On Wednesday, April 6, 2016, the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association gathered 26 wineries from the Anderson Valley and Yorkville Highland AVAs together at the Little River Inn for an annual Coast Trade Tasting.

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Originally conceived by the late Bob Nye of Goldeneye Winery as a way to thank our trade partners, the tradition continues, and surely Bob was looking down and smiling, as the day was beautiful.

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Restaurants buy wines to serve their guests, Inns house the guests from the valley and, together with the shop keepers, all refer their customers back to our winery tasting rooms. This annual event isn’t about selling more wine, but a wonderful opportunity taken by our wineries to say thank you for the year round support of our business partners.

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I have many people to thank for helping make this year’s Coast Trade Tasting an incredible event.

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First, the participating wineries: Balo, Baxter, Bink, Black Kite, Brutocao, Copain, Drew, Fathers & Daughters, FEL, Goldeneye, Handley, Husch, Knez, Lazy Creek, Lula, Meyer Family, Navarro, Panthea, Phillips Hill, Philo Ridge, Roma’s, Seebass, Signal Ridge, Twomey, Witching Stick, and Yorkville; thank you all!

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Second, the Little River Inn; thanks to Cally, DeeLynn, Melissa, Chef Marc, and the small army of staff who set the room and broke it down.

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This year’s Coast Trade Tasting was initially planned to be hosted elsewhere, but after a demand for a 60% increase in agreed to compensation, unbudgeted, we had to find a new location, and the Little River Inn moved Heaven and earth to accommodate us. The venue was perfect, the food was incredible, and in an ‘above and beyond’ gesture the folks at the Little River Inn made an oceanfront view with fireplace room available for a drawing prize, and one very lucky attendee spent last night wrapped in luxury after enjoying a wonderful day of wine and food tasting.

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Lately, there has been an attempt to move the Coast Trade Tasting to a different venue each year, to allow different folks to showcase their facility to our wineries and the attendees.

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I’m honestly rethinking that, and would happily return to the Little River Inn each year into the future, if they would have us. I love working with professionals, who under promise and over deliver, and am just incredibly appreciative of every kindness extended to us this year.

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I stayed at the Little River Inn last, in January, and look forward to the next opportunity to stay with them again.

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Thanks to Paula Viehmann, manager of Goldeneye Winery. Paula expressed a desire to help out in any way she could, and feels a responsibility to see Bob Nye’s tradition continue with help from Goldeneye. Paula greeted every single attendee yesterday, handling check in chores, which freed me up to mingle and thank everyone.

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Attendees, the folks we hold the event for; wow, there were a lot of you this year. Thanks to Janis MacDonald and Kacy Palmieri from the AVWA office for blanketing the coast and valley with invitations; I hit our inland partners in and round Ukiah, and our participating wineries did outreach as well. We saw an increase in attendance of over 70%, this year vs. last year. Great work all!

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Thank you attendees. Thanks for coming to the event. Thank you for all of your support 24/7/365. Thank you for attending our other events, our Alsace Fest, our Pinot Noir Fest, or Barrel Tasting weekend. Thank you for referring your customers to our tasting rooms, and thanks for bringing your visiting friends and families to our tasting rooms. Thank you for everything you do for us.

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A very special thank you to Kacy Palmieri. Kacy took on, and tracked, all of the logistics involved in producing the event, and brought a host of thoughtful touches to the event that I would never have thought of. Kacy also was responsible for a major and beneficial change made on the fly, seeing six wineries moved from the deck to a shaded breezeway. Where I was resistant, Kacy was insistent, and she was right to be so. Thank you for saving me from stubborn wrongness.

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That’s it, a post filled with thanks about an event that is all about thanks.

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Let’s do it again next year.

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, September 24, 2015

Grapes on the vine at Yorkville Cellars. Photo by John Cesano

Yorkville Cellars in the Yorkville Highlands on Highway 128, between Cloverdale and Boonville in Mendocino County, is a certified organic grower of Bordeaux variety grapes.

Yorkville Cellars grows six red wine grape varieties; Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, and Carmenere; and two white grape varieties; Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon.

I visited Yorkville Cellars and tasted through a large line up of wines with tasting room host Gary Krimont.

