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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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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 – Recap of a great three day wine weekend

Last week, I mentioned that I was attending some wine events and promised a recap of tastes of the eighteen gold medal winning wines made using Mendocino County grapes that were at the Barlow on Sunday in Sebastopol for the 2015 Press Democrat North Coast Wine Challenge grand tasting.

Upon arriving, I was instantly reminded of Prussian Field Marshall Helmuth von Moltke the Elder’s quote, “no plan of operations extends with any certainty beyond the first contact with the main hostile force,” which could be paraphrased and shortened, “no plan survives first contact.”

At check in, my badge could not be found, but I was saved by fellow writer and wine ambassador Thea Dwelle who recognized me and secured two wristbands for me and my tasting companion, Susan Johnson. Thank you Thea!

List in hand, ready to taste the wines in a planned order, I found that the wineries were not alphabetically ordered, but by wine type, whites and bubblies in one group, light reds and blush wines in another, and finally big reds in a last group. The problem, for me, is that a number of wineries won medals for more than one wine type, and the significant crowds made the tasting I had planned nearly impossible.

Instead, I decided to put my notebook away and simply taste what I wished, and enjoy myself. That new plan was a smashing success as there was much to enjoy.

I lived and worked in the Sonoma County wine industry for far longer than I have lived and worked here in Mendocino County, and saw many friends; the event was very much like a reunion for me. The wines were top notch, as you might expect from a collection of gold medal winners, and the food was beyond good, the food was great. Special thanks to all of the wine judges, including Christopher Sawyer who shared some of his event photos for this piece.

Two Michelin Star Cyrus' chef Doug Keene with Foie Gras for Late Harvest and Caviar for Bubbly at The Barlow (photo by Christopher Sawyer)

Two Michelin Star Cyrus’ chef Doug Keene with Foie Gras for Late Harvest and Caviar for Bubbly at The Barlow (photo by Christopher Sawyer)

I tasted Foie Gras and Caviar from Michelin two star awarded chef Doug Keene, spectacular pork treats from Food Network celebrity Duskie Estes and husband John Stewart, salmon, truffled mac and cheese, pork belly, tuna tataki, and so much more. Every bite was an absolute delight but some were so intensely flavorful that finding a wine that could pair well was a challenge – a challenge I accepted.

Duskie Estes of Zasu at The Barlow (photo by Christopher Sawyer)

Duskie Estes of Zasu at The Barlow (photo by Christopher Sawyer)

Wines, well that’s why I attended, right? I loved Carol Shelton’s new 2014 Wild Thing Chardonnay, Mendocino County, with oak but not so much as to mask the abundant and flavorful fruit notes. Navarro’s 2014 Pinot Blanc and Campovida’s 2013 Arneis were also drinking great. Handley’s 2014 Rose of Pinot Noir was bright and flavorful, a good match for many foods, and their Best of Mendocino County awarded 2012 Pinot Noir was especially delicious with gorgeous cherry berry fruit and depth, matched to oak and herb. Campovida’s 2013 Campo di Rossa, a Rhone blend, and Masut’s 2013 Pinot Noir rounded out my day’s favorite local red tastes. I finished my day with a taste of the 2013 Merriam Vineyards Chardonnay, Bacigalupi, Native Fermentation $56, poured by the multi-talented Toni DiLeo, and was well pleased with the choice. Toni and I sold a 1994 Bacigalupi Chardonnay made by Carol Shelton many years ago, and it brought the event full circle for me, with ribbon and a bow.

Campovida's Sebastian Donoso with two Press Democrat North Coast Wine Challenge Gold Medal winners (photo by Christopher Sawyer)

Campovida’s Sebastian Donoso with two Press Democrat North Coast Wine Challenge Gold Medal winners (photo by Christopher Sawyer)

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2015 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival (photo by Tom Liden)

2015 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival (photo by Tom Liden)

Before the Barlow event on Sunday, came 2015’s Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival. Once again, another amazing event put on by Mendocino County’s best organized appellation. I might be the largest cheerleader for inland Mendocino’s wine scene, but credit where credit is due, Janis MacDonald and her team at the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association do the very best job reaching out to the press, marketing and promoting, and staging first class wine events within Mendocino County. Kudos go to Janis, Kristy Charles, and all of the amazing volunteers, for another memorable and worthwhile event.

