With nearly 1,000 hits, my piece about the V. Sattui Winery 125th anniversary celebration lunch at the North Beach Restaurant in San Francisco, near where the winery started, is one of my more popular pieces of writing.

V. Sattui Winery has very loyal customers, selling all of their wine directly to consumers either at their Napa Valley winery or through direct shipment (where legal). Wine buying is not a passive, pick it up at the market sort of activity, but an act of intention on the part of a consumer. V. Sattui enjoys a unique relationship with their customers, who often see themselves involved in a relationship with the winery.

V. Sattui Winery, aware of the perception of relationship, has been active in Social Media Marketing (SSM) efforts, built upon proto-SSM telephone and direct mail marketing efforts.

Today, I approved another comment to my blog, from a V. Sattui fan, Shey Robinson:

I love V Sattui’s Port!

I was just there yesterday and bought a couple of Madeira and of course the 12year commemorative port that they have. It was awesome.

I envy you for getting to meet these wonderful people who make wonderful experiences possible.

Cheers!

What led me back to write about V. Sattui Winery and their Social Media Marketing efforts? I just received a shipment of wine samples from the winery, packaged with cheeses from the deli co-located at the winery, along with a wonderfully written letter from V. Sattui Winery winemaker Brooks Painter.

I receive a considerable number of wine samples, but I was impressed by the attention to detail, the extra effort, the attempt to positively impact, perhaps influence, what I might write in the future. Any review I write will include a disclosure that the wine tasted was received as a sample, at no cost to me; but it is likely that the recommended wine and cheese pairings will lead to greater enjoyment of each wine – everybody wins.

I am grateful for the information provided, for the thoughtful wine and cheese pairing recommendations, and for the personal touch conveyed in the letter from Brooks.

I consult to wineries, help them in their Social Media Marketing efforts, and recently shared with V. Sattui Winery’s publicist Julie Ann Kodmur how impressed I have been by V. Sattui, after some initial SSM hiccups, how they have adapted, learned, improved, and seem to be firing on all cylinders.

I have seen Social Media Marketing managers, hired by wine companies, who tweet and retweet their own personal hair appointments on the winery site, as if anyone cares. I have seen another SSM hire, at a prominent wine company, who declared online at the company’s expense that the his job was to increase his own personal brand awareness – as opposed to increasing the brand awareness of his employer’s wine labels.

Treating a sample wine shipment to wine writers as a Social Media Marketing opportunity is just the latest example of V. Sattui Winery’s dedication to making sure that there is actually marketing in their Social Media Marketing efforts, and a welcome counterbalance to the less than stellar efforts of other more social, less marketing, endeavors from other wineries..

I have just sent off multiple copies of what appears to be a high impact, graphic rich newsletter, but is actually a uniquely formatted cover letter and resume, to officers at a wine company, asking to be their new Social Media Marketing manager. I would like to have the consumers of the brands I would represent feel as passionately, and as involved in a relationship, as the customers of V. Sattui Winery.

Today I look back at where the blog has been, and where I would like to see it go in the next year. This isn’t a self congratulatory puff piece, at least that isn’t my intention; I want to touch briefly on some topics that I hope to cover in greater fullness in the next year, and rededicate myself to what I think I’ve done well with my blog over the last year.

In January last year, I started blogging on Myspace, not about wine, but about whatever I wanted. My writing was equal parts journal, soap box, and therapist’s couch. I wasn’t writing about wine, and the writing didn’t come easy every day, but I found that I enjoyed writing. I found that the writing helped me clarify my thinking on a variety of subjects, and I found myself shocked when people found their way to my random writing and bothered to read it.

It wasn’t until May that my first wine oriented articles appeared in the blog. Murphy Goode was looking for a really good Hardy Wallace, and at the time I thought I would be a great candidate. Murphy Goode’s contest is why I started to focus on wine.

Although I had loyal facebook friends, was able to mobilize support from members of online forums where I was a member, and through 30 year reunion communications had my high school classmates voting en masse, all leading to my video application being the 8th most popular out of the almost 2,000 submitted; looking back, I can say I was woefully unqualified for Murphy Goode’s job.

I had more knowledge of Sonoma County than any other applicant, a love and passion for the area I was born and raised. I have awards for marketing Sonoma County wines; my experience is grounded in the real world, and compliments my Bachelor of Science degree in Marketing. I was the perfect candidate, except for one little thing: I wasn’t really a wine blogger, and my writing wasn’t really all that good.

