March 2013

An Introduction to John on Wine

By John Cesano
Updated:   03/28/2013 10:28:30 AM PDT

Welcome to what will be a weekly column on wine that will run each Thursday here in the Ukiah Daily Journal.

I shared my disappointment with folks here at the Journal when the Wine Wednesday pages disappeared with the loss of the Mendocino Winegrape & Wine Commission last year.

Editor K.C. Meadows suggested I write a weekly wine column then, but I already had a few part time jobs to go with my full time job managing the McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room and didn’t want to commit to 700 words on wine each week. I had to decline.

More recently, UDJ Features Editor Kelly Hancock asked me again to consider writing a weekly wine column.

Hancock edited the piece I submitted last year in advance of the fall Hopland Passport event until it fit the space available, cutting half the words while leaving the piece intact. It was a solid piece of editing.

In addition to appreciating Hancock’s editing skills, I also liked that – in spite of having submitted 16 pictures of other winery tasting rooms – Hancock used a picture of me that she had taken from a previous Passport event and had on file. Anyone who knows me will tell you I am not immune to a kind ego stroke.

After weighing the pros and cons of writing a weekly column, I decided that, with Hancock as an editor I feel comfortable with, being allowed to write a number of columns in advance and “spiking” them, I would be free of the time pressure of a deadline.

My focus will be wine and the winery tasting rooms along the 101 corridor, from Hopland to Redwood Valley and Ukiah to Potter Valley. I’ll try to paint pictures with words and hopefully give readers reasons to visit these tasting rooms.

Some columns will look at a particular varietal like Chardonnay or Zinfandel, with descriptions of some of my favorite local examples. Other columns will feature a style or type of wine, like rosé or sparkling wines, and again I will describe some outstanding wines within the column.

I’ll write about my favorite wine books, my favorite wine accessories, and wine preservation systems.

I’m a cheerleader for the industry and for our area. You will not find me writing that a winery sucks, that their staff are rude, or that their wines are vile; I’ll stick to the places I like most, writing about the wineries that do a great job, about the things they do well, about the friendly and helpful people who are the face of the winery, and about the very yummiest wines from each winery I write about.

You’ll read pieces in advance of Taste of Redwood Valley, Taste of Downtown (Ukiah), and Hopland Passport as well as about the area’s best individual winery events from Saracina’s Pig and Pinot feast at their ranch to McFadden’s Wine Club Dinner for 225 with overnight camping on the bank of the Russian River. I’ll outline the 101 corridor participants in the county’s Crab & Wine Festival and Wine & Mushroom Fest.

I’m not Frasier Crane, I’m not a wine snob, but I picked and crushed my first wine grapes when I was 11. I worked in vineyards as a teen. I put together my first restaurant wine list in my twenties. I sold many thousands of cases of wine, and traveled the country talking about wine, in my thirties. In my forties, I visited winery tasting rooms in 42 counties selling wine books and wine accessories. Now, at 52, I manage retail sales for McFadden, and provide design and marketing services to some local tourism groups.

I’ll be writing about what I know and love. I’ll try to write without pretension, most often using first names – ­ wine is a first name industry. I’ll try to use columns to answer questions about wine. I hope you’ll read and perhaps be moved to experience some of what I share with you.

My greatest challenge will be to limit the use of words like love and adore. I love so many places and wines and adore so many people in our local wine industry that I fear sounding repetitive.

Sometimes when I have too much to say on a subject to fit the confines of this newspaper column, my extra words can overflow on the UDJ online version of my column.

John Cesano manages the McFadden Farm Stand and Tasting Room in Hopland and has a popular wine blog, also called John on Wine.

Today marks the end of my second full year running Guinness McFadden’s retail shop in Hopland.

In my first two years, numbers at the McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room continue to climb and climb; this month we are up 89.92% over last year’s March revenue, which was up over the March before, as an example.

It helps that our wines have gone from being very good to the best in the area. I am not responsible for the constantly improving wine quality, but it sure makes my job easier.

We’ve implemented new marketing initiatives at McFadden, and I still have a long list of areas that still need improvement.

Our wine club membership numbers are the highest they have ever been, and I am so grateful for the support of our members.

During these first two years working in the Mendocino wine industry:

I have written over 40 newsletters and 17 press releases for various groups.

I have taken on new design work to help increase local tourism.

I served as secretary on the board of directors for our local tourism group, Destination Hopland.

I provided marketing services to Destination Hopland and 101 Things to Do in Mendocino.

I continued to write (sporadically) for my own blog, JohnOnWine.

I wrote for Destination Hopland, 101 Things to Do in Mendocino, Mendocino Winegrape & Wine Commission, City of Santa Rosa blog (rare fit, as my pieces have a Mendo focus), and the Ukiah Daily Journal.

I have appeared on KSRO 1350AM’s The Drive with Steve Jaxon show as the Mendocino wine correspondent for McFadden, for Destination Hopland in advance of Hopland Passport, and for Coro Mendocino in advance of the groups only farm to table wine dinner.

