From my first day in the office of the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association, back in December, I worked on February’s 11th annual International Alsace Varietals Festival and, before I came on board as the new AVWA Executive Director, a small army of staff and volunteers had been working since August, all to make what nearly every attendee described as the best Alsace Fest yet happen.

Thank you to every single person who made the event a success; the event volunteers, volunteer festival planning committee members, volunteer association board members, speakers, presenters, winery participants, caterers, staff (Kacy, Janis, Kristy, Floriane), event location hosts, and attendees. Each time someone tried to credit me for the success of the sold out Festival events, from Educational Sessions to Press Welcome Dinner, and Grand Tasting to Winemaker Dinners, I turn around and let folks know it was a team effort.

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Previously, I attended Festival and Passport events, from January’s Zinfandel Experience in San Francisco to the April Passport to Dry Creek Valley in April, and February’s Alsace Festivals to May’s Pinot Noir Festivals in the Anderson Valley, each year and, while I enjoyed each event immensely, and credited the producers of each in recap pieces, I had no idea how much work went into each.
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I am attending the Passport to Dry Creek Valley, for my fourth year in a row, on Saturday, April 23 and Sunday, April 24, this year. My counterpart, Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley Executive Director Ann Petersen, is undoubtedly busy now, as her event gets closer, and she manages the lists for each of the numerous sell out events that make up her Passport event, from nearly a dozen vineyard tour lunches and dinners the day before Passport to the Passport itself.

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Passport to Dry Creek Valley ticket buyers are able to visit over 45 wineries, taste their wines, enjoy delicious pairing food bites, and listen to music at each stop. I have found that each winery goes all out to impress, often offering rare older vintages, limited single vineyard production releases, and barrel samples of future wines for tasting. The food at each stop is thoughtfully prepared, oftentimes by superstar chefs and caterers, to bring out and highlight the flavors of the wines being presented. The music, and themed fun, at each stop makes Passport to Dry Creek Valley a must attend event.

Dry Creek Valley produces some of my favorite Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel, but with over 45 wineries participating, you’ll find a great assortment of wines to taste, including some stellar Pinot Noir made with grapes sourced from the Anderson Valley.

For tickets, buy them now, this event sells out, visit http://www.drycreekvalley.org.
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One week after the big Passport, is Hopland Passport, a smaller one day event on Saturday, April 30, with 14 participating wine tasting stops. Inland Mendocino County is diverse, with numerous wine grape varieties thriving, and tasters can enjoy an incredible array of wines, and styles, as they visit each stop.

I worked this event the last ten events, so it will be nice to attend, visit friends, and taste their wines, in a relaxed and fun day.

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Several wineries, like McFadden Farm, will continue their Passport offerings for Sunday visitors, so plan to make it a weekend event.

For tickets at a discount, prices increase at the door during the event, visit http://www.destinationhopland.com.
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The AVWA team has been working on our 19th annual Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival, a three day Festival event from Friday, May 20 through Sunday, May 22 this year.

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Events include an educational Technical Session on Friday from 9:00 am to 4:30 pm, with a look at water management by the Nature Conservancy, a tasting of different winery’s Pinot Noir all from one vineyard, a look at the lessons of the 2015 vintage as evidenced by a tasting of five wines, and a tasting of sparkling wines made with Pinot Noir. Following the sessions is a Casual Welcome BBQ at Pennyroyal Farms with amazing food, many wines, and music by the Joe Blow Band.

Saturday will see 56 or more wineries, each pouring their own Pinot noir, all made from Anderson Valley grown grapes, at the Grand Tasting under the big tent at Goldeneye in Philo, with eight high end catering stations, and live music.

Saturday evening brings two Winemaker Dinners, one at Roederer Estate with the host, Lichen estate, and Copain Wines, the second at Scharffenberger Cellars with the host, Baxter, Goldeneye, and Knez. These are multi course dinners, with wine, and each kicks off with a sparkling wine reception.

Sunday, the local Pinot Noir producers, participating in the grand tasting, will each host Open Houses throughout the Anderson Valley.

For more information, and to pick up tickets, visit http://www.avwines.com.
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After Passport to Dry Creek Valley and the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival are both finished, after I get everything cleaned, packed, and returned to the AVWA office from the Pinot Fest, I will be taking a little time off, and meet with my counterpart in Dry Creek Valley for an interview, and recap both of our events, with an eye to sharing what goes into a huge crowd pleasing event, although I imagine I know the answer already: a great team working together to make it all look effortless.

