January 2012


I received the following comment submission on November 20, 2011 from Robert Bilenchi:

Misinformation, misifrmation, misinformation,…Matt Kramer of the wine spectator and consumer Reports are out and out wrong. The 70-75%air removal, reported by Kramer is a gross error. I have determined a method for evaluating the effective vacuum produce by a well oiled vacu-vin pump. In my tests I determined that the effective air removal to be: 89.9%, 90.5%, 91.5, and 92.1% on a completely empty bottle, a 75% empty, a 50% empty and a 25% empty bottle respectively. I am now in the process of determining how much minimum pumping is necessary to achieve these levels and finally through a panel wine tasting study how much time is necessary to detect a taste difference in wines that have been opened and “Vacu-Vin ed” at various levels of wine removal. The Consumer reports test determined that tasters could not discern difference in the taste of a wine opened for one week without the use of Vacu-Vin and a freshly opened bottle and did not mention the time intervals of storage for the various wine storage methods. The conclusions reached could not be ascertained by the reader because of the lack of the experimental data ie. the time intervals used.
I plan on further testing the Vacu-Vin pump for duration of vacuum and amount of pumping to achieve vacuum and taste evaluations my time. I plan are to publish the results in the American Wine Society Journal.

On January 19, 2012, I received this follow up:

Dr. Roe needs to get re-educated perhaps another Phd might help. He is seriously in error; and yes while I’m at it why did you remove my previous note? I still get 90% lasting vacuum and I still will perform a panel taste test and still plan on publishing the results in the Journal of the Am. Wine Society.
I thought you were against censorship.

All this in response to a piece I wrote back in 2009.

The piece is so old that not all the links even work anymore. I wrote it, and having said what I wanted to say, years later felt pretty well done with it. The comments back and forth are more than twice as long as what at over 1,800 words is a longish post already.

Looking back, I would edit the hell out of what I wrote, but I’m done with it. I have had many thousands of readers find their way to my wine blog because of this one old post, but I’m done with it. Google searches from “Does Vacu-vin work?” to “Scrotal Vacuum Pump” [Note: I am prayerful that my post was many pages from the front of that particular search’s yielded results] bring new readers to my blog every single day, but I’m done with the Vacu-vin post.

Hey, did you just accuse me of censorship, Robert?

I chose to join the multitude of sites that went black in protest of SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy act, and followed up with a little ribbon on my site opposing censorship.

Damn it, now I had to respond to Robert.

I sent Robert this email note the same day, January 19:

Dr. Roe needs to get re-educated perhaps another Phd might help. He is seriously in error; and yes while I’m at it why did you remove my previous note? I still get 90% lasting vacuum and I still will perform a panel taste test and still plan on publishing the results in the Journal of the Am. Wine Society.

I thought you were against censorship.

Robert,

I did not remove your previous note, it was never allowed to post.

It wasn’t a matter of censorship, it was a matter of editorial choice.

I enjoy, welcome, dialogue.

Instead of reasoned response, you assert both Matt Kramer and Consumer Reports are “out and out wrong” You cry out [SIC]

Misinformation, misifrmation, misinformation,

then denigrate Dr. Roe now.

I didn’t like the tone of your comments, more combative than helpful, and offering nothing new to the comment stream.

You merely offered anecdotal, unverified data to counter the verified laboratory results conducted in different places and different times yielding similar results: vacu-vin vacuum fail.

Send me a link to your article when it is published and I will post the link and as much of the article as fair use permits.

I am really not interested in a back and forth over this long ago written piece, but if you bring me something newsworthy I will report it.

I hope that provides you the motivation to produce the most well researched and persuasive article on the subject for the American Wine Society Journal as you promised in November and again now.

