From my first day in the office of the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association, back in December, I worked on February’s 11th annual International Alsace Varietals Festival and, before I came on board as the new AVWA Executive Director, a small army of staff and volunteers had been working since August, all to make what nearly every attendee described as the best Alsace Fest yet happen.

Thank you to every single person who made the event a success; the event volunteers, volunteer festival planning committee members, volunteer association board members, speakers, presenters, winery participants, caterers, staff (Kacy, Janis, Kristy, Floriane), event location hosts, and attendees. Each time someone tried to credit me for the success of the sold out Festival events, from Educational Sessions to Press Welcome Dinner, and Grand Tasting to Winemaker Dinners, I turn around and let folks know it was a team effort.

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Previously, I attended Festival and Passport events, from January’s Zinfandel Experience in San Francisco to the April Passport to Dry Creek Valley in April, and February’s Alsace Festivals to May’s Pinot Noir Festivals in the Anderson Valley, each year and, while I enjoyed each event immensely, and credited the producers of each in recap pieces, I had no idea how much work went into each.
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I am attending the Passport to Dry Creek Valley, for my fourth year in a row, on Saturday, April 23 and Sunday, April 24, this year. My counterpart, Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley Executive Director Ann Petersen, is undoubtedly busy now, as her event gets closer, and she manages the lists for each of the numerous sell out events that make up her Passport event, from nearly a dozen vineyard tour lunches and dinners the day before Passport to the Passport itself.

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Passport to Dry Creek Valley ticket buyers are able to visit over 45 wineries, taste their wines, enjoy delicious pairing food bites, and listen to music at each stop. I have found that each winery goes all out to impress, often offering rare older vintages, limited single vineyard production releases, and barrel samples of future wines for tasting. The food at each stop is thoughtfully prepared, oftentimes by superstar chefs and caterers, to bring out and highlight the flavors of the wines being presented. The music, and themed fun, at each stop makes Passport to Dry Creek Valley a must attend event.

Dry Creek Valley produces some of my favorite Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel, but with over 45 wineries participating, you’ll find a great assortment of wines to taste, including some stellar Pinot Noir made with grapes sourced from the Anderson Valley.

For tickets, buy them now, this event sells out, visit http://www.drycreekvalley.org.
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One week after the big Passport, is Hopland Passport, a smaller one day event on Saturday, April 30, with 14 participating wine tasting stops. Inland Mendocino County is diverse, with numerous wine grape varieties thriving, and tasters can enjoy an incredible array of wines, and styles, as they visit each stop.

I worked this event the last ten events, so it will be nice to attend, visit friends, and taste their wines, in a relaxed and fun day.

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Several wineries, like McFadden Farm, will continue their Passport offerings for Sunday visitors, so plan to make it a weekend event.

For tickets at a discount, prices increase at the door during the event, visit http://www.destinationhopland.com.
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The AVWA team has been working on our 19th annual Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival, a three day Festival event from Friday, May 20 through Sunday, May 22 this year.

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Events include an educational Technical Session on Friday from 9:00 am to 4:30 pm, with a look at water management by the Nature Conservancy, a tasting of different winery’s Pinot Noir all from one vineyard, a look at the lessons of the 2015 vintage as evidenced by a tasting of five wines, and a tasting of sparkling wines made with Pinot Noir. Following the sessions is a Casual Welcome BBQ at Pennyroyal Farms with amazing food, many wines, and music by the Joe Blow Band.

Saturday will see 56 or more wineries, each pouring their own Pinot noir, all made from Anderson Valley grown grapes, at the Grand Tasting under the big tent at Goldeneye in Philo, with eight high end catering stations, and live music.

Saturday evening brings two Winemaker Dinners, one at Roederer Estate with the host, Lichen estate, and Copain Wines, the second at Scharffenberger Cellars with the host, Baxter, Goldeneye, and Knez. These are multi course dinners, with wine, and each kicks off with a sparkling wine reception.

Sunday, the local Pinot Noir producers, participating in the grand tasting, will each host Open Houses throughout the Anderson Valley.

For more information, and to pick up tickets, visit http://www.avwines.com.
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After Passport to Dry Creek Valley and the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival are both finished, after I get everything cleaned, packed, and returned to the AVWA office from the Pinot Fest, I will be taking a little time off, and meet with my counterpart in Dry Creek Valley for an interview, and recap both of our events, with an eye to sharing what goes into a huge crowd pleasing event, although I imagine I know the answer already: a great team working together to make it all look effortless.