I help the best Wine Club Party in the industry happen, mostly by staying out of the way…fun happens by itself if you let it.

I put together an inaugural Toys For Tots toy drive and wine tasting event last December that was a huge success. We collected a lot of toys for local children in need, thanks to a great community of friends who supported our efforts, and will certainly be doing this every year from now on.

Tomorrow, I am told, my weekly wine column begins in the Ukiah Daily Journal.

I received a note from a former employer, someone I feel fond affection for, Howard Smith, at my work anniversary. He wrote, “You’re a great evangelizer for the industry.” I appreciate the note, it couldn’t be kinder.

I am looking forward to year three. I am so grateful to have been welcomed into the local community. It has been a joy to work collaboratively with so many folks on so many projects. Sometimes, I have a look of concentrated focus on my face, instead of my goofy smile, as I have multiple projects all with impending deadlines, but please know that I love my career, I love being able to interact with all of the people I get to, so feel free to break through my focus and say hello.

There are a number of things I am great at, and am old enough to be good at a number of other things.

My iPad lets me take decent pictures and post hem to the Internet, so I consider myself a decent picture taker.

I love to cook, am better than average, no where near Top Cheftestant good but better than several clowns on Hell’s Kitchen.

It is a joy to know people who are great at the things I am good at and be able to benefit from their different skill set.

Yesterday, I had a wine club member share a new way she used the wild rice from our farm that we sell in our tasting room. Kirsten Turner was with a Bay Area dance company, and perhaps her artistic nature extends to the culinary arts, or maybe she is just a much better cook than I am, but I would never have thought to cook our wild rice in he same manner that I cook risotto like she did. Simple, but brilliant. I am excited, and grateful, for the terrific tip.

Also yesterday, I had a visit from terrific professional photographer, personal friend, and really friend to the entire local wine industry, Diane Davis. DI Davis offered her photographic art to accompany the writing that will appear in my weekly Ukiah Daily Journal wine column, an offer I gratefully accepted. I love that we have the opportunity to work collaboratively, each doing what we do best. We have talked before about such opportunities, but this will be our first big project and on ongoing one.

Di came to my tasting room to take a portrait for the weekly column, a kind and generous act, but one which I was not wholly comfortable with. I make for terrible photos. I am short, fat, bald, and have terrible teeth. Occasionally someone captures a good pic by accident, but many times I just cringe seeing pictures of myself.

I had actually sent almost three dozen head pics, randomly snipped from photos ranging from childhood to current, grainy to hi def, so my UDJ editor could rotate pics in and out because there isn’t really a picture I like enough to want folks to have to see each week.

A professional is a professional for a reason. Di got me out from behind my tasting room bar, cleared off a table, set me up with my laptop and a bottle and glass of wine, and before you knew it, she was telling a story with hr camera. The portrait pictures looked great, and it was clear that I was a wine writer at work. Simple, but something I would never have thought of in a million years.

NOTE: I’ve added a copy of Di’s work below. I’ll move it up here when I get to the magical laptop in the portrait.

I am grateful for the people who come into my life, knowing things I do not, with a willingness to share the gifts of their knowledge and skill.

Since I write a wine blog, and purport to report on the goings on in my area of Mendocino County, here’s some news: Weibel Family Winery & Vineyards tasting room will be shutting down the day after Easter. Weibel wine club members will still be served, but shipments will come from Lodi. The tasting room will be reopened on May 1, just in time to participate in Hopland Passport on May 4 and 5, as Ray’s Station.

Ray’s Station will be the Mendocino County presence of the growing Vintage Wine Estates empire, which includes Windsor Vineyards (where I worked over 8 years and have friends still), Sonoma Coast Vineyards, Girard, Kunde, and more. Weibel had good wines. I have tasted many great wines from VWE brands.

Margaret, Ashley, and the rest of the current tasting room crew will transition with Ray’s Station, and the future is bright with a promise of increased wine quality and a mighty marketing machine to support it.


Yesterday, after work, I visited Saracina. Owners John Fetzer and Patty Rock, winemaker Alex MacGregor, and tasting room superstars Cassandra Mortier and Kassandra Zamanis hosted the winery and tasting room folks from Hopland, their neighbors, for a delightful relaxed get together.

These informal fun gatherings allow us the opportunity to taste each other’s wines, new releases we are especially proud of, to make pointing visitors looking for a particular wine type in the right direction easier.

Earlier this week, I had a taster at McFadden ask about Malbec. McFadden Farm has a cool climate, too cool to produce great Bordeaux red grapes like Malbec.

Saracina makes a Malbec. I tasted it yesterday, and it rocks. 2010 Saracina Malbec, Skid Row Vineyards. Smooth, full, dark cocoa, rich berry fruit, wood, and herb mingle in the glass. Supple. Hella yummy.

