Today was a freaky good day at work in the McFadden tasting room, and then at home. Busy as hell, but spread out perfectly, allowing me to keep up on hand washing and buffing wine glasses. Two wine club sign ups. A friend of Guinness, my boss, will likely be making Coro release party dinner reservations for himself and his wife. Lots of wine and meat sold in advance of the Memorial Day weekend.

All that’s just good.

Freaky good is a 14.29% pay raise. Freaky good is getting another six-month marketing job. Freaky good is getting an expense paid invite to fly to Hawaii and stay at a resort for six days with three days of work to do. Like three bolts of lightning, all that happened. Today was freaky good.

As much as one wall in my house is screaming for a big screen TV, I think I’ll be putting the extra money toward a new-to-me used car with fewer miles and much better gas mileage. Heck, the money I save on gas might just pay for a big screen TV before too long.

I got a huge resupply of meat, wine, olive oil, herbs, wild rice and employee pay checks right at closing which kept me over an extra hour late making sure things got put away, but as I got the raise with the resupply, it was all good. That, and we really needed the resupply before tomorrow.

Tomorrow is going to be really busy with lots more people stopping in to get set with wine and food from our farm for the long weekend.

I went to dinner at Sho Ka Wah Casino in Hopland tonight. Sho Ka Wah has partnered with several area lodging and winery tasting rooms to offer their guests greater value to their Player’s Club membership. We’ll soon be a featured winery at Sho Ka Wah, so I wanted to see what that actually meant.

First, the food was terrific. I had Prime Rib ($7.77 on Thursday for Player’s Club members, and the membership card is free). The meat was perfectly done, and I ordered mine with salad, baked potato, and grilled garlic green beans. I also had a $5 glass of Gold Medal winning Merlot made from Mendocino County grapes by my Hopland winery neighbor, and friends, at Weibel.

There were several tables enjoying wine with dinner, which was heartening to see.

The promotional efforts for a featured winery by Sho Ka Wah were impressive, with large signage, prominent placement on the wine list, and laminated full color table cards suggesting glasses or bottles of wines from the featured winery.

I’m working a wine event in San Francisco on June 11, Taste of Mendocino (#TOM12 for you twitterers).  Wineries, breweries, farmers, crafters, artists, and entertainers bring much of what makes Mendocino County amazing and presents it in the city for the trade, press, and general public to experience.

Taste of Mendocino leads to lots of great press, sales, and subsequent visits for the participants.

Last year Guinness poured at Taste of Mendocino with his daughter who lives in San Francisco, Anne-Fontaine. This year, something came up, so I’m doing the pouring.

Guinness told me today that he’ll be loaning me a farm vehicle to drive to San Francisco as my van has more miles than it takes to go to the moon and is missing on two of six cylinders, which results in a less than optimum ride and atrocious mileage.

Did I mention things are going freaky good today?

Tomorrow morning, I get cable TV installed at my new apartment. Tomorrow afternoon, I head into work before escaping with all three days of a three-day weekend off. Tomorrow evening, I have a good friend coming from Santa Rosa with a dresser and mirror for me and we’ll have wine and dinner in my new place.

I think my son intends to have a friend stay over tomorrow night, so dinner may be unfancy and easy: pizza, but good pizza. Pizza made better by wine for the adults and better by soda for the teens.


Wineries I have to mention soon because I forgot them in a recent post of some of my favorites: Testa Vineyards in Calpella, Sonoma-Cutrer in Santa Rosa (they say Windsor, but whatev), Topel with vineyard in Hopland and tasting room in Healdsburg, Toad Hollow in Healdsburg, and Keller Estates in Petaluma.

Also coming soon-ish will be actual wine reviews when I taste seven rosé wines in seven days. The lucky seven include

2010 Testa Vineyards Rosé of Carignane – Mendocino,

2010 Monte Volpe (Graziano) Sangiovese Rosato – Mendocino,

2009 Cesar Toxqui Cellars Rosé (of Zinfandel) – Mendocino,

2010 Muscardini Rosato di Sangiovese – Monte Rosso Vineyard,

2011 Toad Hollow Dry Rosé of Pinot Noir – Sonoma County,

2011 V. Sattui Winery North Coast Rosé, and

2010 Chimney Rock Rosé of Cabernet Franc – Stags Leap District Napa Valley.

3 purchased, 2 gifts, and 2 samples sent to me by folks hoping for a review. I also know that “lucky seven” wines was a bit of lazy writing, wines aren’t lucky, but I wanted to write lucky seven and fortune is smiling on me today, and will likely continue to do so, if for no other reason than I’ll be enjoying these wines very soon.


