April 2010

Meet the Winemakers: RIVINO Winery
Tierra – Art, Garden Wine
312 N. School Street
Ukiah, CA 95482
RIVINO husband and wife winemaker team Jason McConnell and Suzanne Jahnke-McConnell pour their limited production wines, paired with hors d’oeuvres.
Thursday, April 29, 2010
5:00 pm – 8:00 pm

(707) 468-7936

Hopland Spring Passport Weekend
Hopland, CA Wineries
Tasting glass, wristband and passport picked up at any winery and usable at all wineries, all weekend: Brutocao Cellars, Dogwood Cellars, Graziano Family of Wines, Jaxon Keys Winery, Jeriko Estate, McDowell Valley Vineyards, McFadden Vineyards, McNab Ridge Winery, Mendocino Farms, Milano Winery, Nelson Family Vineyards, Rack & Riddle, Terra Savia, Saracina, and Weibel Family Vineyards
$35 per person online through Thursday at 5:00 pm
Saturday, May 1, and Sunday, May 2, 2010
11:00 am – 5:00 pm

(800) 564-2582

3rd Annual “The Mamas & The Tatas” Mother’s Day Fashion Show
A Benefit for Breast Cancer Awareness

Tierra – Art, Garden Wine
312 N. School Street
Ukiah, CA 95482
Spring Fashion Show, Hors d’oeuvres, and Wine. Great fun for a great cause.
$20 per person
Saturday, May 1, 2010
2:00 pm

Chardonnay TweetUp
Parducci Wine Cellars

501 Parducci Road
Ukiah, CA 95482
Taste the 2008 Parducci Chardonnay and 2008 Paul Dolan Vineyard Chardonnay, paired with an Apple-Mushroom Risotto, and Apple Pie topped with Chardonnay Apple Ice Cream prepared by guest chef John Cesano (me!)
Thursday, May 6, 2010
5:00 pm – 7:00 pm

(800) 362-9463

14th Annual Wine Country Golf Classic Invitational
A benefit for Cornerstone Media Inc

Windsor Golf Course
1340 19th Hole Drive
Windsor, CA 95492
This is the best golf event I have ever taken part in. 18 holes of golf on a great course, with cart, and lunch, and dinner, and champagne, wine and micro brew beer. First class, lots of contests, and prizes. Fabulous auction items. Winery and non winery teams compete. Proceeds go to help children.
$195 per player
Thursday, May 13, 2010
11:00 am Registration Starts
11:30 am Grilled Gourmet Lunch
1:00 pm Tee-Off Ceremony/Shotgun Start
6:30 Evening Cuisine Extravaganza, Silent/Live Auction, Awards Ceremony
(707) 431-8336

Open House
Toad Hollow Vineyards Ranch

4024 Westside Road
Healdsburg, CA 95448
Toad Hollow’s wines are usually poured only in their tasting room; this is a rare opportunity to taste them in the beautiful vineyard setting of their ranch.
Friday, May 14, 2010
4:00 pm – 7:00 pm
(707 431-1441

Vinify Winery Collective Wine Tasting Event
3358 Coffey Lane, Suite D
Santa Rosa, CA 95403
Vinify is a Santa Rosa custom crush facility hosting 16 wineries, 12 varietals, and over 40 wines. Come taste the best from the member wineries in Riedel stemware which you will take home after the tasting. Vinify will also be providing food. Wineries include: Baker Lane, Bevan Cellars, Bjornstad Cellars, Lattanzio Winery, Pfendler Vineyards, Sojourn Cellars, Westerhold Family Vineyards, Calluna Vineyard, Jemrose Vineyard, Barbed Oak Vineyards, Claypool Callears, Desmond Wines, Frostwatch Vineyard and Winery, Olsen Ogden Wines, Gracianna Winery, and Cinque Insieme Wines
$20 per person
Sunday, May 23, 2010
1:00 pm – 4:30 pm

(707) 495-4959

APRIL 15, 2010: The Bill, HR 5034: The Library of Congress

APRIL 16, 2010: Robert Taylor, Wine Spectator; Jim Harper, Washington Watch; Alder Yarrow, VinographyEvan Dawson, New York Cork Report

APRIL 17, 2010: Allan, Cellarblog; Sonadora, Wannabe Wino Wine Blog; Tom Wark, Ferementation; George Parkinson, Blog4Wine; The Wine Harlots

APRIL 18, 2010: Tom Johnson, Louisville Juice; William Dowd, Dowd on Drinks; Krista Giovacco, Noble Rot; Jeff Lefevere, Good Grape

APRIL 19, 2010: Jeff Siegel, The Wine Curmudgeon; WineCompass; Joe Smith, KGW

APRIL 20, 2010: Tyler Colman, Dr. Vino

APRIL 21, 2010: Amy Corron Power, Another Wine Blog; Wine Business; VintubaTV; Paul Franson, Wines & Vines; Match Vineyards

APRIL 22, 2010: Tom Wark, Fermentation; Joe Roberts, Wine Crush

APRIL 23, 2010: Josh Wade, DrinkNectar

APRIL 24, 2010 David Honig, Palate Press

APRIL 25, 2010 Adam Japko, Wine Zag; Catie, Through The Walla Walla Grape Vine

ALSO: STOPHR5034, Facebook

On April 15, 2010, a bill, HR 5034, written by the National Beer WHOLESALERS Association (NBWA), and supported by the Wine & Spirits WHOLESALERS of America (WSWA), was introduced to Congress.

Every day since then, wine writers have railed at the danger posed to both consumer rights and the livelihoods of small family wineries across the country. I’ve carefully timed my article so as to be the last wine writer to weigh in; but I did want my readers to know about this bill, and if you are feeling the urge, I would invite you to take action against it. Here’s the deal:

The bill is an effort to roll back hard fought battles on the part of consumers to receive direct shipment of wines from small out of state wineries. Recently court decisions have been going in favor of the consumer. Many small, family wineries rely on direct shipments of wine to stay in business.

If passed, HR 5034 can set up new barriers, reinstate old barriers, and prevent legal challenges to those barriers to direct shipments of wine and other alcohol.

The bill is a transparent ploy by the alcohol wholesale associations to guarantee a permanent monopoly of all alcohol distribution for their members, and protecting children from access to alcohol is the reason why they say the bill is needed.