Pizza is served by Stone & Embers at Balo Vineyard's Welcome Dinner for the press (photo by John Cesano)

Pizza is served by Stone & Embers at Balo Vineyard’s Welcome Dinner for the press (photo by John Cesano)

The event kicked off for me Thursday night with a Welcome Dinner at Balo Vineyards. There were more wines than I could taste, more winemakers and winery owners than I could chat with, but I said my hellos and tasted some delicious wines. Favorites of the night included the 2014 Avenging Angel Pinot Noir Blanc, a 2013 Philo Ridge Viognier with Greg Nelson’s grapes, the 2012 Waits-Mast Wentzel Vineyard Pinot Noir, the 2012 Donkey & Goat Broken Leg Vineyard Pinot Noir, 2012 Williams Selyem Ferrington Vineyard Pinot Noir, and a 1994 Husch Pinot Noir which I would describe as ‘faded glory’, a wine from a great vintage, a little beyond its prime, but filled with memories of other wines from that year. The appetizers, salads and pizza by Stone & Embers were excellent.

Friday morning’s Tech Conference featured a look at the state of Pinot Noir by Glenn McGourty, who shared that Pinot Noir acreage in the state has doubled, at least, since 2000, and that the variety is the most valuable grown per ton, on average. Nancy Smith and Jennifer Carah from The Nature Conservancy returned to update attendees on water flow and proposed efforts to balance the needs of fish and humans in the Navarro watershed. Andy Walker discussed rootstock and Jean-Jacques Lambert talked about soil in the two tech sessions aimed well over my head, but undoubtedly of value to the vineyards and winery owners attending. My favorite sessions included a panel tasting of Pinot Noir produced from different soil types, another panel tasting focusing on various Pinot Noir wines produced using Charles Vineyard grapes, and the lunch session with various Anderson Valley Pinot Noir wines and the best conference food ever served at a tech conference, prepared by Boont Berry Farm. I’m a simple taster, and my favorite sessions involve wine and a story. My favorite quote of the day came from Bill Hill of Expression 39 wine, on terroir (soil and climate), “there are a few places in the world that make wines that are really interesting, there are places in the world that make wines that shouldn’t.” The day’s conference amply demonstrated that Anderson Valley is a place to make Pinot Noir.

Casual BBQ at Lula Cellars (photo by John Cesano)

Casual BBQ at Lula Cellars (photo by John Cesano)

That night’s Casual BBQ at Lula Cellars catered by The Q was a blast. Lots of people gathered to enjoy the best event BBQ food served at one of these events, fantastic wine, great heartfelt country folk music, and the company of one another.

Just some of the wines at the Press Tasting at Scarffenberger Cellars (photo by John Cesano)

Just some of the wines at the Press Tasting at Scarffenberger Cellars (photo by John Cesano)

Saturday morning, at 8:50 am, I started working through tasting wines, taking comprehensive notes for each, at the Press Tasting at Scharffenberger Cellars. I took over 2 ½ hours to taste through about 55 wines, but it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience as John and Linda Compisi and Christopher Sawyer were also tasting and there were great conversations and cross talk over wines being tasted.

My favorite wines of the press tasting, in reverse alphabetical order, were the 2012 Waits-Mast Pinot Noir, Wentzel Vineyard, Anderson Valley; 2012 Witching Stick Cerise Vineyard Pinot Noir; 2011 Philo Ridge Vineyards Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley; 2013 Phillips Hill Anderson Valley Pinot Noir; 2013 Navarro Vineyards Pinot Noir, Deep End Blend, Anderson Valley; 2012 Husch Reserve Anderson Valley Pinot Noir; 2012 Handley Cellars Pinot Noir, Helluva Vineyard, Anderson Valley; 2012 Goldeneye Anderson Valley Pinot Noir; 2012 Fathers & Daughters Pinot Noir, Ella’s Reserve, Ferrington Vineyard (not a consensus choice, light, but stand out interesting); 2013 Drew Pinot Noir Fog-Eater Anderson Valley; 2013 Bink Anderson Valley Pinot Noir; and 2012 Baxter Pinot Noir Anderson Valley (tasted at the Grand Tasting).

Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Grand Tasting wines (photo by Tom Liden)

Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Grand Tasting wines (photo by Tom Liden)

The Grand Tasting at Goldeneye Winery was indeed grand, with smiling winemakers pouring for smiling attendees. The smiles were easy to come by, bought with some of the best wine and food imaginable, from among many of the county’s best producers.

Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Grand Tasting food (photo by Tom Liden)

Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Grand Tasting food (photo by Tom Liden)

Tom Liden, Mendocino County photographer extraordinaire, was on hand and his photos are as gorgeous as the wine and food served. Thanks for sharing, Tom.
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Next week, I’ll be recapping the Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush Italian Steakhouse in Ukiah, featuring the wines of Graziano Family of Wines.
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NOTE: This piece is scheduled to run in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, May 28, 2015 and, instead of waiting for publication there before archiving here, I am running it here first for timeliness. The early reference to last week’s column will actually be a column that runs tomorrow, and be archived out of order shortly after, here.

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John On Wine – An early Thanksgiving

Susan Johnson and John Cesano at Passport to Dry Creek Valley

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Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, May 14, 2015

I know I am supposed to save up all my gratefulness for the year and post it in a cliché Thanksgiving post toward the end of November, but Thanksgiving is coming early this year.

During the recently passed Hopland Passport event, one of our visiting tasters told me that she wished she could have my job. Everybody sees greener grass outside their lives; I would love to have Anthony Bourdain’s job, but I do recognize how blessed I am.

The Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley invited me to attend the Passport to Dry Creek Valley for the third consecutive year, and I am extraordinarily grateful. This year, I was accompanied by my good friend, Susan Johnson. Susan and I used to travel the country doing tradeshows, winemaker dinners, and corporate events for wineries, and then moved together to work for the Wine Appreciation Guild where we visited hundreds of wineries and tasting rooms throughout California.

Susan now works for a company that provides winemakers the tools to make great wine, and of course I pour great wine at one job and write about great wine in my other job. Although we came at each wine tasted from a different perspective, Susan looking at what could have made a wine better and me taking each wine as it is, we both were absolutely impressed front to back with the line ups at media check in host winery DaVero, Gustafson Family Winery, and Seghesio. Talty did the best job amplifying social media marketing, Selby had the best single bite of food, and Blanchard had the best ‘story’ wine.

DaVero produces organic or biodynamic wines from Italian varieties, and I shared the names of some Mendocino growers when asked by winemaker Evan, but if you grow grapes in the county, certified organic or biodynamic, and they are Italian varieties, then Evan wants to hear from you. Terrific wines that you will not taste anywhere else, plus they have farm goods for sale — and you know how much I love an organic farm stand & tasting room!

Gustafson is a long drive from any other winery, but absolutely worth the time to get there. Best winery views ever, fantastic wines, whimsically wonderful presented tasty food creations, and a dream property for vacation rental. Gustafson joins Preston and Truett-Hurst as one of my three favorite Dry Creek places to spend an afternoon with wine and food.

In spite of my desire to visit new wineries each Dry Creek Passport, Seghesio pulls me in year after year. Between wine, food, and music this is probably the most dependably solid stop for complete satisfaction.

Within seconds of a #DCVPassport post by me, about any participating winery, Talty was sharing or retweeting it. Visit them if you like Zin, Zin, or Zin. Selby’s duck and andouille sausage gumbo with crayfish cornbread was the best food I tasted all weekend. Blanchard had the best music with the Rosetown Ramblers covering Grateful Dead tunes, and each bottle sold of their “Helicopter” blend sees a donation to help the families of our military’s special operators.

Two days before our own Hopland Passport, I attended a general meeting of Mendocino Winegrowers Inc. at Barra of Mendocino. I would love to sit at a table with Charlie and Martha Barra, George Lee, Ed Berry, Leroy and Mary Louise Chase, and just shut up for a change. Listening to these, and other great growers, is so wonderful, and helps me in my education about Mendocino wine. I gratefully accepted an invite to visit the Chase Vineyard on a future date, and am thankful for the opportunity to tell a future story about wine from a great vineyard.