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John on Wine – Let’s not say goodbye. How about hello, instead?

This piece originally ran in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, January 7, 2016.

This column is your guide to great wine adventures in 2016, a list of festivals I have attended that I will attend again, these are all must attend events. Cut this column out of today’s newspaper, laminate it, and put it on your refrigerator with kitchen magnets. Refer to it, and buy your tickets to each incredible wine happening, and look for me at each this year. I’ll be the guy with a wineglass and a smile. Cheers!

Jan. 20 – Chef’s Wine Dinner >> Featuring Seebass Family Vineyard & Winery wines at Crush Italian Steakhouse in Ukiah. This will sell out at $75 per person. Seventy very lucky attendees will sit down for a multi-course meal paired with about a half dozen wines from Seebass. I will write a recap of this dinner, with pictures, for johnonwine.com. For tickets, contact Crush directly at (707) 463-0700.

Jan. 30 & 31 – Barrel Tasting 101 >> Buy a ticket online in advance for $20, 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, McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room, McNab Ridge, Milano Family Winery, Nelson Family Winery, Rivino, Saracina, Seebass Vineyards, Simaine Cellars, Sip Mendocino, Terra Savia, and Testa Ranch. For more information, visit destinationhopland.com/store

Feb. 20 & 21 – 11th annual International Alsace Varietals Festival >> There is a full day of events in the Anderson Valley, with many DRY Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, Riesling, and Muscat aromatic white wines, starting with an educational session in the morning, the big grand tasting in the afternoon, and a winemakers’ dinner in the evening on Feb 20; and open house tasting at Anderson Valley Alsace varietal producers on Feb 21. For more information, visit avwines.com/alsace-festival.

Feb 25-27 – ZAP’s Zinfandel Experience >> Zinfandel Advocates & Producers (ZAP) will celebrate their 25th annual Zinfandel Experience with three days of events in San Francisco. The weekend includes a 25 Year Tribute Party, Supper Club, Flights Seminar, Winemakers Auction & Dinner, and Grand Tasting. 2016 Zinfandel Experience is featuring more access to winemaker celebrities, more wineries, and two impressive new venues, showcasing the talents of winemakers, chefs, and artisanal food purveyors. I grew up with Zinfandel, there is a picture of my brother and I crushing Zinfandel grapes in 1972 in my office. I attended this event going back into the 90’s with family. This is a must attend event if you love Zinfandel like I do. The fun kicks off Thursday Feb 25 with a 25 Year Tribute Party with over 60 producers, followed by a Heritage Supper Club dinner, at the Banking Hall at the Bently Reserve. Flights is a seated panel tasting at the the Bently Reserve on Feb 26, moderated by one of my idols, Joel Peterson, and will look whether there are California wines that should be consider Great Growths, similar to Bordeaux’s 1855 Grand Cru classification; later that evening at the hotel is the Winemaker’s Reception, Dinner & Auction. Finally, the Grand Tasting with over 100 Zinfandels at the James R. Herman Cruise Terminal at Pier 27 on Feb 27. I have attended previous ZAP events, and if you love Zinfandel, then this is a must event to attend. For more information, visit zinfandelexperience.com

Apr. 23 & 24 – Passport to Dry Creek Valley >> I LOVE this event, and have attended each of the last three years; tickets sell out and Tickets are sold first-come-first-serve starting Monday, February 1st, 2016 at 10 am, so grab your tickets early. For this one weekend each year, since 1990, Passport guests are welcomed into 45+ wineries throughout Dry Creek Valley, each offering a unique pairing of premium wine, gourmet food and entertainment, and these offerings are amazing with each winery location competing with the other to impress you, and impressed you will be! There is also Prelude to Passport on Apr. 22, with vineyard lunches and winemaker dinners. For more information, visit drycreekvalley.org/events/passport-to-dry-creek-valley/

Apr. 30 & May 1 – Hopland Passport >> I have worked every Hopland Passport going back to Spring 2011 at McFadden, and this will be my first chance top attend one in over 6 years, and I am looking forward to it! Hopland area winery tasting rooms, about 15 in all, pour their wines, offer food pairing tastes, with tours, music, and more. For more information, visit destinationhopland.com/hopland-passport

