Thursday, June 30, 2016

Dutchess’ Reach

It’s known that Dutchess has a reputation.  She’s recognized.  She makes all moments at and outside the winery memorable.  People know her.  How known she is became apparent to me this one time I was over in Napa with some friends, doing some tasting and enjoying a rare day off.  We were at a tasting room on the main drag there on 29, finishing up a tasting and walking to our car.  Unexpectedly, we were approached by a couple, and they stopped right in front of us, saying, “Oh my god, that’s Dutchess from Dutcher Crossing!” The friends I was with couldn’t believe it.  They thought I staged the whole thing.  I mean, there we were in Napa and some people I’d never seen before come up to us, make a scene of seeing Dutchie.  I double-checked what I had on, and I was not logo’d.  No bicycle gear, no winery logos anywhere.  This was a real, genuine greeting.  They couldn’t help themselves, they had to say hi, and it warmed my heart.

We go to another winery, and the exact same thing happens.  “Come on, Deb,” my friends say, insinuating I put this in place, that I knew these people.  And, again, no I didn’t.  It was Dutchess they recognized.  It was Dutchess that go the reaction.  They know she’s the Dutcher Crossing dog, but have no idea who I am.  None.  For all they know I’m a dog-sitter or something.  But I think more about it, and that’s just the way I want it.  Dutchess puts off the exact vibe I want the winery to.  Laid-back, relax, inviting…  She’s the center of attention, always, and it’s easy to see why.  There’s nothing superficial about her, and she has that same attitude we do back home in Wisconsin—  ‘Welcome to our house, nice to meet you, enjoy yourself…’ I smile when people approach her like this, randomly, or at the winery when I’m brought out by one of the staff to say hello to new or longtime members.  I’m passed by, while Dutchie is given endless hugs and pets, love and attention.  This is just how I want it.  She deserves it.  She welcomes it.  Dutchess is the atmosphere of the winery— laid-back, inviting, loving.  The guests can’t enough of her, and I love it, just as I love her.

Her reputation always astounds me.  Yes, it happens around the Dry Creek AVA, but to see her fame stretch all the way over the hill to Napa, is somewhat surprising.  I would even say ‘humbling’.  She’s more known in Napa than I am in Dry Creek.  This would have to be one of the greatest lessons to be learned from Dutchess, to enjoy the moment, that nothing’s more important than now.  People that meet her notice this as well, that she’s all about the current moment, that she’s focused on you when you meet her.  Since moving out here to wine country, and having Dutch’ in my life, I’ve been motivated to further appreciate where I am and the journey on which Dad and I set out over ten years ago.  Every time she’s recognized outside Dry Creek, be it in Napa or somewhere else in Sonoma, I’m reminded how lucky I am to be out here, living this life, and sharing Dutchess’ positive energy with you when you visit. 

Friday, June 24, 2016

The Hot Tub

     When you live where you work, you have to be a bit more mindful of, well, everything.  It was May of ’07, right when I bought Dutcher Crossing, I was already smitten by the growing vines, and one morning I thought I’d start the day with a little dip.  I thought, “What a nice way to start the day, look at the beautiful vines that are growing…” So I got in.  Then all of a sudden, four or five vineyard crew members were just beyond the trees, walking toward the house.  And again, the trees weren’t as big as they are now.  So the protection and privacy was minimal.  I didn’t know they started that early, and by ‘that early” I’m talking just after 5 in the morning.

     Owning a winery is like a string of lessons.  And this one, well, was an interesting one.  I woke up that morning and thought casually that there would be nothing around me but these vines, and the maturing trees.  Enjoy my morning, like anyone else.  But when I saw those guys walking toward the vines just beyond the lawn, it was clear:  I own a winery, I live at that winery, and I can’t be in the tub at the day’s beginning. 

     I was still getting used to the routine, I thought I’d be in and out and not connect with anyone.  Well, no.  It was a shock, and a valuable realization, that I live where I work, and work always comes first.  So I threw a towel on and shot into my bedroom.  I think of this and laugh, it was a little embarrassing but like I’ve said with these other stories, I laugh now.  Whenever I’m at the estate house, which isn’t that often anymore, but when I am and I see that hot tub, this is what I think of.

