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.