May 2011


On Saturday, June 4, 2011 the second annual Russian River Valley Wine Growers Single Vineyard Night will be going off in Sonoma County.

According to William Allen, fellow online wine writer, and RRVW member, last year was a big success that they would like to repeat and even grow on.

Now, while I go on about the beauty of Mandocino County Pinot Noir from the north end of Potter Valley and from along the Noyo River in Anderson Valley, I grew up on Russian River Valley Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and for me, these are the wines against which I measure all other Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. If I taste a great Pinot Noir, I assume it is from the Russian River Valley. One of the best ever Chardonnays was a 1994 Bacigalupi Vineyard Chardonnay made by Carol Shelton. There is a great Merlot Vineyard in the Russian River Valley that Toad Hollow sources their Merlot grapes, and I even tasted some fantastic Cabernet Sauvignon from the RRV made by Carol Shelton back in the day.

Starting at 6:30 pm at the Thomas George Estates in Healdsburg, there will be wine, single bite pairings, a live auction, and then music and dancing until 10:00 pm,

Tickets are $45 in advance, or $55 at the door, and can be purchased at the Russian River Valley Winegrowers website.

I could go on about all the cool stuff, but I’ve got to be honest, wine events are about the wines, and the single vineyard Russian River Valley wines poured on June 4 will include:

Ancient Oaks, Siebert Ranch

Arrowood-Saralee’s Vineyard

Balletto Vineyards , selection of single vineyards

Benovia, Bella Una Vineyard

Desmond Wines, Estate

Dutton Estate Winery, Dutton Palms Vineyard

Dutton Goldfield, Freestone Hill Vineyard

Ferrari-Carano, Fiorella

Gary Farrell, Westside Farms

George Wine Company, Leras Family Vineyard

Graton Ridge Cellars, Bacigalupi Vineyard

Hop Kiln Winery, HKG Bridge Selection

Iron Horse Vineyards, Rued Clone

Inman Family, Olivet Grange Vineyard

John Tyler Wines, Bacigalupi Vineyard

Joseph Swan, Trenton View Vineyard

Korbel

LaFollette, DuNah Vineyard

Lauterbach Cellars, Estate

Longboard, Dakine Vineyard

Martinelli Winery, Lolita Ranch

Matrix Winery, Nunes Vineyard

Merriam, Willowside Vineyard

Merry Edwards, Klopp Ranch

Moshin Vineyards, Bacigalupi Vineyard

Mueller Winery, Vino Farms

Nalle Winery, Hopkins Ranch

Old World Winery, Estate

Papapietro Perry, Leras Family Vineyard

Russian River Vineyards, Estate Vineyards

Sandole Wines, Oehlman Ranch

Siduri Wines, Ewald Vineyards

Sonoma Cutrer, Owsley

Thumbprint Cellars, Saralee’s Vineyard

William Selyem, Flax Vineyard

I have previously written about wines from a number of these wineries and vineyards, and this really is an amazing opportunity to taste not just good, but world class wines from some of the best producers and celebrate the amazing gift that the Russian River Valley land, the soil, the climate, the vineyards are to wine.

Robert H. “Budge” Brown, a member of the wine community, owner of Tulip Hill in Nice and Cleavage Creek Wineries in Pope Valley, is missing. The Civil Air Patrol, Amador County Sheriff’s Office, and California Highway Patrol are searching for his plane, a Lancair Legacy fixed wing single engine aircraft.

Robert “Budge” Brown

Brown flew his Lancair out of the Minden Tahoe airport in Nevada at 4:00 PM on Wednesday. He was flying to Tracy to pick up a friend to go fishing. Brown had flown the route hundreds of times and had thousands of hours of flying experience.

Various sources report that radar shows the plane making a “rough, rapid descent.” The search is focused on the northeast corner of Amador County.

Budge Brown lost his wife, Arlene, to breast cancer in 2005 after 48 years of marriage.

In 2007, Budge Brown created Cleavage Creek, renaming a winery to honor his wife, to help bring more attention to the fight against breast cancer, and as a novel way to help fund the fight the disease that took Arlene.