Get out of your house this three-day weekend and visit a winery tasting room near where you live. Find a wine you genuinely like and buy it. If you don’t find a wine you love, hurray, you’ve saved yourself from buying a bottle untasted at Costco that you wouldn’t have loved.  If the person pouring wines for you educates and entertains, if they do a really good job, throw them a tip. Trust me, they’ll appreciate it.

Oh, and just because you didn’t like Chardonnay, don’t assume they are all the same – they aren’t. Try every wine you can. If you like it, great. If you love it, better, buy it. If you don’t love it, pour the remainder in the bucket provided. No one likes everything, but you should at least try wines being offered. Today, I poured Riesling for someone who “hates” Riesling and of course they bought two bottles of it. Why? Because not all Rieslings are the same. Oh, and because today was a freaky good day.

I hope some of you took the chance to attend the Sonoma County Harvest Fair and taste some of the over 1,000 wines available to taste. I would love to sit down with a judge and find out how back to back days of tastings of around 100 wines can be accomplished while giving a fair taste to all of the wines submitted.

There is a phenomenal wine writer who doesn’t have much use for wine bloggers beyond the fodder they make for some of his best writing. Ron Washam, Hosemaster of Wine, is also a Sonoma County Harvest Fair judge.

There are more mockably horrible wine blogs than useful wine blogs offering value. Washam, in his Hosemaster role, points out the absurdity of many, perhaps most famously the blog that pairs wine and kaftans. No, Kaftan is not a food that pairs nicely with wine, but a piece of women’s clothing. I believe that Washam spearheaded a movement to see Wines and Kaftans awarded a Wine Blogger Award this year.

I empathize with Washam’s pain in dipping into the pool of mediocrity that is most wine blogging. The only good is that, by contrast, my writing is tolerable. My personal moment of horror came when I was but one of only two wine writers attending a press event hosted by a winery that wanted coverage of an announcement. Over lunch, the other writer was asked by a winemaker about his writing, and I died inside when he said he pairs wine and 50’s television shows. Trapped by rules of etiquette, I couldn’t leave in disgust, or ask aloud, “are you kidding me?” Put on the spot, asked for an example, he paired the Chardonnay we were tasting with Dragnet, explaining that you would have to drag a very wide net to find a Chardonnay so memorable. I was nearly ill on the spot. I wanted to ask my hosts if they considered us equals, if his worthlessness was what they saw when they looked at me.

When I got home and looked up his website, I found that he had used the Dragnet pairing only days before and for a completely different wine. He was not only a jack ass, but his little parlor trick uniqueness was purely shamtastic.

I recognize that everyone who opens himself up by writing, also opens himself up for judgment and ridicule. I am okay with that, I don’t put on airs, or take myself too seriously. I know what I know, and I try to share it. I write about what interests me, what grabs my attention. But I know my words will never elevate me into the ranks of the world’s most read and respected wine writers and reviewers. I write because I enjoy it, and I am gratefully amazed that people find their way to my site to read my meandering prose.

Back to Ron Washam, in his role as a wine judge; I would love to ask Washam if, when tasting 100 Sonoma County Chardonnays, a number in the California over sweet, barrel fermented, malolactic style, a more subtle French styled Chardonnay, like those submitted by Sonoma-Cutrer just get overlooked, either through palate fatigue or because they are different. Is a wine of French styling punished for not being typically Sonoma County?

Seriously, I am entertained with his writing so much that I would just like to meet him for a beer and let him hold forth on just about any topic.

Besides the head scratchingly poor performance of Sonoma-Cutrer’s Chardonnays (which I love) with the judges at the Sonoma County Harvest Fair, another disappointment was the absence of some of my other favorite winery’s wines. I would love to taste the Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays of Keller Estates against those of Sonoma-Cutrer, and against the wines of each varietal awarded Best of Class honors.

Often as I tasted the wines that won Double Gold Medals or Best of Varietal honors, I was reminded of other wines I have tasted, and I wished I could taste wines from outside the county side by side with the best of Sonoma County. Roederer Estate from the Anderson Valley against Gloria Ferrer for sparkling, Handley from the Anderson Valley against Eric K James for Pinot Noir, Swanson from Rutherford against Mazzocco for Merlot, and Parducci from Ukiah against Simi for Petite Sirah as examples.

