John on Wine – The Penultimate Column

This piece originally ran in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on December 30, 2015.

If you have been a reader of my wine column over the years, even an occasional reader, you may have noticed that I am almost always glowingly positive about the subjects I write about. This is a choice I made, because there is so much that is wonderful about the Mendocino County wine scene that I can simply choose to not write about wines, wineries, or people who fail to inspire a positive piece.

Recently, I decided to take on a more controversial subject, another county’s wine group had created a county wide marketing sham, and I had lined up notable Mendocino County winegrowers to speak to the issue, as well as solicited comments from two other county wine groups, and I was excited at the prospect of a foray into actual wine journalism, as opposed to the promotional feature pieces I typically write.

With my recent hire to be the Executive Director of the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association, I realized I might need to work cooperatively with my counterpart at the organization I was about to eviscerate, and I came to the conclusion that I could not write the piece I wanted to.

With a choice thrust upon me, instead of being my own, I gave the Ukiah Daily Journal notice that I would write through the end of this year, and one more column at the beginning of 2016. Next week, I’ll write a calendar of events that are ‘must attend’ events for wine lovers.

Bernadette Byrne, the Executive Director for Mendocino Winegrowers, Inc., has been asked to write a column in 2016, and she has agreed to submit a monthly column. While my focus has been about wine, Bernadette will place a greater emphasis on vineyards and grape growing.

The other reason for my departure as a regular weekly wine columnist is that my focus, in my new job, with be much more narrow: I will be working in the Anderson Valley, Mendocino County’s premier growing region; tasting Anderson Valley wines, the county’s best wines; and mounting Anderson Valley’s wine festivals, the county’s best festivals. My writing would reflect my experiences in the Anderson Valley, almost to the exclusion of Mendocino county’s other growing regions, and that would be unfair to those wine producers, and to you, my readers.

I will continue to write about wine, but not to a deadline, and will continue to archive those new pieces online at johnonwine.com. Of course, many of those pieces will be about the wines where I work, but not all of the pieces I write will be about the Anderson Valley.

I love Zinfandel, and I love the Zinfandel Advocates & Producers (ZAP) Zinfandel Experience. I will attend and I will write it up. I grew up in Sonoma County, and spent most of my time in the Dry Creek Valley; I will attend Passport to Dry Creek Valley, and I will write about it too. I’ve worked at McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room in Hopland, and this year I will get to attend, instead of work, my first Hopland Passport in over six years. The Ukiah Crush chef’s winemaker dinner series are some of my favorite wine and food pairing  bacchanals, and I’ll continue to attend and write recaps.

With Bernadette writing one column per month, I will probably send some words and pictures to the Ukiah Daily Journal, and perhaps my focus on wine, and recaps of tasting events both in and out of the Anderson Valley, balanced by Bernadette’s vineyard focused writing, will find occasional placement here in the newspaper. Before I agreed to write a weekly column, the folks at the Journal found space for my occasional column length piece; perhaps they will again.

I have loved writing a weekly column, it has been great fun, and opened the door to many opportunities I might never have been able to experience otherwise. I have been forced to marvel frequently at your response to the pieces I write, as you have given me feedback throughout. My teeny tiny picture next to the week’s column title, in black and white, has made me recognizable. I’ll be honest, while the attention has been flattering, it kind of freaks me out. I write to write, I have to write, I love to write, and I love wine, so I combined two passions, and accidentally became a wine columnist. I didn’t write to become better known, I just wanted to share my love of wine, more broadly, and hope to inspire people in Mendocino County who read the newspaper to go winetasting, attend events, buy bottles and cases, and serve wine with meals, especially holiday meals with family and friends. Getting to know you, having you come up and introduce yourselves, that has been an unexpected bonus. Thank you, kind readers.