Cleavage Creek features a picture of  different women, all breast cancer survivors, on each of the winery’s different releases. Budge Brown directs 10% of the gross revenue from each bottle sold to be used to help fund the fight against breast cancer.

Budge Brown used social media well. I was one of many wine writers, wine bloggers, and other influencers to receive a shipment of his Cleavage Creek Cellars wines. I tasted them, and reviewed them, writing, “Cleavage Creek Cellars does two great things. The first is to make really drinkable wine. The second, and more impressive, thing is to donate 10% of the revenue from their sales to help fight breast cancer. Smiling women grace each label of Cleavage Creek wines, women who have fought and survived breast cancer. Socially conscious wine tastes better…or makes you feel more connected to the world at large and happier to be drinking it.”

Budge Brown was accessible, friendly, and supportive of social media wine marketers. I am just one person he has touched who is asking that your prayers join ours as the search for Budge Brown continues today, and that you keep the Brown family and his winery family of employees in your prayers as well.

Edited to add: I am writing with a heavy heart. The wreckage of Budge Brown’s airplane was found this afternoon at 3:45 PM by the Amador County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue. A body, presumably Budge’s, and personal effects belonging to Budge were found at the scene of the crash.

No matter how much you love your job, a day off is often a welcome thing.

I arranged to take four days off, Thursday through today, Sunday, and I had an absolute blast.

Thursday morning I awoke realizing I had to pop into work because I failed to enter my last order of the day before with the correct discount for a Wine Club Member ordering the Wine of the Month, 35%, so a quick trip into the office to void one order while reentering a new correct order started my day off.

My next stop was the Windsor Golf Course in Sonoma County where I would join my friends Fred, Gary, and Fred’s brother Richie to play as a team in the 15th Annual Wine Country Golf Classic, a charity tournament run by Cornerstone Media with the proceeds going to fund efforts to make meaningful communication possible with young people, to effect positive changes.

I had not golfed in over a year, and I am a terrible golfer anyway, but I have golfed with Fred and Gary many times in this tournament, and have golfed with Fred and Richie on off days while working in Florida, they know I am terrible, but we have a great time together, it is a best ball format tournament and I can contribute a little while being carried, and it is a fun day and for the kids.

Great lunch, champagne toast, winery teams, kegs of Bear republic on the course along with oysters and bloody Marys and mojitos (I didn’t find them but I really didn’t need them) and Bahama mama jello shots and wine and champagne and water and cookies and a painter and a River Rock Casino hand of 21 and more fun scattered about the course, plus an incredible dinner and live and silent auction to go with your golf would be enough for most people, but I got a terrific bonus: I shot well! I had booming drives, solid approach shots, birdie putts; maybe my best day of gold, certainly my best at this tournament, and together with my teammates, we took a second place award.

Friday, I had a morning meeting with a friend going back to elementary school, Mike. Mike is either the hardest working, or smartest working, or luckiest working person I know – I suspect it is a lot of the first two and a little of the last. I could list the series of business successes he has had, but it just comes off sounding unreal. The super cool news is that we might have the opportunity to work together on a future project, possibly with yet another friend from elementary school, Arne. Mike also is the man behind the authentic Pablo Sandoval panda hats you see at baseball games. Mike, the exclusive supplier, gifted me one of the incredible hats, and if there is any question as to how cool a panda hat is, my 14 year old son stole it immediately upon seeing it and has worn it without break the last three days.

Next, I went to visit another school friend, Karen, at the Dry Creek Valley winery she works at, Amphora Wines. It was funny, but it was kind of like seeing myself. Karen enjoys working for her winery, is competent, and a solid representative for her wine brand. I tasted her wines, loved the 2006 Amphora Zinfandel, Rivet Vineyard the most, perhaps because it reminded me most of the wines I grew up on. Many Zins are a little too much or too little of this or that, but the Amphora Rivet Zin has full fruit with a dose of pepper in the proportion I am fond of.

