10420378_10204857207984422_6274001282547766795_n

logo-extra-large

John on Wine – The Penultimate Column

This piece originally ran in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on December 30, 2015.

If you have been a reader of my wine column over the years, even an occasional reader, you may have noticed that I am almost always glowingly positive about the subjects I write about. This is a choice I made, because there is so much that is wonderful about the Mendocino County wine scene that I can simply choose to not write about wines, wineries, or people who fail to inspire a positive piece.

Recently, I decided to take on a more controversial subject, another county’s wine group had created a county wide marketing sham, and I had lined up notable Mendocino County winegrowers to speak to the issue, as well as solicited comments from two other county wine groups, and I was excited at the prospect of a foray into actual wine journalism, as opposed to the promotional feature pieces I typically write.

With my recent hire to be the Executive Director of the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association, I realized I might need to work cooperatively with my counterpart at the organization I was about to eviscerate, and I came to the conclusion that I could not write the piece I wanted to.

With a choice thrust upon me, instead of being my own, I gave the Ukiah Daily Journal notice that I would write through the end of this year, and one more column at the beginning of 2016. Next week, I’ll write a calendar of events that are ‘must attend’ events for wine lovers.

Bernadette Byrne, the Executive Director for Mendocino Winegrowers, Inc., has been asked to write a column in 2016, and she has agreed to submit a monthly column. While my focus has been about wine, Bernadette will place a greater emphasis on vineyards and grape growing.

The other reason for my departure as a regular weekly wine columnist is that my focus, in my new job, with be much more narrow: I will be working in the Anderson Valley, Mendocino County’s premier growing region; tasting Anderson Valley wines, the county’s best wines; and mounting Anderson Valley’s wine festivals, the county’s best festivals. My writing would reflect my experiences in the Anderson Valley, almost to the exclusion of Mendocino county’s other growing regions, and that would be unfair to those wine producers, and to you, my readers.

I will continue to write about wine, but not to a deadline, and will continue to archive those new pieces online at johnonwine.com. Of course, many of those pieces will be about the wines where I work, but not all of the pieces I write will be about the Anderson Valley.

I love Zinfandel, and I love the Zinfandel Advocates & Producers (ZAP) Zinfandel Experience. I will attend and I will write it up. I grew up in Sonoma County, and spent most of my time in the Dry Creek Valley; I will attend Passport to Dry Creek Valley, and I will write about it too. I’ve worked at McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room in Hopland, and this year I will get to attend, instead of work, my first Hopland Passport in over six years. The Ukiah Crush chef’s winemaker dinner series are some of my favorite wine and food pairing  bacchanals, and I’ll continue to attend and write recaps.

With Bernadette writing one column per month, I will probably send some words and pictures to the Ukiah Daily Journal, and perhaps my focus on wine, and recaps of tasting events both in and out of the Anderson Valley, balanced by Bernadette’s vineyard focused writing, will find occasional placement here in the newspaper. Before I agreed to write a weekly column, the folks at the Journal found space for my occasional column length piece; perhaps they will again.

I have loved writing a weekly column, it has been great fun, and opened the door to many opportunities I might never have been able to experience otherwise. I have been forced to marvel frequently at your response to the pieces I write, as you have given me feedback throughout. My teeny tiny picture next to the week’s column title, in black and white, has made me recognizable. I’ll be honest, while the attention has been flattering, it kind of freaks me out. I write to write, I have to write, I love to write, and I love wine, so I combined two passions, and accidentally became a wine columnist. I didn’t write to become better known, I just wanted to share my love of wine, more broadly, and hope to inspire people in Mendocino County who read the newspaper to go winetasting, attend events, buy bottles and cases, and serve wine with meals, especially holiday meals with family and friends. Getting to know you, having you come up and introduce yourselves, that has been an unexpected bonus. Thank you, kind readers.

There are pieces I didn’t write, pieces that I wanted to, but somehow never got around to. I wish I had written tasting room features on both Graziano Family of Wines and Terra Savia in Hopland. Greg Graziano makes about three dozen wines, under four labels, and by the time I figured out how to write a piece about the man who couldn’t say no to just one more varietal wine, I was gone. Similarly, Terra Savia is more than wine, but olive oil, and art too, and I’m not good about self editing, so a piece about this triple threat venue would have filled two columns. I also never got around to visiting Leroy and Mary Louise Chase’s vineyard in Redwood Valley, although they graciously invited me. I really wanted to visit, and write a piece. Sorry to everyone I didn’t write about here in the newspaper column. If I kept writing for another five years, I promise, I would have written about each and every one of you.

