April 2014


John On Wine ­ – Spirits, dinners, passports, festivals, and a movie

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, April 24, 2014, written by John Cesano

John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

Jack Crispin Cain is the man behind Greenway Distillers, Inc. and American Craft Whiskey Distillery, co-located with Germain-Robin in Redwood Valley. Cain invited me to taste two new Low Gap whiskeys. Crispin also creates Crispin’s Rose Liqueur, Absinthe Superiure, Fluid Dynamics Barrel Aged Cocktails, Russell Henry Gins, and DSP CA 162 Straight Vodka.

Very much a family affair, Cain’s two sons Devin and Crispin Dylan were working on the next lime vodka when I arrived for a private tasting, and wife Tamar is involved in growing the roses for the Rose Liqueur and the herbs for the Absinthe. Tamar will also be the editor of a book due this fall, “Rural Cocktails of Mendocino County” that will be collaboratively written by Brian and Kate Riehl, as well as Jack Crispin Cain, and feature cocktails built around Cain’s spirits.

First up for tasting was a new Low Cap 2 Year Bavarian Hard Wheat Whiskey made from malted wheat and aged in used Port, Cognac, and Minnesota barrels. The color was natural, from the barrels, and not the darker color you find from whiskeys produced with caramel flavor and color additives. The new Whiskey has a natural perfume of butterscotch and cereal grain, candied wheat, and is incredibly smooth.

Cain’s 2010 Low Gap Whiskey earned a 5 star review and a 100 point rating. Reviewers will need to add another star and a few more points to their rating systems. The flavors of all of Cain’s spirits are pure, clean, with delicate identifiable notes. Cain explained that by using no artificial flavorings, only real fruit and other pure ingredients, and careful distilling techniques with direct fire and a copper onion shaped still, fermentation enzymes and yeasts leaving no sugars, and a host of other refined decisions, the quality of his spirits, already high, will continue to improve and then be maintained indefinitely.

I also tasted a 2011 blended Corn and Barley Whiskey, running 43 percent alcohol by volume (ABV). The flavors are not as direct as the Bavarian Hard Wheat Whiskey, but more layered at a very subtle level with a little bite on the end; the classic corn whiskey flavor definitely comes through.

I tasted four vodkas from Cain’s DSP CA 162 label. The unflavored vodka has a super clean taste with light wheat notes. The lime vodka, made from an infusion of Malaysian lime and leaf was delightful for the pure candied lime note. The tangerine was a touch lighter in the mouth, delicate, and again showed candied fruit ­ this time tangerine. The citron vodka was bright and round with intensely concentrated sweet fruit.

Cain poured a barrel aged gin, 47 percent ABV, not yet released but gorgeous with a taste between gin and whiskey. The gin was aged in two new Bourbon barrels and one used Cognac barrel. There is a natural sweetness from both the cereal and the oak. Look for this to be bottled and sold as “Russell Henry Dark Gin” toward the end of the year, hopefully before Christmas. Spirits are often blended to make a tasty cocktail. I find that every spirit Cain makes is already cocktail delicious, sipping sweetly straight.


I attended a Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush featuring the wines of Yorkville Cellars last night. For a recap of the meal, visit my online wine blog http://www.JohnOnWine.com where I will post a stand-alone story with every bite and sip getting its due.


This weekend, I am attending Passport to Dry Creek Valley, the sold-out event in Sonoma County. Together with my girlfriend, June, I will be an appreciative guest of the Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley. The event is sold out. This event always sells out. Next week, my wine column will be a recap of the travels by June and myself through the Dry Creek Valley.


For those who want a Passport experience, Hopland Passport in Mendocino County is two weekends away, on May 3 and 4, and a $45 ticket online in advance (tickets are $55 if you procrastinate) will allow Passport holders to visit 17 winery tasting rooms — tasting fees waived — to taste wines paired with scrumptious food offerings at each stop. For $2.65 per winery attendees will enjoy wine and food tastes with many tasting rooms hosting live music or fun tours, and with some wineries offering their best sale prices of the year, as well as 30 prizes given away in drawings. Hopland Passport is a must attend wine event. For tickets, go to http://www.DestinationHopland.com/store.