To get to Amphora, I passed by Dashe, another Dry Creek Valley winery, but one I know to use grapes from my employer’s vineyard. At Dashe, I tasted a 2009 Riesling. At work I taste a 2009 Riesling daily, made with grapes from the same vineyard and vintage. It was wild how grapes identifiably McFadden could yield two completely different wines. I bought a bottle, and now have to track down a Montelena Riesling made from McFadden Farm grapes so I can pour the trio for my staff at work.

Speaking of work and staff, I got a phone call from work when the mouse for the computer stopped working. I would rather get a call than not if there is a problem when I am away from my tasting room, and together we got things working, but the wireless mouse from my office isn’t in my office anymore.

After returning home to Ukiah, after my panda hat was stolen by my son, I went to the sports bar at Branches to visit with my longtime friend Serena. I shared time with Serena and Serena’s childhood friends. Serena works for Sonoma Valley wineries; on her last visit Serena brought me a Wellington Zin, on Friday she brought me a 2010 Muscardini Cellars Rosato di Sangiovese, Monte Rosso Vineyards Sonoma Valley. I imagine it will be similar to the Petroni Vineyards Rosato di Sonoma I tasted last year, as that wine’s grapes came from the neighboring vineyard. I am grateful for the treat, but more grateful for the good company.

Saturday, I headed back to work for the third straight day off, this time to bring in food pairing treats for Second Saturday, a special day each month for Hopland area tasting rooms.

Next, I visited Denise at the McNab Ridge tasting room. Denise and McNab Ridge started Second Saturday, and it was fun seeing Diane Davis and her crew taking professional pictures for Denise’s website. Denise also cooked an incredibly delicious dish, Thai green curry shrimp couscous; it definitely made my Second Saturday dish pale by comparison. I tasted a French Colombard. You don’t see many folks making a straight Colombard anymore, but it was a tasty throwback treat. I actually like French Colombard and Chenin Blanc bottlings, while not noble they can be great performers. I also tasted the McNan Ridge Coro Mendocino vertical from 2003 through 2007, liking the ’04 and ’07 best, and a seriously great barrel sample of the Cononiah Zinfandel.

After McNab Ridge, I popped back into my tasting room to buy a jar of McFadden Farm organic onion powder. My timing was great because I got to help Ann ring up a 70 herb jar sale for a customer who was using our herbs as wedding favors for her son’s Hopland wedding.

On the way home, I visited and tasted at Nelson Family Vineyards at the north end of the Hopland Valley. I ran through the reds and whites, all just solid. I am enjoying tasting Mendocino County wines, noticing similarities and differences. I loved the 2007 Nelson Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon. Lush, round, soft tannins, delicious. I bought a bottle, a really nice find as my winery doesn’t make a Cab and I had a hole in my wine rack just screaming for a Cab.

Today, I took my son Charlie, in his panda hat, to a baby shower for my niece, Charlie’s cousin, Jenny Jen Jen and her procreator Jeremy, then I went to visit friends old and new at a mini class reunion. My friend Rob and his wife came to Santa Rosa from Kingman, AZ and his friend Tony hosted a barbeque for Rob. I got to see Karen again, plus Shannon and Ken, all longtime friends from school. The day was more about Budweiser than wine, but I brought a bottle of red and white for my hosts. Time flew too fast, as it often seems to when you wish there was more to spend with friends.

I returned to the baby shower just in time for the unwrapping of presents, visited with family, answered a question or five about Social Media Marketing for my sister in law, and gathered my son up to return home.

Work clothes for the upcoming week have been washed, and are now in the dryer. My four days off were great, but it is time to get back to work.

Last year, I attended a terrific tasting in Santa Rosa, in the same business park where two favorites, Carol Shelton and The NPA, reside; the Vinify Winery Collective Tasting and Sales Event.

Vinify is a custom crush and winemaking facility that allows folks the opportunity to make really amazing wines without having to build their own winery.

I wrote about last year’s event in advance, had friends buy tickets, met them, tasted wines, took notes, and couldn’t write a recap of the event.