With my last paragraphs in this penultimate column, I’ll ask you one more time to get out and take advantage of the amazing resource in your own backyards: nearby winery tasting rooms; many, many tasting rooms. Don’t wear perfume or cologne, don’t chew gum, don’t bring a cup of espresso in, come in ready to taste wine. Tasting rooms are not bars, and there are no taste buds in your throat, so let your host pour an ounce into your glass, then give it a swirl, a sniff, a sip, and then pour the rest in a dump bucket. A sip will tell you if the wine is yummy or yucky, or allow you to pull notes if that’s your thing, and by using the dump bucket you will be making sober choices about the wines to purchase, and avoid very expensive tickets on your drive home. When you get your wine home, don’t save it for a special occasion, but make an occasion special by opening, sharing, and enjoying the wines you chose at our local tasting rooms. Attend our wine events, attend winemaker dinners, take every opportunity that living in the Mendocino County wine country provides.

Feel free to visit johnonwine.com, subscribe to my blog feed, and leave your messages for me there…and look for the occasional possible future column length piece here too, in the future.

Thanks everyone, it’s been a blast.

-John

10420378_10204857207984422_6274001282547766795_n

logo-extra-large

John On Wine – The Christmas Column

This piece originally ran in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on December 24, 2015.

As I write this, it is uncertain whether my son, Charlie, will be home for Christmas. He completed training to become a U.S. Army Infantry soldier, graduating from Fort Benning, GA on Friday, December 11, 2015, and was on a bus the same day to Fort Campbell, KY for in-processing with the 101st Airborne (Air Assault) Infantry Division.

Charlie could be in-processing for weeks, and is slotted to attend Air Assault school, before joining his unit with the 2nd Brigade, and deploying to the Middle East as early as February.

A holiday block leave is uncertain, and we hope he may be allowed an extended pass to come home, before deployment.

Whether he is home on Christmas day or substantially later, his presents are under the tree and will remain so until he is able to come home for a visit. Needless to say, his mother and I are very proud of Charlie.

AR-151229973.jpg&maxh=400&maxw=667

Wine in central to a Cesano family Christmas

I mention this by way of asking you to hold dear the family and friends you are able to bring together, to join, this holiday, and to love them.
__________

McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room, together with Steep Organic Coffee & Tea, held a very successful Toys For Tots toy drive & wine tasting in Hopland on Friday, December 11, 2015. I want to personally thank everyone for your generous donations of new toys, and cash to buy more toys. Tonight, there will be children here in Ukiah, and over the hill in Lake County after the Valley Fire devastation, who will know a little extra Christmas cheer, because of your kindness. Thank you.
__________

Winter’s cold temperatures, and Christmas’ gathering of family and friends at the table, call out for red wine, and Mendocino County’s various growing regions provide many different choices.

I heartily recommend Pinot Noir from Anderson Valley, Charbono from Redwood Valley, Cabernet from Hopland, Zinfandel from Potter Valley, Malbec from Yorkville Highlands, or one of the many excellent blends, from the county’s flagship Coro Mendocino wines, produced by several different wineries, to a Rhone style blend from Halcon or Campovida.

Of course, some folks only drink white wine, and similarly there are abundant choices, from the aromatic Alsace white varieties of Anderson Valley to Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc grown inland.

If looking for bubbly, again, there are some of the nation’s best sparkling wines being made right here, from Roederer Estate and Scharffenberger Cellars in the Anderson Valley to Graziano and McFadden, with tasting rooms side by side in Hopland. Be sure and pick up some in the next week for New Year’s Eve too.

Some folks like it pink, and you can’t swing a cat by the tail, because that would be wrong, but if you did then you would likely hit a winery with a great blush wine for your efforts, they are available from every part of our county.

If you are looking for a beverage a little more spirited, I would point you to the many excellent spirits of Germain-Robin and American Craft Whiskey Distillery in the Redwood Valley.

Wine was always a part of holiday gatherings, growing up. Not an intoxicant, so much as the lubrication to make food, friends, family, conversation, fellowship, gatherings more merry.

I hope you will have wine, and wine from Mendocino County specifically, at your table this Christmas holiday.
__________

It is a bit late to be offering Christmas gift ideas, but for the one or two men who haven’t begun to shop yet, here are some gifts that will save you from shopping at a gas station or convenience store, or worse yet facing the stores crowded with other glazed eyed last minute shopping men:

Tickets to the next Crush Winemaker Dinner. Crush Italian Steakhouse will be building another incredible multi course feast around wines on Wednesday, January 20, 2016; this time featuring the wines of Seebass Family Winery. I already grabbed two tickets, and hope to see you there. Call (707) 463-0700 or visit in person to get your tickets.

Another event ticket: attend the International Alsace Varietals Festival at the Mendocino County Fairgrounds on February 20 & 21, 2016 in the Anderson Valley. Taste aromatic Alsace whites – Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Muscat, Gewurztraminer, and Riesling – from around the county, nation, and world. Tickets are available online at http://www.avwines.com.