I met Gary in May 2010 at a TweetUp event hosted by Parducci Wine Cellars where I cooked up some dishes for International Chardonnay Day. Gary sat at a table with some of my friends who came up from Santa Rosa to support me and the event, and I liked Gary immediately. Gary is knowledgeable about wine, gregarious, and is plugged into the Mendocino County wine scene.

Yorkville Cellars’ tasting room host Gary Krimont spinning magic for guests. Photo by John Cesano

When I was hired to manage the tasting room for Guinness McFadden, Gary was my first hire to join the team, and Gary remains on call at McFadden. Gary has worked for Fetzer, Bonterra, Weibel, McDowell, Phillips Hill, Knez, Cesar Toxqui Cellars, and Topel. Currently, in addition to working for Yorkville Cellars, Gary is part of the McNab Ridge Second Saturday in Hopland crew.

As much as I loved having Gary pour for me, the real star of the day is the lineup of wines produced by owners Deborah and Edward Wallo from the organic fruit they grow on their estate. Here are my notes:

2011 Yorkville Cellars Cuvée Brut $40 – Cuvée means blend, and this celebratory bubbly represents a blend released for Yorkville Cellars’ 20th anniversary of roughly 50% Semillon, 25% Sauvignon Blanc, and 25% Cabernet Sauvignon. Judged Best of Class at the Orange County Fair Wine Competition, this sparkling wine spent two years en tirage, on yeast and lees (spent yeast), before disgorgement. There are yeasty toast notes and bright lemon, ginger, and green apple flavors. Made from Bordeaux varieties instead of the classic Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay grapes typically used for Champagne and other sparkling wines, this wine allows for food pairings with slightly heavier foods than is ordinary with other sparkling wines.

2014 Yorkville Cellars Sauvignon Blanc $19 – Grassy, sunshiny hay, oak, pear, bright and crisp.

2013 Yorkville Cellars Semillon $23 – Creamy, white peach, floral, herbal.

2013 Yorkville Cellars Eleanor of Aquitaine $28 – This white wine blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon shows oak, toast, cream, vanilla, butter, with apple and lemon fruit in the mouth than follows through on a long lingering finish. Round.

2014 Yorkville Cellars Vin D’Une Nuit $22 – This is a 100 percent Malbec rosé wine. Vin D’Une Nuit translates roughly to the wine of overnight, which Yorkville Cellars playfully calls the one night stand wine, and is how long the skins sat on the juice, yielding a beautiful color and light creamy soft strawberry flavors with a touch of herb.

2013 Yorkville Cellars Amber Folly $28 – Red wines are red because after the clear, or white, juice is pressed at crush, the skins are put back in contact with the wine, and often there are pump overs or punch downs, to impart the red wine color. Rosé wines are pink because there is just a limited amount of skin contact for some, but not full, color with the juice of red wine grapes. White wines are white because they are simply the pressed juice of white wine grapes, without skin contact. A small number of wineries make an orange wine, where the white wine skins are added back to the juice after pressing, to impart weight and color, and Yorkville Cellars’ Amber Folly is an orange wine, where their Semillon spent 10 days of skin contact.

2012 Yorkville Cellars Hi Rollr Red $19 – The name Hi Rollr Red comes from Boontling, the language spoken by the residents of Anderson Valley’s Boonville, and referred to visitors from nearby Yorkville Highlands, who traveled in wintertime by horseback for Saturday night revelry, with high rolled pant legs to decrease mud splattered clothing. Yorkville Cellars takes organically grown Zinfandel from Ukiah and blends it at 62 percent with their own Malbec at 38 percent to make a wine I really like, with earth and cedar notes supporting dark raspberry and blackberry notes.

2012 Yorkville Cellars Richard the Lion-Heart $44 – Yorkville Cellars’ reserve red is a blend of 50 percent Merlot, 35 percent Malbec, 9 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 3 percent Petit Verdot, 2 percent Carmenere, and 1 percent Cabernet Franc. Supple, leathery, black fruit basket, deliciously integrated, the nose leads to the mouth, and on to the finish seamlessly, reasonably soft tannin, and well worth laying down.

