February 2012

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”

“Crushpad Club Challenge will help one entrepreneur, or a group of entrepreneurs working as a team or group to achieve their dream of creating a new California wine brand.”

Okay, I need your help, voting in this contest started February 6th and the leader has 1,327 votes and the 10th place “bubble” contestant has 377 votes, so I am starting in a hole. I entered today and have six votes – nothing like spotting the competition a few hundred votes.

Crushpad is a custom crush winery in nearby Sonoma catering to hobbyist to professional winemakers, and is offering someone the grapes, winemaker mentor, world class facility, and support to produce a new brand’s first barrel. Crushpad will then help the winner to market and sell that barrel’s 25 cases – 300 bottles.

The Top 10 vote getters will move onto the finals where a panel of wine industry experts will interview the finalists to select a winner.

Please visit this contest page on Facebook, browse/vote, sorting by contestant’s name until you find my entry alphabetically (J for John Cesano): Cesano Wine by John Cesano.

You might have to log on to Facebook and then “Like” Crushpad’s Facebook page before being allowed to vote. Currently, loading the sort pages for voting takes a fair amount of time, but please stay with it, eventually you’ll be able to find my entry and be allowed to cast your vote.

I appreciate any efforts on your part to help me catch up. You can give me one vote per Facebook account each day through the end of voting on March 31. Thank you for any votes you can send my way, if you can help me get into the top 10, then I can enter into the interview process and possibly make 300 bottles of Cesano Wines Chardonnay.

Please throw me a vote from each Facebook account you control, every day from today through March 31, and just maybe you’ll help me catch the contest leaders and become one of the top 10 vote getters.

Here’s the plan I put together for the contest:

• Target Consumer

By making the most delicious Chardonnay possible, everyone who tastes my Chardonnay will become a buyer; I am creating the perfect wine for today’s consumer palate.

In the tasting room I manage, I have new guests try to skip tasting our Chardonnay because they do not like the the over oaked over malolactic manipulated wines too often sold in stores and poured at restaurants. Our visitors are amazed at the stainless steel zero malolactic crisp-fruited food-friendly Chardonnay I pour for them.

I think I could make a wine with even greater appeal by adding a little oak and partial malolactic – say put 30% of the wine into a neutral French Oak barrel with a malolactic culture while holding the remaining 70% in stainless steel without the culture, and blending the 70% back into the neutral oak barrel afterward with no additional or renewed malolactic fermentation. This 30%/70% container ratio would apply to the alcohol fermentation as well. I would also like the 30% barrel fermented portion to be held sur lies.

After my Chardonnay is racked, I would like it to remain unfined and unfiltered.

Anyone who wants to enjoy a food friendly Chardonnay that brings roundness, complexity, great fruit with nice acid and balancing rich roundness will love my Chardonnay.

• Vineyard Selection

100% CCOF certified organic and family farmed McFadden Farm, Potter Valley, Mendocino County

Guinness McFadden is not likely one of Crushpad’s current grape providers, but as I work for him, I think there is a decent chance he’ll let me have enough fruit for a barrel.

• Grape varietal/clone selection

Chardonnay/Wente clone

• Barrel selection

Neutral (used) French Oak

• Aging

18 months in neutral (used) French oak after fermentations (alcohol and malolactic).

• Bottle selection, Bottle Closure Style

Bottle: a well punted bottle tapered dead leaf green Burgundy bottle allowing for a slightly larger bottle circumference suggesting abundance.

Closure: I was a cork traditionalist and used to abhor Stelvin screwcaps because of some ridiculous romantic notion that a wood plug was most appropriate for sealing wine bottles. I was wrong. Screwcaps are infinitely easier for consumers, they prevent TCA tainted or ruined wines, and I relish the opportunity to join Randall Grahm and other premium wine producers in championing this closure. Some folks think romance is lost with screwcaps, but romance happened after the bottle is opened.

• Distribution- Route to Market- (Direct to consumer or third party distributor)

I believe I can sell all of my wine, in very short order, direct to consumer, through the various media opportunities at my disposal.

If faced with any difficulty, I would approach Guinness about letting me pour and sell my wine in the tasting room I manage for him, or I would ask Bernadette Byrne about carrying my wine in her Sip! Mendocino tasting room in Hopland, or talk to Lori Pacini about distribution through Pacini Wines of Ukiah.

