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John On Wine – Age vs. Vintage

By John Cesano

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, October 23, 2014

“I don’t drink young wines, I only drink older wines, and I always decant them,” is what someone told Eugene Gonsalves when Eugene tried to gift him a bottle of local Mendocino County wine while on a European vacation.

First things first: if someone tries to gift a bottle of wine to you, then turning your nose up, untasted, is boorish at least.

Age is not as important as vintage; 2008 is older than 2012, but few in Mendocino County would choose a local 2008 wine over a wine from 2012. 2008 was the year of fires when ash and smoke sat on top of grapes in the vineyard and yielded horribly flawed wines. 2011 is older than 2012, but 2011 was a very cool year, and some wine magazine writers cried about what a horrible vintage it was for California wine, when really it was Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon that took the biggest hit, while 2012 has been heralded as a stellar vintage.

Age does some things to all wines, but age is not always beneficial for all wines.

Red wines are wines that have juice in contact with skins after press, and the skins impart tannins along with color. Tannins give wine firmness, and react with flavors – at first masking them and later joining with them to produce a supple leathery quality.

Red wines are typically sealed with a cork, a semi-permeable closure that allows incredibly small amounts of oxygen to pass through itself and allow the tannins to soften and mellow over time, usually years.

Of course, the reality is that Americans are impatient and do not – for the most part – lay any wine, red or white, down for any appreciable amount of time. I think the average cellaring time for a wine purchased in California is the time it takes to get it home from the store.

Our winemakers know this and make wines to be enjoyed young, decreasing tannins where possible. I will often open a young bottle of bottle, pour a half a glass, and swirl the wine and niff, put it down, then after a little time I will swirl and sniff again, and continue to do this until the alcohol flush blows off, the tannins dissipate, and the fruit comes forward. Too soon, and the fruit is either masked or too tart, but with a little air contact the wine opens up and becomes more enjoyable than when first opened.

Some winemakers, wanting their wines to be aged, will hold on to them and release them later than other wineries. Locally, Rosati Family Winery and Milano Family Winery both recently released their 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, while other wineries are pushing their 2012 Cabernets out the door. I actually go through the same open, pour, swirl, and sip ritual with an older wine, and for the same reasons, so the wine shows better, is more enjoyable.

White wines do not spend time with skins and do not have the same tannin load. These wines are fruitier when held in stainless steel, although that may be muted by oak or other winemaking choices. You will see many white wines sealed with screw caps instead of corks because there is no need to soften or change the largely nonexistent tannins, and white wines are generally consumed at a younger age than red wines. Of course, there are exceptions and several white wines that can benefit from age and are sealed with a cork, like Chateau d’Yquem and other late harvest botrytised dessert wines.

I am a patient man, about wine anyway. I love the swirl and sniff ritual. Decanters allow a wine to aerate more quickly, as the entire bottle is upended and poured into the decanter, falling through air and splashing, which is great if you are going to finish the entire bottle but not great if you only want a glass or two.

Decanters also allowed wines to be poured slowly and sediment to be collected in the shoulder of Bordeaux bottles, but with most California wines being fined and filtered they are pretty much sediment free,

I will admit to being a fan of Vinturi and other glass specific aerators. Pouring a wine through these devices, it burbles, and air is force blended with the wine, causing it to taste like it has been breathing for a significant amount of time.

White wines, largely, do not need to be decanted, or run through an aerator, and tend to be better in youth. For me, open, pour, swirl, sniff, swirl and sniff again, taste, taste again – that works pretty well.

After opening a bottle, red or white, and enjoying a bottle or two, I like to spray some argon gas into the bottle to prevent the wine from additional oxidation, to stop it from breathing, so I can enjoy it again the next day, or later that week.

So, here’s my take: find a wine variety you like, from a producer you trust, and of a vintage that is good, try it, and if you like it then go back and buy some more because vintage is more important than age, and when the wine you love is gone then you’ll have to begin your search anew…but that’s not really a bad thing, that’s part of the magic of wine.

 

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John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

John On Wine ­ – Thank you

By John Cesano

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal on Wednesday, November 27, 2013

I like that we kick-off the holiday season with a giving of thanks. Facebook has featured 30 days of thanks – a note about something that moves someone to thanks – posted each day in November, 30 notes of thanks with several of my friends participating.

These many notes of thanks and the other upbeat, positive, and inspirational messages have made Facebook more joyful this month. I’ve participated; it isn’t a stretch imagining me writing 30 notes in 30 days, after all. A few of my notes touched on wine, pouring it, tasting it, writing about it, drinking it. I’ll be doing a bit more of that here.