There are pieces I didn’t write, pieces that I wanted to, but somehow never got around to. I wish I had written tasting room features on both Graziano Family of Wines and Terra Savia in Hopland. Greg Graziano makes about three dozen wines, under four labels, and by the time I figured out how to write a piece about the man who couldn’t say no to just one more varietal wine, I was gone. Similarly, Terra Savia is more than wine, but olive oil, and art too, and I’m not good about self editing, so a piece about this triple threat venue would have filled two columns. I also never got around to visiting Leroy and Mary Louise Chase’s vineyard in Redwood Valley, although they graciously invited me. I really wanted to visit, and write a piece. Sorry to everyone I didn’t write about here in the newspaper column. If I kept writing for another five years, I promise, I would have written about each and every one of you.

With my last paragraphs in this penultimate column, I’ll ask you one more time to get out and take advantage of the amazing resource in your own backyards: nearby winery tasting rooms; many, many tasting rooms. Don’t wear perfume or cologne, don’t chew gum, don’t bring a cup of espresso in, come in ready to taste wine. Tasting rooms are not bars, and there are no taste buds in your throat, so let your host pour an ounce into your glass, then give it a swirl, a sniff, a sip, and then pour the rest in a dump bucket. A sip will tell you if the wine is yummy or yucky, or allow you to pull notes if that’s your thing, and by using the dump bucket you will be making sober choices about the wines to purchase, and avoid very expensive tickets on your drive home. When you get your wine home, don’t save it for a special occasion, but make an occasion special by opening, sharing, and enjoying the wines you chose at our local tasting rooms. Attend our wine events, attend winemaker dinners, take every opportunity that living in the Mendocino County wine country provides.

Feel free to visit johnonwine.com, subscribe to my blog feed, and leave your messages for me there…and look for the occasional possible future column length piece here too, in the future.

Thanks everyone, it’s been a blast.




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.


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.

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.

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.

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.

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!


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.



John on Wine – Full of Thanks

This piece ran originally as a wine column in the Ukiah Daily Journal on Wednesday, November 25, 2015

This is my favorite column of the year to write, and I so much love giving thanks for the overabundance of blessings that come my way that I wrote a May column of thanks this year to keep this piece from overflowing into thousands of words.

First, a little news; I have been hired by the Board of Directors of the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association (AVWA) to be their new Executive Director. My job will be to promote the member wineries and vineyards, and associated lodging and restaurant members, of the area, to help mount four wonderful events each year, and to tell the story of Anderson Valley. I am a storyteller, and this is a story I can’t wait to share, the beauty of the valley, and redwood forests, and Mendocino coastline along Highway 128, the incredibly focused attention on world class Pinot Noir and Alsace varietal wines in Anderson Valley’s vineyards, and the breathtakingly soul shuddering wonder of the wines made by some of California’s best winemakers. Thank you to the AVWA Board for your trust and confidence, I can’t wait to begin.


Thanks also to Janis MacDonald, the current AVWA Executive Director, who will work alongside me, for all of your support and kindness. I have written before that I think Janis is the most competent Executive Director a wine area could hope for, and I look forward to learning from you. You will help me achieve similar competence and I am so appreciative that you will be staying and helping me. Together, our shared passion and hard work will benefit Anderson Valley, and Mendocino County’s larger wine scene. We will make a terrific team.

For almost five years, I have been Guinness McFadden’s tasting room manager, and working with Guinness has been one of the greatest honors of my professional career in the wine industry. For the past five years, Guinness has trusted me with his retail operations, wine clubs, event planning, marketing, and promotion; thank you Guinness for allowing me an incredible amount of freedom to help build your brand.

Guinness was an officer in the U.S. Navy and I was a Sergeant in the U.S. Army, and our military pasts helped define how we worked together; Guinness would tell me what he wanted, I would make it happen. Guinness didn’t micromanage me, or tell me how to do my job, he simply told me what he wanted, and allowed me the freedom to execute his wishes. Our working relationship has been spectacular.