Bottom line: my 25 cases will be gone fast.

• Pricing

The prize is valued at $13,000 and there will be 300 bottles produced, so each bottle has a taxable value of $43 to me. I need to enlist help with distribution and some bottles may be used in tasting room or event pouring, while others will be made available to press for review to help launch the brand, and this would drive the per bottle cost up….but I intend to increase production in the future which will lower costs through economy of scale, so with the future in mind I will set an initial bottle price at $34.99, discounted to 29.99 for case sales.

• Marketing “wow” Factor

I am a wine writer and get over 50,000 visits to my wine blog yearly, trending toward over 80,000 this year.

I am the tasting room and wine club manager of a successful winery in Mendocino county, and write a monthly newsletter for our large and enthusiastic wine club.

I am the social media marketing manager for Destination Hopland, the 16 member winery tourism organization tasked with increasing visibility for our area’s wines.

I am the first farm to tasting room all Mendocino County winery manager to secure an invite to a Wine Wednesday visit on KSRO 1350AM’s The Drive with Steve Jaxon to talk about my boss’s wines.

I will use my relationships with other wine writers, wine marketing professionals, and wine public relations superstars to spread the word VERY wide, and host a release party and tasting for the media with an eye toward getting the word about the new brand out throughout the bay area.

Being able to leverage the story of being Crushpad’s contest winner guarantees great attendance for the release event and coverage for the new brand’s wine.

The only cloud I see on the horizon is that the 300 bottles may sell so quickly that the story of my brand’s first vintage will be too short lived for maximum impact.

After succeeding selling the Chardonnay Crushpad helps me make, I will want to continue with following vintages as well as adding a second wine: my Chateauneuf du Potter Valley, an all Mendocino County grape sourced GSM styled Rhone blend.

Not long ago, I wrote about being done with writing about the Vacu-vin wine preservation gizmo. Then, a couple of nights ago, I caught someone trying to get some funding for his wine preservation gizmo from “The Sharks” on ABC television’s program that marries inventors and investors.
Inventor Eric Corti was trying to secure some capital, possibly just some free advertising, for his Wine Balloon from TVs Sharks.
Back in April, last year, Martin left a comment to my “Friends don’t let friends Vacu-Vin” piece:

Thanks John, good read.

I too have purchased a Vacu Vin and have had so so results. Cnet.com had an article this month under their “gadgets” section about a thing called a Wine Balloon. So for a few bucks I ordered one as the idea is similar to the floating disk. The balloon sealed the bottle for three days. When I went back for a glass I still tasted subtleties of the wine with no apparent residual effect from the balloon, it worked pretty well. Was wondering if you’ve heard or tried it?

To which I replied:
Funny Martin, but I have always thought that a balloon was the ideal wine preservation concept, but was concerned that a chemical, rubber, or plastic aroma or flavor might be imparted to the wine. It is interesting to see that someone is using the idea to seeming good effect. Thanks for sharing the news. -John
Okay, I’m back on a topic I said I was done with, but for wine geeks, the science of wine preservation is as big a deal as whether Kirk or Picard is the better Star Fleet Captain is to Trekkies – or Trekkers for those that care.
Eric was seeking $40,000 for a 30% stake in his business. One Shark, Kevin, offered Eric $40,000 for 30% if the product was pitched to Vacu-vin for a royalty deal. Another shark, Lori, offered to buy him out completely for $500,000; Mark Cuban joined Lori raising the offer to $600,000 but required an instant yes. Eric countered, asking for $600,000 and a 3% royalty. The Sharks played hardball, and the offer dropped back to $500,000 and then $400,000 before Eric seemed to accept that diminished offer.
Today, on Eric’s website blog, I read:

We’re still in control of the company. Cooler heads prevailed. Thanks for your comments and support of the Wine Balloon

We are still in touch with the Sharks. You never know what will happen down the road.


I was a total mad-house in there as you sure witnessed.
We have NOT sold the company and cooler heads prevailed. Please don’t boycott the Wine Balloon. We still own it.
Were in contact with the Sharks, and that was the ultimate goal. If you bail and walk, you have zero contact with them later on.

