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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or Terra Savia at email@example.com
Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, September 17, 2015
Following the column two weeks ago about what Mendocino County’s wineries can do to increase the reputation of their wines and the county’s vineyards can do to increase the prices paid for their grapes, and outlining what we are doing well and not well, I had a tremendous amount of feedback, all positive, and I thank folks for reading and for reaching out.
Following the piece, I was a guest speaker for the Rotary Club of Ukiah, and as the piece, out of all the pieces I have written over the years, was mentioned, I led off by reading it aloud. Then I spoke about wine tasting in general, McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room in particular, and some of the other wine growing areas of the county, before taking a look at what we can do cooperatively, using the Coro Mendocino as a shining example of various county wineries working together in a way that benefits the whole county wine scene, moving forward.
Following my talk, I took questions, and the two asked both dealt with the challenges unique to our county in making our case to the general public, the trade, and the media about the quality of our grapes and the wines they make.
In response to those questions, I explained that Mendocino County has a strong streak of rugged individualism that runs through it, and that is a defining characteristic of our county’s wine scene and the many characters that make up our vineyard and winery owners. In the past, people were hired from outside the county to try to help lead the various promotional wine organizations that have existed, and none fully appreciated that unique maverick spirit, and many initiatives that should have been implemented may have failed because forging cooperation among so many different folks is made more difficult by that lack of appreciation for the unique character of the county. The key to forging cooperation is awareness of the differences, meeting each of the county’s stakeholders, listening to their unique viewpoints, genuinely appreciating them, and asking for participation – in spite of some small objections – for the general overall betterment of the larger group. There has been too much talking at, instead of listening and talking with, in the past, and in a voluntary group there will not be complete agreement or participation, but it can be better. Realistic, pragmatic, consensus building, and a long term dedication that will span decades, can see the wine world at large appreciate the quality of our wines more and that will inevitably lead to higher prices for our grapes.
Among the Rotarians were two members of the county’s wine scene; Monte Hill, a board member of Coro Mendocino, and George Phelan, winemaker for Dunnewood, Mendocino Vineyards, and the Coro wine of Clos du Bois. Also present were two McFadden wine club members; Michael Laybourn, who invited me to speak, and Jon Ferguson, who asked me to tell folks about Second Saturday in Hopland, where half a dozen wineries offer complimentary food and wine pairings and a sale on the featured wine, for visitors. As an example, on Saturday, September 12, McFadden offered up an asparagus and avocado salad to pair with the county’s (state’s, nation’s ?) top awarded bubbly. Other participants include Graziano, Jaxon Keys, McNab Ridge, Cesar Toxqui, and Milano, and there may well be more. I’m sure the professional marketers for Destination Hopland comb over the Facebook and Twitter posts, and subscribe to the newsletters, of each member winery and pull the info about Second Saturday, and other events, and post it to their constantly updated event calendar at DestinationHopland.com; I know I did when I handled some of their marketing.
Thank you very much to the Rotary Club of Ukiah for your invitation, for the opportunity to share my love for Mendocino County wine and those who make it, and for donating to ShelterBox disaster relief in my name, and for allowing me to increase that donation with a donation of my own. I look forward to your visits to my tasting room, and to those of our neighbors throughout the county. Tell them I sent you.
My son Charlie is at Fort Benning, Georgia for U.S. Army Infantry basic training. As I write this, I saw him off just over two weeks ago, and since then I have heard his voice for less than two minutes, and am still waiting on his first letter to arrive with a return address that will allow me to send him letters from home to help brighten a less than completely fun, and oftentimes wholly un-fun, experience. I would love to fly out for his graduation and put my own Infantry blue cord on his dress uniform; we’ll see how that goes, getting away from the tasting room at all in December is always difficult.
One week before he left, Charlie helped me move across town in Ukiah, to a lovely townhouse that met my needs better, with a laundry room to save me trips to the laundromat, where I am allowed to cook at my outside patio on my ridiculously large grill, and can have a kitten to keep me company now that my son has moved out.
