Thanks Fresno!

OK this is more or less how it went earlier:

8.22am, Starbucks, Pleasanton Shopping Centre, CA, USA
We had the fire alarm go off early this morning, good thing I had an early start, so I just grabbed the computer and headed for the local Starbucks, seeing as I’ve seen other folks working on their computers like busy bees in those coffee stops, so I thought that would be a good idea until the fire department sorted the hotel drama out.

Jane's new office

Then you get into the ins and outs of the thing. If you get a Starbucks card and register, which more or less means you use the same money for your coffees and such – just via the card, then you get two free hours of wi fi internet access at any Starbucks in the USA and Canada. So I did that, but couldn’t for the life of me get in to the system. So I asked the really friendly barista gal for some help and got registered.

Then I couldn’t get anything to open, and I didn’t want to bother the staff again, so I zeroed in on a sharp business-looking type who was belting happily away on his own machine, and he showed me the access point I needed, and I was away.

The e-world is now mine!

So finally, we get back to my day in Fresno. It’s a city of 500,000 people which has seen a fair bit of growth over the last few years, and where the prevailing forces are mainly agricultural – being in the middle of the San Joaquin Valley. It’s the largest inland city in California, they’ve got the Uni of California Fresno Oenology course based at a working winery there, and just south of town is Selma: “Raisin Capital of the World” and home of Sun Maid Raisins (my choice for roadtrip snacks, seeing as they do heaps less damage than all that heat ‘n’ serve nasty stuff in most fuel stops).

It was my first time to Fresno, and I was in good hands with the HWG supa rep Chris C. We covered a lot of ground, both independent retail stores and restaurants. I saw industry old-timers riding out “a tough cycle”; passionate owner/chef bar/bistros; truly entrepreneurial operations; and my favourite – really happy wine consumers! Sum total of the day is that even though times are difficult as the economy in California continues to be tough, folks in Fresno are drinking wine and going out – at all different money levels.

So here we go with the Fresno highlights:

First call was Lynn at Old Docs Liquors, and he had me jumping with questions from the get go. I tell you, by the end of the tasting – we presented 10 wines seeing as Chris wanted to make the absolute most of my time in town – if Lynn had been 20 years younger I reckon I would have asked him out! What a classic! And what a home for our Signature and Scribbler.

Across town, they have a second store, and the boys over there gave me a similar workout question-wise. Then I found out that all the guys who work part-time in the store are in the Fresno winemaking course. Good thing I don’t make anything up. As they say – you never know who your audience is.

The first owner chef we met was Vatche Moukhtarian, a lovely mountain of a man who has the Cracked Pepper Bistro, which has Lebanese and Greek home cooking-inspired dishes on the menu. He already has the Scribbler and MGS (for the slow cooked food) on the list, and now has the 2008 Bush Vine Grenache which I have no doubt is going to star alongside the “famous by word of mouth” eggplant appetizer. Vatche has also just put together a new specialist cheese board and is going to give the 2008 Botrytis Viognier a run – so we’re pretty tickled to be the major Australian on the list. Vatche has already won “Best kept secret in Fresno”, and with the timberwork and stone, burgundy walls and 40-foot-long barrel stave feature, this lamplit room would fly anywhere.

We stopped just after this at wine store/lunch spot The Grape Tray, and here’s where I’m trying hard to go healthy, with Italian Wedding soup and a turkey salad sandwich.

On across town to another brother chef and sister wine gal restaurant Veni Vidi Vici in the artsy old retro downtown Tower District. They’ve got an outside dining garden and a funky mirror-walled bistro, with a solid granite bar wrapped around an open kitchen that I can just tell has seen a lot of good times – and will see a heap more. We did our tasting whilst the chefs were flat out prepping for dinner, and everything smelled good. Triple V are going to run the Wild Ferment Chardonnay, the Bush Vine and the Patchwork Shiraz for a couple of months to see how they go, and I wish I was a regular to be there.

Jane with Vino 100's Chuck & Jen

We whipped around through Fresno and Clovis seeing some other folks, and ended up at Vino 100 for their monthly Wine Club tasting. This store is owned by Chuck and Jen Van Fleet, who visited Yalumba about a year ago. I showed them around the winery and vineyards at the time, and promised that if I was ever in their part of the world that I’d do a tasting with them. So here we are. They have a really healthy club membership, and it’s open house on this particular Friday evening, with most folks ordering food in from the Italian restaurant next door.

I went from table to table talking our wines and making friends for Yalumba, and it wasn’t long before one lad put his hand up to be a special friend! There’s always one in every crowd, and this one – and the crowd – were a lot of fun. Makes it all worthwhile! So here’s the Vino 100 Fresno Wine Swingers! Left to right – Connie, Cheryl, Laura, Jeff (Mr Special), Joetta, Melanie & Barry.

Happy customers at Vino 100

Thanks Fresno! Thanks to all of you for an excellent inland wine adventure and for finding a spot for Yalumba in your world.

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