Individual events at this year’s Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival are selling out. If you love Pinot Noir, then this is a series of events, a festival, for you. Dinners, tastings and more on May 16 and 17. Tickets available at http://www.avwines.com/anderson-valley-pinot-noir-festival.


If you have Netflix, I highly recommend the movie SOMM, a documentary following candidates attempting to become Master Sommeliers. The single-minded devotion to a subject, to a goal is impressive, as is the sheer narcissism of most of the candidates. Not always attractive, this glimpse into the highest levels of wine geekdom is nonetheless educational and entertaining.


I’ve attended the Chef’s Wine Dinners at Crush Ukiah for Saracina, Barra/Girasole, Bonterra, Coro Mendocino, and last night’s dinner featuring the wines of Yorkville Cellars in the Yorkville Highlands on Highway 128 between Cloverdale and Boonville.


The evening kicked off at 6:00 pm with a Yorkville Sparkling Brut reception, flutes of bubbly paired with oysters on the half shell and oysters Rockefeller. A Cuvee (fancy word for bubbly blend of varietals) of 51 percent Semillion, 24 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, and 25 percent Sauvignon Blanc, Deborah Wallo, one owner of Yorkville Cellars, suggested a finishing note of English black currant. I pick up a rounder mouthfeel than is typical for classic Chardonnay/Pinot bubblies, with grapefruit and light berry notes. It paired beautifully with the oysters on the half shell, bright citrus and micro herb notes, and a clean salinity, easy to eat and chase with a sip of the sparkling. The oysters Rockefeller were delicious, but not as easy to eat without utensils.


Assuming everyone in Mendocino County knows each other, I failed to introduce Bob and Deb Perkowski to Deborah and Ed (the other owner) Wallo, but, Mendo simple, they introduced themselves, and of course it turns out they know each other as the Perkowskis have been putting the Yorkville Cellars’ logo on ball caps in their silkscreen and embroidery studio for the Wallo’s tasting room.


After the welcoming reception, dinner guests were shepherded into the private dining room where two long tables were set. Folks found a seat, and Doug Guillon (owner of Crush Italian Steakhouse, along with his wife Debbie) greeted everyone and explained that tonight would be like a marriage, a coming together of two groups of people who love what they do and are committed to the very best in what they do, the team at Crush and the team at Yorkville Cellars.


Next Edward Wallo described how a visit with his wife Deborah to Mendocino County in the early 80’s led to a return the very next day to look for a “wine place”. Ed is Italian so wine was a natural part of the meal table, and Deborah grew up with clarets in England – a claret is how the British refer to Bordeaux red wines – so a wine life seemed approriate. In 1982, Ed and Deborah purchased a Sauvignon Blanc vineyard, and over the years added Semillon, plus all six of the red Bordeaux grapes – Cabernet Sauvignon, Canernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec, and Carmenère.


Today, out of the several thousand wineries in America, Yorkville Cellars is the only winery growing all eight Bordeaux varietals and making a varietally specific wine from each. Oh, and as a bonus, they do it all organically with a healthy dose of biodiversety.

Has anyone else noticed that so far we have a Deb, a Deborah, and a Debbie at the dinner? It means nothing, but I thought it interesting.


Two wines were poured for our first course, a 2013 Sauvignon Blanc and a 2012 Rose of (Cabernet) Franc.

I loved the Yorkville Sauvignon Blanc, a really great example loaded with varietal yumminess; light grass, minerality, citrus, a touch of white peach, terrific mothfeel, decent size owing in part to barrel fermentation and aging in neutral oak.


The Rose of Franc was darn yummy too, showing a dry fruitiness, not sweet in the sugary sense but loaded with juicy fruit notes; strawberry, watermelon, a touch of light herb and dust, but a core of juice berry.

Chef Jesse Elhardt described the menu’s first course, which was three dishes, and as always at Crush would be served family style.


First came an asparagus salad, with the stalks sliced into coins and the spears turned into ribbons, with frisee, baby kale, fried prociuttom fried quinoa, Humboldt Fog goat cheese, a warm bacon vinaigrette, and a last minute tableside squeeze of grilled orange to awaken the aromatics of the salad. The asparagus was prepared in a parsley water infusion to prevent the leeching of color and flavor from the vegetable.

