May 2012


Today was a freaky good day at work in the McFadden tasting room, and then at home. Busy as hell, but spread out perfectly, allowing me to keep up on hand washing and buffing wine glasses. Two wine club sign ups. A friend of Guinness, my boss, will likely be making Coro release party dinner reservations for himself and his wife. Lots of wine and meat sold in advance of the Memorial Day weekend.

All that’s just good.

Freaky good is a 14.29% pay raise. Freaky good is getting another six-month marketing job. Freaky good is getting an expense paid invite to fly to Hawaii and stay at a resort for six days with three days of work to do. Like three bolts of lightning, all that happened. Today was freaky good.

As much as one wall in my house is screaming for a big screen TV, I think I’ll be putting the extra money toward a new-to-me used car with fewer miles and much better gas mileage. Heck, the money I save on gas might just pay for a big screen TV before too long.

I got a huge resupply of meat, wine, olive oil, herbs, wild rice and employee pay checks right at closing which kept me over an extra hour late making sure things got put away, but as I got the raise with the resupply, it was all good. That, and we really needed the resupply before tomorrow.

Tomorrow is going to be really busy with lots more people stopping in to get set with wine and food from our farm for the long weekend.
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I went to dinner at Sho Ka Wah Casino in Hopland tonight. Sho Ka Wah has partnered with several area lodging and winery tasting rooms to offer their guests greater value to their Player’s Club membership. We’ll soon be a featured winery at Sho Ka Wah, so I wanted to see what that actually meant.

First, the food was terrific. I had Prime Rib ($7.77 on Thursday for Player’s Club members, and the membership card is free). The meat was perfectly done, and I ordered mine with salad, baked potato, and grilled garlic green beans. I also had a $5 glass of Gold Medal winning Merlot made from Mendocino County grapes by my Hopland winery neighbor, and friends, at Weibel.

There were several tables enjoying wine with dinner, which was heartening to see.

The promotional efforts for a featured winery by Sho Ka Wah were impressive, with large signage, prominent placement on the wine list, and laminated full color table cards suggesting glasses or bottles of wines from the featured winery.
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I’m working a wine event in San Francisco on June 11, Taste of Mendocino (#TOM12 for you twitterers).  Wineries, breweries, farmers, crafters, artists, and entertainers bring much of what makes Mendocino County amazing and presents it in the city for the trade, press, and general public to experience.

Taste of Mendocino leads to lots of great press, sales, and subsequent visits for the participants.

Last year Guinness poured at Taste of Mendocino with his daughter who lives in San Francisco, Anne-Fontaine. This year, something came up, so I’m doing the pouring.

Guinness told me today that he’ll be loaning me a farm vehicle to drive to San Francisco as my van has more miles than it takes to go to the moon and is missing on two of six cylinders, which results in a less than optimum ride and atrocious mileage.

Did I mention things are going freaky good today?
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Tomorrow morning, I get cable TV installed at my new apartment. Tomorrow afternoon, I head into work before escaping with all three days of a three-day weekend off. Tomorrow evening, I have a good friend coming from Santa Rosa with a dresser and mirror for me and we’ll have wine and dinner in my new place.

I think my son intends to have a friend stay over tomorrow night, so dinner may be unfancy and easy: pizza, but good pizza. Pizza made better by wine for the adults and better by soda for the teens.

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Wineries I have to mention soon because I forgot them in a recent post of some of my favorites: Testa Vineyards in Calpella, Sonoma-Cutrer in Santa Rosa (they say Windsor, but whatev), Topel with vineyard in Hopland and tasting room in Healdsburg, Toad Hollow in Healdsburg, and Keller Estates in Petaluma.

Also coming soon-ish will be actual wine reviews when I taste seven rosé wines in seven days. The lucky seven include

2010 Testa Vineyards Rosé of Carignane – Mendocino,

2010 Monte Volpe (Graziano) Sangiovese Rosato – Mendocino,

2009 Cesar Toxqui Cellars Rosé (of Zinfandel) – Mendocino,

2010 Muscardini Rosato di Sangiovese – Monte Rosso Vineyard,

2011 Toad Hollow Dry Rosé of Pinot Noir – Sonoma County,

2011 V. Sattui Winery North Coast Rosé, and

2010 Chimney Rock Rosé of Cabernet Franc – Stags Leap District Napa Valley.

3 purchased, 2 gifts, and 2 samples sent to me by folks hoping for a review. I also know that “lucky seven” wines was a bit of lazy writing, wines aren’t lucky, but I wanted to write lucky seven and fortune is smiling on me today, and will likely continue to do so, if for no other reason than I’ll be enjoying these wines very soon.

