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Photograph by Tom Liden

For many years, I attended wine events, first as a wine enthusiast, then someone working in the wine industry, and finally as a wine writer with a weekly newspaper wine column; I love wine events.

The opportunity, with one ticket price, to enjoy focused wine tastes, whether of an area like the Passport to Dry Creek Valley offers, or a varietal like ZAP’s Zinfandel Experience offers, or both area and varietal like the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival offers, is outstanding and allows an enormous number of tastes in a condensed period of time.

I always enjoyed attending good wine events, and appreciated those that were planned and executed well, but until I became the Executive Director of the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association (AVWA), I had no idea how much work went into putting on a successful wine event.

Last week, we held the 19th annual Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival; a multi day, multi event, multi venue wine festival, running Thursday, May 19 through Sunday, May 22.

Not to complain, be cause I love my job, but this was the absolute hardest week of work I’ve experienced in my life, and I am happy to say that all of the events that make up the festival were a success, attendees enjoyed themselves as much as I used to attending the festival events. I enjoyed the festival, but can honestly say that attending is definitely more fun than working.

As hard as I may have worked, I was not alone by any means; a small army of volunteers made this festival the success that it was, and I have nothing but thanks to every single person that contributed time and effort to the festival’s success.

The events kicked off with a Thursday Winemakers’ Workshop, a new event that allowed about 30 producers of Anderson Valley Pinot Noir to blind taste each other’s unfinished 2015 vintage barrel samples in a private, not open to the public, setting, and freely share notes intended to help craft better wines when finished. Three people, Alex Crangle, Michael Fay, and Michael Accurso, were instrumental in pulling this event together, and in planning that evenings private Welcome Dinner for the Press, an informal BBQ featuring some of the best ribs I have ever tasted.

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Photograph by John Cesano

Friday saw the well attended Technical Conference, which featured educational seminars and seated panel tastings. Thanks to our breakfast sponsor, The Nature Conservancy; our lunch sponsor, G-3/Diam Closures; and our glassware sponsor, Lehmann Glass/Kiyasa Group.

As a wine geek, most exciting to me, was the new stemware donated specifically for our technical conferences. First, there was a sensory evaluation still wine stem, with a flatter than ordinary bowl bottom, an expanded bulbous lower bowl half, and a tapered narrowing upper half. These glasses looked acorn shaped, and stretched a wine, allowed increased aeration during swirling, and focused aromas to the nose. I love them, and they were used for three events; Thursday’s Winemaker Workshop, and the concurrent Friday Technical Conference and private Press Tasting.

The second glasses were designed for sparkling wines, with more pointed bottoms, and a more bulbous bowl, tapering to the opening. These glasses allowed increased bubble stream, enhanced aroma, and all of that again focused to the nose. Each attendee had four smaller glasses for the day’s final tasting, and one larger Grand Champagne stem, to pour the favorite wine from the four into, and enjoy a heightened sensory experience.

With all of the events, the one task I saw as the most difficult was trying to change over from four still wine glasses to five sparkling wine glasses, with four sparkling wines poured, for 124 places, in the half hour, during a break, that the program schedule allowed. The task was made more challenging when the preceding session ran long, allowing just 22 minutes for the change over.

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Photograph by John Cesano

My thanks go to all of the Technical Conference attendees for making this miracle occur. I took to the stage, gave a series of directions, and like a practiced team, the attendees rinsed, dumped, and put the still wine glasses into boxes, then pulled the new sparkling wine glasses out of other boxes, with a team of pourers getting the right wines into the right glasses, and all was done one minute before the final, sparkling wine, session was scheduled to begin.

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Photograph by John Cesano

I mentioned that a private Press Tasting was held concurrent to the Technical Conference. In a room nearly adjacent, at the Mendocino County Fairgrounds, Suzi Carrell transformed an empty room and created an inviting experience for attending members of the wine press, who tasted an Anderson Valley Pinot Noir from each of the festival’s participating wineries, during breaks, lunch, sessions skipped, and after the conference. Thank you Suzi.

The craziest, and most gratifying, thing happened at the end of the Technical Conference, as a team of people were working to break it down. I was told that I had to leave before the work was finished, to move on to the evening’s Casual BBQ at Pennyroyal Farm, but as I looked back I noticed that all five winemaking AVWA Board of Directors members were still working away, packing and cleaning. Thanks to Joe Webb, Michael Fay, Alex Crangle, Randy Schock, and Arnaud Weyrich. Along with Paula Viehmann and Norman Kobler, you make up the best Board of Directors than an Executive Director could ask for.

Friday evening, at Pennyroyal Farm in Boonville, Kacy Palmieri, our Event Coordinator at AVWA, along with Vicky and her husband Dan Sitts, were already checking people in when I arrived, and barely needed my help. Karin Strykowki, Audrey Perrone, and the entire combined staff of Pennyroyal Farm and Navarro Vineyard did an amazing job ensuring that the guests had a wonderful time. Thanks all.

