I come from an organic tasting room, I understand organics. Biodynamic is good, but for me, ventures into practices of questionable value. Animals and a variety of plants on vineyard property is great for me, it provides a richer experience for me as a visitor. I don’t know if baby goats headbutting each other makes a better wine, but it is entertaining. Where biodynamics loses me is the whole cow horn thing. Cow horns are crammed full of cow manure, then planted on a full moon on an equinox, dug up six lunar months later on another equinox, added to a container of liquid made up of virgin’s tears, allowed to steep like a witch’s brew over another period of lunar cycles, and spread by a Catholic priest’s aspergillum throughout the vineyard in a rite reminiscent of the ritual sprinkling of Holy water. Poo-in-the-horn tea is just one of several preparations that are created to fortify the vineyard, strengthen the ecosystem, and produce wines more naturally.
I would love to see a vineyard test block where half the rows are grown organically, and the other half are grown biodynamically. I would like someone to show me empirical evidence of the superiority of biodynamics over mere organics; until then, I will look upon biodynamics with some skepticism, as some sort of ritualistic magic ju-ju voodoo.
I posed the question of measurable efficacy supporting biodynamic growing practices to Ann Thrupp, Director of Sustainability at Fetzer, and she responded, “I am aware of only a few scientific studies that have been done to compare biodynamic and organic vineyards (see literature by Professor john Reganold, for example). It is difficult to prove scientifically that there are improvements in quality, based on such studies…However, in blind tastings, many biodynamic wines score high.”
Cesar Toxqui makes great wine for Cesar Toxqui Cellars and is working to improve the biodynamic wines of Jeriko, which I am confident he will be able to do. Cesar knows of my skepticism, but will be trying to educate me regarding biodynamics in the near(ish) future, touring me from vineyard to winemaking at Jeriko.
Nance Billman, during my recent visit to Saracina, while acknowledging the over the top ritualism in some of the preparations involved in biodynamic farming, described a near miraculous almost immediate increase in vine vitality when those preparations are administered.
I have tasted many biodynamic wines, and they are almost universally good. I don’t think they are good because they are biodynamic per se; instead I think that the attention to detail, the commitment that goes with biodynamic farming leads a winery to make good wine. I have no proof that a biodynamic wine is any better than an organic wine, but I am confident that biodynamics don’t make a wine worse.
Paul Dolan, Bonterra, Mendocino Farms, Jeriko, Saracina, there are plenty of folks making great wine with biodynamic grapes. Everyone of them is earnest in their belief, their dedication; you can feel the passion for biodynamic farming. I would like to know what they know, because all I hear are anecdotal tales of magic, and it may just be me, but I can’t take the leap and need more science based evidence before I am buying that biodynamic farming is anything but effectless ritual.
I’m not ready yet to drink the
poo-in-the-horn tea biodynamic kool-aid.
I was approached a few months ago to answer some questions about sustainability for my winery that could appear on a website, and the piece was published yesterday.
I forwarded the questions to my boss who kicked them back to me to answer. I forwarded my answers to him for review, and while observing some of the answers were “over the top,” he suggested only one edit to correct a mistake.
I did not know it at the time, but my boss, an organic farmer for over 40 years, abhors the word “sustainable.” Guinness runs a CCOF certified organic farm and vineyard. CCOF organic means something. Demeter Biodynamic means something. Sustainable isn’t measured, it isn’t certified, and lots of wineries use the term to cloak themselves in a green-ness that they haven’t earned, cheapening the efforts of real organic and biodynamic growers.
In my naiveté, not yet knowing that perhaps I too am supposed to hate the word, I completed the sustainability survey.
Naive, well, not entirely. I researched the folks who were asking for the survey answers, and found the monthly Lempert Report Newsletter where the piece would be published was sponsored by Monsanto imagine.
A Google search of “Monsanto imagine” led me to several pages suggesting that Monsanto imagine is a greenwashing public relations effort on the part of Monsanto, an effort to
blur the line obscure the chasm between themselves and responsible Earth friendly organic family farmers.
The answers Guinness found “over the top” were not included in the piece linked above. The following passages were edited out of the piece appearing on the site
paid for sponsored by Monsanto imagine:
“At McFadden Vineyard, it is unthinkable that people would choose wines and foods made with synthetic chemical fertilizers, poisonous pesticides and herbicides, from bio-engineered Frankenfood seed over delicious, healthy, natural, organic, sustainable wines and foods.”
