main character, pronounce, “If anyone orders Merlot, I’m leaving. I am not drinking any fucking Merlot.”

Like Chardonnay, Merlot is often boring, bland, uninteresting, yet easy to drink with very little varietal character getting in the way. Miles could just as easily have declared, “I am not drinking any fucking Chardonnay,” but it wouldn’t make much sense for Miles to visit Santa Barbara, a big grower of Chardonnay, and complain about the varietal.

Does this mean that I never drink Chardonnay, or that I recommend that you don’t?

No.

The great news is that in the last decade, wineries have decided that malolactic fermentation and oak aging are winemaker tools, but they don’t have to be used fully, or at all, with every Chardonnay.

Chardonnay, which was nearly uniformly boring as everyone chased Kendall-Jackson’s style because of Kendal-Jackson’s sales, is now an exciting wine to taste.

There are now wineries choosing to forego malolactic fermentation with their Chardonnay, and have clear tart green apple notes in their releases. Other wineries are choosing to put only a portion of their Chardonnay juice through malolactic and blending it with juice that hasn’t been put through this secondary fermentation.

Similarly, some wineries are holding their fruit in stainless steel tanks instead of oak barrels and allowing the fruit free rein. Other wineries hold some of their juice in stainless and some in oak and blend the juices to have notes of fruit and oak.

With blends possible ranging from no malolactic or oak to 100% malolactic and oak, the possible winemaking choices are nearly infinite. Winemakers are using these tools in different percentages and making wines that are unique, even exciting.

Imagine, as an example, visiting a tasting room and finding a Chardonnay where one third of the juice was fermented in oak, two thirds in stainless. Of the two thirds fermented in stainless; one third was aged in new french oak, one third was held in new american oak, one sixth in one year old American oak, and the remaining sixth was aged in stainless. Sixty percent of the juice underwent malolactic fermentation. Complex. Unique.

Chardonnay, once boring, predictable, is now a fun wine to taste. With winemakers using the tools I’ve talked about, and many others, differently, the finished wine is often a surprise. To me that makes wine tasting Chardonnays much more enjoyable.

I woke up looking forward to doing some wine tasting. My plan was to go to Fetzer’s beautiful tasting room and gardens at their hospitality center in Hopland. Well coated against the cold, the day was beautiful, the mountains misty as ribbons of fog bedecked the mountain folds surrounding the Ukiah Valley.

I hadn’t visited the Fetzer tasting room in seven years, it isn’t really conveniently located, but I wanted to taste their dozen wines and find a jewel or two to recommend as a drinking wine, and perhaps a few more that would pair well with foods. I wanted to write about wines that were available in every store, and at prices that are affordable to anyone that can find their way to my blog.

Fifteen minutes south I turned off the 101 and drove down the empty Tuesday morning road to the Fetzer property. I drove over a bridge spanning the Russian River and came upon what had been the hospitality center for Fetzer.

Signs forbidding entry blocked the roads onto the property, previously maintained gardens gone wild, “for sale” signs. I began to suspect that I would not be tasting Fetzer’s wines.

I continued another few miles up the road to Fetzer’s winemaking facility. It is huge, and quiet in the post harvest, between Christmas and New Year’s Day, way that almost all wineries are quiet. I drove to the Administration building, and the receptionist confirmed my suspicion: I would indeed not be tasting Fetzer wines.

Note to Brown-Forman: How about putting a tasting room on 101 in Hopland, where Brutocao, McFadden, McDowell, Dogwood/Three Families, and Graziano all have tasting facilities? You could have one facility for your Fetzer, Bonterra, and Sanctuary brands. Not as grand as your previous Fetzer Hospitality Center, closed about three years, but accessible and economically sustainable. Just asking’.

I woke up prepared to taste wines, and I was not going to be deterred by a mere tasting room closure. I got back on the 101 and headed south another half hour to Healdsburg, where Mendocino County’s Topel Winery has located their tasting room at 125 Matheson across from the Oakville grocery.

Walking in the tasting room door at Topel, I was welcomed almost immediately by Kevin Roach. Kevin asked what types of wines I prefer as he welcomed me to taste. I let him know I prefer Reds, but enjoy whites as well, and asked him to pour me his four favorite wines out of the fourteen available, the ones most likely to knock my socks off.