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Photograph by Tom Liden

Saturday is the day of our big Grand Tasting, under a big tent, in the vineyards behind the tasting room, at Goldeneye Winery in Philo, and once again there was an army of volunteers to help set up, empty dump buckets and trash cans, keep caterers stocked with plates and wineries stocked with water, and at the end helping to break it all down. The volunteer team was led by volunteer coordinator Peggy Ridley, and the crew was too large to mention individually, but the event would not be possible without each of you. Thank you.

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Photograph by Tom Liden

Thanks too to the 56 participating wineries who poured their Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, and the eight caterers who provided delicious food creations to pair perfectly with the Pinots poured. Thanks also to the wineries for their donations that will see over $20,000 going to the Anderson Valley Health Center. Your generosity is humbling, as is that of the successful winning bidders on the auction lots, including the huge original painting by artist Gerald Reis, the art used on all of our festival promotional material, that went for $3,500. Thank you all.

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Photograph by Tom Liden

Thanks to Paula Viehmann, tasting room manager extraordinaire at Goldeneye Winery, who helped greatly with all things related to the Grand Tasting, as well as the entire crew at Goldeneye who moved a mountain of wine and other supplies from storage to the tent. Thanks especially to Pancho, and to Remy Martin.

Remy Martin, that’s really his name, is a dynamo, and helped move material from the AVWA office to the fairgrounds, to Pennyroyal Farm, and to Goldeneye, and was there to help clean, pack, and move it all back to the AVWA office at festival’s end.

Just as there is no me in executing the thousands of details involved in putting on the festival’s events, but an army, there was also a team behind all of the planning, and my thanks go to every member of the festival planning committee. Of note, Metah Green of Husch Vineyards was a catering contract negotiating machine. Again, without you, there is no festival. Thanks all!

There were three Winemaker Dinners on Saturday night, at Roederer Estate, Scharffenberger Cellars, and the Ledford House. Thanks to the wineries involved, but special thanks go to Sharon Sullivan, Saffron Fraser, and Chris Lanier who ran the three dinners for all of your able help.

On Sunday, all of the AVWA members with tasting rooms in the valley, who participated in the festival’s Grand Tasting, held open houses, variously offering wine tasting, food pairings, and music.

I didn’t get to attend the open houses, or sleep as initially intended, but came back to Boonville to pick up Nick Passmore, a wine writer for Forbes, at 6:30 am, for a ride back to the San Francisco airport on Sunday morning.

I’ll be honest, I would have loved to sleep in. After Saturday, I was brutally body sore and exhausted, but driving Nick to the airport was one of the most fun things I did over the course of the festival.

Within two notes of the radio coming on, as I started the car, Nick called the band, “Grateful Dead,” he said. Indeed it was, and for three hours, we talked about wine and the Grateful Dead. Nick even compared the Donna Jean and Keith Godchaux era Dead, 1972-79, his favorite era with the bright piano notes and female vocals, to adding acid to a closed wine, to open it and allow the fruit to pop. I likened the Brent Mydland era, 1979-1990, with his gravelly voice and Hammond B-3 organ, to 20% neutral oak and 20% malolactic fermentation adding depth and complexity to an otherwise straightforward stainless steel zero ml white wine.

Thanks Nick Passmore for being a good guy, an interesting guy, and a wonderful traveling companion.

Thanks to the entire AVWA staff; Kristy Charles for your stellar work with media relations (and thanks to the wine press Kristy brought in for attending), Floriane Weyrich for her social media prowess, Kacy Palmieri for everything you do – it isn’t one thing, it is everything, I adore you and value you more than you can know.

I attended this Festival (again, more fun attending) each of the last three years, and I wrote recaps each year. Each time, I noted the incredible competence of my predecessor, Janis MacDonald. I had no idea how much work she did, but I recognized that she did it well. This year, Janis stayed involved, and helped me, taught me, guided me, and was of incredible value. I adore Janis, am thankful for her support, and her friendship. You are a class act.

I know there are people I’ve forgotten to thank, names unnamed, contributions unnoted, and for that I apologize. You, the army who delivered a host of successful festival events for our attendees, are all superstars in my book.

Finally, thanks to our festival attendees. We had the largest numbers in festival history, and sold out events earlier than ever before. I hope you had a great time, and enjoyed this peek behind the curtain at all that went into giving you the 19th annual Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival.

I’ll see you all next year for the 20th; tickets go on sale March 15, 2017.

In a rental tent over their crush pad at Foursight Winery in Boonville, Joe Webb and his wife Kristy Charles, and Kristy’s parents Bill and Nancy Charles, hosted a ten year vertical tasting, 2006 through 2015, of their Pinot Noir wines, made with fruit from the Charles Vineyard.

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The light April rain that fell couldn’t dampen the spirits of the assembled tasters, or the enthusiasm of the event hosts, “it seems shocking this is our tenth vintage, it seems like we just started,” Bill Charles shared.

The event proceeded with each vintage being poured, Joe Webb describing the winemaking choices, Bill Charles describing the choices made in the vineyard, and Kristy Charles describing the wine flavors. The wines were poured in order from 2006 to 2015, with one exception; the 2008 vintage was poured last, as fires throughout California led to wines from Mendocino County with egregiously smoky forest fire notes.

