Photograph by Tom Liden

For many years, I attended wine events, first as a wine enthusiast, then someone working in the wine industry, and finally as a wine writer with a weekly newspaper wine column; I love wine events.

The opportunity, with one ticket price, to enjoy focused wine tastes, whether of an area like the Passport to Dry Creek Valley offers, or a varietal like ZAP’s Zinfandel Experience offers, or both area and varietal like the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival offers, is outstanding and allows an enormous number of tastes in a condensed period of time.

I always enjoyed attending good wine events, and appreciated those that were planned and executed well, but until I became the Executive Director of the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association (AVWA), I had no idea how much work went into putting on a successful wine event.

Last week, we held the 19th annual Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival; a multi day, multi event, multi venue wine festival, running Thursday, May 19 through Sunday, May 22.

Not to complain, be cause I love my job, but this was the absolute hardest week of work I’ve experienced in my life, and I am happy to say that all of the events that make up the festival were a success, attendees enjoyed themselves as much as I used to attending the festival events. I enjoyed the festival, but can honestly say that attending is definitely more fun than working.

As hard as I may have worked, I was not alone by any means; a small army of volunteers made this festival the success that it was, and I have nothing but thanks to every single person that contributed time and effort to the festival’s success.

The events kicked off with a Thursday Winemakers’ Workshop, a new event that allowed about 30 producers of Anderson Valley Pinot Noir to blind taste each other’s unfinished 2015 vintage barrel samples in a private, not open to the public, setting, and freely share notes intended to help craft better wines when finished. Three people, Alex Crangle, Michael Fay, and Michael Accurso, were instrumental in pulling this event together, and in planning that evenings private Welcome Dinner for the Press, an informal BBQ featuring some of the best ribs I have ever tasted.


Photograph by John Cesano

Friday saw the well attended Technical Conference, which featured educational seminars and seated panel tastings. Thanks to our breakfast sponsor, The Nature Conservancy; our lunch sponsor, G-3/Diam Closures; and our glassware sponsor, Lehmann Glass/Kiyasa Group.

As a wine geek, most exciting to me, was the new stemware donated specifically for our technical conferences. First, there was a sensory evaluation still wine stem, with a flatter than ordinary bowl bottom, an expanded bulbous lower bowl half, and a tapered narrowing upper half. These glasses looked acorn shaped, and stretched a wine, allowed increased aeration during swirling, and focused aromas to the nose. I love them, and they were used for three events; Thursday’s Winemaker Workshop, and the concurrent Friday Technical Conference and private Press Tasting.

The second glasses were designed for sparkling wines, with more pointed bottoms, and a more bulbous bowl, tapering to the opening. These glasses allowed increased bubble stream, enhanced aroma, and all of that again focused to the nose. Each attendee had four smaller glasses for the day’s final tasting, and one larger Grand Champagne stem, to pour the favorite wine from the four into, and enjoy a heightened sensory experience.

With all of the events, the one task I saw as the most difficult was trying to change over from four still wine glasses to five sparkling wine glasses, with four sparkling wines poured, for 124 places, in the half hour, during a break, that the program schedule allowed. The task was made more challenging when the preceding session ran long, allowing just 22 minutes for the change over.


Photograph by John Cesano

My thanks go to all of the Technical Conference attendees for making this miracle occur. I took to the stage, gave a series of directions, and like a practiced team, the attendees rinsed, dumped, and put the still wine glasses into boxes, then pulled the new sparkling wine glasses out of other boxes, with a team of pourers getting the right wines into the right glasses, and all was done one minute before the final, sparkling wine, session was scheduled to begin.


Photograph by John Cesano

I mentioned that a private Press Tasting was held concurrent to the Technical Conference. In a room nearly adjacent, at the Mendocino County Fairgrounds, Suzi Carrell transformed an empty room and created an inviting experience for attending members of the wine press, who tasted an Anderson Valley Pinot Noir from each of the festival’s participating wineries, during breaks, lunch, sessions skipped, and after the conference. Thank you Suzi.

