By John Cesano
Originally Published in the Ukiah Daily Journal on June 27, 2013
Guinness McFadden planted the first wine grapes in Potter Valley more than 40 years ago, in 1970, and has grown organically from day one. In a perfect example of doing well by doing right, Guinness has grown bio-diversely, raising grass fed beef and culinary herbs, braiding premium garlic bulbs, boxing 100 percent pure wild rice, fashioning herbs into holiday wreaths (sold by Williams-Sonoma for the last 38 years), and, of course, growing some of the county’s most sought after grapes.
The grapes from McFadden Farm have been sold to Robert Mondavi, Sterling, Chateau Montelena, Navarro, Piper Sonoma, Paul Dolan, and Dashe, among many others, and the wines made from McFadden Farm grapes have been tasted by the nation’s top reviewers: Robert Parker, James Laube, Virginie Boone, Charlie Olken, and Stephen Tanzer.
In 2003, Guinness saved some of his grapes and released his first wines under the McFadden Vineyard label in 2005.
In 2008, Guinness opened the McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room in Hopland and, in 2011, he asked me to manage it.
McFadden Farm is 500 acres, at the north end of Potter Valley, up against the mountains, and is where the famed Russian River springs to life before flowing from the river’s highest elevation. The mountains throw shade and collect wind and, with the elevation and the river itself, these cooling influences make McFadden Farm the coolest property in the valley with the largest nightly temperature drop.
The cool climate allows a little extra hang time for grapes, leading to fuller flavor development, where the same grapes grown elsewhere would have to be picked sooner or suffer the burnt fig and prune notes of raisining. The nightly temperatures that plummet through the summer bring high acid, which provides structure for the wines and balance for their prevalent fruit notes.
Experimenting with growing, Guinness found the best ways to grow his grapes. Some varietals are head pruned while others are trellised, some grow on the bank of the river in loamy soil while others grow on rocky hillside slopes, and some are dry farmed while others are irrigated. These different methods lead to grapes that allow the winemakers, Bob Swain at the Mendocino Wine Company and Raphael Brisbois at Rack & Riddle, to make top quality wines.
The 2013 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition awarded the 2011 McFadden Chardonnay, $16, a Double Gold Medal, making it both the highest awarded Chardonnay in Mendocino County at the largest judging of American wines in the nation, and the highest awarded unoaked Chardonnay in the country.
A first ever Dessert White entry – McFadden Farm is famous for dry Alsatian styled Gewurztraminer and Riesling – the sublimely sweet 2011 McFadden Late Harvest Riesling was judged Best of Class (the best Late Harvest Riesling in the nation) at the same competition.
Virginie Boone, wine writer and reviewer of Mendocino County wines for Wine Enthusiast Magazine wrote, “A Mendocino County pioneer, McFadden Farm continues to impress with its cool-climate whites, sparkling and dessert wines, and is well-deserved in receiving both a Best of Class and Double Gold in the Chronicle’s recent wine competition. Their wines just keep getting better and these recent awards nicely reflect that.”
Just Wine Points, an extension of Wine X Magazine, rated 13 McFadden Vineyard wines 94 Points or above in the last year. The Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Coro Mendocino, and Sparkling Cuvee Brut wines of McFadden Vineyard are uniformly excellent.
There are two ways to taste the wines of McFadden Vineyard.
The easiest way is to visit the McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room at 13275 S Hwy 101 #5 in Hopland, in the same building that houses the tasting rooms of Graziano, Naughty Boy, and Ray’s Station. If you visit during the week, I’ll pour for you and tell you about each wine. If you visit on the weekend, another happy McFadden pourer will welcome you gladly. While visiting, you will also find a freezer filled with grass fed beef, jars of air dried herbs and herb blends, honey, boxes of wild rice, braids of garlic, and holiday wreaths, some items seasonally, grown organically at McFadden Farm and available along with bottles or cases of top quality wines for purchase.
The most fun way to taste McFadden wines is to attend the Wine Club Dinner at the Farm on Saturday, July 13 from 5-11p.m. Open to the public, but limited to the first 225 tickets sold, this is our biggest and most fun event each year. The fun begins with a wine and appetizer reception at 5 p.m., while some take a walking tour of the farm with Guinness. Dinner is prepared by Chef Fontaine McFadden and features locally raised grilled pork and lamb, vegetable dishes, salads and desserts. McFadden wines and sparkling Brut will flow, including saved library wines and new releases. Dancing goes late into the night. Of the 225 who will attend, we expect 100, or more, will come early, set up a tent, and then stay overnight for camping.
The entire night’s fun takes place on the bank of the Russian River at McFadden Farm, 16000 Powerhouse Road, Potter Valley.
Tickets are $60 each. McFadden Wine Club members can purchase two tickets at $50 each. Children 12 and under are just $20 each. Tickets sell out, but can be purchased in advance by calling the McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room at (707) 744-8463.
John Cesano manages the McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room in Hopland and had to cut about 2,500 words to make this – the easiest column to write so far – fit in the space allowed (and still went long).
Okay, that was the piece than ran in the journal. Here’s a little more:
So, the morning this ran, I spoke with Guinness and he let me know that I had a couple of facts wrong in the piece. In my defense, these “facts” that were wrong have been widely reported by others before me, and I assumed them to be true.
I shared later that night, at a wine gathering, how humbling it is to report something incorrectly and how, when writing a column about another winery, there is almost an assumption by the folks I visit that errors will creep in to any story written about their winery; Jason McConnell at Rivino winery once told me that he was happy when something written about his winery was 90% accurate.
I do not shoot for 90% accuracy in my writing. I really want to hit 100% every time, so it was especially bothersome to see inaccuracies in a piece about the place I’ve worked the last few years. If I don’t know the story, who does?
Owen Smith, my friend and the interim winemaker for Barra and Girasole, made me smile when he referenced what might be the best line in the movie The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, “This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” I think Owen was telling me that the Universe would forgive my errors as, ironically, they helped tell the story more truly.
When dealing with a character as legendary as Guinness McFadden, when I read that Guinness planted the first grapes in Potter Valley, I believed it, and I have passed on that “fact”.
Turns out that Thornton planted grapes in Potter Valley before Guinness did, but why let that truth get in the way of the legend?