DSC_0163.jpg

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.

13245239_10208139346755840_3674078279127973737_n

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.

13254115_10208135692584488_962431347052072180_n

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.

13166045_10208139482079223_1254847537808281394_n.jpg

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.

DSC_0215.jpg

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.

DSC_0067.jpg

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.

DSC_0266.jpg

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.

20140321-155458.jpg
John On Wine ­ – Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, May 22, 2014
By John Cesano

full_9c80230d809859eabe74ee80188ee5af

For me, this year’s Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival started last Thursday at Champ de Reves, which translates as Field of Dreams, in Philo. Dr. Edmeades planted the first Pinot Noir grapes in the Anderson Valley 50 years ago, and started making, selling wine from his grapes in 1972. In 1988, Jackson Family Wines, the empire Kendall-Jackson built, bought Edmeades and now it has been rechristened Champ de Reves. The location and the view of a big chunk of the valley was gorgeous. The wines were selected by winery owners from throughout the valley and the dinner of carved roast beef and plank salmon was made spectacular by both their wines and their company.

I was fortunate and sat with Allan Green of Greenwood Ridge; Mary Elke of Elke; Douglas Stewart of Lichen; John Osborne, an event volunteer; and Laura Barnard, who works in marketing for Jackson Family Wines’ West Burgundy Wine Group, of which Champ de Reves is just one winery. After dinner we were also joined in conversation by Paula Viehmann of Goldeneye.

Friday morning started early with coffee and a selection of quiches prepared by Julia Kendrick Conway, as winemakers, press, and consumers gathered at the fairgrounds in Boonville for a technical conference. Greg Walter, publisher of the Pinot Report, introduced the morning’s sessions, which featured The Nature Conservancy’s Jason Pelletier sharing the results of an incredibly detailed study on water flow and water use throughout the year. The study focused on grape growing water demands within the Navarro watershed and then segued into a similar talk by Jennifer Carah, but with a focus on marijuana growing water demands. Unsurprisingly, marijuana growths use much more water — 19 to 50 times more — for production, and do not share the same land and water stewardship ethos as many grape growers. This is especially significant in drought years ­ like this year.

Glenn McGourty gave a talk on best practices for grape growing during a drought year, or years. Winemakers in attendance were certainly leaning forward during this session. Lunch was delicious, prepared by Boont Berry Farm and paired with a huge selection of Pinot Noir from the Anderson Valley. After lunch, there were two tasting sessions. The first focused on the many faces of Pinot Noir and featured Arnaud Weyrich’s zero skin contact Pinot Noir, picked early, and briskly acidic for Roederer’s bubbly; Alex Crangle’s White Noir for Balo; the Dry Rose of Pinot Noir by Jim Klein of Navarro; the round, rich red Pinot Noir by Anthony Filiberti of Knez; and the purple dark version made by Michael Fay of Goldeneye.

Next, we looked at the fruit of Angel Camp Vineyard and how different winemakers used it to make distinctly different wines; the winemakers and wineries featured were Brian Zalaznik of Angel Camp, Dan Goldfield of Dutton Goldfield, and Anne Moller-Racke of Donum. The technical conference ended with a sharing of accumulated extensive knowledge by Clark Smith on the arcana of winemaking.

Friday night’s dinner was a barbecue at Foursight Winery with grilled lamb from Bone Daddy of Bones Roadhouse and music by Dean Titus & The Cowboys. Relaxed, fun, another delicious event with enough Pinot Noir to fill an Olympic sized swimming pool, I sat with folks from Southern California and Washington who heard about the event from someone they ran into in the Middle East. It turns out I knew who they were talking about, John Gaudette. The world of wine is close and doesn’t need a full six degrees of separation to connect us all, I’m convinced.

Saturday morning, Margaret Pedroni, Mendocino County wine personality, joined me at Balo in Philo for an early private press tasting. The Ukiah Daily Journal was represented beside tasters from Wine Enthusiast, Wine Spectator, Wine & Spirits, Connoisseurs’ Guide, San Francisco Chronicle, Examiner, Pinot Report, Pinot File, and more. Heads down, no talking, serious tasting. I’ve done it before, but I preferred the fun and conviviality of the Grand Tasting that followed at Goldeneye.

Goldeneye has a breathtakingly beautiful tasting room and the Grand Tasting event was held behind the tasting room under the shade of a huge white tent in their vineyards. About 750 ticketed guests Pinot Noir based wines; bubblies, blancs, roses, and full on reds; from all of the producers in Anderson Valley and a few producers from farther away who make one or more wines exclusively from Anderson Valley Pinot Noir grapes. Not too big, not too small, but just right, with opportunities to place silent auction bids on donated Pinot-centric items to help the Anderson Valley Health Center, plenty of exceptional food bites, water and soda to remain hydrated, and the fermented juice of Pinot Noir grapes from 45 producers to experience.

I tasted more than 100 wines over the course of the weekend, one was corked ­ and poured at the press tasting ­ but I had tasted it elsewhere already, one didn’t really make me love it, but the vast majority of wines I tasted, over 99 percent, were good at least and great at best. The 2011 vintage wines were brighter and more elegant, coming from a cooler year and the 2012 vintage, being warmer, yielded wines of greater weight and intensity. All of the wines taste of cherry, that is Pinot Noir, but the expressions were varied: black cherry, red cherry, candied cherry, dried cherry, and the supporting notes ranged the gamut from rose petal to cedar, and mushroom to barnyard funk. Some of the Pinot Noir I loved included the 2012 Fel Wines, Ferrington Vineyard; 2007 Elke Pinot Noir, Donnelly Creek Vineyard; 2011 Witching Stick, Cerise Vineyard; 2011 Williams Selyem, Ferrington Vineyard; 2011 Donum, Angel Camp Vineyard; 2012 Baxter, Anderson Valley; 2011 Goldeneye, Gowan Creek Vineyard; 2012 Waits-Mast, Deer Meadow’s Vineyard; and both the 2012 Lichen, Estate and Solera Lichen, Estate. That’s my unordered top 10 for this past weekend.

I urge you to visit the Anderson Valley, taste their Pinot Noir, and their other wines, notably Alsatian varietals like Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, and Riesling, and find your favorites. Also mark the third weekend of May next year on your calendar and plan on attending the 18th annual Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival next year. Huge thanks to my hosts, the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association, and Janis MacDonald and Kristy Charles specifically, for the kind invitation and warm welcome. I had a terrific weekend because you present a first class festival.