So many boxes to unpack, so much to organize, but enough done that I can take a break from unboxing and get back out and do some wine tasting. Look for a winery spotlight piece on Yorkville Cellars in the next couple of weeks, a long overdue visit there is next.
Here’s a terrifically delicious and simple recipe with wine to try: An old Navy buddy of Guinness McFadden, artisan potter Dick Lumaghi, throws his beautiful culinary pottery at the Farm, and this recipe is made using one of his Yunnan Steamer pots, available for sale in the McFadden tasting room, with similar steamer pots available in kitchen shops and online. I can attest that this steamer is awesome…..whether cooking a dish from the start or heating leftovers.
Dick Lumaghi Yunnan Steamer Pot
Place chicken pieces inside the Lumaghi steamer pot, add a half cup any of Mendocino County’s top awarded Sparkling Cuvee Brut wines and three slices of fresh ginger. Place two or three strips of green onion on top of the chicken. Cover, place the steamer on top of a pot of boiling water and let steam for 45 minutes.
Note: the boiling water in your pot, under the pottery steamer pot vessel, may likely need to be replenished once or twice during the steam cooking of this dish. Enjoy!
Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, February 26, 2015
One of the genuine perquisites of writing a wine column is receiving invitations to organized wine tasting events. Today, I’m going to recap my last four weekends of wine tastings.
Barrel Tasting 101 in Hopland coincided with the last weekend of the Mendocino County Crab, Wine & Beer Fest and featured winery tasting rooms along Highway 101 from Hopland to Calpella and Ukiah to Redwood Valley pouring barrel samples of wines not yet bottled, providing an opportunity to taste the future, and purchase futures of these wines, while offering up delicious food pairing treats created around Dungeness crab.
This was a joyful weekend for me, as I was able to visit all of my neighbors, and taste many delicious crab treats, as well as get a glimpse of what is coming wine-wise in the future.
Best food spread goes to the team at Testa, with terrific tastes at Barra, Simaine, Seebass, Milano, Cesar Toxqui, and Terra Savia, as well.
This was the second annual Barrel Tasting 101, a great addition to the two Passport events put on by Destination Hopland each year, and saw attendance triple over the previous inaugural event. There will certainly be a third annual Barrel Tasting 101 event in January next year.
Zinfandel Advocates & Producers, ZAP, made San Francisco the epicenter of Zinfandel love, with their multi-day Zinfandel Experience. On Wednesday, I attended Epicuria, a food and wine pairing tasting, featuring over 30 top Zinfandel producers, each sharing a table with chefs from bay area kitchens.
On Thursday, I attended Flights, a seated tasting of three flights of five wines each, moderated by Joel Peterson, featuring winemakers from three distinctly different growing areas in California, Contra Costa County, Amador County, and the Dry Creek Valley of Sonoma County.
On Saturday, I attended The Tasting, with over 100 producers pouring their Zinfandel, and the folks from the SOMM Journal leading panel workshops exploring lesser known Zinfandel growing areas of California. These workshops included a look at Lake and Mendocino County by Sommelier Chris Sawyer and featuring Lake County’s Jelly Jar Wine Zinfandel and Mendocino County’s Rich Parducci pouring two McNab Ridge Winery Zinfandels. I wrote a piece, running over 4,400 words, with pictures, that you can find archived on johnonwine.com about my three days in Zin-bliss.
Zinfandel Experience, Rich Parducci and Chris Sawyer (Photo by John Cesano)
The 10th annual International Alsace Varietals Festival in Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley was held right in the middle of the deluge that saw 3-11” of rain fall, depending on where you were in the county, in just a week. Bacchus, the God of wine, smiled and provided a window of warm weather and sun for the festival.
The main grape varieties of Alsace include Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Gewurztraminer, and Pinot Gris, with (unoaked) Pinot Noir, Sylvaner, and Muscat also represented.
