20080421_011535_ukiahLogo

John On Wine ­ – Alphabet soup (VMC, MWI, AVWA, ATORV, DH, YHGVA)

Originally published on November 7, 2013 in the Ukiah Daily Journal by John Cesano


Last week was remarkable for inland Mendocino County’s wine scene. In a perfect example of “when it rains, it pours,” after I had complained that the wineries of inland Mendocino county receive scant attention when compared to the folks over in the Anderson Valley, all of a sudden we started getting noticed.

First, of course, was the San Francisco Chronicle’s tasting room reviewer for the Sunday travel section giving a three star review to the lovely Campovida and then a three and a half star review to the small but mighty McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room, both located in Hopland.

The impact, the number of first time visitors who came because of the write up, was astonishing.

Next, Visit Mendocino County (VMC) brought professional photographers for all of last week, and in addition to capturing photographs in Anderson Valley and on the coast, the Vintage Marketplace building, which houses four winery tasting rooms, in Hopland was one of the locations chosen. Any promotional efforts by VMC on behalf of the winery tasting rooms, restaurants, and places to stay here along the 101 corridor from Hopland up to Willits, will be greatly appreciated.

Huge thanks go out to Jen Filice from VMC, who shepherded photographers and models all over the county, and to Margaret Pedroni from Ray’s Station, who was instrumental in helping the Vintage Marketplace location be chosen as the new hot spot for tourism promotion.

Speaking of Margaret Pedroni, Margaret also handles marketing for Coro Mendocino and has been busy working with Dave Richards, the manager of Crush restaurant in Ukiah, to see the 2010 vintage Coro Mendocino wines be the featured wines for the next Crush Chef’s Wine Dinner, on Wednesday, Dec. 11.

All 10 producers will be featured, Brutocao, Claudia Springs, Fetzer, Golden, Mendocino Vineyards, McFadden, McNab Ridge, Parducci, Philo Ridge, and Ray’s Station, but with eight of the 10 wines being made at inland wineries, hopefully this dinner will bring a little more attention to the area.

You may have noticed a sign or two, or read an ad, or heard about events while listening to local radio; we are smack dab in the middle of the Mendocino Mushroom, Wine & Beer Fest. It started last weekend, and runs through this weekend.

Many wineries throughout the county take advantage of the opportunity this festival, organized and promoted by VMC, provides. For two weekends, mushroom appetizers are available to taste with wines at dozens of winery tasting rooms. I, as an example, spent four hours preparing enough mushroom risotto to feed an army, and maybe a navy and some marines too, for my tasting room.

Restaurants team with wineries to feature mushroom and wine pairing meals, like Tuesday’s delicious dinner two nights ago at Uncorked in downtown Ukiah that featured the wines of winemaker Deanna Starr of Milano and Uncorked’s magical mushroom menu.

The big event is the mushroom train, where guests travel on the Skunk Train from both Willits and Fort Bragg to Camp Mendocino in a benefit for the Mendocino County Museum to taste culinary delights paired with the best local wine and beer.

A group of celebrity judges, members of the travel, food, or wine media, take part in the mushroom train event, taste the creations, and announce their favorites.

Last Friday, the members of the press and folks from throughout Mendocino County, kicked off their weekend at a reception put on by VMC and hosted by the four winery tasting rooms of Vintage Marketplace in Hopland; Ray’s Station, Graziano Family of Wines, McFadden Farm Stand & Tasting Room, and Naughty Boy Vineyards.

Again, it was a treat to play host to visiting press, and also to our counterparts from around the county. Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association (AVWA) Executive Director Janis MacDonald was among the visitors and, always gracious, was very complimentary about one of our wines, sharing a story about how well it went over with a group recently. Poorly kept secret: I don’t only taste and drink wines from inland Mendo, and although I may not write them up, I love scores of wines made in the Anderson Valley.

Thanks to VMC’s Scott Schneider, Alison de Grassi, and Jen Filice for all you did to make the reception happen, and for making sure it was such a delightful success.

Lastly, but absolutely not leastly, the Mendocino Winegrowers, Inc. (MWI) brought all of Mendocino County’s grape growers, winemakers, tasting room managers, everyone in our industry, together for a wonderful night of fellowship and celebration at a Harvest Party BBQ Dinner at Seebass Family Vineyards on Old River Road about a mile and a half north of the Buddhist Temple in Talmage. All hands were on deck for this one.