Hopland Passport. For me, it is a week of preparation, two days of intense energy output, and nearly a week of putting my tasting room back together afterward. Although people have reported that attendance may have been lighter than in the past, you couldn’t tell it by our numbers. I have everyone to thank, all of the team at the farm, the tasting room team, our chef team, and especially all of our visitors for more than doubling our numbers from last spring’s Passport event.

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Passport is truly a team effort, and we all work hard to make it as fun as possible; I think we succeeded. Now, if you’ll all come and pick up all of your paid for wine, I’ll be even more thankful.

Thanks to Tom Liden, Mendocino winery photographer, for your kind words of encouragement about the words I write weekly. Thanks also to all of my other readers for your words of support; I confess that I am still a little freaked out when I’m recognized for my writing and the compliments about individual pieces I have written, but I am enormously grateful. Within the last two weeks, three different people have told me they enjoy the recaps of the Chef’s Winemaker Dinners at Crush; that makes the piece I’ll be writing about the May 20 Graziano dinner all the easier to write.

Thanks to Aubrey Rawlins, executive director of Mendocino Winegrowers Inc., for recommending me for a winery writing gig. The funny thing is I already loved the wines and winery involved, had planned a visit for a future spotlight winery piece here, and this might be the easiest gig ever, a two for one opportunity.

Thanks to Janis MacDonald and Kristy Charles of the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association for invitations to all of your events, and for treating the Ukiah Daily Journal wine guy the same as the folks from Wine Enthusiast, San Francisco Chronicle, and Wine Spectator; it is appreciated, if a little surreal and humbling.

I will next be attending the 18th annual Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival on May 14-17; with a welcome dinner on Thursday (tonight) at Balo Vineyards, the Technical Conference on Friday at the Fairgrounds in Boonville (seriously, it may sound boring, but the tech conferences that Anderson Valley puts on are a highlight of each event) and a Casual BBQ at Lula Cellars that evening, a Press Tasting at Scharffenberger Cellars on Saturday morning followed by the Grand Tasting at Goldeneye Winery.

On Sunday, May 17, I’ll be headed to The Barlow in Sebastopol to taste Mendocino County’s Gold Medal awarded wines from the recent 2015 Press Democrat North Coast Wine Challenge. Friday, June 19, I’ll be at the Coro Mendocino 2012 Vintage Release Party & Multi-Course Dinner at Dogpatch Wine Works in San Francisco (tickets available at Sip Mendocino in Hopland, ask to sit at the McFadden table), and the next day, June 20, I’ll be at the Metreon in San Francisco for the 11th annual Pinot Days.

In between all this, I’ll be visiting vineyards, wineries, and tasting rooms for future pieces, or simply my own further education and enjoyment.

None of my opportunities would be possible without invitations from others, and those invitations come because I write for you, my readers, here in the Ukiah Daily Journal and online at JohnOnWine.com and you are the reason I have a life worthy of gratitude, of thanks, and of appreciation. I’m not waiting until Thursday, November 26, Thanksgiving day 2015; let me say it now (and possibly again then): Thank you!

Note: This column originally ran in the Ukiah Daily Journal on Thursday, December 19, 2013 –

Wow, the last column before Christmas. This is where I am supposed to write the cliché “Holiday Gifts for your Wine Lover” piece. I’ll probably mention a couple of things that I like, but first, I have a couple of notes of thanks:

Thank you to everyone who, after reading my column last week, came to the McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room with a new unwrapped toy donation for our Toys For Tots toy drive & wine tasting event. We just about doubled the number of toys brought in last year, and we will be able to bring these toys to the Hopland Volunteer Fire Department for the wonderful firemen to deliver, helping Santa, on Christmas Eve. The thanks for this success, and the joy and smiles of the children helped, is all because of you, and I am incredibly grateful.

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Thanks also go to my boss Guinness McFadden and to our winemakers Bob Swain and Mark Beaman. Last week, I was invited to sit in on tastes of wines we’ll release in the future, and helped shape a future Coro blend. I am a taster guy; I taste wine, describe it, and sell it. I know the rudimentary process of winemaking, but this knowledge is much more theory than practice, and sitting with two accomplished winemakers in their realm, not mine, was a terrific experience. I learned a ton, and I gained a new and valuable perspective.