The craziest, and most gratifying, thing happened at the end of the Technical Conference, as a team of people were working to break it down. I was told that I had to leave before the work was finished, to move on to the evening’s Casual BBQ at Pennyroyal Farm, but as I looked back I noticed that all five winemaking AVWA Board of Directors members were still working away, packing and cleaning. Thanks to Joe Webb, Michael Fay, Alex Crangle, Randy Schock, and Arnaud Weyrich. Along with Paula Viehmann and Norman Kobler, you make up the best Board of Directors than an Executive Director could ask for.

Friday evening, at Pennyroyal Farm in Boonville, Kacy Palmieri, our Event Coordinator at AVWA, along with Vicky and her husband Dan Sitts, were already checking people in when I arrived, and barely needed my help. Karin Strykowki, Audrey Perrone, and the entire combined staff of Pennyroyal Farm and Navarro Vineyard did an amazing job ensuring that the guests had a wonderful time. Thanks all.


Photograph by Tom Liden

Saturday is the day of our big Grand Tasting, under a big tent, in the vineyards behind the tasting room, at Goldeneye Winery in Philo, and once again there was an army of volunteers to help set up, empty dump buckets and trash cans, keep caterers stocked with plates and wineries stocked with water, and at the end helping to break it all down. The volunteer team was led by volunteer coordinator Peggy Ridley, and the crew was too large to mention individually, but the event would not be possible without each of you. Thank you.


Photograph by Tom Liden

Thanks too to the 56 participating wineries who poured their Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, and the eight caterers who provided delicious food creations to pair perfectly with the Pinots poured. Thanks also to the wineries for their donations that will see over $20,000 going to the Anderson Valley Health Center. Your generosity is humbling, as is that of the successful winning bidders on the auction lots, including the huge original painting by artist Gerald Reis, the art used on all of our festival promotional material, that went for $3,500. Thank you all.


Photograph by Tom Liden

Thanks to Paula Viehmann, tasting room manager extraordinaire at Goldeneye Winery, who helped greatly with all things related to the Grand Tasting, as well as the entire crew at Goldeneye who moved a mountain of wine and other supplies from storage to the tent. Thanks especially to Pancho, and to Remy Martin.

Remy Martin, that’s really his name, is a dynamo, and helped move material from the AVWA office to the fairgrounds, to Pennyroyal Farm, and to Goldeneye, and was there to help clean, pack, and move it all back to the AVWA office at festival’s end.

Just as there is no me in executing the thousands of details involved in putting on the festival’s events, but an army, there was also a team behind all of the planning, and my thanks go to every member of the festival planning committee. Of note, Metah Green of Husch Vineyards was a catering contract negotiating machine. Again, without you, there is no festival. Thanks all!

There were three Winemaker Dinners on Saturday night, at Roederer Estate, Scharffenberger Cellars, and the Ledford House. Thanks to the wineries involved, but special thanks go to Sharon Sullivan, Saffron Fraser, and Chris Lanier who ran the three dinners for all of your able help.

On Sunday, all of the AVWA members with tasting rooms in the valley, who participated in the festival’s Grand Tasting, held open houses, variously offering wine tasting, food pairings, and music.

I didn’t get to attend the open houses, or sleep as initially intended, but came back to Boonville to pick up Nick Passmore, a wine writer for Forbes, at 6:30 am, for a ride back to the San Francisco airport on Sunday morning.

I’ll be honest, I would have loved to sleep in. After Saturday, I was brutally body sore and exhausted, but driving Nick to the airport was one of the most fun things I did over the course of the festival.

Within two notes of the radio coming on, as I started the car, Nick called the band, “Grateful Dead,” he said. Indeed it was, and for three hours, we talked about wine and the Grateful Dead. Nick even compared the Donna Jean and Keith Godchaux era Dead, 1972-79, his favorite era with the bright piano notes and female vocals, to adding acid to a closed wine, to open it and allow the fruit to pop. I likened the Brent Mydland era, 1979-1990, with his gravelly voice and Hammond B-3 organ, to 20% neutral oak and 20% malolactic fermentation adding depth and complexity to an otherwise straightforward stainless steel zero ml white wine.

Thanks Nick Passmore for being a good guy, an interesting guy, and a wonderful traveling companion.

Thanks to the entire AVWA staff; Kristy Charles for your stellar work with media relations (and thanks to the wine press Kristy brought in for attending), Floriane Weyrich for her social media prowess, Kacy Palmieri for everything you do – it isn’t one thing, it is everything, I adore you and value you more than you can know.

