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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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John on Wine – Spotlight Winery: Foursight Wines

Another perfect day in the Anderson Valley, made more perfect by a visit and tasting with Kristy Charles and winemaking husband Joe Webb at their winery tasting room, Foursight Wines, in Boonville, right on Highway 128.

Foursight Wines' tasting room and winery (Photo by John Cesano)

Foursight Wines’ tasting room and winery (Photo by John Cesano)

I am fortunate, and attend many wine events in the Anderson Valley, and see Kristy and Joe often, as both are active members, having each taken a turn as President, on the Board of the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association. Both have been helpful to me as a local wine writer.

Joe Webb and Kristy charles of Foursight Wines (Photo by John Cesano)

Joe Webb and Kristy Charles of Foursight Wines (Photo by John Cesano)

The tasting room is a cozy place to visit, and dog friendly, and the wines come from grapes grown on the Charles Vineyard, established in 2001 by William and Nancy Charles. This is a family operation from grape to glass, the grapes are grown sustainably and the wines are vegan made and with only that intervention required to make great wine.

Vegan wine? Yes, most wine is fined, to remove sediment and enhance clarity, using egg whites or gelatin. Vegan wines are instead typically fined, if they are fined at all, with bentonite, an absorbent clay.

Joe poured for me, and told me the story of each wine, in a moderately wine tech heavy way, which I enjoyed immensely. I’m not going to share sugars or acid or overly specific barrel regimen info, because what most folks care about is how the wine tasted and if I liked it. I will confess to near wine geek-gasm, and thought the presentation was tailored just for me, but Kristy shared that Joe loves sharing what goes into each of Foursight’s wines with each visitor to the tasting room. I love getting a story with each wine, and too few tasting room folks provide that level of care, so this was a real treat, a treat that makes each visitor feel special and cared for.

2013 Foursight Semillon Charles Vineyard Anderson Valley $28 – Wooden side basket pressed, no fining, no filtering, full malolactic fermentation, aged in stainless steel and French oak, drinks dry. Round, fleshy pear and apple fruit and floral and honey notes. Great mouthfeel. Delicious.

2013 Foursight Unoaked Pinot Noir Charles Vineyard Anderson Valley $25 – Native yeast, 40% whole cluster, finished at 14.1 with a touch of sediment. Joe told me this wine was born of four influences: “1. During wine club blending trials, people loved the topping wine; 2. There is a growing number of people seeking Alsace style Pinot and loving the price point for unoaked reds; 3. Vegans and vegetarians love genuinely vegan wines…no trees were harmed in the making of this wine; and 4. Red wines rock!” This wine is all about fruit without tannin, cherry and berry all day long. I’ve tasted it twice, and it is SO much better now, benefitting from a little bottle age.

Joe went on to tell me he thinks, “the only way to do a press cut is with a basket press,“ and 2015 is, “so inky, not wanting to be over tannic,” but the compact harvest of 2015 will lead to, “little logistical things with winemaking in 2015,” as so many things need to be done at once, or nearly so.

2012 Foursight Zero New Oak Pinot Noir Charles Vineyard Anderson Valley $38 – Great mouth, round and rich in discernible bright cherry fruit, herb and spice, with a kiss of wood.

2012 Foursight Pinot Noir Charles Vineyard Anderson Valley $46 – Beautiful nose. Rose petal, soft herb, chocolate, lovely cherry and raspberry fruit.

2012 Foursight Clone 05 Pinot Noir Charles Vineyard Anderson Valley $49 – Pommard clone grapes. The first word I wrote was “ripest,” and Joe told me this wine is, “always the ripest.” Rhubarb, berry, cherry; darker, great balance. Joe said the balance comes from, “the different blocks, three different fermenters, picked on at least two different dates.” Larger berry, larger clusters, touch lower tannin, can take a little more new oak.

2013 Foursight Paraboll Pinot Noir (Charles Vineyard) Anderson Valley $54 – Foursight purchased the trademarked Paraboll label from Londer, to continue the wine’s production. I loved the Paraboll, lushly forward rich cherry and strawberry fruit and caramel, with earthy spice notes to complement the fruit. Joe told me his favorite thing about the 2013 Paraboll is how, in a near endless sea of Pinot, this wine stopped tasters in their tracks at the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival earlier this year.

