How We Brushed Off the Ashes

I woke up to the sounds of heavy winds pounding against my bedroom window.  I woke up to a cell phone with no service, yet dozens of missed calls and texts from my wife, still at the hospital where she works midnight shifts as a nurse.  The messages simply read, “Are you OK!?” I woke up confused and alarmed, not knowing that I was about to face one of the most harrowing weeks of my life. Because I woke up that morning to realize, my county was on fire. 

                By now you all know the stories from the news, from social media, maybe even from personal friends or family members affected.  What I’m about to tell you isn’t the story of the North Bay fires that devastated tens of thousands of acres of land, thousands of homes and businesses, and led to dozens of lost lives.  You’ve heard that story and seen those pictures.  And I am one of the lucky ones in that story, as my home, and my family and our winery survived through the tragedy.  This is a story about my business, my friends and my community.  We are Blanchard Family Wines after all, so this is a story about wine making. 

                September of this year was one of the most stressful months in the winery. This 2017 harvest we crushed more grapes than ever before.  We were already in the midst of working 10-12 hour days, 7 days a week, when the month of October began. How could we have ever predicted that my stress, so quickly, would turn to fear?  Late Sunday night, on October 8th, multiple fires erupted in the North Bay, creating a path of destruction and ruin that would become the greatest natural disaster this area has ever seen.  The reality of the situation for myself, like most of us in Wine Country, sunk in Monday morning as we woke to the news.

                In a state of panic, I started to pack up belongings, irreplaceable photos, and important documents, not knowing how close the fires were, how fast they were spreading.  Phones were down, internet and TV was spotty, and no one knew exactly what was going on. I loaded my dog into my truck and headed to the same place I would have if it was a normal morning.  I went to the winery.  After all, we were still in the middle of crush season, with over 10 tons of fermenting grapes filling our production facility.          

                However, wine was far from my priority.  My wife was.   Kalle works 12 hour shifts from 7pm to 7am at a hospital in Santa Rosa, in labor and delivery.  She was in the middle of the madness that night, fires spreading in neighborhoods all around her. While most of us around here slept through the birth of the fires, she was witnessing them develop first hand. Two out of the three hospitals in Santa Rosa had already evacuated, and her hospital remained the only one open.  At 9am, I still had not been in contact with her and paranoia settled in.  I raced to find a landline from a winery neighbor and hastily called her.  She answered in tears, her voice trembling, as she was leaving her hospital, fleeing in her car through back roads.  Ash was falling like snow around her, smoke swirling in the air, and visible fires were closer than comfort.  And the worst part, she wasn’t coming home.  The fires had cut off access to our town of Healdsburg and she was forced to go south to a friend’s house.  She would merely take a brief nap before heading back to work again. And I would not finally see her for another 24 hours. 

                Over the next few days my wife continued to work at the hospital, doing her part to help others.  I would keep our bags packed, truck loaded, waiting for word it was our time to evacuate.  But I would also go to work.  Even though my safety was the largest concern, there was still wine to tend to. As wines go through fermentation, there is daily care that is required.  And after all, the winery may not be my whole life, but it is my whole livelihood.  And to make things more challenging, harvest wasn’t even done yet. We still had 12 tons of Cabernet Sauvignon hanging on the vine, ready to be picked. 

                Never have we spent more time checking Facebook updates, looking for messages, and watching the news.  This was not out of curiosity, it was out of safety.  Word started spreading through different resources about this friend whose house burned down, or this friend’s winery that was destroyed.  We spent days under the strange glow of a haunting red sun.  We wore masks when we went outside, if we went outside, just to breathe through the thick grey smoke.  We brushed off ash from our shoulders, as it spread a thin layer over our entire world.  We heard the constant ringing of sirens in the background, the hum of helicopters and planes over head, as if we were in some surreal war zone.  We tried to sleep, but feared that a fire fighter would be knocking on our door in the night if we did.  We prayed, we cried, and we waited. 

                As that Friday came upon us, day six of the fires, my winemaker Jene and I had an important decision to make.  It was crucial that we harvested our Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, before it was too late.  But the question remained, would it even be possible?  We spent that morning delivering half ton picking bins to the vineyard, meeting with the ranch owner, discussing the possibilities.  We could see the clouds of smoke just over the mountains that served as the backdrop to the fields.  We knew those fires could turn quickly with a shift of wind and come racing down those hills into the vineyard.  We all agreed, that if the fires remained a safe distance, then we would proceed with harvest the next morning.

