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John on Wine – Let’s not say goodbye. How about hello, instead?

This piece originally ran in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, January 7, 2016.

This column is your guide to great wine adventures in 2016, a list of festivals I have attended that I will attend again, these are all must attend events. Cut this column out of today’s newspaper, laminate it, and put it on your refrigerator with kitchen magnets. Refer to it, and buy your tickets to each incredible wine happening, and look for me at each this year. I’ll be the guy with a wineglass and a smile. Cheers!

Jan. 20 – Chef’s Wine Dinner >> Featuring Seebass Family Vineyard & Winery wines at Crush Italian Steakhouse in Ukiah. This will sell out at $75 per person. Seventy very lucky attendees will sit down for a multi-course meal paired with about a half dozen wines from Seebass. I will write a recap of this dinner, with pictures, for johnonwine.com. For tickets, contact Crush directly at (707) 463-0700.

Jan. 30 & 31 – Barrel Tasting 101 >> Buy a ticket online in advance for $20, or at a participating winery during the event for $30, and taste wine from the barrel, before it is bottled or aged, at Barra of Mendocino, Brutocao Cellars, Campovida, Cesar Toxqui Cellars, Graziano Family of Wines, Jaxon Keys Winery, Jeriko Estate, McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room, McNab Ridge, Milano Family Winery, Nelson Family Winery, Rivino, Saracina, Seebass Vineyards, Simaine Cellars, Sip Mendocino, Terra Savia, and Testa Ranch. For more information, visit destinationhopland.com/store

Feb. 20 & 21 – 11th annual International Alsace Varietals Festival >> There is a full day of events in the Anderson Valley, with many DRY Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, Riesling, and Muscat aromatic white wines, starting with an educational session in the morning, the big grand tasting in the afternoon, and a winemakers’ dinner in the evening on Feb 20; and open house tasting at Anderson Valley Alsace varietal producers on Feb 21. For more information, visit avwines.com/alsace-festival.

Feb 25-27 – ZAP’s Zinfandel Experience >> Zinfandel Advocates & Producers (ZAP) will celebrate their 25th annual Zinfandel Experience with three days of events in San Francisco. The weekend includes a 25 Year Tribute Party, Supper Club, Flights Seminar, Winemakers Auction & Dinner, and Grand Tasting. 2016 Zinfandel Experience is featuring more access to winemaker celebrities, more wineries, and two impressive new venues, showcasing the talents of winemakers, chefs, and artisanal food purveyors. I grew up with Zinfandel, there is a picture of my brother and I crushing Zinfandel grapes in 1972 in my office. I attended this event going back into the 90’s with family. This is a must attend event if you love Zinfandel like I do. The fun kicks off Thursday Feb 25 with a 25 Year Tribute Party with over 60 producers, followed by a Heritage Supper Club dinner, at the Banking Hall at the Bently Reserve. Flights is a seated panel tasting at the the Bently Reserve on Feb 26, moderated by one of my idols, Joel Peterson, and will look whether there are California wines that should be consider Great Growths, similar to Bordeaux’s 1855 Grand Cru classification; later that evening at the hotel is the Winemaker’s Reception, Dinner & Auction. Finally, the Grand Tasting with over 100 Zinfandels at the James R. Herman Cruise Terminal at Pier 27 on Feb 27. I have attended previous ZAP events, and if you love Zinfandel, then this is a must event to attend. For more information, visit zinfandelexperience.com

Apr. 23 & 24 – Passport to Dry Creek Valley >> I LOVE this event, and have attended each of the last three years; tickets sell out and Tickets are sold first-come-first-serve starting Monday, February 1st, 2016 at 10 am, so grab your tickets early. For this one weekend each year, since 1990, Passport guests are welcomed into 45+ wineries throughout Dry Creek Valley, each offering a unique pairing of premium wine, gourmet food and entertainment, and these offerings are amazing with each winery location competing with the other to impress you, and impressed you will be! There is also Prelude to Passport on Apr. 22, with vineyard lunches and winemaker dinners. For more information, visit drycreekvalley.org/events/passport-to-dry-creek-valley/

Apr. 30 & May 1 – Hopland Passport >> I have worked every Hopland Passport going back to Spring 2011 at McFadden, and this will be my first chance top attend one in over 6 years, and I am looking forward to it! Hopland area winery tasting rooms, about 15 in all, pour their wines, offer food pairing tastes, with tours, music, and more. For more information, visit destinationhopland.com/hopland-passport

May 20-22 – 19th annual Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival >> This festival is a three day event including a Technical Conference & social BBQ in the vineyards on Friday, Grand Tasting on Saturday with 50+ wineries participating, many elegant winemaker dinners on Saturday evening, and open houses at all area wineries on Sunday. For more information, visit avwines.com/19th-annual-anderson-valley-pinot-noir-festival/