Through the Summer, I continued to write my little blog on Myspace. I still wrote whatever I wanted, and wasn’t hemmed in by being a blog about a subject yet. As I wrote, my writing started to improve. I never felt that my writing was artistic, beautiful, elegant; for me writing felt like craft, not art. The most I could hope for was to construct a well built article. I felt like a handyman.

By Fall, I was happier still with my writing, feeling like a craftsman. I was happy with my writing, and actually proud of a piece or two.

In December, I moved my blog here to WordPress, and originally named it John On Wine, Food, Friends, and Wine Country Lifestyle. I narrowed the focus, and was surprised that inspite of the narrower focus, my readership increased.

Coming to WordPress, I brought some of my writing from Myspace, but deleted the vast majority of what I had previously written. Looking back at my archived articles, I wonder if I might have deleted enough.

Without intending to, I have written almost exclusively about wine in 2010. The writing is easier, I have worked for many years in the industry, have experience, knowledge, passion, and I enjoy sharing what I know and think. I shortened the name of the blog to John On Wine.

Where I once had fewer than 100 find my blog in a week, I now have over 200 people visit my blog daily. There are wine bloggers that claim 10,000 visits daily, so my success is small, but I am happy with it.

The decision to focus on wine was made unconsciously as I looked at the writing about wine, both in print and online. It seemed that wine writers were writing for each other instead of for regular people. Seriously, why waste a sentence writing about  a wine receiving a 100 point score from a well known wine critic if the wine is a small 150 case release, costs $275 a bottle and all of the bottles are already allocated to customers on a list maintained by the winery with a 15 year wait to get on the list?

I am the wine geekiest of my friends or family, the Frasier Crane in a world of Daphne Moons.  I want to write about wines that taste good, cost relatively little, and are readily available. I want to write without pretension or built in snob biases against certain wines (yes, I’m looking at you White Zin). I have friends who didn’t drink wine, but drank beer instead, with meals. I write for them, not other wine writers or bloggers, and I am thrilled when I get an email from a friend about bringing home a wine from the supermarket, or ordering a glass of wine in a restaurant, because of something I have written.

That is why I write, that is who I am writing for. Please do not bring up “monetizing” my blog, a regular person picking up a wine is my payback.

I live in wine country, I write with passion, I do well what the wine industry as a whole does horribly, I market wine, and wine country to my readers. My writing has led to some opportunities, invitations to special tastings and events.

I love writing about a huge tasting like ZAP; the Zinfandel Advocates and Producers grand tasting in San Francisco is an opportunity for a Zinfandel lover to choose, from several hundred Zinfandels being poured by nearly every producer of the varietal, Zinfandels to taste over a three hour period.

I am proud of the recap I wrote covering three days of ZAP events, and about my chance encounter with Zinfandel icons Joel Peterson of Ravenswood, and his son Morgan Twain-Peterson of Bedrock wine Company.

I am equally proud of my piece dedicated to White Zinfandel. There are plenty of wine snobs, many with wine blogs, who write about White Zin with derision. I do not join them, but will happily join a friend at a Summer picnic in enjoying a deliciously sweet and refreshing White Zin.

I visit wineries, and write longer feature pieces, making generous use of photography to paint a better picture of the property than my words convey. I am surprised, when leaving a winery that I am going to write about, to find I love the winery and want to work there – each and every time. Every winery I visit is special, a jewel, worthy of a story, stealing my heart. I don’t seek out special wineries, I just find that every winery I have visited so far is. Sit down with a winemaker, a tasting room manager, a winery owner, and it doesn’t take much digging to find the uniqueness, the magic, the specialness.

I write evaluations and reviews of wine accessories and wine books. My article condemning the vacu-vin pump wine saver was one of my most read pieces and I still have people visiting my site to read that article after Googling “vacu-vin.” I read and reviewed Randall Grahm’s book Been Doon So Long; I loved reading it, I hope my love for the book inspires someone to buy a copy for a wine loving friend, and I know it will make a Christmas Gift list recommendation piece at year’s end.

I write about wine and health. My piece on wine and pregnancy is linked and referenced on several maternity sites. I followed that up with a review of a book on the benefits wine offers in fighting the effects of aging, “Age Gets Better With Wine.”