First, I want to thank Guinness McFadden for giving me a job, for hiring me to take over your tasting room in Hopland. You hired an unknown quantity, I had never worked as a tasting room employee before. I hope your risk has been rewarded. Thanks to the wines and other foodstuffs from the farm that you provide me with, our numbers have never been better and we have the highest rated tasting room in the over five year history of San Francisco Chronicle tasting room reviews. I love that you tell me what, not how, and allow me to do my job with an amazing amount of freedom. I am thankful to be able to do something I am very good at.

I also want to thank my crew: Eugene, Gary, Ann, Juanita and Catrina for giving our visitors the same care I would give them, and freeing me up for days off.

I want to thank Bob Swain and, now sainted, Raphael Brisbois for making the wines I sell. You two have made wines with tons of medals and 90-plus ratings from Guinness’ grapes, and I am extraordinarily grateful to be able to pour them. Thanks also to Bob for sitting down with me and tasting 11 wines for a piece that ran online in March of 2010. Parducci Wine Cellars and Paul Dolan Wines were the first inland Mendocino County wines to get a feature piece written by me. I’ve asked Bob to sit down with me again and when he does, I’ll be thankful and write an updated piece featuring Parducci for the newspaper.

I’m thankful for Kelly Hancock, my editor at the Ukiah Daily Journal. Your stellar work editing previous pieces made saying yes to writing this column easier.

Thanks to my predecessor, Heidi Cusick Dickerson, a better wine writer than I am, for being constantly supportive of my efforts and for sending folks my way.

Thanks to so many local folks for being so welcoming, helpful, and ­ again ­ supportive. Alan, Louis and Hairy Putter, Di Davis and the entire Davis family, Lorie Pacini and Allen Cherry; thanks to all of you.

Thanks to all of the winery tasting room folks, owners and employees, from Potter Valley to Ukiah, Redwood Valley to Talmage, and Capella to Hopland. There are so many more features yet to write. Some of you, I’ve visited but haven’t written up yet; I will, after visiting again.

Thanks especially to the folks at Barra and Girasole: Martha, Charlie, Katrina, and my tasting buddy Gracia; and to Maria Testa at Testa Vineyards, who always has a smile and a good glass of red. I do not know what they put in the drinking water up in Redwood Valley, but I appreciate your every kindness.

Thanks to Bernadette Byrne at Sip! Mendocino in Hopland for helping point a few of the folks behind the labels you pour my way. Two of the biggest treats that I am most thankful for are meeting Fred and Alberta of Albertina Vineyards, and Mario and Danelle of Rosati Family Wines; a pair of husband and wife couples, growing grapes, making wine and selling it in entirely too much anonymity. I loved your wines and enjoyed spending time with you – thank you for making me feel so welcome. For those reading this, wines from both Albertina and Rosati are available at Sip! Mendocino.

I get invited to things because I write. Thanks for all of the invitations to events, dinners, and tastings. I see some of the same folks at various events and two people I am very thankful for are Sheriff Tom Allman and District Attorney David Eyster of Mendocino County. These two do more than merely administrate, they care about and constantly engage the people in the communities they serve. I am thankful for such dedicated public servants.

I got a head start with hundreds of McFadden wine club members who already knew me, but the response to this column from the public has been surprising to me. I am thankful to each and every person who reads my column. It is still slightly unsettling to have people I’ve never met, in places other than wine shops, recognize me and compliment me on a column they read and remember. Whether I’ve been in line to get coffee, seated at a restaurant, or on the firing line at the gun club, you have come up to me to tell me you read my column and even if I am not used to being recognized, I am thankful for your readership and humbled by your feedback.

I’ll be in my tasting room today until 5 p.m. to help people with their very last minute Thanksgiving wine selections and while the room will only be closed one day for Thanksgiving, I will very thankfully take most of four days off, enjoying a family dinner on Thursday, and trying to buy some great cookware on a Friday sale. Maybe, I’ll taste some wines on the weekend for a future column, which would make my editor thankful. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!
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Here’s some extra “thank you”s for my online readers to wade through. Thanks to my son Charlie; you are, by and large, a good boy. Thanks to Heather from Ft. Bragg; it is nice when we find the time to walk paths together. Thanks to Millesima USA, who inexplicably named this blog one of the Top Ten Wine News Blogs being written.

Top 10 Wine New Blog Award

Right up front, let me be clear, I am writing about my experiences with the winery I work for. Conflict of interest? None. I’m not selling you anything, and waited until a big event is over, too late for you to buy a ticket and attend, before I started writing about it here. That said, I write about what I know, what I’m doing, what I’ve done, and as the tasting room and wine club manager for the McFadden Vineyard tasting room in Hopland, having just finished working our Annual McFadden Wine Club Appreciation BBQ Dinner up at the 500 acre McFadden Farm in Potter Valley, that’s what you’re going to be reading about.

