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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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 – Wine Tasting in March

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on March 6, 2014 by John Cesano

This Saturday, Hopland celebrates St. Patrick’s Day a little early with participating winery tasting rooms serving up a little Irish cheer, and homemade Irish dishes, to pair with terrific wines and big savings from 11 a.m.- 5 p.m. St.Patrick’s Day is the day that Rich Parducci and Greg Graziano are as Irish as Guinness McFadden; everybody is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.

McNab Ridge will serve up Irish Stew, Irish soda bread, and Bailey’s Irish whipped cream.

McFadden will have corned beef and cabbage, cooked in McFadden Gewurztraminer and McFadden organic herbs. Ray’s Station is going with Reuben meatballs, Irish cheese, and Irish short bread. Cesar Toxqui Cellars will have Italian food. Naughty Boy and Graziano will also take part in Second Saturday fun.

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Saturday, March 8 from 1 -4 p.m. ­ Little River Whale Festival benefiting MAPA ­ the Mendocino Area Parks Association, and the Van Damme State Park. This is a passport style event over three hours with eight locations. Tickets are $25 in advance and can be purchased by calling Little River Inn at 937-5942 or $30 at the event. Specialties from eight local gourmet chefs and local wines! Participating wineries include Alder Vineyards, Edmeades Winery, Graziano Family of Wines, Handley Cellars, Lichen, Lula Cellars, and Stevenswood Wines. Dessert & locally roasted coffee by Thanksgiving Coffee at the Little River Market & Deli.

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The Wine Road is a Sonoma County winery tourism group run by Beth Costa and includes the Dry Creek Valley, Russian River Valley, and Alexander Valley, all of which surround the town of Healdsburg. Wine Road puts on the Barrel Tasting Weekends with more than 100 participating wineries in and around Healdsburg.

From the Wine Road website page dedicated to the Barrel Tasting Weekends: “Barrel Tasting is not a food pairing or themed event. It’s all about the wine … many wineries offer “futures” on their barrel samples. This is a chance to purchase wine now, often at a discount, then come back to the winery when the wine is bottled, typically 12-18 months from now. Many wines are so limited, buying futures is your only chance to purchase them. Attendees are encouraged to pack a picnic, as most wineries will not have food for this event. The ticket price includes the opportunity to sample wine from the barrel and in most cases also trying a limited number of current release wines.”

Did you notice that they mention that there is no food at the event and encourage folks to bring an entire picnic of food? That is to counter the only negative attached to the event: it has picked up a bit of a reputation as a drunk fest ­ but a very successful drunk fest. I remember attending more than 25 years ago. Barrel Tasting used to be just one weekend and it was free. Alexander Valley opened up Friday night and I would visit there first, with Dry Creek Valley and the Russian River Valley for Saturday and Sunday. The event was largely attended by folks in the wine industry and wine enthusiasts. The event has grown, and gone from free to $5, then $20, and now $30; and from one weekend to two. With 8,000 folks on the road, racing from winery to winery, trying to taste at over 100 and get value for their ticket price, there are horror stories of inebriation. Imagine it, and the reality is 10 times worse. That said, it really is just a few horribly bad apples gaining all of the notoriety, and the event really is otherwise spectacular. The final weekend of the 36th annual Barrel Tasting are this weekend, March 7-9, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day. Advance ticket sales have ended, but wineries will sell tickets at the door. For a map of participating wineries, visit http://bit.ly/1cA956P.

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Saturday, March 22 from 10:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. – Saracina’s Old Soul Red Blending Party. I’ve written before about how much fun a wine blending party can be, I’ve attended the Testa Barn Blend Party two of the three years it has been held, and was able to be one of three judges to help Maria and rusty choose a winner last year. Nelson, McNab Ridge, and now Saracina also have wine blending events, and all are worth attending. Saracina winemaker Alex MacGragor will lead folks through the art and science of wine blending, and then set you loose to help fashion or inspire the next vintage of the Saracina Coro Mendocino. Oops, a rose by any other name. I should have said that you have the chance to blend your own version of the Saracina Atrea Old Soul Red.

