September 2013


John on Wine – Contests and Donations

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal on September 26, 2013 by John Cesano

    Because many folks in the wine industry and my friends that work at our area’s wineries read this column, this week I am writing to let them know about two things the California Alcoholic Beverage Control – CA ABC – would like them to know about.



    It wasn’t that long ago that Sutter Home winery in Napa Valley first had to exclude Californians from entering their Build a Better Burger contest, and then had to move the contest out of the state completely to avoid breaking the laws that existed regarding what wineries could give away.

    I wrote about the contest and the laws years ago, and suggested at the time that Sutter Home’s parent company Trinchero Family Estates use some of their substantial political power to see our legislature change the laws regarding contests for wineries.

    Today, Californians can Build a Better Burger, and they can do so at Sutter Home’s winery location here in California.

    Wineries may now have contests offering participants the opportunity to receive or compete for gifts, prizes, gratuities, or other things of value as determined by skill, knowledge, or ability rather than upon random selection. Skill, knowledge, or ability does not include the consumption or use of alcoholic beverages.

    Similarly, wineries can hold sweepstakes whereas a procedure, activity, or event for the distribution of anything of value by lot, chance, or random selection where the odds of winning a prize are equal for each entry. Again, consumption or use of alcohol may not be part of the sweepstakes.

    The legislature doesn’t make simple laws for the CA ABC to enforce, so read all the rules in the industry advisory at

    Alcohol cannot be the prize and use of alcohol cannot be part of an entry. There will be no “Win a case of wine” or “One entry with each bottle purchased.”

    That said, a winery can give away olive oil, or pottery, or logo branded t-shirt through a Facebook contest; a winery could give away a boxed gift pack of organic herbs in a drawing of people who sign up for a monthly newsletter; or a winery could give away a Christmas Tree or holiday herb wreath to the person who sends in the best holiday food recipe.

    There are many exciting opportunities to increase your marketing reach, and engage in fun new ways, that were once prohibited, with your customers.



    Sometimes the cause is good, sometimes almost frivolous. They come in. Perhaps they call. Maybe they email. Sometimes, they do all three: “Hi, I’m calling because you were out when I visited, and I haven’t received a response to my email, but …,” they’re asking for wine. Relentlessly, they ask.

    For small production winery tasting rooms like the one I work at, the requests for free wine can easily exceed production.

    This year, representatives from the CA ABC, attended winery conferences to put the word out that while anyone can ask a winery for a donation of wine, wineries may only make a donation to a non-profit with a valid liquor license.

    To keep from running afoul of state law, a winery should collect copies of both the letter from the Internal Revenue Service determining non-profit status with a tax identification number, and a CA ABC daily license authorization.

    Whether charging an event ticket price where wine is poured, or selling wine, or auctioning wine, each non-profit organization must fill out a form ABC-221, and send the application at least three weeks before the event along with a nominal required fee to the closest CA ABC district office. In time, the CA ABC will sign, date, and stamp the application, and at that point it becomes an authorization.

    When approaching a winery tasting room asking for a donation, it is best to have copies of both papers in hand. Again, the CA ABC does not make laws, but they enforce them and their recent public sharing of the requirements for tasting rooms when making wine donations may very well be the first step toward enforcement, with penalties against a wineries license for infractions.

    To be clear, David Bailey who heads up the Santa Rosa district office of the CA ABC says that a winery making a wine contribution to anyone other than a non-profit with an IRS determination letter, holding a CA ABC form ABC-221 daily license authorization is, “exceeding their license privileges,” and subject to both, “suspension and a fine.” He said the penalty can vary, but the suspension could likely be 15 days and the fine $10,000.

    If you are seeking a donation, be aware, we will not put our winery license in jeopardy, so spend a nominal fee and do things legally.

    There are plenty of folks who we donate to, they have their paperwork in order and are a joy to work with. There are a couple of folks this year that I wish we could have donated to that did not have any paperwork at all and they could easily get their license, so I hope they do so next year. Also, working for a small winery tasting room, I must confess that the law actually helped us reduce the number of requests to consider.