I receive many bottles of wine at my door, samples to be reviewed, and I have had to sign for all of them. Both Fed Ex and UPS collect signatures, and check ID’s to make sure the recipients are 21 or over. The boxes the wines are shipped are clearly marked “adult signature required.” No youth ever ordered premium wine online, paid by credit card, waited a week for delivery, and presented a legal ID at delivery; if a youth were attempting to obtain alcohol, they would show up at the local convenience store with a $20 bill and ask older shoppers to buy them a 12 pack of Budweiser – instant gratification, realistic, real, no ID required. The “justification” for the bill is a charade. This is nothing more than bought and paid for politicians from both parties doing the bidding of their contributors.

Ending direct shipment of wine ends any possibility of tasting small lot wines from small family owned wineries, as most wholesalers don’t bother carrying these handcrafted specialty wines.

To write your elected representative to tell them you oppose HR 5034, Free The Grapes! has prepared a letter than you can optionally personalize, and by entering your personal information, your letter will be emailed directly to both you U.S. Representative and your U.S. Senators.

I visited Trinchero Napa Valley in St. Helena this week and tasted several wines poured by Michael Stopka, who was about as good as a winery representative gets – friendly, knowledgeable, and happy.

The Trinchero Napa Valley Tasting Room

For those of you unfamiliar with the Trinchero name, you have probably seen, tasted, or bought one or more of the wines made by the Trinchero family. Most famously, as I wrote in January, the Trinchero family owns Sutter Home and Bob Trinchero is generally credited with being the first to make White Zinfandel as you know it.

I also wrote about another Trinchero wine that I had with Christmas dinner, and pointed to as what wine can and should be, delicious, readily available, and affordable; the 2008 Menage a Trois from Folie a Deux winery.

From Bandit in the 1 Liter Tetra Pak to Australia’s Angove wines, from the ubiquitous Sutter Home White Zinfandel to Montevina and Terra d’Oro in the Sierra foothills, the Trinchero family are as important a name in California wine as any.

Wine Spectator honored Bob Trinchero for “having introduced more Americans to wine on the table than anyone else in history.”

The wines of Trinchero Napa Valley are the pinnacle of the family’s offerings. These are premium wines of limited production, hand crafted from single Napa Valley vineyards.

Built on the site of what had been Folie a Deux, Trinchero Napa Valley is surrounded by Mario’s Vineyard, named for the winery founding family patriarch, Mario Trinchero.

Mario’s Vineyard, St. Helena

Coincidentally, the winemaker is another Mario, Mario Monticelli. Monticelli’s father Marcello was the winemaker for the largest winery in the world, and at the age of 14, a young Mario was making wine in his father’s garage. Monticelli grew up in vineyards, learned about wine from vine to glass from his family, attended the University of California at Davis (the nation’s premier school for Enology and Viticulture), worked at the Antinori wine estates in Italy, and then at Quixote Winery before coming to Trinchero Napa Valley.

These are the wines Stopka poured for me:

2009 Trinchero Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc, Mary’s Vineyard, Calistoga $24 This is the only white wine made at Trinchero Napa Valley. 100% Stainless Steel held, not shy, varietally correct. Stone fruit, lemon, grass/hay, and I hate to say this because people freak out, but cat pee. This is a normal and appropriate aroma for the varietal, if I didn’t mention it, you wouldn’t notice it; oddly it is not off putting, and this is a great tasting, refreshing Sauvignon Blanc. Absolutely delicious, the best I have tasted in a long time. 13.5% alc., 1,480 cases.

2007 Trinchero Napa Valley Merlot, Chicken Ranch Vineyard, Rutherford $35Biodynamically farmed. Really round, nice cedar cigar oak tannin, great smooth round fruit, dark cherry berry and herb. 14.2% alc., 1,420 cases.

2007 Trinchero Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Chicken Ranch Vineyard, Rutherford $35 Biodynamically farmed. Dark purple perfume, cocoa, cherry, cassis, really nice structure. Rutherford dust. 14.2% alc., 3,330 cases.

2007 Trinchero Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Mario’s Vineyard, St. Helena $50Lush, delicious. great floral perfume. Purest blackberry note ever. Elegant. 15.3% alc., 950 cases.

2007 Trinchero Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Clouds Nest Vineyard, Mt. Veeder $50 Expressive. Inky, rich, smooth. Cherry, earth, herb. Super fine  chewy tannin. 14.2% alc., 760 cases.

2007 Trinchero Napa Valley Meritage, Napa Valley $50 79 % Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Merlot, 7% Petit Verdot, and 1% Cabernet Franc. Blackberry, blueberry, cherry, rose perfume, tobacco, cedar. The complete flavor palette for your palate. . Really gorgeous balance. 14% alc., 1,770 cases.

The winery is Bordeaux focused, and the combination of great grapes, great vintages, and great winemaker allowed me to enjoy one perfect wine after another. Tying the wines together was the winemaker’s choice to let the grapes be the star; showing finesse and grace, with fine tannins, perfect balance, all were smooth, round, and easy to enjoy, while positively full of flavor; but complex and layered, displaying subtlety rather that the explosive fruit bomb all too common elsewhere. Terrifically integrated. These are grown up wines.

The grounds of Trinchero Napa Valley

In addition to daily tastings from 10am – 5pm at $15 and $20, the tasting room offers special seminars by appointment.

On Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, guests can experience “A Taste of Terroir,” a horizontal tasting and evaluation of four Trinchero Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons; Atlas Peak, Mt. Veeder, Rutherford, and St. Helena. $40 per person.

On Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday, guest can take part in “The Sensory Challenge,” featuring a test of your nose as you try to correctly identify aromas present in wines using the Le Nez du Vin aroma kits. Also included is a sit down tasting of currently released wines. $35 per person.

Both appointment seminars include a tour of the brand new state of the art winery and last about 90 minutes.

The state-of-the-art Trinchero Napa Valley Winery, tour by special appointment

Trinchero Napa Valley is located at 3070 N. St. Helena Highway in St. Helena, CA. The wine club is called the Legacy Club, and members receive a 20% discount on wine and merchandise purchases from the winery, and the phone number for information or to make a seminar experience appointment is (707) 963-1160.

I received an email a couple of days ago from Felicia Mcclinton, here is what she wrote:

Hi, My name is Felicia and I’m one of johnonwine.com readers.