First and foremost, before there were wines from McFadden Vineyard, there were grapes from McFadden Farm.

Back when Guinness McFadden started his McFadden Farm in 1970, organic farming had a different name: farming. While many Mendocino County vineyards have copied his trailblazing success, it is the quality of the grapes, grown organically for over 40 years, that puts McFadden ahead of other growers. Having experimented, McFadden has established blocks, separate growing environments for different grapes in the vineyards on his McFadden Farm. Head pruned and trellised, irrigated and dry farmed, planted next to the Russian River and on rocky hillside slopes, the grapes of McFadden Farm are not grown one way, factory farmed, but are thoughtful expressions of Terroir, the marriage of grape to place, grown for desired varietal correctness.

Harvesting 750 tons of grapes from the 160 vineyard acres at the heart of his 500-acre farm, McFadden Farm grapes have gone into wines made by Chateau Montelena Winery, Dashe Cellars, Robert Mondavi, Sterling, Horse & Plow, Fetzer, Navarro, Beringer, and more; often receiving vineyard designation on the wine label.

McFadden Farm is also the source of an extensive line of organic herbs and herb blends, carried in the best health, flavor, or quality conscious food stores, organic garlic braids and swags, and organic culinary quality decorative bay leaf wreaths, sold by William Sonoma at the holidays, as well as organic grass fed beef sold in a local healthy food store.

In 2003, Guinness McFadden bottled his first wines made from his own grapes. I suppose seeing others enjoy winning medals, critical acclaim, and a legion of fans for wines made with his grapes, caused him to feel the bite of the winemaking bug.

In 2008, McFadden hired Sherrilyn Goates to help him open a tasting room in Hopland, on Highway 101, between Santa Rosa and Ukiah, in Mendocino County. McFadden, with help from Goates, got the tasting room up and running, developed a wine club, established a model for how to run our events from Passport Weekends to Wine Club Dinners, basically got the wheel rolling well.

After three years, Goates had met every challenge and moved on to new ones with Ferrari Carano at Seasons in Healdsburg. I am sure she will be a spectacular success there, while we improve on the successes she helped create at McFadden.

I joined McFadden in late March of this year. At first, I was putting in nearly 60 hour weeks as I sought to get a handle on my responsibilities, before managing to attain confidence in my own grasp,  and before I brought in a terrific team to help me on my days off.

I have been thrown into the deep end of the pool before. As an Infantryman in the most forward deployed Infantry battalion in the US Army, I was tasked to fill in as the Intel Analyst without having been to Military Intelligence school, just as our battalion was about to take on the mission of ambush and reconnaissance patrols. No pressure there, it is always good to have a learn-as-you-go experience with life and death consequences for others to focus your attention. Having two days and two hours training before taking over a tasting room and wine club may not be the optimal transition but nothing insurmountable.

I really didn’t plan to make any changes in the tasting room. I don’t believe in reinventing the wheel. I also am blessed to know I don’t know everything, and listen to my staff, so there I was, surprised to find myself, within two weeks, making my first merchandising change, a change that tripled that category’s revenue.

I’ve added two new items, experiencing 70% and 55% sell through on both within the first month of bringing them in. In a year other wineries reported a revenue decrease during Spring Hopland Passport, we had a better than 25% revenue increase, entirely owing to a new sales and marketing initiative previously unexplored. I have doubled the number of people we communicate with each month through our newsletters, and grown our wine club 19% in my first three months with the winery.

First let me state the obvious: success doesn’t happen in a vacuum. I am fortunate to work with (alphabetically) Ann Beauchamp, Eugene Gonsalves, and Gary Krimont. I am even more blessed to work for a boss I genuinely like, Guinness McFadden.

We are by no means finished with change, or growth. I have proposed, and received approval for, a major merchandising change, a way to better present and display all of the goods we have, and will bring into the tasting room. It will take some time, and some money, but hopefully in the next couple of months, the next big presentation improvement will take place.

My next door neighbor, Bobby Meadows, has run the Graziano tasting room for the last 8 years, and described the last three months, my first three months as McFadden’s manager, as the slowest in his entire experience.

In spite of some successes, improvements, good numbers I can point to proudly, I am operating in a larger environment of economic difficulty, where fewer people are traveling to Mendocino County, and those that do are spending less money while here. Our total numbers are down for the year, and I work every day to try to turn that around. Neighboring wineries with years of social media marketing have far fewer contacts than we do with just our few scant months of engagement. With the support of my boss, I will be joining the Board of Directors of Destination Hopland this week. I don’t know how to get Hopland businesses to make the town prettier with more flowers, or pedestrian friendly with more sidewalks, but I do know how to get some more people to come to our Hopland Passport weekends, how to get some additional press before and after, and hope that might translate, in time, to more visitors throughout the year. I hope I am allowed to focus on marketing initiatives.