I have taken up issues; Government censorship of wineries, neo-prohibitionism, wine blogger ethics, FTC rulings that apply to bloggers but not print writers, and snobbery by wine writers.

I don’t want to become a wine blogger writing for other wine bloggers, endlessly twittering about absolutely nothing in an attempt to be a loved member of the in crowd wine blogger community. I’m a 49 year old man, not a 12 year old girl. I believe in the value of community, and I think that reading more than one wine writer has value; I honestly think that too much of the wine writing (I’m guilty of this sometimes) out there just plain sucks.

Here’s a funny one; there’s a wine blog that calls itself “Wine for Regular People” or some such misnomer that reviews bottles of Lynch Bages at $95 and Morley Cabernet at $175. Those are single bottle prices folks. I have just one question for the regular people who read my blog:  How many of you are interested in wines you’ve likely never heard of at prices you’ll never pay? Seriously, I would respect the writing if it wasn’t front loaded with a bald face, um, lie. Change the name of the site to “Wine for Elites For Whom Money Is Not An Issue,” and you will instantly stop being mockable funny and start garnering immediate respect.

While I’m touching on things I don’t like; let me talk about Social Media Marketing hacks. I know of one winery wasting their money on not one, but two employees who together do not accomplish the worthwhile Marketing output of the majority of their peers. To make matters worse, one of them has publicly written that building his own personal brand is his focus in doing his job. What about your employer’s brand? Another gripe, I find there is far too little Marketing involved in most Social Media Marketing. How about you stop talking about your personal business on your employer’s site, maybe try developing a voice, a message, a professional content? My complaints about the weak could fill an entire article, and perhaps in the future, they will. Two people I think are doing a great job with Social Media Marketing in the industry are Eric Hwang and Rick Bakas; on their heels, learning and growing almost daily, is Nicole Marino.

I think that Social Media Marketing holds amazing potential for the wine industry specifically, but the only wineries that will see a benefit are those hiring people with a strong work ethic and pre-existing marketing skills who can apply them within a new environment.

So bringing this post to an end, I want to thank you for your support. I write for you, my regular guy or gal reader. I will continue to write an insider’s view into wine from the wine country. I want to continue to mix it up, providing varied content, but try to find more inexpensive, available, good wine to write about.

I will leave the wine ratings, 100 point scales, letter grade, puffs, stars, to others. I can’t, and don’t want to, taste hundreds of wines at an event and sum up each wine by assigning it a number; there are well read and respected wine writers who do just that already. I am looking forward to Summer, hot days spilling into long warm nights, friends gathered, enjoying food that I prepared from locally sourced farm ingredients, and wines. I love to write about wine in context.

I would rather tuck review sample wines away until Summer and review them in context, painting a much more full picture of fellowship and enjoyment, than open five wines, taste one after the other, and publish my tasting notes today.

Every once in a while, I do an entry that covers more than one subject. These “potpourri” entries serve a couple of purposes; they allow me to tell you about things that don’t merit an entry of their own, they allow me to let you get a glimpse of what you might expect to see in the future, and they provide an entry where I can drop the mantle of wine blogger and just be John for a minute – perhaps getting off topic. In case you haven’t guessed yet, this is one of those entries.

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If you look up at the name of the blog in the vineyards scene header, you may notice the name of the blog has changed. So has the web address, or url, although the old one will continue to bring you here.

“John on wine, food, and living in the wine country” and http://johncesano.wordpress.com have become the much simpler “John On Wine” and JohnOnWine.com so let me welcome you to the newly christened wine, food, and wine country blog John On Wine.

When I attended ZAP on a press credential, I was asked for my business card many times over the three days I attended the ZAP Zinfandel tasting events. Knowing that business cards for the upcoming Dark & Delicious Petite Sirah tasting, and future events and visits, would be a good idea, I had to decide what information to put on the cards.

In the end my old site name was too long and cumbersome; I had to decide between JohnCesano.com  and JohnOnWine.com, and as no one has spelled my name correctly when hearing it for the first time, or pronounced it correctly when reading it for the first time, I decided to let go of ego and go with the simple site name.

Needless to say, I have new business cards.

The advantages to the new name are huge, if someone asks me about my blog, I can give them an address they can remember until they get home and log on. Readers can direct their friends to my site with much greater ease, I can hear it now, “It is John on wine dot com, John with an h, and John on wine all run together.”

