John Cesano and Brigette Seebass enjoying a moment at the recent Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush (photograph by Tom Liden)

John on wine – Crush Chef’s Wine Dinner featuring Seebass Family Wines

Dinner at Crush Italian Steakhouse, a Chef’s Winemaker dinner, featuring the wines of my friends Scott and Michelle Willoughby, their Seebass Family Vineyard & Winery wines. You knew something would end my hiatus and inspire a new wine column for the Journal, and the food, wine, and people gathered on a Wednesday in January has me hunt and pecking, one finger typing, once again.

Seebass wines starts with Brigitte Seebass, a lovely woman who made her way from Germany to Ukiah and bought 100+ acres of Talmage vineyard land and has successfully grown sought after premium wine grapes for roughly thirty years, and is one of Mendocino County’s first female grape growers.

Brigitte’s daughter and son-in-law, Michelle Myrenne Willoughby and Scott Willoughby, joined Brigitte an the farm in 2010 with an eye to making great wines from the grapes Brigitte had been selling to other wineries.

Together with third generation Aidan Willoughby, parents Scott and Michelle, and grand mother Brigitte, Seebass Family Vineyard & Winery is a vital part of the Mendocino wine scene, and a family affair.


Scott Willoughby told the story of each Seebass Family Winery wine                        (photograph by Tom Liden)

Crush came up with a new traffic plan for the meet & greet reception that allowed attendees a bit more room to mingle comfortably, a smart and welcome change, and offered up a sampling of seasoned meats, cheeses, and peppers to pair with the 2015 Seebass Rosé of Grenache ‘Fantasie,’ made by winemaker Stéphane Vivier.

I like rosé wines, all of the previous Seebass offerings have all been good, but this is far and away my favorite version, which is great because as a barrel sample, unfiltered, not yet released wine, it was already drinking great, showing strawberry, cherry, and citrus peel, and will only be better when bottled and released next month.

Remarkably, fortuitously, wonderfully all four of the Seebass wines poured were my favorite versions from all of the vintages I have tasted, which set the stage for a very enjoyable dinner.

The first seated course brought a trio of dishes to each table: Shrimp Louis salad with traditional dressing, cucumber, tomato, and avocado; Yellowfin Tuna with sesame, chili, mint, garlic, and pear; and Dungeness Crab Cakes with avocado, red pepper, and cilantro.


2014 Seebass Grand Reserve Chardonnay (photograph by Tom Liden)

The 2014 Seebass Grand Reserve Chardonnay, which recently took a unanimous among the judges Double Gold Medal at the 2016 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, the largest judging of American wines with over 7,100 entered, was the perfect wine to accompany the first course of food offerings.

The Seebass Reserve Chardonnay is crafted by winemaker Stéphane Vivier from the best Dijon clone grapes from the Seebass estate vineyard, held in oak, about 20% new, resulting in a Burgundy meets California wine, with lemon peel citrus flavored apple and pear notes, and oak and cream from barrel and fermentation providing a round mouth feel.

The three dishes were each delicious. The crab cakes were a nod to the second place award that Crush took at the Mendocino Crab Cook Off last year, and the crispy outside and delicious Dungeness crab inside these not really cake but balls were made even more delicious with a sip of the Chardonnay. The tuna dish was a diced tartare with the additional supporting ingredients only highlighting the flavor of the tuna, again made more delicious through pairing with the Chardonnay. Yes, the Chardonnay made the shrimp Louis salad yummier too, although big shrimp in a great dressing with avocado adding richness is pretty darn great by itself.

The second course brought Seared Scallops with leeks, butternut squash, and risotto; Cedar Planked Wild Salmon, spice crusted, with a Seebass red wine reduction; and Chef’s Vegetables.


Seared Scallops with risotto (photograph by Tom Liden)

The wine for this course was the unreleased 2013 Seebass Romantik, a Rhone style, unique GSM Blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Merlot. This wine, made by winemaker Greg Graziano, was absolutely a spot on wine to pair with this course, with the multi red and black fruited notes of the wine working perfectly with the caramelization of perfectly seared scallops and spice crusted salmon. The asparagus and broccolini in the chef’s vegetable dish were hearty flavored choices, perfect for the soft but flavorful Romantic.


Wood Plank spice crusted Wild Salmon and 2013 Seebass Romantic                        (photograph by Tom Liden)

The Crush chefs showed incredible sensibility in making a lighter risotto, with butternut squash and leek, wonderfully delicious, but allowing the scallop to be the star of the dish.

Dessert was Crush’s Tiramisu, served parfait style, many layered and light as a pillowed cloud, with more of a light dusty cocoa note than the strong espresso note expected.

Seebass’ dessert wine wasn’t strictly a dessert wine, but their 2011 Seebass Old Vine Zinfandel, another Greg Graziano made wine, and was another perfect choice for the dinner, with the light brambly raspberry and pepper notes melding with the chocolate and cream notes of the tiramisu, sip to spoon in the mouth.