Wine. Visit any open tasting room, many will be open this morning, and buy bottles or cases of joy. Grab a couple of extra and put them under your tree for when a guest brings a surprise friend to your home. Wine makes a great ‘emergency’ gift.
__________

Writing a weekly column for you over the last few years has been a blast. For me, I ask from you one thing this Christmas; although you may not know him, please keep my soldier son in your thoughts. Thank you, from Charlie’s mother Lisa, girlfriend Ophelia, and me.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

EDITED TO ADD FOR ONLINE ARCHIVED BLOG POST:

My son, Charlie, did make it home for a ten day leave at Christmas. It was wonderful to see my soldier son at the holiday.

logo-extra-large

10420378_10204857207984422_6274001282547766795_n

logo-extra-large

Spotlight Winery: Goldeneye

This piece originally ran as a column in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Goldeneye winery tasting room at 9200 Hwy 128 in Philo, the town between Boonville and Navarro, in the Anderson Valley, is set in a gorgeously warm and richly appointed building, surrounded by grounds of perfectly trimmed hedges, herb gardens, roses, full to bursting tall planter boxes, stone water fountains and comfortably inviting chairs in front, and wooden tables and chairs overlooking estate vineyards in back.

Tasting Room

Prior visitors, leaving online reviews, described Anderson Valley’s Goldeneye tasting experience as Napa-esque, and I agree that tastings are conducted in a decidedly unique to Mendocino County manner.

Visitors to Goldeneye are treated to a seated tasting of 5 or 6 current release Pinot Noir wines at a tasting fee of $15. Elevated tasting experiences are available, from foods served to pair with the wines, to additional reserve wine tastes, for a fee.

Seated tasting experiences and tasting fees do stand in stark contrast to many Mendocino County tasting room experiences where instead you belly up to a tasting bar and often there is no tasting fee, but I loved my tasting at Goldeneye and the experience is well worth the money. Some of my favorite past tastings include a seated salon tasting with food pairings at Swanson in Napa County and a paired food and wine tasting with Kendall Jackson CEO Rick Tigner, when he was disguised as a Texas grocery store manager during filming of the Undercover Boss television program, in Sonoma County. I love having wines in front of me, and the opportunity to explore each one, comfortably and over an extended period of time. I enjoyed doing just that at Goldeneye.

Paula

I was attended to by Goldeneye retail and hospitality manager Paula Viehmann, and she could not have been more welcoming. Paula and I worked together briefly when she managed the tasting room for Saracina and I managed the McFadden tasting room, and we both volunteered our efforts to Destination Hopland, the local wine group for many Hwy 101 wineries. Full disclosure: Paula was recently elected to the Board of Directors of the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association, where I now serve the Board and membership as the new Executive Director. This tasting occurred before I was hired.

Paula poured me two ‘bonus’ wines before the seated tasting:

2012 Goldeneye Anderson Valley Brut Rose $55. 71% Pinot Noir and 29% Chardonnay, spent 10 months in barrel and 20 months en tirage, is a beautiful salmon color, delicate yet flavorful, ethereal, soft fruit and rose petal, and begs to be paired with salmon.

2013 Migration Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, $38. Green Valley and a lot of Dutton Ranch fruit. Strawberry color; light strawberry, herb, candied cherry, and caramel nose; light, very drinkable, accessible.

Next, Paula set me up at my own table in the back patio area and poured some more wines for me:

2012 Goldeneye Anderson Valley Pinot Noir $55. This is a blend of four estate and one sourced Anderson Valley vineyards. 16 months in barrel. Brilliant vibrant red-pink burgundy color; darker cola vinous strawberry-cherry fruit nose; soft mouth, richly fruited flavor of raspberry, current, cherry; long lingering finish.

Flight

2012 Goldeneye Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Confluence Vineyard $82. Named for the place the Anderson and Rancheria rivers come together and Navarro river begins. Goldeneye’s warmest vineyard. Another gorgeous brilliant red-pink colored wine; nose of meaty bacon, black cherry, clove and cardamom; dark full mouth, but not really dry, dusty earthy, black cherry, oolong tea, and dried herb.

2012 Goldeneye Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Gowan Creek $82. Big temperature swings of 50-55 degrees with coastal fog at night mark this vineyard located two miles north of the tasting room and yield gigantic black fruit throughout. Black cherry and cola, blackberry, strawberry, rose, and herb nose; the mouth is richer still, but wonderfully accessible, black cherry jam and a kiss of rhubarb. Full body with acid that pops the fruit. I would love to have this with food, and the list of foods it would pair with is near endless.

2012 Goldeneye Anderson Valley Pinot Noir The Narrows $82. Eight miles north of the tasting room, just ten miles from the coast, surrounded by forest, the vineyard is ten degrees cooler than Confluence. The color is the same, all of the Pnot Noir wines poured are brilliant of clarity and gorgeous of color, burgundy red with a touch of pink. Smoky rose and mushroom, preserved red fruits, floral, herb, butterscotch-caramel nose; sexy mouth with a ton going on, this is definitely the forest floor Pinot with loamy, earth, mushroom notes underneath strawberry and cherry fruit jam.