I love tasting wine. I love pairing wine and food and friends, not with kaftans or television shows or movies.

Recently, I wrote about tasting wines from Virginia with a group of fellow wine bloggers (not one of whom compared the wines to an article of clothing or media art). The best part of the tasting was learning that Virginia wineries are capable of producing palatable wines. There was a concern that the wines would be judges good, for a Virginia wine. Which is a dismissive way of saying it doesn’t stand up to a California wine. I have to say that I would love to have tasted the Virginia Viogniers I tasted against the Sweepstakes White winner from the Sonoma County Harvesty Fair from Alexander Valley Vineyard.

It is only by stretching, tasting every chance you can, that you find yourself pleased and surprised on occasion. Just as the quality of the Virginia Viogniers was a welcome treat, earlier this year I blind tasted a Sierra Foothills Pinot Noir from Deaver that was delicious, yet if I could have seen the label first, I probably would have passed.

I don’t mention it in my reviews because I don’t think it matters, but I have noticed that many more wineries than in the past feel comfortable abandoning the natural porous cork as a closure for their wines, and I am seeing more synthetic corks, and screwcap Stelvin closures. Screwcaps are big, and getting bigger. Boxes are also being tried with greater acceptance. Sebastiani is moving from glass bottles to three liter boxes for their Pepperwood Grove wines, following on the heels of the market success of Bandit and other tastier than customary box wines.

I am going to be taking part in a tweet-up, tasting the Sebastiani made Pepperwood Grove box wines, and tweeting my tasting notes at the same time that tasters at a Sonoma live tasting are tweeting their notes.

I hope that I will find deliciously drinkable, affordable wines, in greener recyclable packaging that protects the wine inside from oxidation throughout. My goal in writing is to find solid food wines that I can recommend to my friends who aren’t big wine drinkers and are unlikely to pop for a $30+ wine on a regular basis. Living in Mendocino County, the greenest wine county in America, green practices are increasingly important to me. I would love to point at affordable wines that make meals taste better than any other beverage that might be paired at the table with family and friends.

It is ironic that I am going to be tasting box wines, in that I only just found that Ukiah, my hometown, is home to two manufacturers of capsules and foil for wine and sparkling wine bottles.

In defense of my Ukiah business neighbors, at least one features Made In America capsules, their products are recyclable, as is glass, and the tide isn’t turning so fast that either company is threatened in the near term.

In an increasingly competitive and green business environment, it will require the best people to sell natural cork, glass bottles, and capsules; there are likely to be fewer advocates for tradition like Joel Peterson of Ravenswood in a world moving in the direction of more democratic and common sense packaging led by Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon.

I have cooked chicken in a liquid of alfredo tomato sauce with roasted peppers, sautéed mushrooms, and carmelized onions. I’m going to grab a glass, fill it with wine, enjoy good food, and watch the Giants in game one of the playoffs with Atlanta.

Maybe next time we meet here, I’ll have something more focused to say.

Over the weekend, inspired by a comment left in reply to a recent post by winery owner Ana Keller Wurtz, I visited Keller Estate, a 5,000 case (give or take) winery located just off the East side of Lakeville Highway, up Cannon Lane, outside of Petaluma.

From the bottom of Cannon Lane, I twittered, “There is no place more beautiful than Sonoma County today. Green, green, green, warm with blue skies. Visiting Keller Estate winery. #Bliss.”

I thought things were perfect until I drove up Cannon Lane, gaining elevation the entire time, and passed through the winery gates (I called from the call box at the third driveway up Cannon Lane and they were opened for me), drove up the vineyard drive, cresting a hill, and gained my first glimpse of Keller Estate’s winery.

The architectural detail was breathtakingly interesting.

Buildings that were more than functional, beyond attractive, these buildings possessed beauty.

I drove down the winery road, past the actual winery.

Keller Estate winery managed to improve what I thought was an already perfect day.

Fun, unexpected shapes, colors, and materials transform a building into functional art.

I drove past the storage buildings.

I drove past olive trees.

I felt safe parking near an antique Mercedes red firetruck.

The tasting room is centered in the back of a “U” shaped building, with a large plaza courtyard and a pergola in the foreground.

In the center of the courtyard is a sculpture of a race car with driver.

Passing inside through the tasting room doors, a bit of WOW in the form of a classic antique 1952 red luxury Bentley automobile.

