In a rental tent over their crush pad at Foursight Winery in Boonville, Joe Webb and his wife Kristy Charles, and Kristy’s parents Bill and Nancy Charles, hosted a ten year vertical tasting, 2006 through 2015, of their Pinot Noir wines, made with fruit from the Charles Vineyard.

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The light April rain that fell couldn’t dampen the spirits of the assembled tasters, or the enthusiasm of the event hosts, “it seems shocking this is our tenth vintage, it seems like we just started,” Bill Charles shared.

The event proceeded with each vintage being poured, Joe Webb describing the winemaking choices, Bill Charles describing the choices made in the vineyard, and Kristy Charles describing the wine flavors. The wines were poured in order from 2006 to 2015, with one exception; the 2008 vintage was poured last, as fires throughout California led to wines from Mendocino County with egregiously smoky forest fire notes.

All of the Foursight Pinot Noir come from the Charles Vineyard, of clones 777, 115, 114, and Pommard 05, with wild yeast and wild malolactic fermentation, are unfined and unfiltered (except the 2008 which say filtration), spend 10 months in French oak with varying percentages in new oak, and are made with 10-50% whole clusters.

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The 2006 Foursight Pinot Noir, Charles Vineyard showed the ten years, with a slightly brickish rim and an aged wine sherry note.

Joe described the vintage as riper, and felt the wine had peaked.

Bill told of planting the vineyard in 2001, and explained that 2006 was the first year of commercial grape production, with the vines taken to trellis completely, and the vintage producing a large crop, necessitating dropping lots of fruit.

Joe shared that the family used the dropped fruit for a home wine, a sparkling Blanc de Noir.

Kristy said the wine was released in 2008 at a pouring in New York City, right as the economy was crashing, but that the wine was, “an amazing start to a first decade.”

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2007 Foursight “All-In” Pinot Noir, Charles Vineyard was holding up well, with a lighter rim than the 2006. For Joe this was his favorite of the early vintages, 2006 – 2009.

Joe noted this was the first vintage where he used whole clusters, and upon tasting it he noted it is , “turning savory.”

Bill described the vintage as, “unexciting,” from a growers standpoint, “which was great,” yielding, “one of my favorite wines, early, intense flavors in fruit, a good vintage.”

Kristy observed, “quite a bit of cellarability left.”

I picked up woody notes, pomegranate, light rhubarb, cranberry, cherry, raspberry, and bright acidity.
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The tasting moved over the 2008, from 2007 to 2009.
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2009 Foursight Pinot Noir, Charles Vineyard was described by Joes, along with 2007, as the, “vintages of the decade.”

Joe used, “Slightly more whole clusters, “ with this vintage and, “built more structure with stems, used less new oak, for structure and acidity.”

Bill shared that he used sprinklers for 72 hours for frost protection during the year but, “picked early, which was wonderful.” Joe then explained that he sees average 55 degree diurnal temperature swings daily.

Kristy observed that 2009 was, “the year we (Kristy and Joe) were married, the year the winery was built, the first year we poured at the [Anderson Valley] Pinot Noir Festival.”

Kristy pulled, “brown sugar, anise, and baking spice,” notes, to which I would add deeper black cherry and slight vinuous stemmy notes. The wine has some age worthiness left to it, still tightly wrapped and dense, a good wine to pair with food to coax those hidden notes free.

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2010 Foursight Pinot Noir, Charles Vineyard was a medium colored, translucent wine, clear at the rim.

The nose showed cherry, cola, berry, spice and herb, with clove and cranberry on the palate. This was my favorite of the early, 2006 – 2010 vintages. I do love feminine Pinot, and this was a cool vintage, yielding just that.

Joe said he used, “less whole clusters and wasn’t getting as much tannin out of the press, so a little more new oak.”

Where other vintages come in around 175 days between bud break and harvest, Bill said this was a, “cool long vintage,” and took 203 days to bring in.