John On Wine ­
Blends: The sum should be greater than the parts

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal on September 19, 2013 by John Cesano
John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

Recently, I had a chance to judge and help pick a winning blend at the Third Annual Testa Barn Blend BBQ in Calpella.

Each table blended 2012 vintages of four wines, Testa Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Carignane, and Petite Sirah. Together with Rosemary Eddy and Sarah Bailey, a winning blend was selected from among the 22 created.

Maria Testa Martinson shared something that John Buchenstein told her, when he was dropping off graduated cylinders for the blending party; he said, “Blends brings people together.”

Fans of different varietal wines, a Cabernet Sauvignon lover and a Zinfandel lover as an example, can come together in their enjoyment of a wine that has some of both of these grapes in the blend. Also, at a blending party, the act of blending, creating a new wine through trial and error, mixing and tasting, with table mates, brings people together.


Most of the wine you buy and enjoy is a blend. That Cabernet Sauvignon you just picked up likely has some Merlot blended in, just as many Merlot bottles have some Cabernet Sauvignon blended in.

To carry a varietal name on the label, a wine must be made up of at least 75 percent of that named grape, but can have up to 25 percent of non-named grapes blended in.

A reason for the blending is that Cabernet Sauvignon without Merlot is often too firm and harsh, and Merlot without Cabernet can be flabby and insipid; but a little Merlot makes a Cabernet Sauvignon a little softer and a little Merlot in a Cabernet Sauvignon in Merlot provides a little structure.

Throughout Europe, wines are most often blends. Buy a white Bordeaux, and you are likely tasting a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillion; a Châteauneuf-du-Pape can include any of 13 varietals but typically includes Grenche, Syrah, and Mourvèdre; while Chianti usually includes Sangiovese and Canaiolo. Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah may be added in a Super Tuscan. These classic, traditional blends do not have grape varietal names on their labels, but instead carry the place name where the wine was born.

One reason these traditional European wine blends for each geographical area exist is simple: the wines being made taste good.

Taking a cue from the old world, California wines, which carry varietal names, allow the blending of complimentary varietals, to also make good tasting wines, and without losing the main grape varietal identification.

Many years ago, at a barrel tasting weekend in the Dry Creek Valley, long before it picked up the reputation of being a drunk fest event, I tasted the best Zinfandel I had ever tasted. The barrel sample at Preston was amazing and I called and called about the wine, as it moved from barrel to bottle, and then through bottle aging, before release. At last, I got to taste the wine, and my disappointment was huge. Almost every Zinfandel I had tasted growing up blended a little Carignane with the Zinfandel, but this wine had blended the full allowable 25 percent of Cabernet Sauvignon into the Zinfandel, a blend I had never tasted before, making the wine taste nothing like any Zinfandel I had ever tasted. The blend yielded a wine that had lost all varietal correctness for me.

Because I loved Preston, I ended up tasting the wine again and again, and with each tasting I came to be upset less and less. Although the wine didn’t really taste like Zinfandel, letting go of the influence of remembering what had been the best barrel sample ever, and asking myself, not as a Zinfandel, but simply as a wine, was it good? Did I like it? The answer surprised me, as in time it became yes. This was, when not judged for varietal correctness, a delicious wine and incredibly food friendly.

Sparkling wines are often blends; any time you see the word Cuvee on a label, that sparkling wine is a blend, usually a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes.

Every local Coro Mendocino wine ever made is a blend, with Zinfandel comprising 40-70 percent of the wine, and the balance largely grapes that have historically grown alongside Zinfandel in the county going back 100 years.

Winemakers using only Bordeaux varietal grapes in a blend where no varietal meets the 75 percent or higher threshold can label that wine Meritage, if that winery joins the Meritage association and sends one of each case they make to the person who coined the portmanteau, joining the words marriage and heritage, at the program’s inception.

Saracina has their Atrea Old Soul Red, Greg Graziano has his Saint Gregory Pinotrois; local proprietary blends abound.

I find blends exciting because they free a winemaker of the need to hew to varietal correctness, and allow for greater artistry. With no burden of expectation, the wines often surprise and delight.

