Festive atmosphere under the tent.

I just finished a fun weekend with the Westobou Festival, and two Sunday events really brought the whole experience into focus. The most important–especially as it relates to this website–was a wine tasting called ”Words & Wine With The Kovacs Brothers.”

We were about halfway through the 90-minute tasting when I felt like one of those cartoon characters who gets hit on the head with a giant mallet and the lightbulb turns on over his head. I got it! Suddenly it hit me what this festival was all about.

Passion. Drive. Enthusiasm. Call it what you want, but Westobou brought together an amazing collection of artists who had it. I love passion. I love people who have passion, who are driven by an inner force they can’t resist.

Jacob and Jesse Kovacs shared their passion.

Covering the Olympics for 10 years really got me excited about watching people follow their passion to such extremes that they can block out all other distractions of life and bring the best out of themselves. Now I see that same effort in all kinds of places.

Most of us plod along through life, maybe not living a life of “quiet desperation” so much as complacent almost-satisfaction. We get by. We do OK. We do what we have to do to pay the bills. For society to function a lot of us have to do this, so it’s not really a bad thing. But it is so exciting to watch people lit up by their passion, or as mythologist Joseph Campbell said, people who “follow their bliss.”

Shell Berry, Westobou board chair, welcomes the crowd.

There were plenty examples of that kind of drive at Westobou, from Janelle Monae and her energetic James Brown-style band, to high-wire walker Philippe Petit, to innovative and unusual dancing by the L.A. Dance Project to De Trace, a couple of energetic young men who demonstrated parkour, and many others. They all poured their hearts into their work.

I’ll admit, I wasn’t quite sure how brothers Jacob and Jesse Kovacs’ wine tasting would fit into Westobou, but they lit up the Old Richmond Academy Parade Grounds with their quick banter, their wine advice and their appreciation for good wine at a fair price. Their segment especially tied in nicely to the film at the Imperial Theater later that night.

“I’m Fine, Thanks” is a documentary that the producer and director say offers a “colorful examination of impulse, decision and identity.” They focused a lot on complacency. I’d say it was a lot more about passion and reigniting passion in people who followed conventional paths during the early parts of their lives.

Six men took six weeks away from their families to make this movie and chase the passion of the director. They drove 10,000 miles to interview people at various stages of discovering their passion and following it. I’m not a movie reviewer, so I would just recommend going to their website imfinethanksmovie.com to find the movie.

The movie should be available online in about two weeks. Producer Adam Baker and director Grant Peelle said you will be able to download it for about $5 and watch it as many times as you want. DVDs also will be available. The film’s catchphrase is “Follow your dream, not the American dream.”

Back to the wine.

Jesse, Faulkner Warlick, Dennis Sodomka, Jacob.

The format for the tasting was simple. About 100-120 people sat at round tables and tasted a variety of wines recommended by the Kovacs. They have written a book called “The Young and the Thirsty.” It lists 25 California Wines they think new school drinkers will like. Most of the wines are $20 or less.

Their wine philosophy is the same as mine: Whatever you like is the best wine. Don’t be intimidated by people who act like they know all about wine. The important thing is finding what you like.

We tasted a good selection of inexpensive but beautiful wines, many supplied by Faulkner Warlick at White Horse. Many of the wines the brothers had hoped to share didn’t arrive in Augusta, so they went to the White Horse to find replacements. They were impressed.

“Hey, it was better than a lot of wine shops in California,” said Jesse about the White Horse.

The wine list included Poppy Chardonnay, Kovacs Brothers Sauvignon Blanc, Szalay Sauvignon Blanc, Morgan Pinot Noir, Bogle Merlot, Josh Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, R Collection Red Blend by Raymond, Bulius Chardonnay and Mer Soleil Pinot Noir. There really wasn’t a bad one in the bunch.

But as good as the wine was, the best part was the brothers talking. They’re self-effacing, humble guys who look like they have a lot of fun doing what they’re doing.

Jacob brings the wine to the people.

Here’s a sampling of their wit and wisdom:

–”We’re trying to help you understand the art of wine. We’re not trying to dumb it down. We’re trying to make it so you don’t have to spend all your money on a bottle of wine and then get pissed off.” (Jacob)

–”I was on the Bachelorette show and some 9 million people saw it each week so we figured that would help our winery. The day after a segment where I took her on a date in my home town we got 75 online orders when we were usually getting two a day. That turned out to be a good marketing move.” (Jesse)

–”I noticed a lot of people weren’t well versed in wine. You go to a nice restaurant and get intimidated by the wine list. So we decided to write a book about 25 California wines we like and tell people why they might like them. The winemaking process is where the art is, not the book.” (Jesse)

–”What do you like? Listen to yourself. Please go out and buy those cheap wines.” (Jacob)

The brothers are 7th generation winemakers who got started by watching their dad and then helping him make some wine in their garage. Most of the previous generations made their wine in their homes in Hungary, or Czechoslovakia or Slovakia. (The town stayed the same, but the border kept moving. The family is of Hungarian descent.)

Crowd enjoying the wine tasting.

In 2003, after 35 years of creating dental facial reconstructions Jozsef Kovacs took a chance and sold the family’s comfortable home. He and his wife Bette bought 13 acres of land in Carmel Valley in the Santa Lucia Mountains of California and started planting vines. They built the Szalay Winery.

Jacob and Jesse began their Kovacs Brothers Winery in 2006 after finding someone to lend them money to buy grapes and get the business started. Their first wine was sold in 2007, and it turned out to be popular.

Jesse said they packed their Toyota Camry with 12-15 cases of wine and drove up and down the California coast trying to get restaurants to put their wine on the menu. Eventually they convinced enough restaurants to give them a chance. Besides selling to restaurants they also sell their wine on the Internet.

Now they tour the country selling their book and talking about their wine. But mostly they’re fueling their passion. They’re living their dream.

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