All of the Foursight Pinot Noir come from the Charles Vineyard, of clones 777, 115, 114, and Pommard 05, with wild yeast and wild malolactic fermentation, are unfined and unfiltered (except the 2008 which say filtration), spend 10 months in French oak with varying percentages in new oak, and are made with 10-50% whole clusters.

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The 2006 Foursight Pinot Noir, Charles Vineyard showed the ten years, with a slightly brickish rim and an aged wine sherry note.

Joe described the vintage as riper, and felt the wine had peaked.

Bill told of planting the vineyard in 2001, and explained that 2006 was the first year of commercial grape production, with the vines taken to trellis completely, and the vintage producing a large crop, necessitating dropping lots of fruit.

Joe shared that the family used the dropped fruit for a home wine, a sparkling Blanc de Noir.

Kristy said the wine was released in 2008 at a pouring in New York City, right as the economy was crashing, but that the wine was, “an amazing start to a first decade.”

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2007 Foursight “All-In” Pinot Noir, Charles Vineyard was holding up well, with a lighter rim than the 2006. For Joe this was his favorite of the early vintages, 2006 – 2009.

Joe noted this was the first vintage where he used whole clusters, and upon tasting it he noted it is , “turning savory.”

Bill described the vintage as, “unexciting,” from a growers standpoint, “which was great,” yielding, “one of my favorite wines, early, intense flavors in fruit, a good vintage.”

Kristy observed, “quite a bit of cellarability left.”

I picked up woody notes, pomegranate, light rhubarb, cranberry, cherry, raspberry, and bright acidity.
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The tasting moved over the 2008, from 2007 to 2009.
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2009 Foursight Pinot Noir, Charles Vineyard was described by Joes, along with 2007, as the, “vintages of the decade.”

Joe used, “Slightly more whole clusters, “ with this vintage and, “built more structure with stems, used less new oak, for structure and acidity.”

Bill shared that he used sprinklers for 72 hours for frost protection during the year but, “picked early, which was wonderful.” Joe then explained that he sees average 55 degree diurnal temperature swings daily.

Kristy observed that 2009 was, “the year we (Kristy and Joe) were married, the year the winery was built, the first year we poured at the [Anderson Valley] Pinot Noir Festival.”

Kristy pulled, “brown sugar, anise, and baking spice,” notes, to which I would add deeper black cherry and slight vinuous stemmy notes. The wine has some age worthiness left to it, still tightly wrapped and dense, a good wine to pair with food to coax those hidden notes free.

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2010 Foursight Pinot Noir, Charles Vineyard was a medium colored, translucent wine, clear at the rim.

The nose showed cherry, cola, berry, spice and herb, with clove and cranberry on the palate. This was my favorite of the early, 2006 – 2010 vintages. I do love feminine Pinot, and this was a cool vintage, yielding just that.

Joe said he used, “less whole clusters and wasn’t getting as much tannin out of the press, so a little more new oak.”

Where other vintages come in around 175 days between bud break and harvest, Bill said this was a, “cool long vintage,” and took 203 days to bring in.

Interestingly, Bill described two days of extreme heat in August that sunburned the exposed lower tips of bunches, and required cutting off all sunburned grapes with little snips.

Kristy noted, “earth, oak, dark berry fruit, and good acid.”
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2011 was a funny vintage, cold and rainy, and presented difficulties for grape growers and challenges for winemakers. Grapes that require lots of heat, Cabernet and Zinfandel come to mind, from the vintage yielded sub par wines in the vintage, but careful attention in the vineyard and good winemaking choices allowed some of my favorite wines to be made from cool climate areas,

2011 Foursight Pinot Noir, Charles Vineyard, with one deep inhalation, is a reminder of why I liked this difficult vintage. The color is light, light, light.

Joe said this was, “the coolest (temperature) vintage in California wine,” but Foursight, “brought in everything before the winter rains,” at Charles Vineyard.

Heat thickens skins, which give both color and tannin to a wine. Joe noted, “thin skins, pressed as hard as we could for color and tannin…old world techniques…no racking of this wine at all.”

Much of the vintage was used for a Rosé of Pinot Noir.

Bill brought the fruit in after 184 days, and saw rain from June 2-5, but missed the torrents of October.

Kristy said the wine was, “amazing in the mouth, lighter, smoother, strawberry, cherry, cranberry, softer,” than other vintages. I picked up bright sweet tart strawberry pie, cranberry, and vine.
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2012 Foursight Pinot Noir, Charles Vineyard marks the first of four consecutive drought vintages.

This wine shows tons of nose and mouth, lovely integration, layers of fruit, tannin, strawberry, and cherry. Tons of ageability.

Joe noted he used, “30% whole cluster and 40% new oak, but reduced toast on the oak.”

My favorite note was Bill’s, “I don’t think I worked this year.”
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2013 Foursight Pinot Noir, Charles Vineyard is the current release and available in the tasting room now.

“2013 was the first real ‘welcome to the drought’ year,” Joe told the tasters, “all the rain came in December and none after that, January and February were sunny every day.”

Joe noted, “the quality of the stems was higher than previous vintages, 40% whole cluster, backed down on toast on oak again, relied on skin and stem for tannin.”

Bill, “added more water because I had it, the pond did fill, stretching the stressed vines to 177 days, readings were really dry, it was a pretty good year from a grower’s standpoint.

