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All Our Yesterdays

 It was while I was watching and taking part in a California Cab tasting that I thought there might be a little mileage in an interesting angle to pursue when I heard the energetic Adam LaZarre talking. His enthusiasm oozed through the screen, and the story behind 'Cycles Gladiator' made me want to know more. So like a good journalist I gave chase. 

 My first stop is usually a website, and this one had to be explored further when the opening phrase let me know that they're 'Inspiring Good Times'. That's the sort of optimism we need in our lives at the moment. I must add that the 2017 Cab I'd tried added to the sense of optimism I was feeling. 

 'Cycles Gladiator' was founded in 2005 and the label on their wine is inspired by the women's suffrage movement, and rather than me peddling out the story here, why don't you head to their website and you'll find it all there for you. 

 They do a fine range of wines, although my mental jury is still out when it comes to their Pinot Noir in a can. Perhaps this will merit greater inspection when I'm next in California. They say that it tastes great cold, the tannins are softened and it's perfect for a laidback approach to wine drinking. I can't see my father-in-law cracking open a tin and chugging it down while inviting people to witness his 'gun show'. 

 Overall this site feels welcoming, easy going and fun, but what intrigues me the most is when I head to the 'Trade' page and suddenly see a link to a group who are imaginatively called, 'The Wine Hooligans'.

 The 'Hooligans' were founded in 2013, and their stated intent was to bring artisan wines made by passionate people to the market.  Since then, they've sought out 'real' people making 'real' wines that have a sense of place and exceptional quality. Surely, this is a group worth talking to, doubly so when I find out that I can talk to Adam LaZarre as well, and pretty soon I'm in conversation with Adam, who's the Director of Winemaking and Dennis Carroll who is the President, or should I be calling him the 'Hooligan in Chief'? 

Winefullness Magazine: 'The most obvious place to start is to ask you how business has been during the past year, and how much Covid has impacted your operation?'


 The Wine Hooligans


Dennis Carroll: 'Business has been good, however the business mix has changed dramatically from on premise to off premise sales. Covid has had a tremendous impact on how we run the company. All of administrative operations have been run remotely for a year. We have instituted strict cleaning, masking and distancing protocol on the production floor since Covid. Additionally, we have all production staff tested for Covid every week.' 

Winefullness: 'Wine Hooligans is still in its youth and has made it clear that it’s standing against a lot of the operating strategies of places like Napa. Do you feel that the place has a stranglehold on the idea of Californian wine?'

Dennis Carroll: 'No, not at all. Napa is the most recognized wine growing region in California from a consumer standpoint, but only a very small percentage of total California wine comes from Napa.' 

Winefullness: 'This one is for Adam at Cycles Gladiator. There seems to be a strong feminist ethos running through your production. If this is really the case, how does it manifest itself in the day-to-day running of the winery?'
Adam LaZarre: 'When I started in wine some 30 years ago, the industry was clearly a male-dominated business. At one large wine company I worked for, the only women out of the 120+ employees that worked there held either lab positions or administrative assistant jobs. 

 'So much has changed since then. In fact, four of my top five favorite winemakers in the world are women, something unimaginable 30 years ago. At the Wine Hooligans, half of our senior management are women. This hasn’t happened because we’re hiring to meet some quota, but rather, because we hire the very best possible people for the positions and because we believe diversity makes us a stronger company.' 

Winefullness: 'In the early days of the present California wine boom there seemed to be an ideal of sharing good ideas. Is this one of the ideologies that run through the Wine Hooligans?'

Dennis Carroll: 'The California wine industry is very collegiate in nature. Wine Hooligans participates with all sizes of wineries over many issues—sharing ideas and resources.'

Winefullness: 'I’m taking you out for a meal. Where are we going, what are you eating and (more importantly) what are you drinking?' 

Adam LaZarre: 'We are going to a Spanish restaurant where we’ll start with tapas of baby angulas in garlic and butter and Jamon Iberico de Bellota. Maybe a rich paella for the main course. We’ll start with a crisp Cava to toast our friendship, move to a bottle of Godello for
the appetizers, and open an expensive Ribiera del Duero or Toro for the main course (because you’re paying). We can finish with an Amontillado sherry. I’ll spring for the cab ride home.'

Dennis Carroll: 'Hole in the wall restaurant with chalkboard wine list. Eating anything with chicken. Most likely drinking an esoteric glass of wine I have never heard of before.'

Winefullness: 'The idea of wine in cans is growing but still tainted with suspicion. What strategies are being used to enlarge its popularity? Surely it doesn’t compare with a solid glass bottle on the table that evokes so many memories.' 

Adam LaZarre: 'I’m reminded that it wasn’t that long ago that laptops and smartphones didn’t exist. Of course cracking a can of wine isn’t as glamorous as pulling the cork from a bottle of wine, but the can offers much more flexibility in a flexible world. The convenience alone of being able to toss a few cans in a backpack or ice chest or, as in my case, down the front of your pants to sneak 

into a movie theatre begs for fun, new memories to be made.'
Winefullness: 'I love the idea of ‘Walls For Women’, but for those who are not aware, how would you sum it up for the readership of Winefullness Magazine?'


Dennis Carroll: 'Walls for Women is a public art initiative from the non-profit group Do More Art, created in 2020 to honor the 100th year anniversary of women’s right to vote in America. Last summer a group of female artists worked on a series of murals in cities throughout the state of Tennessee, which was the last of the 36 states needed to ratify the 19th Amendment in 1920. We’re proud that Cycles Gladiator was a sponsor of this inspirational project that showcases some exceptional artwork from women, who are still underrepresented in the world of street art.