I attended this Festival (again, more fun attending) each of the last three years, and I wrote recaps each year. Each time, I noted the incredible competence of my predecessor, Janis MacDonald. I had no idea how much work she did, but I recognized that she did it well. This year, Janis stayed involved, and helped me, taught me, guided me, and was of incredible value. I adore Janis, am thankful for her support, and her friendship. You are a class act.

I know there are people I’ve forgotten to thank, names unnamed, contributions unnoted, and for that I apologize. You, the army who delivered a host of successful festival events for our attendees, are all superstars in my book.

Finally, thanks to our festival attendees. We had the largest numbers in festival history, and sold out events earlier than ever before. I hope you had a great time, and enjoyed this peek behind the curtain at all that went into giving you the 19th annual Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival.

I’ll see you all next year for the 20th; tickets go on sale March 15, 2017.

Terra Savia in Hopland hosts the annual Celebration of Mendocino County Sparkling Wines each year and, for me, it is one of the year’s ‘must attend’ wine events.


On a quiet Saturday, early in April, sparkling wine producers from throughout the county, from Anderson Valley to Potter Valley, with Hopland and Ukiah between, gathered to pour for happy attendees, with food pairings this year that included mushroom risotto, chicken cacciatore, oysters, and cake.


Of course, I tasted the Anderson Valley bubblies from Roederer Estate, Scharffenberger Cellars, and Signal Ridge, as well as the Potter Valley stand out from McFadden Farm poured by Guinness McFadden himself.


Next year, I hope to see even greater participation by Anderson Valley producers, and will work to try to see Goldeneye, Lichen Estate, Mary Elke, and all of the other stellar AV bubbly producers pouring for the appreciative audience of tasters.


I was on a sparkling rosé kick, and also tasted both the offering poured by Ruth from Cesar Toxqui Cellars and the rosé of Merlot poured by host Terra Savia. Both were tasty and provided food pairing opportunities that other blanc or brut sparklers lend themselves to.


An absolutely great event, and one to put on your calendar for 2017, as soon as a date is chosen. For more information about next year’s Celebration of Mendocino County Sparkling Wines, contact Destination Hopland at info@destinationhopland.com or Terra Savia at info@terrasavia.com

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.


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.

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.


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.

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.


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.

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.


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.

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.


John On Wine – Recap of a great three day wine weekend

Last week, I mentioned that I was attending some wine events and promised a recap of tastes of the eighteen gold medal winning wines made using Mendocino County grapes that were at the Barlow on Sunday in Sebastopol for the 2015 Press Democrat North Coast Wine Challenge grand tasting.

Upon arriving, I was instantly reminded of Prussian Field Marshall Helmuth von Moltke the Elder’s quote, “no plan of operations extends with any certainty beyond the first contact with the main hostile force,” which could be paraphrased and shortened, “no plan survives first contact.”

At check in, my badge could not be found, but I was saved by fellow writer and wine ambassador Thea Dwelle who recognized me and secured two wristbands for me and my tasting companion, Susan Johnson. Thank you Thea!

List in hand, ready to taste the wines in a planned order, I found that the wineries were not alphabetically ordered, but by wine type, whites and bubblies in one group, light reds and blush wines in another, and finally big reds in a last group. The problem, for me, is that a number of wineries won medals for more than one wine type, and the significant crowds made the tasting I had planned nearly impossible.

Instead, I decided to put my notebook away and simply taste what I wished, and enjoy myself. That new plan was a smashing success as there was much to enjoy.

I lived and worked in the Sonoma County wine industry for far longer than I have lived and worked here in Mendocino County, and saw many friends; the event was very much like a reunion for me. The wines were top notch, as you might expect from a collection of gold medal winners, and the food was beyond good, the food was great. Special thanks to all of the wine judges, including Christopher Sawyer who shared some of his event photos for this piece.

Two Michelin Star Cyrus' chef Doug Keene with Foie Gras for Late Harvest and Caviar for Bubbly at The Barlow (photo by Christopher Sawyer)

Two Michelin Star Cyrus’ chef Doug Keene with Foie Gras for Late Harvest and Caviar for Bubbly at The Barlow (photo by Christopher Sawyer)

I tasted Foie Gras and Caviar from Michelin two star awarded chef Doug Keene, spectacular pork treats from Food Network celebrity Duskie Estes and husband John Stewart, salmon, truffled mac and cheese, pork belly, tuna tataki, and so much more. Every bite was an absolute delight but some were so intensely flavorful that finding a wine that could pair well was a challenge – a challenge I accepted.

