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Backstory

Early Aspirations

With this second post, it may be a good time to give the backstory. Mine is a story of losing my way and finding it again. Twice. Let me explain.

I have always had an interest in food and cooking. I have early memories of cooking with mom around age five.

Maybe then I intuitively knew there was more to cooking than filling your belly. My childhood dream was to be a chef. Wine became part of that plan as I matured.

A quick rundown to bring you up to speed:

  • At 21 I enrolled in the college wine course,
  • spent summers working in tasting rooms on the California Central Coast,
  • filled my free time with tastings and wine events,
  • completed the campus nine-month culinary program,
  • participated in some short classes at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris,
  • and graduated with a BS degree in Hotel and Restaurant Management.

Thus far my tale is moving in the right direction, but after graduation, a series of small decisions sent me adrift. Not too far off in the beginning and just enough that I didn’t notice it at first.

Drifting

I moved from the tasting room to restaurant work, then to the hotel sales department. The hotel sales department became my stepping stone into a career in hotel real estate. At that point, I couldn’t have drifted further from my intended path.

However, I continued with extension courses in Enology and Viticulture at UC Davis, racking up about 15 completed classes. I kept a steady cooking tradition in my home, mostly because I found it very therapeutic. These helped me maintain a connection to the experiences that meant the most to me.

By 2005 I saw clearly how a one-degree error at the onset of a journey – barely perceptible – will eventually have significant consequences. I became determined to fix this.

Course Correction

I remembered a conversation with a friend, years ago. He warned me of the golden handcuffs. I may just find myself in a job that is uninteresting but would be hard to leave because “it makes good money.”

He was right.

Starting Gentleman Farmer Wines in 2005, I felt creative again. I felt connected to my youthful aspirations. I felt right.

Setback

And then a minor setback.

The 2005 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon arrived in the market at the end of 2008, just months after the Lehman Brothers’ collapse and the start of the Great Recession.

My story isn’t one where I made my money in high-tech and decided to start a winery, although there are many of those out there. I was bootstrapping this. I sold my watch to pay for grapes in 2009. Things got pretty lean.

Premium wines by an unknown winery weren’t exactly flying off the shelves, and I continued with my golden handcuff projects just to pay the bills, not fully aware how thin I was spreading myself.

I found myself back into uninteresting projects, unrelated to the winery, drifting again off course.

Second Time Around

After a storm of events starting in 2016 I meditated and reflected on my purpose. My path is one of wine and food and sharing it with friends. It was with this simple insight that I fully understood what to do. I excused myself of my other obligations, purchased my partners’ interest, and took full creative control of the winery.

This may not sound revolutionary, but the subtle shift was life-changing. I now spend my time creating and sharing the many ways food and wine can feed and care for us.

I’ll be sharing much of that process here. Thanks for taking the time to listen to this evolving story.

Cheer, Joe

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