Thanks,

John Cesano

And in response I found this note in my mailbox later that day:

John,

I stand by my statements.  The methodology by which the the effectiveness of the Vacu-Vin was tested was never described.  I am extremely confident in my methodology in assessing the vacuum producing ability of the Vacu-Vin pump.  My method is both accurate and clever and will be revealed my report when made.  It doesn’t require the use of a vacuum gauge but it does require accurate measuring methodology and proper usage of the Vacu-Vin pump and stopper, something that the experimenters never talk about, maybe because they don’t know.  My comments may sound combative but not any more so than “Friends don’t let friends Vacu-Vin”  and “A giant sucking sound and that’s all”.  My wine tasting group is in the process picking a taste evaluation date which should be in late March or early April.  To be quite honest the results of the taste test is another matter, as it is quite possible that the group may find that the taste results indicate that the device is not an effective preservative.  I am fully confident however that the reported 70% vacuum effectiveness is totally wrong.  My actual results are 91% +/- 1.1% depending on how empty the bottle is of liquid.  Don’t believe anyone just because he/she has a Phd.  They are wrong occasionally, that is why scientific theories change from time to time.

Bob

I thought about Bob’s (we’re almost buddies now, having moved from Robert to Bob) reply overnight, then sent this note to him on January 20, 2012:

Bob,

If you don’t mind, if you would like me to, I would like to take your two comments and this thoughtful email response and string them together into a new standalone update post.

I’m pretty much over my past post, but your passion is undeniable.

My experience was that the vacu-vin was not effective in preserving wine flavors – even just one or two days. Then one article after another was written, or a new test found that the device did not measure up,  or tasters found no difference to wine preservation compared to just jamming the old cork back in – some even cited a negative effect to aromas and flavors when used as directed. More than a few years later, I wrote my piece. It is so old that links are broken yet I get at least 50 visitors to it every day.

Maybe as you assert, all the tests results are un error; perhaps a vacuum is achieved, maybe even maintained, but in the absence of beneficial effect, does that ultimately matter?

I am not advocating covering up valid scientific measured data, should your 91% +/1 1.1% vacuum be reproducible and more importantly maintained.

But if your tasting group has a similarly unsatisfying experience with the vacu-vin’s efficacy as a preservation tool that I, Kramer, and Consumer Reports (and the NYT, UC Davis, etc.) have experienced, then your data is more than likely to be misused to try to suggest a correlation between partial vacuum created and wine flavor preservation where no such correlation exists.

It is possible your time and efforts might be better spent determining in a measurable way the most successful wine flavor preservation tool rather than collecting data that has questionable, possible meaningless value? It is just a thought.

Anyway, if you want, I’ll feature your pieces in a new follow up post, a counterpoint piece to my original.

Let me know.

John Cesano

Bob said yes:

John,

This is good.  I can’t however consider abandoning this pursuit on the Vacu-Vin for other methods until these tests are complete.  Can you see someone seeing a report from me on another device asking “well did you ever consider the effectiveness of the Vacu-Vin” to which my reply would be “well yes but just as I was approaching the concluding phase of the study, someone said I might be wasting my time so I gave up on it.”

If you wish, I can describe my method for preparing the pump and stopper and determining the amount of vacuum achieved which should be readily repeatable by anyone with an accurate scale and the patience to perform the procedure.  So yes you can go ahead with the post.

Bob

Thus, a new post was born.

I would love to invite Bob to add to this post through comments, which I will approve, and the post can grow and take mostly any shape Bob wishes. He can offer his methodology or tasting panel results, or copy us in on his submission to the Journal.

As for me, while I remain incredibly skeptical as to the efficacy of the vacu-vin, at this point I really don’t care if you use them and think they are the best device in the work of wine preservation.

I believe that a partial vacuum is not a vacuum and some remaining air means some remaining oxygen which means oxidation still occurs when you use the vacu-vin. I believe sucking air from a bottle mechanically strips wine of volatile esters and phenols, decreasing the olfactory experience and possibly the gustatory as well.

So, for me, whether there is 30% or 9% of the oxygen present in the bottle after pumping, and whether that percentage increases to nearly 100% due to leaky valves or not, doesn’t really matter as it has failed in numerous blind tastings to do any better than merely jamming the old cork back in – and has fared worse in some tastings.

But out of fairness, or because I was moved by Bob’s passion, or because I got Bob to mostly write this post for me, I have fought my censorious inclinations and offer this post up to you.

__________

Thanks for reading, thanks for commenting, thanks for subscribing, thanks for following me on facebook and twitter. To all of you who find your way here, just thanks.