Finally, many folks to thank for last week’s Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush Ukiah, featuring the 2010 vintage Coro Mendocino wines.

First, thanks to my boss for picking up the tab for my dinner. Next, thanks to the entire staff at Crush, from chefs Jesse and Nate and their entire kitchen crew to the front of house team, for another spectacularly executed wine dinner experience. Speaking of front of house team, thanks to Julie Golden from Coro Mendocino for working alongside the team to pour a plentitude of delicious wine. Huge thanks go to local superstar photographer Tom Liden; as soon as I saw Tom with his camera, I knew I could leave my picture taking device in it’s bag. Finally, thanks to everyone who attended the dinner; without you and the energy you bring, there would be no special wine dinners.

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Photography by Tom Liden, Tom Liden Photography

The Coro Dinner at Crush saw the largest event gathering, 70 guests, in the history of all three Crush restaurants, and the event sold out earlier than any previous dinner, with many people on a waiting list, hoping for a cancellation.

I love the Zinfandel based blends of the Coro Mendocino program, they were all delicious. Food highlights for me were the wedge salad with Nueske bacon, blue cheese, and red onions; the crab balls – they were billed as cakes, but trust me they were balls; oysters Rockefeller; and Prime Rib with all the trimmings. For me, the best, and most memorable, food and wine pairing of the night was at dessert, when the Butterscotch Budino, a bowl with chocolate pudding on the bottom, then caramel pearls, then butterscotch pudding, topped with Chantilly cream and mint – you dug down to get all layers with each spoonful – was paired with the Double Gold and Best of Class awarded 2011 McFadden Late Harvest Riesling. I expected delicious, but this pairing left delicious far behind; this was a perfect pairing. A spoon and a tiny sip, another spoon and another sip, until, too soon, it was gone.

This dinner series is a treat, and I’ll let you know about future dinners when I hear about them.

The next scheduled Coro dinner will be the 2011 vintage release party at the Little River Inn on Saturday, June 28, 2014. For more info, or to make a reservation, call the Little River Inn at (707) 937-5942.

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Okay, here are some wine gift recommendations for Christmas:

Wine. Visit any winery tasting room, enjoy a wine tasting if you have the time, and pick up some delicious wines for the holidays. Wine makes a great hostess gift when you visit for a Christmas party or dinner. Wine makes food taste better, so you should serve it at your table too. A couple of bottles wrapped and placed under the tree make for great emergency gifts when someone gives you a gift and you hadn’t purchased a gift for them yet. Wine was Christ’s first miracle, and he offered a cup to the dinner guests at His last supper, so wine infuses a little miracle into this season of Christmas.

Wine gadgets. A good wine opener, an aerator, reusable bottle stoppers, a Champagne stopper, and a can of argon or argon mixed with nitrogen to preserve wine between glasses are all great gifts that a wine lover will appreciate.

Wine books: I have two to recommend. The first features the words of Heidi Cusick Dickerson, who wrote a weekly wine column in the Journal before I did, and the photography of Tom Liden, and is focused on the wines, wineries, and vineyards of Mendocino County. The book is Mendocino Roots & Ridges and retails for $29.95. It is gorgeously rich in content, and hand signed copies by Heidi and Tom are available widely, including the McFadden tasting room in Hopland.

The second book has a larger focus, The New California Wine by San Francisco Chronicle wine editor Jon Bonne retails at $35, and is available at better book stores everywhere. Among my favorite dozen inland Mendocino vineyards that Bonne notes are Eaglepoint Ranch, Gibson Ranch, Heart Arrow Ranch, Lolonis, McFadden Farm, Sun Hawk, and Testa; as well almost twenty Anderson Valley properties. The book is a look at California’s wine industry today, growers, winemakers, and the wines, and is an absolute must have book for anyone serious enough about wine to have a library of wine books.
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That’s it, some thanks, a couple of wine gift ideas, and this wish: Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, or whatever year end wish for happiness works for you, from me.

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John On Wine ­ – Book Reports

Originally published on October 17, 2013 in the Ukiah daily Journal by John Cesano

I love wine. I love books. I don’t always love wine books. Wine books can be so dry as to be boring, or rely so strongly on the reader having a rich knowledge of wine that it can alienate most folks.