Speaking of marketing, that was almost my entire contribution to last weekend’s Annual Wine Club Appreciation BBQ Dinner. In the past, my predecessor knocked herself out, maybe taking on too much.

This year, I got the word out over the Internet, took to the phones, set up and took a remarkable number of online orders. Guinness McFadden personally invited everyone he knew, his daughter Anne Fontaine McFadden set up a Facebook event page, invited all of her friends, and led a team of professional cooks. Farm employees, friends, and family set up tables, place settings, and serving stations. My tasting crew handled check in as event attendees arrived.  With the work load shared, each doing what they are best at, everyone was able to enjoy themselves more greatly.

Local BBQ Pork and Lamb, just yum. Great veggie dishes, including one which Anne Fontaine shared in our last newsletter and made an extra bowl of for Second Saturday visitors in Hopland, a recurring monthly wine and food event at various Hopland tasting rooms, was organic McFadden Farm Wild Rice with snap peas, green beans, and toasted pecans, in a pesto made from pistachios, orange zest, orange juice and olive oil. Just fantastic, with everyone declaring this year’s dinner the best ever.

One attendee from the past said it seemed smaller, but in reality we had bigger numbers than the last two years combined. We “officially” cut off sales the Wednesday before, but allowed for greater success, selling right on through the day of the event, bringing in enough extra tables and place settings, making enough extra food, for even more people. What seemed smaller was really bigger but more comfortable, taking more room but less crowded. The result was an endless stream of some incredibly kind compliments and comments from this year’s guests:

My son and I had an absolutely fabulous time…where do I start…entering the farm and riding on the tractor trailer w/hay bales as seats…coming into an enchanting setting for the most enjoyable evening filled with outstanding wines, incredibly fun people, out of this world menu…I still savor the tastes that filled me with such joy!!! Dancing under the stars to perfect music, the evening was filled with so much love by all that made it happen!! McFadden Vineyard…you ROCK!!!!

Perfect? No. We made notes so we can make it better next year, just like we did after pulling off the most successful Hopland Passport weekend ever.

Before I’m accused of hubris, let me say there is tons I don’t know, haven’t done, and likely will never do. Still, with a great team of folks where I am just one part of the team, we are kicking some butt this year.

As a winery, you can’t kick butt if your wines suck. I liked our wines the first time, and every subsequent time I tasted them, back before they were “our” wines, before I joined the team.

Guinness grows great grapes, Bob Swain is our winemaker, and I wrote about his friendly, approachable wines when I wrote about a tasting of wines he made for Parducci last year. Where some wineries can hide bad grapes with multiple winemaking manipulations, say barrel fermentation and malolactic fermentation for a Chardonnay, our Chardonnay is stainless steel held and has zero malolactic. Our Chardonnay is a gorgeous fruit driven wine with lovely apple notes balanced by crisp acidity, a great wine to drink and a spectacular food pairing wine.

The first Pinot Grigio I ever tasted, a Santa Margherita, just pissed me off. No flavor, it was like drinking water with alcohol. The McFadden Pinot Gris is what they all should taste like. Just wow.

Ditto Sauvignon Blanc. No need to blend in Semillon, no cat pee aromas in this wine. Beautiful Mendocino County grapefruit and citrus instead.

Gewurtz and Rielsing are too often cloyingly sweet, but McFadden’s are drier, Alsatian styled, balanced by good acidity, sweetness coming from fruit and floral notes.

Pinot Noir, grown on the cooler climate McFadden Farm, 1,500 feet up, on the Russian River, about 10 degrees cooler than just 10 minutes away, with temperatures plummeting 35-40 degrees at night, develop gorgeous flavors over a long period of time, again balanced by nice acidity.

McFadden produces a cool climate Zinfandel I read that someone likened to a rock climber when compared to the overweight linebackers most Zins are. Where the big bruisers make foods cringe, our Zin is a revelation; new possibilities in the kitchen are opened.

Where too many wines have “too” defects: too oaky, too tannic, too sweet, too high alcohol; our wines do not have these defects, these barriers to enjoyment. McFadden wines are uniformly drinkable, but unlike wines manufactured by Goliaths in quarter million case lots, out little 3,000 case winery produces wines that showcase varietal correctness, while retaining a sense of place.

Our wines aren’t made to win medals, or critical acclaim; after a judge has tasted 30 wines and has had their palate destroyed by high alcohol, overly sweet, tannic, oak monsters, our delicious subtle well balanced wines can barely be tasted. We do win medals, and I smile at each one – we’ve tacked five more competition ribbons to the wall since I took over, but our wines are most impressive in a one on one tasting, in order from dry to sweet, as the realization grows with each wine tasted, here is a brand of exquisite deliciousness.

