Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Double Gold in the Organic Heartland: Mendocino Wine Competition Winners

Mendocino's annual wine competition is the little competition that could - a regional tasting that has persisted for 37 continuous years, providing a spotlight for wines from "America's greenest wine region," as the area vintners like to promote themselves. County wide, organic vines occupy 25% of the vineyard acreage, and in one AVA, Redwood Valley, the number is as high as 35%.

While most of these grapes are going into America's biggest organically grown wine brand - Bonterra (and the second biggest - the no added sulfite wine producer Frey Vineyards) - some of the grapes also go into independent winery labels. Outside of Anderson Valley, most of these wineries belong to growers who also have their own brands (Barra, Blue Quail, McFadden and more).

Unfortunately most of the big Pinot Noir producers identify more as "Anderson Valley," than "Mendocino" and hence do not participate in the competition, even though this year the awards dinner and event were held in Boonville.

The Anderson bunch are often run and managed by out of county owners. (They do, however, participate in their own Pinot Noir event, held annually in Boonville in May.) But many big name, highly recognized brands (Littorai, Copain, etc.) depend on these Anderson Valley Pinot vineyards.

To my knowledge, only three vineyards in Anderson Valley are certified organic. Handley Cellars makes 3+ wines each year from organic estate vines. Drew Family (in the Mendocino Ridge AVA) has certified vines and will release its first vintage from them soon. Filigreen Farm, which is certified Biodynamic, sells grapes to vintners (and does not make any wine itself).

Since the Anderson Valley-ites don't all participate in the competition, their wines are underrepresented.

However, two Anderson Valley mainstays, with a long history in Mendocino, Navarro (not organic) and Handley (partially organic), are reliable participants, entering wines in the competition each year. In the most double gold medals category, Handley topped the overall list with three double golds (including one from organic estate vines) and Navarro (non organic) and McFadden Vineyards (organic) each had two. (Navarro, while refraining from using pesticides and herbicides, is not organic, because they use fungicides.)

Sadly, it does not appear that Campovida, one of my favorite tiny wineries, in Hopland, entered the competition. It's best known for its stellar Grenache.

Looking at the list of entries, I discovered a few wineries new to me that produce single vineyard designate wines from two great biodynamic vineyards - Graft Wines (a Grenache from Dark Horse Ranch, in Hopland - also the source for Campovida's Grenache) and Panthea (a Pinot Noir and a Pinot Gris from Filigreen Farms, in Anderson Valley).

Here are the competition results:

Best of Show - White

NV Cuvee Brut (sparkling wine) - McFadden Vineyards - $25
Potter Valley AVA (northeast of Ukiah)

As anyone who is a regular reader of this blog knows, this is a wine whose horn I have tooted for many years - with good reason. (I've bought and enjoyed more at least 10 cases of it over the years). 

If it were French and from Champagne, it would be called grower Champagne. 

The Cuvee Brut used to have Domaine Carneros for competition (which the McFadden beat in the San Francisco Chronicle competitions) as a choice for organically grown sparkling, a woefully small category. Domaine Carneros has excellent sparkling wine as well, but it sells for a great deal more than the McFadden. (And now that Domaine Carneros has decertified its organic vineyards as of Jan. 2015, they won't, sadly, be making any new vintages of organically grown sparkling wines). 

Get over the McFadden name - Guinness McFadden, the grower and vintner, is of Irish heritage - but the grapes are pure Potter Valley, a cooler climate region near Mendocino's border with Lake County, that somehow was overlooked when the French Champagne houses (Roederer, Domaine Chandon, and Taittinger) came a calling in America in search of good places to grow Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Potter Valley is kind of a secret little spot. (Alice Waters' favorite supplier of grass fed cattle and lambs  - Magruder Ranch - is also in Potter Valley. Magruder meat is now available to mere mortals, by shopping at select Bay Area butchers. See the Magruder web site for details.)

In comparison, both of the big name brands in sparkling wine in Mendo - Roederer Estate (owned by a French Champagne house) and Scharffenberger - got silver medals.

