Winemakers Just Wanna Have Fun

Sonoma’s Monday Standard crew of winemaking rascals takes their wine seriously, and almost nothing else

Winemakers Just Wanna Have Fun
Left to right: Jeff Stewart, Rod Berglund, Mike Sullivan, Tony Lombardi (Tim Fish)
Jul 15, 2019

I wouldn’t call them motley, but there’s a crew of winemakers I know who are notable rascals. Toga parties and burlesque shows aren’t out of the question. Yet this lineup of mischief-makers, self-dubbed the Monday Standard, are upstanding members of the Sonoma community, a big percentage of the time, anyway … over 80 percent to be sure.

You see, when harvest is over and the cross-country sales trips are finished, winemakers just wanna have fun. The Monday Standard’s usual suspects include winemakers Jeff Stewart of Hartford Family, Mike Sullivan of Benovia, Rod and Lynn Berglund of Joseph Swan and vintner Tony Lombardi. Winemaker John Holdredge is a semi-regular, and Dan Kosta of AldenAlli winery is a member at large.

“I believe in only two rules at the Standard,” Holdredge says. “Don’t bring anything you made, and if you have to ask yourself if it’s interesting enough for this group, it’s not.“

The group meets on Mondays, and the location is always the same: Backyard, a gem of a restaurant in Forestville, a village surrounded by some of the top Chardonnay and Pinot Noir vineyards in Russian River Valley. Everyone brings a wine, and it’s typically an eclectic collection from the Old and New Worlds. Price is less important than intrigue.

I was invited to join them on a recent Monday, and assured the experience was true to form. Berglund, known for his deep cellar, brought Guy Bernard Côte-Rôtie 1994 (intriguing, yes, but past its prime, all agreed). Stewart shared Domaine des Baumard Savennières 2016, which was a fresh beam of sleek and minerally flavors. Lombardi opened the Domaine Besson Chablis 2016, a vibrant wine ideal for a summer’s day, plus Shaw & Smith Pinot Noir Adelaide Hills 2016, elegant and structured.

The conversation ranges with the mood, and it’s rarely serious. In another time, another place, they could be bowling or playing golf.

The gatherings began soon after the Backyard opened, in 2012. “We wanted to do a fun winemaker’s dinner,” Sullivan explains. “We like to have fun.” About 50 friends bought tickets for the first event, and it was a wild evening. Winemakers surprised the crowd by showing up in togas. “We didn’t tell anyone it was going to be a Roman bacchanal,” Stewart said. Berglund even paraded around the restaurant in a “chariot” with a pig’s head for kissing.

The crew took a hiatus from the bacchanalian dinners after the 2017 wildfires, focusing instead on their Monday Standard lunches. Backyard’s chef/owners Marianna Gardenhire and Daniel Kedan more than humor the gang with unique creations. “They like to vet new dishes with us,” Sullivan says, with Lombardi adding, “We’re the test kitchen.”

One such menu featured grower Champagne sipped with seared foie gras–topped Philly cheesesteaks; Berglund supplied a bottle of 1982 Cheval-Blanc for a chicken-wing throwdown. Other memorable bottles have included Hanzell Pinot Noir 1966 and Joseph Phelps Johannisberg Riesling 1986.

Yeah, they manage to drink some serious wine amid all the frivolity. That’s the Monday Standard way.

People California Sonoma

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