If you are reading my column today, Thursday, at almost any time of the day, then I am most likely sleeping. You’re reading The Ukiah Daily Journal in the morning with a cup of coffee, and I am sleeping. You’ve picked up a cast off copy of the paper and are reading it at a restaurant with a burger for lunch, and I am sleeping. There is a decent chance that if you don’t find this column until dinner time, I am still sleeping.
Hopland Passport, my favorite local wine event, came and went last weekend, and it did so not with a whimper or a bang, but with a brass band and a laser light show. I would love to attend and am envious of those who do. I last attended during the Fall 2010 Hopland Passport, but I have worked the last six Passport wine weekends, spring and fall 2011-2013, at the winery tasting room I manage, the McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room.
Different tasting rooms dressed up in costume, portraying different fantastical characters like pirates or Canadians. Instead of dressing up, which I think is a fun part of the experience so kudos to those that do it, the crew at McFadden just cooked up what we like to think is the best food at the event and pour the county’s best wines.
We totally understand if other tasting rooms think they are serving the best food and wine, too. With all of us putting out a great experience, the folks who attend get far more for the incredibly low ticket price than might be reasonably expected.
I have to say that I am proud to work in a community where everyone took part, where no one sat back and sponged off the work of all the other wineries. Everybody put out incredible food, whether homemade, catered, served off a food truck, brought in from a restaurant, or grilled on site.
I am sure there are tasting room managers who worked harder, but the 110 hours put in during the two weeks leading up to Passport through the event itself, and then the three days putting my shop back together after the event – well today is a very welcome day; and chances are very high that I am sleeping.
I heard from visitors that they really enjoyed having the private shuttles replace the public shuttles of Passports past. Folks using the shuttles were able to purchase wines at each stop and secure their purchases safely. Folks not using the shuttles were not subjected to waves of inebriated tasters with each bus stop. The entire event just seemed better for everyone, shuttle riders, non-shuttle riders, and the winery tasting rooms as well, with the switch to private shuttles.
I had cast a vote, over and over, to keep the public shuttles. I thought losing them would be bad, would hurt Passport numbers. I am thrilled to say that I was completely wrong. The number of tickets sold was just fine. The revenue for tasting rooms, judging by the bits and pieces of incomplete reports from my counterparts at other tasting rooms, is up this fall.
We have enjoyed a bump at McFadden since the San Francisco Chronicle’s Sunday travel section review of our tasting room last month, and we had a terrific team and spectacular offerings, but our numbers weren’t just up, they were up big! I have to thank everyone who visited, Passport attendees and wine club members alike, for making inventory easier this week – you cleaned us out.
I also want to thank a couple of writers who sent you our way, thanks to Carey Sweet and Pam Strayer. We had folks lined up to check in well before the official start time, and we opened a touch early. We ended up running out of glasses, passports, and wristbands early on day one and had to send folks to some of the remote wineries to check in. Live and learn, we’ll have more glasses in the shop next time.
I talked non-stop, pouring wines but describing each one poured, from before 11 a.m. right up until 5 p.m. both weekend days. I came in Monday with a low gravelly voice. My crew worked just as hard as I did. Ann, Juana, Mark, Charlie, Judith, Guinness, plus everyone back at the farm are why visitors to McFadden during Passport (and every other day, too) had such a great experience. Our passion is not unique. All 15 winery tasting rooms bring their “A” game every time. I am fortunate to work in a community of such committed folks. Thanks to this community in Hopland, visitors to this fall’s event had the best experience yet. Once again, thanks everyone – but please keep it down, I’m trying to sleep.
John On Wine – Book Reports
I love wine. I love books. I don’t always love wine books. Wine books can be so dry as to be boring, or rely so strongly on the reader having a rich knowledge of wine that it can alienate most folks.
Let me share a few wine books that I do love, each for a different reason: The first hasn’t even been released yet. Wine Business Case Studies – Thirteen Cases from the Real World of Wine Business Management, published by the Wine Appreciation Guild is due out in November this year, and will be available at the Sonoma State University book store.
I was bemoaning the public’s love for corks, when screw caps are a superior closure for wine bottles and Elliott Mackey, one of the top wine book publishers in the country, sent me an advance copy of a case study that looked at corks vs. screw caps from a business perspective: The Great Cork Debate 2012: Cork Stages a Comeback, written by Tom Atkin and Duane DoveI knew, from talking to several distributors and retailers, that if all other things are equal then a wine bottle under cork sells faster than a bottle under screw cap. This isn’t the article to address wine closures, but the case study Elliott sent over from the upcoming book was thoughtful, well researched and compelling.
While I was grateful for the advance peek at the great cork debate case study, I was surprised and thrilled to find that Elliott had also sent a case study titled Dark Horse Ranch Vineyard – A Mendocino County, California, Biodynamic Winemaker Explores Future Directions, written by Liz Thach, PhD, MW, Sonoma State University Wine Business Institute.