I’d like to thank you for the excellent information I’ve found on your website, especially your recipes are my favorites.

I have 35 years, live in Illinois and have a passion to share with family and friends recipes to help them eat healthy and try to prevent diabetes, high cholesterol and heart disease.

I figured you might be interested in including a guest article for johnonwine.com about the most common healthy recipes of the Mediterranean tradition as well (Italian, Greek, Middle Eastern, etc..).

Article in form of a little guide to help your readers experiencing with this topic and perhaps discuss the topic at hand.

Please, take a minute to consider this; it would be a pleasure and honor to contribute!  You can read more about what I do at http://www.mediterraneanrecipes.org/

With your help we can educate the public about the dangers of unhealthy eating and hopefully save some lives.

Either way, thanks for reading and keep posting your excellent information on johnonwine.com.

Hope you a good week.

Warmest Regards

Yours Truly Felicia

I went to Felicia’s site, loved the recipes, and invited her to send me something to post. Felicia is my first guest writer, and she provided a wonderful recipe/guest article:


If You Don’t Make these Healthy Mediterranean Recipes Now, You’ll Hate Yourself Later

Greek  Crostini

Greek Crostini


1000 grams of bread

200 grams of Greek Kalamata Olives

100 grams of Greek Feta Cheese

8 tablespoons of Olive Oil

1 clove Garlic

Salt and Pepper

This recipe is perfect for 8 persons and you can prepare it in 35 minutes.  It is a very flavorful and sumptuous dish inspired by the Greek feta croutons and black olives.  This is also one of the easiest recipes to prepare.


Make 1.5-inch thick slices of bread.  Place the sliced bread in the oven or toaster.  Rub garlic on each slice of bread after toasting.

Meanwhile, cut the feta cheese into small cubes.  Cut the olives into quarters or halves.  In a separate mixing bowl, mix the cubed feta cheese and olives and season with olive oil.  Make sure the toasted breads are still hot before sprinkling the cheese and olive mixture.  Serve and Enjoy.

Nutritional Value per each of 8 servings:

165.75 grams, 477.36 Kcal, 9.3 Fat, 88.06 Carb, 14.77 Pro, 3.82 Fib, 57.88 Water

About the Cooker – Felicia Mcclinton writes for Mediterraneanrecipes.org blog, her personal hobby blog focused on cooking tips to eat like a real Mediterranean and eat healthy to prevent diseases

Guest writer Felicia Mcclinton


Thank you Felicia!

Okay, I did some math and tried this recipe out. 1,000 grams, a kilo, is roughly 2.2 pounds. I used two loaves, each was a pound – close enough, of Franco American Bakery sourdough from Santa Rosa, CA, it is the best bread available throughout Northern California. 200 grams of olives is about a cup, 100 grams of feta cheese is about 1/2 cup, so that’s what I used.,,and I added more garlic, but that’s me.

I paired this easy, fun, informal food delight, loaded with lots of delicious flavor, with an unusual wine I recently purchased when I visited the J. Lohr tasting room in downtown San Jose., the 2009 J. Lohr Wildflower Valdiguié, Montery County, a lighter, completely unpretentious red wine with low tannins and lots of forward juicy fruit notes. Made using some carbonic maceration, this wine reminds me of Beaujolais Nouveau and of Preston Vineyard’s past Faux, light, fruity, a red wine that makes you think of blush wines and Sangria. Berry, Cherry, Cran, spice, a little herb, a lot of fun. Only $10 a bottle, or $7.50 for wine club members.

J. Lohr’s Winery and Tasting Room, located right in the middle of San Jose.

Inspired by the tastiness of Felicia’s Greek Crostini recipe, I tried another of her recipes from her website last night, Authentic Italian-style Gourmet Mushroom Risotto.

Authentic Italian-style Gourmet Mushroom Risotto

Italian Risotto, photo credit: James Gallaher

This recipe requires 20 minutes preparation time and 30 minutes cooking time.  The dish should be ready in 50 minutes.  This will make 6 servings.  Each serving has the following nutritional value:  Calories 438, Total fat 17.1g, Cholesterol 31mg, Sodium 1338mg, Total carbs 56.9g, Dietary fiber 2.7g, and Protein 11.9g.

Chicken broth – divided into 6 cups
Olive oil (divided) – 3 tablespoons
Portobello mushrooms (thinly sliced) – 1 pound
White mushrooms (thinly sliced) – 1 pound
Shallots (diced) – 2 pieces
Arborio rice – 1 1/2 cups
Dry white wine – 1/2 cup
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Sea salt to taste
Chives (finely chopped) – 3 tablespoons
Butter – 4 tablespoons
Parmesan cheese (freshly grated) – 1/3 cup


1.  Warm the chicken broth in a sauce pan over low heat.

2.  In a large saucepan, heat 2 tbsp of olive oil over medium fire.  Add the mushrooms and stir.  Cook the mushroom for 3 minutes or until tender.  Then remove the mushrooms including the liquid.  Set it aside.

3.  In a frying pan, add one tablespoon of olive oil.  Stir the shallots and cook for at least 1 minute.  Add the Arborio rice and stir continuously for about 2 minutes to coat with oil.  Pour the wine when the rice changed its color to pale gold.  Stir continuously until the wine has been fully absorbed by the rice.  Then add half a cup of broth to the rice and stir continuously until the broth is absorbed.  Continue introducing half a cup of broth while stirring the rice.  Make sure the liquid is well absorbed.

4.  Remove the rice from the heat and add mushrooms with liquid, Parmesan, Butter and chives.  Stir continuously then season with salt and pepper.  Serve hot.

Okay, rarely content to leave a found recipe alone, I added Saffron because, hey, it’s risotto, right?

I wrote on facebook about how delicious this dish was, and 6 people “liked” my new status, and somewhere in a string of 23 comments, Parducci Wine Cellars asked me to guest chef for their next tweetup, for Chardonnay, on May 6.

Earlier today, I visited with Parducci’s Retail Sales Manager/Social Media Marketer Cindy Molchany; I brought some leftover mushroom risotto and she poured the 2008 Parducci Mendocino County Chardonnay and the 2008 Paul Dolan Vineyards Mendocino County Chardonnay. We talked about the menu I would like to cook to pair with these wines, and she sent me home with three bottles of each to play with as I experiment and fine tune recipes.