Jun. 17-19 – A Taste of Redwood Valley >> This traditional Father’s Day weekend tasting event kicks off with a Winemakers’ Dinner event Friday night, and tasting at eight local winery and distillery locations throughout Redwood Valley over the weekend. For more information, visit atasteofredwoodvalley.com/events.html

Jun. 18 – Pinot Days SF >> I have been offered tickets each of the last four years, and invariably a last minute conflict prevented me from attending. I will rectify that this year, and look forward to choosing tastes of Pinot Noir wines from over 100 producers. Held at City View at the Metreon, many of Anderson Valley’s best wines will be showcased. For more information, visit pinotdays.com

Jul. 9 – Annual Party at McFadden Farm >> Here’s another event I’ve worked that I’ll simply attend and enjoy this year. Guinness McFadden opens his 550 acre farm at the north end of Potter Valley to 220 paid guests, $85 or McFadden Wine Club $70, for an amazing party, with overnight camping, swimming, farm tours, roast whole pig and lamb, tons of farm fresh vegetable dishes and salads, live music, dancing, and more wine than should ever be poured if overnight camping was not available. This event sells out! Get your ticket by calling the tasting room at (707) 744-8463. For more information, visit macfaddenfarm.com

Jul. 23 & 24 – Anderson Valley & Yorkville Highlands Barrel Tasting Weekend >> I would love to rename this event BT128, but branding is important, and the two growing regions probably like the named recognition. For two days, from 11-4, Anderson Valley wineries and their neighbors in Yorkville Highlands invite you to enjoy unprecedented access to winery cellars, taste yet-to-be-released wines, and purchase futures of your favorites at a special barrel tasting weekend price! For more information, visit avwines.com

Aug. 4 & 5 – Mendocino County Wine Competition >> This is the nation’s oldest continuously held wine competition, and I love attending the awards dinner, where all of the winners are announced, and I can see my friends from throughout the county and celebrate their well deserved recognition. The award dinner is open to the public, and a great way to show your support for the county’s winemakers and grape growers, as well as taste some delicious medal winning wines. For more information, visit mendowine.com

Sep. 10 – Winesong Charity Auction & Tasting >> Tickets go on sale Apr. 1. Stroll through the lush Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens while enjoying vintages poured by about 100 world-class wineries from Mendocino, Sonoma, Napa, and beyond, and food from 50 of Mendocino County’s finest food purveyors, and enjoy various music groups as they play; then head to the Auction Tents with lively bidding for over 200 lots. This is a benefit for the Mendocino Coast Hospital Foundation. The day before, on Sep. 9, there is the Pinot Noir Celebration presented by Winesong and Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association hosted by Little River Inn. For more information, visit winesong.org

There are other events that I will attend, numerous winemaker dinners at Crush in Ukiah and throughout the Anderson Valley throughout the year, the September blending party at Testa Vineyards & Winery in Calpella, October’s Fall Hopland Passport and the World Championship Abalone Cook-off in Fort Bragg, and November’s A Taste of Redwood Valley bring your own glass tasting and sale weekend.

This is it, my last weekly wine column written to deadline. Sure, I’ll still write for johnonwine.com; and I’ll surely send recaps of each of these events, and whatever else demands to be written, to the Ukiah daily Journal, so you might still see me occasionally in the newspaper; but this is it, the final official piece for now. Instead of a goodbye, this list of events allows you to find me easily – I’ll be at them all, so come up, introduce yourself, and say hello. Cheers!

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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.

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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.

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John On Wine – Local wine events you’ll want to attend

This piece originally ran in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, June 18, 2015

The 2012 vintage of Coro Mendocino wines will be first tasted at a 2012 Coro Release Dinner on tonight, June 18th from 6:00-8:00pm at SIP Mendocino in Hopland. A catered light dinner will be served at the event. Tickets are only $10 each. Stop reading this column, pull out your cell phone, and call (707) 744-8375 right now to secure your tickets before they are sold out.

For those who just stumbled upon my column anew, Coro Mendocino is a wonderful wine program that allows any Mendocino County winery to make a Zinfandel blend, supported largely by historic heritage field blend varieties, in a cooperative manner, with a who’s who of the best local winemakers working together to help make each individual winery’s Coro blend the best wine it can be, through multiple blind tastings of barrel samples and a pass/fail blind quality assurance tasting.

The wineries that produced 2012 vintage Coro blends are Barra, Brutocao, Clos du Bois, Golden, McFadden, Parducci, Ray’s Station, and Testa.

With each of the Coro wines priced at about $40, this is an opportunity to be among the first to taste effectively $320 in wine, and enjoy a light dinner, all for just $10. Why are you still reading and not calling?
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June 19-21 is the time to visit the wineries and (oh yes!) distilleries of Redwood Valley.