May 20-22 – 19th annual Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival >> This festival is a three day event including a Technical Conference & social BBQ in the vineyards on Friday, Grand Tasting on Saturday with 50+ wineries participating, many elegant winemaker dinners on Saturday evening, and open houses at all area wineries on Sunday. For more information, visit avwines.com/19th-annual-anderson-valley-pinot-noir-festival/

Jun. 17-19 – A Taste of Redwood Valley >> This traditional Father’s Day weekend tasting event kicks off with a Winemakers’ Dinner event Friday night, and tasting at eight local winery and distillery locations throughout Redwood Valley over the weekend. For more information, visit atasteofredwoodvalley.com/events.html

Jun. 18 – Pinot Days SF >> I have been offered tickets each of the last four years, and invariably a last minute conflict prevented me from attending. I will rectify that this year, and look forward to choosing tastes of Pinot Noir wines from over 100 producers. Held at City View at the Metreon, many of Anderson Valley’s best wines will be showcased. For more information, visit pinotdays.com

Jul. 9 – Annual Party at McFadden Farm >> Here’s another event I’ve worked that I’ll simply attend and enjoy this year. Guinness McFadden opens his 550 acre farm at the north end of Potter Valley to 220 paid guests, $85 or McFadden Wine Club $70, for an amazing party, with overnight camping, swimming, farm tours, roast whole pig and lamb, tons of farm fresh vegetable dishes and salads, live music, dancing, and more wine than should ever be poured if overnight camping was not available. This event sells out! Get your ticket by calling the tasting room at (707) 744-8463. For more information, visit macfaddenfarm.com

Jul. 23 & 24 – Anderson Valley & Yorkville Highlands Barrel Tasting Weekend >> I would love to rename this event BT128, but branding is important, and the two growing regions probably like the named recognition. For two days, from 11-4, Anderson Valley wineries and their neighbors in Yorkville Highlands invite you to enjoy unprecedented access to winery cellars, taste yet-to-be-released wines, and purchase futures of your favorites at a special barrel tasting weekend price! For more information, visit avwines.com

Aug. 4 & 5 – Mendocino County Wine Competition >> This is the nation’s oldest continuously held wine competition, and I love attending the awards dinner, where all of the winners are announced, and I can see my friends from throughout the county and celebrate their well deserved recognition. The award dinner is open to the public, and a great way to show your support for the county’s winemakers and grape growers, as well as taste some delicious medal winning wines. For more information, visit mendowine.com

Sep. 10 – Winesong Charity Auction & Tasting >> Tickets go on sale Apr. 1. Stroll through the lush Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens while enjoying vintages poured by about 100 world-class wineries from Mendocino, Sonoma, Napa, and beyond, and food from 50 of Mendocino County’s finest food purveyors, and enjoy various music groups as they play; then head to the Auction Tents with lively bidding for over 200 lots. This is a benefit for the Mendocino Coast Hospital Foundation. The day before, on Sep. 9, there is the Pinot Noir Celebration presented by Winesong and Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association hosted by Little River Inn. For more information, visit winesong.org

There are other events that I will attend, numerous winemaker dinners at Crush in Ukiah and throughout the Anderson Valley throughout the year, the September blending party at Testa Vineyards & Winery in Calpella, October’s Fall Hopland Passport and the World Championship Abalone Cook-off in Fort Bragg, and November’s A Taste of Redwood Valley bring your own glass tasting and sale weekend.

This is it, my last weekly wine column written to deadline. Sure, I’ll still write for johnonwine.com; and I’ll surely send recaps of each of these events, and whatever else demands to be written, to the Ukiah daily Journal, so you might still see me occasionally in the newspaper; but this is it, the final official piece for now. Instead of a goodbye, this list of events allows you to find me easily – I’ll be at them all, so come up, introduce yourself, and say hello. Cheers!

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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

I love Zinfandel. Growing up, Zinfandel was used in the kitchen to flavor foods and served at the table to complement those dishes. Hanging just outside my office at the tasting room I manage, there is a framed photograph taken in 1972 of my brother and me crushing Zinfandel grapes by foot for a family wine.

A little too long for my newspaper wine column at over 4,400 words, I wrote an online recap of January’s Zinfandel Experience, produced by Zinfandel Advocates & Producers (ZAP), in San Francisco. Last year, I attended the inaugural ZAP’s Simply Summer Celebration and recapped the experience here in the paper.