Let me share a few wine books that I do love, each for a different reason: The first hasn’t even been released yet. Wine Business Case Studies – Thirteen Cases from the Real World of Wine Business Management, published by the Wine Appreciation Guild is due out in November this year, and will be available at the Sonoma State University book store.

I was bemoaning the public’s love for corks, when screw caps are a superior closure for wine bottles and Elliott Mackey, one of the top wine book publishers in the country, sent me an advance copy of a case study that looked at corks vs. screw caps from a business perspective: The Great Cork Debate 2012: Cork Stages a Comeback, written by Tom Atkin and Duane DoveI knew, from talking to several distributors and retailers, that if all other things are equal then a wine bottle under cork sells faster than a bottle under screw cap. This isn’t the article to address wine closures, but the case study Elliott sent over from the upcoming book was thoughtful, well researched and compelling.

While I was grateful for the advance peek at the great cork debate case study, I was surprised and thrilled to find that Elliott had also sent a case study titled Dark Horse Ranch Vineyard – A Mendocino County, California, Biodynamic Winemaker Explores Future Directions, written by Liz Thach, PhD, MW, Sonoma State University Wine Business Institute.

I am a big fan of Paul Dolan and his Dark Horse Ranch Vineyard. I have contemplated writing a tasting room review of Truett-Hurst in Sonoma County’s Dry Creek Valley, even though I focus on inland Mendocino wineries and vineyards, because Paul Dolan is an owner and has spread his biodynamic farming ethos to Truett Hurst.

This is a text book, a collection of case studies and is meant to explore a variety of subjects that students in a university level wine business program would benefit in exploring. Definitely not for everyone, I loved the advance look and will be picking up a copy upon release.

The second book is a wine book with broader appeal for folks who love Mendocino County wine. Mendocino Roots & Ridges ­ Wine Notes From America’s Greenest Wine Region, written by Heidi Cusick Dickerson with photography by Tom Liden, is a phenomenal wine book, lushly gorgeous in both writing and photographic art.

Heidi Cusick Dickerson wrote a weekly wine column here in The Ukiah Daily Journal before I did and reading her columns, I was always impressed with her ability to paint a picture with words, a picture so well defined that I would want to visit the subject of her piece so I could experience the beauty she shared each week. I have no problem admitting that Heidi is a better writer than I am, and her work set the bar for quality I try to attain.

Tom Liden, similarly, is spectacularly skilled in his ability. As a professional photographer in wine country, many of the images he has captured tell a story that words alone could not do justice to.

Together, Heidi and Tom, in Mendocino Roots & Ridges, combine words and photographic art to give readers a rich sense of what makes scores of Mendocino County’s wineries so special. My copy is autographed by both Heidi and Tom, and if you were looking for a perfect wine book to present as a gift to a friend, there are a number of autographed copies available at the McFadden Farm stand & Tasting Room in Hopland. The price is an incredibly reasonable $29.95.

The final book I wanted to share with you is for wine geeks like me: Been Doon So Long, A Randall Grahm Vinthology. Randall Graham is the genius, iconoclast, mad man owner and winemaker of Bonny Doon – one of my absolute favorite wineries.

In support of his brand, Randall wrote satirical pieces for his winery newsletter. Been Doon So Long is a collection of some of the best satirical pieces written by Randall over the years.

Included are brilliantly executed parodies of notable literary works including Don Quixote, Catcher in the Rye, and A Clockwork Orange. Each parody allows Randall to comment on the wine industry, and often pokes fun and sometimes derision at a host of subjects within the industry.

In the book’s center, at its core, is the book’s masterwork, a parody of Dante’s Divine Comedy. In Da Vino Commedia: The Vinferno, there are nearly 60 pages with beautiful illustrations by Alex Gross, Randall tells the tale of being taken “doon” through the nine circles of wine hell. After pointing out the sins of the industry in fullness, Randall writes of being made to face his own sins and a desire to save himself from mortal zin, um sin.

Filled with zingy references to pompous personages and elite estates, this book is a little insider-ish; but even a wine non-geek will appreciate the skill behind the turns of phrase, even if not fully appreciating the target of Randall’s barb. That’s it, three great books. This weekend, attend Hopland Passport; next weekend, pick up a book.