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Wine,Wine Country,Winery

Summer Barefooting: A Sonoma County Day in the Sun

There’s a lot of love in them thar vineyards. For those of us working out here in this lush, Mediterranean climate, many of us are just too busy working to come up for much air, and really enjoy many of those touristy moments.

How many New Yorkers go to the top of the Empire State Building to view the grandeur of that city on a regular basis? It just is what it is for where we live. Work always takes precedence over time away to completely take advantage of where we’re living… Smack dab in the middle of wine country.

When we do get a moment, however, to come up for air out here, nothing seems more enjoyable than getting together with friends and family. It’s that pure and simple… And, so are the wines from Barefoot Cellars, BTW… Pure, simple, and enjoyable. There was a lot of Barefoot Cellars floating around on this day, as it should have been, given their long history with that brand.

I first learned about Barefoot wines, while on the road in the 1990s. I always enjoyed the energy of Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey, the proprietors at the time.

They’ve since sold their wine brand to the E. & J. Gallo Wine Company. Being on the inside of the wine business, I can honestly tell you that the Gallos have done nothing to change the brand, with the exception of ownership. The same wine maker, Jennifer Wall, and their same national sales manager, Randy Arnold, are still with the company, years later, guiding the original mission: making and selling wine that was both delicious and affordable, and that could be enjoyed by everyone from first-time wine-consumers to hard-core aficionados.

While in Vermont, Michael Houlihan, Bonnie Harvey, my sister Merry Matukonis (who was helping me with Belvedere wines) and I all went to the movies and dinner together one evening. If I didn’t see Michael and Bonnie on the road, then I’d see their national sales manager Randy Arnold. Randy was always really cheerful and friendly. He’s one of those people that you think, “What’s not to love?” He was down to earth and always ready to chat.

I never realized that our paths would become much more closely entwined, until I left Belvedere and was hired by Michael Houlihan as his Northern California sales manager for Barefoot. In 1998, Randy became my immediate supervisor and a really wonderfully close friend. We had moments where we’d get laughing so hard that we’d have to pull off the road. It was a really great experience and I have fond memories of my Barefoot days.

My greatest joy was being given the assignment as Randy’s understudy. Randy taught me the Houlihan way of selling, which was very guerrilla and extremely innovative. It was developed and implemented by both Randy and Michael, who fed off each other’s strength.

It was during one of these rides with Randy that I learned he had a very interesting childhood experience. It was something that every reader of this blog is going to have one of those, “Get out!” moments.

Here it is:

Randy told me that as a child, Charles Schultz used to round up a group of neighborhood kids and drive them to school in his car.

Randy said, “I never knew why, he just did?”

I said to him, “So, which one are you?”

He looked at me quizzically and asked, “What do you mean?”

I said, “Randy, he was picking up you kids for ideas. Who are you?”

He thought for a moment and said, “Schroeder.”

Now, 11 years later, given the time to think about it, Randy thinks he’s more Linus. (I can’t say. I wasn’t in the car.)

And so my Randy (aka Schroeder/Linus) recently invited me to celebrate his union of marriage to Greg Knight. My Randy has found someone to love and share his life. It just gave me goosebumps to know that he’s not going to live his life alone anymore, that he has someone with whom he can share his joys, sorrows, and great moments, and their lives together are now one…

They also come in under the legal wire for California, so this union will not be undone by law, a real blessing for those times when a spouse is needed for any legally important decision.

Their reception would also bring me back to the lovely home of Michael and Bonnie, where Hawaiian casual attire and footwear (Barefoot) would be the day’s theme. Every detail was perfectly executed. Everyone was so joyful. There was great food and wine, music and dancing from many performers. DANCING: We enjoyed Hula dancing from the San Francisco-based group known as Na lei Hulu I Ka Wekiu. Their Kumu Hula is the amazing Patrick Makuakane. Ben Levy of Levy Dance lead us in a dance exercise. All the groups that performed are supported by the Barefoot winery.

People gathered from all over the US for this amazing day. Greg had a large number of relatives travel from West Virginia and Ohio to celebrate. Children were playful.  I love the image to the left of this one child so completely relaxed I was able to catch him as he lay sleeping in the hammock. This is where he had started out reading, but the lull of the day allowed for a quick cat nap. This Sonoma County day will live on in our memories forever, because it was a day much bigger than all of us.

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