Meet the ladies of Magnum Force
THE LADIES OF Magnum Force rehearsed recently on the stage at the BR Cohn Winery in Glen Ellen.
The First Ladies of Sonoma's wine industry know all about growing patterns, sugar brix and fermentation processes. But once a year, they prove that they also know how to shimmy and chassé for charity when they collectively become Magnum Force during the Harvest Wine Auction.
Women such as Ramona Nicholson of Nicholson Ranch Winery, Eva Bertran of Gloria Ferrer Winery and Betsy Spann of Spann Vineyards are just a few of the dancers who spend months practicing with lead choreographer Suzy Fridell, co-owner of Glen Lyon Winery. Fridell is a decorated performer who has danced her way across stages from Broadway to Paris and back.
"I not only love her, I actually idolize her," Sally Stone, of Wine Country Olympics, said of Fridell during the dress rehearsal for Magnum Force on Thursday at BR Cohn Winery.
While Fridell is the driving force behind Magnum Force today, the group was started by Jonnie McCormick, the former executive director of the Sonoma Valley Vintners and Growers Alliance, which hosts the charitable auction each year. McCormick created an auction lot of magnum bottles from Sonoma's women of wine, and, as is tradition, the ladies got together to create a skit to help promote the lot during the event.
"I love being a chorus girl for a day," said Julie Atwood of Atwood Events, who added the relationships she's formed are what keeps her coming back. "Seriously, it's the camaraderie. I've met several women I would have never met otherwise and gotten to know so well, right down to their underwear."
Magnum Force became an instant sensation, and soon guests were looking forward to what the ladies would concoct as soon as the theme was announced. During the Vegas theme, they became desperate brides looking to make a husband out of Ravenswood vintner Joel Peterson. Over the near-decade of performances, they have also been Grecian goddesses, surfer chicks, cowgirls and go-go dancers.
"As soon as I have a theme, I begin working out the routine. It takes me four to five months from start to finish. I'm serious when I choreograph a project, it has to be the very, very best it can be," Fridell said, adding that she tries to makes the routine accessible for those with limited dance skills. "I still want it to be as perfect as possible ... I'll do rehearsals in people's living rooms, whatever they need."
This year, with the theme "Homecoming: Sonoma Vintage 2011" the ladies head back to high school. "It would have been really easy to do a cheerleading routine, but that was way too obvious," Fridell said, adding that her mind instead wandered to the classic high school film "Grease." "I thought, 'Let's be a little naughty and do the pink ladies.'"
Clad in pedal pushers and hot pink jackets, with cigarettes in hand, this year the ladies take on the hand jive. They have live musical accompaniment in singer/guitarist John Burdick, who offers up a mean James Dean impression with his perfectly-quaffed hair.
Burdick won't be the only person with a Y-chromosome to join the ladies on stage. For the first time ever, the group is opening its antics to their male counterparts, with the wine industry's leading men signing up to play biker boy. Vintners such as Michael Muscardini of Muscardini Cellars, Jim Bundschu of Gundlach-Bundschu Winery and Dean Bordigioni of Annadel Estate Winery were eager to get in on the action.
"Before, we had our Magnum boys who helped out behind the scenes, but now they get to be out front with us," Fridell said. She added that the men were first introduced last year after Greg Windisch and Rick Miron of Trilogy Glass were invited to perform as a perk of purchasing the Magnum Force auction lot in 2009. In 2010, the Magnum Force lot was doubled when Miron and Bob and Chandra Friese of Desnudos Vineyard each agreed to shell out $58,000 for 58-magnum bottle collection, raising a total of $116,000.
"They helped us have the most successful lot ever at the Harvest Wine Auction," Fridell said. "I wanted to include them in the routine and thank our two highest bidders."
Even though there may be a bit more testosterone on stage, Magnum Force will always be about the ladies and their sense of community.
"It's the most fun I have all year," said Christine Munson of Interact Management Inc., during the Thursday rehearsal. "I flew back from Seattle today only to fly back tomorrow so I could attend this rehearsal, that's how much I love it."
See the ladies of Magnum Force at the Harvest Wine Auction this Sunday, Sept. 4, at Cline Cellars. Tickets are $500 and still available.
The 19th annual Harvest Wine Auction is the crown jewel of the Wine Country Weekend, hosted by the Sonoma Valley Vintners and Growers Alliance and the Sonoma County Vintners. The weekend also includes Taste of Sonoma at MacMurray Ranch where more than 170 wineries and 60 chefs showcase their wares, which still has tickets for sale. The weekend is rounded out by a series of winemaker dinners and lunches, of which a handful still have tickets. To purchase tickets for any Wine Country Weekend event, visit www.sonomawinecountryweekend.com.