Also yummy: the 2010 Saracina Pinot Noir. I hate it when pinot Noir is described as Burgundian, but this Pinot Noir was Burgundian. Light Pinot funk, soft, feminine, earthy cherry and berry notes, lovely integration. Kassandra said the wine was pretty. Alex said I need to taste the 2011. I liked this pretty Pinot plenty.

Guinness McFadden and I brought our 2009 Mcfadden Reserve Sparkling Cuvee Brut, which John has purchased to use for celebrations at Saracina before, and our 2011 McFadden Late Harvest Riesling which was a revelation for a number of tasters. We’re proud of both wines.

I was a guest on KSRO 1350 AM’s The Drive with Steve Jaxon show this week. Ordinarily, a different winery guest joins Steve in the five o’clock drive time hour for Wine Wednesday.

This was my fourth Wednesday visit in a year. Previously, I’ve represented McFadden Vineyards, Destination Hopland, and Coro Mendocino.  Now, with all new vintages released, I was back to talk for an hour about McFadden Farm and Vineyard.

Earlier the day of my visit, the conclave of Cardinals selected Pope Francis, and in honor of the news, Wine Wednesday was replaced for the week with Water into Wine Wednesday.

The show is three hours, and I was up for the last hour. The show ‘s other guests included two phone report on the new Pontiff; one from Rome, and the other with Dr. Matthew Bunson; Carrie Monolokas, who performed with Phish AND on Broadway in Wicked, overachieving wundersinger performed a song or three; Joel Selvin, the music writer for the Chronicle talked music; Deon Cole, last seen on Conan promoted his gig at Cobbs in San Francisco, Petaluma city councilman Gabriel Kearney ended up talking about the new Pope. Then I was up with Ben Pearson of the Bottle Barn and Joe Gaspardone of wine finder as Steve’s special Water into Wine Wednesday cohosts.

We tasted through six wines that I brought, and some corned beef and cabbage I cooked in McFadden wine and herbs from the farm. The wines received a terrific reception; Ben Pearson seemed interested in bringing some into his store, which pleased me. Steve Jaxon invited me back any Wine Wednesday I am free to join his wine industry cohosts, Ben, Joe, and Tom (Simoneau).

Ben Pearson commented on air about the lack of marketing over the last 10 years from Mendocino County’s cooperative protocol sharing group of wineries program. After the show, he amended his comment to include the county’s entire wine presence, saying Mendocino County does not market its wines well, which makes his job of bringing them in to his store more difficult. You can’t stock what doesn’t sell, and things with buzz sell better.

I couldn’t agree more.
The group tasked with the job of promoting Mendocino County’s wines, the Mendocino Winegrape & wine Commission,  was voted out of existence by a majority of the county’s grape growers last year.

The county’s main tourism group, Visit Mendocino, does a great job marketing Mendocino county as a place to visit, but marketing or promoting our wines is not really their job.

Individual wine tourism groups, focused on small portions of the county, from Hopland to Redwood Valley, and Anderson Valley the Yorkville Highlands, market and promote the wines of their little pockets of the county, but, if Mendocino wines are going to gain traction in the marketplace, a more vigorous and constant effort needs to emerge on behalf of all of us.

Mendocino Winegrowers Inc. (MWI), a volunteer collection of winegrowers and vintners operates on a shoestring budget, and while they have worked to help vineyards sell their grapes, they are (thus far) not capturing the attention of influencers like Ben, or the larger general public, with a message about our county’s quality wines.

Burying the lead: My blather, shortened to roughly 750 words at a time, will appear weekly in the Ukiah Daily Journal. John On Wine will continue to exist, but expand to include a weekly newspaper wine column.

It will probably begin next week, and run either Wednesdays or Thursdays. I’ll post the pieces I write here after they publish in the paper and online.

I’m not going to pretend that my little wine column will have much impact on Mendocino County wine sales, or that a greater awareness of our wines will occur…but it can’t hurt.

Hi everyone. Tune in to Santa Rosa’s KSRO 1350 AM from 5-6pm when I join The Drive with Steve Jaxon for the Wine Wednesday drive time hour to talk with Steve and his wine folk co-hosts about McFadden Farm and all of the goodies in our Farm Stand & Tasting Room in Hopland. If you do not live close enough to tune in and listen on your radio, then listen online at – go to the site and hit the “listen live” button.

We’ll be tasting some of our top award winning wines live on air. We’ll also be enjoying other McFadden Farm fare, I’m bringing in Corned Beef and Cabbage cooked in McFadden Gewurztraminer. Oh, did I mention that McFadden Farm grows our own organic grass fed beef and our own organically grown, non-irradiated, herbs and herb blends. Tomorrow will be tasty.

Earlier I sent a dozen pieces, each about 750 words (yeah, that took some self editing), to the Ukiah Daily Journal’s features editor, Kelly Hancock. Kelly had asked me to write a weekly column, and with a few months on the spike, I will not need to worry overly much about a deadline. After she looks them over and gives each a polishing edit, they should run each Thursday, beginning perhaps next week.