The 24th annual Father’s Day weekend A Taste of Redwood Valley event kicks off with the Winemaker Dinner at Barra of Mendocino on Friday, June 19 from 6:00-9:00pm. Start off with reception tastes from Barra/Girasole, Brown Family, Frey, Graziano, Giuseppe/Neese, Silversmith, and Testa, then move on to a dinner featuring and antipasto buffet of Italian meats, cheeses, olives, and fresh baguettes; salad with grilled eggplant and roasted red peppers; Italian style roulade served with a red wine gravy and fresh crusty bread for dipping, and a creamy three cheese tortellini; grilled fresh summer garden vegetables; and for dessert a cannoli served on a chocolate drizzle with a dollop of whipped cream accompanied by late harvest wines, ports, and liqueurs and spirits from Germain-Robin and Craft Distillers. Dinner tickets are $65.

On Saturday, June 20 and Sunday, June 21, from 11:00am-5:00pm each day, a $35 ticket includes wine tasting, gourmet foods, logo glass, gift drawings, musical entertainment, and more at Barra/Girasole, Brown Family, Craft Distillers, Frey, Germain-Robin, Graziano, Giuseppe/Neese, Silversmith, and Testa. New this year: local restaurants and caterers will be at each winery location, serving up delicious Italian food, and vying for your votes in a pasta cook-off, as part of the included ticket price event experience.

Save $10 on the three day package, and attend the dinner and two days of tasting fun for just $90.

Wine, food, and spirits. For more information, visit http://www.atasteofredwoodvalley.com or call (707) 485-0322.

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On Friday, June 26, the Funky Dozen will be in concert at Nelson Family Vineyards between Ukiah and Hopland. The Funky Dozen blends fun and funk to keep people on the dance floor all night long. Doors open at 5:30 and the music starts at 6:00pm. Tickets are $13 in advance and $20 at the door.

The site is casual so please bring blankets and chairs. Enjoy delicious, handcrafted wines and local beers, along with a tasty dinner prepared by Ingram Eatz Barbeque. Of course, pleased do not bring outside alcoholic beverages.
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On Saturday, June 27, make your way to Lakeport’s Library Park for The Winefest, a celebration of Lake County’s amateur wine & beer makers running from 1-5pm. There will also be premium Lake County wineries, music, food, raffles, an auction, and art & craft vendors; and the event benefits the Lake County Symphony and Youth Orchestra.

Tickets are just $20 in advance, or $25 at the event. For vendor information and advance ticket outlet info, call (707) 277-8172 or (707) 277-7076.

I will definitely be attending, as I get to serve a wine judge for the event’s wine competition. If you are a home winemaker, and you make a wine from Lake County grapes, call the numbers above and get your wine entered into the competition.
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My favorite wine event of the year is less than one month away, and tickets are already selling well. Now is the time to sign up for the Annual McFadden Farm Party, set for Saturday, July 11, from 5:00pm-late.

The annual party at McFadden Farm is set for Saturday, July 11

The annual party at McFadden Farm is set for Saturday, July 11

I run the McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room for Guinness McFadden, but I would buy a ticket to this event every year even if I didn’t work for McFadden.

Held the second Saturday of July every year, which makes planning for our wine club members from around the country easy, this is not your ordinary wine club dinner event.

First, it is open to the public, not just wine club members, and second, this is not a mere winery or vineyard, but a gorgeous, secluded, 500 acre bio diverse farm and there is so much more to do than just eat and drink…although I do love to eat and drink.

Folks show up early in the day and set up tents or park campers and RVs, then play in the Russian River beneath the spill way of Guinness’ hydroelectric plant, wander the farm taking in the sights, sounds, and smells of a real working organic family farm, from our grass fed beef to fresh herb gardens and grape vineyards to fruit orchards. Guests check in at around 5:00pm and enjoy a wine & appetizer reception, and some choose to tour the farm with Guinness. There is a sit down BBQ feast, featuring Magruder pork and lamb and farm to table vegetable, salad, and dessert dishes plus more McFadden wine and bubbly throughout. The Kelly McFarling Band will perform, and dancing goes late into the night. Most years, someone jacks an iPod into the sound system, so music and revelry can continue into the early morning hours. Overnight camping is encouraged and a fun time is had by all.

Tickets are all inclusive and priced at $85 for the general public, $70 for McFadden Wine Club members (limit two per membership), and $20 for children 12 and under.

Visit or call the McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room in Hopland at (707) 744-8463 to get your ticket before they are gone.

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John On Wine – Get your tickets now

This post will be published on Thursday, April 9 in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper

Every so often, I use my column as an event listing for my readers. Today is one of those days. While certainly not a complete list of wine country events, here are some incredibly worthwhile things to do, and most will sell out in advance, so do not dawdle, get your tickets now.

Saturday, April 11 – The annual Celebration of Mendocino County Sparkling Wines – Mendocino County’s best sparkling wines from Elke Vineyards, Graziano Family of Wines, McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room, Parducci Wine Cellars, Nelson Family Vineyards, Roederer Estate, Scharffenberger Cellars, Signal Ridge Cellars, Terra Sávia Winery, and Yorkville Cellars, paired with fresh oysters from Tomales Bay with Mignonette or Somendo ranch lemons, paella Valenciana, assorted cheeses with fresh bread from Schat’s Bakery, strawberries with melted Swiss dark Chocolate, Meyer lemon almond cake, and live music. Tickets are $55 online in advance and TODAY IS THE LAST DAY FOR ADVANCE TICKETS! GET YOUR’S HERE, $65 at the door. This is THE Event to go to if you love sparkling wine and great food, and is happening this Saturday – get your tickets NOW!