     So, you only hot-tub when the moon’s out.  Got it.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Matching Maples

Tina and her late-husband Tom have been friends since I arrived out here.  But at the start of our relationship, there was some ‘getting-used-to’.  Like what?  Well, I’d find out, soon.  One day they invited me out to their property for a drink, which I learned wasn’t common in that they didn’t have people over that often at all.  So this was a thrill for me.  I remember being on the phone with my brother, telling him “Oh my God, it’s beautiful out here.  You should see this!” But, I was in the mode of getting to know these growers, introduce myself at the new owner, build the relationship further.  Even when I first began my ownership, Maple fruit was highly sought-after, so I needed to be on my game and not disrupt the connection between Dutcher Crossing and the Maples.
Walking up the stairs to the porch, I see both Tina and Tom in matching, what I thought were, dresses.  I was told they weren’t dresses, but caftans.  Which to me, a kid from the midwest, just looked like a dress, or at the least a glorified moo-moo.  And they were purple, to make it even more of a shock.  I called my brother back, he asked, “So how’s it going out there?”
“Well,” I began, “Tom’s wearing a dress matching his wife’s.”
“How much have you had to drink?” Steve responded.
“One glass,” I said.  I thought, ‘Well this is going to be a long, interesting relationship.  The men out here in California wear dresses!  Purple dresses!  But, that was just it, this is not the midwest.  And I could only enjoy the free-spirited attitude of Tina and her husband.  That’s just how they are, and it was such a treat for me to be invited over to their house for some bubbles and a sunset.
Tina later gave me my own caftan.  That’s when I knew the relationship was not only going somewhere, but it was a real association between winery owner and grower.  And, as many of you know, we still produce a couple wines from that amazing vineyard.  Now, I must admit, I don’t wear it that often, and certainly not when people are over, but I look at it often and know I made the right choice coming out here.  Making new friends and understanding what’s involved in relationship with growers, and how that relationship impacts and influences the attitude of Dutcher.  
I’m not in Wisconsin.  All of this is still a learning road for me.  I wouldn’t trade it for anything.  And Tina, one of my best friends.  The Maples have shown me that this wine life is a unique one, and the lifestyle out here is like nothing back in Wisconsin.  I’m a Californian now, and these are my new neighbors.  They wear matching dresses, or caftans, or moo-moo’s.  That’s fine.  That’s more than fine.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

What a Trip!

Being from a small town like La Crosse, I even more value family and a closeness of people.  So I started the tradition of an annual pilgrimage a couple years ago, going back home with the winemaking team and some other staff members, or “the boys” as I call them.  Not just a casual journey back home together, as we have several work commitments on both sides of my home state.  But we have fun, too.  Either way, this tradition started with just Kerry and I, then we started bringing Nick, and then a couple of the others.  I intended it to be not just a joining of my California wine family and my Wisconsin family back home, which it was, but a celebration, a party.  That’s just what it became, and it certainly took on an identity of its own.  My California wine family was welcomed with arms wider than “wide open”, and the celebrating began.  Actually, it began on the plane.  Kerry and Nick and the boys couldn’t wait this one year to get everything started and see the La Crosse/Mathy tribe.  
Off the plane, the boys wanted to go straight to a store for some wine and spirits, and food of course for the grill, to share with my family back home (you wonder why they’re welcomed with such open arms, right?).  We headed to my Mom’s river house, fully loaded with probably half a pig, half a cow, and enough beer to supply La Crosse and the next town over.  The family back home knows my boys, and me after my move to Dry Creek, and how we enjoy life to an exceptional degree.  Nothing crazy or dangerous, but oh do we enjoy life.  They see us as “professional”.  And, frankly, we are.
My brother Steve says, “Great!  Mom’s hungry, time to eat…” So the party started.  The grill was going, we had to cook something like 20 steaks, so we had our work cut out for us (yeah, that was a pun).  It was funny to see Kerry and my brother battle for the way the steaks were done, one saying “Do it this way!” while the other said something like, “No, like this!”  Californians seem to always want their steaks still mooing.  Sconi’s don’t.  So my brother and Kerry playfully jabbed at each other for a while, Nick was just going with the flow enjoying the brandy-themed cocktail I made him, one not at all shy on the Brandy.  (Few know that more Brandy is consumed in Wisconsin than in the rest of the country.  Fact.)  The two families continued to have their fun, tell each other stories, and do what they both do best— enjoy life.
Well, we had to be up at 7 the next morning to go fishing.  Pretty sure Nick forgot this, and Kerry a bit too but at least he was up when I got to the river house a little before 7.  Silly winemaker Kerry was in his PJ’s drinking chocolate milk, while Nick and the boys were nowhere in sight.  Good thing Mom has a strong and sturdy intercom in the house.  It was time to go fishing, and certain people needed to wake up.  So I put the intercom to use.  
“IT’S TIME TO GET UP!  TIME TO FISH!” I blared into the mic.
Nick stumbled out, looking a little injured from the previous night’s gathering of the families, saying “Ugh, it’s like the voice of God…” I laughed, they laughed—well, not Nick—and we went fishing.
       The perfect blend of business and pleasure, these trips.  Get the business handled, then have a little fun with both families.  The perfect blend.  And why not, I realize since my move out to wine country.  It’s more than simple team-building, this is a true joining of families, one culture and way of life meshing with the other, and learning from each other, and all for the enjoyment of life.  I can’t wait to see what happens next year, who pours who what, who wakes up on time and who doesn’t…  Who needs to hear the “voice of God”.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Kerry Trapped, and His Not-So-Clean Getaway