Living in Mendocino County, I am fortunate as a Zin lover; Zinfandel is the county’s most planted grape and the county’s flagship cooperative wine program, Coro Mendocino, focuses on the many possible expressions of heritage Zinfandel blends.

On Saturday, Aug. 15, from 1 to 3:30 p.m., the second ZAP Simply Summer Celebration (of Zinfandel) will be hosted on Seghesio Family Vineyards’ Home Ranch in Alexander Valley at 24400 Rich Ranch Road, Cloverdale. Sixty-five wineries will pour their Zinfandel wines, including Seebass Family Vineyards and Edmeades from Mendocino County, plus Carol Shelton Wines and Artezin Wines, among others, who make Zinfandel using Mendocino County grapes.

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Great wine needs great food to pair with, and Seghesio is one of my favorite Passport to Dry Creek Valley stops because they always bring it with their food offerings. For this Simply Summer Celebration, ZAP shares, “Seghesio’s custom mobile Jedmaster smoker, with the capacity for 320 pounds of pork butt, Blaze, is equipped to smoke for a huge crowd. Seghesio’s resident pit master, Executive Chef Peter Janiak loves to fire Blaze up any chance he gets and has become quite famous for his hand-made salumi, sausages and smoked meats.” On the menu: Pulled Pork Sandwich smoked for 14 hours and topped with a Zinfandel based BBQ sauce, Feta & Watermelon Salad, and even a Vegetarian Option for the pork averse among you. Healdsburg’s Moustache Baked Goods will provide dessert samples, “baked from scratch and by hand without preservatives and only in small batches.”

Tickets are $65 each, or $50 for ZAP members, and include a commemorative tasting glass, tastes of wines from 65 producers, BBQ food dishes made to pair perfectly with the wines you’ll be tasting, and dessert bites.

ZAP Heritage Club members get a bonus tasting in the hour before the main public tasting; “In collaboration with Seghesio Family Vineyards, ZAP has arranged for an exclusive Zinfandel tasting at the historic Seghesio Home Ranch Vineyard in northern Alexander Valley. Hosted by Seghesio, ZAP Heritage Club members will learn about the history and heritage of this continuously operating 120 year old vineyard. The tasting will focus on the Home Ranch Zinfandel, which still uses founder Edoardo Seghesio’s original 7-acre 1895 vines as the foundation of this wine. Seating is very limited and RSVP is required.”

For more information about ZAP’s Simply Summer Celebration, or to purchase your tickets before they sell out, visit http://www.Zinfandel.org.

Thanks to Glenda Cunningham and Rebecca Robinson of Zinfandel Advocates & Producers for inviting me to your summer event, again.
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No one should have to take the blame but me when my writing goes off the tracks, but Ron Washam deserves a little credit for making it better. Ron writes satirically about wine, online wine writing, and wine marketing for his popular Hosemaster of Wine blog. Ron also writes some of the best written wine reviews and winery features under his Ephemera banner on the site as well.

Years ago, I had the opportunity to pour for Ron, and things were going great until I described one of our wines as, “authentic,” which earned a sad shake of the head from Ron. It does not matter whether a wine is estate grown, organically, made with minimal intervention, exhibits varietal correctness, and is an expression of both terroir and vintage, or if that wine is mass produced, conventionally farmed with a liberal application of Round Up, and is absolutely vile in all sensory aspects; they are both authentic.

I have tried not to use meaningless descriptors like authentic, natural, or sustainable since that day. Recently, I sent Ron a note, because I sensed he was tired or down, such being the lot of a writer sometimes. I wrote, “I have appreciated your writing for years, have read all your posts, and appreciate the pin you bring to the overinflated pretentiousness that pervades the marketing of wine.

Rather than allow the sense that wine is serious stuff, unknowable to the regular man, only to be appreciated by those who have devoted a lifetime to tasting, and alienating a huge segment of the potential market for wine, I wish that more people would demystify the fermented juice of grapes, point to it as a terrific component in a larger meal, make it approachable.

Heralding inexpensive wines, as opposed to cheap wines, and suggesting food pairings, driving new consumers to seek out these easily found wines in the market to try, trusting that once the door has been opened many of these new converts from milk, soda, or beer at the dinner table will seek out more expensive bottles, visit tasting rooms, or attend wine events, is what I wish more folks did.

