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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.

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John on Wine – Charity and more

This piece originally ran as my wine column in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, October 8, 2015; but has been added to specifically for this longer archived online version.

Barra of Mendocino hosts the annual Let the Fur Fly fashion show to benefit the Humane Society and hosts the Kiwanis Crab Feed to help the group’s revenue stream for their yearly activities.

Nelson Family Vineyards supports the community, having played host to the Ukiah Symphony and Project Sanctuary.

Fetzer holds a regular Community Wine Sale, with spectacular discounts, and the proceeds led to a recent $3,000 donation to the Gardens Project of the North Coast to “help further their commitment to healthy, vibrant communities and community gardens.”

CHARITY

Fetzer’s $3,000 donation to the Gardens Project of the North Coast will help healthy and sustainable agriculture, and feed people, here in Mendocino County.

Every winery in Mendocino County receives hundreds of requests for donations, and choose among those who have made legal requests, holding a California ABC daily wine license for an IRS recognized non-profit organization, to better our community.

The wineries of Coro Mendocino pour at Gala on the Green to benefit Mendocino College, Mendocino County’s organic growers help make Pure Mendocino a successful fundraiser for the Cancer Resource Centers of Mendocino County, Winesong sees 100 wineries donate wine for tasting and auction to benefit the Mendocino Coast Hospital Foundation , and the wineries that pour at the World Champion Abalone Cook-off & Festival in Ft. Bragg help fund the Mendocino Area Parks Association

Mendocino vineyards and wineries are part of the community, and support their neighbors through countless acts of charity.

Now it is your turn to help our vineyard and winery owners, and your neighbors, that suffered calamitous loss in the recent Valley Fire. In the wake of the Valley Fire, our neighbors in Lake County need help, and Beckstoffer Vineyards made a $50,000 donation to the #LakeCountyRising fundraising campaign, in the wake of the horrific devastation affecting up to 25% of Lake County’s grapes. Please visit the Lake County Rising page on Facebook, and make any donation, no matter how small, to help the vineyard owners recover from this tragedy.

Closer to home, Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman and a group of community leaders joined together to create a special fundraiser to allow Mendocino County’s residents to help our neighbors in Lake County who lost homes and property in the fire, a spaghetti feed & auction with music at the Redwood Empire Fairgrounds in Ukiah on October 25, 2015 from 4-8pm, called “Neighbors Helping Neighbors, Mendocino Loves Lake County.” Tickets are just $15 each, children under 6 eat free, and are available at all Mendo Mills locations. I will absolutely be there!

Again, please help our neighbors in Lake County by participating in one or both of these great fundraising efforts.

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Recently, I tasted wines in Anderson Valley at the Boonville tasting rooms of Philo Ridge Vineyards and Seebass Family Wines, two of the four Fratty Pike participants. Fratty Pike is Boontling for Wine Trail, and by visiting these two tasting rooms, plus Witching Stick and Greenwood Ridge, tasters can be entered into a monthly drawing to win a $100 wine gift.

At Philo Ridge, manager Jill Derwinski told me that she wished my visit was a month into the future, so I could taste a host of new vintage wine releases. I promised to return for a future winery spotlight column, put my notebook away, and tasted wines for simple enjoyment. The current releases of owners Fred R. Buonanno and Heather A. McKelvey’s wines were uniformly tasty and Jill was a charming host. I look forward to returning.

At Seebass Family Winery, I was blessed to have the fairer half of the ownership duo, Michelle Myrenne Willoughby, pour for me, while her husband Scott was home preparing a vineyard dinner for the pilots and crew of the B-17 that recently visited the Ukiah airport. It is always a treat to see either Scott or Michelle, their passion for their community, active participation in groups that promote our wines and tourism, and the delicious wines that are made from the grapes they grow, have made me quite fond of all they do. On a hot day in Philo, Michelle let me have a vertical tasting, a tasting of successive vintages, of their deliciously crisp yet round and richly flavored Fantasie Rosé of Grenache.