Delicious Risotto and Wine. Cesano and Parducci. May 6, 2010, 5-7pm

I plan on adding finely diced tart apple to the risotto, with the shallots, and expect they will sweeten and exude sugars as they cook for nearly 30 minutes. The apples in the new Apple-Mushroom Italian Risotto, along with the Saffron, inspired by Felicia’s original recipe, but made my own, will pair beautifully with the two fruit forward Mendocino County Chardonnays.

I will also make apple pies from scratch. Since apple pie needs ice cream on top, I will be crafting a Chardonnay apple ice cream to serve with the apple pie.

I am grateful to Felicia Mcclinton both for her initial request to write a guest article and for her inspiring recipes that started this incredibly exciting chain of events to unfold. Thanks to Parducci Wine Cellars for the invitation to do something I love.

Parducci Wine Cellars and Tasting Room, 501 Parducci Road, Ukiah, CA

I will certainly be writing more about the event as we get closer, but I hope that if you are within driving distance you will mark your calendar and plan to join me at Parducci Wine Cellars’ Tasting Room, on March 6, between 5pm – 7pm, at 501 Parducci Road in Ukiah California (707) 463-5350. This is a tasting, not a dinner, so if you live in Santa Rosa and don’t get off work until 5pm, don’t worry, you can make it to Parducci’s tasting room before the event ends.

A group of ten wine writers, bloggers, and a local superstar wine radio host gathered by invitation from winemaker Chris Phelps at Swanson Vineyards to experience the winery’s hospitality, taste their wines, get a glimpse at their new tasting room facility, and share a meal. I am grateful for my inclusion, and the additional courtesy extended allowing me to bring a friend, Fred Albrecht, who I had not seen in months. Arriving early, I was able to meet, and thank, Elizabeth Swanson for her hospitality.

Swanson Vineyards Winery, Salon straight ahead, Sip Shoppe to the right

W. Clarke Swanson founded Swanson Vineyards in 1985, and originally bought the grapes for his first vintage wine released in 1987. Swanson Vineyards has the 76 acre Oakville Cross Vineyard, across the Napa River from Opus One, and that is the source for most of Swanson Vineyard’s Merlot. Today, Swanson Vineyards produces about 25,000 cases of wine annually.

Bud break at Swanson Vineyards

Phelps declared that, “Swanson Vineyards is the largest bottler of estate grown Merlot in Oakville, maybe the entire Napa Valley,” but the words Estate Grown or Estate Bottled do not appear on the label because the grapes are grown on Swanson owned vineyards in Oakville, while the wine is made at Swanson’s own winery in Rutherford. Technically, because of the different appellations, the wine can’t be labelled what it really is, estate grown Merlot.

As we tasted the 2008 Pinot Grigio, Napa Valley, $21, W. Clarke Swanson remarked that originally, “Pinot Grigio was tried as an experiment,” and has “largely replaced Chardonnay,” at Swanson Vineyards. The Pinot Grigio is a nice refreshing white that has maintained much of the fruit’s flavor from the vineyard to the glass. The wine is held “on lees” (with the spent yeast post fermentation) and all of it in stainless steel (allowing for more fruit expression than oak barrel held whites); the result is a wine with pear and citrus on the nose, following in the mouth, and tapering away on the finish, full yet crisp, a delightful and delicious wine to start with.

Working with many varietals, Swanson Vineyards has decided to shine a light on three: Cabernet Sauvignon (which is now the main grape of “Alexis”), Merlot, and Pinot Grigio.

With my fellow guests John Olney, Autumn Millhouse, Jim White, Fred & Eva Swan, Daedalus Howell, Mary Orlin, M. Annette Hanami, and Ziggy Eschliman, I sat in the beautiful “Parisian-inspired” Salon, decorated with vineyard and peasant inspired paintings by Ira Yeagar, at Swanson Vineyards for most of our tasting. The Salon is a unique hospitality wine tasting experience in the Napa Valley. Twice a day, at 11:00am and 1:30pm, Wednesday through Sunday, up to eight guests may experience a one hour formal tasting experience where six of Swanson Vineyard’s wines are paired with Swanson caviar, artisanal cheeses, and a Swanson signature Bonbon made by Vosges Haut Chocolat of Chicago for $55 per person.; and once a day, a 45 minute tasting at 4:00pm allows up to eight guests to focus on the core wines of Swanson Vineyards, the “Alexis” Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Pinot Grigio, paired with artisanal cheeses and a Swanson signature Bonbon for $30 per person.

The table is set for a special tasting in the Salon at Swanson Vineyards

Our seated Salon tasting started with Merlot, which Phelps described as, “Swanson’s bread and butter.” Andre Tchelistcheff was hired by Swanson at the beginning, and he directed that Merlot, then a lesser known varietal, be planted on the vineyard property. Twenty five years later, the grapes are so good that they lured Phelps, who had worked at Chateau Petrus, Dominus, and Caymus Vineyards, to come to make wine at Swanson Vineyards.

Chris Phelps, standing, and Fred Albrecht, sitting, tasting Swanson Vineyards Merlot

My friend, seated next to me, is not a fan of Merlot, but was surprised to find himself loving the Swanson Vineyard Merlot. He was not alone, everyone present loved the first sniff of the first Merlot poured for us. The 2005 Merlot, Oakville, $36, is a Cabernet lover’s Merlot, with black cherry and blackberry fruit, medium firm tannins, nice dusty oak, earthy, rich, earthy fullness (This wine is gone from the winery, if you see a bottle, grab it!). The 2006 Merlot, Oakville, $36 (currently available), was nicely perfumed with herb and cherry fruit, a little more vinuous, and more noticeable acid, and the 2007 Merlot, Oakville, $36 (anticipated release is October 2010), sweet, bright, candied cherry, definitely can use a little aging before release, were tasted next. Phelps also let us taste the 2008 Merlot, Oakville, $36, that was bottled just last week. After the 2005, this was my second favorite of the Merlot tasted, with a nice smoky nose, fine tannins, and warm allspice, black berry fruit, and oak. Swanson Vineyards is definitely one of California’s best Merlot producers, and far less expensive than the other Merlot bottlings I would group them with quality wise.