Duskie Estes of Zasu at The Barlow (photo by Christopher Sawyer)

Duskie Estes of Zasu at The Barlow (photo by Christopher Sawyer)

Wines, well that’s why I attended, right? I loved Carol Shelton’s new 2014 Wild Thing Chardonnay, Mendocino County, with oak but not so much as to mask the abundant and flavorful fruit notes. Navarro’s 2014 Pinot Blanc and Campovida’s 2013 Arneis were also drinking great. Handley’s 2014 Rose of Pinot Noir was bright and flavorful, a good match for many foods, and their Best of Mendocino County awarded 2012 Pinot Noir was especially delicious with gorgeous cherry berry fruit and depth, matched to oak and herb. Campovida’s 2013 Campo di Rossa, a Rhone blend, and Masut’s 2013 Pinot Noir rounded out my day’s favorite local red tastes. I finished my day with a taste of the 2013 Merriam Vineyards Chardonnay, Bacigalupi, Native Fermentation $56, poured by the multi-talented Toni DiLeo, and was well pleased with the choice. Toni and I sold a 1994 Bacigalupi Chardonnay made by Carol Shelton many years ago, and it brought the event full circle for me, with ribbon and a bow.

Campovida's Sebastian Donoso with two Press Democrat North Coast Wine Challenge Gold Medal winners (photo by Christopher Sawyer)

Campovida’s Sebastian Donoso with two Press Democrat North Coast Wine Challenge Gold Medal winners (photo by Christopher Sawyer)


2015 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival (photo by Tom Liden)

2015 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival (photo by Tom Liden)

Before the Barlow event on Sunday, came 2015’s Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival. Once again, another amazing event put on by Mendocino County’s best organized appellation. I might be the largest cheerleader for inland Mendocino’s wine scene, but credit where credit is due, Janis MacDonald and her team at the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association do the very best job reaching out to the press, marketing and promoting, and staging first class wine events within Mendocino County. Kudos go to Janis, Kristy Charles, and all of the amazing volunteers, for another memorable and worthwhile event.

Pizza is served by Stone & Embers at Balo Vineyard's Welcome Dinner for the press (photo by John Cesano)

Pizza is served by Stone & Embers at Balo Vineyard’s Welcome Dinner for the press (photo by John Cesano)

The event kicked off for me Thursday night with a Welcome Dinner at Balo Vineyards. There were more wines than I could taste, more winemakers and winery owners than I could chat with, but I said my hellos and tasted some delicious wines. Favorites of the night included the 2014 Avenging Angel Pinot Noir Blanc, a 2013 Philo Ridge Viognier with Greg Nelson’s grapes, the 2012 Waits-Mast Wentzel Vineyard Pinot Noir, the 2012 Donkey & Goat Broken Leg Vineyard Pinot Noir, 2012 Williams Selyem Ferrington Vineyard Pinot Noir, and a 1994 Husch Pinot Noir which I would describe as ‘faded glory’, a wine from a great vintage, a little beyond its prime, but filled with memories of other wines from that year. The appetizers, salads and pizza by Stone & Embers were excellent.

Friday morning’s Tech Conference featured a look at the state of Pinot Noir by Glenn McGourty, who shared that Pinot Noir acreage in the state has doubled, at least, since 2000, and that the variety is the most valuable grown per ton, on average. Nancy Smith and Jennifer Carah from The Nature Conservancy returned to update attendees on water flow and proposed efforts to balance the needs of fish and humans in the Navarro watershed. Andy Walker discussed rootstock and Jean-Jacques Lambert talked about soil in the two tech sessions aimed well over my head, but undoubtedly of value to the vineyards and winery owners attending. My favorite sessions included a panel tasting of Pinot Noir produced from different soil types, another panel tasting focusing on various Pinot Noir wines produced using Charles Vineyard grapes, and the lunch session with various Anderson Valley Pinot Noir wines and the best conference food ever served at a tech conference, prepared by Boont Berry Farm. I’m a simple taster, and my favorite sessions involve wine and a story. My favorite quote of the day came from Bill Hill of Expression 39 wine, on terroir (soil and climate), “there are a few places in the world that make wines that are really interesting, there are places in the world that make wines that shouldn’t.” The day’s conference amply demonstrated that Anderson Valley is a place to make Pinot Noir.