I look up to Guinness, and have learned so much from him. Working for the county’s premier organic and biodiverse farmer, I know so much more about growing than I did five years ago. Guinness also gave me opportunities unique for a tasting room manager; he let me set the dosage on his sparkling wines, and influence the blend of his Coro wines.

Guinness McFadden is my friend; I love McFadden wines, I love what I have come to think as my tasting room, and I will be available, and come back for events and wine club runs, and help out on my off time, as Guinness wishes, until my successor is up and running, trained and confident.

Thank you Guinness, for everything you have done for me these last five years, and for your support and blessing as I embark on my new adventure. I am looking forward to attending your Annual Farm Party next year on Saturday, July 9, 2016 in Potter Valley, without working.


I have had a number of folks I’ve worked with in the McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room, and I want to thank the three who have been here the longest; thank you Eugene Gonsalves, Ann Beauchamp, and Juanita Plaza. I’ve never thought of you as my employees, and asked you not to refer to me as your boss; we are a team, and you are as responsible for our successes as much as I am. I love each of you, you are my friends, and I thank you for your support.

Having a retail shop 45 minutes away from our farm means that I have relied on a whole other team of incredibly competent people to serve the visitors to our tasting room; our team at McFadden is bigger than just my crew in Hopland. I have to thank everyone, from the folks who tend our grapes, herbs, and beef to the folks in the office who cut paychecks, provide me accurate inventories, and handle my orders for fulfillment.

Of you all, special thanks go to my counterpart in the farm office, Guinness’ manager Shana Estes. Shana and I have talked almost daily for five years; I adore you, and thank you for all of your help and support of our retail operation, while managing a Herculean work load at the farm. You amaze me.

Finally, thanks to the folks at the Ukiah Daily Journal who run my column, for giving me the opportunity to share my love of wine with your readers, hopefully influencing some to come out wine tasting, attend wine events, or join me at a winemaker’s dinner; and, of course, thank you to you, the readers, for your support, feedback, and kind words about pieces I have written.


I may be the most fortunate person in all of Mendocino County’s wine industry, I love my life, and I thank all of you for every opportunity you have granted me.

Oh, here’s the answer to the question of the day, “what wine goes with turkey?”

I recommend either a Pinot Noir from McFadden Farm or any Anderson Valley producer, or a dry Gewurztraminer from…you guessed it…McFadden or an Anderson Valley producer.

Hopland Passport is just two days away, on Saturday, Oct. 17 and Sunday, Oct. 18, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day, and will offer up wine and food tasting at 15 local spots. Many wineries offer up their biggest discounts of the year for attendees.

Hopland Passport visitors enjoying the wines at top attraction, McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room (Photo by Pam Strayer)

Hopland Passport visitors enjoying the wines at top attraction, McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room (Photo by Pam Strayer)

You’ll find music, tours, and this year there will be seminars too. For more information, including how to get tickets for the two-day event, visit HoplandPassport.com. Here is some of what you can expect this weekend:

Join Brutocao Cellars at the Historic “Brutocao Schoolhouse Plaza” for another fun-filled, educational wine weekend. They’ll be pouring their award-winning Estate wines from both bottle and barrel, rolling bocce balls, dancing to live music and of course eating great food.  In the spirit of the Schoolhouse, Brutocao will be hosting “blending seminars” both days.  Sign up early, to learn the secrets of great wine making.

Seminar: Blending Seminar


Join Campovida this Hopland Passport for an exploration of white Rhône varietals with winemaker Sebastian Donoso.  Campovida will be pouring Marsanne, Roussanne, and Viognier as well as Campo Di Blanca, a blend of all three, accompanied by food pairings crafted by their restaurant, the Piazza de Campovida. Finally, don’t forget to try Campovida’s biodynamically farmed Grenache.

Seminar: White Rhone Varietal Exploration


Cesar Toxqui Cellars will be serving delectable cheeses with a new sparkling wine and Viognier as a starter. CTC will have fall-themed food: seasonal corn and black bean salad, plus a mixed-grill medley of barbecue grilled tri-tip, wild boar sausage, and chicken — which will pair well with new release 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, organic and sustainable, along with Zinfandel. Complete your experience with delicious cake paired with port.

