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John On Wine ­- Swine Flu vs. Wine Fever

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal on February 20, 2014 by John Cesano

Swine flu is bad, even though it sounds similar to wine fever, which is good.

Wine fever is an enjoyment of wines strong enough to make regular wine tasting a priority, wine event tickets are secured, and people start recognizing you in winery tasting rooms near and far.

Twelve days ago, the International Alsace Varietals Festival in nearby Anderson Valley was a celebration of Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, Riesling, and more. I was going, and I was going to write it up here, but my wine fever was replaced by swine flu and I had to miss it this year.

Swine flu felt like someone wearing big heavy boots had kicked me all over my body; my head, neck, ribs ­ especially my ribs – arms, hips, everywhere. Combined with a fever bringing alternating sweats and chills, I spent a bad four days in unrelenting pain.

Last weekend, I was headed to taste Gold Medal winning wines from the recent San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, but I was down again and spent the weekend on the couch trying to get better.

I have seven wines at work, newly bottled, and haven’t been able to taste them to help set release dates, or write tasting notes, for each.

This weekend, I’m going to miss Dark & Delicious, an exploration of Petite Sirah held at Rockwall Wine Company in Alameda. I’m staying close to home, not traveling, but resting and trying to get strong again.

The major symptoms of the swine flu have been gone, but I’ve been suffering an incredibly tight chest, scratchy throat, and limited lung capacity. Breathing deep or talking triggers a bout of painful coughing.

To taste wine for me involves “nosing” the wine, inhaling deeply, and I have been incapable of that simple but important part of wine tasting.

I visited my doctor at the VA clinic and he diagnosed me with bronchitis and prescribed antibiotics to clean up my chest.

I’m looking forward to getting my health and ability to taste wines back, because until then you’re reading a wine column from a guy who can’t taste wines.

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I’m a big fan of Hopland Passport. I work for a participating winery, so I can’t attend, but I would encourage you to.

This year 17 wineries will roll out the red carpet, put their best foot forward; pick your favorite cliché metaphor for trying to impress you and that is what each winery will be doing.

Novice wine taster or rival to Fraser Crane in experience, Hopland Passport has something for everybody and may be one of the most enjoyable, best value, wine events existing. It costs $45, if you are smart, and gets you a collectable loco emblazoned glass, a wristband, and a physical passport to collect stamps in.

Each of the 17 participating winery tasting rooms will pour their wines, offer up food pairings, and Passport attendees can often find some great, best of the year, sales at many of the spots.

In addition to food and wine, a number of the places attendees visit offer vineyard or farm tours, act as a location for local craft vendors to display their goods, or bring in live musical entertainment.

In the past, a year and more ago, the folks at Destination Hopland, the local tourism group that puts on the Hopland Passport events, used to arrange to have public shuttles on Saturday.

A nice idea, the shuttles, but they led to complaints as people got stuck at some of the more remote Hopland area wineries and waited for space on a subsequent shuttle to leave and visit the next winery.

In addition to spending up to half of Saturday waiting in line for a bus or van, visitors to Hopland complained about an inability to make purchases, taking advantage of the big discounts offered at many participating winery tasting rooms, because they would be forced to load and unload wine at each stop, and there was not room on the shuttles for cases. The calls and emails from unhappy shuttle riders followed every Hopland Passport event.

As the public shuttles were the only part of Hopland Passport that people complained about, they were eliminated, but not until a terrific alternative was found.

Terrific Tours ­- www.TerrificTours.com ­- is a private, not public, shuttle option. Book a shuttle and be sure to ask For “Hopland Passport Discounted Pricing” and you’ll ride in luxury SUV or passenger vans, and whether you have a group taking an entire shuttle, or you book space on a shuttle you’ll share with others, this private shuttle option will take your group where you want to go, wait while you taste, hold your wine purchases securely, and take you to your next stop on your schedule. These private shuttles were hugely popular with riders who afforded themselves of the opportunity last fall, and can operate both days of the event.

If you are going to attend spring Hopland Passport on Saturday, May 3, 2014 and Sunday, May 4 this year, then buying your tickets early and online at www.destinationhopland.com/store for $45 saves you $10 per ticket off the $55 ticket price you will pay if you procrastinate. You can use the $10 you save toward a spot on a private shuttle.

I hope to see each of you during Hopland Passport this year. If you don’t already have it, perhaps you’ll catch a case of wine fever.