So our winemaker, God love him, is a funny guy.  It was ’09, and we were working on the blend of Sauvignon Blanc.  Eight hours of tasting, which to most sounds like fun (and I won’t lie, it is), is still exhausting.  On the 3rd day of blending, by the time the final blend was decided and the rest of us left, Kerry was determined to finish everything.  He stayed behind to document all the specs of blend, the percentages and clonal selections, barrels and what not.  In his dedicated state, he stayed in the lab to work, oblivious to the world outside the lab, even the part of the world that was still on-property, just on the other side of his lab’s door.  Well, with the motion sensors on and the alarm set, Kerry set it off, but ‘dedicated Kerry’ didn’t hear it.  Kerry had no idea, and I told him the sheriffs had been dispatched.  They were on their way and it was too late to call them off.
I called him and asked where he was, he said “I’m finishing wine notes.” Telling him the police were on their way, he didn’t know what to do.  “Should I offer them a glass of wine?” he asked.  I disagreed of course and told him to stay put, but Kerry in his usually-crazy winemaker mode told me he didn’t have an ID on him, nor did he have any keys to the building.  There’d be no way for anyone to know that he worked at Dutcher Crossing.
Kerry had to get out of the lab, he knew.  And quick.  So, he hopped in his Volvo, drove the back dirt path to the estate house, and joined me for a Scotch.  I think he may have had two.  I swear, I can still hear his voice when I called him to ask if he heard the alarm going off.  “No,” he said, simply.  That’s one of the funniest parts of the story to me, Kerry having NO CLUE what was going on.  
This is just what makes Dutcher Crossing a story to itself.  Just one of those odd things that happens, and when it happens you can’t believe it’s happening.  Not just my story, but the ones we share with everyone who visits.  Life as a vintner is full of the same silly set of moments that every other profession’s is.  This is the first memory I’m sharing, not because it involves our winemaker (although it was funny to watch him speed toward the estate house in his old Volvo), but because it’s life.  This stuff happens.  And, it’s even funnier when it happens at a winery.  

Why is it funnier at a winery?  I don’t know.  I guess just the way it happened.  The get-away aspect definitely adds to it.  And just that our winemaker was locked in, and how oblivious he was to it all, the significance of what was happening.  He had NO clue! 

Something I Wanted to Share

It’s been nearly ten years since I took possession of Dutcher Crossing.  I can barely believe it, honestly.  Some of the stories I have to tell, I feel like I have to share with you, and want to because it’s contributed to who we are today and what this winery’s all about.  Family.  Having fun.  Fully enjoying where we live and work.  Appreciating life out here in wine country, which has been a dream of mine since 15.  Well, here I am, “living the dream” as they say, and the dream is still going.  The stories keep coming.  As best I can, I’m going to try and relay what happened, when it happened, tell my story as a vintner.  And again, many times the story in my head will just remind me it’s there and demands that I share it.

So, I’ve decided to write out some of these stories, in no particular order as sometimes I’ll be walking the vineyard with Dutchie and ‘boom!’, one hits me.  So many of them weren’t funny at the time, but looking back I can only laugh.  And like I said, TEN YEARS.  Ten years of laughs, don’t know how many blending sessions, tours, sales trips, interactions with growers I’ve had.  A lot.  I still sometimes look out at the Chardonnay block, up at the hill, and think, “Wow, okay…  This is my office.”