Needless to say, Guinness McFadden has taken the road less traveled. Born in the Upper West Side of New York City, Guinness graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 1960 with a BA in History and a varsity letter from the wrestling team. He then served in the US Navy for nine years and as Chief Engineer of a destroyer frequenting the Mediterranean, Lieutenant McFadden developed a love for wine that would dictate the future direction of his life. In 1965, after 6 months of intensive language school, he entered the Vietnam War and volunteered to succeed one of five fallen captains of all-Vietnamese riverboats patrolling the Mekong Delta. He was awarded a Bronze Star for bravery and still showcases his fluent Vietnamese whenever possible. Guinness was then given the opportunity to serve as an admiral’s aide in Lisbon, where he served his final four years solidifying his love for wine and learning to speak Portuguese.
In 1969, he enrolled in Stanford Business School but quickly decided against a future in pin-striped suits and city offices seeking a new living in the country to start the vineyard of his dreams. He found the ideal location when he arrived in Potter Valley in 1970; the only problem was everyone said it was too cold to grow grapes. Undeterred, he started by planting 23 acres of grapes, to be followed in successive years by some 140 more. Since he was the first to commercially farm grapes in Potter Valley, there was no experience upon which to rely for guidance. Many simply told him that it couldn’t be done, and there were days when he almost believed them. Over the years, as he planted and tended to the vineyards, he tried many varieties to see which made the best wines. Some of his experiments worked; others didn’t. We do know that Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Noir and Zinfandel all thrive. Today, we have some of the oldest vines in Potter Valley, so you could say the experiment worked!