Vineyard View.jpg

Paula then brought out and poured another ‘bonus’ wine, the 2012 Goldeneye Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Ten Degrees $115, named for the temperature difference between the Confluence and Narrows vineyard, a cuvee – or blend – of the best 25 barrels out of 1,300, as chosen by winemaker Michael Fay. Paula pulled the old Jedi mind trick, practiced by the best tasting room managers everywhere, telling me, “you will love it.” I am an old Jedi, at least that is what my Army dog tags said on the line for religion, and am immune to the Jedi mind trick, but Paula was right, oh so right. I loved this wine very much. The color was the perfect patented Goldeneye red-pink burgundy; the nose was deeper, richer, more concentrated; the mouth bigger, deeper, supple, with floral rose meeting smoky meaty blackberry, cherry, earthy sweet fruit, fall spices, so incredibly muti noted, and thoroughly enjoyable.

A common thread for all of these wines is that the tannins are supple and the oak does not get in the way of clearly discernable fruit expression.

Goldeneye is a rare and different treat in Mendocino County, and their seated tasting experience is definitely a worthwhile way to spend an afternoon in the Anderson Valley.

For more information about Goldeneye winery, visit www.goldeneyewinery.com, or call (800) 208-0438 to set up a tasting between 10:30 am and 4:30 pm daily.

10420378_10204857207984422_6274001282547766795_n

logo-extra-large

John on Wine – Bonny Doon is in my house!

This piece originally ran as a wine column in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, December 10, 2015

One of my favorite wineries is Bonny Doon, and one of my favorite winemakers is Bonny Doon owner Randall Grahm. Years ago, I traveled 42 California Counties with wine books and accessories for the Wine Appreciation Guild, and regularly I would visit all of the wineries and tasting rooms on the Santa Clara side of the Santa Cruz mountains, head over to Santa Cruz and grab a hotel for the night, so my first visit at 10:00 am the next morning would be at 10 Pine Flats Road, up the mountain off Hwy 1, into forests, to make the tasting room of Bonny Doon my day’s first visit, and to taste the new releases. I love Bonny Doon!

I was sent a review copy of Randall Grahm’s book, “Been Doon So Long, a Randall Grahm Vinthology,” by Amy Cleary, of the book’s publisher, U.C. Press, and wrote a glowing review, because I loved the book, for my online wine blog, johnonwine.com, in February 2010 (wow, I was shocked to find, looking back, that I’ve been writing about wine for more than six years). Randall Grahm included review excerpts in his marketing of the book, and the book appeared in my December 2010 list of top Christmas gifts for the wine lover in your life.

I revere Randall Grahm, he is an iconoclast, an original Rhone Ranger, and a man almost completely divorced from convention, yet dedicated to stellar wine. His labels are created by artists, and a signed and framed reproduction of one hangs in my home. I was thrilled to accept a recent email offer from Randall to have him send some of his wines to me for me to taste. For me, that’s hitting the big time as a wine writer, and an incredible honor.

Margaret Pedroni is one of my favorite people. Margaret worked two doors down from my McFadden tasting room, and was the manager for both Weibel and Ray’s Station, before heading over the mountain to become the National Brand Manager for Knez wines in the Anderson Valley…where I am headed soon. Margaret recently sat for the introductory Sommelier exam, passed, and was awarded her red pin from the Guild of Sommeliers.  I invited Margaret to join me for a tasting of these wines, and our combined notes follow.

2010 Sparkling Albariño $36  – label by Grady McFerrin

12391806_10206980162656962_7110232159035282430_n

Appearance: brilliant pale gold deep straw, slight reflective quality, volatile effervescence, great bubble structure, nice mousse; nose: dry caramel, fig, honey, cantaloupe melon, light moist hibiscus; medium full weight mouth feel, heavier and darker full fruited that classic Champagne grape variety based sparkling wine. Notable acidity providing structure; mouth: lemon-lime, grapefruit, ripe guava, herb; finish: long, graham (Grahm?) cracker and honeycomb notes.
_____

2013 Le Cigare Blanc Réserve $45 – label by Chuck House

12376273_10206980163776990_5091918106094692682_n

55% Rousanne, 26% Grenache Blanc, 19% Picpoul Blanc white blend.

