A Road Less Traveled
Needless to say, Guinness McFadden has taken the road less traveled. Born in the Upper West Side of New York City, Guinness graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 1960 with a BA in History and a varsity letter from the wrestling team. He then served in the US Navy for nine years and as Chief Engineer of a destroyer frequenting the Mediterranean, Lieutenant McFadden developed a love for wine that would dictate the future direction of his life. In 1965, after 6 months of intensive language school, he entered the Vietnam War and volunteered to succeed one of five fallen captains of all-Vietnamese riverboats patrolling the Mekong Delta. He was awarded a Bronze Star for bravery and still showcases his fluent Vietnamese whenever possible. Guinness was then given the opportunity to serve as an admiral’s aide in Lisbon, where he served his final four years solidifying his love for wine and learning to speak Portuguese.
In 1969, he enrolled in Stanford Business School but quickly decided against a future in pin-striped suits and city offices seeking a new living in the country to start the vineyard of his dreams. He found the ideal location when he arrived in Potter Valley in 1970; the only problem was everyone said it was too cold to grow grapes. Undeterred, he started by planting 23 acres of grapes, to be followed in successive years by some 140 more. Since he was the first to commercially farm grapes in Potter Valley, there was no experience upon which to rely for guidance. Many simply told him that it couldn’t be done, and there were days when he almost believed them. Over the years, as he planted and tended to the vineyards, he tried many varieties to see which made the best wines. Some of his experiments worked; others didn't. We do know that Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Noir and Zinfandel all thrive. Today, we have some of the oldest vines in Potter Valley, so you could say the experiment worked!
More than Wine
When the vineyard was first started, it became evident that attracting workers might be a problem. Potter Valley is miles north of Napa and Sonoma counties, and therefore later maturing. By the time we were ready to harvest, many pickers had gone south for the winter. So, in order to attract workers, Guinness developed other enterprises that provided more year-round work. As a result, we make garlic braids in the fall, bay leaf wreaths in the winter, and herbs and wild rice in the spring. It worked out so well that our team's average tenure on the farm is around twenty five years.
Organic Farming & Alternative Energy
As he learned the ropes of farming, Guinness became convinced that he didn't need, or want, the chemical pesticides and herbicides commonly used in modern agriculture. Instead, he pursued more natural farming methods and joined the California Certified Organic Farmers in 1991 to keep his small farm in tune with nature and ensure the farm was a safe place for our family and crops. Supplementing his eco-friendly vision of sustainable agriculture, he built a hydroelectric power plant on the Russian River in 1983 and in 2003, he installed 300 solar panels, making McFadden Farm a net producer of renewable energy.
Our Own Label
Because of the high quality of our grapes, wineries such as Robert Mondavi, Chateau Montelena, Sterling, Berenger, Navarro, Bonterra, Fetzer, and Piper Sonoma (among others) have been pleased to buy grapes from us over the years. As time went on, we discovered that our grapes produced outstanding wines for other producers, so we decided to make wine under our own label. Our first varietal was Pinot Gris in 2003 and those first 300 cases were terrific and quickly sold out. The next year we added Riesling, then Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, and Zinfandel in 2005, and Chardonnay in 2006. Today we produce whites, reds, rose and sparkling wines. Have you tried them all yet?
A Family Affair
In 2011, our brother Jameson, became involved with the family business and launched a secondary label, Blue Quail. The success from that venture was overwhelming and we have since transitioned our still wines over to the Blue Quail label. From his home in New York City, Jameson continues to work as the Director of Sales and Marketing, building our distribution network of 15 states to date and growing sales ten-fold. When he's not selling wine or building new markets, you’re likely to find him enjoying a glass of wine with good food and great company!
In 2019, even more family got involved! Our sister Fontaine and her husband Brian joined the team as “boots on the ground”. They live near the farm and can be found doing whatever needs doing; from brand and design work, to making local deliveries, or building owl-boxes, they are here to make it happen. When they’re not working at the farm, they’re swimming in the river, hiking in the hills or throwing dinner parties.
The Best is Yet to Come
We firmly believe that old adage. Having the incredible good fortune to grow up in this beautiful place, we want to pass along the beauty and simplicity to our kids, nieces and nephews. Our Dad is a visionary, a respected member of his community, and a pioneer in the Mendocino organic movement. We are proud to work alongside him in order to, as he puts it: “provide food and fiber to meet America’s needs”. And wine. We won’t forget the wine either.
And Lastly, a Poem...
Guinness' Journey by Jameson McFadden on the occasion of Guinness' 80th Birthday
There are strange things done in the midday sun;
By the farmers who worship the grape.
The well-known tales, of frozen Mendocino trails
Made most rational men turn away.
But undeterred, Guinness split from the herd;
And carved out his own paradise.
Now he sips his own wine, and says, “How divine,
I’m glad I cannot take advice.”
Now ole Eugene rooted for another team, where skyscrapers and high-rises grow.
This Yankee left home in the east to roam ‘round South Bend and ole Yellowstone.
After four years at Notre Dame, he knew his time came, and enlisted in the United States Navy.
It was during this time, that he fell in love with wine, and it began to drive him crazy.
See Guinness is a beer, so isn’t it queer, he would want to buy land for grapes?
But when he saw Potter, something must have been in the water, for his Irish roots he forsake.
He dropped out of school, people thought “what a fool” when he exclaimed, “Eureka, I’ve found it!”
Then he planted this land with his own two hands and left the naysayers astounded.
And now in your 81 st year, you’ve made it into the clear; was there really ever a doubt?
You did it old man, you always knew that you can, you’ve shown me what gumption’s about.
Eight decades in all, you’ve sailed through the squalls, life’s obstacles you did surmount;
Now a lesson does grow, from right here in these rows: it is truly the journey that counts.