Monday, June 06, 2005

Part 2 of Visiting Judd's Hill Winery


Part 2 of 3

“A Conversation with Holly
-- The Mysterious Miss Mauna Loa --
of Judd’s Hill,”

By John Olney, Copyright , May 13, 2005. All rights reserved.
As I stepped out of my car and walked toward the three gentleman standing next to the cellar doorway and Art Finkelstein, I quickly recognized the wonderfully intoxicating aroma of wine in barrels. Art and his guests were sampling a little of the Judd’s Hill red wine which I guessed was their Cab or their Pinot. Art turned and provided me guidance to the office area of the winery which is built into the hillside and underneath their home. I carefully negotiated the cold steel staircase descending into the bowels of the fermentation and barrel rooms fronting the offices that overlook the hillside vineyards.

Suddenly a pleasant female voice, apologetic in tone, yelled out to me that she was on the phone and was sorry for the delay but would be right out. I immediately responded for her to take care of her business first; that I was not in a hurry. I then wandered around reading the barrel coding in attempt to discover what new delight would soon be ready for bottling and subsequent release. I was just starting to get an idea of what the scratching’s were on the barrels when the telephone voice suddenly spoke from behind me in a quick but pleasant tone introducing herself as Holly Finkelstein. Outwardly, while just standing there, Holly first struck me as a demure woman, but as she migrated us towards the wine cellar meeting room she immediately launched into a monolog about the winery all the while displaying a bundle of energy and exuding an obvious love for what she was accomplishing professionally. I could see that one would be foolish to underestimate this woman.

As we sat down across from each other, she asked me to explain my business: The Wine Country Club. She gave me the platform I enjoy so much which is to talk about the advantages to smaller winegrowers to combine their limited resources and market themselves collectively. I showed her how my wine club could effectively operate like a clearinghouse bringing wine producers and bibbers to a common area for their sharing of wine from their respective points of view. I elaborated on the marketing potential of the web journal networks that were growing at astonishing rates, both in terms of number of users and the quality of the “networking” that was being shared among wine consumers. Holly understood and said that she saw the potential for both the regular commercial websites as well as what the potential could bring from “blogging.” But, she added that like so many other things that show potential, there are only so many dollars available for salaries and marketing. She indicated that it was all a matter of priorities. I explained to her that this is exactly why I was creating The Wine Country Club. I saw the light bulb go on in her head.

Holly and I began discussions about how my plans and those of the winery could have a mutually benefiting future, when another woman entered the room and introduced herself as Bunnie. She was careful to point out the exact spelling of the name. Holly encouraged her to explain how she got the name and my unanswered question was soon complete. It came about while she was graduating college and carried over into her life when she and her husband, Art Finkelstein, and his brother, Alan Steen, opened Whitehall Lane Winery back in the late 1970s. This got us all reminiscing and I brought out my wine label poster-maps that I created in the mid and late 1980s. Their Whitehall lane was displayed on my first poster-map released in 1987. This leap back in time came to halt when the phones started ringing and Bunnie ran off to face the next challenge of the early morning business day; one which was obviously already hectic but in a good way. So, where did Holly fit into this picture? Well, she married Judd, the son of Art and Bunnie, for whom the winery had been named.

The Finkelstein’s are very serious about their wines as they are about the many other joys available in life that come from hard, disciplined and successful work. Art’s first career was as an architect in Southern California where he also became a home winemaker. Talk about the absolutely perfect type training and experience for a winemaker! Certainly the discipline and vision required to be an architect would have to rank among the highest of excellent backgrounds for winemaking The art of winemaking requires the same attributes as those of an architect as the vintner goes about growing and selecting grapes to be constructed into just the right balance among the sensory perceptions of the final wine product. Over the years, Art has also become an accomplished ceramicist as well as chef. Bunnie has an artistic background and she was the creative force behind the winery’s desire to incorporate poetry to compliment Judd’s Hill wines the result of which can be seen on the winery website postings.

Then I got some insight into the next generation behind the Finkelstein wines. Besides his commitment to winegrowing, Judd is devoted to the Ukulele, often thought of as originally an instrument of the Polynesian cultures but not so. It’s origin is from the Portuguese who brought it with them to the Pacific Islands as they explored the region. If you have been to Hawaii you would swear that the “Uke” must have originated there. Finally, there’s Holly. Her background includes an MBA from the Peter F. Drucker and Masatoshi Ito Graduate School of Management located in Southern California. Her previous business experience included serving as a Program Officer within Steven Spielberg’s “Righteous Persons Foundation.” Marrying Judd meant she would not only become heavily involved in his interest in the grapes of Napa Valley but also in the “Uke” and Hawaiian music as well. She decided to study Hawaiian dance, thus was born the musical group, “The Maikai Gents Featuring the Mysterious Miss Mauna Loa." My thoughts immediately flashed to my memories of the Kodak Hula shows in Waikiki with guys and their bare chests and the gals in their grass skirts and coconut shells mesmerizing the tourists. I could see the same happening to the wine tasters wherever the Maikai Gents and Miss Mauna Loa were performing!!

Talk about enthusiasm! Bunnie came back to our meeting just as Holly and I were wrapping up discussion of the musical group. Bunnie asked about my knowledge of the Uke and Hawaii and I had to confess to her that before I came to Napa, I lived in Honolulu, on the Island of Oahu, from 1969 to 1985. I added that for a period of time I actually played the banjo. With that she and Holly were actively recruiting me to join their local Ukulele group called “The Wine Country Flea Jumpers.” Whew, with the two of them working me beautifully, I just barely managed to wiggle out of a commitment for the immediate future, but who knows what will happen down the wine stream!

The meeting had been consumed with great reflections and some promising exchanges of ideas, but we had already met for a longer period than any of us had planned. We all had other meetings quickly approaching, so we decided to forgo wine tasting on this day -- besides it was only 11:00 am -- but promised to meet in a few more days and share Judd’s Hill wine while continuing our discussions.

A cautionary comment: Please don’t just drive up to the winery. Because of its location being on a winding narrow road, the agricultural preservation of the land, and out of respect to the privacy of their neighbors, the Finkelstein’s impressed on me the need to seriously request that you call in advance and make a reservation. (707-963-9093) You may have to wait awhile to visit this winery and its magnificent country-setting for wine tasting, but if what I saw in the people and the land are the mark, the wait will be worth it. I’m waiting …..and will report my results as soon as I’m back down Judd’s Hill and on my keyboard.

Part 3 of this series, “Tasting Judd’s Hill a 1,000 feet up,” will appear the week of May 23, 2005


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