Personally, I do not love [a common supermarket brand, name masked for this piece] wines, I think they are cheap, they just do not taste good to me. I am amazed, under Concha y Toro, just how good the wines at Fetzer are at about the same price point. Inexpensive vs. cheap.”

Ron replied, generously, “Your letter is very kind, and much appreciated. I agree with all of your sentiments, and I’ve spent a lot of energy on HoseMaster trying to express them. Wine is supposed to be enjoyable and life-enhancing, not snooty, not strictly defined (“natural” or “100 point”), not boring. Reading wine blogs makes wine seem dull and lifeless when it’s anything but. And not just wine blogs, most of the press as well make it seem stupid and mundane.”

For my readers, visit Ron’s site, go into the archives and read every piece in order; the comments are often as good as the piece being commented upon. For the local wine folks who read my column, craft a better message, connect with your customers better, make wine approachable and your customers will enjoy it more and share it with their friends and family more often.

John On Wine – An early Thanksgiving


Susan Johnson and John Cesano at Passport to Dry Creek Valley

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Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, May 14, 2015

I know I am supposed to save up all my gratefulness for the year and post it in a cliché Thanksgiving post toward the end of November, but Thanksgiving is coming early this year.

During the recently passed Hopland Passport event, one of our visiting tasters told me that she wished she could have my job. Everybody sees greener grass outside their lives; I would love to have Anthony Bourdain’s job, but I do recognize how blessed I am.

The Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley invited me to attend the Passport to Dry Creek Valley for the third consecutive year, and I am extraordinarily grateful. This year, I was accompanied by my good friend, Susan Johnson. Susan and I used to travel the country doing tradeshows, winemaker dinners, and corporate events for wineries, and then moved together to work for the Wine Appreciation Guild where we visited hundreds of wineries and tasting rooms throughout California.

Susan now works for a company that provides winemakers the tools to make great wine, and of course I pour great wine at one job and write about great wine in my other job. Although we came at each wine tasted from a different perspective, Susan looking at what could have made a wine better and me taking each wine as it is, we both were absolutely impressed front to back with the line ups at media check in host winery DaVero, Gustafson Family Winery, and Seghesio. Talty did the best job amplifying social media marketing, Selby had the best single bite of food, and Blanchard had the best ‘story’ wine.

DaVero produces organic or biodynamic wines from Italian varieties, and I shared the names of some Mendocino growers when asked by winemaker Evan, but if you grow grapes in the county, certified organic or biodynamic, and they are Italian varieties, then Evan wants to hear from you. Terrific wines that you will not taste anywhere else, plus they have farm goods for sale — and you know how much I love an organic farm stand & tasting room!

Gustafson is a long drive from any other winery, but absolutely worth the time to get there. Best winery views ever, fantastic wines, whimsically wonderful presented tasty food creations, and a dream property for vacation rental. Gustafson joins Preston and Truett-Hurst as one of my three favorite Dry Creek places to spend an afternoon with wine and food.

In spite of my desire to visit new wineries each Dry Creek Passport, Seghesio pulls me in year after year. Between wine, food, and music this is probably the most dependably solid stop for complete satisfaction.

Within seconds of a #DCVPassport post by me, about any participating winery, Talty was sharing or retweeting it. Visit them if you like Zin, Zin, or Zin. Selby’s duck and andouille sausage gumbo with crayfish cornbread was the best food I tasted all weekend. Blanchard had the best music with the Rosetown Ramblers covering Grateful Dead tunes, and each bottle sold of their “Helicopter” blend sees a donation to help the families of our military’s special operators.

Two days before our own Hopland Passport, I attended a general meeting of Mendocino Winegrowers Inc. at Barra of Mendocino. I would love to sit at a table with Charlie and Martha Barra, George Lee, Ed Berry, Leroy and Mary Louise Chase, and just shut up for a change. Listening to these, and other great growers, is so wonderful, and helps me in my education about Mendocino wine. I gratefully accepted an invite to visit the Chase Vineyard on a future date, and am thankful for the opportunity to tell a future story about wine from a great vineyard.

Hopland Passport. For me, it is a week of preparation, two days of intense energy output, and nearly a week of putting my tasting room back together afterward. Although people have reported that attendance may have been lighter than in the past, you couldn’t tell it by our numbers. I have everyone to thank, all of the team at the farm, the tasting room team, our chef team, and especially all of our visitors for more than doubling our numbers from last spring’s Passport event.