I was in the Anderson Valley to pour the Mendocino County Fair Wine Competition Best of Show White Wine, the Sparkling Cuvee Brut; the Double Gold Pinot Noir; and the Gold Medal Sauvignon Blanc at the Mendocino County Fair for McFadden. I showed up early and helped the fantastically competent Executive Director for the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association, Janis MacDonald, set up. In addition to representatives from Greenwood Ridge and Navarro during my pouring shift, I got to pour next to Bonterra’s Joel Clark, which was a treat as Joel and I were able to reminisce about a previous winery employer in common and talked about a visit for me to taste all of Bonterra’s wines for a future column. That, and Joel was pouring a delicious Merlot. It was surprising to find how few of the tasters knew of McFadden, or where the Potter Valley is, or had not visited Hopland in the previous year. The tasters were definitely Anderson Valley-centric, but hopefully Joel and I poured a few reasons to inspire visits over the hill to explore inland Mendocino’s wine scene.
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About a month ago, I wrote that every winery and vineyard in Mendocino County should be members of Mendocino Winegrowers, Inc. (MWI), and followed up with a piece the next week announcing that MWI was looking for a new executive director. That position has been filled by the remarkably perfect person for the position, Bernadette Byrne.

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Bernadette has previously served as the President of the Mendocino County Vintners Association and Executive Director of the Mendocino County Winegrowers Alliance, two groups with a similar mission to today’s MWI. Bernadette has lived and worked in the county for 28 years, including stints at Fetzer Vineyards and Saracina. Most notably. Bernadette opened and owned Sip! Mendocino, and carried wines from wineries and vineyards from throughout the county. Bernadette has long standing relationships with wine industry stakeholders from throughout the county, and is aware of the unique challenges in forging cooperation from the varied rugged individualists that make up that wine scene. No one is better positioned to increase the reputation of the county’s wines and the prices paid for the county’s grapes. These positive improvements will not come overnight, but initiative by initiative, story by story, year by year, Bernadette will oversee and usher in a new and better age for Mendocino County’s wines and winegrapes. Cheers to Bernadette!

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Passport+cork

Hopland Passport is coming up soon, in just nine days, on Saturday, October 17 and Sunday, October 18. This is an opportunity to taste wines, paired with food, at 15 local wineries, over two days. For more information, or to pick up your $45 tickets, visit HoplandPassport.com.
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EDITED TO ADD: I am limited by space restrictions in my column, but not here online, and I have a few more notes about winery charity:

First, more about the Valley Fire Fundraiser on October 25

Neighbors helping Neighbors is the theme of Mendocino County’s Valley Fire Fundraiser on Sunday, October 25 from 4:00-8:00 pm at the Redwood Empire Fairgrounds in Ukiah.

Sheriff Tom Allman pulled together a group of local leaders, businesses and service clubs to organize a community-wide dinner, auction & music event raise money to support the long term rebuilding efforts of our Lake County neighbors.

Bands such as the Ford Brothers and the Funky Dozen plus one or more Latino groups will be playing. Spaghetti and taco dinners are on the menu. Local 4-H Club members will be selling desserts and local wineries and breweries are providing libations.

McFadden Farm has donated an assortment basket of wine and farm goods for auction.

McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room's donation to help victims of the Valley Fire. Photo by John Cesano

McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room’s donation to help victims of the Valley Fire. Photo by John Cesano

I, also, pulled a special assortment case from my own collection, including four different reds from the amazing 2007 vintage, for another auction item.

A Valley Fire auction donation from my collection. Photo by John Cesano

A Valley Fire auction donation from my collection. Photo by John Cesano

Tickets are $15 per person in advance, $20 at the door. Children six and under are free. Tickets are available at Mendo Mill Stores in Ukiah, Lakeport, Clear Lake, Willits, and Fort Bragg, and at Chavez Market on South State Street in Ukiah.

All proceeds from the benefit go directly to the Lake County Wildfire Relief Fund created by North Coast Opportunities with the support of Mendo Lake Credit Union and the Savings Bank of Mendocino County. All administration costs are being waived which means one hundred percent of donations go directly to benefit those who have been affected by the fire damage.

To volunteer or donate an item to the raffle and auction, contact lm@ncoinc.org. Auction items may be dropped off at the Redwood Empire Fairgrounds office from 9-5 Monday through Friday. For more information call Heidi Dickerson at 467-3230.
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Both Sutter Home Family Vineyards and Little Black Dress Wines each have initiatives aimed at helping fight against breast cancer. This is especially heartwarming as our Congress seeks to defund the nation’s largest screener for breast cancer.
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Speaking of Sutter Home Family Vineyards, they have launched an initiative that is very close to my heart, Sutter Home for the Holidays, helping deserving American troops home to their own families this holiday season.

Sutter Home has paired with the Veterans Business Outreach Center to unite active duty military personnel with their families for the holidays.

“Family is at the heart of our business, so we understand how meaningful it is for our troops to spend the holidays with their families,” said Sutter Home CEO and Vietnam veteran Roger Trinchero, “It is an honor to support our troops and give back to those who sacrifice so much every day.”

Now through the end of the year, eligible active duty, reserve, and national guard  U.S. Military service members may apply at http://www.vbocix.com to win a trip home anywhere in the continental U.S., with up to 25 winners selected based on financial need, outstanding service, and creativity in answering the question, “What does home mean to you?” Sutter Home for the Holidays will provide round-trip airfare, ground transportation, and hotel accommodations for up to five nights.

Okay, I served honorably as an U.S. Army Infantry Sergeant, and my son is in basic training at Ft. Benning, GA to become an Infantry soldier as well. We will get my son home for the holidays if his new permanent duty station allows him leave, although sadly I can’t do that and attend his graduation “turning blue” ceremony as well on what I earn. There are other military families who earn less than I do, and a trip home on leave is outside their financial ability, so Sutter Home’s generosity and support for our troops really strikes a chord for me. I will be stopping at Trinchero Napa Valley on my next trip to the Napa valley to show my appreciation for their good works by purchasing one of their company’s top end red wines.
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Thank you to everyone inside the industry and out for your acts of kindness and charity.

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John On Wine – Hunting up great wine
Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on  July 24, 2014

John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

Can you imagine Jon Bonné, the wine editor for the San Francisco Chronicle, or Eric Asimov, the wine editor for the New York Times, sitting down to write a piece where they wonder in print which wine to use in a marinade for a jack rabbit their son shot in the head with an open sight 22 rifle and further, that while they were reaching for the wine, the rabbit was making a literal bloody mess of their kitchen as the skinning and gutting had not been done in the field?

The Ukiah Daily Journal wine column will always stand out as unique. We aren’t city folk, and this column will put an exclamation point on that. My son Charlie shot his first rabbit last night and brought the thing home, hoping I would help him dress it out. I used to hunt, but that was 35 years ago; I didn’t like gutting animals then, and I really didn’t want to do it last night. Charlie and his friend Jordan, with the help of YouTube videos for guidance, managed the task just fine.

I made a hasenpfeffer marinade, with a blend of 2008 V. Sattui Zinfandel, Black-Sears Vineyard, Howell Mountain, Napa Valley and 2013 Carol Shelton Wild Thing Rendezvous Rosé, Mendocino County (85% Mendocino County, Cox Vineyard, Ukiah, CCOF Certified Organically Grown; 15% Sonoma County, sustainably grown) wines. I also used red wine vinegar and a ton of herbs from the farm I work for.

Of course, I had to taste both wines. The 2008 V. Sattui Zinfandel was still big and bold as can be with dark black berry and earth notes, brambly fruit supported by wood. It was darn big, too big really. Great as a glass of wine by itself, but it was going to overpower the meat, so to soften the marinade a bit, I opened the 2013 Carol Shelton Wild Thing Rendezvous Rosé. This is such a delightful wine, sweet without being sugary, tart without being puckery, balanced bright succulent strawberry and watermelon fruit with a touch of citrus. The day’s temperature had been over 100 degrees, and the Carol Shelton Rosé was the better wine for summer season heat, while the V. Sattui Zin was more of a winter weight wine.

The rabbit meat will soak for four days and then the boys will cook it. Of course, I would never give the boys a taste of wine, so keep your letters to the editor about the perils of underage drinking to yourself, but if I were to let them taste a wine made to go with a wild hare, I think I would recommend the 2012 McFadden Old Vine Zinfandel. The McFadden Zin is cool climate grown, lower in alcohol, and brighter in fruit notes. A red wine, sweet tart candy noted – cherry, strawberry, and raspberry, with just a tickle of black pepper and herb in support of the fruit. Flavorful enough to go with wild rabbit, but light enough to not overpower it.

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On Friday, August 1, 2014, a group of respected wine writers will sit down to taste flight after flight of Mendocino County wines as judges for the 2014 Mendocino County Fair Wine Competition.

The competition is open to any wine made from Mendocino County grapes, even wineries from out of county may enter their Mendocino County wines. Wineries enter their wines in a spirit of friendly competition and winners get bragging rights for the following year.

The competition judging takes place in the morning and early afternoon, and the winners are announced at a fun dinner early the same evening.

Taste a delicious three course dinner prepared by the Mendocino College Culinary Arts program led by Chef Nicholas Petti of Mendo Bistro, while sampling award winning wines from the competition at the Mendocino County Fair Wine Competition Awards Ceremony and Dinner, open to the public, tickets are just $55 each. Again, the dinner and award ceremony are on Friday, August 1, 2014 from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. with plenty of wine from the competition to enjoy.

This year’s dinner benefits the Mendocino College Foundation.

Last year, I sat at a table with Potter Valley folk, and Gracia Brown of Visit Mendocino. Each time any Potter Valley wine award was mentioned, Bronze to Gold, our table cheered wildly. The fun and comradery of the dinner highlight the cooperative nature of the county, even at what is supposed to be a competition.

For your tickets, hit the LINK.

Not open to the public, but fun for the judges who come the day before the competition, there will be a tasting of Coro Mendocino wines hosted by Golden Vineyards in Hopland, and then a six course wine pairing dinner featuring wines of McFadden Farm and Seebass Family Wines plus the overwhelming bounty of fresh, organic, heirloom, and artisanal ingredients provided by Mendocino County’s best protein and produce growers, hosted by Seebass on Old River Road near Talmage

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Speaking of Seebass Family Wines, they recently opened a new tasting room in the Anderson Valley on Hwy 128.

Owners Michelle Myrenne Willoughby and husband Scott Willoughby run things, and their current releases include Chardonnay, Syrah, Merlot, and a Rosé of Grenache, called Fantasie. Look for an Old Vine Zinfandel this August 2014, and new 2013 vintage Chardonnay wines too.

Open 11-5 daily, the tasting room is in the heart of Boonville, right across the street from the Boonville Hotel; visit if you are in the area. This may be Anderson Valley’s only spot without Pinot Noir!

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EDITED TO ADD: Okay, a few more words for this online posting that didn’t appear in this week’s newspaper column…first I want to let you know that I made a change for this post and used a hyperlink to the Mendo Wine Comp Dinner Ticket page, where the newspaper piece had a web address as hyperlinks do not work in print ink.

Also, one more mention for this weekend’s Second Annual Anderson Valley Barrel Tasting Weekend event. $20 gets you a glass and wristband, with wonderful barrel tastings, Pinot Noir a major focus for most participating wineries, throughout the Anderson Valley and beyond…Yorkville Highland wineries will also be participating, making this more of a Highway 128 Barrel Tasting weekend (BT128). Online ticket sales have closed. You may purchase tickets at any one of the participating wineries during the event. Payment by cash or check is most appreciated to join the Saturday, July 26 and Sunday, July 27 fun. I will be attending this event as a guest of the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association, and I am grateful for the invitation.