Right now I need gentle reflection, good storytelling, books, movies, and warm reminders we are all in this together more than ever. So, I’m doing a little story telling each week and sending it your way. Tell me to shut up, or send encouragement. I’m a big boy, and can take it all. Meanwhile be safe, look after you family and neighbors as best you can, and find a glass that is always at least half full when you need it.
I’m in lock down, which has given my wife and I some time to finally move into a new home in St. Helena. We open boxes all day, and try to keep our new cocker spaniel puppy, LuLu, from chewing up whatever we remove from those boxes. For a little dog, she can sure chew up a lot of anything. From an old scrapbook, fluttered out a small clipping from the Philadelphia Observer titled “Napa Valley on Tour.” The dateline was February 18, 1985. I rescued it before LuLu ate it.
The photo on the clipping (see above) reminded me of Community – how we stick together. How we did it way back then. How we are doing it now. We find ways to get the job done together, even in isolation. We find ways to communicate and uplift each other. We find ways to get over the hurdles and obstacles in front of us. We did then, and are doing it now. We are resilient, fighters, believers, still dreamers.
In 1985 Napa Valley wines did not have much respect in some markets, especially on the East Coast. We were newbies in the world of fine wine. Our stories were untold and we had a huge wall to climb above the fortresses of wines from France and Italy in particular. We were New World and we had a lot to prove. The East Coast markets had a definite prejudice to the Old World wines. It was what they grew up with and shared.
35 years later, I can say we made our point, but it took an incredible collective effort. You had the Generals, like Bob Mondavi, leading charges – but it took an army to get the job done. In the early 80s, six diverse Napa Valley Wineries decided a good approach might be to travel together to tell our stories and show our wines in distant markets. We called our group: THE FLYING CIRCUS. We are all in that photo on that clipping from 1985.
I look at the clipping and I see eight individuals in our Circus from that year. One ring leader was Jack Cakebread on the left. Next, is Pam Hunter, our PR person who put together our agendas; tastings, lunches, seminars, and dinners. Next to her is Bernard Portet, founder of Clos Du Val. Bernard was a great champion, being French and waving the California/Napa Valley flag was a powerful weapon in our battle for attention. I’m in the middle of this Motley crew, my role as moderator. Next to me towers Stu Smith (Smith-Madrone Winery), a champion of the small guy. Next to Stu is Marcia Mondavi, who saw more Napa Valley history than any of us. John Wright from Chandon, who along with Jack Cakebread was one of the ring leaders, is on Marcia’s shoulder. Next to him my buddy, and partner in crime at Beringer, Ed Sbragia.
Man, those were the days. Full days, usually a seminar, lunch and dinner in every marketer we traveled together. TOGETHER we told the Napa Valley story and shared the stage. And we really enjoyed traveling together. Maybe, hindsight rosies the lense a bit, but we did get along famously, and represented Napa Valley well.
Jack Cakebread a few years ago invited the living members of the Flying Circus for lunch at his winery. He wanted to re-launch the Circus, or maybe just wanted to see us all together again. Revive some of the days from the Wild West.
Or, wanted to be reminded of what a strong community we can be when there are big challenges in front of us. We’ve survived recessions, earthquakes, and fires together since I moved to Napa Valley to become a vintner in 1977. Jack has seen us band together to get through the worst of times. I’ve heard him relate stories about his early days when being good neighbors was critical to survival. It is again.
Winery neighbors in self-enforced isolation are finding ways to communicate and support each other, protect each other from harm. To be a vintner you have to be an optimist, or you are just plain crazy, or will eventually find that path. Mother Nature constantly reminds us we are not in complete control of all things winemaking. We are not in complete control of what is happening around us now, but we are together, and proven strong.