I picked up cranberry and strawberry with clove spice. This is a studly wine with serious mouthfeel.
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2014 Foursight Pinot Noir, Charles Vineyard has not been released yet, and was bottled in August 2015.

Joe shared that, ”stem quality saw me hit my upper limit for whole cluster at 50%.”

Bill shared that he, “double pruned the vineyard, and, “the fan was a tremendous help that saved the crop.”

2014 was the first year Charles Vineyard used a fan for frost mitigation, saving a ton of non existent water in the third of four drought years, in an ecological friendly, water conserving, growing manner.

“The vines knew it was a drought,” said Bill, continuing, “ 165 days and they knew they were in trouble,” leading to a short but flavorful vintage for the crop.

The 2014 showed intense dense candied fruit flavors, and will benefit from additional time in the bottle. I liked it very much.
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2015 Foursight Pinot Noir, Charles Vineyard was an assembled blend of barrel samples, served from Erlenmeyer flasks.

Brilliant color with light sediment, it tasted of yummy juicy-juice, Pinot flavored grape juice. I really liked this too, and though not close to a finished wine, it offers incredible promise of another great wine a couple of years from now.

Joe said the, “darker color was due to increased skin to juice ratio,” that resulted in smaller berries from a fourth year of drought.

Bill noted this was his, “second year of double pruning, “ and “a reduced crop load, 10-15% off average.”
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2008 Foursight “All-In” Pinot Noir, Charles Vineyard – I almost left this wine out. I just do not like it. There are very few Mendocino wines from the catastrophic 2008 vintage that I do like.

As a result of the 2008 vintage, smoke insurance has been added to insurance policies, like insurance against floods or earthquakes, and smoke taint has been added to contracts as a trigger for rejection of grapes by buyers.

Joe filtered this wine, using reverse osmosis, dumbing down the fruit a bit.

The wine is dark and rich in color and aroma, ripe and pungent, but marred by smoke taint.

Bill in the vineyard and Joe in the winery did everything they could to make a good wine, and there are people who will like it, or who have found perfect food pairings for it, but with nine wines in the line up that I enjoyed, I can honestly say this is my least favorite, and owing entirely to circumstances beyond control.
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After the vertical tasting, guests were invited to rinse their glasses, choose their favorite wine from all poured, and fill plates for a delicious and visually gorgeous, colorful, lunch.

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Thanks to Joe, Kristy, Bill, and Nancy for including me in a really lovely, educational, and enjoyable glimpse into ten years of Anderson Valley Pinot Noir from Charles Vineyard at Foursight Winery.

On Wednesday, April 6, 2016, the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association gathered 26 wineries from the Anderson Valley and Yorkville Highland AVAs together at the Little River Inn for an annual Coast Trade Tasting.

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Originally conceived by the late Bob Nye of Goldeneye Winery as a way to thank our trade partners, the tradition continues, and surely Bob was looking down and smiling, as the day was beautiful.

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Restaurants buy wines to serve their guests, Inns house the guests from the valley and, together with the shop keepers, all refer their customers back to our winery tasting rooms. This annual event isn’t about selling more wine, but a wonderful opportunity taken by our wineries to say thank you for the year round support of our business partners.

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I have many people to thank for helping make this year’s Coast Trade Tasting an incredible event.

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First, the participating wineries: Balo, Baxter, Bink, Black Kite, Brutocao, Copain, Drew, Fathers & Daughters, FEL, Goldeneye, Handley, Husch, Knez, Lazy Creek, Lula, Meyer Family, Navarro, Panthea, Phillips Hill, Philo Ridge, Roma’s, Seebass, Signal Ridge, Twomey, Witching Stick, and Yorkville; thank you all!

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Second, the Little River Inn; thanks to Cally, DeeLynn, Melissa, Chef Marc, and the small army of staff who set the room and broke it down.

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This year’s Coast Trade Tasting was initially planned to be hosted elsewhere, but after a demand for a 60% increase in agreed to compensation, unbudgeted, we had to find a new location, and the Little River Inn moved Heaven and earth to accommodate us. The venue was perfect, the food was incredible, and in an ‘above and beyond’ gesture the folks at the Little River Inn made an oceanfront view with fireplace room available for a drawing prize, and one very lucky attendee spent last night wrapped in luxury after enjoying a wonderful day of wine and food tasting.

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Lately, there has been an attempt to move the Coast Trade Tasting to a different venue each year, to allow different folks to showcase their facility to our wineries and the attendees.

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I’m honestly rethinking that, and would happily return to the Little River Inn each year into the future, if they would have us. I love working with professionals, who under promise and over deliver, and am just incredibly appreciative of every kindness extended to us this year.

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I stayed at the Little River Inn last, in January, and look forward to the next opportunity to stay with them again.

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Thanks to Paula Viehmann, manager of Goldeneye Winery. Paula expressed a desire to help out in any way she could, and feels a responsibility to see Bob Nye’s tradition continue with help from Goldeneye. Paula greeted every single attendee yesterday, handling check in chores, which freed me up to mingle and thank everyone.