I am a big fan of Paul Dolan and his Dark Horse Ranch Vineyard. I have contemplated writing a tasting room review of Truett-Hurst in Sonoma County’s Dry Creek Valley, even though I focus on inland Mendocino wineries and vineyards, because Paul Dolan is an owner and has spread his biodynamic farming ethos to Truett Hurst.
This is a text book, a collection of case studies and is meant to explore a variety of subjects that students in a university level wine business program would benefit in exploring. Definitely not for everyone, I loved the advance look and will be picking up a copy upon release.
The second book is a wine book with broader appeal for folks who love Mendocino County wine. Mendocino Roots & Ridges Wine Notes From America’s Greenest Wine Region, written by Heidi Cusick Dickerson with photography by Tom Liden, is a phenomenal wine book, lushly gorgeous in both writing and photographic art.
Heidi Cusick Dickerson wrote a weekly wine column here in The Ukiah Daily Journal before I did and reading her columns, I was always impressed with her ability to paint a picture with words, a picture so well defined that I would want to visit the subject of her piece so I could experience the beauty she shared each week. I have no problem admitting that Heidi is a better writer than I am, and her work set the bar for quality I try to attain.
Tom Liden, similarly, is spectacularly skilled in his ability. As a professional photographer in wine country, many of the images he has captured tell a story that words alone could not do justice to.
Together, Heidi and Tom, in Mendocino Roots & Ridges, combine words and photographic art to give readers a rich sense of what makes scores of Mendocino County’s wineries so special. My copy is autographed by both Heidi and Tom, and if you were looking for a perfect wine book to present as a gift to a friend, there are a number of autographed copies available at the McFadden Farm stand & Tasting Room in Hopland. The price is an incredibly reasonable $29.95.
The final book I wanted to share with you is for wine geeks like me: Been Doon So Long, A Randall Grahm Vinthology. Randall Graham is the genius, iconoclast, mad man owner and winemaker of Bonny Doon – one of my absolute favorite wineries.
In support of his brand, Randall wrote satirical pieces for his winery newsletter. Been Doon So Long is a collection of some of the best satirical pieces written by Randall over the years.
Included are brilliantly executed parodies of notable literary works including Don Quixote, Catcher in the Rye, and A Clockwork Orange. Each parody allows Randall to comment on the wine industry, and often pokes fun and sometimes derision at a host of subjects within the industry.
In the book’s center, at its core, is the book’s masterwork, a parody of Dante’s Divine Comedy. In Da Vino Commedia: The Vinferno, there are nearly 60 pages with beautiful illustrations by Alex Gross, Randall tells the tale of being taken “doon” through the nine circles of wine hell. After pointing out the sins of the industry in fullness, Randall writes of being made to face his own sins and a desire to save himself from mortal zin, um sin.
Filled with zingy references to pompous personages and elite estates, this book is a little insider-ish; but even a wine non-geek will appreciate the skill behind the turns of phrase, even if not fully appreciating the target of Randall’s barb. That’s it, three great books. This weekend, attend Hopland Passport; next weekend, pick up a book.
John On Wine – Hopland Passport is October 19 & 20 this Fall
This piece originally ran in the Ukiah Daily Journal on October 10, 2013
Hopland Passport is coming up in just nine days, on Saturday, October 19th and Sunday, October 20th, 2013, from 11:00am to 5:00pm each day.
With fifteen participating wineries pouring their best wines, incredible food pairings at each stop, and opportunities to experience tours, art, and live music, Hopland is the place to be for wine lovers next weekend.
Weekend passes include a collectable logo glass, a wristband, and a real Passport to collect stamps in, and are just $45 online at http://www.DestinationHopland.com/store, or $55 at the event. The online store CLOSES on Thursday, October 17th at noon, so purchase your tickets early to get the discounted price.
Here is some of the fun you can expect if you attend:
Brutocao Cellars plans a football themed weekend with great tailgate food to pair with their award winning Estate wines. The Blues Pirates will perform a “half time” show. Do not miss the annual grape stomp competition!
Campovida will serve organic fare from their gardens, prepared by chef Adam Weiss from their sister property, Piazza de Campovida. Enjoy light bites with the wonderfully expanded line up of wines. Taking the time for a guided tour of the property’s gardens is a must do part of Passport.
Cesar Toxqui Cellars is all about food and wine pairings. Start on the porch with fruit infused cheeses paired with Chardonnay and Viognier, then move inside for BBQ tri tip and sausage with Zinfandels, before finishing your visit with a dessert of dark chocolate cake and Port.
