Tomorrow, I start a new job. I have been hired by Guinness McFadden to be the Tasting Room Manager and Wine Club Coordinator for McFadden Vineyards in Mendocino County’s town of Hopland, right on Highway 101.
Guinness McFadden has been organically farming in Potter Valley since 1970. The land, the climate, and the choices McFadden makes allow deliciously distinct wines to be made from the high quality, sweet, flavorful grapes he grows. Many other wineries choose McFadden’s grapes to help make their wines.
I have tasted McFadden’s wines and liked them, without exception, each time I have tasted them. I am happy to come to work for a winery I like.
I had been invited come to work in a similar position for a winery that produced wines I didn’t really like, and I politely declined the offer because I can’t market or sell something I don’t believe in.
Almost twenty years ago, I was asked to work for a winery. My opinion, formed several years earlier, was that they were a gimmick winery, featuring custom labels, but producing barely drinkable plonk wine. I shared my perception with the friend that had invited me to consider working at that winery, and she arranged a tasting of over 20 wines, all current releases at the time. Each wine was more than just drinkable, they were all good, some very good, a couple were unreservedly great. I ended up working for Windsor Vineyards for the next eight years, focusing on sales to larger corporate clients, creating and managing a highly successful trade show program, meeting more of my clients at the tasting room for private tastings – and having the highest average sale for those tastings – each year I was with the winery.
My job was easy, I grew with it, I enjoyed it, but it all started with the wine. If the wine wasn’t good, I could not have taken the job.
I have a strong sense of ethics. I love to use my sales and marketing skills, putting wine into the cupboards and cellars of the people I come into contact with, but it has to be good wine. I sell what I know, what I believe in. I work words around in my head until I can tell the most persuasive story. Sales come as a natural consequence of people sensing earnest honest happiness in the person sharing information.
Last week, after hiring me, Guinness McFadden asked me what my intentions were with respect to my wine blog.
Ethics. Conflict of interest. Believability. Would I continue to write on my own time about wines that aren’t from McFadden Vineyards when I am taking a paycheck for selling McFadden Vineyards wines? If I tasted a Napa bubbly, would a less than glowing review be seen as one more effort to steer people away from Napa or Sonoma County and toward Mendocino County wine, part of a long term strategic campaign perhaps? Would my shared thoughts be viewed with skepticism by readers, if they were aware of my professional relationship, my employment by McFadden Vineyards?
I have a great friend, Nancy Iannios, who as the Tasting Room Manager and Wine Club Coordinator for Schmidt Family Vineyard in Oregon’s Applegate Valley near Grants Pass chose to never be seen in public drinking any wine but those of her employer. Nancy chose to eat at restaurants that had her employer’s wines on their wine list, or drank iced tea or micro beer when visiting eateries that did not carry SFV wines. Her community was small, tight knit, and she had developed a strong thriving wine club and wanted to do nothing to jeopardize her hard earned successes.
Tamara Belgard, another wine blogger, ceased her wine blogging when hired as Marketing Director for Cana’s Feast Winery, perceiving both the conflict of interest and demands on her time too great.
My situation is different. I have given disproportionate attention to the wines and wineries of Mendocino County, and made clear my desire to focus even more on local wines, in my writing over the last two years.
Mendocino County is the number three wine grape growing county in California, behind Napa and Sonoma counties, same goes for wine tourism.
As a Hopland tasting room manager, my first thought should be how to get wine lovers to come to Mendocino County on their next visit, either in addition to or instead of the expected trip to Napa or Sonoma County.
Once people decide to come to Mendocino County, the choice comes down to Anderson Valley or Hopland corridor.
I do not believe that a McFadden Vineyards wine sale is threatened by saying that I love a Saracina Syrah. I think it more likely that someone passing the Hopland tasting room of McFadden Vineyards to Saracina and then again returning home might just stop at our tasting room, conveniently situated on Highway 101, not far from the Bluebird Café.
I think I can sell more wine increasing traffic for all, than fighting for each sale with my neighbors. Nancy at SFV had a much more limited population to draw from in Grants Pass. In addition to welcoming local Mendocino County residents to our tasting room, I see everything to the south, from San Jose to Sonoma County as my target audience.