Yorkville Cellars is, to my knowledge, the only winery in America to make separate wines from each of the six red Bordeaux grape varieties. A fun aspect of their tasting is the opportunity to play “name that variety,” with a pouring of all six wines into glasses and a sheet to write down your guesses. Don’t be alarmed if you come up with zero correct guesses, the most common result, but use the blind tasting as an opportunity to rank the wines without prejudice to make choosing your favorite to purchase and take home easier.

2012 Yorkville Cellars Cabernet Franc $34 – Chocolate covered dark cherry, soft but evident tannin.

2013 Yorkville Cellars Merlot $30 – Round cherry, earthy, pungent.

2013 Yorkville Cellars Malbec $32 – Terrific nose of rose petal, chocolate, blackberry and cherry, mouth of blackberry and dried herb.

2013 Yorkville Cellars Petit Verdot $32 – Dark, plum, violet.

2013 Yorkville Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon $36 – Blackberry, cassis, earthy, oak, tannin. Lay it down.

2013 Yorkville Cellars Carmenere $32 – Wine Club Exclusive. Vinuous, sexy, red fruit, raspberry and cherry sweet tart candy.

2014 Yorkville Cellars Sweet Malbec $22 – Early stopped cold fermentation at 6.6 percent residual sugar and 9.5 percent alcohol. Sweet raspberry chocolate candy bar nose, mouth of bright creamy raspberry coulis, mouth coating goodness.

2013 Yorkville Cellars Sparkling Malbec Brut Rosé $36 – Produced every other year, this vintage shows bright and lively berry fruit.
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Note for online archived post: Tonight is date night, and I have a McFadden organic grass fed top sirloin roast, with cream of mushroom soup and more than a splash of 2012 Yorkville Cellars Richard the Lion-Heart red wine, cooking in a crock pot all day today, with more of the 2012 Richard the Lion-Heart ready to go into wine glasses. These are delicious wines, and a visit to their tasting room is more than warranted. For more information, visit http://www.yorkvillecellars.com or the tasting room at Mile Marker 40.4 on Highway 128 in Yorkville.

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John on Wine – Barrel Tasting Weekend along Highway 128

This piece originally ran in the Ukiah Daily Journal weekly wine column on Thursday, July 16, 2015

Barrel Tasting 128, or BT128, the Anderson Valley and Yorkville Highlands Barrel Tasting Weekend is coming up on Saturday, July 25 and Sunday, July 26, from 11:00 am – 4:00 pm each day. A $20 ticket gets you advance tastes of wines, primarily but not exclusively Pinot Noir. I was a guest, last year, of the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association, and heartily recommend the event to anyone wanting to enjoy a great weekend of wine. Tickets are available online at http://www.avwines.com

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Here is what each participating winery is offering ticket buyers:

BALO – Join our Winemaker in the Barrel Room for samples of our 2014 Estate Pinot Noirs including the critically acclaimed, Avenging Angel.  Enjoy gourmet pizzas from our wood fired oven and play a game of Bocce or walk the vineyard, glass in hand. Enjoy 20% savings on your wine purchase and sign up for our Wine Club to reserve futures.

BAXTER – Claire Baxter (winemaker’s wife) will guide you through barrel samples of upcoming wines, including her personal favorite. Taste current vintage Pinots and sign up for futures with complimentary shipping. Our mid-century modern tasting room is on the West side of 128 in downtown Philo. (707) 895-3173.

BINK is offering barrel samples of 3 different Pinot Noir clones and a daily raffle for a bottle of Reserve Thomas Vineyard Pinot Noir.  There will be summer wine specials as well.  Join the Wine Club and receive 25% off.

BRUTOCAO invites you to be a “king for the day”. All tickets holders will receive a 25% discount on wine purchases. Taste a barrel from the 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon, Contento Vineyard.

DOMAINE ANDERSON WINERY – Join us for an exceptional opening of the Domaine Anderson French Art-Deco tasting bar with small bites and a special 15% discount on select wines. Lounge on the patio, picnic in the gardens, or stroll through the vineyards at our certified organic Dach vineyard surrounding the winery.

EDMEADES and CHAMP de REVES – Explore the amazing flavors of Mendocino County shaped by winemakers Ben Salazar of Edmeades and Eric Johannsen of Champ de Reves. Begin the journey with a barrel sample of Pinot Noir from Champ de Reves high elevation vineyard. Then discover the diversity of Edmeades with three single vineyard Zinfandels. We will also be offering small bites and special wine pricing.