Oh, my, was this delicious (a refrain I uttered over and over again throughout the evening’s meal). I would never have thought to turn asparagus into a salad, and certainly would never have imagined this salad, but I am so pleased that Chef Jesse did. I came back for seconds on this, the flavors clean, distinct, and melding beautifully, the cheese creamy and bright. Taking sips of each wine with this dish was a treat, experiencing how the two wines paired differently but equally well.

Grilled desert artichokes with a spectacularly delicious housemade remoulade (with bright little sliced cornichons) and a smoked lemon accompaniment; and roasted bone marrow.


Okay, the artichokes were delicious, they taste nothing like mine, and I enjoyed them…but roasted bone marrow!

Chef Jesse didn’t just roast bones for their marrow, first he spent four hours creating a bacon jam, a cooked down essence of bacon, to slather upon the bones, and then he baked them, and then he brushed them with a balsamic demi glace and added some micro greens to the end of each long bone.


Eating at Crush Ukiah during a Chef’s Wine Dinner is like watching Barry Bonds hitting dingers at a Home Run Derby, everything is a long ball, grand slam, game winning hit.

Plates and glasses were cleared, two new wines were poured, the 2011 Hi Rollr red and 2012 Malbec.


Chef Jesse described the next round of dishes, the 8 hour lamb ragu, with 5 hours going to the base sauce before 3 more for the actual lamb ragu element. He kept going, but I’ll get to each in a paragraph or two.

Deborah described the next two wines. The 2011 Hi Rollr Red is a blend of seven wines, including Zinfandel, Carignane, and Petite Sirah, three decidedly non Bordeaux varietals. If you are from Mendocino County, think of this wine as a Coro-esque wine. The name of the wine refers to the Boontling (a unique language spoken by the inhabitants of Boonville) term for people from Yorkville who rolled their pant legs up for the horse ride into Boonville on a Saturday night, in days past, to keep them out of mud but then forgot to roll their pants back down upon arrival. A charming story told in a lovely voice, a touch of England still evident in Deborah’s words.


The 2012 Malbec was the bigger of the two wines for me, a product of increased plantings and a blend of three individual clones of the vartietal. The Malbec is weighty with dark blueberry and chocolate notes, exactly as promised by Deborah in her description.


Here’s the taste sensations from the second course: you know a meal is great when vegetables can be elevated into starring roles. Tomato slices…big deal, right? Well they are when topped with compound butter, house bread crumbs, and grated cheese, then broiled. Sweet creamed corn was transformed when Chef Jesse reinforced the corn’s sweetness by creating a corn pudding and blending that back into the dish with the whole corn kernals, and then taking it over the top with the addition of sweet caramelized roasted baby scallops. More than one person commented that they would have felt satisfied with simply of bowl of the best corn you’ve ever tasted in your entire lifetime.


The two proteins were an herbed rotisserie chicken with a Panzanella salad, and the lamb ragu. The salad that came with the chicken was flavorful, and the chicken was quite tasty, but the depth of flavor in the lamb ragu was attention grabbing.


Roughly 30 years ago, my first ex-wife took me to a birthday dinner at Clint Eastwood’s Hog’s Breath Inn in Carmel (we weren’t ex’s yet). I ordered leg of lamb, and the kitchen ruined it by slathering it more than liberally in mint jelly, which was not mentioned on the menu. I recount this story because there was mint in Chef Jesse’s lamb ragu and – for me – it elevated the dish, rather than ruining it.


The intensely flavored lamb ragu was served with a cavatelli pasta, boccoli rabe, kalamata olives, a rustic mint pesto, and reggiano cheese. This weighty and intense dish paired with the Yorkville Cellars Malbec provided my favorite wine and food pairing of the night.


I had seconds of the lamb ragu. At meal’s end, i waddled, not walked, to my car.

Once again, plates and glasses were cleared, and one of my favorite parts of this dinner series occurred: people talked. Sitting at long tables, surrounded by people you may not have met, over a family style meal, people introduce each other, ask for plates to be passed, talk about wine and food and the county, and become friends for the evening. I bounced around, during the evening from one table to the other, and talked to many people. A little weird for me, over and over I was asked if I write the wine column in the Ukiah Daily Journal. It turns out people recognize me, and about half the people attending told me that they came only because they read about the dinner in the column that ran the week before. I was a little humbled, but pleased as my intent in writing the column was to act as a cheerleader for Mendocino County’s wines – and the restaurants that do something special with them. One diner kindly shared that she had a favorite piece, and recounted it; I wrote the piece last year, and to have it remembered to me was touching.

