Our Views: Cheese, wine and Chris Ricci make for a great recipe in Riverbank

07/25/2014 5:43 PM

07/25/2014 10:35 PM

There’s a lot on Riverbank’s plate these day – district elections, updated fee structures, trying to figure out what to do about the old Del Rio restaurant. But we’re glad to see there’s cheese and wine on that plate, too.

We like Riverbank’s plan to have promoter Chris Ricci breathe new life into the city’s signature festival, the Cheese & Wine Exposition.

Dairy and wine are two of our region’s most important products. If we can’t support a cheese and wine festival here, it’s hard to know what we could support. That said, the festival was clearly past its heyday when an estimated 80,000 people crowded into Riverbank over two and a half days.

Ricci is the brains behind Modesto’s X Fest, which draws tens of thousands of people downtown each year. He also is general manager at the Fat Cat Music House, a hub of the downtown music scene. But food-based festivals across California have grown, well, stale. Stockton’s Asparagus Festival was on the verge of death until a new promoter stepped just in this week. Even the food-fest granddaddy, the Gilroy Garlic Festival, has seen attendance fall 20 percent from 132,000 in 2003 to 102,000 this year.

Ricci hopes to help the food-festival concept “evolve,” which doesn’t mean abandoning what works.

Ricci blames falling attendance on the valley’s economy, not disinterest. As the economy rebounds, so will attendance. To entice visitors, Ricci envisions a four-prong approach.

First, bring in at least a dozen – “maybe even two dozen” – high-quality, family winemakers from the region, which includes Lodi, Manteca, Ripon, the foothills, etc. He’s enlisted the folks at Tresetti’s to help create “a more authentic vibe.” Next, he also wants a dozen local cheesemakers – all “unique and high-quality,” which shouldn’t pose a problem.

The next step is to expand the kids area. He’ll also invite community organizations that might be considering simultaneous events to link arms for one festival. “We’re stronger if we work together,” said Ricci. Finally, he wants to show off Riverbank’s remodeled downtown.

It’s a good plan. If he can pull it off, we can all raise a glass to our region’s success.

Mountain House’s Modesto connection

It was interesting to read earlier this week about the resurrection of Mountain House, the town northwest of Tracy. Houses there have tripled in value since the crash of 2008 and all are once again occupied. That’s good news for San Joaquin County, the town’s major investor CalPERS and also for Modesto. Why? Because Modesto Irrigation District has been the electricity supplier for Mountain House since its inception.

MID was chosen to supply power to the town as it was being built. At the time, California was deregulating energy delivery and consumers were supposed to be able to choose suppliers. The system was gamed into bankruptcy by Enron and others, and never took off. But MID kept supplying power to Mountain House, along with new development in Oakdale, Ripon, Riverbank and Escalon. Now, that’s paying off. MID has been doing “significant infrastructure work” to connect additional customers and now has 3,826 residential and 367 commercial accounts – that’s 1,100 more than in 2009. And with each new connection, MID’s “investment improves.”

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