Saturday, April 18 – Earth Day at Barra of Mendocino – Join the Barra family in a celebration to honor Mother Earth and the rich bounty of Mendocino County, from 10-5. Be the first to taste Barra’s organic olive oil made from olives grown on the family farm of Bella Collina.  Translated as, “Beautiful Hillside,” this area provides gravelly soil for these trees to thrive right alongside Barra’s prized Petite Sirah and Zinfandel vines.  While you’re at it, taste newly released vintages of organic wines, and enjoy the gardens and scenic surroundings.  For more information:  (707) 485-0322

Saturday, April 25 & Sunday, April 26 – Passport to Dry Creek Valley – Over one weekend, Passport guests are welcomed into nearly 50 wineries throughout Dry Creek Valley, each offering a unique pairing of premium wine, gourmet food and entertainment. Take a vineyard tour for a grape-to-glass look at Dry Creek Valley wine. Sample exclusive vintages, rarely available to taste. Meet winemakers and grapegrowers – the generations of people behind the wine and magical ‘Dry Creek Valley spirit’. Savor exquisite food and wine pairings from acclaimed chefs. I LOVE Dry Creek Passport, will be attending for the third year in a row, and with so many wineries participating, no two Passports are the same. Enjoy! Tickets are $141.38 and available online at www.drycreekvalley.org

Thursday, April 30 – Thirsty Thursday at SIP! Mendocino in Hopland – Tickets are $20, or one free ticket per SIP! wine club membership. Each month offers a different terrific tasting. Last month I enjoyed a tasting of five wonderful Sake paired with delicious Sushi from Oco Time, this month could be anything from a pairing of the County’s best Alsatian whites with the foods of Alsace, or Pinot Noir with mushroom risotto. For more info, and to grab your tickets, call (707) 744-8375.

Saturday, May 2 & Sunday, May 3 – Hopland Passport – Closer to home, Hopland’s Passport event is manageable, and just the right size to be able to visit all the participating wineries without rushing. I’ll be working at McFadden, of course, and think we offer up the event’s best wines and food from our certified organic farm, but there is also proudly offered food and wine pairings at Brutocao, Campovida, Cesar Toxqui, Frey, Graziano, Jaxon Keys, Jeriko, McNab Ridge, Milano, Nelson, Rivino, and Terra Savia. Two day ‘early bird’ tickets are $45 and available at www.destinationhopland.com or $55 at participating wineries during the event. This is probably the best event value of the bunch.

Sunday, May 10 – Mother’s Day Brunch at Barra of Mendocino – Honor the special women in your life this Mother’s Day with a brunch celebration at BARRA of Mendocino Winery.  Enjoy a scrumptious brunch buffet with friends and family. Take in the sounds of a three piece jazz ensemble, stroll through blooming gardens and take family photos. Honor the women in your life with this special day of pampering! Brunch will be served from 10:00 am – 1:00 pm. Reservations are required and children are welcome. $35 for adults/ Special Pricing for Wine Club Members (limit two tickets per member) and $12 for children under 12 years of age. To purchase tickets, please call Katrina at (707) 485-0322, or drop by Barra’s tasting room at 7051 N. State Street in Redwood Valley. My son Charlie took his mother Lisa last year and both reported that it was a lovely event. Do this for Mother’s Day.

Friday, May 15 through Sunday, May 17 – 18th annual Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival – Taste the world-class Anderson Valley Pinot Noirs of more than 50 producers from around California and savor perfectly paired foods designed to complement the exceptional Anderson Valley Pinot wines. I had a spectacular time last year, and look forward to attending again this year. If you love Pinot Noir, or even like it, you will be impressed with the incredibly high quality of the valley’s flagship variety. Various tasting, technical conference, and winemaker dinner tickets are available, ranging from $50 to $135 for each event, online at www.avwines.com

Wednesday, May 20 – Graziano Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush Italian Steakhouse – Greg Graziano makes terrific, well priced wines. His tasting room is right next to mine, and I know he has legions of fans for his wines. I’ve written many times about how great the chef’s winemaker dinners at Crush are; they operate like a well-buttered machine. I do not need to see a wine list or menu to know how good this is going to be. I’ve got my ticket already. Tickets are $75, dinner, wine, tax and tip inclusive; call Crush at (707) 463-0700 for tickets.