I like to think I write nice recaps, paint word pictures, describe wines well, and include pictures I take; but I wasn’t feeling well, my sense of smell and taste were off, and to my great regret I had to refrain from writing a recap.

The great news for me, and for you, is that the Vinify Winery Collective Tasting and Sales Event is on again this year, on Saturday, June 11, 2011 from 1:00 PM to 4:30 PM at Vinify Wine at 3358 Coffey Lane, Ste D in Santa Rosa, CA 95403.

Participating wineries include, in reverse alphabetical order, Wren Hop Vineyards and Winery, Westerhold Family Vineyard, Vaughn Duffy Wines, Sojourn Cellars, Olsen Ogden Wines, Jemrose Vineyard, Lattanzio Winery, Gracianna Winery, Frostwatch Vineyard and Winery, Desmond Wines, Calluna Vineyard, Bjornstad Cellars, Barbed Oak Vineyards, Baker Lane, Audelssa Estate Winery, and Argot Wines.

Tickets are just $25 online, register now, show up on June 11th, get a great Riedel Burgundy glass to taste with and keep, taste over 40 wines, enjoy tasty treats and cheeses, cross your raffle prize winning fingers, join a wine club or 12, and have a great time.

I will be coming down from Ukiah to Santa Rosa to attend this year’s Vinify Tasting Event, I hope to see you there.

For more information, contact Hillary Lattanzio at 707 495-4959.

I have worked a lot since I took over my tasting room and wine club manager duties, and with my work being the near totality of my wine experiences last week, I sometimes feel that my blog John on Wine should be renamed “Diary of a Tasting Room Manager.”

I will try to get out and taste more wines, from wineries other than where I work, but today’s post really is largely a tasting room manager diary post, because my work did make serious demands on my time lately.

Last weekend was Spring Hopland Passport Weekend. A month after being hired, our little tasting room was going to get slammed. There was no folder left for me by my predecessor marked “Hopland Passport,” and I was told I could expect to not be able to pull off Passport because my predecessor and her husband did everything, and I could never hope to match their performance.

I’ll be honest, my predecessor probably worked harder than me, but I know how to work smart, and I had a great team which includes my boss Guinness McFadden. Guinness did all of the big shopping, he directed his Farm employees to bring and set up picnic tables and a tent, he invited our cooking and tasting room team to his home and demonstrated how to prepare the weekend’s food while feeding us dinner, and when I expressed concern about adequate staffing, Guinness and his brother Tommy both showed up to help pour wines for the masses.

Ann Beauchamp and I were at the core of the tasting room team, and were supported by Jannée Dale, Guinness and Tommy McFadden. Our cooking team was Ann’s husband Mark Beauchamp and my son Charlie Cesano.

Ann Beauchamp and Jannée Dale

In the past, my predecessor had $89 cases of surplus wine to sell, and those cases comprised roughly half the weekend’s revenue. I had no surplus cases to sell, so we ran a first ever biggest sale on everything in the tasting room, both wine and non-wine merchandise were discounted, generally 15-25% off everything, with the larger discounts reserved for our Wine Club members: 40% off any case of wine. The idea was to offer adequate inducement for Passport weekend attendees to join any of our wine clubs, while generating revenue to offset costs associated with the weekend.

Tommy McFadden, John Cesano, and Guinness McFadden behind the bar

A key to the weekend’s success was an email sent to all of our wine club members offering the Passport weekend 40% case discount and extending a special shipping rate of $23 per case, without having to be present in the tasting room during Hopland Passport weekend, a simple response email order in a timely manner would suffice to secure the discount. In response to one email created and sent, we received numerous multi case orders, several quite large, and many single case orders.

John Cesano, Ann Beauchamp, and Tommy McFadden

That is the working smart part of the weekend. The working hard part of the weekend, which was enormously enjoyable, was pouring wine, telling the McFadden story, ringing sales, signing up new wine club members. I used to do theater, and this was like being back on stage. Continuing the metaphor, my director, Guinness, gave me a note. It turns out I was completely wrong in one part of my story, my audience never heard it false, because I was in character and believed my line completely, so I made it real – but I am happier telling the correct story.