Appearance: clear pale gold medium straw, very clear rim, bright medium clarity; nose: dense, deep, but muted. Honey, dried white rose, herb, white peach, vanilla, reduced pear, bruised nectarine, waxy floral white gardenia; balanced acidity with warm fruit notes; mouth: salty wet rock minerality, savory butter, pear, stone fruit, candied honeycomb, flint; finish: a touch short, cherry pit note
_____

2014 Cuvée “R” Grenache $48 – label by Gary Taxali

12345627_10206980165337029_4989216391576967606_n

Appearance: semi translucent light garnet cranberry rose color, light rim variation; nose: sexy, strawberry jam, strawberry pie complete with buttery crust, ripe cherry, light violet, candied rose petal confection, cardamom spice, slight watermelon; medium light bodied with favorable acidity to fruit; mouth: fruit forward, strawberry, bright cherry, rhubarb, watermelon, a little stemmy, dried herb blend; finish: long tapering notes of herbal rhubarb and sweet tart candied fruit. I enjoyed this wine greatly, as I love both Grenache and strawberries.
_____

2014 Cinsaut Counoise $35 – label by Grady McFerrin

11218856_10206980164537009_7975301152684040772_n

Cinsault 67% Counoise 33%

Appearance: Clear, bright light garnet rose, clear at rim, reflective; nose: seductive cocoa dusted cherry, strawberry, clove, vanilla, tiny bit of exciting gamy animal funk, nuance of rose, a light cola; level acidity, balance, with fruit, structured body; mouth: mineral, red ripe strawberry fruit, toffee, dried Italian oregano herb, raspberry, red currant, spice; finish: long with candied red fruit notes. Great acidity, great food wine; a truly delicious wine that will appeal to lovers of Syrah or Pinot Noir, sharing some characteristics with each. For both Margaret and me, this was our favorite wine of the six tasted.
_____

2012 Syrah “Le Pousseur” $26 – label by Bascove

12390838_10206980166337054_4567881206739043212_n

Appearance: dark, deep ruby, purple burgundy violet color; nose: the aromatics leapt out of the glass when inspecting for color. Dark plum, licorice, dark berry fruit, oak, gamy wet leather, Chinese 5 spice, floral, dusty bramble berry, mint undertone; tannins are noticeably evident, but soft. The wine is dry, astringent. Could benefit from being cellared for a couple of years; mouth: black cherry, ripe plum, blackberry, dark shading to blueberry, herb, pepper, spice, floral; finish: herbal eucalyptus and spice dark fruit.
_____

2011 Le Cigare Volant Réserve $79 – label by Chuck House

12321166_10206980166817066_2377721833242918757_n

37% Mourvedre, 34% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 9% Cinsault red blend

Appearance: lovely deep red ruby garnet with little rim variation; nose: multi-noted! Plush, strawberry, cherry, rhubarb, herb, violet, dried rose, spice, leather licorice, and it just keeps going, note after note; evident acid to fruit balance; a touch astringent but not overly so, owing perhaps to a cooler vintage; mouth: strawberry, cherry, briny cranberry, raspberry, stem, crushed stone, herb, rose, mint; finish: tapering sweet reduced red strawberry, cherry, berry, and oak; this wine would pair beautifully with flavorful game meat, like venison.
_____

This was an incredibly enjoyable tasting experience, made more so by sharing it with a friend, and I urge you to seek out, buy, and enjoy the 2014 Bonny Doon Cinsaut Counoise, a perfect wine to introduce you to the vinous talents of Randall Grahm.

For more information about Bonny Doon, or to order wine, visit http://www.bonnydoonvineyard.com.

10702_954035131274235_3405864874218756_n

logo-extra-large

John on Wine – Redwood Valley’s Low Gap Bourbon

This ran originally as a weekly wine column on Thursday, December 3, 2015 in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper

On a beautiful fall day in Redwood Valley, with burnt red maple leaves, golden green-yellow grape leaves on head pruned grape vines, and a gorgeously blue sky, I met two of my favorite people, Jack Crispin Cain and his wife Tamar Kaye, at their American Craft Whiskey Distillery for my first taste of their newly bottled Low Gap Bourbon.

“When we started making whiskey with Ansley Coale, the plan was to make four,” Crispin told me. “We started with wheat, then the malted corn & barley blend, and the rye was next. As I got more and more experience with whiskey, I found there wasn’t a bourbon I liked, and by the time I got to our bourbon, we really had everything down.”

Bourbon

Congress sets the identity for spirits and at the Federal level it was decided that a spirit can be called straight bourbon if it is a blend of three or more of corn, barley, wheat, and rye, with one of the grains accounting for at least 51% of the blend, and spends two years in 200 liter new white oak barrels at 60% alcohol by volume.

Crispin and Tamar’s Low Gap Bourbon is 55% corn, 30% malted barley, and 15% malted rye; all three get combined in the mash, fermented to dryness into what is essentially a dense malt wine.

This bourbon is outstandingly good, so much better than the bulk produced crap that you find in stores, making Mendocino County, California the home of bourbon superior to that made in Bourbon County Kentucky, to my taste, and I asked why it is so good. Crispin shared that “one of the reasons this is so good is my son climbed into the pot between every run and scrubbed it clean.”

The bourbon finished at 43.2% alcohol by volume, and Crispin would probably tell me that the purest collected rain water was used to bring it down from 60%, but this bourbon is so magically delicious that I believe the collected tears of joy from a dozen leprechauns were used instead.