                That day my wife was home safe with me.  We were together and I knew nothing else would matter as much as that.  Which is why when the winds kicked up again, when the smoke thickened in the air, and when news spread that the fires were a mere 10 miles north of us, we evacuated.  We were lucky enough to find a room at a hotel about 20 miles closer to the coast.  My wife was in desperate need of rest, after working close to 75 hours at that point in the week.  The next morning we woke to good news.  The fires had not spread to the town of Healdsburg and our vineyard source for our Cabernet Sauvignon had not been damaged.  Harvest would proceed after all. 

                That Saturday morning, before we headed back to the winery, we had breakfast at our hotel.  Reality set in, in a tragic way, as most of the other patrons there had lost their homes to the fires.  Most had lost everything.  And here I was, going back to my home, back to my winery.  And to do what?  Make wine.  It seemed selfish, it seemed futile, almost ridiculous.  I felt what can only be described as survivor’s guilt.  An older gentlemen sitting next to me, who had lost everything but the pajamas he was wearing as he fled his burning house spoke with me.  He told me, “Don’t feel guilty.  You go back to your winery today and you make wine. It’s important.”  Although it sure didn’t feel that way to me at the time.

                I met our winemaker Jene at the winery early, awaiting the delivery of what would be the single biggest crush day in the history of our winery.  Now it might not be much to most big wineries around here, but 12 tons was more grapes than we had ever processed in our facility in one day.  We started to text friends to see who was around, who was willing to help.  We weren’t sure if anyone was in town, as the streets remained desolate.  But as that large truck hauling over 20,000 pounds of grapes pulled into our parking lot, something else happened.  Friends started showing up ready to assist, smiles on their faces.  Hints of blue sky started to show through the clouds of grey smoke.  And so we cranked up the music and we got to work. 

                We sent some friends into town, instructing them to find any wandering tourists and invite them to the winery.  Few, if any other businesses remained open in town.  Another friend that does catering, showed up started making lunches for everyone.  And then all of sudden, for the first time in a week, we had a crowded winery. It was if we had come back to life.  Dozens of friends and visitors seem to appear out of nowhere.  Tourists were enjoying glasses of wine in our tasting room, friends were hand sorting grapes in the production area, and for a brief moment our thoughts found a different place to dwell.  We weren’t looking to our phones for evacuation notices, we weren’t checking the news, and we weren’t scared. 

                A good friend there hadn’t seen her firefighter husband in days.  But for an hour or two, she conversed with friends, ate good food, drunk great wine. Maybe she needed an afternoon like that.  I know I did. It was as if we had inadvertently created our own community moment.  We weren’t doing anything heroic.  It’s not like we were hosting evacuees or first responders.  We were just simply making wine that day.  And in a sort of epiphany, it dawned on me that the gentleman from breakfast was right.  It felt important.  We were getting back on our feet. We were coming together as a neighborhood.  We were saying in our own little way, “You did not get the best of us fire. You did not defeat us.” 

                Over that week and the coming weeks we have seen the best of humanity shine through in our community.  We have seen an outpouring of support, donations and love.  But we have also seen a huge loss in business and tourism.  And for a town like Healdsburg, our economy is largely based upon tourism and wine sales.  So now we battle back from the tragedy and face the aftermath.  Now making wine does seem important, maybe more important than ever.  That Saturday we had the most memorable day at our winery since we opened.  We will never forget the feeling of joy and relief that’s we had.  We will never forget the feeling of gratitude we had for friends and family.  We made wine that day because harvest wasn’t done yet.  And we will pick up the pieces of our lives, because you know what?  We aren’t done yet either.  Our county, our community and our industry is far from done.  We will rebuild.  We will overcome.  We will brush off the ashes and we will rise back.  And at Blanchard Family Wines, we will keep making wine. And we invite you to come and enjoy it with us.

The Story of our J Cole Blend

The Story of our J Cole Blend

And the One Named Celebrity of Healdsburg

 

James and I are often asked why we didn’t name our company Blanchard Brothers Wines, instead of Blanchard Family Wines.  After all, we are the sole founders and owners.  However, we know in our hearts that from the beginning there has been an entire network of friends and family members that have helped us make this continued dream come true.  None more vital and important than our winemaker, mentor and craftsman, Healdsburg’s own Renaissance man, Jene. 