Frey Vineyards pours their organic wines in the Real Goods Store at the Solar Living Center. On the menu, to pair with Frey’s no sulfite added wines, is curried chicken with fall chutney, a biodynamic cheese platter with fresh baguettes, marinated goat cheese, and roasted organic vegetables in a Frey Chardonnay marinade. Explore the grounds, celebrate sustainability, and catch local musicians performing.
Graziano Family of Wines offers up over thirty wines, mostly Italian varietals, and all but a few at under $20. Enjoy aged cheese, homemade tapenade, country pate, seasonal fruit, and an assortment of imported sausages, served with wines ranging from Anglianico to Zinfandel.
Jaxon Keys Winery & Distillery invites folks to sit on the covered veranda of their farmhouse tasting room and enjoy their wines with seasonal Mendo-sourced foods prepared by local chef Ellery Clark.
Jeriko Estate smartly offers up a classic pairing: pigs and Pinot. Enjoy three 2012 Pinot Noir wines; the Pommard clone, the Dijon clone, and a blend – the upper Russian River Pinot Noir, paired with wood roasted pork. Live music, tastes of the Gold Medal 2010 Sangiovese and barrel tastes of the 2012 Sangiovese, and San Greal Don 48 Chardonnay Vodka specialty cocktail recipe sharing round out a visit to this certified Biodynamic vineyard and cellar.
The McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room will show off the bounty of their bio-diverse, certified organic, family farm. Take a taste of any of over a dozen 90 point, or higher, rated wines and pair them with grilled organic grass fed beef from McFadden Farm. Enjoy the farm fresh goodness of their wild rice & artichoke heart salad. Guinness McFadden will visit both days and sign bottles of his wines as they are purchased..
McNab Ridge Winery will offer up a pirate themed Passport weekend, decked out in pirate garb, serving up Caribbean roasted pork tenderloin with a pineapple & apricot chutney over wild rice, paired with a gold medal winning dry Gewurztraminer. Over a dozen gormet dips & spreads, barrel tasting of a 2012 Pinot Noir, and bottle painting by Leslie Bartlomei are also on the menu, matey.
Milano Family Winery offers up smoked marinated Tri-Tip, veggies and dips, and aged Cabot Creamery cheeses, live music on both Saturday and Sunday, clothing and craft vendors, and a wide ranging line up of wines, from young sweet whites to aged dry reds.
Nelson Family Vineyards will pair their Estate wines with slices from Mendough’s Wood-Fired Pizza, including chevre and sun dried tomatoes, prosciutto and arugula, Gorgonzola and artickoke. Finish your tasting with their Ice Riesling.
Ray’s Station is pairing with Fork Catering again for some great taste combos; Korean Short Rib Sliders Creamy Slaw with Sriracha mayonnaise paired with 2011 Zinfandel; Grilled Cheese with Gruyère, caramelized onions and tomato jam paired with 2011 Ray’s Red Blend; Crispy Pork Skewers with cilantro, jalapeno and lime paired with 2011 Merlot; and Seven Layer Bars with coconut, butterscotch-chocolate chips, pecans and graham cracker crust paired with NV Brut.
Rivino Winery will be putting on a Canadian themed Passport this fall, with poutine paired with Chardon’eh. Music from the Barenaked Ladies, Neil Young, Bryan Adams and other Canadian artists will fill the air. Listen for owner’s Jason and Suzanne to lose their American accents as the weekend rolls on, slipping back into their Canadian accents.
Saracina will be hosting a squash party this year, featuring gourmet squash and pulled pork tacos to pair with some seriously delicious reds and whites. Live music will fill the air. Complimentary cave tours will be offered at 12:30, 2:30 and 4:00 p.m..
Terra Savia invites visitors to “laissez les bon temps roulez” – let the good times roll, with rich red, white, and bubbly wines paired with stuffed mushrooms and remoulade sauce, chicken and Andouille jambalaya, red beans and rice, couvillion – the fish stew, fried green tomatoes, and New Orleans bread pudding with rum sauce/lemon sauce. Beads, and music from Coffee Zombie Collective, will leave you feeling the joie de vivre – joy of life!
“You know, I’ve been parking right there, in front of your shop, a couple of dozen times, to go across the street to eat, and I never even knew there were tasting rooms here,” Gabe said when I asked him what brought him in today, “but I read about you in the paper, and so here I am.”
I would love to tell you that something I wrote here in the Daily Journal brought Gabe in. In July, when I wrote about the McFadden Wine Club Dinner, I had folks come in and buy tickets. When I wrote about my neighbors at Naughty Boy, I had folks visit there. Not record revenue days, but a column can inspire a few folks to visit the subject of a piece I write.
Monday morning, I had three couples and several individuals come in to taste, because a very complimentary piece ran in the San Francisco Chronicle on Sunday. Carey Sweet reviews winery tasting rooms, has for more than five years, has over 100 under her belt and rarely – maybe half a dozen times at most – gives out three and a half stars. Most tasting rooms earn two to three stars, and are great. McFadden is the first tasting room to take three and a half stars in over a year.