Kevin first poured me a glass of the 2007 Pinot Noir, Serendipity, Monterey. While I swirled and sniffed the wine, I looked over the tasting room. Attractive, well laid out, lots of dark wood and copper. Wood cabinets for Topel branded clothing, and for literature display. A smaller (VIP?) private tasting room with table is available as well.

Kevin told me that the grapes for the 100% Pinot came from the Chalone Vineyard, which is located in the Gabilan Mountain range. The Topel website identifies the grapes as coming from Monterey County’s Serendipity Vineyard. Wherever the grapes came from in Monterey County, 2007 was kind to these grapes, and the wine was luscious, with cherry sweet tart and raisoned cranberry aromas and raspberry and cherry flavors. Round, smooth, and balanced. This wine was wonderful. $28/bottle.

Wine #2 was Topel’s 2005 Estate Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. 92% Cab, 4% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot. I was pleased to taste this wine. I am a Sonoma County boy, born and raised. the wines I grew up with, tasted, sold, were Sonoma County wines. I live in Ukiah now, in Mendocino County, and I wanted this wine to taste good, I wanted the grapes from my new home to be good ones.

The 2005 Cab had a really low tannin load, was very approachable, with light herb and dark red cherry and berry fruit on the nose and repeating in the mouth. Velvety, smooth, soft, and balanced, with nice subtle notes. This is not a typical brick bat Cab, but a nicely drinkable Cab. $36/bottle.

Wine # 3 was the one year newer, just released three weeks ago, 2006 Estate Reserve Cabernet. 96% Cab, 2% Merlot, 2% Petit Verdot. Same wine, again smooth. A little more tannin evident, but soft. Similar nose and flavor profile to the 2005 Cab; with chocolate and black cherry. Definitely younger, a little edgy. I would let it lay down a while longer. $36/bottle.

The final wine I tasted was the 2006 Topel Estate Blend. 45% Cabernet. 45% Syrah Noir, 5% Merlot, and 5% Petit Verdot. I have never heard of Syrah Noir, Kevin explained that it was a clone of Syrah. The grapes for this unique blend come from Topel’s vineyards on Duncan Peak, west of Hopland in Mendocino County.

Kevin told me that this wine is owner Mark Topel’s favorite wine, I found it unusual. with notes of plum, prune, and fig newton. Again, virtually no tannin load, another incredibly soft wine. I want to retaste this wine the most. The unusual blend led to unusual flavors, and this might be the best, most versatile food pairing wine I tasted at Topel. $36/bottle.

All four wines were soft, supple, balanced, approachable, very drinkable. Tannin providing structure to hand fruit on, but staying out of the way of enjoying the wines. Well oaken, but not oaky. In a word: smooth.

I want the Pinot to drink, the Cabs to have with grilled tri tip, and the Estate blend to get to know better.

I set out to taste affordable wines, under $20, and ended up tasting wines in the $20-$40 range instead. My mission to taste and recommend inexpensive, available, good wines has not been forgotten; but I am really glad I stopped in to taste these four wines from Topel Winery.

My last blog entry, about how the wine industry could do a better job of marketing their product and how wine writers could try to reach beyond the small circle of people they write for and try to reach a larger audience through a serious decrease in snobbery, seems to have struck a chord.

I have seen links to my article receive tweets and retweets, diggs, and email forwardings. My blog numbers have exploded. I have gone from nowhere to the #4 top blog on Wine Blog Network Rankings.

Most importantly, I started a conversation; a real one with differing viewpoints. I am thrilled and amazed at the number of people that have found their way here to my blog, I am so incredibly grateful that some of you felt moved enough to share your thoughts here, on facebook, and by email.

This blog entry is about you, my readers, and what you have had to say in response to my last entry. Here is our conversation so far, please feel free to keep it going.

Shannon L., blog author’s friend, Dec 27 2009 8:46 PM

Walmart and Costco also sell Menage a Trois. Costco being the cheapest at $6.99 a bottle.