I first met Jene in 2007 while I was working at a tasting room in downtown Healdsburg.  Jene’s best friend Karl lived in an apartment upstairs in the same building, and the two of them would frequent the tasting room.  I took an instant liking to both of them, because they were charming, older veterans of the community and wine industry.  My belief is they took a liking to me, because I gave them free wine tastings and discounts.  Eventually these gentlemen befriended me enough to start inviting me upstairs to dinner parties with their wives and other friends. 

I soon realized that Jene was quite an interesting individual, a jack of all trades sort of guy.  He was in construction, he could build or fix about anything, he was one hell of a chef, and he even made his own wine.  His label was called J Cole.  “J” for Jene, and “Cole” was actually his mother’s maiden name.  So why didn’t he use his own last name?  Well, after months of knowing Jene, I realized I didn’t even know his last name.  And despite the fact that most of the town of Healdsburg seems to know Jene personally, almost no one knows his last name.  It’s like when a celebrity is so famous, they can be known simply by one name, like Madonna, Oprah, or Prince.  He is simply known as Jene, and if you ask anyone around Healdsburg, they will have nothing but good things to say about him. 

When James and I started forming the plan to create Blanchard Family Wines, we knew we could not do it alone.  We needed someone who knew the local industry, someone with a strong reputation, someone who knew how to stretch a budget, and someone who would mentor me in winemaking.  We needed Jene.  I can recall it clearly, the day I sat down with Jene and Karl in the Healdsburg town square. I enthusiastically tried to sell them on the idea that James and I were very serious about wanting to make wine and just needed help.  Keep in mind that they has never met James, we had no real business plan yet, and I was basically just pitching a pipe dream to them.  But I’ll never forget when Karl turned to Jene with a smile and said, “Hell, what do you say Jene, want to help the kid out?” 

As it turned out, Karl owned a little vineyard property just outside of downtown and he sold us our first ton of grapes, which of course Jene helped me turn into our first vintage of wine.  The original plan was that he would help me make Blanchard Family Wines and I would assist him in making J Cole wines.  It was a perfect deal. But he did so much more than that really.  He taught me winemaking and viticulture, he loaned us thousands of dollars in equipment we couldn’t afford, and he introduced me to countless professional connections in the community. It became clear that when doing business in the Healdsburg area, all I had to do was to mention one phrase, “I’m working with Jene.” Immediately I was taken seriously, given respect and treated as a legitimate member of the wine industry.

Shortly after our first harvest began, James and his wife Sylvia came to visit, partially to witness what I was doing with my big brother’s business investment, and partly to meet this guy Jene that I had been telling them about.  After one dinner with Jene I remember Sylvia pulling me aside and saying, “Jene is amazing.  So don’t screw it up!!”  It was now clear to them what I had known all along, that Jene’s advice, guidance, connections, and over all generosity was priceless to our company. 

Now Jene’s wine label J Cole was always a passionate project, but never a full time job.  He received high acclaim for his wines, won numerous awards, but always supported himself as a full time construction foreman.  Jene is among many things, a humble individual.  He truly loves making wine, everything about it in fact, but doesn’t care about the attention or recognition.  So it wasn’t long into the partnership that we created, that Jene made the decision to throw in the towel on his J Cole label, and simply be a part of Blanchard Family Wines.  We actually had the discussions over burritos after a long day of winemaking work, when he said, “You know what, I’m in.  Let’s do this together.  I don’t care whose name is on the bottle.  I just want to make good wine.” 

This was of course the most selfless sacrifice anyone could have made for us as a company.  I’m not totally sure if the impact of the gesture really sunk it right away for us either.  I mean, it’s our names on the bottles, our pictures on the webpage, James and I get much of the glory of owning a winery.  And yet we could never have done any of it without Jene.  James and I knew that a simple thank you wasn’t enough.  Buying Jene dinner and saying, “appreciate it buddy!” wasn’t going to cut it.  We had to somehow pay tribute to Jene in a way that let him know how much we truly recognized all that he had done for us.  We had to bring back the J Cole.  So we set out to create a J Cole label within Blanchard Family Wines, a wine that would serves as a thank you letter, a tribute, and a homage to this amazing man that took me under his wing all these years.

The tricky part was making this all a surprise for him.  James and I worked with our graphic designer to create a label that represented the style of his old J Cole labels, while also serving as a tribute story.  Jene and I created a fantastic blend for the bottle, all the while me not letting Jene know what the blend was going to be called.  Then one day we were approached by the amazing webpage called Cellar Angels to be a featured winery for their site.  Cellar Angels actually films short videos of their featured wineries, and focuses on one particular wine and story for each segment.  James realized this was a perfect opportunity to introduce the J Cole to the world. 