I love pouring Chardonnay for people who hate Chardonnay; but love ours at first taste. People who don’t like reds end up walking out with carriers filled with reds not overpowered by high alcohol or tannin.

When people taste dry styled Gewurtztraminer and Riesling for the first time, they are transformed, they imagine a summer day with glass in hand, a dinner table with new pairings.

All of our varietal wines are under $20.

Turning tasters into wine club members is easy, after tasting uniformly delicious wines, it is easy for folks to imagine receiving four discounted bottles delivered to their home three times a year. We also have pairing options where wines are delivered with rice, herbs, garlic, or wreaths. Wine Club members receive 15% off everything in the tasting room, 25% off cases (mix/match is just fine), and 35% off a different wine each month announced in our Wine Club Newsletter. Special shipping rates, special sales, event notifications and invitations; there are many more advantages and benefits to wine club membership, but it all starts with the wine, and our wine makes membership easy.

The 2007 McFadden Coro Mendocino, a 60% Zin, 27% Syrah, 13% Petite Sirah is the best of dozens of Coro Mendocino bottles I have tasted. Smooth, supple, a veritable fruit basket, in Ukiah, where I live, it pairs with everything from Sushi at Oco Time to Steak at Branches.

I hate giving out numbers and being wrong, I think it was four, but I’ll just say a bazillion because I really don’t care that much and think it is ridiculous anyway; out last Sparkling Brut was 5 parts Chardonnay to 3 parts Pinot Noir and won a bazillion Gold Medals in Wine Competitions. Our new Sparkling Brut is equal parts Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and will be even richer, better.

We released the new Sparkling Brut early, for our Wine Club Appreciation BBQ Dinner. It needs more time ‘en bouchon,’ on the cork, it is really just a baby, very active and unpredictable. It sorely wants to launch the cork upon opening, and some bottles show aggressive tart green apple notes, others grapefruit, some rose petal and nut, others yeast and cream. This bubbly will eventually grow up and exhibit all of these flavors and more, with lovely integration. It is exciting to watch a wine just born, and be able to watch it grow up. This beauty will fly out the door.

Guinness and I are getting to know each other. Guinness needed to get someone into the tasting room, and I was the guy who got the job. While he filled his need for a tasting room and wine club manager, he also got someone unafraid to use ten words where two will do. Okay, seriously, he got a sales and marketing professional, educated and awarded, with a history of successes, a wine industry trade show professional, a wine story teller, a wine writer.

Meanwhile, I got a marketer’s dream boss. When busy pouring, he might seem curt or gruff, but give him a little space, a little time, and he’s telling a ten minute story with character voices. Get him talking about farming, and you get an authentic mix of “aw shucks” country charm and passionate advocate for both Potter Valley and organic farming. Born in New York, educated at Notre Dame, a decorated Vietnam War Naval officer hero (impressing this Army sergeant), turned farmer.

I hope to get to some events in San Francisco together, invite fellow wine writers – folks who don’t work for McFadden – and while I’m pouring for crowds, be able to let them experience Guinness’s genuine Irish charm. Hopefully, they are inspired to come up to Mendocino County afterward, and hopefully they write pieces that inspire their readers to come up and visit, or call to order some wines shipped.

I think I am a bit brasher, louder, more expansive, less humble than Guinness would prefer, but I am at my best onstage, at a tradeshow, with an enormous crowd, and a well crafted story, a product or service, a pitch, a close.

Watching Guinness this weekend in his beautiful large ranch home, sitting on a hill surrounded by vineyards in the middle of his 500 acre farm, the house filled with friends, family, conversation, laughter, cooking, wine, love…watching Guinness at the Wine Club Dinner in the center of 175 friends, all sharing a night of happiness, food, drink, fellowship, dancing, the pride in and love for his daughter evident…I am watching a man of vision, a man who created an amazing reality from absolutely nothing, a happy man, a man who deserves his rewards.

I am very lucky to work for Guinness. I like to think that in me he gets a good return on the paychecks he signs. My only regret is that it is hard to get to tell the story of Guinness McFadden, McFadden Farms, McFadden wines. We sell all 3,000 cases we produce, we sell nearly everything through the tasting room, and through our wine club. Our distribution is incredibly limited, almost entirely in Mendocino County. I want to sell more wine, and faster, but I need people to come to my tasting room in Hopland to be able to tell my story, to pour our wine. We have complimentary wine tastings, and to pour the wine is to sell the wine, but I need more people to come to us. I want more people, but I don’t know how to reach them. The folks I get to pour for seem to like me:

Your vivacious, happy personality is such an asset to the McFadden Vineyard family, and it is clear you love every minute!