The artists had complete creative control over the mural content, and the imagery ranged from celebrations of family heritage to mythology to local landscapes, all unified under the broader theme of women’s empowerment.

Winefullness: Cycles received 90 points from Wine Enthusiast. Was this a highlight, a constraint or just a by-product of producing interesting wines?
Dennis Carroll: It's the result of a lot of hard work over a seven year period by everyone involved in the company.' 

Winefullness Magazine: 'How often do the ‘Hooligans’ get together and is the atmosphere quietly competitive? Do things get heated around the Bocce court?'
Dennis Carroll: 'Well, we have not been able to get together for the past year, but before this hiatus we had frank discussions about the brands, what was working in the market place and, more importantly, what was not working. Over the years we have fine- tuned our portfolio offerings, taste profiles, packaging and pricing across the brands. In a startup wine company, we are always in search of those magical brands that capture the consumers’ 

mind share. Everyone at Hooligans is encouraged to bring their observations to the group, and talk it out. 

 'So far, no time for Bocce!'
Winefullness: 'Can you see a time when the rebellious spirit that permeates ‘Wine Hooligans’ might seem dated? What are you doing to keep your ideology fresh?'
Dennis Carroll: 'There is a natural tendency for a company to lose its rough edges as it grows. My hope is that we will always remember the pain associated with becoming successful and never take it for granted that being CURIOUS about business and life is how you keep fresh.' 

Winefullness: 'Do you think the American consumer is an experimental wine drinker or does the notion of a great Cab or an epic Chardonnay still have a strong hold on buying instincts?'
Adam LaZarre: 'I think the vast majority of American consumers are creatures of habit. We see the same buying patterns in the form of style and variety over and over again, which is often why it’s extremely difficult to launch a new wine brand into the market. You have to remember that wine is one of the only, if not the only, product where you have 5,000 competitors. It takes a monumental paradigm shift in the form of a 99- point Parker or Spectator score and an associated cover story to change habits. I do believe that once a consumer starts to feel confident in their knowledge or that they want to move past the same two wines they’ve always had, then experimentation kicks in. That’s a beautiful thing to witness. All of us in this industry need to remember that one of our top priorities is to EDUCATE people.' 

Dennis Carroll: 'They are becoming more experimental, but we are still not a wine-centric population. People are still intimidated by wine and tend to be led to a purchase at a store or restaurant.' 

Winefullness: 'What skill do you wish you most possessed?'
Adam LaZarre: 'Gawd, where do I begin? I suppose if there’s one thing I wish I could’ve been brilliant at, it would have been to have the football skills of Lionel Messi or Mohamed Salah. I love that sport. I was only able to go so far with my spindly legs and aversion to pain.' Dennis Carroll: 'I wish I could dunk a basketball just once in my life. At 62 with a 2 inch vertical leap, it's not looking good.'

Winefullness: 'Do people understand the connection between Cycles Gladiator and the suffrage movement by looking at their label? I was at a recent Zoom tasting where Adam mentioned certain people ‘not getting it’?'
Adam LaZarre: 'The artwork on the label is from an advert from 1890s from the French bicycle manufacturer, the Gladiator Company. It’s surprising to me when some people see the art as gratuitous. The advert was one of the first that marketed bicycles to women, as a means of independent travel. Bicycles then became a crucial tool for organizers of the suffrage movement and women in general. It’s that spirit of progress and freedom that we want to emphasize.'


Winefullness: 'What genre of music is your favourite?'

Adam LaZarre: 'I really enjoy hard rock and heavy metal music which is what most people associateme with. However when no one is looking, you may find me listening to Kate Bush, Peter Gabriel, orany of the Russian composers. I love that stuff.'

Winefullness: 'Where next for Cycles Gladiator and where next for the Wine Hooligans?'

Adam LaZarre: 'For me it’s about improving all of the wines I make with each subsequent vintage.I’m my own biggest critic and never really satisfied with what I do, which, I think, drives me evenharder. It takes several harvests to understand a particular vineyard and how to approach thewinemaking so I guess I’ll keep working to improve my technique until the day comes that I can finallypush back my glass and say “wow, that was the best that this wine could possibly be made”. The thought of that is actually kind of scary...'

Dennis Carroll: 'I hope we can engrain Cycles Gladiator into the woman's movement. Although that
sounds so 1970's. I want Cycles to be a proponent of causes that allow women to be any way they want
to be in this world and have equal access to opportunities and pay. I have a 5 month old granddaughter
who should have every opportunity that her brother will have.'
Winefullness: 'Is there one question that you wish I’d have asked you, and how would you answer
Adam LaZarre:
'Q. Where are we going for a pint?
'A. Anywhere there’s football on the tube.'
Dennis Carroll: 'Nope.' 


To me, that sums up why I enjoy talking wine to American Producers. They combine knowledge, 

enthusiasm and humour in a way I always find infectious.
And that bring me to the end of a journey that started with a California Cabernet tasting, headed to Burgundy and Champagne before returning for a chat back in California. You can't say that you don't get value for money in the magazine. Wait! You've no even paid for it so what are you quibbling about. 

Hopefully, in the next edition I'll be setting off on another trip around the wine world, stopping in on the folks who make the stuff and chatting about what they do and why they love it. I hope you're going to stick around because it'll be more than worth it. 

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