Everyone who attends and participates is a winner, as events at Saracina are known for being memorably top notch. After the hard work (it isn’t really, it is big fun) of wine blending winds down, you get to relax and enjoy Saracina wines and a family-style lunch of wood-fired pizzas and gourmet sides prepared by farm-to-table chef Olan Cox.

Given the hands-on nature of this experience, space is very limited. Please call (707) 670-0199 to grab your ticket now. Saracina is located 1.5 miles north of Hopland at 11684 South Hwy 101.

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I fly to Phoenix for the weekend. Perhaps, I’ll review coach class airline wine and airport hotel lounge wine for next week’s column. In the meantime, why don’t you get out this weekend and taste some wine? There certainly are ample opportunities for a great wine weekend close to home. Cheers!

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John On Wine – Fantastic February Food and Fun Festival Fare

Originally published on February 7, 2014 in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper by John Cesano

I write what I write, sometimes knowing well in advance what it will be, and other times not knowing until I sit down and the words begin to flow from fingertip to computer monitor. This week, I knew what I was going to write because you, my readers, told me what to write.

I receive the occasional recommendation from readers about which winery I should visit and review, or suggestion for a wine related topic that I should turn into a column, but the number of people who stopped me to tell me that I must write about Uncorked, and the passion they conveyed when speaking about eating there, was persuasively impressive.

Last Thursday, after work, I took my son to Uncorked for dinner.

Uncorked Wine Bistro is located on the north side of the courthouse in downtown Ukiah, between Patrona and Saucy, on West Standley Street.

When Charlie and I arrived, T.J. Elton of the Felt Tips was offering up some dinner music, while owner Kerri Barnett was in near constant motion, making sure everything was going well for the evening’s guests.

I’ve been to Uncorked before, and every time it has been an ‘order several things and share’ experience. This was no different. We ordered the Scrimshaw Shrimp and Bacon-wrapped scallops from the Small & Sharing Plates section of the menu, and a French dip and Roasted Cuban Garlic Chicken from the Big Ol’ Plates side of the menu.

Uncorked offers three flights, that they call Wine Sips, where three half glasses of wine are served and can be paired with different foods, making the night more fun. I passed on the red and rose, choosing white wine; 2010 Monte Volpe Tocai Friulano, 2010 Dom de la Collonge (France) Pouilly Fuisse, and 2012 La Playa (Chile) Sauvignon Blanc.

The Scrimshaw Shrimp, poached in Scrimshaw Pilsner, was delicious, with a lovely bright acid from a spicy lemon sauce allowing the natural sweetness of the perfectly seasoned shrimp to pop.

Bacon-wrapped Scallops? Seriously, two of God’s favorite creations together in one, or more if you’re dainty, big bite. What’s not to love?

The wine flight really was great too. Greg Graziano’s sweet Tocai Friulano was a terrific food wine. The French Pouilly Fuisse, a Chardonnay, had a nice light oak and apple nose, that didn’t quite deliver on the palate. The reverse holds for the Sauvignon Blanc, which was much more delicious than first sniff promised.

The French Dip was a Panini styled sandwich with grilled onions and a horseradish mustard sauce, served with a side of Au Gratin Potatoes. Quite good.

The Roasted Cuban Garlic Chicken was flavorfully spicy and very delicious, as were the Mashed sweet Potatoes it was served with.

Everything we enjoyed was so good, we decided on a pair of desserts, too.

I had the Uncorked Smores, an enormous amount of rich dark chocolate ganache, topped with a toasted sweet meringue puff, and served with a housemade graham cracker. Excellent.

Smaller, but more concentratedly delicious is the Housemade Maple ice Cream with Bourbon Pecan Praline Sauce that my son Charlie ordered. Intensely flavorful. I’m getting one of these on my next visit.