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Get out of your house this three-day weekend and visit a winery tasting room near where you live. Find a wine you genuinely like and buy it. If you don’t find a wine you love, hurray, you’ve saved yourself from buying a bottle untasted at Costco that you wouldn’t have loved.  If the person pouring wines for you educates and entertains, if they do a really good job, throw them a tip. Trust me, they’ll appreciate it.

Oh, and just because you didn’t like Chardonnay, don’t assume they are all the same – they aren’t. Try every wine you can. If you like it, great. If you love it, better, buy it. If you don’t love it, pour the remainder in the bucket provided. No one likes everything, but you should at least try wines being offered. Today, I poured Riesling for someone who “hates” Riesling and of course they bought two bottles of it. Why? Because not all Rieslings are the same. Oh, and because today was a freaky good day.

Even though I do a little marketing work for Destination Hopland, the folks that put on Hopland Passport twice each year, these are my thoughts and not the group’s. I’m not saying that my thoughts differ from the collective group think of the organization but I’m also not speaking for anyone but myself in my blog.

Spring Hopland Passport 2012 happened a couple of weeks ago. It was a resounding success. Raising tickets $10 from $35 online early or $45 day of event at a winery to $45/$55 saw a decrease in tickets sold but no decrease in ticket revenue or winery sales revenue as value drinkers abandoned our event for cheap drinking opportunities, leaving everyone happier.

Hopland Passport attendees enjoyed less crowded tasting rooms, Hopland Passport winery tasting rooms enjoyed greater wine sales. Everyone enjoyed the absence of the few drunks that the $10 price increase kept away.

Although ticket prices increased roughly 25% (22.22% or 28.57%, depending on when you bought your ticket), reimbursements for food and entertainment provided by wineries was increased by 50%. This year’s spring Hopland Passport food and entertainment was absolutely fantastic and makes me wish I could attend instead of work the event. Oysters, Korean pork belly tacos, grilled organic grass fed London Broil and top sirloin steaks, marinated pulled pork, a roasted pig, and more!

Close to home: last year, I was new at McFadden, so I offered a special sale to our wine club members coinciding with Passport to achieve a revenue increase, and it worked. This year, doing things the same, but with a year under my belt, we saw a 93.51% increase in revenue, so there were plenty of smiles at McFadden.

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One of the highlights of my Passport experience was having Ron Washam, a better wordsmith than I am, visit my tasting room. During the course of pouring wines for him, I was describing McFadden Farm. I had dialed back my regular spiel; Ron has a terrific palate, is regularly asked to judge at top wine competitions, and he didn’t need me to describe the wines I was pouring for him.

“Guinness is likely to have dirt on his hands or under his nails, he actually works the land, he is an authentic grower,” I said.

“Authentic?,” Ron asked; then pointed out that the word is one of those meaningless words too often used by bad wine bloggers, along with “sustainable.”

Ouch. Guilty. No one is authentic because he is an organic farmer, or inauthentic because he farms conventionally with employees using commercial fertilizers, insecticides, and pesticides.

My boss has been growing winegrapes organically for over 40 years, has a biodiverse farm with grass fed beef and air dried herbs, all family farmed and CCOF (California Certified Organic Farmed) certified organic. He has a hydroelectric plant and an array of solar panels that allow him to produce a sizable percentage of the energy needed by his area’s residents and businesses – far more than the needs of his farm. He applauds those who claim carbon neutrality while looking at them in his rear view mirror. I said all of that, and then tried summing it up with the word authentic.

I probably will stay away from authentic for a while, or use it with remarkable precision in a perverse post perhaps. In addition to writing some of my favorite satire, Ron has done me another favor.

I already don’t use sustainable for two reasons: it pisses my boss off, and Monsanto wraps themselves with the word which renders it meaningless.

A year ago, new at work, I responded to a media request, and asked Guinness about sustainability at McFadden Farm. I thought sustainability was a good thing, an ideal, a real thing, and there are probably some well-intentioned wineries that use the word in that manner, but the word has no uniform definable meaning.