Anyway, more wine and dessert, so I moved back to my seat, and Chef Jesse described the candied orange panna cotta he created with real reduced orange zest for flavor, no artificial ingredients, and how he floated a gelée of Yorkville Sweet Malbec  reduction atop the panna cotta to create a dual layered dessert. There was also a mint leaf and a house made candied orange crisp.
Ed and Deborah’s son Ben described the night’s final wine, the 2011 Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon blend. 23.6 residual sugar off 45 degree brix grapes, late harvest and botrytis, 74% Sauvignon Blanc and 26% Semillon, this is undeniably a sweet wine. Hearing Ben talk about this wine, his parents, his life, was heartwarming.

I have some bottles of this wine at home, and it manages to be incredibly sweet, but not taste so. This is not a cloyingly sweet dessert wine, supported by much acid, but I liked it best by itself. The dessert, fantastic, was sweet, with notes of honeyed fruit, but tasting the wine after the dessert made clear how much sweeter the wine was than the dessert.


All night long, in what was an over four hour experience, every bite was a rich flavor explosion, and each sip of wine an exploration of palate pleasing playful pairing. There were no real false notes, plenty of highlights, everything a success.


I feel bad that I didn’t take a picture of each dish, but I was filling my belly. I also feel bad that I didn’t grab a picture of Ben as he described our dessert wine, and a picture of the entire assembled staff both from the kitchen and front of house as they deserve greater recognition than I am giving them here. A fantastic job by all. God willing, I’ll be attending the next Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush in Ukiah again.


John On Wine ­ – On food and wine pairings, and the next Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush

Oroginally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, April 17, 2014
 Crush Logo

Wine dinners are one of my favorite things. I’ve written about a handful of Chef’s Wine Dinners at Crush Italian Steakhouse, the Roederer Estate Dinner at Patrona during the Mendocino County Crab and Wine Festival, and about random but delicious wine and food pairings at Uncorked. My recaps of past Passport events, from Dry Creek Valley to Hopland, have focused as much on the food as on the wine, or the interplay between the two.

The most memorable wine I tasted at the big Zinfandel Advocates and Producers tasting in San Francisco was not the amazing offerings from Ridge or Bedrock, but the decidedly unfancy Zinzilla made by Rich Parducci for McNab Ridge. How did an inexpensive Mendo/Lodi Zin blend trump the wines from two producers I revere? Simple, I had the cheese of the day in my mouth when I took a sip of the Zinzilla; the pairing was fantastic, the wine made the cheese better and the cheese made the wine better.

Similarly, while tasting the sparkling wines produced by Mendocino County’s dozen top producers a couple of weeks ago was a treat, the real fun came in the random pairings of different foods and bubblies, some pairings were sublime while others were total failures ­ but the fun is in the experimentation. Just like certain foods go together ­ – pork chops and apple, peanut butter and chocolate, and tomato soup and grilled cheese are great examples, there are a host of classic food and wine pairings. If you are Italian and consider wine a food, something that belongs at the table with a meal, then this makes the concept of wine and food pairing natural.

Spicy Asian food sees flames tamed by Riesling or Gewürztraminer, fatty morsels of duck beg to be paired with a big round Merlot, there should be a law requiring that mushroom risotto be paired with Pinot Noir, and magically every soup ever made is made better when paired with a McFadden Coro. There are classic food and wine pairings that fall apart if you personally do not like them, but the trying is the thing; that is where the fun and excitement lie. I fondly remember perfect food and wine pairings from over 30 years ago, and remembering the food and the wine, the vintage, appellation, varietal, and producer of the wine, brings back place and time clearly, who I was with, where I was.