I had to go to twitter and change from @JohnCesano to @JohnOnWine, and then update other social networks in a similar fashion, changing the name of my facebook group page and networked blogs account.

As on of my winery friends from twitter @PushbackWines said, “Nice, as they say, K.I.S.S.”

A downside is that I may have lost my Google PageRank, and several ranking lists will have the old url, or worse may lose track of my site altogether.

In the past, I used to point to the ranking pages when justifying requests for wines to sample, however my site is well established, the articles are solid, and I don’t feel the need to justify anymore. The site speaks for itself now.

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Speaking of wine samples, the mailman and UPS guy were at my house yesterday. I have four books to review, and about a dozen more wines to taste and review.

Thanks to the wineries and wine book publishers who see value in what I do.

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I can actually give a review of one of the books that arrived yesterday, because I didn’t have to read every word:

:WineSpeak:, A vinous thesaurus of (gasp) 36,975 bizarre, erotic, funny, outrageous, poetic, silly and ugly wine tasting descriptors. Who knew? by Bernard Klem

In :WineSpeak:, Klem has lifted and collated every descriptor for wine from hundreds of wine writers, from the well known and respected to the more niche and lesser known. Books, periodicals, web and blog sites from the pompously staid to the excitingly edgy were scoured by Klem to produce “WineSpeak:, a master wine tasting descriptor thesaurus.

Klem’s :WineSpeak:  has separated the wine descriptors into 3 major categories Appearance, Smell & Taste, and Distinctiveness, and then further broken down into 27 sub-categories, from Clarity (“so dense you need x-ray vision to see through it”) and Color (“dark red with purple-blue tinge”) through Acid (“enamel ripping”) and Tannin (“undrinkable tough”) , from Fruit (“piercing scents of black currants and raspberries”) and Wood (“overburdened by oak”) to Balance (” like a Michelangelo…everything in perfect proportion”) and Finish (“long, pure and drawn out”) – plus 19 more.

Aditionally, Klem has 20 special categories of wine descriptors, such as Terroir or Terror (“when you drink this wine you drink the place”) and An Ecstasy of Erotica (“like performing a sexual act that involves silk sheets, melted dark chocolate and black cherries while the mingles scents of cinnamon, coffee and cola waft through the air”).

Randomly opening the book, I found 138 descriptors for tannin on one page – and there seven pages of descriptors for just for tannin.

:WineSpeak: is an entertaining resource work for the general drinker of wine, and has earned a permanent place of importance on my wine reference shelf.

Amazon link: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0980064805/ref=cm_cr_mts_prod_img

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For next Friday’s big Petite Sirah and food tasting, Dark & Delicious, I contacted all of the participating wineries by email and asked that they provide me a little information: I asked which wines they would be pouring, and I asked the alcohol percentage of those wines. I wanted to create a list of the wines to be tasted, ordered by alcohol percentage, so I could fairly taste and report on the wines tasted. Any other order of tasting puts lower alcohol wines at risk of not showing well as their flavors might be overwhelmed by previously tasted high alcohol wines.

In addition to contacting each winery by email, I tagged each winery in my blog entry about the ordered tasting list I was creating for myself and any of my readers who wanted to use it as well.

The event organizer also contacted participating wineries to let them know I was compiling a list of wines to taste and review.

In some cases, I sent second and third emails, and finally I made a phone call to each winery that didn’t respond to electronic communication. I have been able to collect the requested information from fully 95.56% of the participating wineries.

I love wine, wineries, vineyards, and the wine country in general, and  I would like to see them look as capable at business as they are at winemaking. I do my best. I wholly appreciate that the handful of non responding wineries are likely small wineries, running on skeleton crews, short on staff, and lacking in communication infrastructure.

To that end, when I taste the Petite Sirah wines poured at Dark & Delicious, any that are flawed or not to my taste will not be written about by me. That’s how I recapped my recent experiences at the ZAP Zinfandel tasting. I prefer to write about the positive things I experience.

In that vein, I want to express my appreciation to the 95.56%, the wineries who helped me when asked, who provided a little information upon request. Thank you for your near uniform professionalism and good cheer.

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I have been around wine forever, when Jeopardy has “wine” as a category I always sweep the category at home, but this week I found out something I never knew – but should have.