I work at it every day, a little each day. There is no magic trick to opening the floodgates that I know of. I ask other wine writers to come visit. Some do, and we have some really nice pieces that came from those visits. I want more visitors, and I keep asking. There are days I envy the theme park winery tasting rooms of Sonoma and Napa, their endless stream of tasters, of buyers. I don’t want McFadden to be a quarter million case winery, but I would love sales to drive production, and growth from 3,000 to 4,000, then 5,000, and up to 7-8,000 cases. Still small enough to keep the same level of quality, but with busier days in the tasting room.

I read a lot of wine blogs and winery blogs, but I don’t think I’ve ever read a winery tasting room manager write honestly about successes and challenges, about relationships with the winery owner, about the winery’s overall style, and about the day to day difficulties of trying to increase visibility for the brand in a crowded field. It might be because such a post would be boring, or rambling, much like this post; but I’m not deterred, knowing I’ve written pieces far more boring, or rambling, or both.

And I got to write a post I wanted to for quite a while, about my winery, sharing how much I love my job, while avoiding the conflict of interest inherent in a wine writer who receives review samples then writes about his employing winery. Sharing a recap, after an event, without any ticket sales benefit possible seemed the ideal vehicle to squeeze in a host of other thoughts.

The takeaway: I love my job, I like my boss, I am proud of the wines I pour, I would like you to come to my tasting room for a complimentary taste of McFadden wines. Thank you.

Cheers,

John Cesano, McFadden Tasting Room and Wine Club Manager

McFadden Vineyard Tasting Room is located at 13275 S Hwy 101, Ste 5, Hopland, CA 95449; open daily from 10am-5pm; (707) 744-8463.

Wine Reviews:

2009 McFadden Chardonnay Potter Valley $16 – Fruit forward, beautiful bouquet of apple, pear, and peach blossom lead seamlessly into delicious apple, white peach and pear flavors, balanced by nice crisp acidity.

2009 McFadden Pinot Gris Potter Valley $16 – Full bodied, delicately fragrant wine with floral notes, hints of pear, apple, and vanilla with clove and ginger spice.

2009 McFadden Sauvignon Blanc Potter Valley $16 – Great aromas and flavors of orange blossom, jasmine, honeydew melon, spice and grapefruity citrus. Crisp, good acid. Long lingering finish.

2009 McFadden Gewurtztraminer Potter Valley $16 – Pie baking spices and floral blossom aromas that lead to flavors of honeysuckle, apricot fruit basket, and a finish of ginger. Nice minerality.

2009 McFadden Riesling Potter Valley $18 – Bouquet of jasmine and spice, summer peaches, cantaloupe and light herbal notes. Honey in the background, at once easy to enjoy and multifaceted.

2007 McFadden Pinot Noir Potter Valley $19 – A walk down the forest path; earth, mushroom, sweet dried cherry, chocolate, and cedar. Great herbaceous notes.

2008 McFadden Zinfandel Potter Valley $19 – Bright fruit forward flavors carried by nice acidity. Strawberry jam, vanilla-cherry cola, and cedar nose. Berry patch flavors with pepper spice. Easy drinker.

NV McFadden Sparkling Brut Potter Valley $25 – Brilliant clarity, pale straw color, endless stream of tiny bubbles, nice mousse, aromas of green apple, citrus zest, grapefruit, rose petal and cream leading to crisp bright apple balanced by custard and honey in the mouth.

I have worked a lot since I took over my tasting room and wine club manager duties, and with my work being the near totality of my wine experiences last week, I sometimes feel that my blog John on Wine should be renamed “Diary of a Tasting Room Manager.”

I will try to get out and taste more wines, from wineries other than where I work, but today’s post really is largely a tasting room manager diary post, because my work did make serious demands on my time lately.

Last weekend was Spring Hopland Passport Weekend. A month after being hired, our little tasting room was going to get slammed. There was no folder left for me by my predecessor marked “Hopland Passport,” and I was told I could expect to not be able to pull off Passport because my predecessor and her husband did everything, and I could never hope to match their performance.

I’ll be honest, my predecessor probably worked harder than me, but I know how to work smart, and I had a great team which includes my boss Guinness McFadden. Guinness did all of the big shopping, he directed his Farm employees to bring and set up picnic tables and a tent, he invited our cooking and tasting room team to his home and demonstrated how to prepare the weekend’s food while feeding us dinner, and when I expressed concern about adequate staffing, Guinness and his brother Tommy both showed up to help pour wines for the masses.