I have written that the Vacu-vin sucks (literally and figuratively), and although I use Nitrogen at work, I thought a balloon to be a great wine preservation gizmo for home use if the balloon didn’t impart weird rubbery chemical off notes to the wine.

According to the Wine Balloon’s FAQ page, “The balloon is manufactured in the United States of a Natural Rubber Latex (biobased elastomer) material.  All ingredients in the balloon meet U.S. FDA Standards for food contact – (FDA 177.26),” and, “Wine Balloon will not alter the taste of your wine.”

The product is simplicity itself. After opening a wine bottle and pouring a glass or two, a washable balloon at one end of a tube is inserted into the wine bottle until it contacts the surface of the remaining wine, a grape cluster shaped squeeze pump on the other end of the tube is squeezed inflating the balloon and the remaining wine is effectively protected from the harmful effects of oxidation without the stripping away of aroma that comes with other more famous wine preservation gizmos.

Of greater note, this is the first wine preservation gizmo that allows a user the opportunity to see that the product is functioning. Vacuum pumps leave invisible Oxygen while pressurized cans pump invisible Nitrogen into the bottle. Where faith was required in the past while much has been written about the lack of efficacy some of these wine preservation systems offer, the Wine Balloon is remarkable for leaving no question as to whether it works or not.

At $22, with additional replacement balloons available affordably, the Wine Balloon is a solid, easily recommendable product for home use by many wine drinkers.

I know of many people who live alone, want just one or two glasses, can open a bottle now and thanks to the Wine Balloon will be able to come back to the bottle days later and finish the bottle without a loss of aroma or flavor.

In fairness, the product needs a slight modification to make it more useful in my house, or any home where multiple bottles are open at the same time. With Wine Balloon, you need one system for each bottle open, and at $22 per unit, that would run over $100 in Wine Balloons in constant use at my house. That is why I use Nitrogen both at work with 12 bottles of wine open and home where I have 6 bottles open.

I’m not really who this gizmo was made for, but I am happy to point friends at it, and more happy that Eric appears to have not taken the Sharks money but instead taken advantage of the opportunity to market his product directly to millions of viewers.

Good luck Eric and Wine Balloon.

Okay, time for a timeout.

Instead of wine, I’m going to write a bit about how proud I am of my son Charlie.

14 years old, and over 6′ tall, he has played basketball for the last few years, taking the 5 spot, playing center.

This year, for the first time, he played on a team with a taller player. This was bound to happen at some point, but still it was surprising.

Charlie was sort of lost by the coach this year.

Today, in his first city league game, Charlie scored more points than he did all season for his high school freshman team and probably had as many minutes as well.

Charlie’s high school coach decided to play a short, fast, team. That my son Charlie is the fastest sprinter, flat out, on his team didn’t matter. On a basketball team where height is an advantage, being the shortest player, having a crappy attitude, getting technicals, committing four turnovers in the first two minutes of consecutive halves, not communicating with teammates except to berate them, playing with head down, giving up, and mentally checking out of games got you minutes on this coach’s team where parental influence seemed to be a factor in getting minutes.

My son went from being able to play well on offense to sucking as 30 seconds to a minute per game average saw his skills diminish dramatically. Still, my son was the best player on defense, owning the middle, the place where we were scored on repeatedly by bigger players – with my son out – in every game we lost.

My son watched a player he was better than, at season’s beginning, get one on one technique coaching and minutes. Charlie received no such coaching and became used to providing only scrimmage practice for the players the coach favored.  Recognizing the potential value of having the two tallest players on the floor at the same time, Charlie took it on himself to learn all plays from both his regular 5 spot, and the 4 spot. The two tallest players spent fewer than four game minutes on the floor together out of over 400 possible season minutes. Yes, this is basketball we’re talking about.

The team was divided into two teams, firsts and seconds. Firsts ran offense and seconds existed to allow the firsts to become better. Plays broken up by the seconds were stopped and rerun until the firsts could execute properly. the seconds had no such opportunity offensively in practice as the coach didn’t intend to play them in games.

That the seconds communicated better, played with greater passion, and beat the firsts when game start opportunities arose did not matter. Seconds were yanked with under two minutes of play and firsts played the rest of those games.