McFadden's a local institution for its 45 years of organic farming near the headwaters of the Russian River and supplies many a high priced Napa wine with the grapes inside (including Chateau Montelena's Riesling) - and it won other awards in the competition (read on).

Credit is also due to Rack and Riddle, which makes McFadden's sparkling wines.

Double Gold Winners

  • 2014 Rosé of Pinot Noir - Handley Cellars ($22) - Anderson Valley AVA 
Petite Sirah
  • 2011 Petite Sirah - Barra of Mendocino ($22) - Mendocino AVA
Pinot Noir
  • 2013 Pinot Noir, Blue Quail (another label from McFadden) ($24) - Potter Valley AVA*
  • NV Cuvee Brut (sparkling wine) - McFadden Vineyards ($25) - Potter Valley AVA 
Gold Winners

What's interesting to me in the Gold category is that tiny Barra (a 5,000 case brand), sourcing from its own vines alone, can make a wine rated as highly at Bonterra (a 350,000 case brand).

Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon - Barra of Mendocino ($20) - Mendocino AVA
  • 2013 Merlot - Bonterra ($15) - Mendocino AVA
  • 2013 Viognier - Bonterra ($13) - Mendocino AVA
Silver Winners

Most of the wines, regardless of price, wound up with silver medals.

Chardonnay 2013
  • 2013 Chardonnay - Bonterra - The Roost ($40) - Mendocino AVA
  • 2013 Chardonnay - Bonterra ($40) - Mendocino AVA
  • 2013 Chardonnay - Paul Dolan Vineyards ($18) - Potter Valley AVA
Chardonnay 2014
  • 2014 Chardonnay - Barra of Mendocino ($18) - Mendocino AVA
  • 2014 Chardonnay - Girasole Vineyards (Barra's second label) - Mendocino AVA
  • 2014 Chardonnay - Blue Quail (another label from McFadden) - Potter Valley AVA
  • 2014 Chardonnay - McFadden Vineyards ($15) - Potter Valley AVA
  • 2013 Gewurztraminer - McFadden Vineyards ($16) 
  • Grenache - Graft Wines - Dark Horse Ranch ($32) - Mendocino AVA
Muscat Canelli
  • 2013 Muscat Canelli - Barra of Mendocino ($16) - Mendocino AVA
Pinot Noir - 2012
  • 2012 Pinot Noir - Handley Cellars - Reserve ($42) Anderson Valley AVA
  • 2012 Pinot Noir - Panthea - Filigreen Farm ($40) - Anderson Valley
Pinot Noir - 2013
  • 2013 Pinot Noir - Bonterra ($14) - Mendocino AVA 
  • 2013 Pinot Noir - Masut ($40) - Eagle Peak AVA
  • 2013 Pinot Noir - Masut - Barrel Select ($60) - Eagle Peak AVA
  • 2013 Pinot Noir - McFadden Vineyard ($19) - Potter Valley AVA
  • 2013 Pinot Noir - Paul Dolan Vineyards ($30) - Potter Valley AVA
Red Blend
  • 2009 Red Blend - Bonterra - The McNab ($55) - Mendocino AVA
  • 2013 Sauvignon Blanc - McFadden Vineyard ($15) - Potter Valley AVA
  • 2014 Rosé - Naughty Boy Vineyards ($18) - Potter Valley 
Sauvignon Blanc
  • 2013 Sauvignon Blanc - McFadden Vineyard ($15) - Potter Valley
  • 2013 Sauvignon Blanc - Saracina - Mendocino AVA
  • 2013 Zinfandel - Blue Quail - Old Vine ($19) - Potter Valley AVA
  • 2013 Zinfandel - Carol Shelton - Wild Thing (90% organic grapes, old vines) ($19) - Mendocino AVA
  • 2013 Zinfandel - Paul Dolan Vineyard ($25) - Mendocino AVA
* A crazy thing: The Blue Quail brand is identical to the McFadden. It's the same wine with a different label. Blue Quail is the East Coast name for this Mendocino label. So while the Blue Quail Pinot got a double gold, the McFadden Pinot got a silver. (Who judged this?)

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