Charlie also had an Abita Root Beer. Uncorked has terrific and tasty beverage selections for folks who are too young to drink alcohol, and a great selection of draft and bottled artisan brews for those who prefer brew to wine.  As you would expect from the name, Uncorked Wine Bistro shines in the wine selection, offering over 40 wines, carefully selected to pair well with food, by the bottle or glass.

The atmosphere invites conversation among tables, and I not only knew what everyone else had ordered, but how much they enjoyed their dishes as well.

For reservations, call (707) 463-1523.
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February Events:

The International Alsace Varietals Festival – Saturday, February 8, 2014, 8:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. – Mendocino County Fairgrounds in Boonville, CA. Tickets range from $45 to $100 for educational sessions to the grand tasting, or the complete package, and the focus is on Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Muscat. Participants include Balo, Barra, Breggo, Cutruzzola, Esterlina, Goldeneye, Greenwood Ridge, Foris, Handley, Husch, Lazy Creek, Left Foot Charley, Lula, McFadden, Navarro, New Zealand Winegrowers, Philo Ridge, Phillips Hill, Domaines Schlumberger, Toulouse, Robert Sinskey,  Stoney Hill, Thomas Fogarty, Tatomer, Valckenberg, and more. For more information, or to buy tickets, visit http://www.avwines.com/alsace-festival/

Fifth Annual Chocolate and Wine Festival – February 8, 2014, 11:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. – $20 admission gets a special glass and tastes throughout the Redwood Valley of Mendocino county. Participants include Frey, Oster, Giuseppe/Neese, Silversmith, Brown, Graziano, Germain Robin/Craft Distillers, Barra/Girasole, and Testa. http://www.atasteofredwoodvalley.com/

Second Saturday in Hopland – February 8, 2014, 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. – Hopland winery tasting rooms offer complimentary food pairing treats for special wines, and a special one day discount on those wines every Second Saturday of the year. Participating wineries include Cesar Toxqui, Graziano, McFadden, McNab Ridge, Naughty Boy, and Ray’s Station. http://www.destinationhopland.com/all-events

San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition Public Tasting – Saturday, February 15, 2014, 1:30 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. – Every Gold Medal, Double Gold Medal, Best of Class, and Sweepstakes awarded wine from the largest judging of American wines in the world will be poured; that is several hundred wines to choose from. Participating Mendocino County wineries include Alder Springs, Bliss/Brutocao, Campovida, Cesar Toxqui, Handley, Husch, Kimmel, McFadden, Naughty Boy, Navarro, Parducci, Philo Ridge, Seebass, and more.  $65 in advance, $80 at the door. http://www.winejudging.com/event_tickets.htm

Eighth Annual Dark & Delicious Petite Sirah – Friday, February 21, 2014, 6:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. – 46 wineries pour their big and bold Petite Sirah wines, including Artezin and Parducci from Mendocino County, alongside knock out food pairings, at Rockwall Wine Co in Alameda, CA. $65 ticket. http://www.darkdelicious.brownpapertickets.com/

 

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John on Wine

Spotlight Winery: Albertina Vineyards

Originally Published in the Ukiah Daily Journal on August 8, 2013 by John Cesano

Along with my friend Gracia Brown, I spent a wonderful afternoon with Fred and Alberta Zmarzly at their remote, terraced-hillside vineyards tasting wine, eating some salami and cheese on crackers, and getting to know each other a little better.

Fred and Alberta met in Belmont at a nightclub called the Swiss Chalet, the band playing that evening was the Warlocks. The Warlocks would shortly after change their name to the Grateful Dead. Alberta also changed her name, taking Fred’s, Zmarzly, when they married.

For those keeping score at home, Gracia has previously graced columns both here in print and my online blog, for having been the talented and hardworking representative of the county’s wine industry when she worked for the Mendocino Winegrape and Wine Commission, and more recently as Martha and Charlie Barra’s current marketing superstar.