A winery could kill baby seals, one for each bottle of wine it produces, in a twisted display of animal cruelty, but describe their actions as part of their sustainability program. They might argue that baby seals make good compost, or that by harvesting slaughtered baby seal tails the winery sustains the brand’s pet cats and dogs as the tails are ground up and fed to the pets.

Monsanto, the folks who gave Vietnam era vets Agent Orange, continues to share their corporate love by giving corporate agribusiness the pesticide RoundUp, which some would link to cancer, testosterone reduction, and about two dozen other health concerns. Wineries that use RoundUp might suggest that the additional need for RoundUp each year, owing to larger and larger RoundUp resistant weeds that result, sustains Monsanto. Sustainability means absolutely nothing, and companies like Monsanto use the word in a shameless greenwashing effort to repair or improve their horrible reputation.

I was incredibly pleased that Ron found nearly all of our wines to be drinkably good and of good value. At the end of the run of wines poured, Ron found three of note, our two Rieslings and our Sparkling Brut. In a world where only Cabernet gets serious consideration, Ron showed his authentic, um, I mean genuine, no wait…let me start over:  Ron knows his stuff, our Riesling is special, beautiful fruit and floral balanced by acidity, with a classic petrol note. Our grapes are sold to arguably the most famous winery and tasted by arguably the most famous wine writers, but our own wines are not as well known. Ron found the diamonds on our list without any difficulty.

Later that day, as I drove home from pouring wines for Ron, I laughed at myself that I should be so pleased he liked our wines, that I felt such pride – for something I had no hand in making.

I pour wine, I talk about it, I write about it, I market it, I sell it; but I have nothing to do with growing the grapes, making the wine, bottling it, nothing to do with producing it. My pride was kind of ridiculous, but real. Authentic in spite of its inauthenticity.

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Thanks to @WineTom, not only for coming to Hopland Passport and tweeting such nice things about McFadden and all of the other Hopland wineries (though today I’m mostly grateful for the nice words about McFadden), but also for your incredibly kind gift of homemade Pebre, a south American condiment perfect on meats.

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Last week, the Price family visited my tasting room from Virginia and joined our wine club. Then they asked for winery recommendations in Napa and Sonoma counties.

Now don’t tell anyone here in Hopland that I gave any recommendations outside the town or county, as I might get kicked out of the super cool “all Mendo, all the time” club, but after offering up some other Hopland “must visit” winery recommendations, I shared some of my favorites outside the area.

In Napa, I recommended Trinchero Napa Valley as an incredible Cabernet Sauvignon and Meritage property with wines drinking much more expensive than their prices, subsidized in part I think by the sale of bazillions of cases of Sutter Home White Zin – also owned by the Trinchero family.

I recommended V. Sattui Winery. I attended and wrote about a special V. Sattui event a couple of years back, the piece from March 29, 2010 still gets over a hundred hits each month and, continuing from before it was posted, I receive sample bottles of V. Sattui wines for review – which is great for me considering I seldom post wine reviews.

I open wines at home, cook with them, and drink what I’ve opened for cooking. Not long ago, when cooking up a mushroom risotto, I opened a V. Sattui California Pinot Noir that was incredibly drinkable, varietally correct, beautiful cherry noted warmth with loam and herb, and that Pinot edge beautifully intact. Last night, when cooking up a lobster and shrimp pasta in Alfredo, I opened a 2010 V. Sattui Carneros Chardonnay, and it had lovely light oak and butter notes with the Chardonnay fruit. I used it to cook thinly sliced onions, then the lobster, then the sauce. Then I drank it up, yum. Neither of these wines was remotely like our McFadden Pinot Noir or Chardonnay, but delicious in part for their delightful differences. Look at that, I wrote a wine review, two really. Keep those wines coming, oh, and I’ve got a new address to send wine to now. Thanks!

Anyway, V. Sattui Winery sells a ton of wine, all of it direct to consumer which I admire greatly as a ballsy business model. They have lovely picnic grounds, and one of the most quotable owners in the industry, Dario Sattui.

My third Napa recommendation was for Swanson Vineyards. Supported by the wealth of the TV Dinner dynasty, Swanson Vineyards makes unbelievably delicious Merlot, just outstandingly fantastic. They make a dessert wine as gorgeous as any I’ve tasted, Crepuscule. They do sit down Salon tastings with whimsical but perfect food pairings, or informal tastings through their Sip Shoppe with wines often served in their lovely garden area. It is easy to have a half hour visit stretch to two hours at Swanson as time ceases to be important in the face of such a host of wonderful aroma and flavor notes, wine after wine.