The US Government allows a 1.5% leeway in the accuracy of the alcohol percentage indicated on a wine’s label. In other words, a wine label with “12% by volume” might actually be as low as 10.5% or as high as 13.5% alcohol – this 1.5% leeway is allowed on wines as long as the wine does not exceed 13.9% (the Federal government collects more tax on wines 14% alcohol by volume and above). The permissible leeway is reduced to 1.0 % on wines over 14% in alcohol (however, the wine may not be less than 14%).

To me, this is just weird. Why bother to state an alcohol percentage to a tenth of a percentage point if it can be off by 1-1.5%?

How about honesty on the label, either “12 percent, give or take” or “ACTUAL 12.0 percent”?

I am sure that there is a reason that a winemaker can give me, probably owing to wine’s ever changing, living, nature, for the allowed leeway for stated alcohol percentage by volume on a wine label.

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I just found out that Susan Johnson, who was going to accompany me to Dark and Delicious next Friday, has had a surprise family affair pop up in conflict for the same day.

I will be looking for someone else to join me next Friday evening for a terrific tasting of Petite Sirah and food.

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Recently, I traveled from Cotati to Lucas Wharf in Bodega Bay on the Pacific ocean in Sonoma County to buy a quart of the most amazingly versatile and delicious passionfruit and chili sauce from the Island Deli..

The day was one of the sunny, blue sky days, sandwiched in between our rainy days. I had my son Charlie with me.

Sadly, the fish stall at the Wharf was not open (it was a weekend), but the smell of the ocean, fishy, briny, rich with sea life and the lingering smell of past catches was intoxicatingly wonderful.

Driving back to Ukiah from Bodega Bay, Charlie and I traveled the gorgeous west county of Sonoma County, Coleman Valley Road, Joy Road, Graton Road, 116, Occidental. Green, green, green. Cows, Llamas, Horses. Oak trees, Redwood trees, grape vines. It was so lush and beautiful. We had a really nice time driving home.

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DISCLOSURE: I received :WineSpeak: by Bernard Klem as a sample book from the Wine Appreciation Guild.

Okay, last night I watched Showtime’s Dexter say he was thankful for yams when sharing Thanksgiving dinner with the Trinity killer’s family; then I watched Lauren say she was thankful for canned yams when sharing Thanksgiving dinner with the Bennet family on NBC’s Heroes.

I am a foodie, but I don’t like yams. I am thankful that I do the cooking most every year at Thanksgiving so that I don’t have to eat around the yam dish on my plate.

As a foodie, I am thankful I am not Andrew Zimmern who has eaten bull’s rectum and testicles soup in the Philippines; bull testicles in Spain;  chicken uterus, black-bone chicken testicles in Taiwan; goose intestine in New York City; civet feces coffee, bull penis in Vietnam; snake penis, fried deer penis, yak penis in China; boar’s testicles in Minnesota; bull penis soup in Bolivia; and braided intestines, cow’s butt sandwich, fresh bull testicle and scrotum stew in Chile.

At least Anthony Bourdain can wash down the occasional freakish menu offering with a drink or twelve, but Zimmern is a recovering addict/alcoholic and is making the choice to swallow so much shaft, balls and ass sober.

I am not really one of those, “let’s all say what we are thankful for,” kind of Thanksgiving dinner Dads. I love to cook. I love that there is a holiday all about cooking and family. I love that people eat my food. I love trying new recipes. I am not a traditionalist. I love the insanity of 5-7 dishes all coming up at the same time for 12-16 people, the high-wire risk of having no repeat dishes year to year.

This year I am cooking for just my son and myself. We will have more than enough food for his mom, my ex-wife. Most importantly, we will have plenty of left over turkey for sandwiches on Friday. Note to self: buy sandwich fixings tomorrow for the long holiday weekend.

I am using an Alton Brown brine on our turkey, then cooking it in my Popeil Showtime rotisserie (set-it-and-forget-it) grill. I am doing a Rachael Ray gratin potato dish and Paula Deen cornbread stuffing. Instead of my own delicious pies, I am doing a Nancy Iannios pumpkin creme brulee.

I worked for Tom Klein years ago when he owned both Rodney Strong and Windsor Vineyards. I will be enjoying a 2007 Russian River Valley Rodney Strong Pinot Noir with Thanksgiving dinner. Wine Spectator gave the Russian River Valley appellation, 2007 Pinot Noir vintage a 98/100 rating. I am thankful that Tom and Rick Sayre make consistently delicious and affordable wines, and that having worked with them, I have the confidence to choose their wines in any, not just this classic best ever, vintage.

