Adam McHugh calls his new book “Blood From a Stone: A Memoir of How Wine Brought Me Back From the Dead” a “love letter” to the Santa Ynez Valley’s wine industry.
“As for now, the book is for sale mostly in Los Olivos — at the Story of Soil, Dragonette, Future Perfect and Larner tasting rooms, and the Los Olivos Wine Merchant Café” — as well as at Solvang’s Book Loft, Chaucer’s Books in Santa Barbara and online, he said.
McHugh, a resident of the Santa Ynez Valley, wine tour guide and a certified specialist of wine, previously wrote “The Listening Life” and “Introverts in the Church.” He is also a regular contributor to “Edible Santa Barbara & Wine Country.”
In “Blood From a Stone,” McHugh details the personal turmoil that eventually led him to work in — and write about — Santa Barbara County’s wine industry.
“At the time these wine revelations were first taking hold of me, I was leading a life that needed a tall glass of gladdening,” McHugh writes in the media notes for the book. “I was a hospice chaplain, working the graveyard shift. I was the Grim Reaper’s wingman.”
Over email, I asked McHugh more about his new book.
“The story covers about 10 years of my life, from the trip to France that changed my life forever and the end of my hospice chaplaincy, all the way to finally feeling at home in the Santa Ynez Valley. ‘Blood From a Stone’ is the most personal book I have ever written, and it does feel quite vulnerable to have people who live right around me reading it. It is not a tidy story, but then again, being a human being is not a tidy thing. I think one of the most human things we can do is tell the truth. If we take our struggles and our questions and we transform them into a story, we can offer it to others so that hopefully they will connect with it and not feel so alone in their own stories.”
When the pandemic shuttered the wine tour industry, “I had a delicious year and a half of finishing the book,” McHugh said. “I got to write full time. It was magic. Though, I get weird and awkward if I isolate for too long, so I have to find a balance between writing and socialization. But with ‘Blood From a Stone,’ I got to bring all my wine friends into the book with me.”
I inquired whether his work in the ministry gave McHugh any insight into being a tour guide and working with consumers of wine.
“When I tell people I used to be a hospice chaplain and now I work in the wine industry, they often recoil and say, ‘What an incredible change’ — to which I reply, ‘It’s not that different. I used to listen to medicated people in my old career, and now I still listen to medicated people in my new one. They are just a lot happier now.’
“Being a hospice chaplain for many years taught me how to listen, which has changed everything for me, both personally and professionally. In every context I seek to be a listener, including in wine sales. This is something we don’t talk about nearly enough in the wine industry. When people feel genuinely heard and treated as human beings, rather than as targets for a big sale or wine-club signup, they are likely to come back. A little genuine human interaction is what everyone is desperate for these days. They will remember being heard.”
McHugh said he’s led “about 500 tours” for Santa Barbara-based Coastal Concierge, a wine tour company, and calls it “the best job I have ever had.”
He became “enamored with the history of Santa Barbara County” through that tour job, which led to research that became part of “Blood From a Stone.”
“Tour guests would ask me all kinds of questions I couldn’t answer, which led me deep into research during my off hours,” he said. “In the book, readers get some Benjamin Foxen stories, some Rancho Dos Pueblos lore and some sacred Point Conception beliefs alongside my own story of discovering this remarkable place.”
Plenty on Bell to Host Dickens Christmas Dinner
The town of Los Alamos will get into the spirit of the season Friday, Dec. 9 when Chef Jesper Johansson, co-owner of Plenty on Bell, will team with winemaker Stephan Bedford of Bedford Winery to create an evening full of the magic of a 19th century English Christmas.
The menu will feature traditional Christmas favorites, including roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, English trifle, Christmas plum pudding and mulled wine. Visiting guest actors will read Charles Dickens’ classics between courses.
Bedford, a longtime Los Alamos resident whose tasting room was one of the town’s first, is known for entertaining visitors with his vast knowledge of local and global history, and for hosting creative events.
Johansson, previously a partner at the iconic Café Quackenbush, co-owns Plenty on Bell with his British-born partner, Christine Gallagher.
The evening will open with appetizers served on the patio, followed by dinner. Tickets are $85 per person and will include one bottle of Bedford wine per couple. For reservations, call 323.804.0928 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hope Family Wines Named American Winery of the Year
The family-owned Hope Family Wines is one of the pioneering heritage wineries that helped Paso Robles gain fame as a diverse region.
The wines of Hope Family Wines are today distributed across the nation and in 30 countries worldwide. The winery works with 50 local grower partners to provide sustainably farmed fruit for its six brands: Austin Hope, Treana, Quest, Austin, Liberty School and Troublemaker.
“Paso Robles is at the forefront of all that we do. This award is an honor for all of the dedicated people at Hope Family Wines who have helped make it happen, and for all of the partner growers who have taken this journey with us,” owner and winemaker Austin Hope said.
Austin Hope’s parents, Chuck and Marlyn Hope, planted their first vineyards in Paso Robles in 1978 and later became one of the region’s largest growers of wine grapes. In 1983, the Hopes helped spearhead the creation of the Paso Robles AVA, and 10 years later helped establish the Paso Robles Vintners & Growers Association (today known as the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance).
In 1986, the family made the leap into winemaking, believing that Paso Robles wines could rival the best in the world. As a second-generation vintner, Austin Hope, lead winemaker since 1998, learned the business from the ground up.
“I thrived being in the field with my family,” he recalled.
Sustainable farming and resource conservation drive the Hope family’s winemaking operation; it hopes that all of its wines will be grown in sustainably certified vineyard blocks by the end of 2023. The winery is also recognized for its water conservation efforts, with some of the wine industry’s lowest water usage rates on a per-case production basis.
Bill Foley Wins Lifetime Achievement Award from Wine Enthusiast
Through his investments, Bill Foley, founder and owner of Foley Family Wines, has become one of the most influential vintners in California, and Wine Enthusiast recently honored Foley with its Lifetime Achievement Award.
The company he founded in 1996, Foley Family Wines, now includes such iconic wineries as Chalk Hill, Sebastiani, Firestone, Ferrari-Carano, Chateau St. Jean, Silverado and others in California and the Pacific Northwest, as well as investments in New Zealand, France and Argentina.
Foley is Sonoma County’s third-largest vineyard owner and estimates that his planted vineyard acreage in California and Oregon totals 7,000, according to Wine Enthusiast.
Foley, 77, is said to love wearing multiple hats as a vintner — even though he’s also executive chairman of the board for Fidelity National Financial and the principal owner of the Vegas Golden Knights NHL hockey team.
Foley joined the wine world after years of success in the title insurance business. In 1996, he and his wife, Carol, bought a 1,000-acre property in the Sta. Rita Hills, now home to Foley Estates.
In 2007, Foley purchased Firestone Vineyard and that label from the Firestone family, setting his portfolio on track to become the powerhouse it is today.
— Laurie Jervis can be reached via email@example.com. The opinions expressed are her own.