Monday mornings are often slow, but not this Monday morning. Monday ended up being busier, before noon, than both of the last entire weekend days.
That is the power of a good, and well read, review. Thanks to Carey Sweet of the Chronicle.
Sweet wrote, “Before I leave, Cesano pulls out a Destination Hopland map and offers suggestions on other tasting rooms I might enjoy checking out, plus tips on what’s most interesting to sample at each. He marks his favorite restaurants nearby.”
While there was plenty of cool stuff written about me, and McFadden, I am incredibly pleased that it was noted that I recommended other winery tasting rooms to visit, and local places to eat.
I do not see other winery tasting rooms as competition. I see the opportunity to work cooperatively with all of my neighbors along Hwy 101, from Hopland up to Redwood Valley and beyond. The more time folks stay in the area, the more they experience, the better impression we can all make.
Sure, I could focus on McFadden only. There are some winery tasting rooms that do focus only on themselves. They aren’t much fun to visit.
I volunteered to work with Destination Hopland and then took over some marketing tasks, because I believe that the wineries in the area make great wines, but the word just wasn’t getting out widely enough.
Did you know that the wineries of Hwy 128 took 82 medals at the recent Mendocino County Wine Competition, while the inland Mendocino wineries along the 101 and upper Russian River corridor took 100 medals? Wine Spectator wouldn’t tell you, they largely ignore Hopland, Ukiah, and Redwood Valley and to read their magazine or online output, you would think that Mendocino County was comprised of just Anderson Valley and the coast.
Virginie Boone writes about wine for Wine Enthusiast magazine, and the Press Democrat. Boone visits all of Mendocino County, not just the Anderson Valley; she judges at our wine competitions, attends our events, visits our tasting rooms, tours our vineyards, and as a result has a broader, better educated palate than her counterparts at other publications.
Trying to get media to visit Hopland has been a challenge. Jen Felice of Visit Mendocino told me that all of the writers who look to visit Mendocino County want to visit only Anderson Valley and the coast.
With a three star review for Campovida and a three and a half star review for McFadden, Carey Sweet of the Chronicle is helping people find their way to Hopland. With wine recommendations for a number of the area’s wineries in Wine Enthusiast, Virginie Boone is bringing folks to come and visit, or buy our wines.
I wanted to bring attention to the wines and wineries, the too often unmentioned or ignored wineries of inland Mendocino. That is why, beyond working to help Destination Hopland promote our wines, I reach a little farther and write about vineyards and wineries up to Redwood and Potter Valleys and down to Comminsky Station Road, just off Hwy 101, near the border with Sonoma County. I am grateful to be able to invite readers here in The Ukiah Daily Journal to come and taste our wines on a near weekly basis.
I also wanted to take the time to thank the wine writers from larger publications who do visit and write, writers like Carey sweet and Virginie Boone. Thank you!
Hopland Passport is coming up soon, on Oct. 19 & 20, 2013; I hope you can go. Next week, I’ll write about the participating wineries and what treats each will share with folks who buy a weekend passport.
This week, I’m giving away a free ticket to Hopland Passport.
Send me an email to JohnOnWine@gmail.com and tell me why I should give you a free ticket. I’ll pick a winner sometime tomorrow and post the winner’s name online at JohnOnWine.com at the end of the reposting of this column.
Carey Sweet visited my tasting room, and then wrote up that visit for a San Francisco Chronicle tasting room review. In five years of writing tasting room reviews, Carey has handed out only a small handful, maybe six in all, 3 and a half star ratings, and McFadden seems to be the first to receive such an honor in over a year. Needless to say, I’m pretty thrilled for my tasting room, but I am equally pleased that Carey had so many nice things to say about how I do what I do. I’m not ordinary, and probably not for everyone, but for folks who are looking for a wine experience, without pretension, just a whole bunch of good wines with some humor mixed in, well, Carey pretty much captured what I do.
To read what Carey does, write great reviews, hit the link and enjoy her complete piece:
For those too lazy to follow the link, here is a taste of the most richly complimentary prose dedicated to your’s truly:
Nothing is ordinary when wine tasting at McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room in Hopland (Mendocino County). The space looks like a cute little clapboard house painted in lemon curd yellow, rust red and white trim, set in the Vintage Marketplace center on the town’s main street. But step inside, and if tasting room manager John Cesano is in the house – which he almost always is on weekdays – look out. You’re in for a party.
Cesano has an encyclopedic knowledge of wines, it’s immediately obvious, and such descriptions are how he teasingly separates his product from the mass-produced “often lifeless” competition. McFadden wines are limited production, usually just a few hundred cases each, and the grapes are estate grown, he says, pausing to raise his hands in the air, do a little dance, and sing, “Wooo! We’re making wine!”