Swanson Vineyards “Alexis” Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and a little Pinot Grigio

The “Alexis” wine is named for the oldest Swanson daughter, Alexis Swanson Traina. Once made with up to 60% Syrah, “Alexis” is now a Cabernet Sauvignon based wine. Phelps, a Bordeaux-ist, has found that even a few points of Syrah can change a Cabernet’s recognizability, and has moved to eliminate the varietal from the “Alexis.”  We started with the 2005 “Alexis” Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville, $75, a giant Cabernet Sauvignon, and a credit to the greatness of the vintage. Blackberry, nise, cocoa, coffee, herb, oak. Did I mention this is a big Cab? Did I mention how much I would love to build a meal around it? The 2006 “Alexis” Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville, $75, has a rich, full, dark nose of cocoa, black berry, and earth, with a round herb, fruit, oak, tannin mouth. A bit closed, Phelps said it can take two hours for this wine to open. The 2007 “Alexis” Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville, $75, is lush, has noticeable acid, rose perfume, and silken candied black fruit. We also tasted a sample of the 2008 “Alexis” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa, $75, due to  be bottled in a few weeks, and I look forward to tasting it again in the bottle; I found a lot of nice expressive fruit present.

In addition to the 2008 “Alexis,” we also tasted a barrel sample of the 2009 Chardonnay, Oakville, $42 (due out this fall), which I loved. No malolactic fermentation (retains some natural fruit flavor), no stainless steel, and no new, only used old neutral oak barrels, and this wine shows bright, but not shrill, fruit and promises to be delicious. Phelps feels that there is a phenolic aspect to Chardonnay, similar to red wines, that sees substantial flavor benefits to being held in oak as the oak allows a little breathing and maturing for the wine. Our final barrel sample was the 2009 Zinfandel, Napa Valley, about 14.5% alc, 100% Zin, smooth and round, held in American oak, this wine will spend the next 14 months in the barrel developing the edge, spice, and fruit it will eventually show, but I honestly wasn’t getting much yet.

Among the reasons we were invited to Swanson Vineyards was to show off the less formal Swanson Sip Shoppe, a more casual tasting room experience with 30 minute tastings available by appointment every half hour from 10:30am to 4:30pm Wednesday through Sunday, where the tastings are again focused on Pinot Grigio, Merlot, and “Alexis” Cabernet Sauvignon at $20 per person, with a variety of tasty treat food pairing options available for separate purchase. “Salon is central to what we do here…it’s our tenth year in July with a Salon…but we wanted to offer a more accessible luxury lifestyle option,” explained hospitality host Shawn LaRue. Where the Salon, more formal, is Parisian inspired; the Swanson Sip Shoppe is vibrantly circus big top inspired with vertical red and white stripes. The Sip Shoppe is officially scheduled to open this Summer, but is playing host to guests already.

The new Swanson Sip Shoppe, accessible luxury lifestyle tasting room

While Swanson can only offer tastings by prior appointment, the phone number , (707) 967-3500, is on a sign right outside the gate for a reason. Call in advance if you can, but do not be intimidated if you forget to, just pull out your cell phone, call, and see if you can squeeze into a seated Salon tasting or visit the Sip Shoppe for a shorter but complete Swanson Vineyard tasting experience. I did a Google search and found only glowing reviews and compliments for the friendliness of the Swanson Vineyards Salon tasting experience. In 2000, when Swanson started this, they had the only Salon tastings in the Napa Valley; ten years later, they have been imitated, but never duplicated. Visitors to the Napa Valley would be well served including a visit to Swanson Vineyards on their “must visit” list.

Lunch was catered by Chef Shannon Kelley of Knickerbocker’s Oak Avenue Catering; Faux Fried Chicken, Potato Arugula Salad, Roasted Corn Salad (my favorite, yum!), Honey Mustard Coleslaw, and Salad of Baby Romaine Lettuce with Garlic Croutons and Point Reyes Blue Cheese Dressing. With lunch, we tasted the 2008 Rosato (Rose of Syrah), Oakville, $21, which was a fresh, enjoyable dry rose, crushed strawberry and raspberry over ice, easy to drink, delicious, and the 2008 Chardonnay, Oakville, $42, a rich, round, full wine with great apple and vanilla notes, sweet with nice acid, an elegant lovely Chardonnay.

The gardens at Swanson Vineyards Winery and Salon

Dessert was Chef Kelley’s Apple Galette paired with Phelps’ 2005 Tardif, Late Harvest Chardonnay, Oakville, $80/375ml, both were delicious showing lots and lots of apple. The dessert wine is made from grapes that experienced Botrytis Cinerea, the “noble rot” that perforates the grape’s skin, allowing liquid to leak out, concentrating the resultant grape’s sweetness. Honey, and fruit, richly sweet and complex, full and delicious, layered…oh and because it can’t be said too often, there’s a lot of apple fruit notes in this wine. Not cloying, just perfect, and a treat to taste with the beautifully executed Apple Galette.

Swanson Vineyards is experiencing a renaissance, changing, evolving, growing. More wines are being sealed with screwcaps, eliminating corked TCA tainted wines in those wines. The Merlot is being picked riper, and is less herbal. Swanson Vineyards has backed away from heavier black toast in barrels. Up to 20% of finished wine is sold off to other wineries, to ensure only the highest quality wine carries Swanson Vineyard’s name. In blind tastes against wines costing twice as much, and more, the “Alexis” Cabernet Sauvignon more than holds its own. While continuing to make a variety of exciting wines, and maintaining a sense of exploration and experimentation, the winery is focusing on a core of wines. A new tasting room will give guests more experience options. Focus, dedication, quality, evolution, success.

The full line of wines from Swanson Vineyards includes Rosato, Pinot Grigio, Merlot, Alexis Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Sangiovese, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel (it’s coming), Arsene Dessert Petite Sirah, Tardif Late Harvest Chardonnay, Minuit Dessert Black Muscat, and Crepuscule Late Harvest Semillon. Swanson Vineyards is located at 1271 Manley Lane, Rutherford, CA 94573. Swanson Vineyards has a wine club, le club des bon vivants, and ships to 35 states.

DISCLOSURE: Swanson Vineyards provided wines to taste, and lunch, for both me and a friend. In addition to their hospitality, I was gifted a lovely bag containing a bottle of 2005 Merlot, and a baseball cap. My invitation from Chris Phelps was facilitated by publicity pro Julie Ann Kodmur. Thanks to Julie Ann and everyone at Swanson Vineyards.