Casual BBQ at Lula Cellars (photo by John Cesano)

Casual BBQ at Lula Cellars (photo by John Cesano)

That night’s Casual BBQ at Lula Cellars catered by The Q was a blast. Lots of people gathered to enjoy the best event BBQ food served at one of these events, fantastic wine, great heartfelt country folk music, and the company of one another.

Just some of the wines at the Press Tasting at Scarffenberger Cellars (photo by John Cesano)

Just some of the wines at the Press Tasting at Scarffenberger Cellars (photo by John Cesano)

Saturday morning, at 8:50 am, I started working through tasting wines, taking comprehensive notes for each, at the Press Tasting at Scharffenberger Cellars. I took over 2 ½ hours to taste through about 55 wines, but it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience as John and Linda Compisi and Christopher Sawyer were also tasting and there were great conversations and cross talk over wines being tasted.

My favorite wines of the press tasting, in reverse alphabetical order, were the 2012 Waits-Mast Pinot Noir, Wentzel Vineyard, Anderson Valley; 2012 Witching Stick Cerise Vineyard Pinot Noir; 2011 Philo Ridge Vineyards Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley; 2013 Phillips Hill Anderson Valley Pinot Noir; 2013 Navarro Vineyards Pinot Noir, Deep End Blend, Anderson Valley; 2012 Husch Reserve Anderson Valley Pinot Noir; 2012 Handley Cellars Pinot Noir, Helluva Vineyard, Anderson Valley; 2012 Goldeneye Anderson Valley Pinot Noir; 2012 Fathers & Daughters Pinot Noir, Ella’s Reserve, Ferrington Vineyard (not a consensus choice, light, but stand out interesting); 2013 Drew Pinot Noir Fog-Eater Anderson Valley; 2013 Bink Anderson Valley Pinot Noir; and 2012 Baxter Pinot Noir Anderson Valley (tasted at the Grand Tasting).

Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Grand Tasting wines (photo by Tom Liden)

Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Grand Tasting wines (photo by Tom Liden)

The Grand Tasting at Goldeneye Winery was indeed grand, with smiling winemakers pouring for smiling attendees. The smiles were easy to come by, bought with some of the best wine and food imaginable, from among many of the county’s best producers.

Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Grand Tasting food (photo by Tom Liden)

Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Grand Tasting food (photo by Tom Liden)

Tom Liden, Mendocino County photographer extraordinaire, was on hand and his photos are as gorgeous as the wine and food served. Thanks for sharing, Tom.

Next week, I’ll be recapping the Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush Italian Steakhouse in Ukiah, featuring the wines of Graziano Family of Wines.

NOTE: This piece is scheduled to run in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, May 28, 2015 and, instead of waiting for publication there before archiving here, I am running it here first for timeliness. The early reference to last week’s column will actually be a column that runs tomorrow, and be archived out of order shortly after, here.


John On Wine – An early Thanksgiving

Susan Johnson and John Cesano at Passport to Dry Creek Valley

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.


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 – 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


John On Wine: Mendocino County’s annual celebration of sparkling wines

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, March 26, 2015

Sparkling wine, whether French Champagne, Italian Prosecco, Spanish Cava or a California bubbly is not just for New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s Day and weddings.

The relatively high acidity in a sparkling wine means it can positively sing and dance with a wide variety of foods, cutting through fatty foods like foie gras or roast chicken, or riding parallel to higher acid foods like citrus and tomato. While oysters, salmon and duck are natural pairings, pop the cork on a bubbly the next time you have scallops, chicken, rabbit, short ribs or a strawberry dessert.

Sparkling wine producers have enjoyed the benefit of consumers shopping for bubblies for special occasions, but allowing that notion to stand, the notion that sparkling wine is for special occasions, is bad marketing and does consumers a horrible disservice. Rather than waiting for a special occasion to open a bottle of sparkling wine, and far too many folks have a bottle in their refrigerators for years unopened just waiting for that occasion, consider making the day special by opening bottles of sparkling wine more regularly.