Interestingly, Bill described two days of extreme heat in August that sunburned the exposed lower tips of bunches, and required cutting off all sunburned grapes with little snips.

Kristy noted, “earth, oak, dark berry fruit, and good acid.”
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2011 was a funny vintage, cold and rainy, and presented difficulties for grape growers and challenges for winemakers. Grapes that require lots of heat, Cabernet and Zinfandel come to mind, from the vintage yielded sub par wines in the vintage, but careful attention in the vineyard and good winemaking choices allowed some of my favorite wines to be made from cool climate areas,

2011 Foursight Pinot Noir, Charles Vineyard, with one deep inhalation, is a reminder of why I liked this difficult vintage. The color is light, light, light.

Joe said this was, “the coolest (temperature) vintage in California wine,” but Foursight, “brought in everything before the winter rains,” at Charles Vineyard.

Heat thickens skins, which give both color and tannin to a wine. Joe noted, “thin skins, pressed as hard as we could for color and tannin…old world techniques…no racking of this wine at all.”

Much of the vintage was used for a Rosé of Pinot Noir.

Bill brought the fruit in after 184 days, and saw rain from June 2-5, but missed the torrents of October.

Kristy said the wine was, “amazing in the mouth, lighter, smoother, strawberry, cherry, cranberry, softer,” than other vintages. I picked up bright sweet tart strawberry pie, cranberry, and vine.
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2012 Foursight Pinot Noir, Charles Vineyard marks the first of four consecutive drought vintages.

This wine shows tons of nose and mouth, lovely integration, layers of fruit, tannin, strawberry, and cherry. Tons of ageability.

Joe noted he used, “30% whole cluster and 40% new oak, but reduced toast on the oak.”

My favorite note was Bill’s, “I don’t think I worked this year.”
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2013 Foursight Pinot Noir, Charles Vineyard is the current release and available in the tasting room now.

“2013 was the first real ‘welcome to the drought’ year,” Joe told the tasters, “all the rain came in December and none after that, January and February were sunny every day.”

Joe noted, “the quality of the stems was higher than previous vintages, 40% whole cluster, backed down on toast on oak again, relied on skin and stem for tannin.”

Bill, “added more water because I had it, the pond did fill, stretching the stressed vines to 177 days, readings were really dry, it was a pretty good year from a grower’s standpoint.

I picked up cranberry and strawberry with clove spice. This is a studly wine with serious mouthfeel.
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2014 Foursight Pinot Noir, Charles Vineyard has not been released yet, and was bottled in August 2015.

Joe shared that, ”stem quality saw me hit my upper limit for whole cluster at 50%.”

Bill shared that he, “double pruned the vineyard, and, “the fan was a tremendous help that saved the crop.”

2014 was the first year Charles Vineyard used a fan for frost mitigation, saving a ton of non existent water in the third of four drought years, in an ecological friendly, water conserving, growing manner.

“The vines knew it was a drought,” said Bill, continuing, “ 165 days and they knew they were in trouble,” leading to a short but flavorful vintage for the crop.

The 2014 showed intense dense candied fruit flavors, and will benefit from additional time in the bottle. I liked it very much.
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2015 Foursight Pinot Noir, Charles Vineyard was an assembled blend of barrel samples, served from Erlenmeyer flasks.

Brilliant color with light sediment, it tasted of yummy juicy-juice, Pinot flavored grape juice. I really liked this too, and though not close to a finished wine, it offers incredible promise of another great wine a couple of years from now.

Joe said the, “darker color was due to increased skin to juice ratio,” that resulted in smaller berries from a fourth year of drought.

Bill noted this was his, “second year of double pruning, “ and “a reduced crop load, 10-15% off average.”
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2008 Foursight “All-In” Pinot Noir, Charles Vineyard – I almost left this wine out. I just do not like it. There are very few Mendocino wines from the catastrophic 2008 vintage that I do like.