At 8:30 a.m., the Alsace Fest kicked off with educational sessions, with Glenn McGourty moderating the sessions, including panel tastings of white wines featuring different periods of skin contact and examples of winemaking protocols at Campovida by winemaker Sebastian Donoso; an exploration of single vineyard Pinot Blanc by sommelier Chris Sawyer (this guy is everywhere!) with Randy Schock of Handley Cellars, Jason McConnell of Rivino, and James Wasson of Rein each pouring wine made from Shrader Ranch Pinot Blanc grapes; Christie Dufault leading a food and wine pairing featuring food prepared by her Culinary Institute of America at Greystone team and four very different, but delicious Gewurztraminer from Brooks, Navarro Vineyards, Pierre Sparr, and Husch; Thomas Schlumberger’s tasting of eight Grand Cru wines from his Domaines Schlumberger estate in Alsace, France; and a steelhead trout on cauliflower puree cooking demonstration by Francois de Melogue.
After the educational sessions came the big public tasting, with Alsace variety wines from around the world, but concentrated heavily on the Anderson Valley and Alsace, France.
Thomas Schlumberger poured three additional Grand Cru wines from his Alsace estate, originally planted in 1810; the 11 wines Schlumberger poured that day were the best 11 wines I tasted that day, were revelatory for me, and set a new high bar for tasting of Alsace varietal wines that I will measure all other tastes against.
Another huge treat for me was talking with Master Sommelier Ian Cauble, who I recognized from the movie SOMM — find it on Netflix and watch it — who was pouring at the Wines of Alsace USA table.
I did taste our local Alsace variety wines too, and enjoyed offerings from Handley, Graziano, Navarro, and Lichen very much.
Too many associate these Alsace variety wines with sickly, cloyingly sweet, wines; but the wines I tasted on this Saturday were uniformly drier and more concentrated in depth and character, multi-noted, layered wines, that I will reach for again and again this summer.
Lastly, on Valentine’s Day Saturday, I attended the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition’s public tasting of Gold, Double Gold, and Best of Show awarded wines from January’s competition.
Rather than treat the day, and the tasting, like a press opportunity, I decided to just relax and have fun. Juanita Plaza works with me at McFadden’s tasting room in Hopland, and neither of us had a Valentine, so we decided to go together for a San Francisco getaway, built around the wine tasting and an Italian dinner in North Beach.
The weather was unbeatable, blue sky and warm sun, and the tasting was a treat. We tasted several terrific wines, and even a beer and a cidre (really, that’s how they spell it) from Stella Artois. It was nice to see our friends from Campovida, Rivino, Handley, and Simaine pouring.
Dinner didn’t work out. My brother Tom, by fortuitous coincidence, pulled into town across the bay and arranged great tickets and working passes for the Enrique Iglesias and Pitbull concert that evening at Oracle Arena in Oakland, and we had a blast, up and dancing for most of the show. Thanks Tom, we really appreciated you hooking us up, sorry you were working and we didn’t get to see you. Thanks Juanita for joining me for a fun weekend getaway.
That’s it, four weekends of wine tastings. I have to give thanks to Destination Hopland, Zinfandel Advocates & Producers, Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association, and the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition for comp tickets. I write about events, encourage you to get out there and attend some, and I’ll continue to do so. I attend as many events as I can, because I consider it continuing education, it helps to taste broadly and refine or renew perceptions about wines and wineries, and sometimes it can just be a great getaway.
I hope to see you at future wine events…like the Celebration of Mendocino County Sparkling Wines at Terra Savia in Hopland on April 11, the Passport to Dry Creek Valley on April 25 and 26, or Hopland Passport on May 2 and 3.
Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, January 8, 2014
John Cesano of John On Wine
Here are some events I’ll be attending; I hope to see you at one or more.