The night before the crew was scheduled to come film us, Jene came by the winery to see me.  He said, “Mark, we’re filming tomorrow right?”  I responded, “Yup, crew should be here in the morning.”  Jene continued, “Well Mark, what the hell are we talking about?  You haven’t told me the theme of the segment.  You haven’t even told me what wine we are featuring yet.  If I’m expected to be in front of the camera, I kind of need to know these things. “ 

I realized that there would never be a more perfect time.  I walked into my office, grabbed a completely finished and labeled bottle of the new J Cole wine and put of the bar in front of Jene.  I said, “This is the wine we are featuring.  And what are we going to be talking about? Well… we are going to talk about you.”  Jene and I had a moment, the kind of moment that only two grown men trying to hide emotion can have.  Not a whole else needed to me said though.  And maybe there are no real words to express our gratitude for Jene.  Maybe there was only one way to truly show our appreciation, our admiration and our love for Jene.  It had to be in a bottle of wine. 

You can watch this short video on our webpage of course.  It still gets me a little choked up thinking about it.  And obviously Jene is still making wine with us, still fixing things when they break, and still helping us make our dream come true.   And he still hates the fact that we put his last name on the back label of J Cole.  You’ll just have to get a bottle to find out what it is.  He prefers to simply be known as Jene. 

 

How the Air Force Helped Start a Winery

How the Air Force helped start a winery

By James Blanchard

                It’s quite frequent when I host a tasting somewhere, that someone asks how we started a winery while I was still in the Air Force. I tell them, “We didn’t start a winery despite me being in the Air Force, we started a winery because I was in the Air Force.” It’s a story with both logic and luck and one that affected all aspects of our winery family.

                As Mark mentioned in his last blog post, our family didn’t come from wine making roots. At times I wish we did, as it would have made this journey a lot easier, but certainly with a much shorter story. On the contrary, neither one of us knew anything about wine or wine making until our college and post-college years. As it turns out, after graduating from the Air Force Academy and pilot training, I earned the opportunity to choose my preference of locations for my first assignment. I looked for locations that provided the best flying environment for the helicopter I was assigned to, as well as places that would be fun for my wife and I to explore as a young married couple. That location turned out to be Vandenberg Air Force Base near the central coast of California. We had no idea at the time how this military assignment would lead to the start of a family business.

                Vandenberg Air Force Base was a beautiful location, situated right on the California coast and amongst one of California’s upcoming wine growing regions. While the base was cool and foggy, a short drive outside the gate led to rolling hills, warm temperatures, and acres upon acres of strawberries, cabbage, cauliflower, and grapes. The Santa Maria and Santa Ynez Valleys lie to the east, the Santa Barbara area to the south, and Paso Robles to the north. Within a two hour drive there were over 100 wineries just waiting to be discovered by a blossoming wine consumer. Although the area around Vandenberg AFB was beautiful, there wasn’t much for a young couple to do that wasn’t a 2-hour drive away or that didn’t cost a lot of money. Because of that, my wife Sylvia and I would spend our weekends touring and tasting. For $20-$30, we could drink dozens of wines and have a nice picnic lunch in the California sunshine. For those of you that know me, you know that wouldn’t be enough though.

                The more wineries that Sylvia and I visited, the more I wanted to know. I started reading wine books, subscribing to the wine magazines, and taking wine classes. During the day job, I would fly over the vineyards and study the topography and find places that I wanted to visit on the weekend. At every opportunity when we went to a winery, I would try to meet the wine maker, and if possible, have him sign a bottle of his wine. To me, they were mini-celebrities, putting their craft into each bottle. We started taking larger trips to Napa Valley, purchased a large wine fridge, and started a wine collection that was well beyond the income of a Lieutenant in the Air Force. We had been bitten by the bug and I knew pretty early on that this was going to be a problem.

                While this obsession was developing in my life, Mark was expanding his wine knowledge in Chicago. Unbeknownst to each other at the time, the two brothers were developing the same passion, for the same field, at the same time. This was actually a more dramatic development than it would initially seem. See at the time, and for the previous 5 years or so, these two brothers were essentially estranged from each other. While extremely tight as young children, through the high school and especially college years, Mark and I went our separate ways, developed separate beliefs and ideals, and really choose two different paths in life. We seemed to have very little in common and couldn’t agree on anything from politics to religion, heck we’d even argue about the weather. However, for some reason wine seemed to be this common ground that we could enjoy together with not nearly the disagreement. As we discussed our jointly expanding wine worlds, we made the decision for Mark to come out to California and spend a couple weekends in Napa Valley. This was not only the first time Mark had come to visit me in years, it was one of the first times Mark and I had spoken more than 15 minutes straight without a fight in quite some time. There had to be something to this fermented fruit juice! It was during one of these trips to Napa that Mark decided he was going to move to California and make wine his life’s career.