Food paired with wine allows a sort of time machine of the mind to exist, as memory of the specific senses being played from wine and food pairings of a decade ago bring back the past as clearly as memories of last night’s dinner. I remember every food and wine pairing from each of the previous Chef’s Wine Dinners at Crush as Chef Jesse Elhardt and his team served 10 different dishes, from appetizer to dessert with anywhere from four to over a dozen wines, as Crush played host to Saracina, Barra/Girasole, Bonterra, and Coro Mendocino. So many combinations of food and wine possible, so much fun experimentation, finding what goes with what for you. You’ll get a chance to see what I’m talking about next Wednesday, April 23 when Crush features the wines of Yorkville Cellars in their next Chef’s Wine Dinner. Dinner starts at 6 p.m. and tickets are $75, which includes food, wine, tax, and tip (although you can always throw more money on the table for your servers).

Yorkville Cellars is stand-out unique. Every winery is unique with a story to tell, but the story of Yorkville Cellars is easier to tell than most. Located on Highway 128 between Cloverdale and Boonville, Yorkville Cellars focuses on organically growing Bordeaux varietal wines when most along Highway 128 focus on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, varietals of Burgundy. Yorkville Cellars grows and produces Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec, Carmenere, Semillion, Sauvignon Blanc, a few blends, plus a sparkling wine made from a blend of three of these varietals.

I do not have a working menu, it wasn’t available as I punched the keys for this column but imagine this:

Yorkville Cellars bubbly is poured as dinner guests gather as a welcome reception wine and it is paired with passed appetizers of salmon in puff pastry bites. Moving into the private dining room, dinner patrons select seats at the long tables and glasses are poured; Semillon and Merlot, and four dishes are laid down to pair with these two wines; Nueske bacon wrapped asparagus, Merlot braised pork ribs, Semillon poached pears, and a wedge salad with gorgonzola and chopped duck confit.

Plates are cleared, and new wines are poured for the second course. Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon in the glasses, and dishes of oysters Rockefeller, fork shredded Cabernet sauvignon braised beef over polenta, lasagna with a 40-hour ragu, and an artichoke heart and wild rice salad.

Served family style, diners interact, asking for plates to be passed, talking about favorite dishes, the wines, and best pairings.

Once again, plates are cleared and a deceptively simple dessert of peach pie with peach ice cream is served, only to be deeply rich in layered flavors, and made more delicious when paired with the Yorkville Cellars Late Harvest dessert wine, a blend of botrytis blessed Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc. For $75, you’ll experience six wines, ten food dishes, and enough opportunities for food and wine pairing to create memories that will last decades.

For reservations, and the actual working menu [not my completely made up one], contact Crush Ukiah at (707) 463-0700 and I’ll see you there.



John On Wine – ­ A Mendo bubbly fest recap

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on April 10, 2014
Written by John Cesano


Last Saturday, April 5th, I attended the inaugural Celebration of Mendocino County Sparkling Wines. I was not alone, more than 150 people showed up at Terra Savia in Hopland. Many were readers of this column who were kind enough to say hello, some were wine club members of the tasting room I manage, and some were brand new to me ­ but not brand new to having fun as they clearly knew what they were doing.

Alison de Grassi and Gracia Brown, the wonder twins from Visit Mendocino responsible for events and marketing, attended as did Mendocino County District Attorney David Eyster. The support for this great event was really impressive. The day was beautiful; I parked a short walk away from the site, and saw workers raking muddy leaves into a pile, the scent earthy, almost mushroomy, and wonderful.

A Gathering of friends

Birds were chirping many different songs in the trees around. The sky could not have been more blue or clear. Terra Savia operates from a large yellow metal building filled with art and custom handcrafted furniture of immense proportion. Within the space, a dozen tables were set up in a circle, each table a microburst of activity, color, and energy as each participating winery created their own presentation space.

Here are a few definitions for bubbly-centric wine terms that may prove useful as you read on: Brut means dry. Cuvee means blend. En tirage means time yeast and lees spend in the bottle before disgorgement. Lees are spent yeast, yeast that converted sugar into alcohol, heat, and carbon dioxide during fermentation. Blanc de Blanc means white of white and suggests that Chardonnay is the grape the wine is made from; as opposed to Blanc de Noir, a white wine made from red wine grapes, typically Pinot Noir, but given no time on skin after crush, so no color. A magnum is a bottle twice as large as normal, 1.5 L. vs, 750 ml.