Kit Cassidy, pro tasting room pour wrangler, waits to greet visitors.

At one point, Kit looked out the open tasting room door and shared that Keller Estate makes a lovely picnic spot now that glasses of wine are allowed to be sold by tasting rooms.

A picnic could be enjoyed just outside the tasting room at a table with chairs made from oak barrels.

I think a picnic lunch under the pergola with friends would be wonderful.

Mid tasting, Kit allowed me a peek into the cave that stretches from the winery to the tasting room for a photo opportunity.

My reviews, recaps, and features typically use a lot more words, but inspired by the beauty of the day I wanted to put all the pictures from Keller Estates up front. I was supremely pleased to be able to taste wines in such a setting. My pictures do not do the experience justice. The view from the Estate up the foothills of the Southern end of the Sonoma Mountain range is spectacular.

Keller Estate’s vineyards sit on 650 acres of Sonoma Coast appellation land in the Petaluma Gap of Sonoma County. Morning fog through most of the growing season allows both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay to thrive, and other wine varietal grapes to be planted and tried. Grapes were first planted in 1989, and were initially sold to other winemakers. Today,  1/2 – 2/3 of the 300 tons of each year’s grapes are still sold, but wine has been made at Keller Estate since the 2000 vintage.

Here’s the notes on all five wines I tasted:

2006 Keller Estate Chardonnay, Oro De Plata, Sonoma Coast, $26  – Zero malolactic, stainless steel fermented, neutral oak held. bright. Great apple and citrus fruit expression. Apple, peach, lemon, mineral mouth. Clean, tapering finish. Good acid.

2005 Keller Estate Chardonnay, La Cruz Vineyard, Sonoma Coast, $29 – Nice, not overpowering oak. Cheesecake (oven baked cream and vanilla) light toast (graham cracker and butter?) aroma. Apple fruit, pear, spice. Creamy butterscotch. Sweet oak. Nicely balanced package. Very drinkable.

2008 Keller Estate Viognier, La Cruz Vineyard, Sonoma Coast, $30 – Only 40 cases made. I confess, I get excited, going back to the 90’s when many Chardonnays suffered from the sameness of 100 malolactic fermentation and 100% Barrel Fermentation, when I see a Viognier. This Viognier has lovely honey suckle, orange blossom floral aromas. with light peach and apricot fruit flavor. Bright, crisp, lean and clean. A real treat.

2006 Keller Estate Pinot Noir, La Cruz Vineyard, Sonoma Coast, $42 – Flagship wine, 1,200 cases made. Sweet, warm, round, full cherry pipe tobacco aroma. Strawberry, leading to cherry fruit and light earthiness. Absolutely lovely. Delicious. Elegant and restrained. Supple.

2007 Keller Estate Pinot Noir, El Coro, Sonoma Coast, $52 – 300 cases. Magic. Deeper, earthier cherry from a softer, more subtly textured wine. Nice floral and spice, woody notes. Lush cherry mouth. Good natural acidity.

2004 Keller Estate Syrah, La Cruz Vineyard, Sonoma Coast, $36 – This wine is held longer, released later, and the result is an age mellowed Syrah with round soft tannin and black fruit. Blackberry, leather, cocoa, tannin. Sweet oak. Another delight.

About an hour after I arrived at Keller estates, I twittered,”Wow, Keller Estate winery is a mindblowingly gorgeous showpiece hidden gem of a winery, and every wine I tasted was delicious.” While I expected to love the 2007 El Coro, and I did, I was surprised to love the 2006 La Cruz more – perhaps a case of age before beauty? I was thrilled to taste six wines, each different, but all thoroughly enjoyable. I would love to have these wines at hand to pair with foods.

I will return, and bring visiting friends. I am thrilled to have found Keller Estates. When I return, I would love to taste the 2006 Prescioso Pinot Noir and the Estate hand-picked, cold-pressed olive oil.

Keller Estates will be pouring their wines to pair with the slow food movement dishes of Petaluma restaurant Central Market on Tuesday, March 16 from 6-8 PM. Well worth the drive from anywhere within Sonoma County, this is a great opportunity to taste these great wines paired with good friends while sharing delicious foods.

Alternately, the Keller Estate tasting room is open Thursdays through Sundays from 11 AM – 4:30 PM. The address is 5875 Lakeville Hwy., Petaluma, CA 94954; and the phone number is (707) 765-2117.