Not long ago, I received an unusual note in my email inbox; A San Diego construction company owner, Brian Behncke, came up with an ecologically friendly alternative to filling the local land fills with wood scraps and imperfect boards, he up-cycles cedar fencing into several unique and worthwhile consumer products, including wine gift boxes, that he would like to make available wholesale to wineries, tasting rooms, and gift shops. Brian is also learning the world of online and direct retail sales. A new and unfamiliar business model, Brian approached me as part of a larger marketing effort to get the word out about his products.

8point8 makes attractive useful products from cedar fencing recovered just before going to the landfill

Brian’s wood reuse company 8point8 uses recovered cedar and redwood planks, and has a growing line of products; from boxes, totes, and displays for wine to raised bowl feeders for dogs and cats, from wooden fruit bowls to wooden herb gardens, seed trays and planters, from wooden plant stands to outdoor chair-side personal cocktail tables.

Online shopping site

Brian asked if he could send an item or two, and if I would provide feedback. I love recycled, upcycled, reclaimed, and green reuse initiatives, and I let Brian know that I would love to write about 8point8, his wood reuse company and his line of available products.

The functionality of 8point8’s products, as much as the charm of their eco-ethic, appealed to me immediately

When the box arrived, I assumed that the delivery man was bringing another wine shipment. When I opened the box, I was greeted with the beautiful perfume of cedar, a lovely aroma, rich and redolent, pleasing and welcome.

I unpacked three items, a handsomely well constructed presentation wine box with hinges and a latch, a traditional styled unfinished cedar fruit bowl, and a more unusual rustic design cedar fruit bowl.

This, for me, is the winner in the Wine Item offerings

The wine box is incredibly well made. It will help upscale a bottle of wine from a just picked up at the store kind of gift into a one of a kind thoughtfully presented gift. I like it because I am a right angle, squared, 90° kind of a guy. For those with an interest in unusual design, 8point8 offers 1, 2, and 3 bottle wine totes in an unusual eye catching slanted style.

The unusual design aesthetic behind 8point8 on display

Of the two wooden fruit bowls I received, I preferred the more narrow, but longer, design of the more unusual rustic bowl. Measuring 7.5″ x 14″ x 6″ deep, this bowl fit more perfectly on my limited countertop than the wider but smaller capacity glass bowl it replaced. I cook, this bowl fir my kitchen perfectly. Brian can personalize this piece with a brand of up to 10 letters for $5 which turns this great fruit bowl into a unique one of a kind gift. 8point8 also has a larger 8″ x 19″ x 8″ deep extra large version of this bowl design for just two dollars more.

This fruit bowl is the perfect size and design for my kitchen

The more traditional fruit bowl is beautiful; 5″ x 5″ square at its base, tapering to 12″ x 12″ at the top, and 5″ deep, this is the bowl I imagine most people would want in the center of a table. I have a very small house, and did not know initially what I was going to do with this larger bowl, so it sat unused next to the box it was shipped in.

I think this would be the more popular shape and size bowl, but I didn’t know what to do with it

Later that night, any question about how I would use the large wooden bowl was answered when my cat repurposed the fruit bowl as his bed. The following morning, sleeping position changed, my cat was still in the bowl, and the perfection of the bowl size was confirmed.

My cat knew exactly what to do with what had been intended as a large fruit bowl.

Unintentional cat beds are not the only items 8point8 offers pet owners, there are a number of products offered to raise the water and food bowl of your dog or cat off of the ground.

Dog Feed and Water Station – 20″ x 11″ x 8″ high

Cat, or small dog, Feeder

Also, new since Brian contacted me are decorative small tables and stands, and garden items.

The newest, and my favorite, item offered by 8point8 – the Herb Garden Boxes

I just started planting this week, so the garden items are of special interest to me. In particular, I love the incredibly attractive wooden herb garden pots in a wood tray. I cook, and am constantly buying ridiculously expensive fresh herbs for recipes. This is a foodie’s dream item.

In addition to offering their product line to consumers directly through their online store site, I think that Brian and 8point8 would do well to market their items directly to consumers at high end art and craft shows. I have a lot of experience doing shows, selling a wine accessory directly to consumers, and I can see these items, appealing to wine lovers, food lovers, pet lovers, and gardening enthusiast. I see an enormous gifting potential, so multiple item sales. I see the opportunity to captivate show attendees and the conversion from attendee to customer with the story of the business. Solidly made, attractive products, with functional use, made from cedar fencing bound for the dump – I can see a nice business, generating solid revenue on weekends.


6 Wooden Pot Herb Garden $29.95

Dog Feeder $34.95

Cat Feeder $34.00

Hinged Wine Box $14.95

Three bottle slanted tote $19.99

Traditional Style Fruit Bowl $16.99

Rustic Style Fruit Bowl $16.99

Extra Large Rustic Style Fruit Bowl $18.95

These are just a few of the 40 items Brian is currently offering through his company 8point8’s store site. Visit the site to see more pictures, more items, and to shop for yourself or for a well considered gift for family or a friend.


I have a bad tooth. I visited the dentist and it will be extracted, but first I have to undergo a week long treatment of Penicillin to clean up an infection in the tooth.

I recently wrote elsewhere about not being able to enjoy wine with food this week, as my treatment of antibiotics meant I could not consume alcohol.

I received two interesting responses; one friend said that the prohibition on consuming alcohol while taking antibiotics was unnecessary and just a wives tale, while the other response came from his online new bff, a nurse, who said that alcohol actually decreases the effectiveness of the medicine.

The Genesis of the myth:

“When I was a young doctor, I found that whenever I prescribed antibiotics for someone, they always said to me, “Doctor, I can’t have a drink “while I’m on these, can I?” It wasn’t something they’d taught me in medical school. I had a good look in the books – couldn’t find anything about it there. So I wondered, “Where does this story come from?” Well, the myth began at what used to be called the VD clinics – what are now known as the sexual health centres. The first true antibiotic was penicillin. It proved remarkably effective in curing some very nasty ailments. The problem was it didn’t stop people having a few drinks and having more fun. If they took alcohol while on penicillin, they might get frisky and pass on the disease before the penicillin could clear it up…It’s nothing to do with a real interaction between penicillin and alcohol…Nothing to do with the pharmacology…It was a moral agenda to keep people under control.” – Dr. Nick Carr and Dr. Norman Roth

From the Mayo Clinic:

“Alcohol doesn’t diminish the effectiveness of most antibiotics.” – James M Steckelberg, M.D.

