Dunne on Wine

Dunne on Wine: Former Congressman Radanovich puts his career on the vine

George Radanovich served in Congress from 1995-2011.
George Radanovich served in Congress from 1995-2011.

What’s easier, selling wine as a vintner or getting votes as a politician?

George Radanovich, usually quick and facile with answers, pauses as if calculating the consequences of casting the tiebreaker vote on an especially contentious piece of legislation.

Then he takes the long view: “Selling wine is a little tougher than getting votes, historically.”

In other words, he was elected to Congress fairly easily in 1994 and then re-elected with little challenge for seven more terms, becoming recognized as a steadfast yet genteel Republican in a diverse chunk of the Central Valley and Sierra Nevada.

After 16 years in the U.S. House of Representatives, he quit at the beginning of 2011, returning to his native Mariposa County and a small vineyard he’d started to plant in 1982 but essentially abandoned when he went to Washington, D.C.

At the Capitol, however, he continued his involvement with the wine trade by teaming up with Napa and Sonoma Rep. Mike Thompson (a Democrat) to form the bipartisan Wine Caucus, a means to hold wine tastings based on the regional spread of vineyards and wineries and to ponder legislation affecting the business.

Back in Mariposa, he resumed his hands-on stewardship of the 2-acre vineyard, planted solely to sauvignon blanc, a variety he suspected would do well in the hot, dry and loamy terrain, as it has elsewhere in the foothills. “It was the best guess for that area in 1982,” said Radanovich during a recent Sacramento visit.

Selling wine is a little tougher than getting votes, historically.

Former U.S. Congressman George Radanovich

In contrast to several other foothill counties, Mariposa lags in the development of vineyards and wineries, which Radanovich had hoped to kick-start when he began to put in vines. Today, Mariposa has only around 100 acres in wine grapes and just “a couple of other wineries,” Radanovich, 60, says. “I had the land and wanted to see the industry develop,” he says of his inspiration to get into the wine trade.

Last fall, with the vineyard whipped back into shape, he harvested a little more than 2 tons of grapes, now available as the floral, melony and richly textured 1,000 Vines 2014 Mariposa County Sauvignon Blanc ($28). He made 97 cases of the wine, which comes in a Burgundy bottle, a shape more associated with chardonnay than sauvignon blanc, but a style he simply prefers. He makes the wine at a custom-crush winery in Lodi.

When Radanovich began to release wines commercially in 1986, he did so with an eponymous brand, but this time around he’s chosen 1,000 Vines for his label, a name inspired by the size of his vineyard, which actually has 952 vines.

“I rounded up,” he says, a practice he may have picked up in Congress.

He doesn’t see “1,000 Vines” as more limiting in terms of potential growth for his vineyard and his lineup than “Radanovich” because he plans to remain committed to small-lot production. He expects to cultivate no more than 1,000 vines each of other grape varieties he is considering, such as cabernet sauvignon, tempranillo, grenache, malbec and syrah. If that plan changes, he always can dust off the “Radanovich” label.

And if selling wine proves more challenging than rounding up votes, he also can dust off his political acumen and again seek public office, an option he acknowledges he hasn’t ruled out. He left Congress in large part because his wife, Ethie Weaver Radanovich, had died of ovarian cancer and he wanted to be more involved in the rearing of their son, King, then 12.

Family matters remain a concern for Radanovich, and they could form a principal plank in his platform should he again be a candidate. Since leaving Congress he’s written a book (“The New World Order Is the Old World Order”) and created a website (www.thefourinstitutions.com) where he calls for largely private efforts to help families avoid poverty, remain intact and fulfill goals.

“I’m working on public-policy projects that address fatherless-ness, unwed pregnancy and divorce,” Radanovich says.

Given that he expects his sauvignon blanc to sell out by December, he will have time to devote to that kind of lobbying, though he does have this year’s harvest to also keep him busy.

Radanovich’s wine is available largely in Mariposa County, though it can be ordered through his website www.1000vines.com.

Wine critic and competition judge Mike Dunne’s selections are based solely on open and blind tastings, judging at competitions, and visits to wine regions. He can be reached at dmichealdunne@gmail.com.