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 – Spotlight Vineyard: Halcon Vineyard

This piece ran originally as a wine column in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, November 12, 2015

Paul Gordon sent me three wines for review last year, and I loved them so much that I was able to craft a pretty solid column around a review of three wines, that’s how good his Halcon Vineyard wines are.

After the piece ran, Paul invited me to visit the vineyard, and recently, well over a year after that initial invitation, I did just that, and the timing was great as I was able to taste a new, larger, lineup of current release and future wines, and see where they were born.

To get to Halcon Vineyards, you exit Highway 128 between Boonville and Yorkville, at mile marker 37.92, through a padlocked gate, and slowly climb north over four miles up a graded dirt road, taking a series of right or left choices at forks, always upward, until you reach what seemed like the top of the world.

Driving through the gate at Halcon Vineyard, at about 2,450 feet in elevation, I was met by Paul, Jackie Bracey, David Campbell, and Cookie the vineyard dog. Although the day was sunny, ever present winds, which reached over 90 mph this year, keep things cool. Paul told me he believes he has “probably the coolest Mourvedre planting in the world,” and we toured vineyard blocks where the first rows were dried into near permanent dormancy by constant wind.

Halcon Vineyards, atop the Yorkville Highlands AVA

Halcon Vineyards, atop the Yorkville Highlands AVA

The very cool climate of Halcon Vineyards in the Yorkville Highlands saw bud break come in March and April this year, a full month or more later than in other parts of Mendocino County. Halcon was planted ten years ago, in four distinct blocks, in serpentine and schist “s*** soil,” with lots of elevation changes, and south facing exposures.

The continuing drought, and cool climate, saw Syrah yields down about 25% this year with, “tiny berries, thick skins.” While certainly not a farmer’s dream, especially an organic farmer like Paul, the result is expected to be concentrated flavorful wines. Paul also shared that Pinot Noir is called the, “heartbreak grape,” only because those farmers don’t grow Grenache; “Grenache is the real heartbreak grape!”

Paul and Jackie plan to plant two white Rhone varieties, Marsanne and Rousanne, at Halcon, to complement the red Rhone varieties they grow, Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvedre. Until they grow their own white grapes, they buy fruit from Alder springs for their Prado white Rhone blend. Halcon also makes two Pinot Noir wines with fruit sourced from Anderson Valley’s Wentzel Vineyard and Oppenlander Vineyard near Comptche.

We ate as we tasted, and the day was made more lovely by the food, wine, and conversation

We ate as we tasted, and the day was made more lovely by the food, wine, and conversation

Wonderful hosts, Paul, Jackie, and David prepared pork, a cheese plate, salty olives, and an incredible fresh vegetable salsa to go with the wines we would taste. Very much surrounded by unspoiled wilds, as we ate and tasted, we saw red tails, kites, and harriers.

The lineup of Halcon Vineyard wines

The lineup of Halcon Vineyard wines

2013 Halcon Prado Alder Springs Mendocino County – 50/50 Marsanne and Rousanne, had a good malolactic mouthfeel, butterscotch on top of lemon, pear, and apple, was barrel fermented using 20% new oak, and was a great food wine.

2014 Halcon Pinot Noir Wentzel Vineyard Anderson Valley – 1/3rd whole cluster, a little under 20% new oak, mixture of Dijon clones, bright forward fruit, rich concentrated sweet tart cherry, earthy, a Goldilocks of wine balance…just right. Young, lots of ageing potential, but drinking great now.

2014 Halcon Pinot Noir Openlander Vineyard Mendocino County – there are many wineries producing Pinot Noir wines from Oppenlander fruit, but as every single one is delicious, I’ll never complain. Pretty much made in the same way as the Wentzel Pinot, but the fruit yields a plumier, deeper, touch of funkier wine of black cherry, and supple but evident tannin.

2013 Halcon Alturas Halcon Vineyard Yorkville Highlands – 100% Syrah, 1/3rd whole cluster, a little new oak, from a frost year yielding only one ton per acre, and the first year some Viognier stems were added for bright vinous notes and depth. I have to be honest, listening to Paul, with great food on a plate in front of me, and wine in my glass, enjoying the comradery of fellow wine lovers, I forgot I was tasting critically, and just put some in my mouth behind a bite of pork and salsa, and the result was an eyebrow raising, “ohhhh!”