                While Sylvia and I shortly left California and moved on with our Air Force career, those foundations were never forgotten. As we traveled to other states, we would explore whatever type of wine growing industry they had. We’d explore different wine bars and try different wines from the local wine shops, but we kept thinking back to the magical time we had in California. Now we were living vicariously through Mark as he was living the dream in Napa and I was spending my time in garden spots like Albuquerque, New Mexico and Balad, Iraq (not all that dissimilar). We would frequently travel back to California to visit Mark, hoping that someday, some way, there would be a long-term reason to make wine country part of our permanent life. While the Air Force hasn’t allowed us to move to California full-time, and we’re not sure if we ever will, it was eventually the stability of this military career that gave us the confidence to take the risk and start our own business. The story of that leap though will be saved for another day. Until then, just know that if the Air Force had sent me to any other assignment options, North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Washington DC, or Tokyo, I’m positive this winery would have never been started. 

Mark's humble wine beginnings

Tales from the Cellar

 

“Tales from the Cellar” is a series of stories, musings and observations by the Blanchard Brothers, that we would like to share with our fans.  We have built our company, our success and our continued dream on such stories.  Whether it be guests that come visit our tasting room, or new fans that we meet while out on the road, people always seem drawn in by our stories of how we began, where we are from, how we interested in wine. These are not intended to be a chronological account of the history of Blanchard Family Wines, as much a look into our background, our journey, and our shared passion for this life we have found in wine.  Enjoy!

 

My Humble Beginnings in the Wine Industry

(And How I Learned the Difference between Merlot and Chardonnay)

by Mark Blanchard

 

James and I weren’t fortunate enough to be born into a wine legacy, or into wealth, or even into a family from California.  So I suppose from birth we already started with a disadvantage in the wine industry.  In fact, our parents weren’t even wine drinkers when we were younger, unless you count the occasional bottle of Chinese Plum wine that might have appeared on a holiday dinner table. Our father was more of a domestic beer drinker, and as I recall his favorites were Coors Light and Pabst.  I’m sure that if you asked someone that, was raised in the Midwest, like James and myself, they will tell you how their first taste of alcohol was a sip of their father’s beer.  And to my recollection it wasn’t nearly as appealing to me at the time as Kool Aid.   

 

I suppose it is no surprise that when I reached college, attending a small liberal arts school in the Chicago suburbs, that my beverage of choice was cheap beer.  When I was about 6 months away from turning 21 years old, I decided to find a part time job over Christmas break in my college town of Naperville.  A friend was working at a liquor store and offered to get me a job as a stock boy.  As a 20 year old poor college student, the prospect of working at a liquor store sounded pretty damn cool to me.  I can vividly remember the first week there being way less romantic than expected.  Not only was I not allowed to legally drink the product that was being sold there, but I actually wasn’t allowed to sell it either.  In the state of Illinois, someone under 21 can’t even ring up an alcoholic beverage in the register.  So that meant I did all the glory work, such as sweep and mop the floors, take out the garbage, dust the bottles, and of course, stock the shelves with new deliveries.  Oddly enough, these are still regular tasks I complete to this day in our tasting room. 

 

But From these remedial responsibilities, began my first introduction into the vast world of wine.  Little did I know at the time, but this liquor store that I started working for, was actually one of the best retail outlets in town for top shelf liquors, rare micro-brew beers, and yes, fine wine.  Now I may not have been allowed to drink the wine, nor did I know even the slightest bit about wine, but I still had to learn how to read the labels.  If I could translate the label on the bottle, understand where it came from, what kind of style it was, what kind of price range it was in, then I would know where to stock it on the shelf.  So thus began my earliest education in wine.

