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A “Serbian” Festival in California Wine Country: Being in the Best of Two Worlds

By Diane (Danica) Grahovac

If you’re a Serb or know one, then you know how much fun a Serbian Festival can be.

If you’re a Serb and love wine, you visit a winery for wine-tasting (and drinking). If you really love wine, chances are you venture to California Wine Country.

You could have the best of both worlds—a Serbian Festival set in California Wine Country—at Opolo Vineyards and Winery in Paso Robles.

One of the newest wineries in the heart of California’s Central Coast—where, as boasted by www.visitcalifornia.com, historic ranchlands, a romantic coast, scenic country roads, and stay-a-while towns provide an enticing setting—Opolo is co-owned and operated by Rick Quinn.

Every October Rick hosts a weekend-long Harvest Festival that very much resembles a Serbian Festival. He can’t help it, he’s half Serbian.

Born and raised in Minnesota, Rick was baptized and grew up in the St. George Serbian Orthodox Church in Duluth.

As published on “The Opolo Story” page at www.Opolo.com, “I grew up in an Italian, Serbian, and Croatian neighborhood. Our families would make wine from grapes we’d order from California that would be delivered in a boxcar. We didn’t have any of this ‘pick in the early morning and crush a couple of hours later.’ By the time we got the grapes, they were already fermenting!” In his neighborhood, just about everyone loved making “backyard” wine. “My family made a couple of barrels of wine annually.”

With the surname of Quinn, this reporter asked Rick about his Serbian heritage, to which he replied: “My father was Irish. On my mother’s side, my grandfather was from Montenegro and my grandmother was from Hercegovina. I was raised with my Baba in our home. Baba Andja Milinic was from a small village near Nevesinje (Zovi Do) and my Djedo Mile Glusac was from Cetinje. My mother was Bosiljka Glusac. She passed in 2005 at 80 years old. My father Richard passed in 1964 at the age of 42; I was 14 years old.”

Rick moved to California in 1979 at age 29, where he met and married Maribeth Mancuso. They have three children, Briana, Ricki and Paul. Briana became the mother of three, bringing three grandchildren into the family.

Arriving in California, Rick continued to pursue his love of wine and winemaking as a hobby. He began to source grapes from Fratelli Perata in Paso Robles. “I got wonderful fruit from them, but in 1994 they said they just didn’t have any Merlot to spare, so I went out and bought some Westside vineyard property sight unseen, to assure I’d always have a source of grapes for my home winemaking.”

In 1997 Rick joined with his neighbor vintner, Dave Nichols. Together they now own about 363 acres of vineyards in Paso Robles, about 200 acres on the Eastside and 163 on the Westside. The Westside vineyards are in the Adelaide Hills, producing wines such as Pinot Noir and Sangiovese, while the Eastside properties produce varietals such as Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. The majority of vineyards have been producing fruit since 1998, and a large percentage of it has been finding its way into wine made by Rick and Dave ever since.

Opolo evolved in 1999 with the first commercial crush under the Opolo label, producing Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Muscat Canelli, and its award-winning Zinfandel.

The Opolo Wine Club was begun in 2001. Rick explains, “Our current membership is about 8,300 members who receive wine shipments from us four times a year.”

As a bonus for club members, Rick, who visits Serbia as often as possible, started taking people on tours to Serbia in 2005 and to the Adriatic coast in 2010. Son Paul, who’s involved in the operation of Opolo, also works on the Adriatic tours.

Rick’s Involvement with the Serbian Orthodox Church

Although he moved from the Midwest to the West in 1979 and became involved with the parishes of St. Steven’s Serbian Orthodox Cathedral in Alhambra and St. George Serbian Orthodox Church in San Diego, Rick maintains a relationship with members of the St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Cathedral in Milwaukee, Holy Resurrection Serbian Orthodox Cathedral in Chicago, and St. Basil of Ostrog Serbian Orthodox Church in Lake Forest, Illinois.

With utmost humility and grace, Rick talks about a visit from His Holiness Patriarch Irinej who Blessed the vineyards at Opolo and his family in September two years ago. He adds, “At least 12 Bishops from Serbia, Archimandrite Metodije of Hilandar on Mt. Athos, Iguman Sava (Janjich) from Decani in Kosovo, and 25 plus priests have been hosted or stayed here at Opolo. His Grace Bishop Maxim (Vasiljevic), my Diocesan Bishop, has organized most of these visits. I cannot thank him enough for our Blessings.”