ELKE VINEYARDS – Look for special offers.

FOURSIGHT will offer a special preview of the fantastic 2014 estate Pinot Noirs out of barrel, alongside current releases and small bites. Futures of the 2014 Pinots will be available at a special barrel tasting price.

GOLDENEYE WINERY invites you to sample 2 different blocks of Estate Grown Pinot Noir from our Confluence Vineyard.  We will be offering small nibbles and a special tasting complimentary for Barrel Tasters.

GREENWOOD RIDGE – In addition to 2014 barrel samples, we will pouring our 2012 Hundred Point Pinot Noir along with other current releases and a selection of local cheeses.

HARMONIQUE – Meet Winemaker Bob Klindt and owner Moira Conzelman. Preview 2013 Vintage Pinot Noirs and taste the newly released 2009 un-oaked Chardonnay. Karina Lyons of Heritage Oak Barrels will also be on hand to discuss the art of the barrel. Finger foods served.

HUSCH VINEYARDS is excited to preview a barrel sample of our 2014 Estate Pinot Noir. We will also be offering an additional 10% case discount on all current vintages of Pinot.  Enjoy a complimentary tasting from our collection of award-winning wines paired with home-made olive tapenade on the back deck. Relax at one of our picnic tables amongst the vineyard and winery.

KNEZ will be tasting 2014 Estate Cerise and Demuth Vineyard Pinot Noir.  10% off all purchases.  25% off all purchases upon joining the Knez Wine Club.  Artisanal cheeses and local breads.

LAZY CREEK – Look for special offers.

LICHEN ESTATE will be offering up to 20% savings plus free shipping (on full case purchases) on 2014 Pinot Noir from the barrel.

LULA CELLARS – This year we will be tasting barrel samples of our 2014 pinot noir.

MAPLE CREEK / ARTEVINO will be sampling out of barrel our 2014 Pinot Noir’s (Weir Vineyard, Yorkville and Anderson Valley vineyard) and our 2014 Estate Chardonnay along with various library wines. We will offer a 20% discount on all wines to the ticket holders and we will have some artisan cheeses to sample as well.

MEYER FAMILY CELLARS invites you to sample our latest barrels of Cabernet and Syrah. On Saturday we’ll have wood-fired pizzas from our earthen oven and on Sunday, local gourmet food-pairings in the tasting room.  Enjoy our grapevine shaded picnic tables, green grass lawn and bocce court. 15% discount.

PHILLIPS HILL – Join the winemaker for a tasting of 2013 barrel samples and current releases paired with some amuse bouche. Futures of 2013 Pinot Noir will be offered at a special price.

PHILO RIDGE VINEYARDS tasting room will be serving barrel samples of 2013 Pinot Noir, 2013 Zinfandel and 2014 Viognier. This weekend save 15% on 6 bottles, save 20% on 12 bottles or more. Wine club members will receive an added discount. Enjoy a cool watermelon gazpacho and crostini bites while you taste.

SEEBASS offers a discount of futures and two pairings: one with cheese and one with chocolate. Also all ticket holders will receive a 10% discount on purchases.

YORKVILLE CELLARS will be tasting barrel samples and offering discounted futures for 2013 Richard the Lion-Heart, our unique proprietors’ blend of the six Noble red grapes of Bordeaux, which we grow in our certified organic Rennie Vineyard: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Carmenere. You can also taste each of these wines as a separate varietal too and enjoy special pricing on selected current releases. Bountiful appetizers will be served.

WITCHING STICK will be barrel tasting our 2014 Zinfandel Port, 2014 Perli Vineyard Pinot Noir, and 2014 Durell Vineyard Chardonnay, with small plate appetizers.

John on Wine – The Last Supper

This piece ran today, in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper, but likely with a few selected photographs. This online archive is richer for the photographic contributions of Bryan Elhardt and Tom Liden; thank you both. -John

The Baby Jesse (photograph provided by his father Bryan Elhardt)

The Baby Jesse (photograph provided by his father Bryan Elhardt)

Genesis: In the beginning, April 20, 2013, Chef Jesse Elhardt created a menu to pair with Greg Graziano’s wines for a wine club dinner at Crush Italian Steakhouse; Jesse said, “Let there be food”; and there was food, and Jesse saw that the food was good.