Bubbly Gathering

Graziano poured their Cuvee #10 Sparkling Brut, a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Blanc from the 2010 vintage that spent three full years en tirage. This bubbly had the most clear lemon note of the sparkling wines being poured at the event, balanced by a rich yeastiness. Both Greg Graziano and Bobby Meadows poured for the assembled crowd.

Handley poured a 2003 Brut, made from 60 percent Pinot Noir and 40 percent Chardonnay, with flavors of steely mineral lemon and vanilla apple.

Guinness McFadden and Judith Bailey poured the 2014 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition double gold medal winning 2009 McFadden Reserve Sparkling Brut, a blend of 50 percent Chardonnay and 50 percent Pinot Noir that spent more than two-and-a-half-years on yeast and lees in the bottle before disgorgement. The flavors are bright, showing apple and grapefruit tempered by brioche and nut.

Nelson poured a nice NV Blanc de Blanc with bright lemon, pear, and apple notes.

I really liked the Paul Dolan NV Brut, a cuvee of 45 percent Chardonnay and 55 percent Pinot Noir, with 100 percent of the grapes from McFadden Farm. Bright, unapologetically crisp, with green apple, grapefruit, and pineapple.

Rack and Riddle poured for sparkling wines. I tasted their NV Brut, showing orange, cream, apple, and lemon; and a Brut Rose that was dry, dry, dry with strawberry over ice crispness.

Ray’s Station’s NV Brut offering was 65 percent Chardonnay and 35 percent Pinot Noir and was fairly broad and round with apple, pear, and bready notes. Although Brut suggests dryness, this seemed a touch sweeter ­ at least in comparison with the wine tasted just before this one. Margaret Pedroni captivated attendees as she described the wine she poured.

Roederer Estate poured from 1.5 liter magnums, which is nicely showy. Their NV Brut tasted of pear, green apple, nut, and lemon; the NV Brut Rose showed lovely balance and flavors of apple and strawberry.

Scharffenberger’s NV Brut tasted of dry yeasty ginger, citrus, and apple.

Signal Ridge garnered a lot of buzz from attendees, with tasters elevating the apple, almond and mineral flavored Brut into their top three tastes.

Terra Savia, the host for the event, poured their lovely 2009 Blanc de Blanc, showing bright apple and lemony citrus notes.

Yorkville Cellars doesn’t grow Chardonnay or Pinot Noir, the grapes typically found in sparkling wines, but Bordeaux varietals instead. Previously, Yorkville made a Sparkling Rose of Malbec, the only one I had ever tasted, and it was good. The current release I jokingly refer to as the cuvee of crazy, because the blend was unimaginable prior to it being poured for me: 51 percent Semillion, 24 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, and 25 percent Sauvignon Blanc. The result isn’t crazy at all, but rounder than is typical with the Bordeaux varietal fruit offering up flavors of grapefruit and cranberry.

Bubbly Feast

The food for this event was spectacular, and one of the most enjoyable aspects of the event was random pairings of different foods and sparkling wines. Some pairings elevated both the food and beverage, while other pairings oddly diminished the wine being tasted. There will be a Mendo Bubbly Fest next year, and I’ll attend again, but get out of your house and into the tasting rooms of these wineries to taste their sparkling wines this weekend, or soon, and bring a bottle or two home ­ not to serve on a special day, but to make a day special by serving them.


John On Wine ­ – Four “must do” wine events

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, April 3, 2014
By John Cesano
John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

The best wine events I attend are those where an area wants to impress you with what they do. Individual winery events are nice, but they rarely rise to the level of “wow” that an area-wide event reaches. There are several area-wide events that I hope you will consider attending.


First, there is this weekend’s Celebration of Mendocino Sparkling Wines at Terra Savia in Hopland on Saturday, April 5, from noon to 4 p.m.

An even dozen local producers will pour their bubblies, paired with perfect food bites, to the accompaniment of music, and attendees will walk away impressed as heck with how good Mendocino County sparkling wine is. I know, and if you read enough of my writing then you know too, that Wine Enthusiast Magazine put one Mendocino County sparkling wine on their top 100 list of 2013 ­ in the #1 position, and that another producer is the only one in America to take a pair of Double (unanimous) Gold Medals at this year’s San Francisco Chronicle Wine competition for sparkling wines ­ and they only make two.