Harvest Festival – Serbian Style

Classed with the best of hosts who love to share the Serbian culture with all—welcoming not only Serbs but folks of all nationalities and creeds (Croatians, Slovenians, Poles, Hungarians, Greeks, Italians, Japanese, Filipinos…the list is endless)—Rick sets aside an entire weekend in October to celebrate Opolo’s Harvest Festival Serbian style. He hires a tamburitza orchestra to play for singalongs and kolo dancing. He arranges for a Serbian dance troupe to entertain. He roasts lambs, grills cevapi and serves homemade sarma along with other traditional delicacies.

A more than plentiful menu this year included 20 spit-roasted lambs, 1,600 sarmas, 40 gallons of prebranac, and 400 pounds of cevapi.

Entertainment was provided by KGB (The Kirin-Gornick Band) of Chicago with Dusko Trajkovic of San Diego and Mirko Roknich from Florida, and the Dance Troupe “Morava” of St. George Serbian Orthodox Church in San Diego.

Hosting Opolo Harvest Festivals began in 2000 with 100 guests on a Saturday night. Rick adds, “Now in 2017 we see 1,400 guests over the course of the two nights. We provide tambura music and the Serbian Dance Troupe ‘Morava’ from the San Diego Serbian parish of St. George entertains. ‘Morava’ continues to dance for us every year.

“Groups from the Los Angeles area and the San Diego area (the dancers’ parents) started coming to our event from the outset. Additionally, groups from the Chicago and the Milwaukee area started to come about five years ago.”

Along with groups from Chicago and Milwaukee, this year a group from St. Basil of Ostrog Serbian Orthodox Church in Lake Forest, Illinois, joined in the fun for the weekend.

Included with festive activities is grape stomping. Yes, that’s right, stomping grapes in bare feet…perhaps to the beat of kolo dancing. Why not?

Enjoying themselves immensely while stomping grapes and imbibing of the finished product, Columbus Serbs, Dave and Sharon Tumbas, pause for a photo.

Also at the festival from Columbus, George and Kyoko Grahovac, while touring the winery entered a barrel room where, wouldn’t you know, the tamburitza orchestra was playing. Could the soothing strains of tambura music be Rick’s secret for aging fine wines?

George, a member of the lamb-roasting crew at St. Steven of Dechani Serbian Orthodox Church in Columbus, couldn’t resist checking out Rick’s lamb-roasting operation and took a picture of this spiffy oven. Though difficult to see with the reflection of a scenic hillside in the glass door, there are lambs roasting inside.

The 2018 Harvest Festival & Grape Stomping is already scheduled for October 19-21, with a list of events to please all guests scheduled throughout the year.

For overnight accommodation, The Inn at Opolo features three unique suites for a romantic or relaxing stay.

And, enjoying the fun of a Serbian Festival in the beautiful setting of a vineyard in California Wine Country is truly the best of two worlds.

For more information about Opolo, its Wine Club, selections of wines, schedule of events, reservations, ticket purchases, overnight accommodations at The Inn at Opolo, and tours to Serbia and the Adriatic coast, visit online at Opolo on Facebook and at www.Opolo.com, or phone 805-238-9593.

Serb on the Road

Standing in a beautiful California sunset and holding up The American Srbobran, are Kyoko and George Grahovac and Sharon and Dave Tumbas, members of St. Stevan of Dechani Serbian Orthodox Church and SNF Lodge #231 in Columbus. The four attended the Opolo Harvest Festival the weekend of October 20-22. After a busy year of working on three major events hosted by the Church and Lodge this past summer, come autumn it was time to let loose and have fun stomping grapes and tasting wine at Opolo. Located in the heart of California’s Central Coast Wine Country, Opolo Vineyards and Winery is co-owned by Serb Rick Quinn. Every fall the Harvest Festival is hosted Serbian style with tamburitza music, kolo dancing, and a menu of traditional foods, including spit-roasted lamb, grilled chevapi, and homemade sarma. Also shown in the photo are dancers from “Morova” of St. George Serbian Orthodox Church in San Diego, who entertained during the weekend. This dance troupe also entertained in Pittsburgh last year at the SNF’s 100th Anniversary of Serbian Day at Kennywood.

Reprinted with permission from the American Srbobran, December 6, 2017



People Directory

Илија Шаула

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