As a result of the 2008 vintage, smoke insurance has been added to insurance policies, like insurance against floods or earthquakes, and smoke taint has been added to contracts as a trigger for rejection of grapes by buyers.

Joe filtered this wine, using reverse osmosis, dumbing down the fruit a bit.

The wine is dark and rich in color and aroma, ripe and pungent, but marred by smoke taint.

Bill in the vineyard and Joe in the winery did everything they could to make a good wine, and there are people who will like it, or who have found perfect food pairings for it, but with nine wines in the line up that I enjoyed, I can honestly say this is my least favorite, and owing entirely to circumstances beyond control.
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After the vertical tasting, guests were invited to rinse their glasses, choose their favorite wine from all poured, and fill plates for a delicious and visually gorgeous, colorful, lunch.

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Thanks to Joe, Kristy, Bill, and Nancy for including me in a really lovely, educational, and enjoyable glimpse into ten years of Anderson Valley Pinot Noir from Charles Vineyard at Foursight Winery.

Terra Savia in Hopland hosts the annual Celebration of Mendocino County Sparkling Wines each year and, for me, it is one of the year’s ‘must attend’ wine events.

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On a quiet Saturday, early in April, sparkling wine producers from throughout the county, from Anderson Valley to Potter Valley, with Hopland and Ukiah between, gathered to pour for happy attendees, with food pairings this year that included mushroom risotto, chicken cacciatore, oysters, and cake.

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Of course, I tasted the Anderson Valley bubblies from Roederer Estate, Scharffenberger Cellars, and Signal Ridge, as well as the Potter Valley stand out from McFadden Farm poured by Guinness McFadden himself.

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Next year, I hope to see even greater participation by Anderson Valley producers, and will work to try to see Goldeneye, Lichen Estate, Mary Elke, and all of the other stellar AV bubbly producers pouring for the appreciative audience of tasters.

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I was on a sparkling rosé kick, and also tasted both the offering poured by Ruth from Cesar Toxqui Cellars and the rosé of Merlot poured by host Terra Savia. Both were tasty and provided food pairing opportunities that other blanc or brut sparklers lend themselves to.

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An absolutely great event, and one to put on your calendar for 2017, as soon as a date is chosen. For more information about next year’s Celebration of Mendocino County Sparkling Wines, contact Destination Hopland at info@destinationhopland.com or Terra Savia at info@terrasavia.com

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John Cesano and Brigette Seebass enjoying a moment at the recent Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush (photograph by Tom Liden)


John on wine – Crush Chef’s Wine Dinner featuring Seebass Family Wines

Dinner at Crush Italian Steakhouse, a Chef’s Winemaker dinner, featuring the wines of my friends Scott and Michelle Willoughby, their Seebass Family Vineyard & Winery wines. You knew something would end my hiatus and inspire a new wine column for the Journal, and the food, wine, and people gathered on a Wednesday in January has me hunt and pecking, one finger typing, once again.

Seebass wines starts with Brigitte Seebass, a lovely woman who made her way from Germany to Ukiah and bought 100+ acres of Talmage vineyard land and has successfully grown sought after premium wine grapes for roughly thirty years, and is one of Mendocino County’s first female grape growers.

Brigitte’s daughter and son-in-law, Michelle Myrenne Willoughby and Scott Willoughby, joined Brigitte an the farm in 2010 with an eye to making great wines from the grapes Brigitte had been selling to other wineries.

Together with third generation Aidan Willoughby, parents Scott and Michelle, and grand mother Brigitte, Seebass Family Vineyard & Winery is a vital part of the Mendocino wine scene, and a family affair.

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Scott Willoughby told the story of each Seebass Family Winery wine                        (photograph by Tom Liden)

Crush came up with a new traffic plan for the meet & greet reception that allowed attendees a bit more room to mingle comfortably, a smart and welcome change, and offered up a sampling of seasoned meats, cheeses, and peppers to pair with the 2015 Seebass Rosé of Grenache ‘Fantasie,’ made by winemaker Stéphane Vivier.

