An Introduction to John on Wine

By John Cesano
Updated:   03/28/2013 10:28:30 AM PDT

Welcome to what will be a weekly column on wine that will run each Thursday here in the Ukiah Daily Journal.

I shared my disappointment with folks here at the Journal when the Wine Wednesday pages disappeared with the loss of the Mendocino Winegrape & Wine Commission last year.

Editor K.C. Meadows suggested I write a weekly wine column then, but I already had a few part time jobs to go with my full time job managing the McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room and didn’t want to commit to 700 words on wine each week. I had to decline.

More recently, UDJ Features Editor Kelly Hancock asked me again to consider writing a weekly wine column.

Hancock edited the piece I submitted last year in advance of the fall Hopland Passport event until it fit the space available, cutting half the words while leaving the piece intact. It was a solid piece of editing.

In addition to appreciating Hancock’s editing skills, I also liked that – in spite of having submitted 16 pictures of other winery tasting rooms – Hancock used a picture of me that she had taken from a previous Passport event and had on file. Anyone who knows me will tell you I am not immune to a kind ego stroke.

After weighing the pros and cons of writing a weekly column, I decided that, with Hancock as an editor I feel comfortable with, being allowed to write a number of columns in advance and “spiking” them, I would be free of the time pressure of a deadline.

My focus will be wine and the winery tasting rooms along the 101 corridor, from Hopland to Redwood Valley and Ukiah to Potter Valley. I’ll try to paint pictures with words and hopefully give readers reasons to visit these tasting rooms.

Some columns will look at a particular varietal like Chardonnay or Zinfandel, with descriptions of some of my favorite local examples. Other columns will feature a style or type of wine, like rosé or sparkling wines, and again I will describe some outstanding wines within the column.

I’ll write about my favorite wine books, my favorite wine accessories, and wine preservation systems.

I’m a cheerleader for the industry and for our area. You will not find me writing that a winery sucks, that their staff are rude, or that their wines are vile; I’ll stick to the places I like most, writing about the wineries that do a great job, about the things they do well, about the friendly and helpful people who are the face of the winery, and about the very yummiest wines from each winery I write about.

You’ll read pieces in advance of Taste of Redwood Valley, Taste of Downtown (Ukiah), and Hopland Passport as well as about the area’s best individual winery events from Saracina’s Pig and Pinot feast at their ranch to McFadden’s Wine Club Dinner for 225 with overnight camping on the bank of the Russian River. I’ll outline the 101 corridor participants in the county’s Crab & Wine Festival and Wine & Mushroom Fest.

I’m not Frasier Crane, I’m not a wine snob, but I picked and crushed my first wine grapes when I was 11. I worked in vineyards as a teen. I put together my first restaurant wine list in my twenties. I sold many thousands of cases of wine, and traveled the country talking about wine, in my thirties. In my forties, I visited winery tasting rooms in 42 counties selling wine books and wine accessories. Now, at 52, I manage retail sales for McFadden, and provide design and marketing services to some local tourism groups.

I’ll be writing about what I know and love. I’ll try to write without pretension, most often using first names – ­ wine is a first name industry. I’ll try to use columns to answer questions about wine. I hope you’ll read and perhaps be moved to experience some of what I share with you.

My greatest challenge will be to limit the use of words like love and adore. I love so many places and wines and adore so many people in our local wine industry that I fear sounding repetitive.

Sometimes when I have too much to say on a subject to fit the confines of this newspaper column, my extra words can overflow on the UDJ online version of my column.

John Cesano manages the McFadden Farm Stand and Tasting Room in Hopland and has a popular wine blog, also called John on Wine.

Every once in a while, I do an entry that covers more than one subject. These “potpourri” entries serve a couple of purposes; they allow me to tell you about things that don’t merit an entry of their own, they allow me to let you get a glimpse of what you might expect to see in the future, and they provide an entry where I can drop the mantle of wine blogger and just be John for a minute – perhaps getting off topic. In case you haven’t guessed yet, this is one of those entries.


If you look up at the name of the blog in the vineyards scene header, you may notice the name of the blog has changed. So has the web address, or url, although the old one will continue to bring you here.

“John on wine, food, and living in the wine country” and have become the much simpler “John On Wine” and so let me welcome you to the newly christened wine, food, and wine country blog John On Wine.

When I attended ZAP on a press credential, I was asked for my business card many times over the three days I attended the ZAP Zinfandel tasting events. Knowing that business cards for the upcoming Dark & Delicious Petite Sirah tasting, and future events and visits, would be a good idea, I had to decide what information to put on the cards.

In the end my old site name was too long and cumbersome; I had to decide between  and, and as no one has spelled my name correctly when hearing it for the first time, or pronounced it correctly when reading it for the first time, I decided to let go of ego and go with the simple site name.

Needless to say, I have new business cards.

The advantages to the new name are huge, if someone asks me about my blog, I can give them an address they can remember until they get home and log on. Readers can direct their friends to my site with much greater ease, I can hear it now, “It is John on wine dot com, John with an h, and John on wine all run together.”

I had to go to twitter and change from @JohnCesano to @JohnOnWine, and then update other social networks in a similar fashion, changing the name of my facebook group page and networked blogs account.

As on of my winery friends from twitter @PushbackWines said, “Nice, as they say, K.I.S.S.”

A downside is that I may have lost my Google PageRank, and several ranking lists will have the old url, or worse may lose track of my site altogether.

In the past, I used to point to the ranking pages when justifying requests for wines to sample, however my site is well established, the articles are solid, and I don’t feel the need to justify anymore. The site speaks for itself now.