All around me is change. I have a good friend up north who has left her job rather than complain about it, and is in search of a better job. I have an old girlfriend out east who has left her job and will be starting a new one. I am looking at changing my job. I am good at what I do, I make money for my business, for myself, but I would like to travel less often and spend more time with my son. I will be trying to find a job where I can use my wealth of real world experience, the education behind my marketing degree, and my newfound web 2.0 skills to help a winery in the north coast (Sonoma, Napa, Lake or Mendocino county) of California. I would love a hybrid position involving social media marketing, traditional marketing, tasting room and/or wine club work, trade show marketing, and more.

I write without thinking about someone reading what I write, and I usually disable comment leaving for my blog, so I am always surprised when I read a comment left on facebook, twitter, a forum or e-mail about my writing. I know people read what I write, usually 100 people, but sometimes as many as 300 and more. Knowing you are out there, having you write back to me, does influence my writing a touch. I am thankful anyone finds my writing at all; more thankful some of you like my writing.

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My son is 12 years old. He is 5′ 9 1/2″ tall and 170 pounds on a lanky muscular frame. I knew dating sasquatch would produce a tall child. Charlie has been at basketball tryouts the last two days, trying to make his school’s 7th grade team. As the tallest boy at the tryouts, and with a year of league play, we are reasonably confident he will make the team. I am thankful that my son has such an affinity for a game I never played, or was interested in playing; it is good for him to be good at something that is his own.

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I had an Apple iMac screen damaged by careless family while I was away at work about a year ago. I found a used flat screen monitor and have used it to mirror what would have been viewable on my iMac screen. This last weekend, I bought a used iMac with more guts, a perfect screen, and the newest Apple OS. I was able to move all of the info in my old computer to my new one effortlessly using migration assistant, and now I have both screens viewable to spread my work over. An extra 750 GB hard drive, for a 1 TB total, speakers, and high speed internet access completes the coolest computer system I’ve ever had. Better than I could have imagined, I am thankful for my totally cool and powerful home work and play space.

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I will be writing more, perhaps much more with a business slant, but certainly more on a personal basis as I travel less. I will probably move my personal writing to a dedicated website, and I’ll certainly let you know if I do make that change. I plan to write more about wine and food from the perspective of an industry professional with real world experience and as a born and raised resident of California’s premier wine growing area. I also want to give reviews of wine accessories and wine books. I want to make more use of video entries as well. Look for a more wow experience sometime early in 2010. I’ll be thankful if you follow me with my writing. Thanks.

A winery, Murphy-Goode, came up with a brilliant public relations coup, offering a six month job as a “lifestyle correspondent” with a grossly inflated salary and luxury home to stay in during the job’s tenure.

Job applicants were to create and submit a 60 second video application. 1,993 video applications were submitted. Applicants could receive “most popular” video votes. The voting undoubtedly artificially boosted the contest website traffic.

Murphy-Goode generated over 300,000,000 hits online and from the media, and the contest is not finished.

I submitted a video, and my friends voted it “most popular” about 1,100 times, making it the 8th most popular video out of the 1,993 videos that were submitted.

I would have been very good for the job. I have a degree in marketing, marketed Sonoma County wines, was born and raised in Sonoma County, have worked in Sonoma County vineyards and Sonoma County wineries, am a really good cook, and enjoy pairing wines with food and friends, know the history of Murphy-Goode, sold wine made from Murphy ranch grapes, have blogged from before the opportunity was announced, am active on all the usual social networking sites and a few online forums. I thought the job was created for me.

With 1,993 candidates, I did not make the first cut to the Top 50. Neither did the person with the most votes.

I am not bitter. Many of my supporters were angry, which I found touching but is unnecessary. My skills are clearly not what the human resource team helping Murphy-Goode valued when the made their cut. My strengths are old school. The people who made it through to the Top 50 had superior video skills. Depth is not as eye catching as flash, and I am not flashy.

I took my shot; I am grateful for the opportunity and more touched by the support I received than I can ever express.

Toward the end of my vote begging, I managed to have my plea included in a blast email from our 30th high school class reunion administrator to hundreds of my fellow classmates. The Piner high school, in Sonoma County, class of 1979 will be holding our reunion early in October, but are engaging in ever larger monthly meet-ups in advance. Thanks to facebook and the blast email, I got to tell the Murphy-Goode job story 20 times at last month’s meet-up.