John

In May 2010, I recapped the Spring Hopland Passport in a piece here. I recognize I lack humility, but I really thought I wrote the best piece on the event – period.

As Secretary on the Board of Directors for Destination Hopland, the non profit responsible for putting on Hopland Passport and increasing tourism to Hopland, I reached out to fellow online wine writers last fall, inviting them to attend the 20th annual Fall Hopland Passport.

Funny how I went from writing about the event one year to helping put it on the next.

Surprising me, I have to hand my “best piece covering Hopland Passport” crown to someone else.

Where I visited all the wineries, tasted over 100 wines, wrote mini notes, and shared some pictures, all in one big post, our new recap champ visited all of our wineries, and shared some words, but her photography is better than my writing will ever be, and she gave each winery their full due, offering up a 16 part event recap.

Diane Davis, better known as Di to the industry folks in the area, posts her words and pictures at Winestyle Living; Sharing the Tales, History & Images of Wine Country. There were several pieces written after last Fall’s event, but Di’s posts stood out for me. I recognized in her work the passion I feel for the area I write about. This wasn’t a job, a gig, for Di, but an opportunity to put the wineries she loves in the best light. I can feel Di’s heart in her work.

Softening the blow of not having written the best Hopland Passport recap piece are the overly nice things Di wrote about me when covering McFadden Vineyard, “When you walk into the tasting room you are greeted by John Cesano, a combination of an exceptional wine talent and a seasoned entertainer. You will learn more about wine in the time you spend there than you will learn about wine in hours of internet searching. If John doesn’t satisfy your curiosity with his bits of wisdom, just ask, he can fill in the blanks.”

Di’s real artistry is in the terrific photos, capturing of the families of McFadden. There are pictures of Guinness McFadden, his lovely girlfriend Judith, his brother Tommy, and his daughter Fontaine. There are pictures of Ann, who works nearly every Second Saturday, and her husband Mark. In addition to pictures of me, there is a wonderful picture of my red haired son Charlie, who worked with Mark outside cooking while Ann worked inside with me pouring and selling wine. Lots of wine.

I know that every winery of Hopland had to smile as they read Di’s words and viewed the journal of photographic art she posted for each.

Here are the links to her pieces, written from November 2011 through January 2012, all in one place.

If I can’t write the best Hopland Passport piece, I can re-host it.

McNab Ridge Winery

McFadden Vineyard

Graziano Family Winery

Weibel Family Winery

McDowell Winery

Cesar Toxqui Cellars

Brutocao Cellars

Parducci Wine Cellars

Milano Family Winery

Rack & Riddle Custom Wine Services

Terra Sávia

Jeriko Estate

Jaxon Keys Winery & Distillery

Saracina Vineyards

Nelson Family Vineyard

Campovida

Di is putting on reverbcon, a social media conference in the hidden wine country of Hopland, April 10-12, 2012. By the time Di is finished, Hopland may not be so hidden anymore.

I have worked in the wine industry for many years, always in sales and/or marketing in support of sales.

As a wine salesman, I can tell you about the weather in 2011, 2004, 1997, 1992, and the years in between.

Heavy rains at budbreak that knock flowering buds off the vines, reducing yields as grapes come from those buds. The warm weather that followed that gave incredible richness of flavor to the remaining grapes, or the cold weather with harvest ruining rains that kept sugars low and decreased flavor development. Years of fire with smoke and ash. Years of flood.

I remembered the events of a vintage and a few years later when wines from that vintage were released I would share information about the vintage’s weather when describing and selling those vintage’s wines.

In spite of an awareness, remembering, my connection as a salesperson, a marketer, was always abstract.

Since March of last year, my job is managing a tasting room selling wines, but where I work is more about the vineyard than the wine, and really more about the farm than the vineyard.

McFadden Farm is a 500 acre organic farm with organic herbs, organic grass fed beef, and 160 acres of organic vineyards – McFadden Vineyard.