The cool climate areas of Mendocino County are perfectly suited for growing grapes that make ultra-premium quality sparkling wines, and at a fraction of the cost of other world class sparklers. In 2013, at years end, Wine Enthusiast Magazine published its list of the Top 100 Wines, and Roederer Estate L’Ermitage 2004 took the #1 spot, the top wine of the year. McFadden Farm took the top honors at the 2014 California State Fair Wine Competition with their Best of Show NV McFadden Sparkling Cuvée Brut, and took a Double Gold with their NV McFadden Sparking Cuvée Brut Rosé. McFadden has taken a dozen Gold, Double Gold, Best of Class, or Best of Show awards with their bubblies in the last two years. Graziano’s Saint Gregory “Cuvee Alexandra” Brut Sparkling Wine was chosen the Best of Show white wine at the 2014 Mendocino County Fair Wine Competition. Yorkville Cellars was just one of the 16, out of 2,323 wines entered in the 2014 Orange County Wine Competition to take a Four Star Gold and Best of Class honor, and they did it with their Cuvee Brut. Anderson Valley to Potter Valley, the county’s sparklers are among the best you can taste anywhere.

On Saturday, April 11, from noon to 4 p.m., the Annual Celebration of Mendocino County Sparkling Wine will take place at Terra Sávia in Hopland. There is no better way to taste our county’s bubbly bounty, than having the best gathered in one place, with food pairings and live music.

2014's bubbly tasting at Terra Sávia.

2014’s bubbly tasting at Terra Sávia.

In addition to Roederer Estate, McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room, Graziano Family of Wines, and Yorkville Cellars, there will be stunning sparkling wines poured by Elke Vineyards, Nelson Family Vineyards, Parducci Wine Cellars, Scharffenberger Cellars, Signal Ridge, and, of course, the host winery, Terra Sávia.

There will be an incredibly diverse spread of delicious food to pair with the many sparkling wines being poured: oysters with mignonette sauce or Somendo ranch lemons, paella Valencia, fresh strawberries with dark Swiss chocolate, assorted cheeses and artisan Schat’s bakery breads, and Meyer lemon almond cake.

Oysters being shucked for bubbly pairing.

Oysters being shucked for bubbly pairing.

Not all sparkling wine is the same. Different grapes, different blend percentages, different growing sites, different time spent in the bottle before disgorgement, different winemaker choices. With roughly two dozen sparkling wines, from dry Brut sparklers with crisp apple and grapefruit notes to Rosé sparklers with cherry, strawberry, and watermelon ripe red fruit notes, no two will be the same, and the opportunity to experiment with different sips paired with different foods, will make this a ‘must attend’ event.

Tickets are just $55 in advance online at http://sparklingwinefest.brownpapertickets.com/ or $65 at the door on the day of the event.

The cost of traveling to each of these top producers, and paying tasting fees, would easily be twice the ticket price, and come without the wonderful food pairings and live music. This is a festival you will want to attend.

After last year’s event, with every attendee talking afterward about how much fun it was, the number one comment I heard from others was, “why didn’t I hear about this? I would love to have gone!”

You have your chance now; call your friends and get your tickets today for Mendo Bubbly Fest 2015. I’ll see you there.

Terra Sávia is located at 14160 Mountain House Road, Hopland, CA 95449. For more information, call (707) 744-1114.


The online ticket store for Spring Hopland Passport 2015 is also open.

Brutocao Cellars, Campovida, Cesar Toxqui Cellars, Frey Vineyards, Graziano Family of Wines, Jaxon Keys Winery and Distillery, Jeriko Estate, McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room, McNab Ridge Winery, Milano Family Winery, Nelson Family Vineyards, Rivino, and Terra Savia will participate. Enjoy wine and food pairings — and get your passport stamped — at each stop.

Each winery does what they do best; some offer up a fun themed weekend experience, some bring in live music, some offer guided garden tours, while others serve up delicious farm fresh food; while each pours their best wines and offers amazing sales.

Online tickets are $45 through March 31, $50 from April 1 to April 30, and available at any participating winery on the weekend of the event for $55. Online tickets can be purchased at http://www.eventbrite.com/e/hopland-passport-spring-2015-tickets-15912646153

For more information, visit http://www.DestinationHopland.com