Even sweeter, a classmate who I have not seen in 30 years, upon reading the blast email, decided to help me get a job. Unaware that I have a job, and not fully appreciating the contest nature of the job I had applied for; my former classmate, who I first met 38 years ago, sent introductory letters on my behalf to a winery owner recommending me for a job in marketing. I am humbled by the kindness that moved my old friend to try to help me achieve what he thought I wanted to achieve.

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I flew with my son Charlie to St. Louis, MO last Wednesday for the Pokemon U.S. National Championship. My son competed in the Senior Division and ended up with an equal number of wins and losses. He would not have minded doing better, but was busy playing almost constantly, and had a great time.

I was also pretty busy, but didn’t manage to play a single game all week. I worked as a judge.

The Pokemon Company, International (TPCI) offered me a paid staff invite for the event; flying me in, paying for my room, picking up most of my food needs, and giving me a small stipend to offset some of my incidental costs. I gratefully accepted, and I was brought out to help judge the Junior division players.

We arrived Wednesday to find we had flown into a heat wave, temperatures near 100 degrees and humidity adding 10 more degrees to the heat index. Instead of spending $40 to travel by cab from the airport to the hotel, we took the Metrolink, a train. My ticket was just $3.75 and Charlie’s ticket as a 12 year old was just $1.85. We both worried that Charlie’s child rate ticket might draw a challenge as Charlie is already high school student sized, but our concerns were unnecessary. The train was a great way to ride into the city.

We rolled our luggage 4 blocks from the downtown train stop, past the America Center where the Pokemon National tournament would be contested to our hotel, the Holiday Inn Select.

Each of the 4 floors with rooms had 8 extra large rooms near the corners. We got one of these larger rooms and were able to host other northern California players on Wednesday night for playtesting as our players made decisions about which decks to play and which card tech changes they wanted in their final 60 card decks for the tournament. I played the only game I played all weekend, not Pokemon, with Susan, the person most responsible for Charlie and me playing Pokemon competitively. I won the game, it involved bug tiles. I don’t remember the game’s name but I am pleased with my undefeated game play record for the weekend.

Thursday was given over to meetings, held at the hotel instead of the convention center because of the heat wave. I had only one meeting from 5:00-6:30 PM for judges to receive our judge’s shirts and all access passes on lanyards. Charlie and the other players took over the lobby, restaurant tables, hallway floors, and every other flat area for Pokemon game play. Everywhere you looked on the first 2 floors you saw game play.

Charlie was playing a new deck, the list was provided by one of the best Master division players in our region (thank you Chris!). Through game play that continued until midnight, Charlie came to know his deck inside and out, played it with confidence, and developed a better knowledge of the other decks he would see over the weekend.

On Friday, we were up early and shared breakfast in a nearby deli we found. We used a computer and printer in the deli to create and print Charlie’s final deck list for pre-registration later that evening.

I went into the hall and Charlie lined up outside in the hallway. Friday was being given over to the Professor’s cup, a fun tournament for people like myself who give back to the game more than they play. To play, you needed to earn 75 points judging in tournaments or running league play. I live a couple of hours from league, and only accumulated 50 points judging tournaments, sometimes traveling 6 hours round trip to judge; so I had volunteered to work side events on Friday for all of the non professors who were in town the day before the actual National championship.

On Friday, I head judged the largest tournament I have ever worked. Our Master division alone had 140 players. Junior and Senior division boosted the tourney to well over 200 players. I had a staff of judges and runners to work with who were great. All my calls were easy, and my judging was much more lenient than it would be the next day. I used the tourney as an opportunity to educate players on some new procedures, and a good time was had by all.

We did have to take a break during Friday’s side event modified tourney to allow players to take part in the pre-registration efforts.

In order to make things run more smoothly on Saturday morning, it was decided to pre-register players on Friday from 4-8 PM. I joined the rest of the staff and worked for about 90 minutes before resuming the modified tournament play. We finished the tournament and pre-registration at about the same time. The hall erupted into huge cheers as the announcement that this year’s U.S. National championship would be the biggest Pokemon tournament anywhere ever.

On Saturday, I was back in the hall at 6:15 AM to help with finishing touches before the doors opened at 8 AM to the sea of players.