Foursight's Paraboll Pinot Noir (Photo by John Cesano)

Foursight’s Paraboll Pinot Noir (Photo by John Cesano)

The Foursight Wines tasting room is open Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., closed January and the third weekend in June, and located at 14475 Highway 128, the first winery tasting room on your right as you head into Boonville from Ukiah or Cloverdale.

I enjoy Joe and Kristy immensely, and they have terrific single vineyard wines. Kristy summed up the charm of a visit to Foursight perfectly, “The important thing is we’re all family owned and operated, local, estate wines, and we love to pour our really good…great wines for people.”

Make plans to stop in and taste through the line up; you’ll find they are terrific drinkable snapshots capturing variety, vintage, and place. If you like the wines as much as I do, consider joining their wine club for spectacular discounts on delicious wines.

Note: This piece originally ran as a wine column in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, October 29, 2015.

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, October 22, 2015

More and more, I find myself driving over Highway 253 from Ukiah to the Anderson Valley to taste wine. Most recently, I made the trip over the mountains to attend the Knez Wine Luncheon at their Demuth Vineyards winery location.

Not related to wine, but of note: on my drive, I saw a porcupine, a deer and a covey of quail, which is just one more reason why wine tasting in Mendocino County is worlds better than wine tasting in more built up Disney-esque wine regions.

The Knez winery facility is 2.5 miles up a dirt road, and when I say up, I mean UP, off road 150A, just east of the town of Boonville, off Highway 128. The setting was lovely, a beautiful blue sky day and perfectly warm temperatures, with a long table set up under the tented crush pad, right outside of the winery, atop the vineyard property.

I love attending events, rather than working them, but having shown up a little early, I helped set the tables and then made a quick run to the Knez tasting room, at the Madrones in nearby Philo on Highway 128, and back in Knez Director of Retail Goddessing (I am not certain this is the title on her business cards) Margaret Pedroni’s car with flappy paddle transmission. I must confess that rolling through the gears in her car was a genuine treat and, if not for the speedometer warning lights, the trip might have ended before it began as I am pretty sure her Lexus can bend time.

First, thanks to Margaret and Jennie Stevens from the tasting room, Vineyard Manager Ryan McAllister and Winemaker Anthony Filiberti from Knez for a wonderful wine experience.

Ryan led a tour of Demuth Vineyard. We looked down from the Demuth, past the Knez Vineyard, to the drop off leading to the steep Cerise Vineyard. Limited by time, and lacking Sherpas, we did not walk down to Cerise and back. Ryan talked about the organically grown grapes, in all ways except certification paperwork, the growing choices, the challenges, and the vintage. 2015 saw an earlier harvest, and “smaller crop, more skin to juice, high quality, but less juice.”

Knez vineyard manager Ryan McAllister. Photo by John Cesano

Knez vineyard manager Ryan McAllister. Photo by John Cesano

Ryan explained the drought led to smaller crop yields, but anticipated that with the vintage’s smaller grapes, and less inner pulp to skin, the flavors for the wines would be outstandingly flavorful, intense representations of both the vintage and vineyard.

Demuth Vineyard. Photo by John Cesano

Demuth Vineyard. Photo by John Cesano

Next: more thanks, this time to Julia Kendrick Conway, owner and chef of Assaggiare Mendocino, for catering a delicious lunch, and to your entire team for exemplary service. Lunch started with the 2013 Knez Demuth Chardonnay, paired with a Romaine salad with a pecorino vinaigrette and crispy chicken cracklings.

All salads should have chicken cracklin's (or pork). Photo by John Cesano

All salads should have chicken cracklin’s (or pork). Photo by John Cesano

Winemaker Anthony introduced the Chardonnay as, “structure and brightness well suited for food, from one of the most distinctive Chardonnay sites in California. Could age 15 years, look forward to three years from now. Acid goes with California’s fresh acid foods. 30 percent new oak and 100 percent malolactic.”

The apple, lemon and minerality of this Chardonnay saw it pair well with the vinegar dressing of the salad, and the rich mouthfeel worked nicely with the chicken cracklings.

Up next was grilled Noyo wild King salmon with roasted Meyer lemon relish, served over toasted Israeli couscous infused with saffron and fresh rosemary, and farm carrots roasted with Moroccan spices. Two wines were served with this course.