My son learned what not quitting is about. Basketball, something he loved, something he was very good at, became incredibly un-fun. Charlie listened to speeches that were bullshit, and came to recognize that some parents could affect game play for their children through influence. He came to hate watching his team get scored on, knowing himself capable of preventing it, but never getting the chance to play. He thought about quitting, and joining the wrestling team, but felt a commitment to his teammates. If being a scrimmage dummy made the firsts better, then he would do his best to provide the team’s players a good practice.

I am proud my son did not quit on his teammates. I wish his coach had not quit on him, or the other boys who did not receive the same coaching the firsts did. All of the boys on Charlie’s team had skills and gave to the team equally, from the tallest to the shortest, everyone contributed, no one was a star, in spite of the coach’s obvious preferences.

Today, watching my son join a team of players and instantly mesh, deflecting over a dozen shots on defense and scoring baskets on offense, playing plenty of minutes, making clear that he belongs on a court, I was very happy for Charlie.

Charlie will play at Coyote Valley at 11:30am on February 18 and March 3. Then he will take up track and field, and hopefully be called to play Summer basketball.

Next year’s coach seems immune to outside influences, and is a spectacular teacher, both of high school and basketball. I found his blog last year and was impressed by someone who had the balls to hold students, and their parents, responsible for the grades the students receive. Both Charlie and I are thrilled he made it through this year and will be able to practice with and play for a teacher who believes that students earn their grades from teachers instead of one who believes teachers give their grades to students.

Next piece, I’ll be back to wine, but I wanted to write this piece and say I am proud of the young man my son is becoming. He would rather get minutes, and is unlikely to read his dad’s words, but this is what I had.

I love you Charlie.

Douglas Taylor may just be the man Hopland didn’t know it was looking for.

Destination Hopland is the non-profit group created to oversee the twice yearly Hopland Passport events, improve the infrastructure for and beautify the town, focus the attention of wine, food, and travel writers on Hopland, and increase tourism to benefit the local economy for both residents and area businesses.

Hopland Passport is heading into its 21st year, and almost runs itself, with help from an experienced volunteer working group. Marketing efforts by a marketing savvy Board Secretary , and work by the Mendocino Winegrape and Wine Commission on behalf of the wineries and growers of Hopland, led to an enormous increase in media coverage for Hopland’s events. Everything seemed easy except making over the town’s significant infrastructure improvement needs.

The cost of laying sidewalks throughout town where they don’t already exist, creating an outdoor garden spot with benches that could host farmer’s markets or art and craft shows, replacing utilitarian wood poles with decorative light poles – the cost of making over Hopland – could easily run up to over one half million dollars; an amount well beyond Destination Hopland’s ability to meet in the foreseeable future.

Enter Douglas Taylor, an educated, artistic, soul who decided on his own to make a difference in the town he lives and loves, Hopland. Taylor talked with other local residents, businesses, Caltrans, the County of Mendocino, and the folks in California Assemblyman Wes Chesbro’s office.

Taylor blanketed Hopland with signs announcing a community meeting for January 22, 2012.

Destination Hopland and Taylor found each other, and sharing the same goal started working together, with Taylor joining Destination Hopland’s Hopland Improvement subcommittee.

At the January 22 meeting, Taylor was joined by a couple of dozen people, residents of Hopland, as well as representatives from Caltrans and Destination Hopland, and a citizen advisory committee was formed and agreed to meet twice monthly with the goal of “finding out what the town wants” and putting that plan into action.

The developing plan calls for, “circulation, parking, and streetscape improvements in the Town showing width and alignment of pedestrian sidewalks, locations of pedestrian crossings, streetscape furnishings and lighting, landscaped treatments including trees/flora, pedestrian and bicyclist improvements.”

Taylor and his growing group are working under the wings of Destination Hopland and the project is now officially called the Hopland Community Action Plan, modeled after the successful action plan used by the city of Point Arena, and will involve grant writing and securing other available public monies.

Taylor said, “we’re in the market for anyone who has ideas on how to make Hopland a better place.” Taylor can be reached by email at HoplandPlan@hotmail.com and heard weekly on local radio KMEC 105.1 FM each Wednesday at 1:00 PM.