After establishing myself at McFadden Vineyards, I want to become involved, using my marketing background, helping with the Destination Hopland and Hopland Passport promotional initiatives, and perhaps become involved with the Mendocino Winegrape and Wine Commission as well.
Wine is, at it’s best, cooperative, that is something I have always liked about our industry. When I sold Windsor Vineyards, I was selling Sonoma County and every grape grower that helped make our wines. In selling McFadden Vineyards wines, I will be selling Mendocino County, Hopland, organic farming, a culture of green growing.
I will undoubtedly write more about local events, or about future meals that incorporate McFadden Farms organic wild rice or organic herbs with a McFadden Vineyards wine, but that will not be so much marketing as it is sharing my personal experiences. I have always written about what I’ve drank and tasted, I will continue to do so, but it is foreseeable that I will be drinking more of what I sell and writing about it.
Last year, I was invited to guest chef at a special evening event at Parducci Wine Cellars in my Mendocino County hometown of Ukiah. Tasting room and wine club staff from both Jeriko Estate and Milano Family Winery in Hopland came to the event to support me. Similarly, I would like to support other local wineries whenever I can. I believe that what goes around comes around, and that a rising tide lifts all boats.
Will my wine blog become a forum for shilling, for uncompensated advertising, for undeserved glowing reviews of all things local? No.
I have four of six bottles sent from local wine powerhouse Fetzer Vineyards to review, need to replace the two bottles broken in transit, and want to tour with Ann Thrupp as soon as things settle down after the Concha y Toro takeover announcement. I have a standing invitation and overdue to tour and taste with Jimmy and Lillian Kimmel of Kimmel Vineyards in Potter Valley.
I will try to visit and taste, in most cases retaste, the wines of every Hopland Passport member winery. The Hopland Passport wineries are Brutocao Cellars, Campovida, Cesar Toxqui Cellars, Graziano Family of Wines, Jaxon Keys Winery, Jeriko Estate, McDowell Valley Vineyards, McFadden Vineyards, McNab Ridge Winery, Milano Family Winery, Nelson Family Vineyard, Parducci Wine Cellars, Patianna Vineyards, Rack & Riddle, Saracina, Terra Savia and Weibel Family Vineyards.
I will also continue to taste wine samples that are sent from wherever. Last year, I tasted and reviewed some really delicious wines from Bollinger Champagne, Cleavage Creek Winery, Olson Ogden Wines, Pedroncelli Winery, Pepperwood Grove, Petroni Vineyards, Sonoma-Cutrer Wines, Swanson Vineyards, Tangley Oaks, Toad Hollow Vineyards, V. Sattui Winery, Willamette Valley Vineyards and Wine Guerilla because they sent sample wines or because they extended an event invitation.
Last year, I tasted and wrote about the wines of Carol Shelton Wines, Dunnewood/Mendocino Vineyards, Jacuzzi Family Vineyard, J. Lohr Vineyards and Wines, Keller Estate, Mendocino Farms, the NPA, Preston Vineyards, Rodney Strong Vineyards, Schmidt Family Vineyards, Sokol Blosser, Topel Winery, and Trinchero Napa Valley simply because I like them or because I visited their tasting room and was impressed.
At varietal specific tasting events, often at Ft Mason in San Francisco, I have tasted hundreds of different wines in the last year.
I have been part of organized tastings for wines from Virginia to Bordeaux.
While it is my stated focus, I am not likely to be able to contain my writing to just Mendocino County wines, or Hopland winery wines, or McFadden Vineyards wines. I love wine from different areas. Pour me a glass, I’ll taste it; send me a bottle, I’ll write about it.
I use my blog to write about what I like, it is usually about wine; but I have written about everything from travel to Pokémon. I am not a hardcore journalist, and would write about the wines of Burgundy if it gave me a shot at traveling to Burgundy to taste wines that I could then come back home and write about having tasted. I try to disclose sample wines or contest entry inspired entries within such a post.
I will continue to review wines fairly. I don’t believe I have written a negative review, trashed a wine or winery, in two years. I am a cheerleader for the industry, and if I don’t have anything nice to say about a wine then I will look for something nice to say or simply refrain from writing anything at all.
Anyway, that is my long-winded way of saying congratulate me on my new job, and I’ll keep on writing here as time allows.