Livermore Valley is home to another wine country, I know, not that one. This Sunday I thought a change was in order, so instead of heading North I headed East.
I am a bit of a Livermore Valley neophyte… and it was time to change that. Driving along the main road it was apparent that this pioneering wine country region has much to offer, with over 50 wineries scattered among the hills and valleys.
My first stop was Charles R Vineyards, a family owned and operated business which was born in 1978 when Charles Bartlett purchased the sprawling 120 acre estate as he dreamt of retiring from his construction business.
As we were driving up the dirt road to the tasting room which is the last stop on the road, we spotted a white-haired gentleman in a golf cart putting up a display fan on a post, and with a friendly wave and a swerve to avoid a rather portly rattlesnake (a regular resident in this dry area) we pulled up to a modest tasting room, filled with artwork and various tools. We were greeted by a friendly staff.
Four wines were poured – 2008 Pinot Grigio, 2008 Chardonnay, 2007 Syrah and 2006 Reserve Cab. My notes read – ”good value, honest wines.”
The gentleman we first saw had walked in, busying himself with chores around the room, and we were introduced to the owner himself, Charles R. A construction company owner for many decades, Charles had hoped to retire and “drink tequila on a Mexican Riviera” when the news of his son’s, Randy, devastating rare blood disease has shifted the focus and eventually lead to him tending to the needs of a winery instead of soaking up the sun in the tropics. He readily admits that wine was not his passion (however working in the cellar might come close), but his son fell in love with winemaking and he wanted to support him. Thus Charles R Vineyards was born.
With several vintages under their belt, their loyal followers seem to always be there for them. The wine club boasts roughly 500 subscribes and absorbs all of the winery’s production. You heard right. All of Charles R wines are sold exclusively via their wine club and tasting room. Challenging economy and all. Those, who cancel their wine club membership get replaced by new customers, who are attracted to the wines and the family behind them.
I came to simply taste, spit and leave, but found myself wanting to know more… Let’s face it, selling out the entire 2000 cs production without wholesale distribution is no easy feat. I soon found myself engrossed in a multilayered discussion involving wine quality, prices, estate vs purchased grapes, vineyard management, chemical analysis and life in general.
It is the subject of life in general that I want to talk about in this segment. As we all know it sucks for at least half of us right now and really, really sucks for another third. I asked Charles what his answer was to fixing the “sucking” part. He didn’t miss a beat. Not even half of one.
“Accountability” – was his answer.
Surely it can’t be that simple. Or can it?
Charles grew up in North Dakota, raised by his steely-willed grandmother along with his 7 brothers and subsequently lived in Argentina and other South American countries as his Dad pursued a carrier in the oil business drilling wells. His work ethic and business savvy has earned him a thriving construction business with perks like treating his clients to frequent trips to French Laundry, financial independence and travel. He raised two daughters and a son, all of whom grew up to be independent successful adults. With the exception of the winery partnership and helping facilitate his ailing son’s wine making dream he didn’t contribute to his children’s financial security or offer any assistance in major purchases. He wouldn’t have it any other way.
He believes that earning your own way in life is a recipe for sustained success and deep-rooted self-esteem that has a power to carry one thru any storm life overwhelms them with.
He told the story of his grandson who worked for him under the agreement that he will get a special surf board as a payment for the work he has done. He then requested to be paid in cash since he also wanted to spring for an expensive added-on accessory. He got neither – Grandpa had a lesson to teach: “Honor your agreements, be grateful for what you get and don’t change them or ask for more!” Other grandson wanted to be paid for the work – that Charles R. had no problem with, as long as he let Grandpa invest 50% of the earnings for him. When Grandson protested, and wanted to keep (and spend) all the cash, he didn’t get the job. “But you are wealthy”, the grandson protested. “Oh really?”, was Charles’s reply, “sure, here is a handful of dirt, now you can be wealthy too”. The lesson was that Charles wealth was in intangibles, that has to be cared for and maintained, the value that many in this generation don’t grasp.
He asked me a rhetorical question – how many of us are NOT in a partnership with a bank, how many can boast our possessions as our own? How many buy only what they can afford to pay for in cash? We have allowed ourselves to be so corrupted by relatively free-flowing credit and the illusion of wealth (that often we aren’t able to afford or sustain) that a simple thought of fiscal responsibility has become a novelty.
I joked how he could never run for political office with that mentality… given our current Government’s attitude towards accountability it is hard to believe he would succeed, and then I stopped. When did I become so cynical?
Perhaps since in a mere couple of years our lives have been unrecognizably transformed as we sleepwalked thru lies, deception and record spending by our elected Community Agonizer and his sidekicks who are more out of touch with an average American’s reality than a nun at a Vegas porn star convention (although a nun may be far more welcomed in that town than Chief of Change after his certain remarks). The only change we experienced was a chameleonic change from a false campaign rhetoric-peddling hack to a rabid ideological sprinter hell-bent on bankrupting this country, so that the liberty enjoyed for 300 years can be strangled, and it can be successfully transformed into something closely resembling China or Russia.
Who was your favorite President, I asked Charles? “I have to think about it”, he replied, “but I know this, someone with balls, someone who actually stood up to the special interests and wasters of our wealth”… Someone with balls, huh, Charles?
…A fresh crop of thirsty customers poured in the tasting room and I thought I should let him tend to them… I asked if I could come back and see him again.
“Sure”, he smiled, “but call me Dick, next time you come, just ask for Dick, that is how everyone knows me.”
I will be back.