Friday, June 19 – 2012 Coro Vintage Release Party – Join the Coro winemakers for a gourmet dinner for two paired with our wines and take home a complete set of the 2012 vintage. Seating is limited. Reservations required. $700 per couple. Includes the full collection of the 2012 vintage ($320 value) and complimentary valet service. The 2012 vintage consists of 8 wineries: Barra of Mendocino, Brutocao Cellars, Clos du Bois, Golden Cellars, McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room, Parducci Wine Cellars, Ray’s Station, and Testa Vineyards. Coro Mendocino 2012 Vintage Release Party Friday, June 19th 2015 6:00 – 10:00pm at Dogpatch WineWorks, San Francisco. For the most fun, ask to sit with Guinness McFadden or me, John Cesano; we tell great Irish stories or perform stupid magic tricks, and I’ll leave it to you to guess who does which. Tickets are available at SIP! Mendocino in Hopland; or call (707) 744-8375. Do this for Father’s Day.

Friday, June 19 through Sunday, June 21 – A Taste of Redwood Valley – The weekend kicks off with a Friday night winemaker’s dinner at Barra, tickets are $65, and the fun continues with two day weekend tasting tickets at either $30 in advance or $35 at the event. Three day tickets are discounted at $90. Participating wineries and distilleries include Barra/Girasole, Brown, Frey, Germain-Robin/Craft Distillers, Giuseppe/Neese, Graziano, Silversmith, and Testa. Get your tickets in advance online at www.atasteofredwoodvalley.com

Saturday August 22 – Yorkville Highlands Wine Festival – This family-friendly festival and auction is at Meyer Family Cellars this year. Festivities start at 1pm. Highlights will include tasting scores of award-winning wines made and grown within the Highlands around Anderson Valley.  The price includes a delicious farm-fresh lunch and scrumptious desert, a tempting silent auction where you can bid on rare bottles and hundreds of bargains galore. There’s always the riotous grape stomp along with other wild and wacky games. Advance tickets are $45, or $60 during the event, and available at www.yorkvillehighlands.org

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John on Wine: The first meeting of the Mendocino Bourbon Group

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, March 19, 2015

On a lovely Saturday in March, the first gathering of the Mendocino Bourbon Group was held at American Craft Whiskey Distillery in Redwood Valley for a tasting of four whiskeys and a barrel tasting of a new bourbon to be released in October, put on by Jack Crispin Cain and Tamar Kaye.

The Mendocino Bourbon Group was created by Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman, who is interested in the art and science of fermentation and distillation, and is a loose assemblage of Tom’s friends and family who share his interest.

A whiskey tasting is different than a wine tasting, because of the alcohol potency of spirits. Crispin and Tamar planned ahead and poured the five samples over two full hours, with breaks for food, distillation room tours, barrel room tours, and lots of time for questions and answers. Pours were just the right size; large enough to appreciate the aromatics and flavor, but small enough to prevent inebriation.

The food was delicious; I enjoyed cheeses, salmon, and a terrific vegetable soup that had Tamar telling us, “if the carnivores among you knew what was in it, you probably wouldn’t try it, but I’m glad you like it, so I’m not telling.”

All of the whiskeys tasted were hand crafted antique double distillation spirits using a copper potstill, following Cognac traditions dating back to the Bronze Age, written down in 1510, and learned by Crispin from working with Hubert Germain-Robin over many years.

Low Gap California Whiskey 2011 Malted Corn & Malted Barley Blended Whiskey, 46 percent alc/vol, distilled Dec. 28, 2011, bottled June 9, 2014 – bright, multi-noted, layered at a very subtle level, with a little bite on the end; the straightforward classic corn whiskey flavor definitely comes through.

Low Gap California Whiskey 2011 Malted Bavarian Hard Wheat Whiskey, 44 percent alc/vol, distilled Sept. 20, 2011, bottled March 17, 2014 – more focused, a little deeper, butterscotch and cereal grain, candied wheat, and is incredibly smooth.

Low Gap California Whiskey 100 Proof Malted Bavarian Hard Wheat Whiskey, 50 percent alc/vol, distilled Sept. 30, 2012, bottled Nov. 20, 2014 – sweet notes on an absolutely dry spirit. Crispin noted a, “sunshiny butterscotch finish.”

Low Gap California Whiskey 2 Year Malted Rye Whiskey, 42.2 percent alc/volume, distilled Oct. 26, 2012, bottled Nov. 20, 2014 – the rye flavors were almost like candy.

To be labeled “bourbon” a spirit must use three of four grains: corn, barley, rye and wheat; one of the grains must account for at least 51 percent of the blend, and it must spend two years at 60 percent alcohol in a standard new oak barrel.

Crispin’s bourbon is malted corn, malted barley and malted rye.

Low Gap Bourbon, barrel sample, 60 percent alc/vol – This was knocked down with rainwater from 70 percent alc/vol to 60 percent, and will be further knocked down with rainwater again to 50 percent, it will sit for a couple of weeks, then be brought down to 20 degrees Fahrenheit for another couple of weeks to cold stabilize, and then it will be bottled for release in October. With more time, this will become mellower, and additional notes will show. Currently, the bourbon is not as aromatic as the finished and bottled whiskeys we sampled, and I am looking forward to revisiting this bourbon after it has had the opportunity to become what it will become.