Upon regaining my senses, I noted a dark berry perfumed, smooth and supple, f’ing gorgeous wine, made up of bright notes, dark notes, and tons of notes in between.

2014 Halcon Alturas Halcon Vineyard Yorkville Highlands (barrel sample) – Same wine grapes of the Shaw Block, made the same way, with much the same notes. It is drinking great, and could be bottled right now. So sexy, so supple. Touch of vine met by spice and fruit.

2014 Halcon Esquito Halcon Vineyards Yorkville Highlands – About 65% Grenache, 30% Mourvedre, and 5% Syrah blend. No new oak, 25% whole cluster. I love a Chateauneuf du Pape style GSM, or in this case a GMS, Rhone red blend, and this is a wonderful example of what a Rhone blend can, and should, be with spicy, dry, dusty, earthy, concentrated multi fruit notes.

The wines are currently made, and made well, in San Francisco, but Paul and Jackie are looking to build a winery on site in the future.

Paul Gordon and Jackie Bracey...plus Cookie the vineyard dog

Paul Gordon and Jackie Bracey…plus Cookie the vineyard dog

I admire Paul and Jackie, and everything they have accomplished with their Halcon wines. I see them as exuberant risk takers, buying 162 acres at an elevation guaranteed to result in a short growing season for the 15 acres they have planted to grapes, cold, frost, wind, and as remote as it gets; choosing to plant to Rhone varietals, hard to grow and hard to sell. To me, the risks are paying off, and I think of Halcon’s wines as Mendocino County’s cult wines, sought after by knowledgeable wine lovers if unknown to the general public.

Halcon’s wines are available for purchase, and occasionally open for tasting, at Sip Wine shop in Hopland, and can be ordered directly at http://www.halconvineyards.com.

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Congratulations to Margaret Pedroni and Jennie Stevens of Knez Vineyard in Anderson Valley. Over the Halloween weekend, Margaret and Jennie were in San Francisco and sat for the Introductory Sommelier Course & Examination. Both passed their tests, and can now sport the red lapel pin of the Guild of Sommeliers.

Margaret Pedroni and Jennie Stevens' sommelier pins

Margaret Pedroni and Jennie Stevens’ sommelier pins

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John Cesano of John on Wine

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John On Wine: Spotlight winery – Knez Winery

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, March 5, 2015

ABC television’s ‘Schoolhouse Rock’ taught us that, “three is a magic number.” Knez Winery has the magic three going on three ways.

Three vineyards: Demuth Vineyard, Cerise Vineyard, and Knez Vineyard, all organic and farmed following biodynamic practices.

Three wine grape varieties: Pinot Noir, Syrah and Chardonnay.

Three wine shepherds: vineyard manager Ryan McAllister, winemaker Anthony Filiberti and tasting room manager Margaret Pedroni.

To have a glass in hand, swirling free some heady rich aromas, to sip and taste the many layered depth, to experience all that is wonderful about the wines of Knez Winery in the Anderson Valley, you have to visit their beautiful, stylish, tasting room in the Madrones, an upscale collection of winery tasting rooms, restaurant and inn, on Highway 128 in Anderson Valley’s town of Philo.

Knez Tasting Room on Hwy 128 in Philo

Knez Tasting Room on Hwy 128 in Philo

My friend Margaret runs the Knez Vineyard tasting room, and visiting with her last month, and with Jennie Stevens on a previous visit, I tasted through all of the current releases at Knez.

Straight up: Damn, these are some seriously good wines. I am so happy for Margaret that each day at work involves pouring wines that she can be proud of, thrilled to pour and excited to share the story of.

Of course, each wine Margaret pours starts as grapes grown by Ryan on one of the three vineyards, and then is made into a stunning wine by Anthony, before Margaret decides it has matured enough to be poured. Thoughtful decisions naturally arrived at, by skilled managers, make each taste a special moment to experience and savor.

The Demuth Vineyard is 15 acres planted 30 years ago by the Demuth family at 1,400 to 1,700 feet elevation, and dry farmed. There are two blocks of Pinot Noir, planted to Wadenswil and Pommard clones, totaling seven acres, and Chardonnay, planted to old Wente clone, totaling eight acres.