“Right is right, doing things right, the right way, doesn’t need to be measured. The thought of dumping poison on our food or using genetically engineered crop seed is unthinkable. At the end of the day, are you proud of yourself? Does your wine and food make people happier? We notice something that can be improved, and we get around to making those improvements; that the greener, more sustainable, or organic choice sometimes is the less expensive choice, or sells better, is just a bonus.”
“Let’s have a cooking contest. We’ll make a fruit ice cream. I’ll use organically grown fruit from Mendocino County, and organic dairy products from Clover in Sonoma County. My competition has to use FrankenFruit, fruit from biogenetically engineered seed, grown with poisons, and cheap milk products loaded with Bovine growth Hormones. We’ll ask consumers which ice cream tastes better. I will win. Things that taste good always win out over things that don’t taste good. Growing organic, growing sustainably, is better for the environment, society, and the economy than the alternatives. Tastier too.”
Where sustainability pushes buttons for Guinness, Monsanto does it for me. I liked the piece I wrote, and the idea of Monsanto publishing a piece critical of their practices tickled me. While the piece didn’t get posted intact, you got to read the juicy parts here.
Genuine Green Revolution!
I live in Ukiah and work in Hopland. Hopland is truly a small town. Businesses engage in cooperative efforts to help each other. The more we help each other, the more we end up helping ourselves.
I take pictures for Margaret at Weibel, and Margaret tries to save decorative plants at McFadden from being killed by my black thumb.
I want to see the Hopland Inn succeed. A successful Inn is a place late afternoon visitors to Hopland can stay after a more complete wine tasting, to possibly begin anew at another tasting room the following morning. I have knocked out a new marketing piece for Amie that better presents what the Inn offers, and am working on another smaller piece that can be created less expensively than my first.
Gary of Campovida, a local resort, escorts his guests to the Hopland Inn for afternoon cocktails at the Inn bar.
Margaret and I, Amie and Gary, none of us are rivals, competitors, but instead cooperative partners with a shared stake in the success of Hopland.
The people who live and work in Hopland, their love for the town, makes Hopland a place worth visiting. locals love playing bhost, and visitors are charmed by the small town friendliness set in the middle of amazing natural beauty.
I sought a spot on the Board of Destination Hopland, and on the Hopland Passport working group. I welcome taking the social media marketing reins, and increasing our visibility. On top of my winery job, with uncompensated extra hours spent working at home, I am going to be spending more uncompensated hours doing what I do well for the benefit of others.
I am not a business owner, my extra work will not increase my ownership equity value. I am a wage, not a salary plus benefits, employee. I am taking on the extra work for two reasons; one is to benefit my employer, by helping to increase Hopland tourism, I benefit the person who signs my checks, and the other is because I saw an area where my skill set, my abilities, passion, and experience could improve what is being done for Hopland in a way no one else had done. I really look forward to the next year’s work.
The reward for my volunteer efforts has been increased requests for volunteer work. More business owners would like me to give up my time freely so as to work toward increasing their revenue. I can’t say that I blame them for asking, but today I found myself drawing a very clear line: I have more than enough on my plate. I will meet every commitment I’ve made with professionalism and pride, to the best of my ability; but I am not taking on any more unpaid gigs.
Next Friday, August 5, 2011, at 7:00pm, the winners of 35th Annual Mendocino County Wine Competition will be announced at a farm to table dinner hosted at Jeriko Estate north of Hopland. The event is open to the public, come and taste Mendocino County’s best wines at the Grand tasting, paired with a locally harvested dinner. Tickets are just $75, or $65 for wine industry members, and the event will sell out, so hit the link above and buy your tickets now.
I’ll be there, representing McFadden Vineyard, hoping for some Gold. While we are cooperative, not competitive, I would gladly lug some bling from Jeriko to McFadden after the event. Just sayin’.
Ever since I started working in Hopland, I’ve been making new friends. One of the newest is Amie Bunch, the gal who does everything at the Hopland Inn. Amie and I both had the day off today, and we chose to spend some of our time visiting Saracina Vineyards, a winery just a bit north of Hopland.
Amie Bunch, Ingemar Dog, and Nancy Billman at the mouth of the caves at Saracina Vineyards
Upon arriving we were met by owner John Fetzer and tasting room manager Nance Billman. John is a local icon, and is helping to rebuild downtown Hopland. Nance and I serve together on the board of Destination Hopland, and are working on the subcommittee involved in producing Hopland Passport events. John graciously wished us a good visit, as he headed off for bottling new wines, and Nance led us to the caves where wines are barrel aged for a tasting and tour.