The tournament had 1,200 people compete in three age divisions for fun, prizes, scholarships, and invites to the World championship.

We ran 7 forty minute rounds of swiss pairing in the Junior division, made a top 64 cut and played one best 2 out of 3 forty five match to find our top 32 players who would move on to Sunday’s play.

The Junior division is my favorite age division, the younger players are often playing for fun and their joy is infectious. The downside of working with the Juniors is that they are prone to tears when a mistake they make requires a penalty be assessed or when they lose a game. Over half of the players in the Top 64 who did not continue on to Sunday’s Top 32 left the floor in tears.

The Junior division judges checked all 32 top cut decks after Saturday’s play, then moved on to help do deck checks on the Senior player’s decks, then started moving tables and chairs for Sunday’s play.

I left the America Center past midnight after over 18 hours worked.

On Sunday, I was back before 8 AM to finish preparations for the Junior Top 32. Our Head Judge told me that he was going to have to send some judges to side events after the Top 32 round. I am a big volunteer-er; I told him that I came from side events on Friday, I know people would want to stay in the “premier” tourney, and told him to feel free to send me over to sides.

Juniors are the best division and were set up and ready for play before either of the other two age divisions. The two matches I watched were both well played. One match was decided in large part by the two decks played, one was “weak” to the other and the disadvantage was insurmountable. The other match was determined more by fortune; which card was at the top of the deck to be drawn, a roll of heads vs. tails, two more evenly matched decks led to a very even round.

Pokemon, even with the biggest tournament ever, can always grow larger, and a professional photographer was present to capture images that may be used in future marketing efforts. The biggest “oops” for me over the weekend is that the photographer was rudely intrusive and put himself into one of my Top 32 matches moving one player, breaking concentration, interrupting flow, putting a game’s fairness in jeopardy. I sent a note to the Gods of Pokemon asking that they train up their photographers not to be quite so pushy in a match.

I was asked to go back to side events, where I was again tapped to head judge a $25 sealed event tournament for over 50 players. Everyone ended up with $32 in swag for their entry fee, while winners ending up with $104 in swag. All Juniors got between $50-$110 for playing. I had another great staff of judges and runners, Pokemon was incredibly generous with their prize support. Everyone had a great time.

Shortly after my side tourney ended, everything ended. The staff cleared the hall, and broke down all of the tables and chairs, the carpet was rolled up and the hall was cavernous and sad in its’ emptiness.

The Pokemon Gods had arranged our names in a lottery picked order, and staff was allowed in order to choose banners and signs used in past promotional efforts (I got a pretty cool Torterra banner, no idea what to do with it), then we were marched through the product room to get a generous swag bag and extra Staff shirt.

On Sunday night, Charlie went to dinner with the other northern California players, and I went to a staff dinner hosted by the Pokemon Gods.

While not falling down drunk, I did consume 7 drinks in 5 hours, and smoked my first cigarettes of the year. I smoked three.

I got back to my room shortly after midnight, my son was asleep and nothing was packed. I packed everything for both of us, leaving out one comfortable flight worthy set of clothes for each, and laid down to sleep at 1 AM.

My clock alarms went off simultaneously at 3:45 AM, Charlie and I both showered, dressed, and left our room to catch our 4:30 AM cab to the airport. We found Chris in the lobby, he was kicked out of his room before 3 AM for the noise 30 players in his room made. Chris rode with us to the airport and we paid his part of the ride as some small measure of thanks for all the help he had given Charlie and me over the years.

Charlie complained that his sleep had been interrupted by my snoring (a cause and effect result of me getting drunk) and my alcohol fume breath expulsions. My moderate hangover, and feeling of unease on the first flight as our altitude increased the remaining alcohol in my bloodstream’s effects, were punishment enough.

Overall, we had a great vacation together. We didn’t spend as much time together as I would like; but Charlie reveled in his freedom to play with his friends, old and new, in an environment where it was safe to do so. Charlie was a good boy who earned the trust he was shown.

I had a great time. I loved working during the tournament. I am not part of the invited staff for the World championship in August; but Charlie and I will both be going, and I have already let the Pokemon Gods know that they can ask me for any help anytime, I don’t need a shirt or lab coat, a title or compensation. I am always happy to give back a little to the game that has given so much enjoyment to Charlie and me.

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