Thanks to Zak Robinson and Aubrey Rawlins of MWI, and all the folks from A Taste of Redwood Valley (ATORV), Destination Hopland (DH), Yorkville Highlands Growers & Vintners Association (YHGVA), and Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association for bringing so many of your folks to this special night. Hosts Scott and Michelle Willoughby could not have wished for a more perfect evening for Seebass, for inland Mendocino County, and for the county’s wine community as a whole.

Glenn McGourty, University of California Cooperative Extension farm advisor to Mendocino and Lake County, was presented with a richly deserved award for his many years of service to the entire county’s grape growing success; MWI announced the receipt of a grant from the USDA’s Risk Management Agency; the Mendocino Winegrowers Foundation, the non-profit organization raising resources for the Winegrowers’ Scholarship Fund, presented past recipients and fundraised for future recipients. All in all, a great night for Mendocino County’s wine industry, in the midst of a period of great promotional promise for the wineries of the inland county.

Every wine region that wants to successfully compete for the public’s attention and good prices for grapes and wines has an organization tasked with promoting the quality of the grapes grown and the wines made in their area.

Lodi uses the Lodi Winegrape Commision to do effective work convincing buyers that their central valley grapes are being grown in a green fashion. Sonoma County is represented by Sonoma County Vintners and the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission (these two share the same physical address). Napa has the Napa Valley Vintners Association. Paso Robles has the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance.

As a peripheral member of the local wine industry, I am thankful that Mendocino County has the current incarnation of the Mendocino Winegrape & Wine Commission (MWWC).

MWWC represents 343 winegrape growers and 91 wineries in Mendocino County.

Megan Metz is MWWC’s Executive Director, having been promoted to the position in October, 2011 after a successful turn as MWWC’s Director of Marketing and Communications beginning February of 2011.

Megan and her incredible staff including Gracia, Courtney, and Jen, assisted by Josh and Jan, help Mendocino County’s winegrape growers through an ongoing series of viticulture educational forums aimed at helping growers increase the quality and value of their grapes, by acting as co-hosts of  eco-wine symposiums, and working with growers to contain and eradicate the European Grapevine Moth (EGVM) in the county.

MWWC is instrumental in collecting and making available information vital to the county’s winegrape growers like the recent water updates concerning Russian River frost regulations.

Hosting an online grape marketplace, MWWC helps our winegrape growers sell their fruit and, through focused marketing events that focus on the county’s vineyards and growing areas, MWWC works to maintain the price that Mendocino County fruit commands in hard times and help that fruit increase in price in good times.

I know Megan and her crew at MWWC professionally through my dual roles as tasting room manager for McFadden Vineyard and Secretary of the Board of Destination Hopland.

At last year’s incredibly successful Taste of Mendocino event in San Francisco, MWWC brought Mendocino County’s bounty to San Francisco and played host first to trade and media and then the general public for tastings that saw winery tasting rooms grouped by the AVA, growing area, their wines predominately came from.

My boss, Guinness McFadden, was proud to pour his wines ordinarily tasted in our Hopland tasting room under a banner for Potter Valley. As the first grower to plant grapes in Potter Valley, growing organically from day one, that Potter Valley sign flying in San Francisco was enormously important to Guinness.

Social media savvy, MWWC had trade and media guests tweeting using the #TOM12 hashtag. From my tasting room over 100 miles away, I was able to steer attendees directly to Guinness using those same tools.

Destination Hopland is charged with hosting two major events each year, a Spring and a Fall passport event for our area’s 16 member wineries, our Hopland Passport. We are fortunate that under Megan, MWWC partners directly with Mendocino County’s various wine region organizations. In addition to Destination Hopland, MWWC also directly helps A Taste of Redwood Valley, Yorkville Highlands Growers & Vintners Association, and the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association.

MWWC has helped Destination Hopland improve our website, making Jen available to provide the text on each page. MWWC has also helped with advertising and marketing, aiding with ad placement in upscale glossy publications, while tasking Jan with disseminating effective press releases to help Hopland achieve the media notice we wish to gain for our local winery members.

Megan also stepped in to host a winemaker dinner for visiting press members to Hopland Passport last year, leading directly to beneficial media attention.