Saturday, Jan. 10 – Second Saturday in Hopland >> A half dozen Hopland area winery tasting rooms offer up food pairings to go with wines, and usually have at least one wine on a significantly discounted sale price. McNab Ridge Winery has been inviting folks to their Second Saturday festivities since wine was invented it seems, the series has been going on for a long time, and with that kind of commitment they have created a loyal following of wine and free food lovers who make the trip to Hopland a monthly event. The McNab Ridge Winery gathering is so popular that many wine lovers and visitors have no idea that several other winery tasting rooms also offer up food and wine pairings with wine sales each and every Second Saturday throughout the year. Be sure to also visit Cesar Toxqui Cellars, Graziano Family of Wines, Jaxon Keys, and the McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room in Hopland as they participate each month. Brutocao, Campovida, and Milano Family Winery often have something going on for visitors during second Saturday in Hopland as well. For more information, visit www.destinationhopland.com
Jan. 16-25 – Mendocino County Crab, Wine & Beer Fest >> Dungeness crab. Wine. Beer. Okay, you had me a Dungeness crab and wine. Wineries along Hwy. 128 and the coast, and inland along Hwy.101, have a brochure for you to pick up. The brochure is filled with events for you to attend, describes special offerings at different wineries, and has two pages to collect stamps with the opportunity to enter a drawing for great prizes of event tickets, lodging stays, wine, and painting classes for the lucky winners. For more information, visit www.visitmendocino.com/crab-wine-and-beer-festival-0.
Jan. 21 – Chef’s Wine Dinner >> Featuring Dungeness crab and McFadden wine at Crush Italian Steakhouse in Ukiah . This baby is sold out. Seventy very lucky attendees will sit down for a multi-course meal featuring Dungeness crab, paired with a half dozen wines from McFadden. I will write a recap of this dinner, with pictures, for the many who didn’t get to attend … Crush never even had a chance to contact their regular email attendee subscriber list from past Chef’s wine dinner series events. Definitely, the premier inland Mendo event of this year’s Crab, Wine & Beer Fest. For more information, visit www.mcfaddenfarm.com
Jan. 22-24 – Lots of Crab on the Coast >> On Jan. 22, Trillium Café in Mendocino will have a crab wine dinner with Navarro Vineyards’ wines and, also in Mendocino, Café Beaujolais will create a crab dinner around the sparkling and still wines of Roederer Estate. On January 23, there will be three seatings for a Cioppino dinner at the Pentecost Hall in Fort Bragg and an All-You-Can-Eat crab feed at the Crown Hall on Mendocino. After the 16th annual crab cake cook off & wine tasting event in Ft Bragg on January 24, the folks at the Crown Hall in Mendocino will have a second day of all-you-can-eat crab dining. For more information, visit www.visitmendocino.com/crab-wine-and-beer-festival-0
Jan. 24 & 25 – Barrel Tasting 101 >> Buy a ticket online in advance for $15, 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, McNab Ridge, Milano Family Winery, Nelson Family Winery, Rivino, Saracina, Seebass Vineyards, Simaine Cellars, Terra Savia, and Testa Ranch. For more information, visit www.destinationhopland.com
Jan. 29-31 – ZAP’s Zinfandel Experience >> Zinfandel Advocates & Producers (ZAP) will celebrate their 24th annual Zinfandel Experience with three days of events in San Francisco. Epicuria is a food and Zin pairing evening on Jan. 29 at the Presidio. Flights is a seated panel tasting at the Four Seasons Hotel on Jan. 30, moderated by one of my idols, Joel Peterson, and will look at three distinctly different growing areas with 15 winemakers; later that evening at the hotel is the Winemaker’s Reception, Dinner & Auction. Finally, The Tasting with over 100 Zinfandels at the Presidio on Jan. 31. I have attended previous ZAP events, and if you love Zinfandel, then this is a must event to attend. For more information, visit www.zinfandelexperience.com
Feb. 7 – 10th annualInternational Alsace Varietals Festival >> There is a full day of events in the Anderson Valley, with many Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, and Riesling wines, starting with an educational session in the morning, the big grand tasting in the afternoon, and a winemakers’ dinner in the evening. For more information, visit www.avwines.com/alsace-festival.