 

I quickly realized that different wines came from different countries, that was easy, and I could tell just by looking at the bottle that it was either red or white.  But that was about all I had to work with in the beginning.  Everything else about a bottle of wine might as well been written in a foreign language (keep in mind sometimes it was).  The most confusing thing about the different wines to me was their various names, Merlot, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir.  What did these names mean?  It was quite a mystery to me.  I remember one day I got up the nerve to ask the owner of the store a few questions about wine, as he was pretty savvy and educated on the subject.  I didn’t want to sound like a complete idiot, but I also figured that this might be a job worth keeping through the rest of my college days so I might as well learn a something about the product on the shelf. 

 

My first question was about those strange and sometimes hard to pronounce names on the bottles.  Now I understood that in beer, there are various styles such as lager, pilsner, stout, etc.  These different styles are mainly due to the method in which the beer is brewed and a bit to do with the ingredients.  So by the same logic, that must be where the different names of wines come from.  Makes sense right?  So I asked the owner, “How do they determine the names of wines, is it like beer?”  He seemed very confused by the inquiry.  I continued, “You know, like Merlot or Chardonnay, is it like the difference between a Pale Ale and a Lager? What makes one wine a Merlot and one wine a Chardonnay?”  He still looked quite confused as he responded, “Mark, you know those are different grapes right?”  Imagine my surprise, I was simply flabbergasted! Different grapes, what did he mean different grapes!! I was thinking, “You mean to tell me that there aren’t just two different grapes, the red ones and the white ones?”  After all, that’s what you see in the grocery store.  You can imagine how my mind was further blown when I came to find out that wine isn’t even made from those grapes you get in the produce section at all. 

 

Not only was this epiphany, at the time in my young adult life, the equivalent of finding out Santa Claus didn’t exist, but it also became the spark that got me interested in learning more about wine.  How many different grapes were out there?  Did their respective wines all taste different?  Could you blend more than one grape into the same wine?  As I turned 21 and started working more and more at the store, I initially stuck to what I knew best, and that was beer.  I soon realized one of the great perks of working at a liquor store… the free samples.  Sales reps for alcohol companies always have a car full of samples of the products they are trying to peddle.  So I made it clear to every sales rep that walked into the store, that unless I got a free sample of a beer, there was no way I would ever recommend it to a customer.  Thus begin my journey through the world of micro-brew and import beer.  My goal was to try every single beer distributed in the Chicago area.  Sounds fun right?  And it was.  Only problem was, it’s not as hard as one might think to finish this goal.  In fact, in less than a year, my only hope was that a distributor would pick up a new product in their portfolio, because I quickly ran out of new beers to sample.

 

So the next logical step in my mind, was to apply the same practice to wine. So sales reps started bringing in wine for me to taste.  In an average week I could try a dozen new wines, on a good week maybe 20.  I was tasting wine from all over the world, different styles, varietals, producers, cheap wine, expensive wine.  I started learning where different flavor profiles came from, the influence of oak barrels, and how different climates effected the varietals. And then one day something occurred to me when a sales rep brought in a wine I thought I had already tried.  It was explained to me that it was a new year, or new vintage as it is called.  I thought, “So wait, does that mean it’s going to taste different?  Does that mean it’s almost like a completely different wine?”  It didn’t take more than a sip to confirm that this was exactly the case. So you know what that meant to me?  I would never run out of new wines to try! I could try 20 wines a week, 30 wines, even 50 wines.  I could never try them all.  I would never run out of a new style, new blend, new region or new vintage to sample.  And that was it, I was hooked.  That’s not to say that I immediately swore off beer drinking, but from that moment forward, I was a wine lover.  The concept of an endless world of wine out there for me to discover was like the prospect of heaven. 

 

So I continued to work at that store for the next few years, even after graduation, constantly tasting new wines, learning about their differences, and developing my palate.  I became the manager, the wine buyer, helped open a second location with the owner and even started taking trips to California’s Wine Country with the assistance of connections I made in the store.  And eventually this would of course lead me to the decision to make that giant leap and move from Illinois to Napa Valley.  But of course that’s a whole other story. 

 

I often times think of that moment when I asked the store owner about the different wine names, especially when a customer in our tasting room says to me, “I have kind of a stupid question about wine for you.”  My response is always the same, “There are no stupid questions.”  Many of us in the wine industry were not lucky enough to be born into a wine legacy, or in California or even into a wine drinking family.  Many of us started off quite humble in our careers, and once upon a time we were the ones asking the “stupid” questions.  I still try to taste as many new wines as possible every week, and I still haven’t come any closer to trying them all.  And I can only hope one day if I have children of my own, their first taste of alcohol will be when I give them a sip of wine out of my glass.  And perhaps, their name will even be on that bottle.