I like rosé wines, all of the previous Seebass offerings have all been good, but this is far and away my favorite version, which is great because as a barrel sample, unfiltered, not yet released wine, it was already drinking great, showing strawberry, cherry, and citrus peel, and will only be better when bottled and released next month.

Remarkably, fortuitously, wonderfully all four of the Seebass wines poured were my favorite versions from all of the vintages I have tasted, which set the stage for a very enjoyable dinner.

The first seated course brought a trio of dishes to each table: Shrimp Louis salad with traditional dressing, cucumber, tomato, and avocado; Yellowfin Tuna with sesame, chili, mint, garlic, and pear; and Dungeness Crab Cakes with avocado, red pepper, and cilantro.

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2014 Seebass Grand Reserve Chardonnay (photograph by Tom Liden)

The 2014 Seebass Grand Reserve Chardonnay, which recently took a unanimous among the judges Double Gold Medal at the 2016 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, the largest judging of American wines with over 7,100 entered, was the perfect wine to accompany the first course of food offerings.

The Seebass Reserve Chardonnay is crafted by winemaker Stéphane Vivier from the best Dijon clone grapes from the Seebass estate vineyard, held in oak, about 20% new, resulting in a Burgundy meets California wine, with lemon peel citrus flavored apple and pear notes, and oak and cream from barrel and fermentation providing a round mouth feel.

The three dishes were each delicious. The crab cakes were a nod to the second place award that Crush took at the Mendocino Crab Cook Off last year, and the crispy outside and delicious Dungeness crab inside these not really cake but balls were made even more delicious with a sip of the Chardonnay. The tuna dish was a diced tartare with the additional supporting ingredients only highlighting the flavor of the tuna, again made more delicious through pairing with the Chardonnay. Yes, the Chardonnay made the shrimp Louis salad yummier too, although big shrimp in a great dressing with avocado adding richness is pretty darn great by itself.

The second course brought Seared Scallops with leeks, butternut squash, and risotto; Cedar Planked Wild Salmon, spice crusted, with a Seebass red wine reduction; and Chef’s Vegetables.

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Seared Scallops with risotto (photograph by Tom Liden)

The wine for this course was the unreleased 2013 Seebass Romantik, a Rhone style, unique GSM Blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Merlot. This wine, made by winemaker Greg Graziano, was absolutely a spot on wine to pair with this course, with the multi red and black fruited notes of the wine working perfectly with the caramelization of perfectly seared scallops and spice crusted salmon. The asparagus and broccolini in the chef’s vegetable dish were hearty flavored choices, perfect for the soft but flavorful Romantic.

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Wood Plank spice crusted Wild Salmon and 2013 Seebass Romantic                        (photograph by Tom Liden)

The Crush chefs showed incredible sensibility in making a lighter risotto, with butternut squash and leek, wonderfully delicious, but allowing the scallop to be the star of the dish.

Dessert was Crush’s Tiramisu, served parfait style, many layered and light as a pillowed cloud, with more of a light dusty cocoa note than the strong espresso note expected.

Seebass’ dessert wine wasn’t strictly a dessert wine, but their 2011 Seebass Old Vine Zinfandel, another Greg Graziano made wine, and was another perfect choice for the dinner, with the light brambly raspberry and pepper notes melding with the chocolate and cream notes of the tiramisu, sip to spoon in the mouth.

 

John and Juanita (photograph by Tom Liden)

 

Seebass Family Winery wines can be tasted and purchased at their Anderson Valley tasting room, located at 14077 Highway 128 in Boonville, across from the Boonville Hotel, or online at http://www.seebassvineyards.com

The next Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush will feature the wines of Husch Vineyards, with an Anderson Valley tasting room located at 4400 Highway 128 in Philo, and is scheduled for April 20. To reserve your tickets for this sure to sell out dinner, call Crush directly at (700) 463-0700.