From steadyhealth.com:

“Only few classes of antibiotics should be avoided when drinking alcohol (Peniciilin is not among them).”

From the National Health Service of England:

“It is unlikely that drinking alcohol in moderation will cause problems if you are taking most common antibiotics.”

The British Journal of Medicine also states unequivocally that the assumption that patients should avoid alcohol when taking any antibiotics “has no foundation,” and goes on to examine the widespread the myth about antibiotics and alcohol both among patients and medical clinic staff – a pilot survey showed that 76% of clinic staff believed the myth.

My favorite bit of research yielded a delightful new word to me. Karl S. Kruszelnicki used the term “mythconception” to describe the assertion that alcohol can not be consumed while taking most antibiotics.


I wrote a piece months ago about drinking and pregnancy, and pointed at the wealth of evidence pointing at healthier babies, and safer deliveries, born of mothers who consumed moderate amounts of wine during pregnancy.

My article is well linked on several pregnancy sites, and never fails to stir some debate on the subject. I used to want to scream when I read knee jerk, prohibitionist, anti science nonsense in some of the posts that appeared in those debate threads. I never responded because I am a guy, and right or wrong, smart or not, these women were doing the best they could during their pregnancies, and I certainly couldn’t fault them for making choices based in good faith but bad science.

I have no room whatsoever to disrespect these women even in my mind for choosing to abstain from even moderate consumption of alcohol during pregnancy, even when faced with evidence of a benefit in that consumption. They are making an emotional choice about a fetus, about an unborn child. Their anti-science overabundance of caution is perhaps noble even.

In spite of the overwhelming medical evidence that there is no effect on Penicillin’s efficacy were I to consume a moderate amount of wine with dinner, I find my previously held mythconception comfortable, and I do not feel easy about combining alcohol and medication.

Choosing not to drink wine for non-existent medical reasons just smacks of superstitious thinking. I know I am being ridiculous, but the power of the lie is stronger than the truth.

Influenced by wrong information, knowing it to be wrong, I have found a new respect for others who make foolish choices based on similarly persuasive wrong data.


This week, to make up for a lacking flavor element wine adds to a meal, I have been cooking food using extra layers of delicious ingredients.

For breakfast yesterday, I cooked blueberry pancakes with butter and pure maple syrup. High quality ingredients make for amazing results; this was simple, but absolutely delicious.

For dinner, I cooked my version of Steak au Poivre. I cut six Filet Mignon from a whole beef tenderloin.  I heated torn tarragon and 10 crushed garlic cloves in olive oil on the stove, then after cooling, I strained the flavor infused oil into a bowl. I cracked an equal volume of fresh black peppercorns and added them to the tarragon garlic infused oil, making a vacuum bag marinade for the Filet Mignon. I cooked the steaks in black cast iron, then deglazed the pan with wine, reduced it, and added butter to make a simple and delicious sauce for the pepper crusted Filet Mignon. This was easy to make, just a little fancier than steak on the grill, and was a multi layered taste sensation.

I can say that there are a host of red wines that would have made last night’s dinner even more delicious (Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon), but it is good to know that I can cook great food that can stand by itself for when I have friends visit who can’t or don’t drink alcohol.


Last night as I lay in bed before falling asleep, I listened to rain fall and fall, seemingly without end, and I thought of the potential impact on the vineyards where grapes are grown for wine.

Heavy rains coming shortly after bud break can lead to a crop loss. Rot and mold can set, buds can fall off the vine, valuable topsoil can be eroded on hillside vineyard locations, and the buds may be unable to self pollinate and grapes do not form.

Vineyard owners hate big rains this time of the year, they lose valuable crop.

Many wineries, and winemakers, love big rains this time of the year; nature’s decrease in crop set can lead to increased flavor in the remaining grapes, leading to more delicious wines.

Today I look back at where the blog has been, and where I would like to see it go in the next year. This isn’t a self congratulatory puff piece, at least that isn’t my intention; I want to touch briefly on some topics that I hope to cover in greater fullness in the next year, and rededicate myself to what I think I’ve done well with my blog over the last year.

In January last year, I started blogging on Myspace, not about wine, but about whatever I wanted. My writing was equal parts journal, soap box, and therapist’s couch. I wasn’t writing about wine, and the writing didn’t come easy every day, but I found that I enjoyed writing. I found that the writing helped me clarify my thinking on a variety of subjects, and I found myself shocked when people found their way to my random writing and bothered to read it.

It wasn’t until May that my first wine oriented articles appeared in the blog. Murphy Goode was looking for a really good Hardy Wallace, and at the time I thought I would be a great candidate. Murphy Goode’s contest is why I started to focus on wine.

Although I had loyal facebook friends, was able to mobilize support from members of online forums where I was a member, and through 30 year reunion communications had my high school classmates voting en masse, all leading to my video application being the 8th most popular out of the almost 2,000 submitted; looking back, I can say I was woefully unqualified for Murphy Goode’s job.

I had more knowledge of Sonoma County than any other applicant, a love and passion for the area I was born and raised. I have awards for marketing Sonoma County wines; my experience is grounded in the real world, and compliments my Bachelor of Science degree in Marketing. I was the perfect candidate, except for one little thing: I wasn’t really a wine blogger, and my writing wasn’t really all that good.

Through the Summer, I continued to write my little blog on Myspace. I still wrote whatever I wanted, and wasn’t hemmed in by being a blog about a subject yet. As I wrote, my writing started to improve. I never felt that my writing was artistic, beautiful, elegant; for me writing felt like craft, not art. The most I could hope for was to construct a well built article. I felt like a handyman.

By Fall, I was happier still with my writing, feeling like a craftsman. I was happy with my writing, and actually proud of a piece or two.

In December, I moved my blog here to WordPress, and originally named it John On Wine, Food, Friends, and Wine Country Lifestyle. I narrowed the focus, and was surprised that inspite of the narrower focus, my readership increased.