Jack Crispin Cain pours a barrel sample of his upcoming bourbon for Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman. (John Cesano photos)

Jack Crispin Cain pours a barrel sample of his upcoming bourbon for Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman. (John Cesano photos)

“I’ve been making whiskey for five years; I consider myself lucky,” Crispin told the group. On a tour of his barrel room, he shared with us, “Our spirits have no methanol, and that is why it tastes so good, medically pure ethanol; no one is looking over the shoulders of the cheap spirits makers, and methanol is why it tastes bad.”

The Mendocino Bourbon Group listens raptly as Jack Crispin Cain talks about the past, present and future of his American Craft Whiskey Distillery during a barrel room visit. (John Cesano)

The Mendocino Bourbon Group listens raptly as Jack Crispin Cain talks about the past, present and future of his American Craft Whiskey Distillery during a barrel room visit. (John Cesano)

The barrel room is well packed with future spirits, and there are plans to increase the size of the barrel room 400 to 500 percent. “More stills, more barrels, more cases,” promised Crispin.

My favorite tastes of the day were the 2011 Bavarian Wheat and the Rye Whiskeys. When the store opened up, I bought a bottle of the Russell Henry barrel aged dark Gin – which I haven’t yet tasted, and a bottle of Crispin’s Rose Liqueur– which I have, often.

The new Ukiah restaurant Ritual features several of Crispin’s spirits on their cocktail menu, so tasting his whiskeys, vodkas, gins, and (later this year) his bourbon is as easy as finding parking downtown. I would recommend sampling his spirits straight, before allowing them to be blended with other ingredients for a cocktail, to appreciate how clean the spirits are. Handcrafted, artisanal, attention to the minutest detail, beverages; each has clean discernable aroma and flavor notes typically lacking in larger mass-produced alcohol endeavors. With an appreciation for how great the spirits are, your cocktails will be ever so much yummier.

Crispin and Tamar will also be pouring their line up Father’s Day weekend, and serving up homemade ice cream flavored with Crispin’s Absinthe, and early bird $30 tickets to visit and taste at American Craft Whiskey Distillery, Germain-Robin Brandy (it is Cognac in all but where it is made) Distillery, Barra of Mendocino, Girasole Vineyards, Testa Vineyards, Graziano Family of Wines, Frey Vineyards, Silversmith Vineyards, Brown Family Vineyards, Giuseppe Wines, and Neese Vineyards are available online through http://www.ATasteOfRedwoodValley.com – there will also be a winemaker dinner at Barra of Mendocino on Friday, June 19 with all of Redwood Valley’s wine and spirits producers, including Crispin and Tamar’s American Craft Whiskey Distillery, pouring at the evening event.

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John Cesano of John on Wine

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John On Wine: Spotlight winery – Knez Winery

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, March 5, 2015

ABC television’s ‘Schoolhouse Rock’ taught us that, “three is a magic number.” Knez Winery has the magic three going on three ways.

Three vineyards: Demuth Vineyard, Cerise Vineyard, and Knez Vineyard, all organic and farmed following biodynamic practices.

Three wine grape varieties: Pinot Noir, Syrah and Chardonnay.

Three wine shepherds: vineyard manager Ryan McAllister, winemaker Anthony Filiberti and tasting room manager Margaret Pedroni.

To have a glass in hand, swirling free some heady rich aromas, to sip and taste the many layered depth, to experience all that is wonderful about the wines of Knez Winery in the Anderson Valley, you have to visit their beautiful, stylish, tasting room in the Madrones, an upscale collection of winery tasting rooms, restaurant and inn, on Highway 128 in Anderson Valley’s town of Philo.

Knez Tasting Room on Hwy 128 in Philo

Knez Tasting Room on Hwy 128 in Philo

My friend Margaret runs the Knez Vineyard tasting room, and visiting with her last month, and with Jennie Stevens on a previous visit, I tasted through all of the current releases at Knez.

Straight up: Damn, these are some seriously good wines. I am so happy for Margaret that each day at work involves pouring wines that she can be proud of, thrilled to pour and excited to share the story of.

Of course, each wine Margaret pours starts as grapes grown by Ryan on one of the three vineyards, and then is made into a stunning wine by Anthony, before Margaret decides it has matured enough to be poured. Thoughtful decisions naturally arrived at, by skilled managers, make each taste a special moment to experience and savor.

The Demuth Vineyard is 15 acres planted 30 years ago by the Demuth family at 1,400 to 1,700 feet elevation, and dry farmed. There are two blocks of Pinot Noir, planted to Wadenswil and Pommard clones, totaling seven acres, and Chardonnay, planted to old Wente clone, totaling eight acres.

The 2013 Knez Winery Chardonnay, Demuth Vineyard, Anderson Valley, $39, saw a little malolactic, part of it saw new oak, some used oak, and some was held in stainless steel. The result is a multi-noted wine with nuance and complexity; delicate white peach, cream custard, pineapple, citrus. 93 Points from Antonio Galloni.