McFadden Vineyard produces 750 tons of grapes. After we make our Chardonnay, we sell the rest. Mondavi is a buyer of our organic Chardonnay grapes. After we make our Sauvignon Blanc, we sell our Sauvignon Blanc grapes to sterling. Chateau Montelena buys our Riesling grapes after we make our Riesling.

We make more money as growers of grapes than we likely ever will from our wines. We make very little wine, but sell a lot of grapes.

What wine we do make is sold to stores and restaurants in Mendocino county by one single distributer. The rest is sold through our tasting room, or shipped to faraway wine club customers from our farm – along with herbs, wreaths, garlic, and wild rice which we ship all over the country.

I used to sell a quarter to a half million dollars in wine every year. I knew about weather, but was very removed from it.

I now am a small seller for a tiny winery, but an employee of a pretty big farmer and my awareness of the weather is no longer abstract.

I can see how a vintage is going by the look on the face of my boss, Guinness McFadden. Last year, there were a host of “issues”, from a loss of 100 tons of grapes to rain at budbreak to unrelentingly too cool summer and from sugar plummeting rains early in October to mold and rot inducing continuing rain through that month. There was very little smiling, but quite a bit of grim resignedness, to be read on Guinness’s face last year.

The miracle of having the best year financially ever because as bad as things were, they were so much worse for everybody else that our grapes and juice commanded a premium was thoroughly unexpected.

Which saw a smile mixed with relief to be seen on Guinness’s face.

It is remarkable to realize how little real connection I had to a vintage’s weather expression in the past, and how much greater. how much more personal, it is now.

The subject of weather came to mind because the first rain of the season, and possibly snow up at McFadden Farm in Potter Valley, is due anytime now…Looks like rain.

I don’t like rain; travelers are more likely to pull over, park, and come in to my tasting room when it is sunny  than when it is pouring rain.

I hate snow. I “played” Army, and “camped” outside in Korea for one Winter exercise when temperatures reached 40 below zero. I have done forced 25 mile road marches in full gear in ice and snow. I will likely hate both snow and camping forevermore.

Guinness likes rain and, living at McFadden Farm, he has to be at least tolerant of snow as it is a yearly occurrence. Guinness told me this week that our vineyard needs 20 inches of rain to be the best, happiest vineyard it can be. While the rains are late this year, he remains hopeful, and is looking forward to the impending inclement weather.

It is unique in my experience as a salesperson to hope for rain, especially as it will depress my tasting room’s revenue, but my evolving awareness and changed perspective – working for what is primarily a farm and not a winery – has me counterintuitively wishing for a solid 20″ season of rain.
____

Do me a favor, contact your congressperson and tell them to leave the internet alone, that you oppose censorship and restrictions on your freedom. Thanks.

I tasted the 2009 McFadden Old Vine Zinfandel in my own tasting room, made with organically-grown 40-year-old old-vine grapes, for the first time on Thursday, October 20, 2011.

No medals, no ratings, not yet released; Guinness brought me 6 cases, I tasted this unknown wine, and instantly fell in love.

2009 McFadden Old Vine Zinfandel $24

In a world of overblown Zins, where winemakers purposely make painfully undrinkable over-oaked, over-tannic, over sweet, too high alcohol Zinfandels in a blatant attempt to win gold medals and 90+ ratings from judges who have palates blown from a series of monster-dense, enormously thick wine bombs and who can only taste a wine if it is as horribly over-made while rendered unable to taste a subtle, well crafted, drinkable wine of restraint and balance, here was a throwback wine to love.

Once upon a time, long ago, Zinfandel wines were made simply, inexpensively, and while flavorful, they paired well with many foods – most notably Italian cuisine.

Over the years, someone noticed that a wine with a little higher alcohol gets the attention of a judge suffering palate fatigue and scores a little higher rating or medal in competition. A little more oak worked similarly, and so did heavier tannin, and high sugar Zins also fared well.

Where once Zinfandel was an enjoyable food wine, today there are Zinfandels that are 16.5-17% alcohol, thick as a brick with dry briar and raspberry, hits you like a fencepost in the forehead with monster tannins, and has black pepper spice so massive that foods quail in fear of being paired with these freakishly overblown wines. Today’s Zins make a great steak their bitch, forcing the meat into perverse submission, making steak taste like overblown Zinfandel and not at all like steak.

