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