Frey Vineyards invites you to taste 100 percent organic award-winning wines at the Solar Living Center, inside the store. Organic Menu:  Apricot glazed chicken breast strips marinated in ginger, garlic, tamari, and local apricot jam; Marinated Frey Ranch Goat Cheese; Roasted root vegetables with olive oil and Herbs; Homemade Hummus; fresh raw vegetables; crackers, baguettes; and Acorn Meyer lemon bars sweetened with local honey on a buttery crust.

Graziano Family of Wines with four distinct wine labels will be offering wines from Aglianico to Zinfandel. Specializing in Italian varietals, they also make several different Pinot Noirs and old Mendocino varietals like Chenin Blanc and Petite Sirah. Greg Graziano will be doing a seminar on Italian influence in Mendocino County on Saturday. Come taste Greg’s wines and enjoy Italian Sausages, aged cheeses, olive tapenade, and more.

Seminar: Greg Graziano Family Tradition (held at Brutocao Cellars)


Scottish Highlanders invade Mendocino Wine Country. The girls of Jaxon Keys Winery & Distillery will put on their finest kilts and sporrans to explore their Scottish roots on Burnee Hill. Join Jaxon Keys and taste amazing Estate wines paired with traditional Scottish fare. The Highland Games are taking place in the meadow, bagpipes are sounding in the farmhouse and America’s Best Brandy will be showcased in an expertly guided distillery tour. Slainte! Cheers!

Seminar: Distillery Tour and Seminar


Upper Russian River Grilling will be happening at Jeriko Estate for the October Passport. Experience a wild display of mixed meats, cheeses and condiments to complement Jeriko’s Upper Russian River Pinot Noir, Anima Mundi Pinot Noir and Pommard Pinot Noir, along with classics like Sangiovese.  Don’t miss out on the barrel sampling, music and special wine prices that are discounted for Passport weekend only.

At the McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room, enjoy Hopland’s top awarded, rated and reviewed wines. Guinness McFadden will be cooking up a Beef Bourguignon styled stew, which McFadden is calling Irish stew because Guinness is cooking it, using his organic grass-fed beef from McFadden Farm, perfect for the fall weather, and sliced baguettes. McFadden Wine Club Members get 30 percent discounts plus 1 penny shipping on cases of wine during Passport. Pick up farm fresh premium garlic braids, wild rice, beef and herbs, as well. Guinness McFadden will be on hand to hand sign purchased bottles.

Seminar: Chat on Organic Farming (with the possibility of additional topics: Notre Dame, the U.S. Navy, and a joke about an Irish priest and a bicycle) with Guinness McFadden



McNab Ridge Tasting Room will be featuring Pollo Ricky Tacos — Perfectly prepared by S’Wine Country BBQ. Marinated chicken grilled to perfection, sauced with a sweet and savory chile sauce, topped with a fresh pico de gallo cabbage salsa, finished with a roasted chipotle peanut salsa, chipotle crema and chopped roasted peanuts. Bottle painting by Leslie Bartolomei. And of course, McNab Ridge will pour the whole line-up of Rich Parducci’s award-winning wines.

Milano Family Winery will feature a scrumptious red-wine-infused oak smoked, marinated Tri-Tip, fresh veggies, a variety of cheeses and decadent chocolate raspberry brownies.  Enjoy live music on the lawn both Saturday and Sunday noon to 4 p.m.  Learn about Red Winemaking at Milano’s seminars — Saturday at noon and 2 p.m., Sunday at noon.  Eat, sip medal-winning wines, groove to tunes, and peruse the wares of several vendors selling fashion and crafts.