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Attendees, the folks we hold the event for; wow, there were a lot of you this year. Thanks to Janis MacDonald and Kacy Palmieri from the AVWA office for blanketing the coast and valley with invitations; I hit our inland partners in and round Ukiah, and our participating wineries did outreach as well. We saw an increase in attendance of over 70%, this year vs. last year. Great work all!

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Thank you attendees. Thanks for coming to the event. Thank you for all of your support 24/7/365. Thank you for attending our other events, our Alsace Fest, our Pinot Noir Fest, or Barrel Tasting weekend. Thank you for referring your customers to our tasting rooms, and thanks for bringing your visiting friends and families to our tasting rooms. Thank you for everything you do for us.

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A very special thank you to Kacy Palmieri. Kacy took on, and tracked, all of the logistics involved in producing the event, and brought a host of thoughtful touches to the event that I would never have thought of. Kacy also was responsible for a major and beneficial change made on the fly, seeing six wineries moved from the deck to a shaded breezeway. Where I was resistant, Kacy was insistent, and she was right to be so. Thank you for saving me from stubborn wrongness.

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That’s it, a post filled with thanks about an event that is all about thanks.

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Let’s do it again next year.

Terra Savia in Hopland hosts the annual Celebration of Mendocino County Sparkling Wines each year and, for me, it is one of the year’s ‘must attend’ wine events.

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On a quiet Saturday, early in April, sparkling wine producers from throughout the county, from Anderson Valley to Potter Valley, with Hopland and Ukiah between, gathered to pour for happy attendees, with food pairings this year that included mushroom risotto, chicken cacciatore, oysters, and cake.

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Of course, I tasted the Anderson Valley bubblies from Roederer Estate, Scharffenberger Cellars, and Signal Ridge, as well as the Potter Valley stand out from McFadden Farm poured by Guinness McFadden himself.

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Next year, I hope to see even greater participation by Anderson Valley producers, and will work to try to see Goldeneye, Lichen Estate, Mary Elke, and all of the other stellar AV bubbly producers pouring for the appreciative audience of tasters.

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I was on a sparkling rosé kick, and also tasted both the offering poured by Ruth from Cesar Toxqui Cellars and the rosé of Merlot poured by host Terra Savia. Both were tasty and provided food pairing opportunities that other blanc or brut sparklers lend themselves to.

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An absolutely great event, and one to put on your calendar for 2017, as soon as a date is chosen. For more information about next year’s Celebration of Mendocino County Sparkling Wines, contact Destination Hopland at info@destinationhopland.com or Terra Savia at info@terrasavia.com

From my first day in the office of the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association, back in December, I worked on February’s 11th annual International Alsace Varietals Festival and, before I came on board as the new AVWA Executive Director, a small army of staff and volunteers had been working since August, all to make what nearly every attendee described as the best Alsace Fest yet happen.

Thank you to every single person who made the event a success; the event volunteers, volunteer festival planning committee members, volunteer association board members, speakers, presenters, winery participants, caterers, staff (Kacy, Janis, Kristy, Floriane), event location hosts, and attendees. Each time someone tried to credit me for the success of the sold out Festival events, from Educational Sessions to Press Welcome Dinner, and Grand Tasting to Winemaker Dinners, I turn around and let folks know it was a team effort.

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Previously, I attended Festival and Passport events, from January’s Zinfandel Experience in San Francisco to the April Passport to Dry Creek Valley in April, and February’s Alsace Festivals to May’s Pinot Noir Festivals in the Anderson Valley, each year and, while I enjoyed each event immensely, and credited the producers of each in recap pieces, I had no idea how much work went into each.
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I am attending the Passport to Dry Creek Valley, for my fourth year in a row, on Saturday, April 23 and Sunday, April 24, this year. My counterpart, Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley Executive Director Ann Petersen, is undoubtedly busy now, as her event gets closer, and she manages the lists for each of the numerous sell out events that make up her Passport event, from nearly a dozen vineyard tour lunches and dinners the day before Passport to the Passport itself.

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Passport to Dry Creek Valley ticket buyers are able to visit over 45 wineries, taste their wines, enjoy delicious pairing food bites, and listen to music at each stop. I have found that each winery goes all out to impress, often offering rare older vintages, limited single vineyard production releases, and barrel samples of future wines for tasting. The food at each stop is thoughtfully prepared, oftentimes by superstar chefs and caterers, to bring out and highlight the flavors of the wines being presented. The music, and themed fun, at each stop makes Passport to Dry Creek Valley a must attend event.

Dry Creek Valley produces some of my favorite Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel, but with over 45 wineries participating, you’ll find a great assortment of wines to taste, including some stellar Pinot Noir made with grapes sourced from the Anderson Valley.

For tickets, buy them now, this event sells out, visit http://www.drycreekvalley.org.
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One week after the big Passport, is Hopland Passport, a smaller one day event on Saturday, April 30, with 14 participating wine tasting stops. Inland Mendocino County is diverse, with numerous wine grape varieties thriving, and tasters can enjoy an incredible array of wines, and styles, as they visit each stop.

I worked this event the last ten events, so it will be nice to attend, visit friends, and taste their wines, in a relaxed and fun day.

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Several wineries, like McFadden Farm, will continue their Passport offerings for Sunday visitors, so plan to make it a weekend event.