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Chef Jesse Elhardt’s last dinner cooking at Crush Ukiah was the Chef’s Winemakers Dinner featuring Graziano Family of Wines (photograph by John Cesano)

From that dinner, the Chef’s Winemaker Dinner series at Crush was born, and begot nights that featured Chef Jesse’s food creations paired with the wines of Saracina (July 2013), Barra of Mendocino and Girasole (August 2013), Bonterra (November 2013), 2010 Coro Mendocino (December 2013), Yorkville Cellars (April 2014), Cesar Toxqui Cellars (November 2014), McFadden Farm (January 2015), 2011 Coro Mendocino (February 2015), and finally ending where he began, with a Chef’s Winemaker Dinner featuring the wines of Graziano Family of Wines on May 20, 2015 and Greg and Trudi Graziano. Chef Jesse also squeezed in a sold out wine club only dinner for McNab Ridge earlier that week.

St. Gregory Sparking Wine for appetizers and Monte Volpe Pinot Grigio for the First Course (photograph by Tom Liden)

St. Gregory Sparking Wine for appetizers and Monte Volpe Pinot Grigio for the First Course (photograph by Tom Liden)

The Graziano Family of Wines dinner was the last supper Chef Jesse would cook at Crush in Ukiah. Jesse will continue with Crush, in Chico and San Diego for a short while before embarking on a 2,600 mile hike on the Pacific Crest Trail. Jesse’s parents, Bryan and Lynne Jackson Elhardt, and Crush owners Doug and Debbie Guillon attended this very special wine & food event.

Chef Jesse talks with John Cesano and Graziano manager Mike Williams before dinner (photograph by Bryan Elhardt)

Chef Jesse talks with John Cesano and Graziano manager Mike Williams before dinner (photograph by Bryan Elhardt)

The incredibly fortunate attendees met in the bar area to enjoy winemaker Greg Graziano’s 2010 St. Gregory Cuvee Trudi (named for his wife) Brut Rose, paired with both a wonton cup filled with Prawn & Scallop Ceviche, with saffron, tomato, red onion, jalapeno, cucumber & parsley; and Fried Colossal Olives stuffed with a mixture of cooked Italian sausage, ricotta, and Gorgonzola, soaked in buttermilk then coated with flour, semolina, and ground risotto, which were incredibly delicious, with a meaty, nutty texture, and a brine saltiness that bordered on addictive, and paired brilliantly with Greg’s phenomenally delicious sparkler, my favorite of all he has yet released.

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The amazing fried colossal olives and Greg’s equally amazing sparkling brut rose (photograph by John Cesano)

Restaurant manager Kevin Kostoff shepherded the diners into the banquet room to find seats, and then welcomed all assembled to a very special evening, introducing our servers Ben & John, beverage manner Nick Karavas, and owners Doug and Debbie, before turning things over to Jesse, who upon announcing, “this will be my last wine dinner in Ukiah,” was greeted with crying and gnashing of teeth.

Chef Jesse breaks the news that this is his Last Supper at Crush Ukiah (photograph by Tom Liden)

Chef Jesse breaks the news that this is his Last Supper at Crush Ukiah (photograph by Tom Liden)

Jesse took bread, gave thanks to Greg and Trudi, and broke the bread, gave it to the patrons, and said, “Take this, all of you, and dip it in Greg’s organic olive oil.”

Winemaker Greg Graziano (photograph by Tom Liden)

Winemaker Greg Graziano (photograph by Tom Liden)

The first course paired Crispy Veal Sweetbreads with white bean puree, Neuske Applewood smoke lardon, tempura brownbutter caper berry, and chive stick; Insalata Mista with gem lettuce, arugula, grilled radicchio, marinated heirloom tomato, cucumber, marinated artichoke, and red onion; and Bacala All’Amalfitana four day saffron constantly changed water soak, salt cod mini cakes with Yukon gold, housemade bread crumb, lemon aioli, and parsley oil; with Greg and Trudi’s 2013 Monte Volpe Pinot Grigio from 20 acres of Potter Valley vineyards, 100% fermented in neutral French oak barrels, made in the style of the great wines of Friuli.

