Thursday, December 15, 2016

He Called My Dog Fat!

I had the president of the Kiwanis Club over to my house for a meeting, not knowing he was the president.  While over at my house, he made a remark that got my attention, and not in a good way.  He called Dutchess “fat”.  Not suggesting she was fat, or overweight.  He just called her “fat”.  As it happened, this would be the first year that Dutcher Crossing Winery would be going to the Kiwanis Club to get a Christmas tree.  Dutchess decided to take a nap in the back of the car.  The president came out and greeted me, and I thought, “What’s he doing here?  That’s the son-of-a-gun that called Dutchie ‘fat’.” This was exciting, getting a tree for the winery and building a new relationship in the community, but I never knew a coincidence like this would happen.  I did not see this coming.  I mean, this is what I came out here for, odd moments and funny moments like this.  “He said what?” I still say to myself.  After seeing me pull up to the tree lot, his and all his co-workers’ tone changed.  They got me whatever tree I wanted, and did everything quicker than quick.  I held this over his head for years, and I got special treatment as a result.  I rarely get customer service as good as this.  That is, up until recently.
This year, 2016, I sent a couple of my guys to get a tree.  Everyone there was sad that we, Dutchess and I, didn’t come.  Come to find out, my guys left my credit card there.  So now, they make fun of me, and have the upper hand on me.  They joke with me…  “UGH!” I think, “I had the upper-hand for six years, and now it’s there turn.” I kick myself for letting the guys go.  “Ugh,” I say again to myself, “really?” But here I am, taking heat (friendly heat) after a six year reign.  I love this relationship because we can joke like this, the back-and-forth of it all.  This is part of the community that I love, and what I didn’t anticipate coming out here from Wisconsin.
        I’m trying to think of a way to get the upper-hand again.  Don’t have any ideas yet, but I’m open to suggestions.  Or, maybe I’ll just see how it goes.  That’s what the community is here in Dry Creek and Sonoma County.  Yes, we do business, but we have fun with each other as well.  I mean, calling my dog fat…  Some might say those are fightin’ words.  But not around here.  We make it fun.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Not Sure Dad Would Dig It

A lot of people don’t understated how my dad was, what kind of man he was.  He wasn’t one for excess attention.  Actually, he wasn’t one that liked attention at all.  He was all about family, community, communication, but he never wanted the spotlight on him.  So, it’s kind of a funny irony that the winery’s logo is the Penny-Farthing bike he gave to me, which to many of us symbolizes him and our family, the idea of family itself.  He wouldn’t want the connection to him.  He wouldn’t want any of this attention we give him.  I have to laugh, though…
And the Tribute label that we do, the wines that so many of our club members love and wait for, for about a year each time actually, he’d hate it.  He’d be mortified.  Again, he was a private guy.  Big philanthropist, people recognized him for the good work that he did for the community, everyone knew it was him but he did it anonymously.  He refused to have his name attached to anything.  So, now that it’s been ten years since his passing (can’t believe it), I thought I should let people know him a little better (which he would probably also not like), and I think it’s important people recognize what Dutcher entails, and where it really starts.
The newest release of the Tribute series, a ’15 Pinot Noir, has a cribbage board on front, as the label.  This is an embrace of what cribbage is to our family, how Dad would take us out regularly to play.  This is a way to not only further educate people on the Dutcher Crossing brand, but also to share our family’s traditions with club members and people visiting the winery.  Although Dad would love that we’re raising money for melanoma research, he definitely wouldn’t want the ‘tribute’ to him.  This latest release, with the cribbage board as the label, is my favorite so far.  The next Tribute project, for 2017, will be a collaborative effort between the Mathy family business and Dutcher Crossing winery.  And, that’s another thing Dad loved.  Bringing people together, everyone having an input and sharing in the story and what we do.  But, I laugh again…  If he found out it was all about him, and everything at the winery starts with him, he’d kill us.
Ten years since he’s passed.  The story starts with him, and keeps going with him.  That’s how we tell the DCW story.  The story’s about family, community.  He didn’t want attention, but he has everyone’s attention.  From him coming out here with me over and over looking for wineries, helping me fulfill my dream of owning a winery, all of it.  This is how I honor my father and share his story as well as mine.  Again, would he like it?  No.  He would hate the focus on him, but he would love everyone coming together and enjoying what we enjoy here at Dutcher.