Last November, at the Mendocino County Wine & Mushroom Fest event Wine and Mushroom Train that MWWC and Visit Mendocino jointly hosted at Camp Mendocino, Megan appeared at my side as I poured wines for an exuberant crowd. Megan calmly told me that she needed my help, that a speaker came down ill, and that I would need to give a talk to assembled media including writers from Sunset Magazine, Edible Marin & Wine Country, O – The Oprah Magazine, Taste of Home, Vegetarian Times, Popular Plates, Intermezzo, Newsweek, and Cooking Light.

Megan made clear that as an emergency guest speaker, I wasn’t to be wearing my McFadden hat, or my Hopland hat, but that she wanted me to speak about all of Mendocino County’s wines, focusing as much as possible on the different growing regions throughout the county.

Megan and MWWC saw that every wine growing region in Mendocino County enjoyed press attention from the gathered media, that the focus was on the winegrape growers as much as it was on the wines of the county.

I started at McFadden in March last year, and joined the Destination Hopland Board in July last year. For me, Megan and her crew are the only MWWC I have ever known.

MWWC became effective in 2006, and late in 2011 the California Department of Food & Agriculture announced a February 1, 2012 hearing in Ukiah to consider the continuation or suspension of MWWC.

I attended the hearing and spoke in support of MWWC, of Megan, and of the incredibly effective crew that has been assembled to help market the winegrapes and wines of Mendocino County.

Let me be blunt, not only is MWWC doing a great job but with even the central valley wine organizations engaging in what appears to be a bit of greenwashing, without MWWC the other wine areas are poised to eat Mendocino County’s lunch.

I was surprised to find semi organized opposition by some growers at the meeting, with a saddening lack of civility, cogency, or willingness to acknowledge any of the positive works MWWC has accomplished for growers and wineries under Megan. Some of the speakers were unpleasantly ugly, repeatedly interrupting testimony in support of MWWC’s continuance and spewing vitriolic comments tinged with a paranoiac worldview that I don’t share.

I am grateful to one grower who would not want to be identified, who I know to be intelligent through our shared involvement in Hopland wine industry events, who explained that the opposition by some growers stems from the notion that MWWC was forced into existence at the insistence of a major buyer of fruit within the county, under threat of blackballing the county’s growers if MWWC was not voted for back in 2006. My serious thanks to you for sharing your passionately held view, you provide a much needed perspective lacking in the presentations made during the hearing.

MWWC during the first four years of existence, prior to Megan and her crew taking charge, is not the Commission I know, it was explained to me. Malfeasance bordering on criminal and ineptitude bordering on tragic were common, I was told.

I came to understand some of the opposition to the continuance of MWWC, but I think that such a stance is both myopic and irresponsible.

Getting rid of MWWC just as it is well formed and ready to build on the last year’s marketing successes seems nearly stupid, akin to cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face. Myopic, because growers can expect to see their grapes valued less, and prices remain flat or decrease, if their opposition is the majority view, as other areas continue to successfully market their grapes to buyers through their commissions, organizations, alliances, and associations. In the ‘bad’ past, MWWC’s director and staff operated under the guidance of a board made up of member growers. If malfeasance and ineptitude were the order of the day, then it seems to me that those board members – and those Commission members who didn’t bother to join the board or a committee – are the people ultimately responsible for the first four years of Commission failure. Every person who spoke against MWWC’s continuance spoke of the past; not one spoke of the present.

I’m the new guy. I don’t see the past. I don’t know the politics. I judge things on their face. MWWC under Megan Metz and the crew she has assembled are doing a fantastic job, and they want to improve their efforts on behalf of Mendocino County’s winegrape growers and wineries.

I respect a difference of opinion, and am able to place disagreement in context thanks to the perspective shared by others who have been active locally in this industry for decades. I know that the opposition by growers is not monolithic, and the vote will be close. I also find that those who spoke in support of MWWC’s continuance spoke intelligently, citing specific events and results, mostly from prepared statements, while opposition was offered in incoherent and angry rants. I am heartened that most growers I know are not like the speakers I described, but instead are intelligent, thoughtful, friendly, and open to fair consideration of a reasonable proposition. I believe that this is true of most of Mendocino County’s growers.

I’m a tasting room manager, not a vineyard or winery owner, so I don’t have a vote, but I urge the voting Commission members to return a favorable vote when a referendum is called. According to MWWC’s twitter page, “MWWC renewal ballots to be sent out within 60 days from 2/23″

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,722 other followers