Last weekend, The Solar Living Institute campus was the place to be on Saturday for Earth Day Festival 2012.

Organizers Spencer Brewer, Vicki Milone, and Ross Beck put on a terrific event, with an estimated attendance of over 1,500 to taste organic, made with organically grown, biodynamic, and sustainable wines, along with many certified organic food products.

Live music, vendors, and exhibits – along with perfect Summer like weather – rounded out the incredible inaugural FREE festival event.

Having worked the event, I appreciate all the work put in by Spencer, Vicki and Ross that allowed so many folks to highlight an important aspect of the area we live in – our everyday care for the Earth.

Mendocino County has the highest concentration of green vineyards and wineries anywhere in America, and for the campus of the Solar Living Institute to play host to many of them on a site dedicated to responsible eco balanced living, in Hopland, was a powerful example of cohesive messaging through thoughtful event management.

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Piazza de Campovida had a soft opening last weekend in Hopland at the location previously known as Lawson’s Station, the former home of the McNab Ridge Winery tasting room.

Piazza de Campovida is home to an Inn, a Taverna, and a Pizzeria. The Inn is open now. The Taverna and Pizzeria were open only for the weekend to work out any wrinkles.

The second soft opening will be next Friday through Sunday to serve the visitors for the Hopland Passport wine weekend, in the Taverna and outside on the patio.

Soon after, the restaurant remodel will be finished, and both the Taverna and Pizzeria de Campovida will open for regular service at the Piazza.

This summer, another tap room and restaurant is supposed to open in Hopland where the old Hopland Brewery was located.

Together with Burgers My Way, Jalos Taco Truck, Blue Bird Café, Subway, and both the Hawk’s Nest Bar & Grill and Pepperwood Steakhouse at Hopland’s Sho-Ka-Wah casino, these new Hopland restaurants will provide a more complete Hopland destination experience for visitors who come for wine tasting at our 17 tasting rooms or a weekend getaway.

While there are 16 winery tasting rooms in the Hopland area, don’t forget SIP! Mendocino, a tasting room serving many hard to find Mendocino county wine labels, and look for new winery tasting rooms to open in the not too distant future.

Both Campovida on Old River Road and Piazza de Campovida on Highway 101 provide lodging, and it is the sincere wish that needed renovation, repair, and reopening of the historic Hopland Inn may occur some day in the future. There are also many hotels in nearby Ukiah for visitors to our area.

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again and again in the future, but things are hopping in Hopland.
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On Thursday, I had the good fortune to return to The Drive With Steve Jaxon on KSRO 1350 AM to talk about Hopland Passport, coming up next weekend on May 5 & 6 from 11:00 am to 5:00 pm each day.

One dozen wineries made a bottle of wine available for possible tasting on air. Here’s a list of the wines:

2006 Milano Echo, Bells Echo Vineyard

NV (2009) McFadden Sparkling Brut, McFadden Farm

2009 Jaxon Keys Estate Primitivo, Michael’s Reserve, Norma’s Vineyard

NV Rack & Riddle Blanc de Noirs, Sonoma County

2009 Atrea Old Soul Red by Saracina

2009 Weibel Merlot, Mendocino County

2009 Enotria Barbera, Mendocino County

2010 Parducci Small Lot Blend Pinot Noir, North Coast

2010 Jeriko Estate Pinot Noir, Dijon Clone

2010 Cesar Toxqui Cellars Grenache, Mendocino

2009 McNab Ridge Pinotage, Napoli Vineyard

2010 Campovida Viognier Estate Grown

A bit limited by time, we tasted just five of these delicious wines, but they were a great representation of what Hopland will be offering wine quality wise during Hopland Passport.

Steve Jaxon’s favorite winery name was Jaxon Keys, which he remembered as Jepson, before the purchase and changes made by Ken and Diane Wilson.

In spite of time limits, I managed to compare the best attributes of Hopland Passport, value and accessibility, with the least favorable attributes of a larger event, price and unavailability. Subsequently, it was pointed out that my comparison was less than deft and I apologize to anyone listening Thursday afternoon that took umbrage. I tend to toil away well and then once a year I do something stupid, hopefully this was it for 2012. My only consolation is that my words will have as little negative effect on a perpetually sold out world class event as the effect of saying I prefer stainless steel Chardonnay would have on the sales of millions of cases of Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay…none.

Just like my last visit to KSRO, the boards lit up like a Christmas tree when we announced that there were some tickets to Hopland Passport available to be won.

I did manage to say a lot of good, smart, things too and we had a great time. I love seeing Mike DeWald dissolve into laughter as he works the board for Steve Jaxon. I am always heartened to see others who get to do jobs they love too. My thanks again to Steve and Mike for being such great hosts, I hope to see each of you if you do make it up to Hopland next weekend.

Another recent guest, Jason Stanford wrote on his blog, “A couple of days ago I got to go on what might be the best radio show in America not named Fresh Air, Radio Lab or This American Life: The Drive with Steve Jaxon on KSRO. Steve and his producer Mike DeWald get ridiculous guests. When I was on Wednesday, I followed someone from The Daily Show, and the Sklar Brothers came on after me. I felt like the comedian at the strip joint.”

I totally felt what Jason wrote, with a previous visit sandwiched in between days featuring Lily Tomlin and Andy Dick, I wonder at my great good fortune and the fun oddities that life sometimes presents.

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Herb Crust Pizza with Shamrock Goat Cheese from Willits

With Pizza on my mind last weekend because of the opening of Pizzeria de Campovida, and set up for the McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room with the folks from Shamrock Artisan Goat Cheese as my neighbors at the Earth Day Festival, I was reminded of a terrific pizza recipe that owes much to a good friend Nancy Cameron Iannios and much to Barefoot Contessa Ina Garten, but a whole lot to organic and delicious local ingredients.

Ina Garten made some savory onion tarts that I stole the topping recipe for and used with pizzas. When I complained about my terrible pizza crust in conversation, Nancy shared her herb crust recipe.

The things that I do that make the recipe pop: After cooking down sliced onions, I revive them using organically grown stainless steel held McFadden Chardonnay and cook them down again. I use organically grown air-dried McFadden Farm herbs for the dough that makes the crust. I use Shamrock goat cheese. These three seemingly small choices make a huge difference; quality ingredients increase the finished pizza flavor tremendously.

Like any pizza, the additional toppings can be changed to suit your mood and what’s tasting great seasonally, but in addition to the onions and goat cheese, for those that don’t read Ina’s recipe, I add tomato slices, Parmigiano-Reggiano, basil and olive oil.

There are many terrific herb crust dough recipes online, again the key is to use organic air dried herbs. Many commercial herbs are irradiated which boils off volatile oils resulting in weak flavored herbs; find a local organic grower that air dries their herbs. Visit your local healthy co-op market.

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That’s it. Have a pizza. With wine. In an eco-friendly way. And thanks again Steve and Mike.

 

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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