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Passport is truly a team effort, and we all work hard to make it as fun as possible; I think we succeeded. Now, if you’ll all come and pick up all of your paid for wine, I’ll be even more thankful.

Thanks to Tom Liden, Mendocino winery photographer, for your kind words of encouragement about the words I write weekly. Thanks also to all of my other readers for your words of support; I confess that I am still a little freaked out when I’m recognized for my writing and the compliments about individual pieces I have written, but I am enormously grateful. Within the last two weeks, three different people have told me they enjoy the recaps of the Chef’s Winemaker Dinners at Crush; that makes the piece I’ll be writing about the May 20 Graziano dinner all the easier to write.

Thanks to Aubrey Rawlins, executive director of Mendocino Winegrowers Inc., for recommending me for a winery writing gig. The funny thing is I already loved the wines and winery involved, had planned a visit for a future spotlight winery piece here, and this might be the easiest gig ever, a two for one opportunity.

Thanks to Janis MacDonald and Kristy Charles of the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association for invitations to all of your events, and for treating the Ukiah Daily Journal wine guy the same as the folks from Wine Enthusiast, San Francisco Chronicle, and Wine Spectator; it is appreciated, if a little surreal and humbling.

I will next be attending the 18th annual Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival on May 14-17; with a welcome dinner on Thursday (tonight) at Balo Vineyards, the Technical Conference on Friday at the Fairgrounds in Boonville (seriously, it may sound boring, but the tech conferences that Anderson Valley puts on are a highlight of each event) and a Casual BBQ at Lula Cellars that evening, a Press Tasting at Scharffenberger Cellars on Saturday morning followed by the Grand Tasting at Goldeneye Winery.

On Sunday, May 17, I’ll be headed to The Barlow in Sebastopol to taste Mendocino County’s Gold Medal awarded wines from the recent 2015 Press Democrat North Coast Wine Challenge. Friday, June 19, I’ll be at the Coro Mendocino 2012 Vintage Release Party & Multi-Course Dinner at Dogpatch Wine Works in San Francisco (tickets available at Sip Mendocino in Hopland, ask to sit at the McFadden table), and the next day, June 20, I’ll be at the Metreon in San Francisco for the 11th annual Pinot Days.

In between all this, I’ll be visiting vineyards, wineries, and tasting rooms for future pieces, or simply my own further education and enjoyment.

None of my opportunities would be possible without invitations from others, and those invitations come because I write for you, my readers, here in the Ukiah Daily Journal and online at JohnOnWine.com and you are the reason I have a life worthy of gratitude, of thanks, and of appreciation. I’m not waiting until Thursday, November 26, Thanksgiving day 2015; let me say it now (and possibly again then): Thank you!


John On Wine – Hopland Passport is this weekend!

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaperon Thursday, April 30, 2015

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Spring Hopland Passport 2015 is this weekend, Saturday, May 2 and Sunday, May 3, from 11:00am-5:00pm each day. Tickets are available at the door at each participating winery for $55. For $55, you get a wine glass, wristband, and Passport to collect stamps in for prize drawings and to take notes of your favorite wines. Each winery will offer up wine and food pairings, and many will have their best sale prices of the year for attendees. Here’s what each winery promises, in their own words:

Brutocao Cellars – Spring is in the air and so is “fun” here at Brutocao Cellars. Join us for another Passport full of friends, family, bocce and of course award winning Estate wines. We’ll be dancing on the deck, enjoying scrumptious eats, rolling bocce balls, barrel tasting and sipping some new release deliciousness. Come by and kick off “Merlot Madness in May” at Brutocao!

Campovida – Campovida is a family owned and operated certified organic farm and working vineyard. We offer, wine tasting, olive oil tasting, live music and food pairings from our restaurant the Piazza de Campovida. Not to be missed during passport is our garden tour an experience of your own organic immersion with our master gardener, Ken Boek, awaken the five senses and enjoy an educational experience in plant and insect diversity.

Cesar Toxqui Cellars – Cesar Toxqui Cellars will be doing traditional Asian delicacies. We will greet you with our traditional Filipino appetizer called “lumpia” and an array of fruit infused cheeses paired with our Pinot Gris and Immigrant Chardonnay. Also we will be serving our traditional Roasted pig paired with our 2012 Organic Zinfandel , 2012 Immigrant Pinot Noir and Heirloom Cinco. Finish it off with our Port and a special ordered chocolate cake.