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John On Wine – The Christmas Column

This piece originally ran in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on December 24, 2015.

As I write this, it is uncertain whether my son, Charlie, will be home for Christmas. He completed training to become a U.S. Army Infantry soldier, graduating from Fort Benning, GA on Friday, December 11, 2015, and was on a bus the same day to Fort Campbell, KY for in-processing with the 101st Airborne (Air Assault) Infantry Division.

Charlie could be in-processing for weeks, and is slotted to attend Air Assault school, before joining his unit with the 2nd Brigade, and deploying to the Middle East as early as February.

A holiday block leave is uncertain, and we hope he may be allowed an extended pass to come home, before deployment.

Whether he is home on Christmas day or substantially later, his presents are under the tree and will remain so until he is able to come home for a visit. Needless to say, his mother and I are very proud of Charlie.

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Wine in central to a Cesano family Christmas

I mention this by way of asking you to hold dear the family and friends you are able to bring together, to join, this holiday, and to love them.
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McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room, together with Steep Organic Coffee & Tea, held a very successful Toys For Tots toy drive & wine tasting in Hopland on Friday, December 11, 2015. I want to personally thank everyone for your generous donations of new toys, and cash to buy more toys. Tonight, there will be children here in Ukiah, and over the hill in Lake County after the Valley Fire devastation, who will know a little extra Christmas cheer, because of your kindness. Thank you.
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Winter’s cold temperatures, and Christmas’ gathering of family and friends at the table, call out for red wine, and Mendocino County’s various growing regions provide many different choices.

I heartily recommend Pinot Noir from Anderson Valley, Charbono from Redwood Valley, Cabernet from Hopland, Zinfandel from Potter Valley, Malbec from Yorkville Highlands, or one of the many excellent blends, from the county’s flagship Coro Mendocino wines, produced by several different wineries, to a Rhone style blend from Halcon or Campovida.

Of course, some folks only drink white wine, and similarly there are abundant choices, from the aromatic Alsace white varieties of Anderson Valley to Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc grown inland.

If looking for bubbly, again, there are some of the nation’s best sparkling wines being made right here, from Roederer Estate and Scharffenberger Cellars in the Anderson Valley to Graziano and McFadden, with tasting rooms side by side in Hopland. Be sure and pick up some in the next week for New Year’s Eve too.

Some folks like it pink, and you can’t swing a cat by the tail, because that would be wrong, but if you did then you would likely hit a winery with a great blush wine for your efforts, they are available from every part of our county.

If you are looking for a beverage a little more spirited, I would point you to the many excellent spirits of Germain-Robin and American Craft Whiskey Distillery in the Redwood Valley.

Wine was always a part of holiday gatherings, growing up. Not an intoxicant, so much as the lubrication to make food, friends, family, conversation, fellowship, gatherings more merry.

I hope you will have wine, and wine from Mendocino County specifically, at your table this Christmas holiday.
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It is a bit late to be offering Christmas gift ideas, but for the one or two men who haven’t begun to shop yet, here are some gifts that will save you from shopping at a gas station or convenience store, or worse yet facing the stores crowded with other glazed eyed last minute shopping men:

Tickets to the next Crush Winemaker Dinner. Crush Italian Steakhouse will be building another incredible multi course feast around wines on Wednesday, January 20, 2016; this time featuring the wines of Seebass Family Winery. I already grabbed two tickets, and hope to see you there. Call (707) 463-0700 or visit in person to get your tickets.

Another event ticket: attend the International Alsace Varietals Festival at the Mendocino County Fairgrounds on February 20 & 21, 2016 in the Anderson Valley. Taste aromatic Alsace whites – Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Muscat, Gewurztraminer, and Riesling – from around the county, nation, and world. Tickets are available online at http://www.avwines.com.

Wine. Visit any open tasting room, many will be open this morning, and buy bottles or cases of joy. Grab a couple of extra and put them under your tree for when a guest brings a surprise friend to your home. Wine makes a great ‘emergency’ gift.
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Writing a weekly column for you over the last few years has been a blast. For me, I ask from you one thing this Christmas; although you may not know him, please keep my soldier son in your thoughts. Thank you, from Charlie’s mother Lisa, girlfriend Ophelia, and me.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

EDITED TO ADD FOR ONLINE ARCHIVED BLOG POST:

My son, Charlie, did make it home for a ten day leave at Christmas. It was wonderful to see my soldier son at the holiday.

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John On Wine – Kicking 2015 off with wine events

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, January 8, 2014

John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

Here are some events I’ll be attending; I hope to see you at one or more.

