why I am who I am

September 20, 2007

Well, as long as my blog is entirely private, I thought I might take the time to explain who I am and why I do what I do.

I was born and raised in Iowa. I wanted to be an astronaut, a diplomat, and a ninja. I wanted to travel and see the world. In Iowa, there aren’t too many ways to make money when you’re 13 or 14 except detassling corn, a horrible, itchy job that’s a very good way to introduce horrible pesticides into your bloodstream for 12 hours a day all summer. Still, for some weird reason, I loved it. Later that second season, I got just a regular job working for a nice farmer for the summer, and it was awesome. The smell of hay and rain still makes me think of sleeping through the thunderstorms in his barn.

In high school I worked as a bagel baker, and my best buddy and I would liberate bottles of his dad’s french wine to chug in the park while we talked about how we never got laid.

All the money I’d made detassling and baking I put towards a trip through Europe when I finished high school. I ran with the bulls in Pamplona, learned to roll a joint all Euro-trashy, fell in love, and started to notice that some wines I liked (Rioja) and some I didn’t like (wine from a box mixed with Coca-cola). I found a cool place in Spain called San Sebastian and returned for a year of college. I studied European history and Basque cuisine. It was great. I drank a lot of wine, and back then, in the Early nineties, 4 bucks would buy amazing and strong red wines that tasted good. I hung out and felt cool, but looking back, must have been a total idiot.

I spent a summer working on a Kibbutz in Israel. I picked bananas, avocados, and trimmed roses. We were shelled by the Hezbollah but it wasn’t any big deal. I had a nice girlfriend.

I returned to Iowa, gardened and ran marathons and eventually finished college. I thought I had it figured out, until I had to decide what to do with my life. I figured I’d either be a famous painter or a famous novelist. One or the other, maybe both. It really didn’t matter. I’d buy a small farm and grow my own food. So, illogically, I became a paramedic but found I had a very low threshold for sick people, so I traveled in Southeast Asia for awhile with some friends and then moved with one of them to Boston, where I devoted myself to a life of poverty and depression. I did pretty well. I also started training as a kickboxer, and in a couple of years won a national title.

In Boston I’d been a bicycle courier, but fighting and riding through traffic with no health insurance wasn’t the wisest of things to do. I remember once a cute girl i worked with asked me what i wanted to do with my life and I thought for a while, and all I could think about was being a farmer. It was something I’d been fantasizing about my whole life, but growing up in the midst of the farm crisis in the 80s, raised by a former farmer who’d quit to go to college and see the world, I’d never been encouraged. You know how memory and smell are linked? When I actually said out loud what I really wanted to do, I could smell the hay and the rain, the rich soil outside and the damp wood of the old red barn.

“what are you doing here?” she asked.

“Uh.” I said.

Later on, I got an office job, one of those cubicle deals, and I drank a lot of coffee and smoked a lot of grass and wrote what I figured was the world’s greatest novel. It proved unpublishable. I fell for a Spanish girl and moved with her to New York. I worked at a non-profit and fought poverty with poverty. I boxed and kickboxed but was still angry, and was missing something. I still wanted to be a farmer and was moving farther and farther from my goal.

Then, one of those pesky terrorist planes almost hit me. I got mugged, shot at, broken into, and exposed to anthrax. Fuck that shit. We moved to the South of France and picked grapes. I was back farming, and I’d never really been a wine guy, but an illiterate and poorly-toothed french field worker explained it to me: “Wine tastes good and it helps women out of their underwear.” A noble profession. And it was farming. I was in love. With an old tractor. With being outside again. With the soil. With wine.

After the harvest, my then-girl and I parted ways (not amicably) with the owners of the domaine that had truly enjoyed the free slave labor. We moved to Barcelona and I went to INCAVI, the National Institute of Cava and Wines for 6 months. I finished a diploma. I decided I couldn’t go into any more credit card debt and did what a lot of people do: I moved back in with my parents. I worked 60 hours a week and bought a purple ford escort station wagon and drove to California in time to get hired on in a winery. It was okay, lab work for one of those big super market priced wineries with a critter on the label.

I got single again and after a year of making $7.99 zinfandel got a job at a smaller winery. It was cool for a while, but I spent most of the time wanting to punch my boss, so I left for the vocation I have now, managing organic vineyards all around Sonoma and Napa. I’d been reading a lot, tasting a lot, studying everything and everywhere I could, and I knew, like a lot of people do, that great wine is grown and not made. It was my dream job, and still is.
In my first couple of years I was in way over my head, but since I spoke Spanish, I just learned everything I could from the guys who knew best, the Mexican guys who I worked with, ate with, and slept under trees with on our lunch hours. Now, I’m still here, doing what I do: farming grapes for other people, watching the sun rise and the sun set from the tippy-tops of mountains.

I am a very firm believer in organics. This comes from growing up in Iowa, seeing the devastation that military/industrial farming has had on America. I’m lucky to have found an all-organic vineyard management company with 600 acres of prime vineyards for me to play with and learn from. I’m a dedicated servant of the vine, an amateur scholar of all things wine-related, and a happy farmer just getting by.

Cheers! It rained today, but now the sun is out.

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One Response to “why I am who I am”

  1. robert Says:

    wow!

    nothing is private in cyberspace

    it sounds like you have boundless energy and spirit, and I trust that wine proves to be the catalyst for turning that into something more positive and fulfilling … but not in a “A Good Year” sort of bullshit way

    good luck with the blog


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