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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.

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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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John on wine – Spotlight Vineyard: Halcon Vineyard

This piece ran originally as a wine column in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, November 12, 2015

Paul Gordon sent me three wines for review last year, and I loved them so much that I was able to craft a pretty solid column around a review of three wines, that’s how good his Halcon Vineyard wines are.

After the piece ran, Paul invited me to visit the vineyard, and recently, well over a year after that initial invitation, I did just that, and the timing was great as I was able to taste a new, larger, lineup of current release and future wines, and see where they were born.

To get to Halcon Vineyards, you exit Highway 128 between Boonville and Yorkville, at mile marker 37.92, through a padlocked gate, and slowly climb north over four miles up a graded dirt road, taking a series of right or left choices at forks, always upward, until you reach what seemed like the top of the world.

Driving through the gate at Halcon Vineyard, at about 2,450 feet in elevation, I was met by Paul, Jackie Bracey, David Campbell, and Cookie the vineyard dog. Although the day was sunny, ever present winds, which reached over 90 mph this year, keep things cool. Paul told me he believes he has “probably the coolest Mourvedre planting in the world,” and we toured vineyard blocks where the first rows were dried into near permanent dormancy by constant wind.

Halcon Vineyards, atop the Yorkville Highlands AVA

Halcon Vineyards, atop the Yorkville Highlands AVA

The very cool climate of Halcon Vineyards in the Yorkville Highlands saw bud break come in March and April this year, a full month or more later than in other parts of Mendocino County. Halcon was planted ten years ago, in four distinct blocks, in serpentine and schist “s*** soil,” with lots of elevation changes, and south facing exposures.

The continuing drought, and cool climate, saw Syrah yields down about 25% this year with, “tiny berries, thick skins.” While certainly not a farmer’s dream, especially an organic farmer like Paul, the result is expected to be concentrated flavorful wines. Paul also shared that Pinot Noir is called the, “heartbreak grape,” only because those farmers don’t grow Grenache; “Grenache is the real heartbreak grape!”

Paul and Jackie plan to plant two white Rhone varieties, Marsanne and Rousanne, at Halcon, to complement the red Rhone varieties they grow, Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvedre. Until they grow their own white grapes, they buy fruit from Alder springs for their Prado white Rhone blend. Halcon also makes two Pinot Noir wines with fruit sourced from Anderson Valley’s Wentzel Vineyard and Oppenlander Vineyard near Comptche.

We ate as we tasted, and the day was made more lovely by the food, wine, and conversation

We ate as we tasted, and the day was made more lovely by the food, wine, and conversation

Wonderful hosts, Paul, Jackie, and David prepared pork, a cheese plate, salty olives, and an incredible fresh vegetable salsa to go with the wines we would taste. Very much surrounded by unspoiled wilds, as we ate and tasted, we saw red tails, kites, and harriers.

The lineup of Halcon Vineyard wines

The lineup of Halcon Vineyard wines

2013 Halcon Prado Alder Springs Mendocino County – 50/50 Marsanne and Rousanne, had a good malolactic mouthfeel, butterscotch on top of lemon, pear, and apple, was barrel fermented using 20% new oak, and was a great food wine.

2014 Halcon Pinot Noir Wentzel Vineyard Anderson Valley – 1/3rd whole cluster, a little under 20% new oak, mixture of Dijon clones, bright forward fruit, rich concentrated sweet tart cherry, earthy, a Goldilocks of wine balance…just right. Young, lots of ageing potential, but drinking great now.

2014 Halcon Pinot Noir Openlander Vineyard Mendocino County – there are many wineries producing Pinot Noir wines from Oppenlander fruit, but as every single one is delicious, I’ll never complain. Pretty much made in the same way as the Wentzel Pinot, but the fruit yields a plumier, deeper, touch of funkier wine of black cherry, and supple but evident tannin.