Speaking of wine samples, the mailman and UPS guy were at my house yesterday. I have four books to review, and about a dozen more wines to taste and review.

Thanks to the wineries and wine book publishers who see value in what I do.


I can actually give a review of one of the books that arrived yesterday, because I didn’t have to read every word:

:WineSpeak:, A vinous thesaurus of (gasp) 36,975 bizarre, erotic, funny, outrageous, poetic, silly and ugly wine tasting descriptors. Who knew? by Bernard Klem

In :WineSpeak:, Klem has lifted and collated every descriptor for wine from hundreds of wine writers, from the well known and respected to the more niche and lesser known. Books, periodicals, web and blog sites from the pompously staid to the excitingly edgy were scoured by Klem to produce “WineSpeak:, a master wine tasting descriptor thesaurus.

Klem’s :WineSpeak:  has separated the wine descriptors into 3 major categories Appearance, Smell & Taste, and Distinctiveness, and then further broken down into 27 sub-categories, from Clarity (“so dense you need x-ray vision to see through it”) and Color (“dark red with purple-blue tinge”) through Acid (“enamel ripping”) and Tannin (“undrinkable tough”) , from Fruit (“piercing scents of black currants and raspberries”) and Wood (“overburdened by oak”) to Balance (” like a Michelangelo…everything in perfect proportion”) and Finish (“long, pure and drawn out”) – plus 19 more.

Aditionally, Klem has 20 special categories of wine descriptors, such as Terroir or Terror (“when you drink this wine you drink the place”) and An Ecstasy of Erotica (“like performing a sexual act that involves silk sheets, melted dark chocolate and black cherries while the mingles scents of cinnamon, coffee and cola waft through the air”).

Randomly opening the book, I found 138 descriptors for tannin on one page – and there seven pages of descriptors for just for tannin.

:WineSpeak: is an entertaining resource work for the general drinker of wine, and has earned a permanent place of importance on my wine reference shelf.

Amazon link:


For next Friday’s big Petite Sirah and food tasting, Dark & Delicious, I contacted all of the participating wineries by email and asked that they provide me a little information: I asked which wines they would be pouring, and I asked the alcohol percentage of those wines. I wanted to create a list of the wines to be tasted, ordered by alcohol percentage, so I could fairly taste and report on the wines tasted. Any other order of tasting puts lower alcohol wines at risk of not showing well as their flavors might be overwhelmed by previously tasted high alcohol wines.

In addition to contacting each winery by email, I tagged each winery in my blog entry about the ordered tasting list I was creating for myself and any of my readers who wanted to use it as well.

The event organizer also contacted participating wineries to let them know I was compiling a list of wines to taste and review.

In some cases, I sent second and third emails, and finally I made a phone call to each winery that didn’t respond to electronic communication. I have been able to collect the requested information from fully 95.56% of the participating wineries.

I love wine, wineries, vineyards, and the wine country in general, and  I would like to see them look as capable at business as they are at winemaking. I do my best. I wholly appreciate that the handful of non responding wineries are likely small wineries, running on skeleton crews, short on staff, and lacking in communication infrastructure.

To that end, when I taste the Petite Sirah wines poured at Dark & Delicious, any that are flawed or not to my taste will not be written about by me. That’s how I recapped my recent experiences at the ZAP Zinfandel tasting. I prefer to write about the positive things I experience.

In that vein, I want to express my appreciation to the 95.56%, the wineries who helped me when asked, who provided a little information upon request. Thank you for your near uniform professionalism and good cheer.


I have been around wine forever, when Jeopardy has “wine” as a category I always sweep the category at home, but this week I found out something I never knew – but should have.

The US Government allows a 1.5% leeway in the accuracy of the alcohol percentage indicated on a wine’s label. In other words, a wine label with “12% by volume” might actually be as low as 10.5% or as high as 13.5% alcohol – this 1.5% leeway is allowed on wines as long as the wine does not exceed 13.9% (the Federal government collects more tax on wines 14% alcohol by volume and above). The permissible leeway is reduced to 1.0 % on wines over 14% in alcohol (however, the wine may not be less than 14%).

To me, this is just weird. Why bother to state an alcohol percentage to a tenth of a percentage point if it can be off by 1-1.5%?

How about honesty on the label, either “12 percent, give or take” or “ACTUAL 12.0 percent”?

I am sure that there is a reason that a winemaker can give me, probably owing to wine’s ever changing, living, nature, for the allowed leeway for stated alcohol percentage by volume on a wine label.


I just found out that Susan Johnson, who was going to accompany me to Dark and Delicious next Friday, has had a surprise family affair pop up in conflict for the same day.

I will be looking for someone else to join me next Friday evening for a terrific tasting of Petite Sirah and food.


Recently, I traveled from Cotati to Lucas Wharf in Bodega Bay on the Pacific ocean in Sonoma County to buy a quart of the most amazingly versatile and delicious passionfruit and chili sauce from the Island Deli..

The day was one of the sunny, blue sky days, sandwiched in between our rainy days. I had my son Charlie with me.

Sadly, the fish stall at the Wharf was not open (it was a weekend), but the smell of the ocean, fishy, briny, rich with sea life and the lingering smell of past catches was intoxicatingly wonderful.

Driving back to Ukiah from Bodega Bay, Charlie and I traveled the gorgeous west county of Sonoma County, Coleman Valley Road, Joy Road, Graton Road, 116, Occidental. Green, green, green. Cows, Llamas, Horses. Oak trees, Redwood trees, grape vines. It was so lush and beautiful. We had a really nice time driving home.


DISCLOSURE: I received :WineSpeak: by Bernard Klem as a sample book from the Wine Appreciation Guild.