Seminar: Red Winemaking with Deanna Starr


Relax in the Redwoods at Nelson Family Vineyards with gorgeous views of their terraced Cabernet vineyard. Nelson will be pouring Estate wines paired with Mendough’s Pizza. Roots of Wine Tour, Viticulture 101, Saturday 1 p.m. and 3 p.m., Sunday 2 p.m. Walk the vineyards with Greg and Tyler Nelson. See first-hand how to prune, sucker, tie, and leaf pull to yield top quality wine grapes.

Seminar: Viticulture 101


Relax and enjoy the grandest view in the valley at RIVINO Estate Winery, where with every wine you get to savor in your glass, you can also view the vines they came from, from where you’re perched. Along with award winning estate wines, you will get to enjoy wood fired food creations by Pagan Fire Pizza. Rivino may have some delicious fermenting winery juices to try too.

Join Seebass Vineyards and Family Wines on the vineyard for a traditional German Oktoberfest. Seebass’ best wines will be accompanied by authentic German tastings prepared by their family and served in historic barns overlooking a 100+ acre vineyard. Seebass will be featuring their favorite Chardonnays as well as a selection of award winning reds. Prost!

Located in downtown Hopland, SIP Wine Shop is a wine shop and discovery center for anyone interested in learning about and buying Mendocino wines. With over 100 different wines from local producers, SIP is sure to have something to please every palate. Stop by and enjoy a glass of wine, cider or craft beer on a beautiful garden patio. SIP will be pairing fine wines with tasty treats all weekend long.

Seminar: Cooking Demo & Seminar on Grass-fed, Heritage Meat by Mendocino Organics


Find the grill of your dreams at Terra Sávia, with a Passport menu featuring a trio of glazed grilled kebobs of beef, fresh shrimp, or chicken along with marinara, cashew ricotta, or pesto gnocchi paired with local seasonal vegetables., pleasantly topped off with a refreshing Meyer Lemon Cake. Back by popular demand, Coffee Zombie Collective will fill the house with their raucous acoustic cover tunes. Bring your appetite and dancing shoes.

Seminar: Olive Oil Seminar


John on Wine – The wine wheel keeps turning

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

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!


John On Wine – Fans and snoring

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, April 23, 2015

Recently, I found myself in a packed courtroom on a Friday morning in Ukiah. Thankfully, I wasn’t fighting a speeding ticket or doing my civic duty by sitting on a jury; I came to witness Mendocino County Superior Court Judge Richard Henderson hear from the lawyers in the matter of Scaramella vs. the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors.

The plaintiff, Mark Scaramella, is suing Mendocino County and named three farmers as Parties of Real Interest, claiming that wind machines are a noise nuisance which should be banned. The County has replied, among other issues, that the wind machines are an established farming practice protected by the county Right To Farm ordinance.

The three Anderson Valley neighbors of Scaramella named in the suit were Pennyroyal Farm, V. Sattui Winery, and Foursight Wines.

Scaramella was seeking an injunction to stop the use of wind machines immediately, and encouraged opponents of the fans to show up at the hearing, publicizing his request in the Anderson Valley Advertiser.

Fans are used in vineyards to mitigate damage from frost, and effectively replace the use of water to do the same job, which is a responsible vineyard management tool, especially in these times of critical water shortage owing to the continuing drought in California.

The case was a battle of competing interests, the right to be free of noise pollution and the County’s Right to Farm ordinance.

Mendocino County has a noise ordinance in place, prohibiting sound in excess of 40 decibels (dB). 40 dB is roughly equivalent to the sound produced by a babbling brook, a refrigerator hum, a library, or the lowest ambient sound of an urban area.

Because of the size of the crowd gathered Judge Henderson made a few introductory remarks to the assembled crowd, noting that many were likely Anderson Valley residents opposed to the fans, which drew an audible dissent from the majority of those gathered, before he went on to note that it seemed there were many farmers who were there to support the use of the fans, and then asking that only the lawyers speak and that the courtroom remain silent throughout the remainder of the proceedings.

