Tom Simoneau has been a fixture on the Sonoma County wine scene for some 25 years. But just recently he's started making his own commercially available line of wines, a cabernet sauvignon and a chardonnay, under the Simoneau Vineyards name.
Over the years people have gotten to know Simoneau, and his wife, Brenda, as Alexander Valley grape growers. And Tom's been an award-winning amateur winemaker, wine educator and judge. But probably he's been best known as the radio celebrity "Wine Guy" on his syndicated daily show on KSRO.
Simoneau spent his younger years as a professional musician, playing bass guitar in a country-rock band. On a gig back home he reconnected with Brenda, his childhood crush.
"I was a football player, she was a cheerleader; I was always in love with Brenda," he noted. "Finally, on my last road trip I went back to Maine and Brenda was there. It was Christmas weekend and we've been together ever since, 29 years now. Perfect."
They came back to California for Simoneau to pursue a record contract and play in and around San Francisco, settling in Healdsburg because it reminded them of Maine.
When in 1982 he decided he'd had enough of life on the road, he went to see an employment agency about a job. The agency asked him what he had been doing. He said playing bass for the last 10 years, and the agent asked what else? Manage the band, he answered.
She continued, are you good on the phone? He replied, yes, I sell music on the phone, booking gigs. She then said, Windsor Vineyards is starting a telemarketing thing, do you think you could sell wine on the phone? It was that or run canoes for Trowbridge Canoes, the Healdsburg canoe-rental company at the time on the Russian River.
"I decided, if I can sell music, I can sell wine," he said.
He knew a little but not a lot about wine, but learned quickly, tapping into his network of friends who were winemakers, locals who had followed his band for years.
"My favorite wine at the time was 1976 Simi (cabernet sauvignon) and they had it in half bottles and they'd give us a discount because we'd put the tasting room people on our guest lists," Simoneau said. "I can still taste that '76."