Tomorrow, the writers who devote the most time to tasting Mendocino county wines throughout the year, who write the most words about Mendocino County wines for newspapers and magazines, will gather in judgement of the entries for the 2014 Mendocino County Fair Wine Competition.
All work and no play is not how things are done in Mendocino County.
Today, the Coro Mendocino winemakers will pour a selection of library wines for those judges, an opportunity for them to relax and enjoy Mendocino County’s flagship wine.
Tonight, Destination Hopland and Mendocino Winegrowers, Inc. present a welcome dinner for the judges at Seebass Family Vineyard and Wines.
Here’s a working menu, featuring wines and farm goods from both Seebass Family Wines and McFadden Farm, as well as the local, organic, delicious bounty of the top artisanal purveyors of food and ingredients from throughout Mendocino County:
GAZPACHO – Chunkier version with avocado garnish – Paired with McFadden 2007 Pinot Noir Tomatoes – Cinnamon Bear
Cucumbers – Seebass
Red Onions – Cinnamon Bear
Cilantro – Cinnamon Bear
Red wine – 2010 McFadden Coro Mendocino
Chicken stock – Seebass
SALMON – Broiled fresh wild king salmon with peach salsa – Paired with Seebass 2011 Grand Reserve Chardonnay Salmon – The Fish Peddler
Peaches – Cinnamon Bear
Red Onion – Cinnamon Bear
Cilantro – Cinnamon Bear
LAMB – Herb crusted grilled Mediterranean lamb leg with wild rice, gold raisin and parley and grilled summer squash with plum/stone fruit wine reduction glaze – Paired with 2011 Seebass Syrah
Lamb – Mendocino Organics
Herbs – cumin +
Wild rice – McFadden Farm
Golden raisins – Seebass
Parsley, fresh herbs – Seebass
Baby zucchini – Seebass
CHEESE – Paired with McFadden 2012 Riesling
Hard cheeses – Pennyroyal Farms
Spiced Walnuts – Seebass
Honey – Seebass
DESSERT – Blackberry crumble with homemade vanilla ice cream and dark chocolate drizzle – Paired with McFadden 2009 Coro Blackberries – Seebass
Crumble – Flour, butter, brown sugar, nuts
Dark chocolate, melted –
Homemade ice cream – cream, vanilla, eggs – Seebass
Coffee – Black Oak
Tea – Mendocino Tea
After tasting Mendocino County’s best wines tomorrow morning and afternoon, after deciding upon Silver and Gold medals, and Best of Red and Best of White honors; the judges will enjoy one more fine meal. The best part is that you can join them for this event!
The Mendocino County Fair Wine Competition awards dinner and ceremony will be tomorrow, Friday, August 1 at 6:00 p.m. at the Mendocino College Student Plaza. Dinner will be three courses by Chef Nicholas Petti of Mendo Bistro and his team of culinary students from the college, accompanied by wines entered into competition. Tickets are only $55 and available at mendocinowinecompetition.eventbrite.com or at the event.
Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, May 1, 2014
Written by John Cesano
John Cesano of John On Wine
It was the best of Passports…
I attended the 25th anniversary Passport to Dry Creek Valley last week, with my girlfriend and trusted second taster, June, as guests of the Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley (WDCV). We were greeted at check-in by the new Executive Director of WDCV, Ann Peterson, who may have one of the best jobs in the wine industry, working with great farmers and winemakers in a gorgeous environment, every day.
Dry Creek Valley lies mostly to the west of Hwy. 101, and stretches 17 miles south to north from Healdsburg to Geyserville, two miles wide, in Sonoma County. Continuing a string of sold-out passport events, 6,000 tickets were sold, at a two day weekend price of $120, and allowed visitors the opportunity to visit and taste at 50 winery tasting rooms throughout Dry Creek Valley.
There is no reason to try to visit all 50 wineries even in two days, as there would be less than 15 minutes per winery, with travel between wineries having to fit into the allocated time, and rushing is no way to enjoy a passport event.