Crispin shared a lovely family anecdote, “my maternal grandfather, Ted Ultsch, wouldn’t drink [the amazingly delicious] Germain-Robin brandy [Cognac, in all but name] because riverboat gamblers drink brandy; he’s a bourbon man. This is Ted’s bourbon.”

Here are my first tasting impressions: richly multi noted and just lovely, exciting, caramel-vanillin wrapped malted grain. Smooth beyond any Bourbon previously tasted. Simply the best bourbon I’ve ever tasted.

All of Crispin and Tamar’s spirits, from the vodkas and gins to the whiskeys, including his new bourbon, have candied notes. The bourbon tastes of candied malted grain, smooth, rich and pure. I asked why candy throughout, and Crispin explained that his, “sour mash goes into a copper pot still and when it gets hot catalytic action transforms complex organic molecules into smaller molecules including alcohol sugars,” that present themselves in a way that is different from spirits using different stills, and he thought his bourbon was, “one of just two, maybe three, copper pot still bourbons in the country.”

“The copper pot still and the way we are using it, very careful with the fire, the temperature, the method…a combination of the two,” is why Crispin and Tamar’s bourbon (and other spirits) are, “naturally sweet,” Crispin said, and offering reasons for why I found it vastly superior to other bourbons, “all in house, far more cleaning, no outside bulk grain distilled bought and added, the method, no additives, no caramel coloring, no simple syrup, no glycerin, no citric acid – just grain, water, yeast and enzymes.”

Crispin and Tamar sent me home with a review sample bottle for “additional research” and I’ve diligently done my research. I have a wonderful glass, specifically designed to enhance the tasting experience for whiskeys, and as good as the first taste was, an ounce in my glass, swirl and nose, swirl and nose, just the tiniest sip, repeated slowly and savoringly, over about forty minutes, at home on my couch, is the way to enjoy this beautiful bourbon. Two one-ounce tastes, and I have already purchased another bottle. When she visited, I offered my girlfriend a sip, because I am a good man, but she detests bourbon, so I will get every sip in each bottle, which means I am a lucky man as well.

In addition to Crispin and Tamar’s new bourbon, I have tasted and reviewed their 2011 Malted Corn & Malted Barley Blended Whiskey, 2011 Malted Bavarian Hard Wheat Whiskey, 100 Proof Malted Bavarian Hard Wheat Whiskey, 2 Year Malted Rye Whiskey, Single Barrel #1 Whiskey, Malted Rye (Clear) Whiskey, Germain-Robin Absinthe Superieure, Russell Henry London Dry Gin, Russell Henry Dark Gin, DSP CA 162 Straight Vodka, DSP CA 162 Vodka Citrus Reticulata var. Sunshine (tangerines and tangelos), DSP CA 162 Vodka Citrus Medica var. Sarcodactylis (Buddha’s-hand citrons), and DSP CA 162 Vodka Citrus Hystrix (Malaysian limes and their leaves), and Crispin’s Rose Liqueur, as well as son Devin Cain’s 1850 Cocktail, based on the Sazerac. Visit JohnonWine.com and enter “Crispin” in the search bar to find and read those archived reviews.

To make an appointment to taste and purchase at the distillery’s retail location, call (800) 782-8145 to set a time and get directions. You – or the recipients of amazing Christmas gifts – will be immensely glad you did.

10702_954035131274235_3405864874218756_n

logo-extra-large

John on Wine – Full of Thanks

This piece ran originally as a wine column in the Ukiah Daily Journal on Wednesday, November 25, 2015

This is my favorite column of the year to write, and I so much love giving thanks for the overabundance of blessings that come my way that I wrote a May column of thanks this year to keep this piece from overflowing into thousands of words.

First, a little news; I have been hired by the Board of Directors of the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association (AVWA) to be their new Executive Director. My job will be to promote the member wineries and vineyards, and associated lodging and restaurant members, of the area, to help mount four wonderful events each year, and to tell the story of Anderson Valley. I am a storyteller, and this is a story I can’t wait to share, the beauty of the valley, and redwood forests, and Mendocino coastline along Highway 128, the incredibly focused attention on world class Pinot Noir and Alsace varietal wines in Anderson Valley’s vineyards, and the breathtakingly soul shuddering wonder of the wines made by some of California’s best winemakers. Thank you to the AVWA Board for your trust and confidence, I can’t wait to begin.

logo

Thanks also to Janis MacDonald, the current AVWA Executive Director, who will work alongside me, for all of your support and kindness. I have written before that I think Janis is the most competent Executive Director a wine area could hope for, and I look forward to learning from you. You will help me achieve similar competence and I am so appreciative that you will be staying and helping me. Together, our shared passion and hard work will benefit Anderson Valley, and Mendocino County’s larger wine scene. We will make a terrific team.

For almost five years, I have been Guinness McFadden’s tasting room manager, and working with Guinness has been one of the greatest honors of my professional career in the wine industry. For the past five years, Guinness has trusted me with his retail operations, wine clubs, event planning, marketing, and promotion; thank you Guinness for allowing me an incredible amount of freedom to help build your brand.