There I was in October last year with my first taste of a perfectly beautiful Zinfandel, all the right flavors, briar, brambly raspberry, and black pepper spice, but without being overblown. Under 15% alcohol, smooth soft tannin, and lightly kissed by oak, this was a Zinfandel that didn’t hurt to drink. A Zinfandel like Italian-American winemakers in the Dry Creek Valley used to make 35-40 years ago. A Zinfandel that when paired with a steak lets the steak taste like steak while the Zin tastes like Zin, but together they each taste better.

I was holding in my hand an incredibly rare wine, the perfect throwback Zinfandel.

On October 20 last year, there were 160 cases of this 2009 McFadden Old Vine Zinfandel. Four days later, with the two day Fall Hopland Passport ended, there were fewer than 90 cases left. I do not know of any other wine from any other Hopland winery that moved as fast as this wine.

Over the holidays, I continued to pour the Zinfandel for visitors to our tasting room, and everyone loved it. We sold it by the bottle to more tasters than any of our other wines.

At the end of December, I found out that Wine Enthusiast magazine had rated this amazingly delicious Zinfandel a mere 84 points. Seriously, I was like “WTF?!”. I know that our wines, more drinkable than other wines. sell more easily than overblown wines when tasted one on one, and bronze medal more often than gold, but seriously…I knew the wine was great, real people tasting wines and making the ultimate judgement – buying the wine – backed my palate up and pointed out the questionable impact of a low score – especially when the score is for a well-made, instead of fashionably overblown, Zinfandel.

Two days ago, I saw the results of the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, and found our 2009 McFadden Old Vine Zinfandel had been awarded a [insert drumroll] bronze medal.

Again, I was prepared to question the rhyme or reason behind competition results when I received my first inventory update since October 24 last year. We get busy in the Fall and I went two and a half months without a real count on my wines.

Anyway, this 84 point wine, worthy of only a bronze medal, is down to fewer than 30 cases. Makes you wonder about the worth of these professional’s palates.

I think I will blow through this wine by the end of next month, and I’ve already been told that there are only 150 cases of 2010 Old Vine Zinfandel coming later this year, then just 70 cases of 2011 Old Vine Zinfandel the year after.

This piece isn’t meant to tell you what a great and rare wine I have. It isn’t really about slamming judges because I welcome their Gold medals and 90+ scores. I think I just wanted to say that a lot of highly rated, big medal winning Zins suck, they hurt to drink; and maybe someone should pay attention to what consumers really like in a Zinfandel: drinkability, approachability, balance, flavor, a little restraint, ease of food pairability.

Reporting from the trenches,

John

The town of Hopland in California’s Mendocino county is on Highway 101, 101 miles north of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge.

The town is rural, with a small town charm comprised in part by a measure of genuineness that city people who work and live in cubicles flee to find.

Hopland, named long ago for the hops grown and kilned to make the area’s beers, is now a town better associated with wines.

16 winery tasting rooms are located in or near the center of Hopland, and wineries from 15 miles north in larger Ukiah, Mendocino county’s county seat, are trying to join Hopland’s tourism group and be considered Hopland wineries and take part in Hopland wine events.

Wine is made from grapes and grapes are grown by farmers. It is the growing of grapes, the farming in the area, that best gives Hopland the down home character visitors perceive. Unlike the amusement park environment of boutiques and high end restaurants found in the counties to the south, Hopland has a few basic eateries, filled with real working men and women.

Hopland’s grapes are grown in an area also known as the Sanel Valley. There is no monolithically thought of grape grown in Hopland’s Sanel Valley, because the area is as diverse as the roughly individualistic farmers who make their living off the land.

With vineyards on the rocky slopes of Duncan Peak to vineyards on the bank of the upper Russian River, head pruned and trellised, irrigated and dry farmed, organically grown or raised biodynamically, planted to field blends or single varietal, the myriad grapes that are grown and the multitude of styles of wine produced from each of these different varietals makes for the greatest concentrated diverse wine tasting experience in the United States.