Together, Gracia and I left Hopland as we first traveled west, and then south and up, up, upward until we came to the cabin home of Fred and Alberta. Fred met and welcomed us, wearing relaxed farmers garb; blue jeans, a faded blue polo shirt, brown work boots, and a ball cap emblazoned “SIP! Mendocino” ­ which is where Albertina’s wines can be purchased in Hopland.

With a cooler filled with wine tasting and picnic provisions, we walked from Fred’s home, past a water pond, and up into the Albertina vineyards, a nudge over 400 acres around the side and up Duncan Peak.

As we walked, Fred shared that having moved from Buffalo, NY to California, and then on to Santa Rosa, he and Alberta were looking for a place to raise cattle and farm when they found a real estate ad offering a “pond, hunting, and lodge.” The ad stretched the lodge part, but they bought the place in 1983, rebuilt the cabin home and refurbished the other two “lodge” buildings in 1985 and 1986, decided to go into grapes in 2000, took care of water needs in 2001, and actually planted their Albertina vineyards in 2002.

Albertina means “little Alberta” in Italian, and is what Alberta’s father called her as a child. Now the name allows Fred to share his love for his wife with each bottle of wine made from their grapes.

On a knoll with 25 mile views, under the shade of oak trees in the center of the vineyards we tasted the 2009 Albertina Cabernet Sauvignon ($26). Made by Penny Gadd-Caster, who made Jordan’s Cabernet for 13 years, at Rack & Riddle in Hopland, this was a supple and smooth red, rich and redolent, with powerful blackberry fruit against a backdrop of leather, chocolate, and violet, with lighter supporting fruit notes of cherry and strawberry. A gorgeously integrated wine, there is a terrific nose to mouth to finish continuity of notes.

Fred sells 40 tons of fruit to Constellation, a giant in the industry with more than 50 wine brands in the U.S., and splits the rest between Rack & Riddle and Greg Graziano for turning into Albertina wines.

Fred next poured us some of his 2009 Albertina Cabernet Franc, Meredith’s Reserve ($24).

Outdoors, comfortably seated with friends, new and old, I tasted Fred’s Franc. Layers of flavors, red raspberry fruit, licorice, herb, pepper, and red plum played in a fruit forward styled enjoyable drinkable, soft, medium bodied wine.

Fred told us a bit about farming grapes and said there are really 12 things a farmer needs to do to make good grapes, irrigation being one of those things. Joking that his endeavors might be saintly, like Jesus he turns water into wine, but he’s not as good at it because it takes Fred 1/2 million gallons of water to make 3,000 gallons of wine each year.

After walking through the vineyard and seeing where a small portion came through a recent fire started by a tractor exhaust spark, we returned to the cabin home and met Alberta who had been resting during the hottest part of a very hot summer day.

The Zmarzly home is comfortable and charming, with a lovely antique stove and oven that definitely caught both Gracia’s and my eyes. We were also impressed with the casts of bear prints and the bear tales Alberta and Fred shared.

Paired with salami, cheese, and crackers, we tasted the 2009 Albertina Merlot, Lorelei’s Reserve ($24). Perfumed plum in a glass, the Merlot was the third of three Bordeaux varietal reds grown on the Zmarzly Family Vineyard to impress and please. Supporting notes included warm candied cherry and herb.

The four of us alternately sat and stood, conversations were weaved, stories told. We got to hear about the liquor stills that Alberta’s family had on the ranch where she grew up, and how the Feds blew the stills up, and while some folks got prosecuted, her father got off.

We heard about how the town of Hopland has changed over the years, since the Zmarzlys first came to town in 1983 until 2011 when I started managing a tasting room in town.

We talked about farming, conventional and organic ­ the Albertina vineyards are sustainably farmed.

Four hours passed and three wines were tasted. This was a standout experience for me, a wonderfully enjoyable and relaxed day chatting over wine. Fun.

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John Cesano, an ardent Deadhead, listened to the almost 24-year-old, October 9, 1989 Hampton Coliseum “Warlocks” show while putting this column together, in honor of Fred and Alberta’s meeting at a show by the band 24 years earlier still.