John on Wine – Spotlight winery: Testa Vineyards

By John Cesano
Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal on March 28, 2013

Comfy. Comfy is how I feel when I visit Testa Vineyards, just north of Calpella at 6400 N. State Street.

From the rustic metal farm antiques used as installed art decorations to the red checked cloths covering wood-round topped wine barrels, and from country music playing on the radio to old wooden picnic tables – all surrounded by head pruned old vine vineyards, a lake, mustard growing between the vines when I visited, and a three bedroom vineyard rental guest house with a winemaker’s dream: a cellar for barrels and cases. Testa Vineyards has a warm, unpretentious, welcoming vibe; Testa is defined by its comfortableness.

The Testa family has farmed grapes in Calpella for more than 100 years. Maria Testa Martinson is the fourth generation of Testas to farm, but the first generation to make wine from those grapes.

Photo credit: Di Davis, Diane Davis Photography

The wines Maria Testa Martinson, her husband Rusty, and their family make from the grapes that they grow on their ranch are simply delicious.

Maria is so completely likeable, so nice, so positive, so sweet, and her personality is paired with a tireless drive that has seen Testa quickly grow a loyal local following of fans.

Testa wines started with three labels; White, Black (red), and Rosé. Simple as that.

With success at wine competitions ­ almost everything Testa makes took a Gold medal at last year’s Mendocino County Wine Competition, and constant promotion ­ I’ve seen Maria pouring her Testa wines from Raley’s Supermarket to Saucy restaurant

in Ukiah, Testa has grown to add some varietally labeled wines, and Maria is hoping to release a 2011 Coro Mendocino wine in the summer of 2014 as well.

On a recent visit, Maria opened everything and we tasted through the entire current lineup. Here’s my notes:

NV Testa Vineyards White, $20 ­ The wine I tasted happened to be all 2010 vintage grapes, although labeled NV (non vintage), and the blend was Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Muscat Canelli, and Chenin Blanc. Testa’s White had nice floral notes being met by citrus aromas, following nicely to a mouthful of crisp stone fruit notes.

2011 Testa Vineyards Rosé, $18 ­ This tasted so nice, I forgot I was tasting critically and just thought, “yum.” Strawberry over ice.

2010 Testa Vineyards Charbono, $40 ­ Really nice, rich, full nose, soft tannin, nice acid, solid finish, velvety black and delicious dark fruit.

2010 Testa Vineyards Carignane, $25 ­ Beautiful bright cherry, dusty plum,+ herb and spice.

2010 Testa Vineyards 100 ANNI (100th anniversary) Old Vine Zinfandel, $40 ­ My favorite of the day, but I am partial to Zinfandel. Lighter styled, yet fully flavorful fruit, herb, and pepper spice notes.

2009 Testa Vineyards Black Due, $20 ­ Due means “two” in Italian, because this is the second Black release. Almost equal parts Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignane, and Petite Sirah. Rich, round, dry berry and cherry fruit with herb and cassis.

The Black Tre (Three) from 2010 is set to be bottled late May.

Wines getting close to being sold-out include the Black, Charbono, and Old Vine Zinfandel. While that is bad, sad news, the good news is that new yummy releases will follow shortly.

The Testa Vineyards tasting room is open Friday ­ Sunday, from 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. each day.

I was fortunate to have Maria’s 92-year-old (I suspect she could run circles around me) aunt Lee visit the tasting room while I was there tasting wines. Lee planted Testa’s Charbono grapes 50 years ago and was a joy to chat with as she shared her thoughts on subjects ranging from Risotto (Arborio rice is not to be used) to Zinfandel (lower alcohol is better), and from harvesting Zinfandel (just after the first couple of grapes go to raisin) to flavoring pasta water with Zinfandel (it can be tasty but isn’t pretty). Adorable, I found Maria’s aunt Lee to be a font of wisdom and experience.

I attended the first Testa Wine Club dinner and blend party and had a great time. A highlight was the barbecued oysters that Rusty and his buddies cooked up – my mouth still waters just thinking about them. I missed last year’s event, but I have marked my calendar and will travel from pouring wines at Winesong on the coast in Ft. Bragg on Sept. 7 to join Maria, Rusty, their family, friends, and fans later that day at this year’s Testa event. I may even have the enviable task of helping judge the blends put together by the event’s attendees.

John Cesano has written about wine at over the last four years. John cringes looking back at his unedited pieces, but has no intention of fixing them.


Okay, so there’s the piece that ran in last Thursday’s Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper, and was posted on their website too.

A little bonus info, more blathery than I am allowed in print where I am limited by word counts and space considerations:

I absolutely adore Maria. Of course, I adore lots of people in the wine industry, but Maria is just an extra special spirit. This may sound weird, but the inside of my head is a weird place; Maria is the perfect embodiment of an Italian grandma, but hot.

Maria reminds me of my neighbor growing up, Mrs. Bordessa, and of the Italian moms who cooked up the cioppino, or the spaghetti, or the gnocchi for their sons – who were my dad’s friends  so it seemed we were on a permanent Italian meal invite.

There is a comfortableness being around an Italian family, with simple, filling, delicious food and lots of vino. The mom, or grandma, proudly serving up home dishes better than any restaurant.

Maria reminds me of all of the iconic women who worked so hard, not just without complaint but cheerfully, to make a better home, a better table, for their family and friends.

While those women in my memory are all old, Maria is not. She is young, vital, attractive, and just a joy to be around.

Every time I have met one of Maria and Rusty’s children, the young Martinsons are also cheerful and helpful.

Similarly, I have met Testa women from the generations before Maria’s, and the whole darn family are just like so many families I knew growing up – Faraudo, Ratto, Lisignoli, Andretti, a whole bunch of families with names ending in a vowel (like mine). Hard working, devoted to family, welcomingly hospitable.

I think that Maria strikes a resonate chord in me, by being a living embodiment of an archetype I grew up with, and one I associate with great meals, and that resonance is a major reason for my feeling of comfort at Maria and Rusty’s winery.

Okay, one more random note that wouldn’t fit in a column: Di Davis, professional photographer extraordinaire, provided the photographic art for this piece. I send Di advance copies of my columns so she can send a photo to run with each weekly column. Di captured the spirit of Testa beautifully, with two of their most iconic wines and the family dog. Comfortable families have dogs. This just works.

I never would have taken this picture. I also couldn’t have imagined the picture Di captured of me that I now use practically everywhere across the social media universe.

I am incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to collaborate with Di each week. I enjoy not knowing what artwork she will send me, but knowing it will always be perfect…and a lovely surprise.


Thanks for reading. Pick up the Ukiah Daily Journal tomorrow, and every Thursday, to read my latest blather.