2013 Halcon Alturas Halcon Vineyard Yorkville Highlands – 100% Syrah, 1/3rd whole cluster, a little new oak, from a frost year yielding only one ton per acre, and the first year some Viognier stems were added for bright vinous notes and depth. I have to be honest, listening to Paul, with great food on a plate in front of me, and wine in my glass, enjoying the comradery of fellow wine lovers, I forgot I was tasting critically, and just put some in my mouth behind a bite of pork and salsa, and the result was an eyebrow raising, “ohhhh!”

Upon regaining my senses, I noted a dark berry perfumed, smooth and supple, f’ing gorgeous wine, made up of bright notes, dark notes, and tons of notes in between.

2014 Halcon Alturas Halcon Vineyard Yorkville Highlands (barrel sample) – Same wine grapes of the Shaw Block, made the same way, with much the same notes. It is drinking great, and could be bottled right now. So sexy, so supple. Touch of vine met by spice and fruit.

2014 Halcon Esquito Halcon Vineyards Yorkville Highlands – About 65% Grenache, 30% Mourvedre, and 5% Syrah blend. No new oak, 25% whole cluster. I love a Chateauneuf du Pape style GSM, or in this case a GMS, Rhone red blend, and this is a wonderful example of what a Rhone blend can, and should, be with spicy, dry, dusty, earthy, concentrated multi fruit notes.

The wines are currently made, and made well, in San Francisco, but Paul and Jackie are looking to build a winery on site in the future.

Paul Gordon and Jackie Bracey...plus Cookie the vineyard dog

Paul Gordon and Jackie Bracey…plus Cookie the vineyard dog

I admire Paul and Jackie, and everything they have accomplished with their Halcon wines. I see them as exuberant risk takers, buying 162 acres at an elevation guaranteed to result in a short growing season for the 15 acres they have planted to grapes, cold, frost, wind, and as remote as it gets; choosing to plant to Rhone varietals, hard to grow and hard to sell. To me, the risks are paying off, and I think of Halcon’s wines as Mendocino County’s cult wines, sought after by knowledgeable wine lovers if unknown to the general public.

Halcon’s wines are available for purchase, and occasionally open for tasting, at Sip Wine shop in Hopland, and can be ordered directly at http://www.halconvineyards.com.

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Congratulations to Margaret Pedroni and Jennie Stevens of Knez Vineyard in Anderson Valley. Over the Halloween weekend, Margaret and Jennie were in San Francisco and sat for the Introductory Sommelier Course & Examination. Both passed their tests, and can now sport the red lapel pin of the Guild of Sommeliers.

Margaret Pedroni and Jennie Stevens' sommelier pins

Margaret Pedroni and Jennie Stevens’ sommelier pins

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John on Wine – Spotlight Winery: Foursight Wines

Another perfect day in the Anderson Valley, made more perfect by a visit and tasting with Kristy Charles and winemaking husband Joe Webb at their winery tasting room, Foursight Wines, in Boonville, right on Highway 128.

Foursight Wines' tasting room and winery (Photo by John Cesano)

Foursight Wines’ tasting room and winery (Photo by John Cesano)

I am fortunate, and attend many wine events in the Anderson Valley, and see Kristy and Joe often, as both are active members, having each taken a turn as President, on the Board of the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association. Both have been helpful to me as a local wine writer.

Joe Webb and Kristy charles of Foursight Wines (Photo by John Cesano)

Joe Webb and Kristy Charles of Foursight Wines (Photo by John Cesano)

The tasting room is a cozy place to visit, and dog friendly, and the wines come from grapes grown on the Charles Vineyard, established in 2001 by William and Nancy Charles. This is a family operation from grape to glass, the grapes are grown sustainably and the wines are vegan made and with only that intervention required to make great wine.

Vegan wine? Yes, most wine is fined, to remove sediment and enhance clarity, using egg whites or gelatin. Vegan wines are instead typically fined, if they are fined at all, with bentonite, an absorbent clay.