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Kelly Doyle Mitchell, owner of juicyplants.com, Dec 27 2009, 8:52 PM

Great read! Loved what he had to say about marketing and the (over)pricing in restaurants!

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John Cesano, blog author, Dec 27 2009, 8:59 PM

Again, better with food than by iteslf, but an absolutely GREAT food wine, and only $1.17 per glass from Costco. Wow. Beer prices for this wine’s superior food pairing qualities. That’s what the wine industry should be telling folks.

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Rob McLean, article inspiration, Dec 27 2009, 9:39 PM

Ok, so I am starting to see some of the light. My parents drank wine but mostly the famous box wines you’d find while at the grocery chain.
I being of the industrial worker type always enjoyed beer and shots as opposed to wine. I must admit a little wine does go a long way, at least to my head.
Appreciate the nod from this writer and friend, I will keep reading and eventually perhaps even change my beer drinking tunes. Admittedly Mr.Cesano already has me looking at the wine in my grocery outlet with more interest. Just haven’t committed as of yet.
Keep it up John, you are the future when it comes to a friendly voice in the wine writing community. I am sure of that.

Always
RK McLean

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Nancy Cameron Iannios, Oregon’s best tasting room and wine club manager, Dec 28 2009, 10:38 AM

Wonderful John! This is my favorite blog yet. I truly believe this would be a worthy submission for national publication with one of the big wine magazines…you should give it a try! I’m definitely going to pass it along to all of my So. Oregon wine associates. It is something that needs to be addressed! I cannot tell you how many guests have stepped right up to the tasting bar with an immediate disclaimer: “please don’t laugh at me if I don’t taste the wine correctly…I’ve never done ‘this’ before.”
First and foremost, wine should be fun and the stigmas associated with wine do need to loosen up. You don’t have to comment on the nose. It’s not necessary to recognize the nuances. You needn’t concern yourself with whether or not you are holding the glass correctly. Wine is meant to be enjoyed. You either like it or you don’t and you definitely do not have to agree with what you read or with what you hear. Reviews aren’t the final authorative word; they are merely one person’s perception and opinion. Each person’s taste buds allow for the final personal review.
The absolute beauty of wine is that it’s subjective. Each person’s experience is as unique as their own fingerprints. Tasting notes are more of an exercise in creative writing than they are a carved in stone description. I’ve seen many a concerned guest struggle to pick up on a flavor that is suggested in tasting notes. A gracious host/hostess can immediately address such concerns and save the whole experience.
I totally agree that you needn’t depend upon the price tag on a bottle of wine in order to enjoy an enhanced food experience. My daughter Rachel turned me onto Bogle Merlot about a year ago. You can purchase it at almost every supermarket for about $7.99. It has allowed me to have a dinner by candlelight experience in between paychecks on more than one occasion!

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John Cesano, blog author, Dec 28 2009, 3:57 PM

Robert Parker Jr. just gave a Napa wine you’ve never heard of (Dana Estates’ 2007 Lotus Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon), that you’ll never see (only 250 cases made), that you wouldn’t buy ($275 for a bottle of last year’s release), a perfect 100 point s rating. seriously, who really cares? Way to go wine industry, just keep shoveling that news that no real person cares about.

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Shannon L., blog authors friend, Dec 28 2009, 4:49 PM

I love what Nancy has to say. I believe she should submit it so some publication!
I admit, I buy my wine purely by if I like the picture or the title of the vineyard on the label!
I either like it, or I don’t. That simple.

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Shannon E., Wine Goddess, Dec 28 2009, 6:53 PM

[Parker] has to sell his newsletter and books. Look at his audience. Those dudes (readers) need to think they have something up on everyone else. Don’t sweat it just use it in your comedy routine (who is Dana? Is she THAT hot?)

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John Cesano, blog author, Dec 28 2009, 7:06 PM

Today, I checked in with the twitterati of winedom, and the big news was that Robert Parker, THE wine critic, had deigned to grant a 100 point score to a Napa Cabernet you have never heard of (Dana Estates’ 2007 Lotus Vineyard Cab), will never see a bottle of in person (only 250 cases produced), and can’t afford ($275/bottle for last year’s release, this year’s will likely be more). Really, who cares, besides a bunch of wine geek, Frasier Crane wanna-be, Napa cult Cab, fan boys? This news will not effect one single person I know.