Everyone worked their butts off, and it was only after the first day that a mystery was solved. We were opening and pouring an amazingly large number of bottles, but I never had to dispose of a single empty, which was weird but welcome. It turns out that Ann and Tommy were taking care of them while I was talking and pouring and I never noticed.

Mark and Charlie were cooking under a tent right outside our open back door, and the scent of their food cooking was insanely good. I’ll be sharing the recipe for what they cooked next month in the McFadden Vineyard June 2011 Newsletter, so you’ll just have to ask me to add you to the email subscription list for that if you want it.

The proprietary recipe for our incredible Passport food will be shared in June with McFadden Vineyard Newsletter (free) subscribers by email. Sign up now!

They used three organic Herbs and Herb Blends grown organically in Potter Valley at McFadden Farm. Passport guests bought a ton of jars of each of the three Herbs or Herb Blends used, and next Passport we will have a boxed gift set with the three jars in it, convenient and ready for purchase. Thanks to our cooks for the brilliant recommendation. Also, thanks to Guinness for allowing me to put my 14 year old son Charlie  to work for the weekend, and thanks to Mark for allowing Charlie to gain confidence and proficiency in your tent kitchen. Charlie now has one dish he can rock out for family, friends, perhaps even for a girlfriend thanks to the two of you.

Mark Beauchamp and Charlie Cesano, Team McFadden Vineyard Chefs

We opened our tasting room before neighbors opened theirs, and we enjoyed increased sales as a result. With the case discount pricing, my office became a sold case storeroom. Saturday was insanely busy, Sunday was calmer, our sales were roughly equal each day. While I worked emails, or sale signage, Ann ran opening procedures; while I ran closing reports, and end of period Excel timecards, Ann closed the room down. I am blessed that Ann worked Passport instead of attending it.

In spite of good attendance, other tasting rooms report a significant revenue decrease compared to last year’s Spring Passport, the decrease remarkable consistent. We would have experienced a similar decrease, but for that one email. Including our Wine Club members in the sale we were offering in the tasting room allowed us to post a 22.97% revenue increase over last year, and not a single case we sold went out as low as $89.

After Sunday’s close, Guinness took the tasting room staff that worked both days out to Branches, arguably Ukiah’s best restaurant, certainly one of Ukiah’s best, for a thank you dinner.

Guinness McFadden, the McFadden behind McFadden Farm and Vineyard

Branches isn’t cheap, but it is good, made more so by good people and great wine. In fairness, most of us had Southern Buttermilk Fried Chicken, five really big pieces, for $15.95, so it is a great value…although with salads, sides, and dessert – all great – that does kick it up some.

I thanked Guinness personally. I wrote in my last post that “I love my job.” Well, let me say, as important, I genuinely like my boss. Guinness is former military, a decorated Navy officer. Mark and I were Army sergeants. All of us understand mission accomplishment, it is always job one. We also know that welfare of troops is job two, nearly equal in importance. Taking us to dinner was not just classy, which it was, it was a welcome exercise in team building, in fostering esprit de corps. I like working for a boss with previous military experience. Involved joke telling, with character voices, is an unexpected bonus in a boss that I got with Guinness – a side I imagine rarely seen by most. Again, thanks for dinner.

There have been mid week days without a single customer, with no revenue. I wish it was otherwise, and I hate reporting it to Guinness, but in hiring me, a former Infantry NCO, he knows I am working all day long, revenue or not. My own pride makes me want to exceed every number posted before my hire, and in time I will. I work hard because that is who I am, but it is genuinely nice to be shown appreciation.

This year’s Passport also saw an increase in non-wine merchandise revenue of 26.57% and an increase in wine club sign ups of 150% over last Spring’s Passport numbers.