It is reasonable to say that the best American sparkling wines are made in Mendocino County, but it is another thing entirely to taste them all together in one place and have it made crystal clear. Participants include Graziano Family of Wines, Handley Cellars, McFadden Vineyards, Nelson Family Vineyards, Paul Dolan Vineyards, Rack & Riddle, Ray’s Station, Roederer Estate, Scharffenberger Cellars, Signal Ridge, Terra Savia, and Yorkville Cellars.

Tickets are $55 and available online at http://mendocinosparkling.brownpapertickets.com.


Saturday April 26 and Sunday, April 27, are the dates for the 25th Passport to Dry Creek Valley.

50 wineries, two days, each pouring their best wines, and pairing them with show-off amazing taste treats, and live music at many stops; these are some reasons to attend.

I was born in Sonoma County and grew up drinking Dry Creek Zinfandel. I attended the monthly party at the Dry Creek General Store and have enjoyed salami and cheese sandwiches from the DCV Store going back to childhood. Some of my favorite memories are of friends and family at the bocce courts at Preston. For me, this event is a touch of home.

I love Passport to Dry Creek Valley. I have shamelessly taken from what some of the best stops offer to make events I help manage better.

The food offerings: oysters, pork, lamb, fresh baked bread, cannoli, chocolate, pancetta, roast beef, spit roasted pig, pork ribs, black eyed peas, seafood cake, fried chicken, cheddar and garlic mac and cheese, hot cinnamon rolls, creamy mushroom lasagna, guacamole (and so much more!) will pair with wines: Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Viognier, Rose, Barbera, Grenache, Sauvignon Blanc, Sangiovese, Petite Sirah, Chardonnay, Cabernet franc, Pinot Noir, Charbono (and, again, so much more!).

It is impossible to oversell the event, so instead I will undersell it: simply, this is the most amazing annual area-wide wine event that you might attend. Attend it if you can. Tickets are $120 and available at http://arestravel.com/6406_attraction-tickets_a882_r140776.html.

Hopland Passport is another passport event, closer to home, a little bit less expensive and held twice each year.

The 23rd annual Spring Hopland Passport will be Saturday, May 3 and Sunday, May 4, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day, at 17 wineries in and around Hopland; $45 in advance at http://www.destinationhopland.com/store or $10 more for procrastinators who wait to buy at the event from a participating winery.

I am undoubtedly biased, but I think this is the best wine event value in the entire California wine industry. With wine and food at each of 17 stops, to me a perfect number of wineries to visit over two full days, and music, tours, contests, sales, bottle signings and more at various individual wineries, $45 is a terrific bargain.

Less than $2.65 per winery visit ­ what does that get you? At McFadden, where I work, we’ll pour every wine released. There will be none of the restricted reserve nonsense. We’ll pour a Double Gold Medal sparkling wine, and a dozen wines rated 90 or above. We’ll serve up organic, grass fed, beef, grilled to perfection, and a 100 percent pure wild rice and artichoke heart salad. We’ll offer a 40 percent discount on cases to wine club members, old and new. We’ll have Guinness McFadden signing bottles as they are purchased.

Multiply that visit by 17, as each winery demonstrates they care about guests just as much as McFadden does.

For you, that makes this an absolute “must attend” event.


The Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival is another perfect example of an area showcasing what they do well.

Anderson Valley is famous for Pinot Noir. Wine magazines devote covers and feature story pages to Anderson Valley Pinot Noir. This is better than good stuff, this is great stuff. Friday, May 16 ­ Sunday, May 18.

The Festival is a weekend affair with technical conferences on Friday, a kick-off barbecue dinner at Foursight Wines on Friday night, Grand Tastings of 45 producers at Goldeneye in Philo on Saturday and more dinners Saturday night, and less structured winery tasting room visits on Sunday.

Ticket prices vary by event, $50-$125, and are available at http://www.avwines.com/anderson-valley-pinot-noir-festival/.


I get to attend the Celebration of Mendocino County Sparkling Wines, Passport to Dry Creek Valley, and Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival and I am enormously grateful to each area association for the invitation. I am working at Hopland Passport and if you pick up a ticket for that event then you will see me when you visit the McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room that weekend. Be sure to say “hi” to me at any of these four amazing events.