Insalata Mista - mixed salad (Photograph by Tom Liden)

Insalata Mista – mixed salad (photograph by Tom Liden)

The second course was where Jesse performed his miracle with the fishes. Roasted Snake River Farms Pork Belly and Pork Shoulder Ragu on top of brown butter and aromatics ‘giant’ gnocchi with a reduced Reggiano cream, fried frico cheese for texture, and micro arugula to pair with Greg’s 2011 Enotria Barbera; and a Cedar Plank Wild Scottish Salmon, four pepper spice crusted, with a Petite Sirah reduction, porcini dust, morel, white asparagus, and hazelnut to pair with Greg’s 2011 Graziano Petite Sirah. Also served were Parslied New Creamer Potatoes with roasted red and yellow peppers, coppa, and baby peeled clip top carrots bathed in butter; and Triple Creamed Corn, of corn stock, corn pudding, corn kernel, chipotle compound butter, and micro cilantro.

Cedar Plank Salad, served with Petite Sirah; the miracle with the fishes by Chef Jesse (Photograph by John Cesano)

Cedar Plank Salmon, served with Petite Sirah; the miracle with the fishes by Chef Jesse (photograph by John Cesano)

Let me draw your attention to the miracle: Jesse paired fish with Petite Sirah, and pulled it of magnificently. Petite Sirah is big red wine. Fish is fish, and easily overpowered by big reds, but Jesse added layers of flavor to his Salmon, cooking it on a cedar plank, crusting it in four crushed peppers, glazed it in a reduction of Greg’s Petite Sirah with a touch of dried porcini mushroom dust, and then adding earthy morel mushrooms. The morels by themselves would have been a dish I would happily have enjoyed, and would order if on the menu; sautéed with white asparagus and toasted hazelnuts in butter, with salt and pepper. Building up the salmon, fortifying it, allowed it to pair brilliantly with Greg’s Petite Sirah.

John Cesano and Trudi Graziano (Photograph by Tom Liden)

John Cesano and Trudi Graziano (photograph by Tom Liden)

When supper was ended, before dessert was served, Jesse took a wineglass with 2011 Monte Volpe Tocai Friulano, Late Harvest Dolce Alexandra; again he gave thanks and praise; thanks to winemaker Greg and Greg’s wife Trudi Graziano, his parents Lynne and Bryan, and owners Doug and Debbie; and praise to the entire team of cooks and Crush’s new head chef Steve Lorenz, and then raised his glass, which was met by the crowd in a toast.

When the supper was ended, Jesse took the wine glass, gave thanks and praise (Photograph by Tom Liden)

When the supper was ended, Jesse took the wine glass, gave thanks and praise (photograph by Tom Liden)

Dessert was Monte Volpe Olive Oil Cake, apricot-currant compote, and a fresh ginger gelato with toasted almond crumb that Jesse said he was, “really excited about.” The cake, made from Greg’s olive oil, helped absorb some of the sweetness of his 43% residual sugar late harvest wine, while the fruit compote helped tie the two together. The gelato was a wonderfully delicious bonus, a last gift from Jesse to the fortunate witnesses to his last supper.

I have been fortunate, and have attended every one of Chef Jesse’s winemaker dinners for the public at Crush in Ukiah. While no one is irreplaceable, Jesse brought a high degree of creativity and passion to each dinner, producing different hand made pasta dishes, making uniquely different but always rich ragu sauces, turning ordinary vegetables into entree worthy dishes, and presenting playful and delicious desserts, always allowing the food to showcase the qualities of the wines they would be paired with. Jesse Elhardt is a talent that Ukiah will miss, but we all wish him the best in his new adventures to come.

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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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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.

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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

John on Wine: Carmenère is the Slash of winegrapes


Carmenère tasted for this piece…thanks!

Guns N’ Roses was the biggest draw in rock music in the 80’s and early 90’s, owing largely to the talent of the individual members of the band. After their last concert, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on July 17, 1993, Axl Rose continued to tour with new band members as Guns N’ Roses, but Slash has not performed with Axl since then. Slash, of course, has continued to play guitar, notably with Slash’s Snakepit and Velvet Revolver.

In Bordeaux, France, red wines are made from a handful of grape varieties, which historically included Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Pinot Verdot, and Carmenère. Like Slash, leaving Guns N’ Roses, Carmenère has largely left France, but has gone on to great things in South America, growing widely in Chile’s Central Valley.