I frequently serve blends with a dinner and revel in the way the different foods on my plate pull different aroma and flavor notes from the component wines of the blend, allowing the wine to pair brilliantly, but differently, with each dish.

Blend wines are often natural food chameleons, going with a wide variety of flavors, and, as such, should be sought out when enjoying a meal at one of inland Mendocino county’s wine friendly restaurants.


John Cesano writes about wine and has more than two hundred posts online at


Another Voice by John Cesano  – So, You Heard There Was A Party At Testa Vineyards

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal on Sunday, September 15, 2013

I do not know how many times I have said or written, “I adore Maria,” when talking about Maria Testa Martinson of Testa Vineyards in Calpella, just north of Ukiah, on North State street. The feeling is universal, everyone loves Maria.

Maria asked me to judge the wines created at her recent Barn Blend BBQ Party and, inspired by the experience, I wrote a column about blends that will run soon.

Last week, on the Monday following the party, when I went to work, I was asked three times for news on what happened at the party. The first time I was asked, unaware that anything but an enjoyable party happened, I described the blending, the food, the terrific music by McKenna Faith, the judging experience, the things I experienced.

It turns out folks knew about more things that went on than I did.

I arrived at 6 p.m., parked in a lot below the vineyard, was shuttled in a golf cart up to the party and had a great time. I left between 9:30 and 10 p.m., again catching a ride in a golf cart from the party back down to my car.

Hours later, past midnight, after the party was over, and just a few folks remained for cleanup, there was still fun being had with the golf carts, and a neighbor called for law enforcement.

I golfed for many years, and cannot claim a single round of golf in all of those years where the golf cart was handled in a completely responsible manner. There is an enormous tendency to want to treat the cart like a go cart, a mini race car, or as a bumper car. I don’t know what it is, maybe it is simply a guy thing, but I am not alone in this; I have witnessed the phenomenon affect nearly every golf cart driver at some point.

Anyway, a Mendocino County deputy sheriff arrived, and the fun quickly evaporated. When brother-in-law Jim Thompson was cuffed and put in the back of a patrol car, Maria’s husband Rusty Martinson allegedly became very confrontational and wanted law enforcement to leave, and leave Jim behind. Rusty was then arrested and put in the back of another patrol car. Meanwhile, someone opened up the first patrol car and freed Thompson. Bottom line: poor judgment at the end of a party led to a bunch of charges for Rusty and Jim, with more likely to come for the person who freed Jim.

I am not writing to excuse Rusty or Jim’s behavior. The deputy sheriffs work hard and deserve respect. Drunk in public, resisting, escaping, removing from custody are unfortunate, and without question the deputy sheriff shouldn’t have had to deal with any but the first, the drunk in public. That said, ‘stuff’ happens.

I have noticed that in our quiet little community, where everybody knows everyone else, folks love gossip and scandal. Folks can’t help themselves, no one is immune. Heck, I was hitting the booking logs for more info, and knew the story would break.  It did. Newspaper, radio, and internet are ablaze with the story. Oh my, a new scandal.

Maria is the same lovely person today that she was before this happened. Rusty isn’t exactly lovely, but he is a good guy, a solid guy, and he would be the first to tell you he messed up. Rusty, too, is the same person today that he was before the incident. Same for everyone involved.

I screw up all the time. I am thankful that most people look past my occasional bouts of stupidity and accept me as I usually am. I also find that owning up to my most grievous lapses of judgment helps folks move past whatever transgressions I commit.

Beside herself, with the mini media storm begun, Maria called me the morning the story broke here in the newspaper. We talked, I told her that people love a scandal, but small town scandals die quickly as folks move on to the next scandal, and there is always a next scandal. I also said a heartfelt apology, a statement, helps folks move on.

Here are Maria and Rusty in their own words:

“Our blending party was just as wonderful as we could imagine. People meeting people for the first time, working on their wine blends. The music, the food, it was all just amazing.  We are so sorry this happened.  Sorry for the officers involved and our family and friends that were only still there to help with clean up.  – Maria and Clyde “Rusty” Martinson”

So, there you have it; 220 folks gathered for a celebration and had a spectacular evening. Party done, most everybody gone, some men acted like boys, and bad boys at that, but an apology has been made, and it is time to move on. To that end, I will be back up to Testa ranch to taste and buy wines soon, from my friends Maria and Rusty.