Ann Beauchamp and I were at the core of the tasting room team, and were supported by Jannée Dale, Guinness and Tommy McFadden. Our cooking team was Ann’s husband Mark Beauchamp and my son Charlie Cesano.

Ann Beauchamp and Jannée Dale

In the past, my predecessor had $89 cases of surplus wine to sell, and those cases comprised roughly half the weekend’s revenue. I had no surplus cases to sell, so we ran a first ever biggest sale on everything in the tasting room, both wine and non-wine merchandise were discounted, generally 15-25% off everything, with the larger discounts reserved for our Wine Club members: 40% off any case of wine. The idea was to offer adequate inducement for Passport weekend attendees to join any of our wine clubs, while generating revenue to offset costs associated with the weekend.

Tommy McFadden, John Cesano, and Guinness McFadden behind the bar

A key to the weekend’s success was an email sent to all of our wine club members offering the Passport weekend 40% case discount and extending a special shipping rate of $23 per case, without having to be present in the tasting room during Hopland Passport weekend, a simple response email order in a timely manner would suffice to secure the discount. In response to one email created and sent, we received numerous multi case orders, several quite large, and many single case orders.

John Cesano, Ann Beauchamp, and Tommy McFadden

That is the working smart part of the weekend. The working hard part of the weekend, which was enormously enjoyable, was pouring wine, telling the McFadden story, ringing sales, signing up new wine club members. I used to do theater, and this was like being back on stage. Continuing the metaphor, my director, Guinness, gave me a note. It turns out I was completely wrong in one part of my story, my audience never heard it false, because I was in character and believed my line completely, so I made it real – but I am happier telling the correct story.

Everyone worked their butts off, and it was only after the first day that a mystery was solved. We were opening and pouring an amazingly large number of bottles, but I never had to dispose of a single empty, which was weird but welcome. It turns out that Ann and Tommy were taking care of them while I was talking and pouring and I never noticed.

Mark and Charlie were cooking under a tent right outside our open back door, and the scent of their food cooking was insanely good. I’ll be sharing the recipe for what they cooked next month in the McFadden Vineyard June 2011 Newsletter, so you’ll just have to ask me to add you to the email subscription list for that if you want it.

The proprietary recipe for our incredible Passport food will be shared in June with McFadden Vineyard Newsletter (free) subscribers by email. Sign up now!

They used three organic Herbs and Herb Blends grown organically in Potter Valley at McFadden Farm. Passport guests bought a ton of jars of each of the three Herbs or Herb Blends used, and next Passport we will have a boxed gift set with the three jars in it, convenient and ready for purchase. Thanks to our cooks for the brilliant recommendation. Also, thanks to Guinness for allowing me to put my 14 year old son Charlie  to work for the weekend, and thanks to Mark for allowing Charlie to gain confidence and proficiency in your tent kitchen. Charlie now has one dish he can rock out for family, friends, perhaps even for a girlfriend thanks to the two of you.

Mark Beauchamp and Charlie Cesano, Team McFadden Vineyard Chefs

We opened our tasting room before neighbors opened theirs, and we enjoyed increased sales as a result. With the case discount pricing, my office became a sold case storeroom. Saturday was insanely busy, Sunday was calmer, our sales were roughly equal each day. While I worked emails, or sale signage, Ann ran opening procedures; while I ran closing reports, and end of period Excel timecards, Ann closed the room down. I am blessed that Ann worked Passport instead of attending it.

In spite of good attendance, other tasting rooms report a significant revenue decrease compared to last year’s Spring Passport, the decrease remarkable consistent. We would have experienced a similar decrease, but for that one email. Including our Wine Club members in the sale we were offering in the tasting room allowed us to post a 22.97% revenue increase over last year, and not a single case we sold went out as low as $89.

After Sunday’s close, Guinness took the tasting room staff that worked both days out to Branches, arguably Ukiah’s best restaurant, certainly one of Ukiah’s best, for a thank you dinner.

Guinness McFadden, the McFadden behind McFadden Farm and Vineyard

Branches isn’t cheap, but it is good, made more so by good people and great wine. In fairness, most of us had Southern Buttermilk Fried Chicken, five really big pieces, for $15.95, so it is a great value…although with salads, sides, and dessert – all great – that does kick it up some.

I thanked Guinness personally. I wrote in my last post that “I love my job.” Well, let me say, as important, I genuinely like my boss. Guinness is former military, a decorated Navy officer. Mark and I were Army sergeants. All of us understand mission accomplishment, it is always job one. We also know that welfare of troops is job two, nearly equal in importance. Taking us to dinner was not just classy, which it was, it was a welcome exercise in team building, in fostering esprit de corps. I like working for a boss with previous military experience. Involved joke telling, with character voices, is an unexpected bonus in a boss that I got with Guinness – a side I imagine rarely seen by most. Again, thanks for dinner.