Joe poured for me, and told me the story of each wine, in a moderately wine tech heavy way, which I enjoyed immensely. I’m not going to share sugars or acid or overly specific barrel regimen info, because what most folks care about is how the wine tasted and if I liked it. I will confess to near wine geek-gasm, and thought the presentation was tailored just for me, but Kristy shared that Joe loves sharing what goes into each of Foursight’s wines with each visitor to the tasting room. I love getting a story with each wine, and too few tasting room folks provide that level of care, so this was a real treat, a treat that makes each visitor feel special and cared for.

2013 Foursight Semillon Charles Vineyard Anderson Valley $28 – Wooden side basket pressed, no fining, no filtering, full malolactic fermentation, aged in stainless steel and French oak, drinks dry. Round, fleshy pear and apple fruit and floral and honey notes. Great mouthfeel. Delicious.

2013 Foursight Unoaked Pinot Noir Charles Vineyard Anderson Valley $25 – Native yeast, 40% whole cluster, finished at 14.1 with a touch of sediment. Joe told me this wine was born of four influences: “1. During wine club blending trials, people loved the topping wine; 2. There is a growing number of people seeking Alsace style Pinot and loving the price point for unoaked reds; 3. Vegans and vegetarians love genuinely vegan wines…no trees were harmed in the making of this wine; and 4. Red wines rock!” This wine is all about fruit without tannin, cherry and berry all day long. I’ve tasted it twice, and it is SO much better now, benefitting from a little bottle age.

Joe went on to tell me he thinks, “the only way to do a press cut is with a basket press,“ and 2015 is, “so inky, not wanting to be over tannic,” but the compact harvest of 2015 will lead to, “little logistical things with winemaking in 2015,” as so many things need to be done at once, or nearly so.

2012 Foursight Zero New Oak Pinot Noir Charles Vineyard Anderson Valley $38 – Great mouth, round and rich in discernible bright cherry fruit, herb and spice, with a kiss of wood.

2012 Foursight Pinot Noir Charles Vineyard Anderson Valley $46 – Beautiful nose. Rose petal, soft herb, chocolate, lovely cherry and raspberry fruit.

2012 Foursight Clone 05 Pinot Noir Charles Vineyard Anderson Valley $49 – Pommard clone grapes. The first word I wrote was “ripest,” and Joe told me this wine is, “always the ripest.” Rhubarb, berry, cherry; darker, great balance. Joe said the balance comes from, “the different blocks, three different fermenters, picked on at least two different dates.” Larger berry, larger clusters, touch lower tannin, can take a little more new oak.

2013 Foursight Paraboll Pinot Noir (Charles Vineyard) Anderson Valley $54 – Foursight purchased the trademarked Paraboll label from Londer, to continue the wine’s production. I loved the Paraboll, lushly forward rich cherry and strawberry fruit and caramel, with earthy spice notes to complement the fruit. Joe told me his favorite thing about the 2013 Paraboll is how, in a near endless sea of Pinot, this wine stopped tasters in their tracks at the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival earlier this year.

Foursight's Paraboll Pinot Noir (Photo by John Cesano)

Foursight’s Paraboll Pinot Noir (Photo by John Cesano)

The Foursight Wines tasting room is open Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., closed January and the third weekend in June, and located at 14475 Highway 128, the first winery tasting room on your right as you head into Boonville from Ukiah or Cloverdale.

I enjoy Joe and Kristy immensely, and they have terrific single vineyard wines. Kristy summed up the charm of a visit to Foursight perfectly, “The important thing is we’re all family owned and operated, local, estate wines, and we love to pour our really good…great wines for people.”

Make plans to stop in and taste through the line up; you’ll find they are terrific drinkable snapshots capturing variety, vintage, and place. If you like the wines as much as I do, consider joining their wine club for spectacular discounts on delicious wines.

Note: This piece originally ran as a wine column in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, October 29, 2015.