John and Juanita (photograph by Tom Liden)


Seebass Family Winery wines can be tasted and purchased at their Anderson Valley tasting room, located at 14077 Highway 128 in Boonville, across from the Boonville Hotel, or online at http://www.seebassvineyards.com

The next Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush will feature the wines of Husch Vineyards, with an Anderson Valley tasting room located at 4400 Highway 128 in Philo, and is scheduled for April 20. To reserve your tickets for this sure to sell out dinner, call Crush directly at (700) 463-0700.

Spotlight Winery: Seebass Family Wines

Originally published May, 22, 2013 in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper

On a sunny and warm, bordering on hot, weekend day, I pointed my car east on Talmage Road from Ukiah, turned right at the City of 10,000 Buddhas onto Old River Road, and pulled in when I reached the mailbox with 3300 on it. I was at Seebass Family Wines. Easier than finding a house number is spotting the Seebass family crest, a Bavarian family crest dating back to 1386.

Do not do what I did, which was just show up without an appointment; Seebass is open by appointment, please call (707) 467-9463 to arrange a visit.

Kindly, Michelle took a break from weekend weeding of the organic garden to open the tasting room and pour a couple of wines for me. Son Aidan was dispatched to invite Scott to take a break from tiling the guest house to join us for the tasting.

Husband and wife owners of Seebass, Michelle and Scott Willoughby, and son Aidan, were as welcoming as they could be, and before I could start feeling too guilty about interrupting their physical labors, a bicyclist pulled off the road looking for water but joined us for the impromptu wine tasting.

The wines of Seebass are Estate grown wines, meaning the grapes come from the family’s vineyards surrounding the tasting room.

Michelle’s mother, Brigette Seebass (pronounced “say bass,” the name is derivative of Sebastian, and not the fish) escaped east Germany three weeks before war started and then came from Germany to the United States in 1966, eventually establishing the 104 acre Seebass Vineyard near Talmage roughly 25 years ago.

Seebass Vineyards grow Chardonnay, Syrah, Grenache, Old Vine Zinfandel, and Merlot. Peter Chevalier is the vineyard manager and Scott said Peter “was a Magician with our 2011 fruit.”

Currently, Seebass Family Wines produces two wines, Chardonnay and Syrah. I tasted both.

The 2011 Seebass Family Wines Grand Reserve Chardonnay, Mendocino is made from grapes grown on a two acre strip of Dijon clone vines. These vines produce less, but higher quality, fruit.

Owing to a friendship between Brigette Seebass and Aubert de Villaine, some of the Seebass Family Wines are made, custom crush, at Hyde de Villaine (HdV) winery in Napa by Stéphane Vivier. As co-director of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (DRC), Aubert knows vines and wines better than most of the wine world ever could, and brilliant winemaking using terrific fruit are reasons behind the quality of the Seebass wines I tasted.

Hand sorted and destemmed, whole cluster fermented, slow and cold fermentation, all French oak – a blend of 20% new and 80% more neutral, sur lies (wine held on yeast and lees), the wine was made as gently as winemaking allows.

Aromas of light delicate oak and apple give way to a beautifully integrated, very French in style, like a white Burgundy, Chardonnay where the green apple flavor is met by pear and lemon zest. Graceful, this Chardonnay is many noted, and displays wonderful balance between fruit and acid.
The Chardonnay retails at $39 and only 217 cases were produced.

The 2011 Seebass Family Wines Syrah, Mendocino, again also an Estate grown wine, was 14.5% alcohol and was also made at HdV in Napa by Stéphane Vivier.

Bottled just three weeks before I tasted it, the Syrah will continue to develop with a bit more bottle age. Young though it might be, I enjoyed it immensely from the first aroma. There is lovely candy fruit note, not an over ripe or over blown wine, but showing lovely bursting feminine perfume of rose and a light but meaty dry cherry, with the flavor echoing the cherry but mixed with black berry, plum, and light spice, all wrapped up in a light approachable tannin kiss.

The Syrah is expected to be released officially in September at a price around $45.

Future varietal wines will include both an Old Vine Zinfandel (currently there are three lots; one from 2011 and two from 2012) and a Grenache, with highly acclaimed local winemaker Greg Graziano making these wine, and a 2012 Merlot made by HdV. The first of these unreleased wines, the 2011 Seebass Family Wines Old Vine Zinfandel , made with fruit from Century vines, or Zinfandel vines over 100 years old, is scheduled to be released later this year as well. Scott and Michelle also teased the details of a future blend, Mysteriös, being made by Greg, something I look forward to returning to taste when released next year.

Wine for me is about the people, as much as it is about land, the vines, the barrels, and the yeasts. The wines were very good, and I would have enjoyed them in other circumstance I’m sure, but tasting them with Michelle, Scott and their son Aidan present, the whole Willoughby family, made the wines taste even better.

For more information, visit seebassvineyards.com or call (707) 467-9463 to make an appointment to taste.
John Cesano can often shoot a round of golf in under double par…with a cart.