In a world of my choosing, I would have taken the Monday following Passport off, but I went into the tasting room extra early instead to run beginning of May wine club orders. I also returned the tasting room to the state it was in before Passport for Eugene Gonsalves, my senior tasting room staffer, and ran more reports, before driving up to the Farm in Potter Valley to help pack the wine club orders.

Between Ernesto and Shana, there is no need for me to be involved with wine club shipments, they are masters. While at McFadden Farm, I also listened to Jannée and Shana to find out what I can do better in the tasting room to help them do their jobs in the office.

Guinness McFadden took two great pictures for May’s Newsletter, just nine days apart, which show how much Spring has sprung in the vineyards.

Grapevine on April 25, 2011 at McFadden Farm; photo credit: Guinness McFadden

Same grapevine 9 days later on May 4, 2011 at McFadden Farm; photo credit: Guinness McFadden

I entered years worth of ignored email addresses into our computer system, and sent out our May Newsletter. May’s recipe was for a pizza inspired in part from a tart created by Ina Garten, and with the crust recipe portion stolen from my good friend Nancy Cameron Iannios. The April Newsletter was text only, but I managed to include our logo, the two grapevine pictures above, and the wine label that corresponds to this month’s Wine of the Month this time around for May. I know I got better at that. We were also able to double the reach of our emails over previous attempts, which is a significant marketing improvement.

Another accomplishment from last week’s visit to the Farm; I got two mats that had last been used in an outdoor booth at the Gilroy Garlic Festival, but had been sitting on top of a box in a barn since 2006. I am sorely tested in describing their dustiness, their filth. I put these dirty, nasty mats in the back of my van, to take them home to clean. We need mats behind the tasting room bar to make standing nearly eight hours less stressful.

The mats proved too filthy for mere hosing off in my front yard. On my two days off, I have gone to the car wash, where I power sprayed, foam scrubbed, and power rinsed the mats into cleanliness. I also went shopping for a new broom and wet Swiffer to clean our tasting room floors. With a stop at Staples for office supplies, and an attempt to make business cards for my staff so they can enjoy inter-winery discounts, my two day’s off were not really my own, but I don’t mind. I have been trusted with management of my tasting room by Guinness, and I will continue to do all I can to keep it squared away and moving toward increased profitability.

I go back tomorrow, Sunday, and work a short week, just through Wednesday, then begin almost four days off. I will be golfing in the 15th Annual Wine Country Golf Classic at the Windsor Golf Course in Sonoma County on Thursday, recovering Friday. The golf tournament funds the good works of Cornerstone Media, helping them reach teens through positive popular media messaging. I almost have Saturday and Sunday off too, for a full four day recharging, but have to cook up some fig and blue cheese tarts to be served on Second Saturday. I love to cook, but I am not confident I would have returned home to do so if I hadn’t obligated myself.

Friday, after the lunch, champagne, beer, dinner and wine that goes with my Thursday golf, I want to visit Amphora Winery in the Dry Creek Valley where my friend Karen Mishler Torgrimson works. I’ll take pictures and post here.

I consider myself fortunate, I love my job; I know many people who don’t. I have so much still to learn, but I apply myself daily. I am lucky to have Bob Meadows from Graziano and Margaret Pedroni from Weibel as neighbors; I try not to go to them too often, preferring to figure out things for myself, but they are valuable resources as well as kind and helpful people.

Here’s a wine review from dinner at Branches in Ukiah with the McFadden Vineyard Passport Tasting Room and Cooking Tent crew: 2009 Pascal Jolivet Sancerre, Loire Valley, France $48 ($24 on Mondays). Our Sauvignon Blanc is wonderful, but tasted next to this wine it seemed to be as elegant, as graceful as I am, and I am the proverbial bull in a china shop. This Sancerre is 100% Sauvignon Blanc, has a minerality to die for, limestone and flinty, with lemon and grapefruit citrus notes, lovely grassy mown hay and varietally correct cat pee, wrapped in a beautifully smooth grace. That a wine can be at once this powerful, yet refined, is both a paradox and a testament to the indefinability of a great wine.

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