Salmon paired with two Knez wines. Photo by John Cesano

Salmon paired with two Knez wines. Photo by John Cesano

Of the 2012 Knez Demuth Pinot Noir, Anthony shared it was an “elegantly styled Pinot for the Boonville area; partly for elevation and partly for older vine age. We don’t get a lot of fruit, higher elevation just doesn’t set fruit well,” and the wine was all, “elegance and structure.” I picked up notes of forest, earthy, rose petal floral, and woody spice. And fruit. Lots of cherry-berry fruit.

A very happle table filled with good wine, food, and friends. Photo by John Cesano

A very happle table filled with good wine, food, and friends. Photo by John Cesano

Anthony described the 2012 Knez Cerise Pinot Noir as, “other older vine stuff, more robust. Same exact winemaking, you get more weight, structure, fruit; the style is dictated by what happens on the site; deeper red fruit, earthy, savory, structured.”

2012 Knez Cerise Pinot Noir. Photo by John Cesano

2012 Knez Cerise Pinot Noir. Photo by John Cesano

This was the bigger, deeper, more concentrated of the two wines. Both were delicious, but this was the one that paired better for me with the varied flavors of the food. Pinot Noir and salmon works, it always works, but the way the bright Meyer lemon notes in the meal, or the earthy herby notes of the rosemary and saffron couscous, or the heavier accented Moroccan spices in the roasted carrots played against these two wines, and especially the Cerise Pinot Noir, was a delight.

Edible spoonfuls of yum for dessert. Photo by John Cesano

Edible spoonfuls of yum for dessert. Photo by John Cesano

Speaking of delights, Julia served up five-spice crème brulee in edible spoons, one chocolate and one spiced cookie. The cookie spooned crème brulee was fantastic and I could have, and would have, eaten a half dozen happily. The only thing better was when the dessert was paired with the 2014 Knez Vineyard White Blend wine, a blend of Pinot Gris, Malvasia, and Friulano, a super Italian white blend; exotic, aromatic, and, “southern Italian in its styling,” according to Anthony. I got loads of citrus, spice and bright floral notes.

Anthony then led us on a winery tour and dipped a large cup into a bin of two thirds whole cluster Syrah, offering us tastes communion chalice style. With only 40 percent of the normal yield, for the 2015 vintage, this was richly flavored juice. Anthony then indulged my request for some barrel tasting, with the wines only in barrel for mere days.

Inside the fermenting bin of Syrah at Knez. Photo by John Cesano

Inside the fermenting bin of Syrah at Knez. Photo by John Cesano

Tasting different clones of Pinot Noir showed how completely different wine flavors could be, and tasting wine held in new oak showed how impactful the barrel flavors could be when compared to wine held in oak barrels used just once or twice previously.

Margaret and Jennie were busy at event’s end, as happy guests placed wine orders, many choosing to sign up for the Knez wine club to enjoy discounts beginning immediately. Visit the Knez tasting room at the Madrones in Philo, across Highway 128 from Balo; taste wines, sign up for the wine club and save money, and get on the mailing list so you can attend next year’s wonderful lunch at the Knez winery site at their vineyards.

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John On Wine ­ – Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival

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

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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.

 

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John On Wine ­ – Crab, wine & more

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on January 23, 2014 by John Cesano

 

This week, I look back at last weekend, reflect a bit, and look ahead to more events this week.

On Saturday night, I went to Patrona in Ukiah for a winemaker dinner boasting a very crab-centric menu, because the Mendocino County Crab, Wine & Beer Fest is going on. The meal also featured the sparkling and still wines of Roederer Estate winemaker Arnaud Weyrich from nearby Anderson Valley. I was thrilled to use the event as a reconnecting date, the first in over 20 years, with a dear friend, June Batz, who will likely be accompanying me to more wine events in the future.

Arnaud visited each table, welcomed guests to the event, and shared some information about the winery, and the night’s wines. Showing far more humility than I would have, he refrained from noting that one of the night’s wines, the Roederer L’Ermitage was named the #1 wine of 2013 by Wine Enthusiast magazine.

Some of the folks attending included Lorie Pacini and Allen Cherry, who are two of the biggest supporters of Mendocino County wines I know, Gracia Brown from Barra and Girasole along with her husband Joseph Love, and Christina Jones, owner/chef of Aquarelle restaurant in Boonville – who is doing her own winemaker dinner tonight, Jan. 23 at 6:30 p.m. with wines from Handley Cellars.

The three bubblies, Roederer Estate Brut, the L’Ermitage, and a Brut Rose, were everything you would hope and expect, simply perfect when paired with crab egg rolls, crab stuffed chicken, and an orange marmalade crepe with whipped cream respectively.