Family and Help, Always Here

Again, I’m going to write on the note of having an amazing team to rely on.  Mom arrived one March, we picked her up from the airport, and we just bottled the Kupferschmid Red and were so eager to give Mom a bottle (since that is the wine we do for her).  Mom was staying at my house here on the property.  Well, she fell.  And it was a pretty nasty fall, with a rather big bruise on her head and knee.  I called Lorraine, our HR head, and said, “I broke my mom.” Nick and his wife Kelly, who was just finishing up nursing school at the time, came to the hospital for support.  Toward the end of Mom’s hospital visit, Kelly stayed behind while Nick and I got some food and prescriptions for Mom, while she waited to be discharged.  Another employee at the time watched over Duchess while all this was going down.  And to top it all off, it was raining cats and dogs.  Of course.
Nick reverses my car so close to the Emergency Room exit doors that they open.  See, they just left my mother in the room, just waiting there for us to get her out.  We got Mom home, had her all settled, only to find out the next day she had a broken kneecap.  I mean, it was just one thing after another.
Between all the guys here at the winery and Kelly, my mom had around-the-clock care.  Josh, our property operations and pretty much do-everything master, even built a ramp for Mom so she could get in and out of the house.  Mom was surround by people there for her, there to make her feel safe and comfortable, which made me feel safe and comfortable of course.  Mom was the priority.  Not just for me, but for Nick, Josh, Kelly, other employees at the time.  Everyone.  They all wanted her to recover from this horrible fall and be relaxed and in no pain just as much as I did.  My mom became their mom.  I couldn’t have felt more blessed.
Kelly insisted they clean her wounds at the hospital, I forgot to mention.  Kelly was intent on caring for Mom like she was on-duty, there at the hospital doing her job.  There is nothing like hearing your mother writhing in pain.  And I’ll tell you, I could not have done this on my own.  I mean, how lucky am I to have one of my winemaker’s wife just finishing up nursing school, there to help, and more than capable of helping.  It’s like Mom had her own private nurse.  Kept saying to myself, “Oh, thank goodness…  So lucky to have my team and others around me.”
        You’ll many times hear us at the winery joke around and say, “Oh that’s what happens when you’re family.” But it really is the case here.  I don’t know what I would have done with my mom so in pain if I didn’t have the people around me that I do.  I didn’t anticipate this coming out here and fulfilling my dream of owning a winery.  But here I am, and boy am I lucky.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Fortunate to Have My Team at Dutcher

It was St. Patrick’s Day a few years ago, and someone on the property said they saw a man sleeping by the house at the front of the property, by the barn.  When this was all unfolding, I was in the estate house enjoying a nice corn beef and cabbage dinner behind a gate.  So I’m thinking, “I’m safe, but who knows about everyone else and what this guy’s up to.” I call our assistant winemaker, Nick, and he went out to go see what was going on.  He didn’t like the idea of an intruder on the estate any more than I did.  So he went out there in the Prius we had at the time.  A joke rang in my head, “Huh, chasing down intruders in a Prius.  Of course, only in California.” Anyway, Nick went down to the house to see what was going.  He parked right by the house, off the side of the road.  It was pretty hot that day, so Nick looked all around the house, heard something moving around, and off to the left he found the man in the shade, laying down.  “What are you doing?” Nick asked.  
“Oh nothing, I’m just hiding from the cops,” he said. “I’m just laying here.”
“Well you can’t stay here. It’s private property.”
“Can I have a hundred dollars?”
“Sorry, man, you gotta go.” Nick finished.
So he left.  Nick stayed put, just to make sure he didn’t try to double-back, re-situate in the shade and have the whole thing happen again.
        Later, some of the crew saw him walking down Dry Creek Road, and we thought he might try to hide out on the property again.  We had an event that day with small bags of popcorn so naturally we all grabbed a bag, jumped in the Prius, and got back into pursuit mode.  We looked up and down Dry Creek Road.  Nothing… looked around a little more, still nothing.  We were in the clear.  What this shows me is that even though we spend so much time together here at work, and we count on each other in this professional context, I know, and we all know, that we can always call on each other for help with something not-so-related to work, and they’ll be there.  I can always say to someone at Dutcher, “I need help,” and they’ll be there.  Huh, I think now and find it funny this happened on St. Patty’s day, ‘cause I realized, yet again, how lucky I am to have the team I do.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Lots of Olive, Very Little Oil

We set out onto the property, the entire team.  It was Nick, our winemaker’s, idea.  So we decided as a whole crew that we’d pick them.  We ruled that a day in mid-October would be best.  It’s not easy work, picking olives.  We knew this.  I mean, you have to rake them off, you have to pick them off the ground, you have to get nets and you’re getting poked in the face by branches, and scratched everywhere…  Yeah, it’s a LOT of work.  But we were up for it.  There were a lot of olives to pick.  And I mean a lot.  Close to 900 pounds.  But we all went out there.  We wanted to make some olive oil from the Dutcher property and show it off, enjoy it ourselves at home, at the dinner table—something in addition to the beautiful wines our production team produces every vintage.