Coming to WordPress, I brought some of my writing from Myspace, but deleted the vast majority of what I had previously written. Looking back at my archived articles, I wonder if I might have deleted enough.

Without intending to, I have written almost exclusively about wine in 2010. The writing is easier, I have worked for many years in the industry, have experience, knowledge, passion, and I enjoy sharing what I know and think. I shortened the name of the blog to John On Wine.

Where I once had fewer than 100 find my blog in a week, I now have over 200 people visit my blog daily. There are wine bloggers that claim 10,000 visits daily, so my success is small, but I am happy with it.

The decision to focus on wine was made unconsciously as I looked at the writing about wine, both in print and online. It seemed that wine writers were writing for each other instead of for regular people. Seriously, why waste a sentence writing about  a wine receiving a 100 point score from a well known wine critic if the wine is a small 150 case release, costs $275 a bottle and all of the bottles are already allocated to customers on a list maintained by the winery with a 15 year wait to get on the list?

I am the wine geekiest of my friends or family, the Frasier Crane in a world of Daphne Moons.  I want to write about wines that taste good, cost relatively little, and are readily available. I want to write without pretension or built in snob biases against certain wines (yes, I’m looking at you White Zin). I have friends who didn’t drink wine, but drank beer instead, with meals. I write for them, not other wine writers or bloggers, and I am thrilled when I get an email from a friend about bringing home a wine from the supermarket, or ordering a glass of wine in a restaurant, because of something I have written.

That is why I write, that is who I am writing for. Please do not bring up “monetizing” my blog, a regular person picking up a wine is my payback.

I live in wine country, I write with passion, I do well what the wine industry as a whole does horribly, I market wine, and wine country to my readers. My writing has led to some opportunities, invitations to special tastings and events.

I love writing about a huge tasting like ZAP; the Zinfandel Advocates and Producers grand tasting in San Francisco is an opportunity for a Zinfandel lover to choose, from several hundred Zinfandels being poured by nearly every producer of the varietal, Zinfandels to taste over a three hour period.

I am proud of the recap I wrote covering three days of ZAP events, and about my chance encounter with Zinfandel icons Joel Peterson of Ravenswood, and his son Morgan Twain-Peterson of Bedrock wine Company.

I am equally proud of my piece dedicated to White Zinfandel. There are plenty of wine snobs, many with wine blogs, who write about White Zin with derision. I do not join them, but will happily join a friend at a Summer picnic in enjoying a deliciously sweet and refreshing White Zin.

I visit wineries, and write longer feature pieces, making generous use of photography to paint a better picture of the property than my words convey. I am surprised, when leaving a winery that I am going to write about, to find I love the winery and want to work there – each and every time. Every winery I visit is special, a jewel, worthy of a story, stealing my heart. I don’t seek out special wineries, I just find that every winery I have visited so far is. Sit down with a winemaker, a tasting room manager, a winery owner, and it doesn’t take much digging to find the uniqueness, the magic, the specialness.

I write evaluations and reviews of wine accessories and wine books. My article condemning the vacu-vin pump wine saver was one of my most read pieces and I still have people visiting my site to read that article after Googling “vacu-vin.” I read and reviewed Randall Grahm’s book Been Doon So Long; I loved reading it, I hope my love for the book inspires someone to buy a copy for a wine loving friend, and I know it will make a Christmas Gift list recommendation piece at year’s end.

I write about wine and health. My piece on wine and pregnancy is linked and referenced on several maternity sites. I followed that up with a review of a book on the benefits wine offers in fighting the effects of aging, “Age Gets Better With Wine.”

I have taken up issues; Government censorship of wineries, neo-prohibitionism, wine blogger ethics, FTC rulings that apply to bloggers but not print writers, and snobbery by wine writers.

I don’t want to become a wine blogger writing for other wine bloggers, endlessly twittering about absolutely nothing in an attempt to be a loved member of the in crowd wine blogger community. I’m a 49 year old man, not a 12 year old girl. I believe in the value of community, and I think that reading more than one wine writer has value; I honestly think that too much of the wine writing (I’m guilty of this sometimes) out there just plain sucks.

Here’s a funny one; there’s a wine blog that calls itself “Wine for Regular People” or some such misnomer that reviews bottles of Lynch Bages at $95 and Morley Cabernet at $175. Those are single bottle prices folks. I have just one question for the regular people who read my blog:  How many of you are interested in wines you’ve likely never heard of at prices you’ll never pay? Seriously, I would respect the writing if it wasn’t front loaded with a bald face, um, lie. Change the name of the site to “Wine for Elites For Whom Money Is Not An Issue,” and you will instantly stop being mockable funny and start garnering immediate respect.

While I’m touching on things I don’t like; let me talk about Social Media Marketing hacks. I know of one winery wasting their money on not one, but two employees who together do not accomplish the worthwhile Marketing output of the majority of their peers. To make matters worse, one of them has publicly written that building his own personal brand is his focus in doing his job. What about your employer’s brand? Another gripe, I find there is far too little Marketing involved in most Social Media Marketing. How about you stop talking about your personal business on your employer’s site, maybe try developing a voice, a message, a professional content? My complaints about the weak could fill an entire article, and perhaps in the future, they will. Two people I think are doing a great job with Social Media Marketing in the industry are Eric Hwang and Rick Bakas; on their heels, learning and growing almost daily, is Nicole Marino.

I think that Social Media Marketing holds amazing potential for the wine industry specifically, but the only wineries that will see a benefit are those hiring people with a strong work ethic and pre-existing marketing skills who can apply them within a new environment.

So bringing this post to an end, I want to thank you for your support. I write for you, my regular guy or gal reader. I will continue to write an insider’s view into wine from the wine country. I want to continue to mix it up, providing varied content, but try to find more inexpensive, available, good wine to write about.

I will leave the wine ratings, 100 point scales, letter grade, puffs, stars, to others. I can’t, and don’t want to, taste hundreds of wines at an event and sum up each wine by assigning it a number; there are well read and respected wine writers who do just that already. I am looking forward to Summer, hot days spilling into long warm nights, friends gathered, enjoying food that I prepared from locally sourced farm ingredients, and wines. I love to write about wine in context.

I would rather tuck review sample wines away until Summer and review them in context, painting a much more full picture of fellowship and enjoyment, than open five wines, taste one after the other, and publish my tasting notes today.

Next Page »