Passport Weekend a vin-vin

From left, Karina Kingman, Tony Kingman, Scott Marshall and Lori DiSalvi enjoy a picnic with their wine at Jason Stephen Winery during Passport Weekend Saturday.

A gloomy weather forecast didn’t dampen drinkers from venturing out en masse Saturday and Sunday for South County’s biannual extravaganza devoted to drinking wine, making new friends, and… drinking more wine!

Cheerfully chaotic as Passport Weekend can be, a gamut of grape growers had a spectacular two days when patrons from near and far arrived to taste wine, munch on  tapas, listen to good music and get to know the movers and shakers behind local labels in Gilroy, San Martin and Morgan Hill.

“The enthusiastic, unsolicited, positive feedback was very gratifying,” said Sheldon Haynie, who owns and runs the boutique Lightheart Cellars in a residential Morgan Hill neighborhood with his wife Jane. “Not that we would characterize it as a money-making weekend, but it’s a brand promotion weekend. We’re getting good PR and people signing up for our wine club – all the stuff we like to have happen.”

Sheldon said he and Jane enjoyed hosting a vast array of eager visitors – many who lined up outside the couples’ vineyard prior to Lightheart’s opening at 11 a.m. Saturday. One group included a mega-stretch limousine with 20 passengers from the NASA Ames Research Center, located at Moffett Field in Sunnyvale.

“It was a terrific time,” agreed Tom Moller, who runs the eclectic Satori Cellars in San Martin with his wife Sandy.

Around 700 visitors flooded the Moller’s family-owned, estate winery situated on the picturesque Buena Vista Avenue roughly six miles from downtown Gilroy. The Mollers treated guests to some of Satori’s “library” wines –blends they’re no longer making and save for special occasions.

“It’s not just a party,” Moller added. “There’s some real classy wine connoisseurs showing up nowadays, and that’s really wonderful.”

Business was also buzzing just a stone’s throw to the north. Administrator Jen Braich of Guglielmo Winery in Morgan Hill said their venue sold “hundreds” of the $30 passports and had to re-stock on tickets after running out Saturday.

The Gilroy Welcome Center spent all weekend fielding calls from curious patrons heading in from San Jose, according to Executive Director Jane Howard. She said the center sold approximately 75 tickets; a testimony to the endless potential of a growing agritourism industry specific to South County.

“We were so pleased with the number of phone calls and passports we sold here,” she said. “It was more than last year.”

In addition to toting a stellar starburst of wine venues tucked away in the folds of gorgeous country scenery, Haynie praised South County as a region where winemakers share a unique camaraderie. From Greg Richtarek of Guglielmo Winery, who took on marketing duties, to Jane Howard’s efforts to promote the event, to Fortino Winery acting as a centralized destination where all other wineries picked up their supply of tickets, Passport Weekend is a massively collaborative effort.

“Wineries down in our part of the world are very supportive of each other,” said Haynie. “We’re all in this together, and we approach it that way.”

What is this Passport Weekend, you ask, and how can I partake?

Missed out this weekend? Not to worry: Passport happens twice a year. The next event will take place from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. October 6 and 7. Cost is $30 per person; if you purchased a passport this year, your ticket will still be valid in October (awesome, right?) Passport Weekend features exclusive activities such as barrel tasting, barbecues, winery tours, special discounts, new label releases and live music. Passports can be purchased at any participating South County winery, the Morgan Hill Chamber of Commerce and the Gilroy Welcome Center.

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