At the end of the mission, all of us launching into the vineyard’s outer borders for the sake of making olive oil, we wound up with about 3 cases of Dutcher Crossing olive oil.  Three cases!  It was fun watching everyone get competitive, watching the guys wanting to beat the girls, and vice versa.  It got intense, but not too serious.  This is one of the memories over my nearly ten years as owner that I’ll look back on and smile, laugh.  But what also makes me laugh is, as I said, THREE CASES.  “Three cases?  After all that work?  After all those scratches?  After all that time on the ground?”  Not too many talking about picking olives this year, I’ve noticed.  Not a problem, though.  We have those memories of the crew picking branch pieces and olives out of their hair, and off their clothes.. the battle wounds.  It was a great team bonding experience, at least in my mind, and reminded all of us how lucky we are not only to work here, but work with each other.  Seeing the girls in competition with the boys made me laugh more than a couple times.  It was fun, just plain old fun.

Thursday, October 13, 2016


        Just with the title, you might be thinking, “What?  What happened?” Well…  Let me tell you…..

        I broke the punchdown machine.  I’ve used it countless times before, during the past harvests, but somehow this time I managed to break it.  In the theme of safety, and how that’s a consistency here at Dutcher, I was safe elevated on the forklift, in a half-cage where the railing comes up to my waist.  So I knew I was safe.  Anyway, I was doing my punchdown, being a bit forceful with the cap of the cold-soaking wine, and the arm of the machine bucked hard to the left, nearly taking me with it.  Josh, our maintenance king, said there was a bit of metal fatigue, which makes me feel a little better, but either way it was a little funny that I, the owner of the winery, broke the puncher.  “It’s not your fault, Deb, it’s not your fault…” I keep telling myself.  They joke with me anyway, and I laugh with them.  Not that it could be helped, and certainly not expected, it just happened.  And I’m not the only one, mind you!  The machine has already been “broken”, I guess you could say, three times this harvest.  It’s been an interesting harvest, needless to say.  But, as I said when I restarted this blog, is that’s just what happens, and you have to laugh.  The machine’s working fine now, and everything is back to normal.  But it was a funny feeling telling my winemakers, “Uh, guys, I broke the punchdown machine.” Of course they gave me a joke and a jab, here and there.  And that’s expected, especially from Nick.  I think we found it funny as it happened so unexpectedly, and during harvest of all times.  Safety was in-place, but something happened.  “Oh well,” you have to say to yourself.  As a winery owner, this stuff’s gonna happen.  This may be my tenth harvest, but I’m still learning, and there’s still new experiences, some funny and some not.

Not Safe? Then No Movement.

One harvest, I was out there helping out.  But I had to be elevated up on a forklift, over 15 feet in the air.  No one wanted to move me.  In their desire to keep me safe and not risk having me fall, they kept me suspended up there, with bees and yellow jackets swarming around me.  For those that don’t know, when wine starts fermenting, or even right when the grapes arrive, those dang jackets and bees will absolutely wrap themselves around you.  Anyway, I was still up there, and no one had the guts to move me.  They were concerned I might fall.  No one moved me.  This battle went on for over two weeks, ‘Who’s going to be the one to move Debra when she’s doing punchdowns?’  It was a constant battle.  I appreciated it, but at the same time I was thinking, “Someone move me already!”

Now, either our Assistant Winemaker Nick, Cellar Master Cass, or our estate jack-of-all-trades Andres move me now when I’m up there punching down.  I value my life more than a ton of grapes, and these are the guys that do it without any hesitation.  And, I don’t hesitate allowing them to move me while I’m up on that thing.  Safety has to come first, that’s always been a staple and a consistency at Dutcher Crossing.  If it takes an hour longer to do something, and it’s safer, then that’s what you do.  Just like back home with my family’s construction business.  In the wine world, what I’m learning, is that time management is vastly different.  With these punchdowns that we do and that I was doing while up on that lift, you’re in your own little world.  I’m up there with my earphones in, listening to music.  Why can I do that, have my own moment up there punching down a cap of grapes?  Because I feel safe.  I know a safe reality is in place, for me and the everyone on the crush pad and around the winery.

During harvest, safety has to be the priority.  Not something you check on here and there, but a constantly maintained state here at the winery.  I don’t get up on that lift anymore, as the boys want to get things done quick, but I have been out there raking fruit out of the bins.  I still want to help, be out there with the boys and contribute where I can.  I’ll be helping out this harvest with punchdowns in the morning, with Nick’s crew.  Yes, I’m sure the bees and jackets’ll be buzzing around me, but it’s all part of the job.

Making wine is a long process, and in the process there needs to be an assurance that you’re safe.  It’s that simple.  Like I said, if it takes an hour longer and everyone’s going to be alright, then I’m fine with it.  Safety can never be overestimated.  Each department here at the winery depends on the other, and we constant are checking our procedures, making sure they’re safe.  Looking back now, I can see this is completely the reason for the boys not wanting to move me.  They just wanted me to be safe, which I appreciate.  Harvest to harvest, this is what I and anyone visiting Dutcher Crossing will see.