Guinness was an officer in the U.S. Navy and I was a Sergeant in the U.S. Army, and our military pasts helped define how we worked together; Guinness would tell me what he wanted, I would make it happen. Guinness didn’t micromanage me, or tell me how to do my job, he simply told me what he wanted, and allowed me the freedom to execute his wishes. Our working relationship has been spectacular.

I look up to Guinness, and have learned so much from him. Working for the county’s premier organic and biodiverse farmer, I know so much more about growing than I did five years ago. Guinness also gave me opportunities unique for a tasting room manager; he let me set the dosage on his sparkling wines, and influence the blend of his Coro wines.

Guinness McFadden is my friend; I love McFadden wines, I love what I have come to think as my tasting room, and I will be available, and come back for events and wine club runs, and help out on my off time, as Guinness wishes, until my successor is up and running, trained and confident.

Thank you Guinness, for everything you have done for me these last five years, and for your support and blessing as I embark on my new adventure. I am looking forward to attending your Annual Farm Party next year on Saturday, July 9, 2016 in Potter Valley, without working.

THANK YOU

I have had a number of folks I’ve worked with in the McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room, and I want to thank the three who have been here the longest; thank you Eugene Gonsalves, Ann Beauchamp, and Juanita Plaza. I’ve never thought of you as my employees, and asked you not to refer to me as your boss; we are a team, and you are as responsible for our successes as much as I am. I love each of you, you are my friends, and I thank you for your support.

Having a retail shop 45 minutes away from our farm means that I have relied on a whole other team of incredibly competent people to serve the visitors to our tasting room; our team at McFadden is bigger than just my crew in Hopland. I have to thank everyone, from the folks who tend our grapes, herbs, and beef to the folks in the office who cut paychecks, provide me accurate inventories, and handle my orders for fulfillment.

Of you all, special thanks go to my counterpart in the farm office, Guinness’ manager Shana Estes. Shana and I have talked almost daily for five years; I adore you, and thank you for all of your help and support of our retail operation, while managing a Herculean work load at the farm. You amaze me.

Finally, thanks to the folks at the Ukiah Daily Journal who run my column, for giving me the opportunity to share my love of wine with your readers, hopefully influencing some to come out wine tasting, attend wine events, or join me at a winemaker’s dinner; and, of course, thank you to you, the readers, for your support, feedback, and kind words about pieces I have written.

logo-extra-large

I may be the most fortunate person in all of Mendocino County’s wine industry, I love my life, and I thank all of you for every opportunity you have granted me.
__________

Oh, here’s the answer to the question of the day, “what wine goes with turkey?”

I recommend either a Pinot Noir from McFadden Farm or any Anderson Valley producer, or a dry Gewurztraminer from…you guessed it…McFadden or an Anderson Valley producer.

10702_954035131274235_3405864874218756_n

logo-extra-large

John on Wine – A Taste of Redwood Valley…and bourbon…and mushrooms!

This piece ran originally as a wine column in the Ukiah Daily Journal on Thursday, October 19, 2015

This weekend, on Saturday, November 21 and Sunday, November 22, the wineries and distilleries of A Taste of Redwood Valley will host their 13th annual Holiday Wine Sale & Artisan Faire.

ATORV

A simple, bring your own tasting glass complimentary wine and spirits tasting event, you’ll find live music, great discounts, arts & crafts, and holiday cookies, light fare, and more as you go from location to location throughout Redwood Valley.

Participating both days, visit Barra of Mendocino/Girasole Vineyards, Brown Family Wines, Frey Vineyards, Giuseppe Wines/Neese Vineyards, Silversmith Vineyards, and Testa Vineyards on either Saturday or Sunday.

Participating on Saturday only, visit American Craft Whiskey Distillery, Germain-Robin Distillery, and Graziano Family of Wines on Saturday or miss out.

Again, this is a free event, just grab your tasting glass and visit Redwood Valley for a great time, and stock up on wines for Thanksgiving dinner and beyond, at a great savings.
__________

Bourbon

The Nation’s Best Bourbon might not be made anywhere near Bourbon County, Kentucky

Recently, I tasted Crispin Cain and Tamar Kaye’s new straight bourbon, and it was stunning. What a wonderful alternative to mass produced crap. Clean, pure, candied sipping heaven. I also got enough quotes for a stand-alone column around that one taste, so look for that in the future. In the meantime, remember American Craft Whiskey Distillery Low Gap Bourbon; find it, buy it. If visiting American Craft Whiskey and Germaine-Robin Distilleries on Saturday, November 21 during the 13th annual Holiday Wine Sale & Artisan Faire, bring a glass for complimentary tasting, and a credit card for a one day sale!