Of note is the greenness of the offerings in and around Hopland. In an industry where many supermarket brands of wine are made from plastic fertilizers, toxic pesticides, and poisonous insecticides, mass produced in environmentally hazardous monocultures, where only 2 percent of wineries produce wines made from certified organically grown or certified biodynamically raised grapes, roughly 25% of all the wines poured in Hopland’s tasting rooms are genuinely green.

As Pam Strayer wrote on Organic Wine Uncorked, “Wines made with pesticides contribute more than 450,000+ pounds of Roundup to California each year. That just can’t be a good thing for an ecosystem.”

I’m biased, working for McFadden Vineyard, but here’s the way all wineries should strive to be: McFadden Farm up in nearby Potter Valley not only grows 750 tons of grapes organically every year but is a family farm, growing and air drying organic herbs, raising organic grass fed beef, selling 100% pure wild rice, and more green, healthy, farm treats. With both solar panels and a hydroelectric plant on property, McFadden Farm has to look behind them to find the wineries that brag about being carbon neutral.

Okay, stepping off my soapbox, I have to say that McFadden Farm produces fewer than 5,000 cases of wine and the efforts of a million case winery to be carbon neutral are substantially more involved than for what is more a Farm than a winery.

Parducci Wine Cellars, a Ukiah winery with a satellite tasting room in Hopland at the Solar Living Institute, has a commitment to the environment, a passion that is palpable, and is a shining example that doing things green, the right way, can actually end up saving money as the focus on reuse, reduce, and recycle ends up costing less than wasteful use and unnecessary spending.

Parducci is a huge winery. Their wines are uniformly delicious. They are carbon neutral. Relying on natural compost has allowed better tasting wines from healthier vineyards as unnatural fertilizers have been eliminated, and at a substantial cost savings. Similarly, reclaiming and naturally filtering all run off water from operations has made for a healthy ecologically diverse biome in the midst of their home vineyards, while reducing consumption of water – again, generating a cost savings.

Fetzer Vineyards is the 800 pound gorilla of Hopland area wineries, and was recently bought by Concha y Toro, a Chilean wine company demonstrating terrific green business sense with Fetzer. Fetzer produces millions of cases of wine, and this year I saw more organic grapes headed to Fetzer from local family vineyards than ever before. Of course, I believe that certified organic grapes make great wine, but the energy savings in sourcing as much of your needed grapes locally for a giant winery like Fetzer, as trucks travel shorter distances and use less fuel, is enormous.

Occasionally, I taste wines at events with other wine writers, and I abhor the elite wine snobbery I too often hear when the wines of Fetzer are discussed. Because Fetzer’s wines are produced in enormous quantities and are widely available throughout the country in stores and restaurants, there is a bias against Fetzer; the assertion being that good wine, wine worthy of tasting, can only come from small hand crafted wines with limited distribution costing an arm and a leg.

Let me call bullshit on that. I will agree that spending five times what you would spend on a bottle of Fetzer’s wines will allow you to select a spectacular bottle of wine – if you know what you are doing. You can easily spend an enormous amount on a not very good bottle of wine if you don’t know what you are doing, but you can’t buy a bad bottle of Fetzer wine and buying affordable wine rocks.

I was sent a six bottle assortment of Fetzer wines last year, and was impressed with the quality of the wines. The Riesling, which I have heard described as cloyingly sweet by people who admitted not having tasted one from Fetzer in over a decade, had the petrol notes I associate with quality collectable Rieslings costing much more and terrific balance between sweet notes and acid. All of the wines were good, well structured, all were drinkable, and all had fantastic QPR, or Quality/Price Ratio – they are great value wines.

The only knock I have with Fetzer, and something I imagine Concha y Toro will address in time, is that they don’t have a Hopland tasting room.

I would love to see a tasting room, right on highway 101 in downtown Hopland, where Fetzer could pour their wines. The wines of their all-organic sister winery Bonterra could be poured in the same location. Allowing people to taste wines regularly lets folks know how good the wines really are.

Another Hopland vineyard and winery without a Hopland tasting room is Topel Winery. Mark and Donnis Topel make some amazingly great wine, but chose to situate their tasting room in a location with greater traffic.