June and I visited 17 wineries in two days, a perfect number, giving about 45 minutes per winery. Some visits were shorter, some were longer, all were enjoyable. The great thing is that we could attend next year, visit 17 new wineries and have a completely different experience, equally great; and the same again for a third consecutive year with only one winery repeated in three years with 50 wineries to visit. There is no way I can fit a description of food, wine, music, and scene at 17 wineries here, but here are some impression highlights:
DaVero Farms and Winery stood out because I have a thing for farms and wine, farm stands & tasting rooms, and Ridgely Evers, the owner of DaVero greeted us both warmly. I had met Evers on previous visits, and was surprised at how much growth had occurred. This was June’s first visit and, an animal lover, June was in Heaven at Evers’ biodynamic farm, scratching a pig into a contented lie down. I enjoyed a taste of the DaVero Malvasia Bianca, bright with citrus and white pear flavors, in an outdoor canopy room being made from one tree . Evers has planted cuttings from a single Italian willow in a large circle and is training their growth to create the unique spot to enjoy wine.
Charlie Palmer has been honored by the James Beard Foundation twice, once as “Best Chef” in New York for his restaurant Aureole, and earned a multi year string of Michelin stars for restaurants in both New York and Las Vegas. He also cooked for June and I – okay, and everyone else with a passport who visited Mauritson Wines. We loved the 2012 Sauvignon Blanc paired with brown sugar and bourbon cured salmon with arugula salad, pickled red onions, goat cheese & toasted hazelnuts; and the 2012 DCV Zinfandel with a Zinfandel braised wild board slider and Charlie’s bread and butter pickle.
Truett Hurst: A glass of Zin Rose in hand, June and I walked down to the Adirondack chairs beside the burbling water, the wind in the trees, insects chirping, birds calling, a kiss shared; truly a magical place. We also had the opportunity to talk with Paul Dolan, Mendocino biodynamic grape grower and partner at Truett Hurst.
Hog Island Oysters at Stephen & Walker with possibly my favorite wine of the weekend, a 2012 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir; Amphora’s ABCs, Aglianico, Barberra, and Chardonnay, and June’s favorite food of the weekend, a chocolate truffle; the lobster roll at Bella; and the weekend’s best music: Rovetti & Meatballs, a fiddle, drums, and guitar blending bluegrass, zydeco, and country – American music; Seghesio’s Zin; Ridge’s Zin; Talty’s Zin; there is just too much that was great to mention.
The views, wide open valley, green on the hills, blue skies, baby grapes on young vines, trees and flowers; slowing down, taking it all in, the scents and sounds too, Passport to Dry Creek Valley is a time to recharge your batteries, get right after working and living in a box, and is a bargain at $120. This is my favorite wine event, any price, anywhere; attending and not working is great!
…It was also the best of Passports.
If you missed Passport to Dry Creek Valley, or if you attended but want another weekend to experience more soul cleansing magic, the great news is that the 23rd annual Spring Hopland Passport is this weekend. Seventeen Hopland area winery tasting rooms – a perfect number – will put their best foot forward, pouring all of their wines and offering food pairings for two days, Saturday, May 3 and Sunday, May 4, from 11 a.m. -5 p.m. each day.
If you order online today, Thursday, May 1 by noon, you can pick up a two day ticket to Hopland Passport for just $45 each. Visit http://www.DestinationHopland.com/store, and if the store closes then you can buy your passport at any participating winery tasting room during the event for $55.
I believe that Hopland Passport is the best wine weekend event value – well underpriced – in the industry. Participating wineries include Brutocao, Campovida, Cesar Toxqui, Frey, Graziano, Jaxon Keys, Jeriko, McFadden, McNab Ridge, Milano, Naughty Boy, Nelson, Ray’s Station, Rivino, Saracina, Seebass, and Terra Savia.
The weather looks like it will be perfect, I hope to see you in Hopland this weekend. I’ll be at the place with the farm stand & tasting room, stop by and say “hi.”