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Saturday, Jan. 10 – Second Saturday in Hopland >> A half dozen Hopland area winery tasting rooms offer up food pairings to go with wines, and usually have at least one wine on a significantly discounted sale price. McNab Ridge Winery has been inviting folks to their Second Saturday festivities since wine was invented it seems, the series has been going on for a long time, and with that kind of commitment they have created a loyal following of wine and free food lovers who make the trip to Hopland a monthly event. The McNab Ridge Winery gathering is so popular that many wine lovers and visitors have no idea that several other winery tasting rooms also offer up food and wine pairings with wine sales each and every Second Saturday throughout the year. Be sure to also visit Cesar Toxqui Cellars, Graziano Family of Wines, Jaxon Keys, and the McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room in Hopland as they participate each month. Brutocao, Campovida, and Milano Family Winery often have something going on for visitors during second Saturday in Hopland as well. For more information, visit www.destinationhopland.com

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Jan. 16-25 – Mendocino County Crab, Wine & Beer Fest >> Dungeness crab. Wine. Beer. Okay, you had me a Dungeness crab and wine. Wineries along Hwy. 128 and the coast, and inland along Hwy.101, have a brochure for you to pick up. The brochure is filled with events for you to attend, describes special offerings at different wineries, and has two pages to collect stamps with the opportunity to enter a drawing for great prizes of event tickets, lodging stays, wine, and painting classes for the lucky winners. For more information, visit www.visitmendocino.com/crab-wine-and-beer-festival-0.

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Jan. 21 – Chef’s Wine Dinner >> Featuring Dungeness crab and McFadden wine at Crush Italian Steakhouse in Ukiah . This baby is sold out. Seventy very lucky attendees will sit down for a multi-course meal featuring Dungeness crab, paired with a half dozen wines from McFadden. I will write a recap of this dinner, with pictures, for the many who didn’t get to attend … Crush never even had a chance to contact their regular email attendee subscriber list from past Chef’s wine dinner series events. Definitely, the premier inland Mendo event of this year’s Crab, Wine & Beer Fest. For more information, visit www.mcfaddenfarm.com

Jan. 22-24 – Lots of Crab on the Coast >> On Jan. 22, Trillium Café in Mendocino will have a crab wine dinner with Navarro Vineyards’ wines and, also in Mendocino, Café Beaujolais will create a crab dinner around the sparkling and still wines of Roederer Estate. On January 23, there will be three seatings for a Cioppino dinner at the Pentecost Hall in Fort Bragg and an All-You-Can-Eat crab feed at the Crown Hall on Mendocino. After the 16th annual crab cake cook off & wine tasting event in Ft Bragg on January 24, the folks at the Crown Hall in Mendocino will have a second day of all-you-can-eat crab dining. For more information, visit www.visitmendocino.com/crab-wine-and-beer-festival-0

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Jan. 24 & 25 – Barrel Tasting 101 >> Buy a ticket online in advance for $15, or at a participating winery during the event for $30, and taste wine from the barrel, before it is bottled or aged, at Barra of Mendocino, Brutocao Cellars, Campovida, Cesar Toxqui Cellars, Graziano Family of wines, Jaxon Keys Winery, Jeriko Estate, McNab Ridge, Milano Family Winery, Nelson Family Winery, Rivino, Saracina, Seebass Vineyards, Simaine Cellars, Terra Savia, and Testa Ranch. For more information, visit www.destinationhopland.com

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Jan. 29-31 – ZAP’s Zinfandel Experience >> Zinfandel Advocates & Producers (ZAP) will celebrate their 24th annual Zinfandel Experience with three days of events in San Francisco. Epicuria is a food and Zin pairing evening on Jan. 29 at the Presidio. Flights is a seated panel tasting at the Four Seasons Hotel on Jan. 30, moderated by one of my idols, Joel Peterson, and will look at three distinctly different growing areas with 15 winemakers; later that evening at the hotel is the Winemaker’s Reception, Dinner & Auction. Finally, The Tasting with over 100 Zinfandels at the Presidio on Jan. 31. I have attended previous ZAP events, and if you love Zinfandel, then this is a must event to attend. For more information, visit www.zinfandelexperience.com
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Feb. 7 – 10th annual
International Alsace Varietals Festival >> There is a full day of events in the Anderson Valley, with many Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, and Riesling wines, starting with an educational session in the morning, the big grand tasting in the afternoon, and a winemakers’ dinner in the evening. For more information, visit www.avwines.com/alsace-festival.

 

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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/