The 2013 Knez Winery Chardonnay, Demuth Vineyard, Anderson Valley, $39, saw a little malolactic, part of it saw new oak, some used oak, and some was held in stainless steel. The result is a multi-noted wine with nuance and complexity; delicate white peach, cream custard, pineapple, citrus. 93 Points from Antonio Galloni.

The 2012 Knez Winery Pinot Noir, Demuth Vineyard, Anderson Valley, $47, shows rose petal, violet, herb, spice, cedar, oak, brambly persimmon, candied cherry, and orange peel. 93 Points from Antonio Galloni.

The Cerise Vineyard was planted in 1995, and grows 10 different clones of Pinot Noir in 15 blocks on 38 acres planted on sloping shallow at 700 to 1,100 feet elevation.

2011 Knez Winery Pinot Noir, Cerise Vineyard, Anderson Valley, $47, was plummy, with sherry pungency, and a steamed artichoke heart earthy vegetal component, supporting the fruit, in a tight band of many flavors. 93 Points from Antonio Galloni.

2011 Knez Pinot Noir, Cerise

2011 Knez Pinot Noir, Cerise

The 2012 Knez Winery Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, $34, takes grapes from both vineyards, about two-thirds Cerise and one-third Demuth. One taste and you can hear angels sing! Dark black cherry, balancing green tea and lush fruit, smooth but evident tannins, together provide mouthfeel and promise age worthiness. This wine is an iron fist in a leather glove. 90 Points from Antonio Galloni.

2012 Knez Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley

2012 Knez Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley

The Knez Vineyard is six acres, was planted in 2009, and connects Demuth to Cerise, at 1,200 to 1,600 feet elevation. Four acres of Pinot Noir are planted above two one-acre block, the first planted to Syrah and Viognier and the second planted to Pinot Gris, Friulano and Malvasia.

The 2013 Knez Winery Syrah, Knez Vineyard, Anderson Valley, $39, shows big meaty animal fruit, with white pepper and floral notes. This Syrah has remarkable intensity, like a tightly wound spring, and shows surprising minerality considering the youthfulness of the vineyard. Bright, tight tannins. Will cellar well. 95 Points from Antonio Galloni.

Winemaker Anthony Filiburti has crafted some real gems for Knez Winery.

Antonio Galloni was noted wine critic Robert Parker’s man for California wine reviews in the Wine Advocate, before striking out on his own, then buying Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar review guide, and creating his own subscription wine review platform, Vinous. The consistently high scores for these wines from Galloni are merited, and validate the program at Knez Winery.

Knez has also found their way onto San Francisco Chronicle wine editor Jon Bonne’s current (and previous) ‘Top 100 Wines of the Year’ list.

Do yourself a huge favor, visit Margaret at her tasting room, Thursday through Monday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., at The Madrones, 9000 Highway 128, Philo CA 95466, or call (707) 895-3365 for information about joining a wine club.

WHISKEY, WHISKEY, WHISKEY

My favorite distillery, the American Craft Whiskey Distillery, will host their first Grand Whiskey Tasting event this Saturday, March 7, 2015, 1 p.m. at the distillery in Redwood Valley.

Jack Crispin Cain tasted through his array of liquid treats with me for a previous piece.

Jack Crispin Cain tasted through his array of liquid treats with me for a previous piece.

Distiller extraordinaire Jack Crispin Cain will pour a variety of Low Gap treats, including the 2-year-old Malted Wheat whiskey, Corn Barley Blended whiskey, Malted Rye Whiskey, barrel tastings of the Bourbon to be released October 2015, and more.

Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman’s Facebook group, Mendocino Bourbon Group, has grabbed up all of the spots. Happily, I am in the group, am pleased to purchase a ticket, and I’ll be attending with notebook so I can recap the event here in a future post.

The next chance for the general public to taste and purchase many of the whiskeys directly will be during A Taste of Redwood Valley, on Father’s Day weekend, Saturday, June 20 and Sunday, June 21, 2015.

Easier might be stepping up to the bar at Ukiah’s newest restaurant, Ritual, where Low Gap Whiskey is served.