John On Wine – Celebration of Mendocino County Sparkling Wines
Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal on February 27, 2014 by John Cesano
Destination Hopland, the non-profit group charged with promoting tourism for the Hopland area wineries, is sponsoring a new event on Saturday, April 5 and invited participation from sparkling wine producers from throughout Mendocino County. A “Celebration of Mendocino County Sparkling Wines” will be held from noon to 4 p.m. at Terra Savia, 14160 Mountain House Road, Hopland. Eleven local producers will come together at Terra Sávia winery in Hopland to showcase their finest offerings. Great and classic food pairing treats for sparkling wines will be served, like smoked salmon, local oysters, pate, canapés, fresh strawberries, artisan breads and, for dessert, delicious lavender infused sponge cake. Classical guitarist Joel DiMauro will be performing. Participating wineries include:
The folks at Wine Enthusiast magazine taste a lot of wine, well over 10,000 wines each year, I am sure. Last December they announced their Top 100 wines of 2013, and the #1 wine of the year was the 2004 Roederer Estate L’Ermitage. The 2014 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, with 5,825 wines entered, was the largest judging of American wines in the world. The only winery in the nation to win two Double Gold Medals (unanimous Gold from the judges) for sparkling wines was McFadden Vineyard for the NV McFadden Sparkling Brut and the 2009 McFadden Reserve Sparkling Brut.
Bubbly in Mendocino County is spectacularly good, the quality high, while the prices are remarkably affordable. Far too many people open a bottle of sparkling wine only to celebrate a special event, when a good quality bubbly is an absolute delight when enjoyed as a before-dinner cocktail, or when paired with a host of foods from oysters to salmon bagels and poached eggs with caviar to chicken breasts in a citrus glaze.
Some sparkling wines that will be poured have notes of green apple and grapefruit, unapologetically crisp, while others will showcase a bready, yeasty, brioche character. Lemon, hazelnut, and toffee are notes you might taste in a sparkling wine, or rose petal and strawberry notes from a sparkling rosé.
Cuveé is a word that you will see on more than one label. Cuveé means blend, and a sparkling wine with a cuvee designation is likely a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes, with perhaps a small amount of Pinot Meunier.
You will also see NV on a bottle or three, and this is also a blend, but a blend of different vintages. NV means non-vintage. The folks who produce sparkling wines in Mendocino County scrupulously refer to our bubblies as sparkling wines and never Champagnes. Practically the same thing, but we respect that real Champagne comes from Champagne, France. That said, most of us understand and do not mind when our customers use the terms sparkling wine and Champagne interchangeably.
Here’s a thumbnail sketch into how sparkling wine is made: Grapes for sparkling wine are picked earlier than for still wine, at lower sugar, usually in August. Chardonnay is picked for a Blanc de Blanc, Pinot Noir is picked for a Blanc de Noir, and a blend of the two is often picked for a Brut or Brut Rosé. After crushing the grapes for juice, the wine is made in the bottle, rather than an oak barrel or stainless steel tank.
A little active yeast in the bottle feeds the sugar – this is fermentation and where the alcohol comes from. The fruit notes come from the grapes. The wine spends time with unspent yeast, and spent yeast, also known as lees and picks up some yeasty or bready notes.
By tilting the bottle toward a neck down position, and giving the bottle little turns, the yeast and lees collect at the neck end of the bottle. This process is known as racking and riddling. The neck end of the bottle is submerged in a below zero freeze bath so a solid plug of yeast and lees can be formed and removed.
A second fermentation happens when a small dose of sugar, or dosage, is added to the wine and the cork and cage are affixed to the bottle. A small amount of unspent yeast remains in the bottle and eats the dosage, resulting in carbon dioxide, the bubbles that make sparkling wines so fun. This is how good bubbly is made. I hope you’ll get a ticket to the inaugural Mendo Bubbly Fest; If you do, then I’ll definitely see you there. Cheers!
John Cesano pouring one of two Double Gold Medal awarded McFadden Sparkling Brut wines.