Let me say it again clearly to wine writers and the wine industry: give real people news that they can use. Tell real people about wines that are readily available, do not cost an arm and a leg, and pair well with the food people eat at dinner time. Give people a reason to try your product, instead of writing for each other about things real people will never care about.

Just sayin’.

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Josh, author of drinknectar.com, Dec 29 2009, 8:58 AM

This was a very good and well written piece. The wine industry is behind the curve when it comes to 1) vision and 2) marketing and 3) distribution (don’t get me started here)

I love to debunk the wine snobbery of it all. There are a few good wine writers trying to do the same. Both John and Nancy are spot on in their comments too.

Josh @nectarwine (twitter)

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Tamara, author do sipwithme.blogspot.com, Dec 29 2009, 9:03 AM

Good article and I hear what you’re saying, but I personally find it more interesting to taste (and read about) quality over quantity. Not just wine either, same goes for beer. I can drink a tall boy for next to nothing or I can indulge in a deliciously handcrafted local ale. I’d pay 5 times the amount for the microbrew… and I’d be more likely to read a review about it too. Same for food for that matter. Do you want to read about a Big Mac you can get for under $5 or do you want to read about and taste the juicy gourmet kobe beef hamburger loaded with toppings you could never imagine on a burger (like a quails egg!)? News that you can use is good, but it has to be more than just about value. Just sayin’. icon_wink.gif

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John Cesano, blog author, Dec 29 2009, 10:41 AM

Tamara, your points are valid…as far as they go. When I visited friend in Oregon a couple of months ago, I did not drink a single Budweiser, but I did enjoy a handcrafted IPA or two at Wild River Brewing in Grants Pass. When I listed my 10 Perfect Foods, Kobe beef made the list. I have waxed poetic over wines that most folks, outside of the circle of wine geeks (and yes I consider myself one), will never taste as well.

With nearly every wine writer writing about wines that regular folks will never taste, it just perpetuates the wine industry’s failures to effectively market their wines to a wider audience. If you venture from Oregon to Napa, I’ll look forward to reading your review of the 2007 Dana Estates Lotus Vineyard Cabernet. Your prose is solid, and, as I am a self-professed wine geek, it would be interesting to read your review of a wine no one I know will never taste.

Handcrafted beers, and even Kobe beef, are available to the average consumer. Many of the wines I read reviews of are not.

You seem to be likening the wines I would recommend regular folks try with their meals, over the beer or iced tea they currently drink, to a 24 ounce can of Budweiser. It is just that attitude, dare I say snobbery, that puts so many people off ordering wine.

I love quality. I acknowledge that many more $20 wines will appeal to my palate than $10 wines, and there is a great likelihood that I will enjoy a $40 wine more than a $20 wine; but I’m not writing for myself, or for a circle of other wine writers. I have chosen to write for my friends, most of whom are just just regular folks, most of whom too rarely drink wine. I will write try to find “value” wines that taste good, or pair well with food, review and recommend them. I’ve taken on the job the industry doesn’t do, trying to get regular folks to drink wine now and again.

I think I’m on the right track, this was my most read blog entry by far.

Thanks for the comment. I love your blog and I’m adding it to my blog roll.

John

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John Vitale, editor & publisher of Washington Tasting Room Magazine, Dec 29 2009 1:48 PM

I read your post “So, you don’t get wine writers or the wine industry?” with a big grin on my face.

Cheers, keep up the good work on your blog!

John Vitale

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Scott Casey, Man of Mystery, Dec 29, 2009 9:59 PM

Love your Blog John. I agree with you 1000% wine beats all drinks when it comes to food.