Frey Vineyards – Come Join us at the beautiful Solar Living Institute, inside the Real Goods Store and taste our delicious USDA Organic and Biodynamic wines. No Sulfites added. We are offering: Hawaiian-style Lamb Meatballs; with mango, pineapple, garlic and ginger. Herbal Polenta Diamonds; with tarragon, thyme, onions and asiago. Frey Ranch Assorted Cheeses; with sourdough baguettes (gluten free options). Artichoke Olive Dip; with raw veggie platter and Seasonal Berries.

Graziano Family of Wines – Welcome to Graziano Family of Wines where we offer four distinct wine brands, with a focus on Italian varietals, Pinot Noir, and old world wines with a long tradition in Mendocino County, like Chenin Blanc and Zinfandel. Come try a dry white wine with imported aged cheeses, or a red with Tri Tip. We will have a variety of dips, and tapenade to pair with wines from dry to sweet.

Jaxon Keys Winery & Distillery – LumberJax salute Mendocino history! Come sit a while on our veranda! We will be in our best plaid and dungarees serving you up hearty beef stew made with local ingredients and paired with our delicious estate wines. The LumberJax will show you old-fashioned hospitality at our historic Farmhouse Tasting Room. Red wine, white wine, dessert wine, brandy – we have something for every taste!

Jeriko Estate – Upper Russian River Grilling will be happening at Jeriko for the May 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.

McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room – Enjoy Hopland’s top awarded wines, McFadden’s California State Fair Best of Show Sparkling Wine, two Wine Enthusiast Magazine ‘Editors’ Choice’ wines, and many new releases, paired with McFadden organic grass fed beef, grilled to perfection and served with a red wine reduction mushroom demi glaze, with assorted salads and sliced baguettes. McFadden Wine Members get 40% off cases of wine during Passport. Guinness McFadden will be on hand to hand sign purchased bottles.

McNab Ridge Tasting Room – McNab Ridge will be featuring Tri-tip on crostini with a chimichuri sauce and a Farro Summer Salad – with fresh squashes, red bell pepper, onion, pistachios and dried cranberries with citrus vinaigrette, perfectly prepared by S’Wine Country BBQ. Sample over a dozen gourmet dips & spreads and get a bottle hand painted by artist Leslie Bartolomei. And of course, we’re pouring our whole line up of Rich Parducci’s award-winning wines!

Milano Family Winery – We’ll feature our scrumptious red-wine-infused oak smoked, marinated Tri-Tip, fresh veggies, a variety of Cabot Creamery cheeses and decadent chocolate raspberry brownies. Enjoy live music on the lawn with the Linda Ferro Trio playing jazzy rock and dance music on Saturday and the incomparable 12-string guitarist Michael Hantman on Sunday. Join us and eat, sip our medal winning wines, groove to the tunes and peruse the wares of several vendors selling fashion and crafts!

Nelson Family Vineyards – Come relax in the Redwoods at Nelson Family Vineyards – this serene grove is a majestic and magical place with gorgeous views of our terraced Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard. We’ll be pouring our delicious Estate wines paired with Mendough’s Wood-Fired Pizza, deliciously made with organic, local ingredients including chevre, sun dried tomatoes, prosciutto, arugula, Gorgonzola and artichoke atop the most incredible crust. We look forward to seeing you again!

Rivino Winery – Steppin’ back into the 50’s! A fun Grease inspired theme … back when lap belts were the norm and airbags had nothing to do with cars. Stop in and enjoy some fun 50’s style food from Pagan Fire Pizza. Some award winning wines from RIVINO … and a terrific concert of 50’s era music along with some classic cars too! Welcome to the Summer of Love and Beauty School Dropouts!

Terra Savia – Our menu will include grilled Tri-tip steak in a Pinot Noir barbecue sauce accompanied with roasted beets & toasted walnuts with a walnut vinaigrette, bowtie pasta and kale with pine nuts and goat cheese. As dessert we will feature an assortment of specialty cookies from the Pacific Cookie Company in Santa Cruz including dark chocolate cranberry, lemon drop and Dr. Midnight.

I love Passport events, and attended Passport to Dry Creek Valley for the third consecutive year last week (a recap is coming soon, after I get through my own Passport event this weekend). I will, of course, be working Hopland Passport, so if you attend, stop by McFadden and say hello.

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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

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