Recently I was sent a review sample of the 2011 Carmen Gran Reserva Carmenère, to mark the 20th anniversary of the rediscovery of Carmenère in Carmen’s estate Vineyards in Chile. Thought to be extinct, the treasured grape was rediscovered on Nov. 24, 1994, and has helped to define Chile’s reputation around the world for distinctive wines.

While Carmenère is wildly popular in Chile, it is still relatively undiscovered in the United States.  Similar to Cabernet Sauvignon in structure, but with the soft roundness of a Merlot, Carmenère is often enjoyed at festive Chilean dinners with steak and other grilled meats.

As Chile’s oldest winery and the place of Carmenère’s rediscovery, Carmen has taken a leadership role within the Chilean wine industry in maximizing the varietal’s nuanced qualities through innovative winemaking techniques. Carmen winemaker Sebastián Labbé notes, “The structure and acidity of our Carmenère stands up to traditionally rich dishes and bold flavors.”

In the U.S., Carmen wines are part of the Trinchero Family Estates portfolio. 2011 Gran Reserva Carmenère is readily available at most shops across the country and retails for less than $20.

Closer to home, Mendocino County’s Yorkville Cellars in the Yorkville Highlands on Highway 128, grows Carmenère grapes and bottles it, as one of their complete line up of Bordeaux variety wines. The good folks at Yorkville Cellars, Deborah and Edward Wallo, and tasting room host extraordinaire Gary Krimont, delivered a bottle of their 2012 Yorkville Cellars Carmenère, Rennie Vineyard, made with organic grapes to me for this piece as well.

From Yorkville Cellars, a primer on Carmenère:

“Before the 19th century’s ravages of phylloxera, Carmenère was a very important grape in the Bordeaux region, especially in the Médoc. During the era of replanting, it was the odd grape out, as it did not take well to being grafted, so much of its former territory was replanted to Cabernet Sauvignon. Before that happened, vine cuttings had traveled across the ocean, as the South American vineyards were rapidly expanding in the 1850s.

Fast-forward to 1994 in Chile, where ampelographer Jean Michel Bourisiquot discovered the truth: Most of Chile’s Merlot vineyards were a mix of Merlot and Carmenère, and usually 60- to 90 percent Carmenère! For nearly 150 years Chilean viticulturists struggled with vineyards that had two distinct grapes interplanted, ones that often ripened three weeks apart! They had assumed that their clone, nicknamed ‘Chilean Merlot,’ was just a difficult grape to work with. Outside of Chile, Carmenère is nearly extinct, with a mere 59 bearing acres (out of nearly 500,000 acres) in California, for example.

Carmenère requires more heat to ripen than the other varietals planted in Bordeaux. It is still in the process of being examined using the tools of modern viticulture, but this much seems clear: It can produce outstanding grapes given eight to nine months of sun, but not too much daily heat, if it gets some rain, but not during ripening, and if the vines are well established in soils that have an even balance of clay, loam and sand. Whew! Oh, and it is particular about what rootstock it’s grafted to. Other than that, no problem!

Wines made from Carmenère show a depth of color, and complexity of flavor that can range from herbal to gamey and show elegance and balance. In the best conditions it is said to produce wines that resemble the blends of Bordeaux, all from a single grape. Lower acid and rounder fruit than Cabernet, more structured and exotic than Merlot, often showing hints of roses and smoky, even tarry notes.”

2011 Carmen Gran Reserva Carmenère, Apalta Vineyard — 94% Carmenere, 4% Carignane, 2 % Temranillo. Inky purple color. Berry, spice, earth, cherry, toast oak. Roand and drinkable. Nice acid.

2012 Yorkville Cellars Carmenère, Rennie Vineyard, $36 — 75% Carmenère, 25% Malbec. Inky dark purple black in the glass. Woody berry, floral, spice, earth, cranberry, vanilla cream. Lush and delicious, great finish.

Different wines to be sure, but both were marked by earthy spicy oaky berry fruit, and both cried for a flavorful zesty herbed meat dish.

Rumor is that Slash may rejoin Axl for a Guns N’ Roses reunion tour. Fact is that Carmenère has found two wonderful homes, in Chile and California, and is doing great away from Bordeaux.

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