Baseball taught me everything I know...
Raising a teenaged son, I realize that America’s favorite pastime has a lot of competition these days from football to video games to music. But when I was growing up outside Chicago in the 60s and 70s, baseball and the Cubs were my entire life. I threw a baseball against a neighbor’s wall incessantly, played pickup games in the corner empty lot all summer, memorized the statistics on all my baseball cards, and idolized players from Ernie Banks (Mr. Cub) to Yogi Berra (I was a catcher). But to relax in the bleachers at Wrigley Field on a sunny day, with the verdant ivy in the background, the old-fashioned scoreboard, watching my idols play my favorite game...there are no words.
In addition to keeping me “off the streets," baseball taught me a lot about life. Others much more eloquent than I have put that baseball essence into words. To this day, their wisdom follows me through the vineyards, tending the grapes on our mountainside in Sonoma County. It’s a long way from Wrigley Field... or is it?
“It ain’t over until it’s over.” Yogi Berra
There are so many great Yogi-isms, but this one completely captures the life of a winegrower. I may revel in a nice wet winter, a spring with even temperatures, and a relatively cool summer—but it’s not over until the grapes are in. If it rains at harvest, all could be for naught. Also for the winemaker, the grapes might come in clean and tasty, but something could go wrong in the fermentation, a spoilage yeast could take over in barrel—so until Lise puts the wine in bottle, it ain’t over.
Yogi's advice perhaps applies best to adverse situations. I once had a disaster on my hands: a tractor stuck on a muddy slope with a flat tire and a ton of freshly picked grapes in tow—but just the day before, I purchased a spare tire (true story). So it’s usually not quite over! And in the grand scheme of life, my winegrowing career is not judged by a single vintage—so I always have an opportunity to write another chapter and make the story end well.
“Work? I never worked a day in my life. I always loved what I was doing, had a passion for it.” Ernie Banks
Living amongst the vineyards, growing grapes for wine that people enjoy all across America, I have a pretty good life. I’ve always felt an affinity for the soil and growing things, despite being raised in an urban environment. Perhaps this comes from my father or is somehow in my Sicilian DNA. Neither my first career in technology nor my second in the wine business, has felt like “work.” Of course, there are days... I believe in only doing what you are passionate about, because life is just too precious and too short!
“When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” Yogi Berra
I’ve always been very confident in my instincts (almost as confident as Lise is in her logic), but when it comes to grape growing, following your instinct is invaluable. I believe in facing a difficult decision, following your gut, and making it work—don’t second guess yourself. When Lise and I first got married, we were at a crossroads in our life and I convinced her we should start our own wine business (despite our limited experience). We dove right in and never regretted it.
After we bought our vineyard, which was conventionally farmed (i.e, using chemical herbicides and fertilizers), we knew we wanted to be organic instead. But should we go the extra step to biodynamics? Many more experienced winegrowers scoffed at the idea—but to this day, I believe the decision to take that extra step is the source of the vitality, uniqueness, and distinctiveness in our wines. Life constantly thrusts tough decisions on your lap: embrace them, trust your instincts, and don’t look back.
One more thought: Congratulations to the 2016 Cubs. You won the World Series in my lifetime! Go Cubs go...