For tickets at a discount, prices increase at the door during the event, visit http://www.destinationhopland.com.
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The AVWA team has been working on our 19th annual Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival, a three day Festival event from Friday, May 20 through Sunday, May 22 this year.

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Events include an educational Technical Session on Friday from 9:00 am to 4:30 pm, with a look at water management by the Nature Conservancy, a tasting of different winery’s Pinot Noir all from one vineyard, a look at the lessons of the 2015 vintage as evidenced by a tasting of five wines, and a tasting of sparkling wines made with Pinot Noir. Following the sessions is a Casual Welcome BBQ at Pennyroyal Farms with amazing food, many wines, and music by the Joe Blow Band.

Saturday will see 56 or more wineries, each pouring their own Pinot noir, all made from Anderson Valley grown grapes, at the Grand Tasting under the big tent at Goldeneye in Philo, with eight high end catering stations, and live music.

Saturday evening brings two Winemaker Dinners, one at Roederer Estate with the host, Lichen estate, and Copain Wines, the second at Scharffenberger Cellars with the host, Baxter, Goldeneye, and Knez. These are multi course dinners, with wine, and each kicks off with a sparkling wine reception.

Sunday, the local Pinot Noir producers, participating in the grand tasting, will each host Open Houses throughout the Anderson Valley.

For more information, and to pick up tickets, visit http://www.avwines.com.
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After Passport to Dry Creek Valley and the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival are both finished, after I get everything cleaned, packed, and returned to the AVWA office from the Pinot Fest, I will be taking a little time off, and meet with my counterpart in Dry Creek Valley for an interview, and recap both of our events, with an eye to sharing what goes into a huge crowd pleasing event, although I imagine I know the answer already: a great team working together to make it all look effortless.

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John Cesano and Brigette Seebass enjoying a moment at the recent Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush (photograph by Tom Liden)


John on wine – Crush Chef’s Wine Dinner featuring Seebass Family Wines

Dinner at Crush Italian Steakhouse, a Chef’s Winemaker dinner, featuring the wines of my friends Scott and Michelle Willoughby, their Seebass Family Vineyard & Winery wines. You knew something would end my hiatus and inspire a new wine column for the Journal, and the food, wine, and people gathered on a Wednesday in January has me hunt and pecking, one finger typing, once again.

Seebass wines starts with Brigitte Seebass, a lovely woman who made her way from Germany to Ukiah and bought 100+ acres of Talmage vineyard land and has successfully grown sought after premium wine grapes for roughly thirty years, and is one of Mendocino County’s first female grape growers.

Brigitte’s daughter and son-in-law, Michelle Myrenne Willoughby and Scott Willoughby, joined Brigitte an the farm in 2010 with an eye to making great wines from the grapes Brigitte had been selling to other wineries.

Together with third generation Aidan Willoughby, parents Scott and Michelle, and grand mother Brigitte, Seebass Family Vineyard & Winery is a vital part of the Mendocino wine scene, and a family affair.

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Scott Willoughby told the story of each Seebass Family Winery wine                        (photograph by Tom Liden)

Crush came up with a new traffic plan for the meet & greet reception that allowed attendees a bit more room to mingle comfortably, a smart and welcome change, and offered up a sampling of seasoned meats, cheeses, and peppers to pair with the 2015 Seebass Rosé of Grenache ‘Fantasie,’ made by winemaker Stéphane Vivier.

I like rosé wines, all of the previous Seebass offerings have all been good, but this is far and away my favorite version, which is great because as a barrel sample, unfiltered, not yet released wine, it was already drinking great, showing strawberry, cherry, and citrus peel, and will only be better when bottled and released next month.

Remarkably, fortuitously, wonderfully all four of the Seebass wines poured were my favorite versions from all of the vintages I have tasted, which set the stage for a very enjoyable dinner.

The first seated course brought a trio of dishes to each table: Shrimp Louis salad with traditional dressing, cucumber, tomato, and avocado; Yellowfin Tuna with sesame, chili, mint, garlic, and pear; and Dungeness Crab Cakes with avocado, red pepper, and cilantro.

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2014 Seebass Grand Reserve Chardonnay (photograph by Tom Liden)

The 2014 Seebass Grand Reserve Chardonnay, which recently took a unanimous among the judges Double Gold Medal at the 2016 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, the largest judging of American wines with over 7,100 entered, was the perfect wine to accompany the first course of food offerings.

The Seebass Reserve Chardonnay is crafted by winemaker Stéphane Vivier from the best Dijon clone grapes from the Seebass estate vineyard, held in oak, about 20% new, resulting in a Burgundy meets California wine, with lemon peel citrus flavored apple and pear notes, and oak and cream from barrel and fermentation providing a round mouth feel.

The three dishes were each delicious. The crab cakes were a nod to the second place award that Crush took at the Mendocino Crab Cook Off last year, and the crispy outside and delicious Dungeness crab inside these not really cake but balls were made even more delicious with a sip of the Chardonnay. The tuna dish was a diced tartare with the additional supporting ingredients only highlighting the flavor of the tuna, again made more delicious through pairing with the Chardonnay. Yes, the Chardonnay made the shrimp Louis salad yummier too, although big shrimp in a great dressing with avocado adding richness is pretty darn great by itself.