John Cesano writes a wine column for the Daily Journal.

So, tomorrow, I get to pour for McFadden from 11:00 AM – 2:00 PM out in Ft. Bragg on the Mendo coast at the botanical gardens for Winesong. I will not be alone; there will be about 100 wineries and 50 food folks, so this is an amazing tasting for attendees.

After, my time at Winesong, I take off my McFadden hat and put on my John On Wine hat and come back to inland Mendo for the 3rd annual Barn Blending BBQ at Testa in Calpella, Ukiah adjacent. Maria Testa Martinson asked me to come back to one of my favorite local wine events, but this year to act as a judge of the blends that folks make, and help to choose a winning blended wine. The party starts around 6:00 PM, folks make up their blends, inspired by finished wine poured at each table, and appetizers, then a terrific dinner of BBQ treats and Italian pasta is served, and the night’s fun continues with dancing to the live music of Nashville recoding artist McKenna Faith.

Frey is going to have an organically good time at their Frey Wine Club Party at the Solar Living Center in Ukiah from 4:00 PM – 8:00 PM, with wine, food, and music.

Parducci Wine Cellars will host The Ford Blues Band at Spencer Brewer’s Acoustic Cafe concert series event from 6:00 PM – 10:00 PM.

If I could be in two places at once, the event I would most like to attend, in addition to the two I am tomorrow, is the Topel Fifth Birthday Party. This is the event for my Sonoma County friends who just do not have the energy to drive up to Mendocino County for Mendo wine fun. Mark and Donnis Topel live, grow grapes, and make wine right here in Hopland; I see them at the post office, or when they visit my tasting room often. In a move that guaranteed they would see more visitors and pour for more tasters, Mark and Donnis put their Topel Tasting Room smack dab in the middle of Healdsburg, just a nudge off the town square on Matheson. The party is going from noon until 7:00 PM, and someone is going to win a year’s membership in the Topel Wine Club, which is an awesome gift.

John on Wine

Spotlight Winery: Rosati Family Wines

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal on September 5, 2013 by John Cesano

In 1980 Mario and Danelle Rosati bought 960 acres just off Highway 101 at Comminsky Station Road, 1.7 miles south of Squaw Rock, near where Mendocino County borders Sonoma County. The ranch has grown to 1,500 acres with another 1,300 acre companion ranch, and is mostly natural and unplanted land.

Told at purchase that all of the buildings would have to be torn down, Mario completely rehabbed and restored a large red barn, which is now the nicest guest house you might imagine, filled with wood and stone, a showplace kitchen, soaring open space; both comfortable and gorgeous at once.

“Maybe one plank from the original barn is left,” Mario told me, as he welcomed me for a tasting and dinner.

A lawyer by training in Palo Alto, Mario graduated from U.C. Berkeley’s law school and joined a small firm, Wilson Sonsini, in 1971. The firm grew from nine to more than 600 lawyers, and is now global. Mario went from associate to partner in 1975, to having his name included in the firm’s name, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati.

The seeds of Rosati Family Wines were planted in 1971 when Mario’s boss and firm founder John Wilson asked, “do you like to drink wine,” before assigning him a new client: Ridge Vineyards.

For those unfamiliar, Ridge is one of the most revered wineries in California, and the wines produced from their various Monte Bello Ridge vineyards are highly sought after. The 2007 Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon is currently going for $160 at the winery, as an example.

David Bennion, a founding partner at Ridge, and Mario worked together for years; and with the purchase of his Mendocino County ranch, Mario invited Dave up to hunt for mushrooms. Mushroom hunting became pig hunting too, and after having visited for years, Dave suggested that grapes might grow well on the ranch.

