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Move Over Gary Vaynerchuk

Columnist: Louisa Hufstader
April, 2009 Issue

Louisa Hufstader
All articles by columnist

What do magic tricks, pirates, ukuleles and a tuba have to do with wine? All of these elements, and many more, whiz by onscreen during the first episode of “Judd’s Enormous Wine Show,” the Web-based TV series hosted by affable young vintner Judd Finkelstein of Judd’s Hill Winery in Napa.

Posted weekly on sites including,,  and—of course—YouTube, the short, often goofy episodes are directed by Napa Valley filmmaker Rudy McClain, whose 2008 movie “Merlove” aimed to repair the damage done to Merlot wines by their derogatory treatment in the film “Sideways.”

McClain, 34, and Finkelstein, 37, have known and collaborated with each other since their school days in St. Helena, and their new project displays both Finkelstein’s retro flair (he does card tricks, mixes cocktails and plays the ukulele) and McClain’s penchant for witty editing and oddball vignettes. The show’s original music includes a theme song by well-regarded Napa guitarist Gordon Lustig, complete with lyrics: “Eccentric! Fun! And on-the-go! … It won’t cost you one red dime, so be sure to get your money’s worth.”

Based on what the producers—abetted by the entire staff of Judd’s Hill, from Finkelstein’s tuba-playing mother, Bunnie, to the cellar crew—had released by press time, we’ll get much more than our money’s worth from “Judd’s Enormous Wine Show.” I laughed out loud when the pirates visited Judd’s Hill, filching pizza, fighting a cutlass duel with a fork lift and tasting from the dump bucket.

But Finkelstein—whose college degree is in television production, and who worked for several years in the Hollywood film industry—is after more than laughs and self-promotion. He wants us to have fun and buy his wines, sure, but also to get a feeling for what life in Wine Country can be like when you love what you’re doing.  “There are a lot of folks out there who take wine so seriously and don’t seem to impart any joy with it,” he says.

Finkelstein says he was expecting to hear from those sourpusses when his irreverent new show launched on Friday, Feb. 13. But much to his surprise, his in-box filled up with rave reviews, while the wine blogosphere gave “Judd’s Enormous Wine Show” a warm reception. “What’s been nutty,” he says, is that “in multiple different write-ups, people are saying ‘Watch out, Gary Vaynerchuk,’” (of “That caught me by surprise, because what we do is so different from what he does.”

Want to find out for yourself? A new episode is scheduled for release each Friday.

Bean here now

There’s been much rejoicing in foodie circles at the news that bean entrepreneur and cookbook author Steve Sando has opened his first retail storefront. Sando’s Rancho Gordo line of heirloom beans and accompaniments like Mexican oregano, posole and quinoa has gained a loyal following over the past few years, while his Chronicle Books cookbook, released last fall, has already gone into a second printing.

But apart from Sando’s flourishing mail order business and Saturday appearances at the San Francisco Ferry Building farmers market, Rancho Gordo fans have had just a handful of places to buy his beans over the counter: St. Helena’s Sunshine Market, the Jimtown Store in the Alexander Valley and the Fatted Calf at the Oxbow Public Market in Napa.  As a result, customers have been beating a path to Sando’s north Napa office and warehouse.

As of this month, bean lovers will be able to browse to their hearts’ delight at the new Rancho Gordo shop on Yajome Street just outside downtown Napa, where Sando now presides over his mail order, wholesale (Thomas Keller’s a fan) and retail operations. The store will sell not only the heirloom beans and grains for which Sando has become famous, but earthen cooking pots and other accoutrements.

And in addition to the two dozen or so beans that Sando’s partner farmers grow in the Central Valley, the shop will also stock about 10 obscure varieties that he can’t offer at the farmers market because they’re grown in Mexico.

“We’re working with indigenous Indian farmers in Mexico, providing a market to sell their beans,” he says. “We’re all in shock that it’s working so well.” Sando’s mail-order customers have been snapping up the rare varieties, like ayocote and morado, which he describes as “a big, fat, walnut-colored runner bean that’s meaty and delicious and super with wild mushrooms.” Sando considers these ancient legumes “our common heritage” as continental Americans, and calls his relationship with the farmers “beyond fair trade,” saying “by creating a market, everyone wins.”

The Rancho Gordo shop will be closed Sundays but open Saturdays, says Sando, whose previous location operated Monday through Friday. Expect lively music on the sound system, vintage Mexican movie posters on the walls and, of course, a dazzling assortment of gemlike dried beans. There’s more to like, including ample parking and easy walks to both the famous Shackford’s kitchen store, on nearby Main Street, and the Oxbow Public Market across the river. “I see it as almost this gourmet ghetto,” he says. The Rancho Gordo Strip is at 1924 Yajome Street, Napa, (707) 259-1935;

Get some culture

There’s a new, glossy and mouthwatering magazine on the market with a tantalizing topic: cheese. Culture magazine is the brainchild of cheese mavens Kate Arding (a veteran of Neal’s Yard Dairy in London and co-founder of Cowgirl Creamery in Marin County), Thalassa Skinner (who has plied her cheesemonger’s trade at the nationally known Formaggio Kitchen in Boston and is now the general manager at Oxbow Cheese Merchant in Napa) and Skinner’s sister, Stephanie. With recipes, in-depth articles and lots of photography, the quarterly’s second issue is available now and well worth a leisurely look. Find it at retailers ranging from Barnes & Noble to your corner gourmet; for a taste, check out

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