The second course brought Seared Scallops with leeks, butternut squash, and risotto; Cedar Planked Wild Salmon, spice crusted, with a Seebass red wine reduction; and Chef’s Vegetables.

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Seared Scallops with risotto (photograph by Tom Liden)

The wine for this course was the unreleased 2013 Seebass Romantik, a Rhone style, unique GSM Blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Merlot. This wine, made by winemaker Greg Graziano, was absolutely a spot on wine to pair with this course, with the multi red and black fruited notes of the wine working perfectly with the caramelization of perfectly seared scallops and spice crusted salmon. The asparagus and broccolini in the chef’s vegetable dish were hearty flavored choices, perfect for the soft but flavorful Romantic.

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Wood Plank spice crusted Wild Salmon and 2013 Seebass Romantic                        (photograph by Tom Liden)

The Crush chefs showed incredible sensibility in making a lighter risotto, with butternut squash and leek, wonderfully delicious, but allowing the scallop to be the star of the dish.

Dessert was Crush’s Tiramisu, served parfait style, many layered and light as a pillowed cloud, with more of a light dusty cocoa note than the strong espresso note expected.

Seebass’ dessert wine wasn’t strictly a dessert wine, but their 2011 Seebass Old Vine Zinfandel, another Greg Graziano made wine, and was another perfect choice for the dinner, with the light brambly raspberry and pepper notes melding with the chocolate and cream notes of the tiramisu, sip to spoon in the mouth.

 

John and Juanita (photograph by Tom Liden)

 

Seebass Family Winery wines can be tasted and purchased at their Anderson Valley tasting room, located at 14077 Highway 128 in Boonville, across from the Boonville Hotel, or online at http://www.seebassvineyards.com

The next Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush will feature the wines of Husch Vineyards, with an Anderson Valley tasting room located at 4400 Highway 128 in Philo, and is scheduled for April 20. To reserve your tickets for this sure to sell out dinner, call Crush directly at (700) 463-0700.

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John on Wine – Let’s not say goodbye. How about hello, instead?

This piece originally ran in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, January 7, 2016.

This column is your guide to great wine adventures in 2016, a list of festivals I have attended that I will attend again, these are all must attend events. Cut this column out of today’s newspaper, laminate it, and put it on your refrigerator with kitchen magnets. Refer to it, and buy your tickets to each incredible wine happening, and look for me at each this year. I’ll be the guy with a wineglass and a smile. Cheers!

Jan. 20 – Chef’s Wine Dinner >> Featuring Seebass Family Vineyard & Winery wines at Crush Italian Steakhouse in Ukiah. This will sell out at $75 per person. Seventy very lucky attendees will sit down for a multi-course meal paired with about a half dozen wines from Seebass. I will write a recap of this dinner, with pictures, for johnonwine.com. For tickets, contact Crush directly at (707) 463-0700.

Jan. 30 & 31 – Barrel Tasting 101 >> Buy a ticket online in advance for $20, or at a participating winery during the event for $30, and taste wine from the barrel, before it is bottled or aged, at Barra of Mendocino, Brutocao Cellars, Campovida, Cesar Toxqui Cellars, Graziano Family of Wines, Jaxon Keys Winery, Jeriko Estate, McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room, McNab Ridge, Milano Family Winery, Nelson Family Winery, Rivino, Saracina, Seebass Vineyards, Simaine Cellars, Sip Mendocino, Terra Savia, and Testa Ranch. For more information, visit destinationhopland.com/store

Feb. 20 & 21 – 11th annual International Alsace Varietals Festival >> There is a full day of events in the Anderson Valley, with many DRY Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, Riesling, and Muscat aromatic white wines, starting with an educational session in the morning, the big grand tasting in the afternoon, and a winemakers’ dinner in the evening on Feb 20; and open house tasting at Anderson Valley Alsace varietal producers on Feb 21. For more information, visit avwines.com/alsace-festival.

Feb 25-27 – ZAP’s Zinfandel Experience >> Zinfandel Advocates & Producers (ZAP) will celebrate their 25th annual Zinfandel Experience with three days of events in San Francisco. The weekend includes a 25 Year Tribute Party, Supper Club, Flights Seminar, Winemakers Auction & Dinner, and Grand Tasting. 2016 Zinfandel Experience is featuring more access to winemaker celebrities, more wineries, and two impressive new venues, showcasing the talents of winemakers, chefs, and artisanal food purveyors. I grew up with Zinfandel, there is a picture of my brother and I crushing Zinfandel grapes in 1972 in my office. I attended this event going back into the 90’s with family. This is a must attend event if you love Zinfandel like I do. The fun kicks off Thursday Feb 25 with a 25 Year Tribute Party with over 60 producers, followed by a Heritage Supper Club dinner, at the Banking Hall at the Bently Reserve. Flights is a seated panel tasting at the the Bently Reserve on Feb 26, moderated by one of my idols, Joel Peterson, and will look whether there are California wines that should be consider Great Growths, similar to Bordeaux’s 1855 Grand Cru classification; later that evening at the hotel is the Winemaker’s Reception, Dinner & Auction. Finally, the Grand Tasting with over 100 Zinfandels at the James R. Herman Cruise Terminal at Pier 27 on Feb 27. I have attended previous ZAP events, and if you love Zinfandel, then this is a must event to attend. For more information, visit zinfandelexperience.com