In Sonoma County, I recommended Dashe and Amphora, neighbors in the Dry Creek Valley. Dashe because they buy McFadden grapes and produce Riesling and Zinfandel very different than, yet related to, ours. Amphora because my high school classmate and friend Karen works there, and because they have yummy juice too. I found several Amphora Zinfandels worthy of space at home on my last visit, so I bought them.

In Santa Rosa, I love Vinify winery collective and their tasting bar Vinoteca, Carol Shelton Wines, and the NPA/Salinia, all located in the same business park on Coffey Lane.

Finally, perhaps my favorite spot anywhere is Preston in Sonoma County’s Dry Creek Valley. A perfect day involves a visit with a friend to the Dry Creek General Store for picnic provisions, a tasting at Preston, the purchase of a bottle or two, a walk to the bocce courts to eat lunch with wine and bocce, and a loaf of Lou Preston’s bread fresh out of the oven to go.

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Back to Hopland, I had the opportunity to visit Saracina recently – I go out of my way to create reasons as I seem to visit Saracina pretty often. First, I love the wines Alex MacGregor and his winemaking team make there; second, John Fetzer and Patty Rock have spared no expense to create a beautiful setting to enjoy wine tasting in; and third, I really enjoyed watching new tasting room manager Casey Mortier do her thing for guests. Casey is like a female (and much cuter) version of me, weaving information, education, and passion into a seamless sharing with the folks she pours for. I haven’t seen another new Saracina gal, Janae Ebert, working there yet, but am confident she rocks too.

I love Alex’s Atrea Old Soul Reds, and his addition of a little Viognier to Saracina’s Chardonnay results in a big flavor boost. I was there the day the new Sauvignon Blanc was bottled, have been back to taste it again, and know it will taste fantastic when served at the Lobster Lunch at Saracina on June 9 this year.

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Finally, I’ll close with more about McFadden, simply because I can. Tomorrow night, I head up to McFadden Farm for a dinner hosted by Guinness McFadden to thank the entire team who helped make our enormous Hopland Passport sales success possible. Guinness will be cooking up his own McFadden Farm organic grass fed steaks. His girlfriend Judith may make one of the fantastic salads she has put together at recent Passport events. Ann Beauchamp’s husband Mark may bring some fresh caught abalone for an appetizer. I’m using the last of the Pebre and some organic air dried McFadden Herbs on some Chavez Market carnitas, adding a little cilantro and lime juice, and doing up yummy lettuce wrap appetizers. Folks from the Farm and Tasting Room will sit down together in fellowship. I suspect that McFadden wines, including the otherwise sold our 2009 Old Vine Zinfandel, may flow.

Here in my mode of recap and thanks, I also want to personally thank McFadden Farm’s Ernesto Medina, son of Vineyard Manager Jose. Ernesto often brings tasting room resupplies of wine, beef, herbs, wild rice and more from the farm. Ernesto also packs out my orders, including the huge number of case orders from Passport, and all of our wine club orders. To me, you are an absolutely integral factor in the success of the McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room.

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John writes about wines when he isn’t obsessing about the meaning of words for CityOfSantaRosaBlog.com and JohnOnWine.com, and his wine writing shows up in the Ukiah Daily Journal on occasion.

Ron Washam is John’s favorite wine writer, writing brilliant wine satire, while regularly skewering wine bloggers and other oracles, at hosemasterofwine.blogspot.com

Hi, my name is John. As this piece will appear on the City of Santa Rosa Blog as my first piece in addition to getting posted on my own blog, I thought I would tell you a bit about myself.

I crushed grapes in the Russian River Valley as a child, worked a Dry Creek Vineyard as a teen, put together a Santa Rosa restaurant wine list in my twenties, sold Sonoma County wine in my thirties and wine accessories to winery tasting rooms in 42 California Counties and over 40 states in my forties. Last year, at fifty, I was hired by Guinness McFadden to manage his tasting room and wine club in Hopland.

Guinness McFadden and John Cesano at the McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room in Hopland. Photography by Di Davis.

Generally, I know wine. I also know sales and marketing. Exhibitor Magazine awarded me their Expert Exhibitor Award over thousands of other trade show exhibitors three consecutive years; I introduced attendees to the wines of Sonoma County and sold tons of wine. I used to help wineries establish effective messaging as a consultant, and  stepped down from the board of Destination Hopland this year to accept a paid position helping with social media marketing messaging.