I took advantage of an offer from the court clerk and moved to the jury box to sit, rather than continue to stand, and enjoyed a great view of the participants.

Judge Henderson noted that his tentative ruling had taken into account all filings thus far, but the ruling he referred to had not yet been shared with the lawyers, so a brief recess allowed copies to be made and lawyers to read the ruling.

The Ukiah Daily Journal’s Justine Frederiksen reported on April 10 that the tentative ruling read, “The court finds that the interim harm that (Mark Scaramella) may suffer, (estimated to be) 10 nights of sleep interruption of deprivation, is clearly outweighed by the probable damage that would be caused to grape vines,” and that prohibiting the use of agricultural fans during frost events, which can “kill all actively growing parts of a grape vine and will reduce yields from between 50 percent to 100 percent, could result in losses measured in the tens of millions of dollars.” Frederiksen ended her piece noting, “Judge Henderson [had] said Friday he was inclined to favor his tentative ruling, but would be releasing a formal ruling in writing soon.”

I have deep empathy for those vineyard neighbors throughout California’s wine valleys missing sleep on some nights, but I feel this is a good tentative decision. Wineries attempting to use wind instead of water during this drought to prevent catastrophic crop frost damage should be afforded every reasonable accommodation. I feared that this suit about fans could lead to further Right to Farm erosions, possible battles regarding water use and other farming practices in the future.
The judge noted that the plaintiff had not presented any real evidence of a noise ordinance violation, no certified dB readings had been taken or offered.

I thought, absent any real evidence to the contrary, that a dB level above allowed might not be owing to any one farmer’s practices, but cumulative, and while the would be sleeper is impacted, no one grower might actually be in violation of noise ordinances. It is also entirely possible that each farm exceeds noise restriction with their fans, and cumulatively it is a nightmare. I do not know. My position as a wine guy has me on the side of growers, surprising no one, I expect. This suit, to me, could be seen as an attack on Mendocino County’s largest legal industry.

I used to snore like a chainsaw, definitely well in excess of 40 dB, and more than one partner could well empathize with Scaramella. My high school best friend told me she actually thought about killing me to end the noise. I gave her my iPod and ear buds, and dialed up some music for her, and she was able to sleep. Major dental work last November ended my frightful snoring, but I well remember the murderous look in her eyes over her sleep deprivation.

I have other friends who live near vineyards and tell me that the fans are loud, but that they would rather live near healthy and profitable vineyards than not, and find ways to counter the occasional use of fans, from ear plugs to noise cancelling headphones.

I hope that Judge Henderson’s tentative ruling remains intact when crafting his final ruling. I also hope that Scaramella reads this: Walmart sells Panasonic noise cancelling headphones for $31, Best Buy sells Sony noise cancelling headphones for $50, and top of the line Bose earbuds or headphones, the Cadillac of noise cancellers, are $300 direct from Bose. I used to have a pair of Bose when I flew each week for business to wine tradeshows, and even the sound of propellers right outside the passenger cabin were masked into absence. I think an old girlfriend might have stolen mine, to make living with a new snoring boyfriend tolerable.

Tomorrow, Friday, April 24, 2015 is International Sauvignon Blanc Day. Originally created by social media marketer Rick Bakas while at St. Supery, the world wide celebration of Sauvignon Blanc has grown, and countless wine lovers will buy and taste the variety, tweeting and posting words and pictures online using the hash tag #SauvBlanc to be part of a one day global social media trend.

Locally, McFadden will pour for the public a new Sauvignon Blanc release, from the 2014 vintage. It is the best Sauvignon Blanc I’ve tasted from McFadden, and I hope you can visit Eugene tomorrow in McFadden’s tasting room in Hopland for a complimentary tasting between 10am-5pm, bringing your cell phone or other mobile device to post while you are tasting #SauvBlanc – and if you can’t make it to Hopland, then grab a bottle from any producer in a local store and join the fun.

John On Wine – Get your tickets now

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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