The 2012 Knez Winery Pinot Noir, Demuth Vineyard, Anderson Valley, $47, shows rose petal, violet, herb, spice, cedar, oak, brambly persimmon, candied cherry, and orange peel. 93 Points from Antonio Galloni.

The Cerise Vineyard was planted in 1995, and grows 10 different clones of Pinot Noir in 15 blocks on 38 acres planted on sloping shallow at 700 to 1,100 feet elevation.

2011 Knez Winery Pinot Noir, Cerise Vineyard, Anderson Valley, $47, was plummy, with sherry pungency, and a steamed artichoke heart earthy vegetal component, supporting the fruit, in a tight band of many flavors. 93 Points from Antonio Galloni.

2011 Knez Pinot Noir, Cerise

2011 Knez Pinot Noir, Cerise

The 2012 Knez Winery Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, $34, takes grapes from both vineyards, about two-thirds Cerise and one-third Demuth. One taste and you can hear angels sing! Dark black cherry, balancing green tea and lush fruit, smooth but evident tannins, together provide mouthfeel and promise age worthiness. This wine is an iron fist in a leather glove. 90 Points from Antonio Galloni.

2012 Knez Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley

2012 Knez Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley

The Knez Vineyard is six acres, was planted in 2009, and connects Demuth to Cerise, at 1,200 to 1,600 feet elevation. Four acres of Pinot Noir are planted above two one-acre block, the first planted to Syrah and Viognier and the second planted to Pinot Gris, Friulano and Malvasia.

The 2013 Knez Winery Syrah, Knez Vineyard, Anderson Valley, $39, shows big meaty animal fruit, with white pepper and floral notes. This Syrah has remarkable intensity, like a tightly wound spring, and shows surprising minerality considering the youthfulness of the vineyard. Bright, tight tannins. Will cellar well. 95 Points from Antonio Galloni.

Winemaker Anthony Filiburti has crafted some real gems for Knez Winery.

Antonio Galloni was noted wine critic Robert Parker’s man for California wine reviews in the Wine Advocate, before striking out on his own, then buying Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar review guide, and creating his own subscription wine review platform, Vinous. The consistently high scores for these wines from Galloni are merited, and validate the program at Knez Winery.

Knez has also found their way onto San Francisco Chronicle wine editor Jon Bonne’s current (and previous) ‘Top 100 Wines of the Year’ list.

Do yourself a huge favor, visit Margaret at her tasting room, Thursday through Monday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., at The Madrones, 9000 Highway 128, Philo CA 95466, or call (707) 895-3365 for information about joining a wine club.

WHISKEY, WHISKEY, WHISKEY

My favorite distillery, the American Craft Whiskey Distillery, will host their first Grand Whiskey Tasting event this Saturday, March 7, 2015, 1 p.m. at the distillery in Redwood Valley.

Jack Crispin Cain tasted through his array of liquid treats with me for a previous piece.

Jack Crispin Cain tasted through his array of liquid treats with me for a previous piece.

Distiller extraordinaire Jack Crispin Cain will pour a variety of Low Gap treats, including the 2-year-old Malted Wheat whiskey, Corn Barley Blended whiskey, Malted Rye Whiskey, barrel tastings of the Bourbon to be released October 2015, and more.

Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman’s Facebook group, Mendocino Bourbon Group, has grabbed up all of the spots. Happily, I am in the group, am pleased to purchase a ticket, and I’ll be attending with notebook so I can recap the event here in a future post.

The next chance for the general public to taste and purchase many of the whiskeys directly will be during A Taste of Redwood Valley, on Father’s Day weekend, Saturday, June 20 and Sunday, June 21, 2015.

Easier might be stepping up to the bar at Ukiah’s newest restaurant, Ritual, where Low Gap Whiskey is served.

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John On Wine – Halcón Vineyards, just in time for Thanksgiving dinner

Originally published in  the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, November 20, 2014

“I just found your site. Great to see someone focused on Mendo. Okay if I drop off samples?”

With this e-mail introduction, I came to meet Paul Gordon of Halcón Vineyards, allowing that we haven’t met in person yet, but have traded emails and I did indeed get those samples. Paul lives in Sunnyvale, but made a detour to Hopland on the way to Halcón Vineyards to drop off three wines. In the spring, I look forward to visiting Halcón Vineyards with Paul, and I’ll add pictures to the online archived version of this column then.

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Halcón is “a vineyard on the top of Yorkville Ranch at 2,500 feet. A cold, windy location with very rocky, thin soils,” Paul wrote, continuing, “we planted Rhone varieties, mainly Syrah. We also buy Roussane and Marsanne from Alder Springs.”

With regard to the samples, Paul asked me to, “please give them some air (even the white). The Grenache particularly is better the next day after opening.”

Each of the three wines dropped off for me had fanciful proprietary names, Prado, Esquito, and Alturas.

