They wanted it, and it happened
How Squire & Suzy turned showbiz into wine (From the Fall 2009 issue of SONOMA)
Squire & Suzy Fridell
The power of positive thinking turned Squire Fridell into Ronald McDonald. Squire believes in affirmations; his favorite is, "If you want it, it will happen."
The power of positive thinking also made him the Toyota Man and the face on the TV screen in more than 3,200 commercials. If Squire hasn't been in your house you don't own a TV. He also holds what may be the unique distinction of being an actor who has never, ever collected unemployment.
But Squire Fridell has another life outside your TV set, and in that life he is a meticulous Glen Ellen winemaker. He and his wife, Suzy, own GlenLyon Vineyards and Winery, where their syrah is in such demand there's a waiting list.
Squire and Suzy think quickly, talk fast and scoot around on joints that seem juiced with WD-40. Married 33 years, they act like 33-year-olds, not in the least like a couple who could collect Social Security. Teamwork makes them sparkle. They share their current career, running the winery almost completely on their own, as well as deep roots in show business. Squire is a powerhouse pitchman who also appeared on stage and dabbled in sitcoms and movies, while Suzy was a professional dancer. They are longtime devotees of transcendental meditation, true believers in community service, and the ultimate hosts, continually welcoming guests to their 26-acre GlenLyon estate.
The shining star in their life is Lexy, the daughter they raised in Glen Ellen who is now a professional actress living in Manhattan. Her genes forced her to seek the footlights, but her parents insisted she first earn a prestigious theater-related degree, just as they did. For Lexy the choice was Carnegie Mellon. Suzy's dance degree is from UCLA, and Squire holds a master's in acting/directing from Occidental. The Fridells know it's easier to get what you want when you're well educated-then you can whisper your affirmation with vastly improved odds for success.
Squire wrote a book, Acting in Television Commercials for Fun and Profit, that's been in print more than 20 years and is now in its fourth edition, and he's smiled from the cover of TV Guide. Suzy was living in New York when she met Squire, dancing for nine years with the Nikolais Dance Company, which brought her to stages around the world.
Now they live more parochial lives. Squire sits on the board of the Sonoma Valley Vintners & Growers Alliance and this year chaired its charity wine auction, while Suzy once again choreographed the event's Magnum Force skit, teaching 30 women in the wine business a dance routine that earns thousands from the winning bidder.
Their dedication to the wine auction, which benefits vineyard workers and supports essential Valley nonprofits, reflects the way the Fridells share their hearts. When Lexy was growing up, Suzy was honored with a plethora of school volunteer awards. Together they formed the backbone of a group of parents who started the Sonoma Charter School and were almost single-handedly responsible for the creation of its Playbox Theatre on campus. Squire wrote five original plays for the Dunbar School that are still performed by its fifth graders, and the Fridells fueled the creation of the school's outdoor amphitheater so the kids would have a special place to put on the shows that have become a locally loved tradition.
Squire and Suzy moved here from a southern California beach house in 1986. Lexy was 3 then, and they wanted to raise her in the country, not in the land of freeways and smog. Squire was already the Toyota Man, a role that lasted nearly 30 years, and had just signed a contract to be the on-air Ronald McDonald. Chasing the Hamburglar around McDonaldland gave them the means to plant grapes in Glen Ellen. He's done oodles of other commercials, too, promoting everything from Pillsbury to Purina. For years he flew between SFO and LAX like a yo-yo.
They bought raw land, first building a cottage on it and planting two acres of cabernet. Soon after they designed a large, welcoming, two-story white house, with a porch circling all around and an inviting pool in the back. They lived on their wooded property for 10 years without knowing they had what Squire says is "the prettiest view in Sonoma, but I could be wrong." When they removed some trees and terraced land behind their home to plant five acres of syrah, they opened up a view of Sonoma Mountain that enchants them and everyone they entertain. They had a long table built for the spot with the best vantage point and call it "The Overlook." It's even been the wedding site for some of their friends.
The Fridells' home is like a giant scrapbook. In the entry hall, neatly framed, there's floor-to-ceiling memorabilia from every aspect of their lives, and the top of the baby grand and the fireplace mantle are crammed with photos. The long staircase that leads to the wine cellar is lined with family photographs from every year of Lexy's life taken for their Christmas card. Every inch of the two main floor powder rooms are decorated thematically. One is all things McDonald's, including a huge pair of red Ronald clown shoes, and the other recalls the New York years, with subway maps, Playbill covers and photos of Suzy in costume.
On the dining room table there is a neatly strewn swath of tartan plaid fabric that represents Suzy's Scottish heritage - her maiden name is McDermaid. They latched onto the Scottish theme for their winery, Scottish decor abounds, and the 750 members of their wine club are called "The Clan."
The Fridells started out as home winemakers, selling the bulk of their grapes to Ravenswood, Laurel Glen and Wellington. As time and the five extra acres allowed, they began the full-fledged GlenLyon operation in the '90s. "The choice became obvious," Squire says about their major leap into the wine world. He is the winemaker, and all of their wine is made, barreled in French oak and bottled at their on-site winery. The finished product is stored there as well, in a perfect, temperature-controlled, underground cave.
When they talk about GlenLyon the word they use repeatedly is "fun."
"I am very serious about making wine, but selling it and drinking it should be fun," Squire says, and Suzy adds, "Wine gives people the freedom to have more fun." You would think it was all just a lark until you realize how phenomenally organized they are. "It is easy to make wine. It is very hard to make very good wine. If you are not organized you cannot be a good winemaker," Squire says. His winery is as immaculate as an operating room.
But selling it and drinking it should be fun."
If you're not a member of their wine clan, the only place you can buy GlenLyon wines is at some of the finest restaurants in New York City. The 21 Club, Daniel, One If By Land and twelve other establishments have it on their wine lists. The Fridells had a plan when they decided on New York distribution - now when they visit their beloved Lexy it's a business trip.
When Lexy was little the Fridells started their evening wine date. Life was too hectic to sip at dinner, but once Lexy went to bed and chores were finished up, they'd sit down and share a glass of wine. Now they are busy as ever, answering e-mails into the evening and tending to their business into the night. Twenty-seven-year-old Lexy is long out on her own now, but the intimate late-night wine time continues.
Sounds like fun.
(From the Fall 2009 issue of SONOMA)