Apr. 23 & 24 – Passport to Dry Creek Valley >> I LOVE this event, and have attended each of the last three years; tickets sell out and Tickets are sold first-come-first-serve starting Monday, February 1st, 2016 at 10 am, so grab your tickets early. For this one weekend each year, since 1990, Passport guests are welcomed into 45+ wineries throughout Dry Creek Valley, each offering a unique pairing of premium wine, gourmet food and entertainment, and these offerings are amazing with each winery location competing with the other to impress you, and impressed you will be! There is also Prelude to Passport on Apr. 22, with vineyard lunches and winemaker dinners. For more information, visit drycreekvalley.org/events/passport-to-dry-creek-valley/

Apr. 30 & May 1 – Hopland Passport >> I have worked every Hopland Passport going back to Spring 2011 at McFadden, and this will be my first chance top attend one in over 6 years, and I am looking forward to it! Hopland area winery tasting rooms, about 15 in all, pour their wines, offer food pairing tastes, with tours, music, and more. For more information, visit destinationhopland.com/hopland-passport

May 20-22 – 19th annual Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival >> This festival is a three day event including a Technical Conference & social BBQ in the vineyards on Friday, Grand Tasting on Saturday with 50+ wineries participating, many elegant winemaker dinners on Saturday evening, and open houses at all area wineries on Sunday. For more information, visit avwines.com/19th-annual-anderson-valley-pinot-noir-festival/

Jun. 17-19 – A Taste of Redwood Valley >> This traditional Father’s Day weekend tasting event kicks off with a Winemakers’ Dinner event Friday night, and tasting at eight local winery and distillery locations throughout Redwood Valley over the weekend. For more information, visit atasteofredwoodvalley.com/events.html

Jun. 18 – Pinot Days SF >> I have been offered tickets each of the last four years, and invariably a last minute conflict prevented me from attending. I will rectify that this year, and look forward to choosing tastes of Pinot Noir wines from over 100 producers. Held at City View at the Metreon, many of Anderson Valley’s best wines will be showcased. For more information, visit pinotdays.com

Jul. 9 – Annual Party at McFadden Farm >> Here’s another event I’ve worked that I’ll simply attend and enjoy this year. Guinness McFadden opens his 550 acre farm at the north end of Potter Valley to 220 paid guests, $85 or McFadden Wine Club $70, for an amazing party, with overnight camping, swimming, farm tours, roast whole pig and lamb, tons of farm fresh vegetable dishes and salads, live music, dancing, and more wine than should ever be poured if overnight camping was not available. This event sells out! Get your ticket by calling the tasting room at (707) 744-8463. For more information, visit macfaddenfarm.com

Jul. 23 & 24 – Anderson Valley & Yorkville Highlands Barrel Tasting Weekend >> I would love to rename this event BT128, but branding is important, and the two growing regions probably like the named recognition. For two days, from 11-4, Anderson Valley wineries and their neighbors in Yorkville Highlands invite you to enjoy unprecedented access to winery cellars, taste yet-to-be-released wines, and purchase futures of your favorites at a special barrel tasting weekend price! For more information, visit avwines.com

Aug. 4 & 5 – Mendocino County Wine Competition >> This is the nation’s oldest continuously held wine competition, and I love attending the awards dinner, where all of the winners are announced, and I can see my friends from throughout the county and celebrate their well deserved recognition. The award dinner is open to the public, and a great way to show your support for the county’s winemakers and grape growers, as well as taste some delicious medal winning wines. For more information, visit mendowine.com

Sep. 10 – Winesong Charity Auction & Tasting >> Tickets go on sale Apr. 1. Stroll through the lush Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens while enjoying vintages poured by about 100 world-class wineries from Mendocino, Sonoma, Napa, and beyond, and food from 50 of Mendocino County’s finest food purveyors, and enjoy various music groups as they play; then head to the Auction Tents with lively bidding for over 200 lots. This is a benefit for the Mendocino Coast Hospital Foundation. The day before, on Sep. 9, there is the Pinot Noir Celebration presented by Winesong and Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association hosted by Little River Inn. For more information, visit winesong.org

There are other events that I will attend, numerous winemaker dinners at Crush in Ukiah and throughout the Anderson Valley throughout the year, the September blending party at Testa Vineyards & Winery in Calpella, October’s Fall Hopland Passport and the World Championship Abalone Cook-off in Fort Bragg, and November’s A Taste of Redwood Valley bring your own glass tasting and sale weekend.

This is it, my last weekly wine column written to deadline. Sure, I’ll still write for johnonwine.com; and I’ll surely send recaps of each of these events, and whatever else demands to be written, to the Ukiah daily Journal, so you might still see me occasionally in the newspaper; but this is it, the final official piece for now. Instead of a goodbye, this list of events allows you to find me easily – I’ll be at them all, so come up, introduce yourself, and say hello. Cheers!