There have been mid week days without a single customer, with no revenue. I wish it was otherwise, and I hate reporting it to Guinness, but in hiring me, a former Infantry NCO, he knows I am working all day long, revenue or not. My own pride makes me want to exceed every number posted before my hire, and in time I will. I work hard because that is who I am, but it is genuinely nice to be shown appreciation.

This year’s Passport also saw an increase in non-wine merchandise revenue of 26.57% and an increase in wine club sign ups of 150% over last Spring’s Passport numbers.

In a world of my choosing, I would have taken the Monday following Passport off, but I went into the tasting room extra early instead to run beginning of May wine club orders. I also returned the tasting room to the state it was in before Passport for Eugene Gonsalves, my senior tasting room staffer, and ran more reports, before driving up to the Farm in Potter Valley to help pack the wine club orders.

Between Ernesto and Shana, there is no need for me to be involved with wine club shipments, they are masters. While at McFadden Farm, I also listened to Jannée and Shana to find out what I can do better in the tasting room to help them do their jobs in the office.

Guinness McFadden took two great pictures for May’s Newsletter, just nine days apart, which show how much Spring has sprung in the vineyards.

Grapevine on April 25, 2011 at McFadden Farm; photo credit: Guinness McFadden

Same grapevine 9 days later on May 4, 2011 at McFadden Farm; photo credit: Guinness McFadden

I entered years worth of ignored email addresses into our computer system, and sent out our May Newsletter. May’s recipe was for a pizza inspired in part from a tart created by Ina Garten, and with the crust recipe portion stolen from my good friend Nancy Cameron Iannios. The April Newsletter was text only, but I managed to include our logo, the two grapevine pictures above, and the wine label that corresponds to this month’s Wine of the Month this time around for May. I know I got better at that. We were also able to double the reach of our emails over previous attempts, which is a significant marketing improvement.

Another accomplishment from last week’s visit to the Farm; I got two mats that had last been used in an outdoor booth at the Gilroy Garlic Festival, but had been sitting on top of a box in a barn since 2006. I am sorely tested in describing their dustiness, their filth. I put these dirty, nasty mats in the back of my van, to take them home to clean. We need mats behind the tasting room bar to make standing nearly eight hours less stressful.

The mats proved too filthy for mere hosing off in my front yard. On my two days off, I have gone to the car wash, where I power sprayed, foam scrubbed, and power rinsed the mats into cleanliness. I also went shopping for a new broom and wet Swiffer to clean our tasting room floors. With a stop at Staples for office supplies, and an attempt to make business cards for my staff so they can enjoy inter-winery discounts, my two day’s off were not really my own, but I don’t mind. I have been trusted with management of my tasting room by Guinness, and I will continue to do all I can to keep it squared away and moving toward increased profitability.

I go back tomorrow, Sunday, and work a short week, just through Wednesday, then begin almost four days off. I will be golfing in the 15th Annual Wine Country Golf Classic at the Windsor Golf Course in Sonoma County on Thursday, recovering Friday. The golf tournament funds the good works of Cornerstone Media, helping them reach teens through positive popular media messaging. I almost have Saturday and Sunday off too, for a full four day recharging, but have to cook up some fig and blue cheese tarts to be served on Second Saturday. I love to cook, but I am not confident I would have returned home to do so if I hadn’t obligated myself.

Friday, after the lunch, champagne, beer, dinner and wine that goes with my Thursday golf, I want to visit Amphora Winery in the Dry Creek Valley where my friend Karen Mishler Torgrimson works. I’ll take pictures and post here.

I consider myself fortunate, I love my job; I know many people who don’t. I have so much still to learn, but I apply myself daily. I am lucky to have Bob Meadows from Graziano and Margaret Pedroni from Weibel as neighbors; I try not to go to them too often, preferring to figure out things for myself, but they are valuable resources as well as kind and helpful people.

Here’s a wine review from dinner at Branches in Ukiah with the McFadden Vineyard Passport Tasting Room and Cooking Tent crew: 2009 Pascal Jolivet Sancerre, Loire Valley, France $48 ($24 on Mondays). Our Sauvignon Blanc is wonderful, but tasted next to this wine it seemed to be as elegant, as graceful as I am, and I am the proverbial bull in a china shop. This Sancerre is 100% Sauvignon Blanc, has a minerality to die for, limestone and flinty, with lemon and grapefruit citrus notes, lovely grassy mown hay and varietally correct cat pee, wrapped in a beautifully smooth grace. That a wine can be at once this powerful, yet refined, is both a paradox and a testament to the indefinability of a great wine.

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