Dennis Ferguson, second from left, pours wine for Toosch Cima, Daisy Smith and Diane Ferguson, left to right, during the 1973 El Dorado Hills Firemen’s Association wine tasting event. Mountain Democrat photo

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Wine, Cheese and Brew’s humble beginnings

By From page B1 | September 05, 2012

These days, late summers in El Dorado Hills are a hub of activity. But not so in 1972 when the El Dorado Hills Ladies’ Auxiliary, the fundraising arm of the Firemen’s Association at the time, decided that its annual Christmas bake sales weren’t bringing home the proverbial bacon.

The original fire house, which later became the senior center, was staffed by two full-time employees, Chief Bud Hall and Training Officer Bob Cima, who would later become chief.

Firefighting crews consisted of a couple dozen eager volunteers, including Raley’s store manager Dennis Ferguson, who was routinely summoned to a fire or an accident on Highway 50 (still a two-lane road at the time), over the store PA system.

The store had opened two years earlier. Aerojet layoffs and the subsequent stalled real estate market left the new store struggling to stay afloat. El Dorado Hills’ 500th home wouldn’t be built for a couple more years.

Visionary El Dorado Hills developer Alan Lindsey had recently gone bust, leaving his 11,000-acre planned community of discrete villages in the hands of Hancock Insurance executives who had no idea what they held, or what it would become.

Tony Mansour purchased most of it through a residential real estate agent who pitched him on the revenue potential of the Sunset Mobile Home Park on White Rock Road, cementing both the Town Center magnate and the friendly trailer park in El Dorado Hills’ history.

The fledgling water and fire department was also strapped. EID would take responsibility for the water and sewer system in 1975. The district’s formal title nonetheless remains El Dorado County Water District.

The Firemen’s Association, so-named before the phrase “politically correct” existed, consisted of the volunteers who fought the fires. They played a sizable role in meeting the district’s equipment needs, mostly through a $1 per call stipend that each volunteer donated to the association. The system remains in place today. These days the association gets $15 per call.

The volunteers’ wives, the Ladies Auxiliary, initially raised funds through annual holiday bake sales held in front of Raley’s, where Ferguson encouraged them to branch out. “The ladies stood out there for hours but never made much money,” he said.

“Wine tasting was a novel thing at the time,” he added. “None of us knew a thing about it.”

The Raley’s chain was still a family affair, and it took only a couple of phone calls for Ferguson to track down the two wine distributors in the Sacramento region capable of staging a wine tasting. One carried Italian Swiss Colony, the other Gallo.

The Lovotti Brothers were the local Gallo distributor, and also carried the popular Almaden brand — before it came in a box — as their premium offering, a fact that won them a spot on the deck of Park Village Pool in 1972 for the first-ever El Dorado Hills Firemen’s Association wine tasting.

Newspaper clipping indicate that the evening included both dancing and later swimming. No drownings were reported.

The evening was deemed a resounding success, raising roughly $800, and funding the district’s first “jaws of life” tool, said Ferguson.

Cheese would join wine on the menu a few years later. Ferguson again used his Raley’s connections, landing local cheese distributor Tony’s.

The event quickly became a highly anticipated, “must attend” in El Dorado Hills. It outgrew the pool deck and moved to Lindsey’s former real estate office sitting empty in Stonegate, slated to finish life as the clubhouse for a promised golf course that was never built. The building would instead be moved across New York Creek and remodeled into the longstanding multi-purpose El Dorado Hills Community Services District pavilion.

The association expanded its scope and membership over the years, dropping the gender specificity from its name. It still funds training and equipment, but also conducts a wide range of public service programs, many of which have come to define the community every bit as much as the original wine and cheese events.

It also become an active and generous funding source for other nonprofits, as well as a sponsor for school and bicycle safety events.

The annual Santa Run and Christmas tree lighting, both of which feature Ferguson in a particularly prominent and jolly role (ho, ho, ho) has become a cherished tradition for the firefighters, their families and the community.

Mike Roberts


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