Saracina is a 620 acre ranch where grapes are grown both organically and biodynamically. Organic grapes are farmed without synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides. Biodynamic grapes are raised organically with other fruit and/or vegetables, not in a monoculture, with animals present. Saracina has 700 olive trees, a mix of 6 different Italian and Spanish varieties, and sells it’s own olive oil – I fell in love with their olive oil over a year ago and have purchased it from the tasting room several times, it is far more “alive”, flavorful and delicious, than typical store brands. Additionally, 3 million bees on property make a delicious local honey for guests of Saracina. Chickens, sheep, and goats round out the biodynamic menagerie.
Saracina Vineyards, a biodynamic environment, not a grape monoculture
I think Saracina is beautiful, peaceful, comfortable. I have always loved visiting Saracina. Sharing Saracina with Amie, and her beautiful dog Ingemar (named after the 12 year old boy character in the Swedish film My Life s a Dog) was fun, getting to see a winery anew through fresh eyes is always good. Sharing a visit with a cute girl, woman really, but younger than me, so girl in my mind, is terrific.
Nance poured us through her wines. We tasted:
2009 Saracina Sauvignon Blanc $23 – Grapes grom the estate, and from the nearby Redwood Valley. A grassy Sauvignon Blanc with wet stone minerality, pear and citrus against nice acidity.
Nance Billman, Tasting Room Manager, Saracina Vineyards
2010 Atrea “The Choir” $20 – Roussanne and Viognier, a Rhone white blend. Nice for being unique. Bright, clear, drinkable, a little zing of youth, floral honeysuckle and pear.
As a bonus, we got to meet Patty Rock, John Fetzer’s wife, when she came into the cave to provide Nance change for the tasting room register.
Patty Rock and Nance Billman
2010 Saracina Chardonnay $18 – Unoaked and zero malolactic. Tropical banana, pear, pineapple, citrus. Fruit driven, round, nice soft acidity showcases the abundant fruit. The clearest expression of banana I’ve ever experienced.
2009 Saracina Pinot Noir Klindt Vineyard Anderson Valley, $38 – the grapes come from the Klindt vineyard, right behind Handley. My first reaction was an expletive, which usually means a wine has taken my breath, and words, away. Great beautiful nose, lovely mouth. Smooth strawberry jam flabor, light oak, rose petal, dried raspberry. Smooth soft tannin.
2007 Atrea “Old Soul” Red $25 – Zinfandel, Syrah, Petite Sirah, and Malbec. Think Coro Mendocino-esque. Drinkable multiberry blend with cocoa notes; raspberry, blueberry, strawberry, blackberry. Soft, but a little punch.
2009 Saracina “Pick & Shovel” Zinfandel $28 – the vines for this wine are grown right atop the caves. Bright, raspberry, herb, tannin and acid.
2007 Saracina Syrah Rogers Creek Sonoma Coast $32 – This Syrah comes from the Petaluma Gap portion of the Sonoma Coast AVA. This is a muscular Syrah, pepper jerky nose, meaty smoky blackberry flavors.
2003 Saracina Syrah McDowell – Library – $35 – Old vine? Planted 1889. Soft mouth, soft fruit expression.
My favorite Syrah tasted anywhere last year was a (now sold out) 2005 Saracina Syrah with grapes coming from both the Eagle Point and Potato Patch (high elevation) Vineyards. Until today, I thought of Saracina as a Syrah house. Nance bristled the first time she heard me say that a week ago. Today, while I enjoyed the 2007 Sonoma Coast Syrah, I also really enjoyed the 2010 Chardonnay, and bought a bottle of the 2009 Klindt Vineyard Pinot Noir. I have absolutely no room for more wine, I don’t have temperature controlled storage, there are many reasons I shouldn’t have bought even one bottle, but the Pinot was just too delicious. It waved its hand in front of my face, pulled the Jedi mind trick on me, “you will buy me” I heard it say into my head, and there I was picking up a bottle.
Amie picked up a bottle of wine, and a bottle of olive oil, and a bottle of honey. Ingemar was not allowed in the caves, but resting in shade outside enjoyed water and dog biscuits provided by Nance.
I had never traveled the caves before, after all, a cave is a cave, right? Well, I was wrong, there was a winery version of an Army of Chinese Terra Cotta Soldiers on display. Vessels, previously buried, had been artistically transformed.
Surprising Art Hidden in the Caves
Outside the caves, Saracina was just as beautiful as ever.
Amie texting a welder friend pictures of the cool metal chairs gracing Saracina
Not pictured is the gorgeous Saracina “barn” where a morning Hopland Passport meeting was held. Absolutely beautiful in all respects, it provides John and Patty the opportunity to host a special meal, or entertain, featuring their wines of course.
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.
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.
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.