The 2012 Halcón Prado is a 50/50 blend of Rousanne and Marsanne, two Rhone white varieties and, according to the tech sheet provided, “represents the second Halcón vintage utilizing fruit from Alder Springs…meticulously farmed, the vines are planted in low vigor, hillside soils at well over 2,000 feet in elevation.” The Prado was aged in French oak, 20% new, and bottled unfined and unfiltered. The alcohol runs 14.3%, there were 180 cases produced, and the retail price is $32.

Pouring a taste, swirling it, the color is the pale yellow of spring’s first corn, and the wine offers up aromas of rich, sweet, fleshy fruit, orchard and tropical, lemon curd, butter, caramel, and a touch of vanilla and nutmeg spice, with pleasingly delicious balanced flavors of peach, apricot, apple, juicy ripe pineapple, and a long lingering finish, tapering away slowly, with all the flavors intact, but slowly, oh so slowly diminishing. The malic acid only becomes noticeable when the last sweeter flavors melt away.

The 2012 Halcón Esquito is a red Rhone blend, of 65% Grenache, 30% Mourvedre and 5% Syrah, and the fruit comes from Halcón’s estate vineyard, at 2,500 feet, one of the highest vineyards in California, in the Yorkville Highlands appellation. The vineyards offer views of both the Anderson Valley and Pacific Ocean beyond. The provided tech sheet promises a wine that, “combines bright, red fruited Grenache with a brooding, earthy Mourvedre. The Syrah pulls the pieces together and rounds out the palate.” The Esquito was aged in neutral French oak puncheons (larger oak barrels), and bottled unfined and unfiltered. The alcohol runs 14.1%, there were 220 cases produced, and the retail price is $32.

The 2012 Halcón Esquito is midway between translucent and opaque, and a rich purpley garnet color. Nosing and tasting yield dry cherry, black pepper, woody herb, and olive aromas, and flavors of cherry, pluot, dry cranberry, all in a lip smackingly delicious sip.

The 2012 Halcón Alturas is 97% Syrah and 3% co-fermented Viognier, fermented with natural yeasts, 20% new French oak puncheons, with no fining or filtering. The alcohol runs 13.5%, there were 325 cases produced, and the retail price is $32.

Darker, more opaque, the 2012 Halcón Alturas is a deep ruby color, and is simply bursting with juicy ripe red fruit. Direct, but the right notes. On the tongue, a little candied tart strawberry fruit blends with riper black cherry and blackberry. This wine tests my wine taster’s discipline, begging to be drunk, and not sipped or spit.

These wines are delicious multi noted and perfectly suited to going up against the wide variety of foods found at a Thanksgiving dinner table and pairing well with everything. I love Rhone wines, Rhone blends, am partial to Grenache/Syrah/Mourvedre blends, so was surprised to find myself most in love with the last wine, the Alturas, the wine almost entirely made from Syrah. Both reds balance tart candied fruit with darker riper fruit, providing a broad range of flavors and full mouthfeel, on medium bodied wines.

All three Halcón Vineyards’ wines are available for purchase at SIP! Mendocino in Hopland; and may be found on the wine lists of the Boonville Hotel, Stone and Embers restaurant, and the Albion River Resort in Mendocino County.

For more information about the wines and vineyards of Halcón, visit http://www.HalcónVineyards.com.

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A Taste of Redwood Valley’s 12th Annual Holiday Wine Sale & Juried Artisan Faire is this weekend, Saturday, November 22 and Sunday, November 23, from 11-5 each day. Bring a glass and visit Graziano Family of Wines and Germain-Robin/Craft Distillers, open Saturday only, and Frey Vineyards, Giuseppe Wines / Neese Vineyards, Silversmith Vineyards, Brown Family Wines , Barra of Mendocino / Girasole Vineyards, and Testa Vineyards, open both Saturday and Sunday, for complimentary wine tasting, new releases, and discounts up to 40% on wine and spirits. For more information, visit http://www.atasteofredwoodvalley.com.

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Last night, as I write this and not as you read this, I attended the sixth Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush in Ukiah. This one, smack in the middle of the Mendocino County Mushroom, Wine & Beer Festival, had Chef Jesse and his team serving up one amazing mushroom dish after another, and the wines were all from Cesar Toxqui Cellars and paired perfectly with the food. Two nights from now, again as I write this and not as you read this, I will be attending a similar mushroom dinner at Barra of Mendocino featuring the wines of…Barra of course! You can find recaps, word and pictures, from those two dinners online at http://www.JohnOnWine.com. Looking forward, the next big Chef’s Wine Dinner will be at Crush in Ukiah, during Mendocino County’s Crab, Wine & Beer Fest, will feature Dungeness Crab and the wines of McFadden Farm, on Wednesday, January 21, 2015 at 6:00 pm. Tickets are $75, include food, wine, tax, and tip, and are available at Crush in Ukiah, in the McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room in Hopland, or online at www.McFaddenFarm.com.

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