The two surprises of the evening were a pair of still wines, the 2012 Carpe Diem Chardonnay, barrel and tank fermented, with a majority of used oak, yielding a gorgeously balanced wine that paired beautifully with butter poached crab and avocado, and the 2011 Carpe Diem Pinot Noir, a delightfully characterful wine that went well with pork belly.

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Overheard at Barrel Tasting 101 last weekend: “Why is this Chardonnay cloudy? I think it is corked.”

Whoa there; a wine that is still in barrel, a wine not ready for bottling yet, a wine that has never seen a cork, can’t be “corked.”

Often time, Chardonnay in barrel is held “sur lies” or with the spent yeast of fermentation to provide the wine with a little weightiness or richer mouth feel. Barrel samples of these wines will be cloudy. Similarly, red wine barrel samples are colored, but often not clear. I will write more in advance of the next barrel tasting event I point to.

The most important thing to know about barrel tasting is that wines tasted from barrel are not finished wines, some do not taste particularly good, but will eventually yield delicious bottled wines. Barrel tasting provides clues, hints, at what you might expect from future wines. Some wineries offer cases sales on wines tasted from barrels, wines that are not released yet, but will be released in the future, and these offerings and sales are known as “futures.”

Tasting room folks that I talked to reported an interesting mix of folks attending the event; some who knew what a barrel tasting was about, other folks who were open to learn, and still other folks who were interested in consuming as much wine and crab as they could for $10.

June and I visited Maria and Rusty at Testa Vineyards in Calpella on Sunday, and it was great to see the crew working, pouring wines, serving up tasty treats.

Rusty pulled samples from the barrels in the cellar; I enjoyed the barrel samples I tasted, and thought the Petite Sirah would be great held separate instead of used up in blending. Charbono, Carignane – all my old favorites – tasted great from the barrel. Rusty is usually busy manning the grill, barbecuing chicken or oysters for an event, when I see him, so it was a treat to hear him talk about the wines and wine making.

Back upstairs and outdoors, we enjoyed tastes of current release bottled wines with Maria, paired with mighty delicious crab spread atop a slice of toasted French bread. Well, yum.

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The folks at Ole Smoky Tennessee Moonshine contacted me and asked me if I would be interested in writing about their Blackberry Shine and Champagne cocktail, the MoonMosa. I’ve written about spirits when I visited with Crispin Cain and the folks from Germain Robin in Redwood Valley, and I work for a place with two Double Gold sparkling brut wines, so, sure, why not?

I received a mason jar of Ole Smoky Blackberry Moonshine. The packaging is fantastic.

Gary Krimont, a friend and wine industry socialite, helped me evaluate this unique beverage.

First, Moonshine might be pushing it. While the folks at Ole Smoky do produce a few products at 100 proof, the Blackberry Moonshine is just 40 proof, or 20 percent alcohol.

Honestly, the lower alcohol is a good thing, as it made this an easily enjoyed, flavorful sipper. The aroma is pure blackberry pancake syrup, but the flavor is more complex and layered. We mixed equal parts Shine and Brut, and both Gary and I felt that the cocktail was less than the sum of its parts. If you see one on a retail shelf, pick up a jar, and enjoy Ole Smoky Blackberry Moonshine by itself, it is light enough to drink uncut, and too delicious to dilute.

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Saturday is my birthday, and I will be attending ZAP, the Zinfandel Advocates and Producers Zinfandel Experience event at the Presidio in San Francisco. Sessions include a Sensory Tasting, a Terroir Tasting, and a Reserve & Barrel Tasting. Two Mendocino County wineries participating are McNab Ridge Winery in Hopland and Edmeades Estate Winery in Philo, and I look forward to tasting their Zinfandel, plus the Zinfandel wines made by many friends outside the county as well.

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Crab Fest continues this weekend, with the big events moving to the coast.

The Crab Cake Cook-Off & Wine Tasting Competition will take place this Saturday, Jan. 25 from noon to 3 p.m. under the big white tent at the corner of Main and Spruce in Ft. Bragg.

There is an all you can eat crab dinner, with wine, from 6 to 9 p.m., that Saturday night at Barra in Redwood Valley.

A host of winery tasting rooms along Highway 101 inland, and Highway 128 on the way to the coast, will be offering up crab taste pairings with their wines this last weekend of the Crab Fest, so get out and enjoy the bounty of our county.