A few years ago, I competed to be the lucky winner of a Murphy Goode contest with the prize being a great social media marketing position, writing about the experience of making a wine, exploring Sonoma County and sharing the best places to visit, and focusing attention on the brand. I received the 8th most popular votes out of a couple of thousand entrants, but didn’t get the gig. Hardy Wallace was the choice of Kendall-Jackson and Murphy Goode, and he was the right choice; but he changed the job as he filled it and the original mission of writing about wine with Sonoma County acting as a co-star never really got accomplished.

I knew how to write, had wine industry knowledge experience, lived in Santa Rosa for over 40 years, earned a four year degree in marketing, and was perfect for the job – except I was old and didn’t really have the social media chops I needed to have to get the Really Goode Job.

Goode job, great job, no job, whatever. I changed a blog I was writing into a wine blog and became better versed in all of the social media channels in which I was previously lacking. Now, when there are a million social media marketing gurus, I am a real marketing guy with both social media and traditional marketing skills. I’m an old school guy that can offer demonstrable return on investment on real initiatives, while allowing that ability to inform my social media messaging output.

Having said all that, I bring a ton of experience, varied, deep, and wide to my McFadden tasting room gig. If you visit me for a tasting, I’ll share info about every wine I pour, putting all of the wines in a unique context. I try to educate, entertain, and hopefully move you to want to join our wine club.

Most folks enjoy what I offer, but when painting pictures with words, I believe in using the broadest brush possible. Here’s an example of my over the top messaging:

Everyone has tasted a buttery Chardonnay before, the butter note comes from a winemaking choice called malolactic fermentation which converts malic acid (green apple and citrus notes) to lactic acid (cream and butter notes). Together with barrel fermentation (oak, toast, and vanilla notes), this secondary fermentation can rob good grapes of their flavor or can disguise bad grapes with flavors not found in a vineyard.

I pour Chardonnay made from grapes from the first vineyard, McFadden Farm, planted in Potter Valley over 40 years ago, organic from day one. The grapes are great. Robert Mondavi, Kathryn Kennedy, and Piper Sonoma all buy our Chardonnay grapes. Our 2010 McFadden Chardonnay has gorgeous green apple and meyer lemon notes, drinks with the refreshing brisk acidity of a Sauvignon Blanc, and pairs incredibly well with foods that oaky Chardonnays just beat the Hell out of.

Last weekend, I poured our Chardonnay for about a thousand tasters during Hopland Passport wine weekend. I told folks right up front that our Chardonnay was different, that it allowed us to show off our Farm’s fruit, and we wouldn’t ruin it with barrel fermentation or malolactic fermentation. I asked tasters what part of the grape butter comes from, then told them butter comes from cows not grapes, and that fake butter belongs on movie theater popcorn and not Chardonnay.

Over the top? Of course. Purposely hyperbolic? Yep.

I’m not saying that Monsanto RoundUp, Barrel Fermentation, Malolactic fermentation aren’t viable choices in someone else’s vineyard or winery, and I know there are plenty of terrific Chardonnays that have all three of these things going on where McFadden Farm does not. Blah, blah, blah.

I’m not selling other peoples wines in my tasting room, so I get to tell my stories the way I like, the way that presents our wines in the best light. We increased our revenue over 90%, almost doubled, this Hopland Passport over last year’s spring Hopland Passport, so obviously most everyone “gets” what I do, appreciating what is meant to be a surprising and humorous delivery. I don’t do boring.

I do know that there are some who don’t get or like what I do. I am not the guy for the humorless, the dull, or the hypersensitive. I had one person this weekend accuse me of “insulting other wines,” when I said we didn’t want to ruin our Chardonnay with manipulated oak and butter. Seriously, if you are obtuse, come into McFadden on one of my days off; but if you are part of the 99%, the intelligent and open to fun – and can handle a little hyperbole – then by all means, please come visit me.

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John can be reached most weekdays at the McFadden Farm Stand and Tasting Room in Hopland from 10:00am to 5:00pm at (707) 744-8463. He’s the very best tasting room manager ever, while simultaneously the most handsome eligible man in Mendocino county.

The previous statement was an example of hyperbole, not hubris. John is too talented to have to engage in hubris. You will have to decide whether that last statement was hyperbolic or not.

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