Using precious Monte Bello bud stock from Ridge, David helped Mario plant 10 acres to Cabernet Sauvignon on a mountain ridge with elevation ranging from 1,000 to 1,200 feet in 1987. Subsequently, vines were filled in and an additional three acres were planted with Jimsomare bud stock. Jimsomare is one of four Monte Bello ridge vineyards that Ridge considers estate vineyards. Peter Chevalier is the vineyard manager for Mario and Danelle.

Mario gave me a ride from the “barn” up to the vineyards, about 800 feet above the Russian River below. The grape set looked spectacular, but Mario told me that his winemaker, Zelma Long, would drop about half the grapes and, during sorting after harvest, Zelma and Danelle would further reduce the yield, until only about 1 ton of the best, most flavorful grapes remain to make the vintage’s wine.

Zelma Long’s Cabernet Sauvignon winemaking credentials are as solid as they come, making stellar Cab for both Robert Mondavi in the 70s and Simi in the 80s and 90s.

Zelma and Alex MacGregor work together at John and Patty Fetzer’s Saracina winery to turn Rosati’s Cabernet grapes into wine.

I tasted five vintages of Rosati Family Wines Cabernet Sauvignon, 2000, 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007.

Tying each of the five vintages together was a rich earthy quality, a chewiness, firm tannins, a “dustiness” that echoes the best of Napa Cab’s “Rutherford dust” quality, and clear rich ripe fruit.

Mario said of the 2000, “when we first bottled this, it had so much tannin, but now Š” as he poured it for me. With age, this wine showed rich dark chocolate and cherry notes, and still had enough tannin left that this was a hold or drink wine.

Opening a bottle from one of the last three cases, Mario poured the 2004, which showed bright cherry berry fruit in the nose and was so enjoyably easy to drink. Perfect right now, with light tannin and oak providing a backdrop for earthy, dusty, cassis, blackberry and cherry in the mouth and a long beautiful finish.

The 2005 is classic Cabernet, all earthy dark fruit, plummy blackberry, boysenberry, and tannin. Pretty big, lay it down and hold, or drink.

2006 Rosati Family Cabernet Sauvignon is a gorgeous, food friendly, not overpowering, but bursting with candy like blackberry and black currant wine. Earthy, oaky, tooth coating chewiness upon opening gives way to rich and bright fruit, beautifully balanced and integrated, a lively and delightful wine.

The 2007 is plummy rich, dense, and packed with dark fruit. Maribeth Kelly brought an aerating decanter and this wine, which is a definite hold, a wine that can be laid down longer still to benefit, was magically turned into a drink.

Rick Berry and Maribeth were guests at a dinner Mario and Danelle kindly invited me to share, with fresh salmon caught by Rick being served. Steaks were also grilled with the most delicious rub, and were a perfect pairing for the several vintages of Rosati Cabernet at the table.

In Mendocino County both SIP! Mendocino in Hopland and the Mendocino Wine Shop in Mendocino carry Rosati Cabernet Sauvignon, and it is well worth a visit to either to try some, especially at a surprisingly affordable price of $32-$33.

This piece was written over a month ago. This morning, I received an email announcing the release of the 2010 Ridge Monte Bello Cabernet at $160 per bottle. These Rosati wines are like those Ridge wines, but you get five bottles for the price of one.

Look what I found in my inbox today:

“Millesima USA is launching “The Millesima Blog Awards” to honor the American wine blog community and to give to our 70,000 customers the most qualitative and independent content about wine.

Millesima USA selected 10 bloggers for each of the following categories: wine tasting, wine news and wineries. The 30 blogs selected to participate have been chosen based on their relevant and high-quality content, to supplement Millesima’s profound knowledge of the world of wines.”

I feel honored that John On Wine has been selected for a Wine Blog Award 2014 as a Top 10 Wine News Blog.

I am in great company with many of the other awarded blogs being ones I read. I don’t know how I made the list, but gift horses, and all of that, so I am simply grateful for the honor.

A Top 10 Wine News Blog award for a blog with such a narrow Mendocino focus is a little surprising, but I do get a little run in the local newspaper too, so if not purely wine news, I’ve got news-ish down.

Thanks, to the staff and judges at Millesima USA. Here’s the announcement: