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Photograph by Tom Liden

For many years, I attended wine events, first as a wine enthusiast, then someone working in the wine industry, and finally as a wine writer with a weekly newspaper wine column; I love wine events.

The opportunity, with one ticket price, to enjoy focused wine tastes, whether of an area like the Passport to Dry Creek Valley offers, or a varietal like ZAP’s Zinfandel Experience offers, or both area and varietal like the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival offers, is outstanding and allows an enormous number of tastes in a condensed period of time.

I always enjoyed attending good wine events, and appreciated those that were planned and executed well, but until I became the Executive Director of the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association (AVWA), I had no idea how much work went into putting on a successful wine event.

Last week, we held the 19th annual Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival; a multi day, multi event, multi venue wine festival, running Thursday, May 19 through Sunday, May 22.

Not to complain, be cause I love my job, but this was the absolute hardest week of work I’ve experienced in my life, and I am happy to say that all of the events that make up the festival were a success, attendees enjoyed themselves as much as I used to attending the festival events. I enjoyed the festival, but can honestly say that attending is definitely more fun than working.

As hard as I may have worked, I was not alone by any means; a small army of volunteers made this festival the success that it was, and I have nothing but thanks to every single person that contributed time and effort to the festival’s success.

The events kicked off with a Thursday Winemakers’ Workshop, a new event that allowed about 30 producers of Anderson Valley Pinot Noir to blind taste each other’s unfinished 2015 vintage barrel samples in a private, not open to the public, setting, and freely share notes intended to help craft better wines when finished. Three people, Alex Crangle, Michael Fay, and Michael Accurso, were instrumental in pulling this event together, and in planning that evenings private Welcome Dinner for the Press, an informal BBQ featuring some of the best ribs I have ever tasted.

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Photograph by John Cesano

Friday saw the well attended Technical Conference, which featured educational seminars and seated panel tastings. Thanks to our breakfast sponsor, The Nature Conservancy; our lunch sponsor, G-3/Diam Closures; and our glassware sponsor, Lehmann Glass/Kiyasa Group.

As a wine geek, most exciting to me, was the new stemware donated specifically for our technical conferences. First, there was a sensory evaluation still wine stem, with a flatter than ordinary bowl bottom, an expanded bulbous lower bowl half, and a tapered narrowing upper half. These glasses looked acorn shaped, and stretched a wine, allowed increased aeration during swirling, and focused aromas to the nose. I love them, and they were used for three events; Thursday’s Winemaker Workshop, and the concurrent Friday Technical Conference and private Press Tasting.

The second glasses were designed for sparkling wines, with more pointed bottoms, and a more bulbous bowl, tapering to the opening. These glasses allowed increased bubble stream, enhanced aroma, and all of that again focused to the nose. Each attendee had four smaller glasses for the day’s final tasting, and one larger Grand Champagne stem, to pour the favorite wine from the four into, and enjoy a heightened sensory experience.

With all of the events, the one task I saw as the most difficult was trying to change over from four still wine glasses to five sparkling wine glasses, with four sparkling wines poured, for 124 places, in the half hour, during a break, that the program schedule allowed. The task was made more challenging when the preceding session ran long, allowing just 22 minutes for the change over.

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Photograph by John Cesano

My thanks go to all of the Technical Conference attendees for making this miracle occur. I took to the stage, gave a series of directions, and like a practiced team, the attendees rinsed, dumped, and put the still wine glasses into boxes, then pulled the new sparkling wine glasses out of other boxes, with a team of pourers getting the right wines into the right glasses, and all was done one minute before the final, sparkling wine, session was scheduled to begin.

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Photograph by John Cesano

I mentioned that a private Press Tasting was held concurrent to the Technical Conference. In a room nearly adjacent, at the Mendocino County Fairgrounds, Suzi Carrell transformed an empty room and created an inviting experience for attending members of the wine press, who tasted an Anderson Valley Pinot Noir from each of the festival’s participating wineries, during breaks, lunch, sessions skipped, and after the conference. Thank you Suzi.

The craziest, and most gratifying, thing happened at the end of the Technical Conference, as a team of people were working to break it down. I was told that I had to leave before the work was finished, to move on to the evening’s Casual BBQ at Pennyroyal Farm, but as I looked back I noticed that all five winemaking AVWA Board of Directors members were still working away, packing and cleaning. Thanks to Joe Webb, Michael Fay, Alex Crangle, Randy Schock, and Arnaud Weyrich. Along with Paula Viehmann and Norman Kobler, you make up the best Board of Directors than an Executive Director could ask for.

Friday evening, at Pennyroyal Farm in Boonville, Kacy Palmieri, our Event Coordinator at AVWA, along with Vicky and her husband Dan Sitts, were already checking people in when I arrived, and barely needed my help. Karin Strykowki, Audrey Perrone, and the entire combined staff of Pennyroyal Farm and Navarro Vineyard did an amazing job ensuring that the guests had a wonderful time. Thanks all.

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Photograph by Tom Liden

Saturday is the day of our big Grand Tasting, under a big tent, in the vineyards behind the tasting room, at Goldeneye Winery in Philo, and once again there was an army of volunteers to help set up, empty dump buckets and trash cans, keep caterers stocked with plates and wineries stocked with water, and at the end helping to break it all down. The volunteer team was led by volunteer coordinator Peggy Ridley, and the crew was too large to mention individually, but the event would not be possible without each of you. Thank you.

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Photograph by Tom Liden

Thanks too to the 56 participating wineries who poured their Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, and the eight caterers who provided delicious food creations to pair perfectly with the Pinots poured. Thanks also to the wineries for their donations that will see over $20,000 going to the Anderson Valley Health Center. Your generosity is humbling, as is that of the successful winning bidders on the auction lots, including the huge original painting by artist Gerald Reis, the art used on all of our festival promotional material, that went for $3,500. Thank you all.

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Photograph by Tom Liden

Thanks to Paula Viehmann, tasting room manager extraordinaire at Goldeneye Winery, who helped greatly with all things related to the Grand Tasting, as well as the entire crew at Goldeneye who moved a mountain of wine and other supplies from storage to the tent. Thanks especially to Pancho, and to Remy Martin.

Remy Martin, that’s really his name, is a dynamo, and helped move material from the AVWA office to the fairgrounds, to Pennyroyal Farm, and to Goldeneye, and was there to help clean, pack, and move it all back to the AVWA office at festival’s end.

Just as there is no me in executing the thousands of details involved in putting on the festival’s events, but an army, there was also a team behind all of the planning, and my thanks go to every member of the festival planning committee. Of note, Metah Green of Husch Vineyards was a catering contract negotiating machine. Again, without you, there is no festival. Thanks all!

There were three Winemaker Dinners on Saturday night, at Roederer Estate, Scharffenberger Cellars, and the Ledford House. Thanks to the wineries involved, but special thanks go to Sharon Sullivan, Saffron Fraser, and Chris Lanier who ran the three dinners for all of your able help.

On Sunday, all of the AVWA members with tasting rooms in the valley, who participated in the festival’s Grand Tasting, held open houses, variously offering wine tasting, food pairings, and music.

I didn’t get to attend the open houses, or sleep as initially intended, but came back to Boonville to pick up Nick Passmore, a wine writer for Forbes, at 6:30 am, for a ride back to the San Francisco airport on Sunday morning.

I’ll be honest, I would have loved to sleep in. After Saturday, I was brutally body sore and exhausted, but driving Nick to the airport was one of the most fun things I did over the course of the festival.

Within two notes of the radio coming on, as I started the car, Nick called the band, “Grateful Dead,” he said. Indeed it was, and for three hours, we talked about wine and the Grateful Dead. Nick even compared the Donna Jean and Keith Godchaux era Dead, 1972-79, his favorite era with the bright piano notes and female vocals, to adding acid to a closed wine, to open it and allow the fruit to pop. I likened the Brent Mydland era, 1979-1990, with his gravelly voice and Hammond B-3 organ, to 20% neutral oak and 20% malolactic fermentation adding depth and complexity to an otherwise straightforward stainless steel zero ml white wine.

Thanks Nick Passmore for being a good guy, an interesting guy, and a wonderful traveling companion.

Thanks to the entire AVWA staff; Kristy Charles for your stellar work with media relations (and thanks to the wine press Kristy brought in for attending), Floriane Weyrich for her social media prowess, Kacy Palmieri for everything you do – it isn’t one thing, it is everything, I adore you and value you more than you can know.

I attended this Festival (again, more fun attending) each of the last three years, and I wrote recaps each year. Each time, I noted the incredible competence of my predecessor, Janis MacDonald. I had no idea how much work she did, but I recognized that she did it well. This year, Janis stayed involved, and helped me, taught me, guided me, and was of incredible value. I adore Janis, am thankful for her support, and her friendship. You are a class act.

I know there are people I’ve forgotten to thank, names unnamed, contributions unnoted, and for that I apologize. You, the army who delivered a host of successful festival events for our attendees, are all superstars in my book.

Finally, thanks to our festival attendees. We had the largest numbers in festival history, and sold out events earlier than ever before. I hope you had a great time, and enjoyed this peek behind the curtain at all that went into giving you the 19th annual Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival.

I’ll see you all next year for the 20th; tickets go on sale March 15, 2017.

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Spotlight Winery: Goldeneye

This piece originally ran as a column in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Goldeneye winery tasting room at 9200 Hwy 128 in Philo, the town between Boonville and Navarro, in the Anderson Valley, is set in a gorgeously warm and richly appointed building, surrounded by grounds of perfectly trimmed hedges, herb gardens, roses, full to bursting tall planter boxes, stone water fountains and comfortably inviting chairs in front, and wooden tables and chairs overlooking estate vineyards in back.

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Prior visitors, leaving online reviews, described Anderson Valley’s Goldeneye tasting experience as Napa-esque, and I agree that tastings are conducted in a decidedly unique to Mendocino County manner.

Visitors to Goldeneye are treated to a seated tasting of 5 or 6 current release Pinot Noir wines at a tasting fee of $15. Elevated tasting experiences are available, from foods served to pair with the wines, to additional reserve wine tastes, for a fee.

Seated tasting experiences and tasting fees do stand in stark contrast to many Mendocino County tasting room experiences where instead you belly up to a tasting bar and often there is no tasting fee, but I loved my tasting at Goldeneye and the experience is well worth the money. Some of my favorite past tastings include a seated salon tasting with food pairings at Swanson in Napa County and a paired food and wine tasting with Kendall Jackson CEO Rick Tigner, when he was disguised as a Texas grocery store manager during filming of the Undercover Boss television program, in Sonoma County. I love having wines in front of me, and the opportunity to explore each one, comfortably and over an extended period of time. I enjoyed doing just that at Goldeneye.

Paula

I was attended to by Goldeneye retail and hospitality manager Paula Viehmann, and she could not have been more welcoming. Paula and I worked together briefly when she managed the tasting room for Saracina and I managed the McFadden tasting room, and we both volunteered our efforts to Destination Hopland, the local wine group for many Hwy 101 wineries. Full disclosure: Paula was recently elected to the Board of Directors of the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association, where I now serve the Board and membership as the new Executive Director. This tasting occurred before I was hired.

Paula poured me two ‘bonus’ wines before the seated tasting:

2012 Goldeneye Anderson Valley Brut Rose $55. 71% Pinot Noir and 29% Chardonnay, spent 10 months in barrel and 20 months en tirage, is a beautiful salmon color, delicate yet flavorful, ethereal, soft fruit and rose petal, and begs to be paired with salmon.

2013 Migration Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, $38. Green Valley and a lot of Dutton Ranch fruit. Strawberry color; light strawberry, herb, candied cherry, and caramel nose; light, very drinkable, accessible.

Next, Paula set me up at my own table in the back patio area and poured some more wines for me:

2012 Goldeneye Anderson Valley Pinot Noir $55. This is a blend of four estate and one sourced Anderson Valley vineyards. 16 months in barrel. Brilliant vibrant red-pink burgundy color; darker cola vinous strawberry-cherry fruit nose; soft mouth, richly fruited flavor of raspberry, current, cherry; long lingering finish.

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2012 Goldeneye Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Confluence Vineyard $82. Named for the place the Anderson and Rancheria rivers come together and Navarro river begins. Goldeneye’s warmest vineyard. Another gorgeous brilliant red-pink colored wine; nose of meaty bacon, black cherry, clove and cardamom; dark full mouth, but not really dry, dusty earthy, black cherry, oolong tea, and dried herb.

2012 Goldeneye Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Gowan Creek $82. Big temperature swings of 50-55 degrees with coastal fog at night mark this vineyard located two miles north of the tasting room and yield gigantic black fruit throughout. Black cherry and cola, blackberry, strawberry, rose, and herb nose; the mouth is richer still, but wonderfully accessible, black cherry jam and a kiss of rhubarb. Full body with acid that pops the fruit. I would love to have this with food, and the list of foods it would pair with is near endless.

2012 Goldeneye Anderson Valley Pinot Noir The Narrows $82. Eight miles north of the tasting room, just ten miles from the coast, surrounded by forest, the vineyard is ten degrees cooler than Confluence. The color is the same, all of the Pnot Noir wines poured are brilliant of clarity and gorgeous of color, burgundy red with a touch of pink. Smoky rose and mushroom, preserved red fruits, floral, herb, butterscotch-caramel nose; sexy mouth with a ton going on, this is definitely the forest floor Pinot with loamy, earth, mushroom notes underneath strawberry and cherry fruit jam.

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Paula then brought out and poured another ‘bonus’ wine, the 2012 Goldeneye Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Ten Degrees $115, named for the temperature difference between the Confluence and Narrows vineyard, a cuvee – or blend – of the best 25 barrels out of 1,300, as chosen by winemaker Michael Fay. Paula pulled the old Jedi mind trick, practiced by the best tasting room managers everywhere, telling me, “you will love it.” I am an old Jedi, at least that is what my Army dog tags said on the line for religion, and am immune to the Jedi mind trick, but Paula was right, oh so right. I loved this wine very much. The color was the perfect patented Goldeneye red-pink burgundy; the nose was deeper, richer, more concentrated; the mouth bigger, deeper, supple, with floral rose meeting smoky meaty blackberry, cherry, earthy sweet fruit, fall spices, so incredibly muti noted, and thoroughly enjoyable.

A common thread for all of these wines is that the tannins are supple and the oak does not get in the way of clearly discernable fruit expression.

Goldeneye is a rare and different treat in Mendocino County, and their seated tasting experience is definitely a worthwhile way to spend an afternoon in the Anderson Valley.

For more information about Goldeneye winery, visit www.goldeneyewinery.com, or call (800) 208-0438 to set up a tasting between 10:30 am and 4:30 pm daily.

The Baxter tasting room in Philo. Photo by John Cesano

Lovely. The word I kept writing, as I tasted wines at Baxter’s tasting room in the Anderson Valley of Mendocino County, was lovely.

The Baxter tasting room at 8660 Highway 128 in Philo is as clean and modern as a Scandinavian Design showroom, and there is little to distract visitors from the wines created by Phillip T.G. Baxter, poured by his wife, Claire Baxter.

Claire Baxter pours wines at the Baxter tasting room. Photo by John Cesano

Phillip T.G. Baxter grew up in Napa, the son of winemaker Phillip L. Baxter, attended the UC Davis School of Enology and Viticulture, and interned in Burgundy, France where he was influenced to make the single vineyard wine choices for Baxter wines today. Claire Baxter described Phillip’s winemaking as, “really natural,” using a basket press, neutral oak, hand punch downs, wild yeasts, and traditional methods to craft his wines.

Claire Baxter is English, and her voice is the first bit of lovely that tasters experience, as her lilt makes everything she says sound, well, lovely. Passionate and proud, she described each wine poured, sharing information about the individual vineyard that each wine comes from, and her husband’s choices made in making it.

2013 Baxter Oppenlander Vineyard Chardonnay Mendocino $38 – Light oak, lemon peel and crisp minerality on the nose, a mouth of mineral, pear, and rip apple, and a long lingering tapering finish where the apple fruit stays forever.

2013 Baxter Valenti Vineyard Pinot Noir Mendocino Ridge $48 – The grapes for this wine come from a vineyard just five miles from the Pacific ocean that sits atop the Greenwood Ridge. Lovely. 100 percent neutral French oak. 30 percent whole cluster for texture and depth. Delicate, savory, layered. Deep, herbaceous, cherry, and mineral nose, nuanced and integrated. Lovely mouthfeel, soft supple, ripe but not overly jammy cherry, herb and mineral. Bright sweet tart fruit and acidity on finish.

2013 Baxter Ferrington Vineyard Pinot Noir Anderson Valley $52 – Valley floor grown grapes from sandy loam and clay soil. Dark rich earthy black cherry and floral notes, with a little cola. Young, but drinking great now; this wine is going to be so much greater still with more aging.

2012 Baxter Langley Vineyard Pinot Noir Anderson Valley $48 – Langley is a small vineyard, planted over 30 years ago, just north of Boonville. Claire Baxter said that this vintage, “came ready early, while it usually takes more age,” and the result is that the wine is almost gone, with fewer than four cases left. Dark and brooding nose of herb, licorice and Bing cherry. The mouth is filled with darker fruit, black tea, earthy mushroom, and a strawberry jam note comes and sticks around for a long finish.

2012 Baxter Oppenlander Vineyard Pinot Noir Mendocino $60 – My first note: “Oh (expletive deleted), that’s unfairly good!” Oppenlander is located near Comptche, in the middle of nowhere, but their fruit is exceptional, with a number of Anderson Valley’s best wineries sourcing the fruit for their wine, and this wine shows why with abundant clarity. This wine received extra barrel aging, was tight, and is just opening up now. Lovely warm cherry, strawberry, herb and mushroom. Still young, and already amazing, this wine is going to be frightfully good for those with the patience to lay it down. As great as this wine is in the glass by itself, it cries for food, and pairing it with duck and a reduction of cherries and this wine would be the pinnacle of deliciousness. Firm tannins, but they do not get in the way of enjoyment.

2013 Baxter Weir Vineyard Pinot Noir Yorkville Highlands $48 – Weir vineyard is largely planted on rocky sloping terrain to gravelly and rocky soil, and the vines are stressed leading to characterful wine grapes. Tea, cherry, light, delicate, and – again – just lovely.

At the recent Winesong charity tasting and auction, Baxter offered an auction lot in conjunction with Ferrington Vineyard, Herdell Printing, Anderson Compliance Services, MA Silva Glass, UPS, and others where the winning bidder would get to make one barrel of Ferrington Vineyard Pinot Noir with Phillip T. G. Baxter as the winemaker, and everything included to see that barrel turned into professionally produced wines, complete with burgundy bottles, TTB approved labels, and shipping. The auction lot sold for $19,000, in very heavy bidding. Asked if he could offer a second barrel, the answer was yes, although the winner would have to wait one vintage, and another $18,000 was raised. In all, $37,000 was raised to benefit the Mendocino Coast Hospital Foundation, through Baxter’s generosity, and that too is lovely!

Baxter is a winery tasting room to visit if you love wine, and particularly if you love Pinot Noir. Each wine is delicate, feminine, soft and delicious. There is remarkable restraint shown each wine, and each wine is a discernably distinct representation of the vineyard it comes from. These are not high alcohol fruit jam bombs, but each has depth, layers of flavor, and nuance; they show varietal, vintage, and geographic correctness, and each is a lovely delight. I can’t urge you strongly enough to make Baxter a tasting destination in your very near future; your nose and taste buds will thank me.

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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.

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John On Wine – A New Zin Tradition

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal on Thursday, August 28, 2014

John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

On a sunny Saturday in August, I spent some time in Sonoma County’s Dry Creek Valley at the ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates & Producers) Simply Summer Celebration, an inaugural event billed as “a new Zin tradition.”

A large white tent was set up in the center of Ridge Vineyards’ Lytton West Vineyard and over 125 Zinfandels were poured by the 50 wineries set up underneath the canopy, with Petaluma’s Pizza Politana set up just outside the tent and serving wood-fired artisan pizzas and a mixed green salad for the over 400 assembled wine lovers that day.

I love Zinfandel, but it can be a pretty big varietal, often tending toward high alcohol and massive dense fruit jam bomb flavors. On a hot day, outside, with plenty of sun, surrounded by other tasters, I was pleased to be writing for the Ukiah Daily Journal, as I could focus on the few wines made from Mendocino grapes and sensibly limit my tastes.

First up, I tasted the wine that won the John Parducci Best of Show Red Wine award at the recent 2014 Mendocino County Fair Wine Competition, the 2012 Artezin Wines Zinfandel, Mendocino, $17. Pouring it was winemaker Randle Johnson.

Artezin is a Napa winery, part of The Hess Collection, and the grapes for this top medal winning Zinfandel come from all over inland Mendo, including from Laviletta Vineyard on Mill Creek Road in Talmage, Seebass Family Vineyard and Paul Dolan’s Dark Horse Ranch on Old River Road near Talmage, Brown Vineyard in Redwood Valley, and Eddie Graziano’s Rovera Ranch near Calpella, among several others.

The wine was lush, showing clear berry, cherry, spice and herb notes up front, leading to red and purple fruit, including pluots. There is a lot happening in this wine, well integrated, marked by balance and finesse. 14.5% alcohol but doesn’t drink hot, feels like 13.9%.

Randle asked about the Mendocino Wine Competition, and if his award meant that the judges chose it above the best Cabernet Sauvignon, best Syrah, best Petite Sirah, best Carignane, over the best of all of Mendocino County’s red wine varieties, and not just above all of Mendocino County’s Zinfandels – which would be an impressive feat by itself. I told Randle that, yes, his Zinfandel was chosen best of all red wines entered into competition. Randle responded, “this award means more to me than a 95 in Wine Spectator.”

Josh Wagner, an employee at one of Kendall Jackson’s other wine concerns, poured three wines for Edmeades of Philo, between Boonville and Navarro, in Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley. I tasted a 2012 Edmeades Zinfandel, Mendocino, $21, a blend of Zin, Petite Sirah, and Syrah, a decent weight wine at 14.7% alc but a little soft in the mouth, without discernable oomph. Next, Josh poured the 2012 Edmeades Zinfandel, Perli Vineyard, $31, a Zin, Merlot & Syrah blend, that tasted like a walk through the black pepper forest, with oak, anise, and plummy meaty raspberry. Finally, I tasted the 100% Zinfandel offering from Edmeades, a 2011 Shamrock Vineyard, with fruit taken at 2,800 feet in elevation. Lighter mouth feel than the Perli, but not dismissible at all. Plenty of flavors, and a wine that begs to be paired with food, where herbs and fruit would pop.

Carol Shelton poured her eponymous wines, and I tasted her 2012 Carol Shelton Wines Wild Thing Old Vines Zinfandel, Mendocino, $19. Carol’s Zinfandel showed brambly bright raspberry and darker blackberry, with herb and black pepper. I worked with Carol from 1993 to 2001, and have an affinity for her wines. Not too big at 14.5%, but certainly not too light. This would be a Goldilocks’ choice wine. 83% Zinfandel , 15% Carignane , and 2% Petite Sirah; the 92% of grapes coming from Mendocino County are from the Cox Vineyard, just north of Ukiah.

Not Mendocino County, but close, I tasted a wine from Chacewater Wine from over in neighboring Lake County’s Kelseyville. The 2012 Chacewater Zin, Sierra Foothills, $20, ran 14.5% alc and had dusty rhubarb, cherry, and oak notes throughout.

Bonus non-Mendo Zinfandel tastes: I tasted the 2012 Barefoot Cellars Zinfandel, Lodi, $7, because winemaker Jennifer Wall had done such a good job with social media marketing, inviting those who ZAP indicated would be attending to come and taste her wines. The Barefoot Zinfandel had smoky, woody, darker color and flavors without being heavy, with a dominant dark strawberry jam note.

Beltane Ranch winemaker Kevin Holt poured their inaugural 2012 Beltane Ranch Estate Zin, $44. I visited Beltane Ranch in the Sonoma Valley’s Glen Ellen with my friend Serena Alexi earlier this year. A blend of Zin, Alicante Bouschet, Carignane and Petite Sirah, the wine drank young, with intense flavors of black raspberry jam, herb, and oak supporting the fruit in this 15.5% Alc wine.

I tasted the 2012 Ridge Lytton Springs, as a good guest should always taste the host’s wine. At just 70% Zinfandel with 21% Petite Sirah, 6% Carignane, and 3% Mourvedre, this wine is technically not a Zinfandel, although it is sufficiently Zinny to me and, if grown and made one county north, could be called a Coro. 14.4% in alc and loaded with flavor, plenty of brambly ripe berry and a little firm. This is a wine that can lie down and improve with cellaring.

I recognized plenty of other wine writers, and saw that some of my favorite other Zinfandel producers were pouring, but as the attendance grew to over 400, counting winemakers, I decided to call it a day, and headed home to relax in an air conditioned room. That night, I baked spicy chicken wings and paired them with the 2012 Artezin Zinfandel, the Mendo Best of Show red, and that pairing may have best defined a simply summer celebration and new Zin tradition, as it was perfect.

Here’s a link to the Zin friendly baked chicken wing recipe.

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John On Wine ­ – Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, May 22, 2014
By John Cesano

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For me, this year’s Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival started last Thursday at Champ de Reves, which translates as Field of Dreams, in Philo. Dr. Edmeades planted the first Pinot Noir grapes in the Anderson Valley 50 years ago, and started making, selling wine from his grapes in 1972. In 1988, Jackson Family Wines, the empire Kendall-Jackson built, bought Edmeades and now it has been rechristened Champ de Reves. The location and the view of a big chunk of the valley was gorgeous. The wines were selected by winery owners from throughout the valley and the dinner of carved roast beef and plank salmon was made spectacular by both their wines and their company.

I was fortunate and sat with Allan Green of Greenwood Ridge; Mary Elke of Elke; Douglas Stewart of Lichen; John Osborne, an event volunteer; and Laura Barnard, who works in marketing for Jackson Family Wines’ West Burgundy Wine Group, of which Champ de Reves is just one winery. After dinner we were also joined in conversation by Paula Viehmann of Goldeneye.

Friday morning started early with coffee and a selection of quiches prepared by Julia Kendrick Conway, as winemakers, press, and consumers gathered at the fairgrounds in Boonville for a technical conference. Greg Walter, publisher of the Pinot Report, introduced the morning’s sessions, which featured The Nature Conservancy’s Jason Pelletier sharing the results of an incredibly detailed study on water flow and water use throughout the year. The study focused on grape growing water demands within the Navarro watershed and then segued into a similar talk by Jennifer Carah, but with a focus on marijuana growing water demands. Unsurprisingly, marijuana growths use much more water — 19 to 50 times more — for production, and do not share the same land and water stewardship ethos as many grape growers. This is especially significant in drought years ­ like this year.

Glenn McGourty gave a talk on best practices for grape growing during a drought year, or years. Winemakers in attendance were certainly leaning forward during this session. Lunch was delicious, prepared by Boont Berry Farm and paired with a huge selection of Pinot Noir from the Anderson Valley. After lunch, there were two tasting sessions. The first focused on the many faces of Pinot Noir and featured Arnaud Weyrich’s zero skin contact Pinot Noir, picked early, and briskly acidic for Roederer’s bubbly; Alex Crangle’s White Noir for Balo; the Dry Rose of Pinot Noir by Jim Klein of Navarro; the round, rich red Pinot Noir by Anthony Filiberti of Knez; and the purple dark version made by Michael Fay of Goldeneye.

Next, we looked at the fruit of Angel Camp Vineyard and how different winemakers used it to make distinctly different wines; the winemakers and wineries featured were Brian Zalaznik of Angel Camp, Dan Goldfield of Dutton Goldfield, and Anne Moller-Racke of Donum. The technical conference ended with a sharing of accumulated extensive knowledge by Clark Smith on the arcana of winemaking.

Friday night’s dinner was a barbecue at Foursight Winery with grilled lamb from Bone Daddy of Bones Roadhouse and music by Dean Titus & The Cowboys. Relaxed, fun, another delicious event with enough Pinot Noir to fill an Olympic sized swimming pool, I sat with folks from Southern California and Washington who heard about the event from someone they ran into in the Middle East. It turns out I knew who they were talking about, John Gaudette. The world of wine is close and doesn’t need a full six degrees of separation to connect us all, I’m convinced.

Saturday morning, Margaret Pedroni, Mendocino County wine personality, joined me at Balo in Philo for an early private press tasting. The Ukiah Daily Journal was represented beside tasters from Wine Enthusiast, Wine Spectator, Wine & Spirits, Connoisseurs’ Guide, San Francisco Chronicle, Examiner, Pinot Report, Pinot File, and more. Heads down, no talking, serious tasting. I’ve done it before, but I preferred the fun and conviviality of the Grand Tasting that followed at Goldeneye.

Goldeneye has a breathtakingly beautiful tasting room and the Grand Tasting event was held behind the tasting room under the shade of a huge white tent in their vineyards. About 750 ticketed guests Pinot Noir based wines; bubblies, blancs, roses, and full on reds; from all of the producers in Anderson Valley and a few producers from farther away who make one or more wines exclusively from Anderson Valley Pinot Noir grapes. Not too big, not too small, but just right, with opportunities to place silent auction bids on donated Pinot-centric items to help the Anderson Valley Health Center, plenty of exceptional food bites, water and soda to remain hydrated, and the fermented juice of Pinot Noir grapes from 45 producers to experience.

I tasted more than 100 wines over the course of the weekend, one was corked ­ and poured at the press tasting ­ but I had tasted it elsewhere already, one didn’t really make me love it, but the vast majority of wines I tasted, over 99 percent, were good at least and great at best. The 2011 vintage wines were brighter and more elegant, coming from a cooler year and the 2012 vintage, being warmer, yielded wines of greater weight and intensity. All of the wines taste of cherry, that is Pinot Noir, but the expressions were varied: black cherry, red cherry, candied cherry, dried cherry, and the supporting notes ranged the gamut from rose petal to cedar, and mushroom to barnyard funk. Some of the Pinot Noir I loved included the 2012 Fel Wines, Ferrington Vineyard; 2007 Elke Pinot Noir, Donnelly Creek Vineyard; 2011 Witching Stick, Cerise Vineyard; 2011 Williams Selyem, Ferrington Vineyard; 2011 Donum, Angel Camp Vineyard; 2012 Baxter, Anderson Valley; 2011 Goldeneye, Gowan Creek Vineyard; 2012 Waits-Mast, Deer Meadow’s Vineyard; and both the 2012 Lichen, Estate and Solera Lichen, Estate. That’s my unordered top 10 for this past weekend.

I urge you to visit the Anderson Valley, taste their Pinot Noir, and their other wines, notably Alsatian varietals like Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, and Riesling, and find your favorites. Also mark the third weekend of May next year on your calendar and plan on attending the 18th annual Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival next year. Huge thanks to my hosts, the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association, and Janis MacDonald and Kristy Charles specifically, for the kind invitation and warm welcome. I had a terrific weekend because you present a first class festival.

 

I visited Dunnewood Vineyards in Ukiah recently.

The first thing I learned is that the Dunnewood Vineyards name was all marketing, and no one knows where they got that name. The good news is that most of the wine in the Dunnewood Vineyards tasting room carries the Mendocino Vineyards label, and I can grasp where that name came from.


Located in Ukiah, north of town, at 2399 North State Street; the sign for Dunnewood Vineyards is the most visible clue that a winery exists in this industrial zone outside Ukiah city proper. The winery location features vineyards around, an old front building doubling as tasting room and office, and a rather large winery facility in rear.

The large winery facility is owing, in part, to Dunnewood/Mendocino Vineyards being owned by wine giant Constellation. All Mendocino County grapes for Contellation Brand wines are made into wine at this facility. More interesting, from a “green” Mendocino County wine industry perspective, Mendicino Vineyards makes certified organic grown grape wines.

From Constellation’s website:

Mendocino Vineyards comes from the proverbial heart and soul of organic viticulture, Mendocino County. Bordering California’s rugged Pacific Coast, the county is enveloped by the cool morning fog that rolls in from the ocean and settles on the vineyards to produce wines with bright green apple flavors and a crisp, clean finish. It’s here that our team crafts this world-class wine that exemplifies environmental integrity by employing the strictest certified organic farming practices.

It may be unfair, but I don’t think of corporate responsibility and eco awareness when I think of of worldwide business conglomerates, yet Constellation seems to embrace and support Mendocino County’s eco spirit in their grape growing and winemaking choices surrounding their Ukiah facility.

Helen Kelley poured wines for me at the tasting bar. Helen is the office manager, and her pride in the winery and wines was evident.

2009 Mendocino Vineyards Chardonnay Mendocino County $12 clear color of light straw, nose of apple, pear, lemon, nice fruit shown. Tasty tropical sweetly candied fruit flavors. Nice body. Very, very long finish. Made with organic grapes sourced from about Mendocino County.

2003 Dunnewood Vineyards Coro Mendocino $35 Winemaker George Phelan has a lighter bodied, brighter Zinfandel based wine. 64.6% Zinfandel, 25.7% Syrah, and 9.7% Sangiovese. Nice fruit, raspberry and mixed berry, and cedar wood spice.

1997 Dunnewood Tawny Port Signiture Napa Valley $19 A charbono port, really really nice. Rich, sweetly delicious, plummy goodness.

Helen poured me a library selection, the 1979 Dunnewood Tawny Port California Limited Edition $28. At first nose, I wasn’t in love, it is tobacco juice tar color, but I came stuck with it to find plum dark fruit, sticky caramel apple and fig. I would enjoy trying to pair this with a fig reduction sauced pork. Helen shared a story of having to hand fill the unusual shaped bottles, and how at the end of the task, she was a syrupy, sticky, sweet mess.

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Last week, I stopped in at Jeriko Estate in Hopland to taste a local Mendocino County Brut Rosé for a Valentine’s Day bubbly write up.

As long as I was there, I tasted the 2009 Jeriko Estate Pinot Noir Mendocino 14.3% alc $38 as well. Lovely Burgundy color, delightful dried cranberry nose, delicious lush cranberry and cherry fruit flavors. Lingering finish, Nice acid. Well balanced.

J.J. Cannon, my host in the tasting room, told me that this was winery owner Danny Fetzer’s favorite wine, the wine he most often has a glass of when choosing from among the winery’s releases.

J.J. also serves as the wine club manager, and has grown the membership to a bit over 150 members, about an 18% increase, in a relatively short period of time. Founder’s Club members receive a case, discounted 20%, spread over 3 shipments each year. Estate Club members receive two cases, discounted 25%, spread over 12 shipments each year. Cellar Club members receive a half case monthly at a 30% discount. Other benefits include a big discount on wines purchased at the tasting room on the day you sign up for a wine club membership, an annual wine club member appreciation party, wine club pick up parties, complimentary reserve wine tasting for members and guests, and special pre-release priority and prices. Wine club members can choose all white, all red, or a delicious mix of both with each wine club shipment.

Wandering about the tasting room area, I noticed some lovely jewelry available for purchase. It turns out the jewelry from Hook & Loop Jewelry Designs is made by winery owner Danny Fetzer’s niece Christina McDonald and her partner Rasean Powell. I would encourage the introduction of additional items of interest to warm the feeling of the tasting room area. Books on wine, wine accessories, art, jewelry, olive oils and foodstuffs placed about the tasting room would increase movement, and warm the experience immensely.

Outside the Tuscan styled and colored main building, the vineyards were readied for the upcoming spring and bud break a month or two away. A fountain burbled, olive trees decorated the property, and baby goats played on the property’s neighboring hillside.

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Two events I attended last year are coming up and I highly recommend them for lovers of Petite Sirah or Pinot Noir respectively:

Dark & Delicious Petite Sirah and Food Event
February 18, 2011
6:00pm – 9:00pm
Rock Wall Wine Company
2301 Monarch Street
Alameda, CA 94501

40 top Petite Sirah wine producers and 30 top bay area restaurants and caterers, one night, stain your teeth purple.

Parducci Wine Cellars of Ukiah in Mendocino County will be pouring at Dark & Delicious

The 8th Annual Pinot Noir Summit
Saturday, February 26, 2011
11:30am – 6:45pm
Hilton San Francisco
750 Kearny Street
San Francisco, CA 94108

Blind taste 32 or 64 top Pinot Noir wines, rate them, attend workshop seminars, enjoy the results of the blind tasting while enjoying these and more Pinot Noir paired with hors d’oeuvre.

Mendocino County’s Handley Cellars of Philo in the Anderson Valley and Rack & Riddle of Hopland will be pouring at the Pinot Noir Summit.

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Finally, Tierra, art, garden, wine in Ukiah will be closing their doors after the end of this month. If you live in or near Ukiah, stop in Wed-Sat 11am-6:00pm, and help out by purchasing a thoughtfully artful gift for a friend or something beautiful for your home, and save 30-70$ off most items.

Tierra is located at 312 N School Street in Ukiah.

I am sorry that Nicole Martensen and Nicholas Thayer’s Tierra will disappear from Ukiah, I will miss it. I wish I had visited more often.