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