If you miss Saturday’s tasting and sale, you can still make an appointment to taste and purchase at the distillery’s retail location, by calling (800) 782-8145 to set a time and get directions.
__________

After my bourbon tasting, I attended the Barra Vineyards winemaker’s dinner at Crush Italian Steakhouse in Ukiah, as a guest of Charlie and Martha Barra. Thank you!

The five course mushroom themed dinner was held in association with Visit Mendocino’s Mushroom and Wine Festival.

The Crush Chef’s Wine Dinner series recaps are among the most commented upon, a favorite among those who read my column, and this is not one of those dinners. Instead of being Crush’s event, featuring a winery, this was Barra’s event, held at Crush, and a brilliant choice as Crush has amply demonstrated an ability to prepare and serve a meal to highlight a winery’s wines.

Crush manager Kevin Kostoff welcomed the fortunate guests to Barra’s winemaker’s dinner, introduced his brilliantly able staff. Owners Doug and Debbie Guillon were introduced, and Doug explained that the wine dinners at Crush are served ‘family style’ with wine, food, and conversation passing freely. Charlie and Martha Barra were introduced, and Martha told the guests, “we are just very pleased that Charlie, at almost 89, is here with us, and we want to commemorate his 70th year in the vineyard tonight.” Winemaker Owen Smith introduced the six wines served, and Chefs Steve and Jason introduced the food dishes, almost too numerous to count.

The reception meet and greet appetizer course paired the 2014 BARRA of Mendocino Pinot Noir Rosé with a Mushroom Pâté.

One of four tables filled with happy Barra Winemaker's Dinner guests

One of four tables filled with happy Barra Winemaker’s Dinner guests

The seated first course paired two wines, the 2010 BARRA of Mendocino Pinot Grigio and 2014 BARRA of Mendocino Chardonnay with Dungeness Crab Lettuce Cup – Thai influenced flavors complemented by pickled shiitake mushrooms; Wild Mushroom Bisque – with thyme, roasted garlic, Parmesan; Porcini Mushroom Arancini – with tomato reduction sauce and fresh basil; and Kobe Beef Mushroom Tartare – accompanied by crispy shallots, toasted popover boats and Dijon drizzle.

2013 Barra of Mendocino Pinot Noir

2013 Barra of Mendocino Pinot Noir

The second course had two more wines, the 2013 BARRA of Mendocino Pinot Noir and 2011 BARRA of Mendocino Petite Sirah, for Braised Mushroom Shepherd’s Pie – made with onion reduction, chive, potato purée; Slow Roast Veal Shoulder – served with a mushroom Marsala reduction; Heirloom Polenta – mascarpone, fontina, rosemary; and Haricots Verts – with cippolini onions, portobello, and sea salt.

Noted wine writer, Heidi Cusick Dickerson, shared, “What a dinner… Crush chef and crew get a high five and more for amazing flavors and combinations. Not fussy and so mushroomy… exquisite combinations. Well done and I am so happy to have been there to taste Barra of Mendocino wines with such thoughtful creative dishes. I thought the mushroom bisque with the Pinot Grigio would be my favorite and then there was the Pinot Noir and Arancini and then melt in your mouth veal with mushroom sauce, polenta and the Petite Sirah… Heavenly… Thanks to all.”

I’m a sucker for Arancini, stuffed risotto balls, and loved the wild mushroom bisque and the Kobe beef and mushroom tartare when put in the popover boats, but my favorite dish was created at the table by putting some of the rich mushroomy sauce from the slow roasted veal on top of the wonderfully creamy polenta made with chicken stock, cream, truffle oil, and butter.

As for the wine and food flavor combinations, I especially liked how the depth and flavors of the 2014 Barra Chardonnay paired with the richness of the mushroom bisque, and how the richness of the 2011 Barra Petite Sirah went with the rustic and richly flavored shepherd’s pie, but unsurprisingly, to me, it was the 2013 Barra Pinot Noir that paired most beautifully with the broadest array of mushroom based dishes, and especially well with the veal sauced polenta.

The dessert paired the 2014 Girasole Vineyards Muscat Canelli with Truffled Honey Panna Cotta – orange cookie, pear, vanilla bean; this was another wonderful pairing.

Martha and Charlie Barra

Martha and Charlie Barra

At dinner’s end, Martha presented Doug and Debbie with a wood boxed assortment of Barra’s finest wines, in recognition of the incredible job, above and beyond all expectation, done by the Crush crew, both front of house and in the kitchen. I must confess that I was very well stuffed after this incredible dinner.

Barra of Mendocino will be open both days of Redwood Valley’s 13th annual Holiday Wine Sale & Artisan Faire, so visit either day this weekend for complimentary wine tasting and fantastic sale prices.
__________

CRUSH

The next Winemaker’s Dinner at Crush will be held Wednesday, January 20, 2016, and feature the wines of Seebass Family Winery. Contact Crush directly at (707) 463-0700 to get on “the list” as these dinners sell out early.

seebass_logo

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,092 other followers