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Nancy Cameron Iannios, Oregon’s best tasting room and wine club manager, Dec 29 2009, 10:10 PM

I’m definitely not trying to get into any debates, but I’m 100% behind John on this entire subject. I’m not convinced that a high priced bottle of wine is a guarantee of “quality”. I personally prefer red wines that have been fermented in New French Oak rather than American Oak. The cost of New French Oak is much more expensive than American Oak so wine producers have to cover their costs by pricing their wines accordingly. New French Oak aging is my personal preference but it’s not an indication of whether or not the wine is of higher “quality”. From my experience there are lots of marketing ploys involved in determining price points. For the most part, these price points have absolutely nothing to do with the actual quality of the wine and have more to do with a marketing manager’s opinion about what is going to make their product move at the best percentage of profit. Some people automatically see value in something with a higher price tag on it, but wine is no different than any other product…it’s about supply and demand and impressions left through marketing efforts. Most “impressions” in the wine industry are created with a sense of snobbery that appeals to a specific market. I think the point that John is trying to make is about industry “impressions” that leave the ordinary person feeling that wine is unapproachable. The “ordinary” person accounts for a much higher percentage of the buying population. So, purely from a numbers standpoint, the wine industry could probably sell more product to a wider audience if they were to take the snob appeal out of their product.

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John Cesano, blog author, Dec 29 2009, 11:37 PM

Nancy, I always welcome your comments. You have a viewpoint I respect, and as the best Oregon tasting room and wine club manager I know, your opinions enrich this blog.

To be fair, I am thrilled with Tamara’s comment as well. I would love people to look at my entries as the beginning of a conversation. I welcome comments, and mine is not the only valid viewpoint. It is entirely possible, perhaps probable, that I will be completely wrong in something I write. Tamara’s thoughts were so well presented that I added her to my blogroll immediately.

As Tamara’s blog is about visiting every Oregon tasting room in a year, it is more than likely that the two of you, Nancy and Tamara, have met.

I tried to taste wines at Fetzer’s tasting room in Hopland today, only to find it was closed about 3 years ago. Instead, I tasted some delicious wines from Topel Winery of Mendocino County at their tasting room in Healdsburg. While I’ll be putting up a new entry tomorrow recapping my visit to Topel’s tasting room, I can say that getting out to taste inexpensive wines looking for some jewels will be hampered if large wine groups are closing their brand’s tasting rooms.

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Denise Slattery, triovintners.com, Dec 30 2009 8:00 AM

Hi – This is a great summation of what’s screwed up in this industry. I like what I have read here. Thanks very much. Couple of things to add: I make wine and have a small winery which is holding on financially but a bit stressed at this time (who isn’t?) I would say the hardest job I have (besides cleaning barrels and tanks!) is marketing my wine. It’s not just about pouring samples in a tasting room. It’s really a 360 degree process that requires me to have everything buttoned up in terms of marketing and communications. Fortunately I really enjoy this part and like the challenge, but I am stunned at how stupidly the industry has organized itself, especially with regard to the point scale / medal winning / incomprehensible review system that we are all (consumers and trade alike) forced to contend with. I loathe kowtowing to the point-people and therefore do not send wine to WS or WA for review. But I second guess myself on this decision with each new release….”What if we actually got a high score on a wine from WS? That’s good for business. Right?”

Most of the wineries in this county (and there are something like 6,000 +) are small, family-run operations that are thriving because they are focused on small lot productions and a hand-crafted product. Making only 250 cases of a particular wine for me is mostly a matter of economics, not about creating an aura of exclusivity. Is the wine better because there’s less of it? Not necessarily. Does it cost more to make because there is less of it? Of course. But I think the point should not be lost on consumers that when it’s gone, it’s gone. So, pay attention and try it because it’s going to provide an experience for you. Not because so-and-so gave it 100 points. Right?

Finally, the craziest obstacle to promoting more everyday wine consumption is the insane restrictions that states apply to the sale of wine. As long as these hold-over restrictions from prohibition continue, and the three-tier system is protected, wineries are prevented from direct to consumer trade in many states. I can deal with the TTB compliance issues (which are also tedious and arcane but primarily there to capture tax revenue) but I loathe the three-tier system and believe this is a restriction of free trade. I think it’s down right anti- American!

To each and every one of you, thank you for writing this blog entry. Your opinions and viewpoints, uniquely yours, benefit us all when shared, and enrich my blog tremendously. Keep reading, keep commenting, keep sipping. Consider signing up as a subscriber of the blog too, Thanks! -John

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