I shared a table with Mark at a wine event last year, and it worked out great, as I poured McFadden’s Sparkling Brut, amazing white wines, and delicious reds, and Mark poured his spectacular reds which are denser than McFadden’s style. The result was pretty nice as there was a compatible flow.

Mark and Donnis saw to it that I had the opportunity to taste their wines last year, dropping off a bottle here and there. I also tasted a half dozen Topel Winery wines during the event we worked together.

I once described the red wines of Topel Winery as being possibly the best from Hopland, but that is unfair to Topel’s wines. Mark and Donnis produce some of the best wines anywhere. Lush, dense, rich, multi noted, yet completely drinkable. Gorgeously balanced wines. I love the Cabernet Sauvignon, Meritage, and Estate Blend red wines from Topel Winery.

Every vineyard, every winery, every tasting room in Hopland has a story to tell. I hope to tell a few of those stories this year – better yet, capture the words of the farmers, winemakers, and tasting room managers and pass them on along with some notes on some of the great wines being poured in Hopland.

It is a new year and for me a time to recommit to wine writing.

Last year, I became the tasting room and wine club manager for McFadden Vineyard, was elected to the board of Destination Hopland, selected to serve as the Secretary of DH, and spearheaded some mildly successful marketing initiatives for the area I work.

I also continued to help others with their marketing efforts, social media and old school.

I was concerned that working for one winery while writing about others might be a conflict of interest.

I wrote an intemperate piece, thoughtlessly artless, and found out how small the community I work in is.

I was busy, conflicted, and writing became less fun as I realized the power of my words to inadvertently hurt.

Things change. My term on the board of Destination Hopland is nearing its end; I have just one more Hopland Passport to help make better for 16 wineries before being able to focus on making events much better for just the one winery I manage.

When I took over my tasting room, I had never managed – or worked in – a tasting room. I had a lot to learn. My first event, just weeks after starting, saw a 22% increase over the previous Spring Hopland Passport numbers. By the time Fall Hopland Passport came around, I had a little confidence and we had the best increases any winery reported. While many, if not most, wineries were down in revenue, McFadden Vineyard enjoyed a 150% increase over the year before. December’s sales for wine club, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve saw the best December ever.

Am I satisfied? No. I am happy with what the entire team at McFadden accomplished last year, but I believe we can improve our numbers this year through constant attention to working smart. I have spent the last two days doubling our messaging outreach, after taking almost nine months last year to do the same.

Virginie Boone just reviewed a slew of wines I submitted to Wine Enthusiast magazine. Our whites, ranging from $16 to $18 a bottle, scored 87 to 89 points each. We have an 89 point wine available at just $11.70 to our wine club members this month.

After a period of dormancy, Destination Hopland has begun engaging people with a more constant messaging, increasing communication each direction by a factor in the thousands.

Things are running well in my professional life and I have no projects due for anyone else.

I have the time, and more importantly I have the desire, to write about wine again. I hope I am able to write about the wines and wineries in Mendocino County’s Hopland area without sounding like a shill.

I also have come to terms with the fact I am read, well read even. I started writing and posting to another blog years ago, random rantings, fairly anonymous, and I really enjoyed the ability to say whatever I wanted without filter.

Obviously, I narrowed my blog’s focus and became a wine writer. When I don’t write, search engines deliver hundreds of people to read pasts posts every day. When I do write, my numbers kind of freak me out. I still imagine myself writing for my own enjoyment, I don’t really think about an audience – or certainly its size, and that is the one change I have to make…at least as long as I work in such a small community.

I’ve always been a cheerleader for the wine industry, I would rather not write a story than write a negative one. It is easy to write positive stories, there are so many as yet unwritten.

That’s my goal this year. To write more, to share my thoughts with little filter – just trying to remember to stay positive, and along the way hopefully you’ll find yourself accidentally entertained, or educated, or both.

Cheers!

John

Note: this post was written in the gym at Ukiah High School where my 6’2” son Charlie is practicing with the rest of his freshmen basketball team before tomorrow’s game against Cardinal Newman. Go Wildcats!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,842 other followers