Local wine grape growers and vintners from around Tehachapi gathered together on Jan. 8 to share a meal, a few laughs, exchange ideas, and most importantly imbibe in a bit of the fruits of their labors... literally. The First Annual Grape Growers Get Together was underway. Yes... First Annual! The festivities took place at the home of Mike and Michele Dorner (we are the newest of local residents to jump into the wine tasting room pool). In addition, Triassic Legacy's new owners Jim and Sally Arnold, vineyard and tasting room trailblazers Bob and Patty Souza, as well as outgoing Triassic Legacy Vineyard owner Chuck McCullough were present. Home vintners Kim and Keith Nash, Gary and Sandy Adams and Cliff and Lisa Meredith rounded out the growers. Souza family vineyard employee, Al Duncan, and long-time friends Bob and Trace Young, as well as Mike and Michele's son, Adam filled in the seats around the table. Unable to attend this year's event were Mary Sigler and Ilda Vaja of Rancha de las Viajeros.
As the exchange of laughter and stories filled the dining room, I glanced around the table and smiled to myself. I was very thankful for this group of extraordinary people we have crossed paths with, and became friends with over these past few years. This little community of wine growers is a very kind and generous group of people. Early in the season, when the call goes out for help with pruning the vines, everyone gathers, pruning shears in hand, ready to work. What's the saying, "Many hands make light work." So very true. When late fall approaches, this tight knit group again makes the rounds to help harvest the grapes. Throughout the year phone calls go back and forth between the families on a regular basis checking in on such things as bud break, pruning techniques, sugar levels and a lot of other technical talk that sounds much like some sort of secret language between the growers. When we showed interest in making our own wine, Kim and Keith generously offered their time and equipment to us along with some invaluable advice. We have been able to practice the art of wine making so successfully because of their generosity.
Back at our celebration I listened to Jim and Sally share their plans with Bob and Chuck, while Mike, Keith and Cliff exchanged ideas on brix and residual sugar levels. Pretty exciting stuff right? Kim and Patty shared some invaluable advice with me regarding our new wedding venue, while everyone gave input on the various wines making their way around the table. Admission to the event, after all, was a bottle or two, or four of your most recent crush. If only the knowledge filling this room could be bottled and sold.
I recalled a story that summed up this evening perfectly: Last summer Mike and I were at Souza Family Vineyard, enjoying a visit with Bob and Patty. Standing at the bar with us, with a glass of wine in hand was a customer who was visiting Tehachapi from out of town. As Bob introduced us to the customer, he mentioned that we were in the process of gaining county approval to build our own tasting room just across the valley, and that we should be breaking ground in the next few months. The man looked stunned. He looked at Bob and then back at me. He looked confused. "And you are all friends?" he stammered, incredulous at the fact that we were even in the same room together, much less friends. "Of course we are", I responded. He just shook his head. He looked again at Bob and then me. He was unconvinced that the four of us were all friends: that Bob and Patty were sharing the "secrets" of their successful winemaking business with us. He couldn't comprehend why they were openly sharing their novice mistakes with us, in the hopes that we could avoid making them ourselves. Didn't the Souzas think of us as the competition, he queried. I steadied myself against the bar as I laughed at that question. "Why would they be so willing to help you?" he questioned again. "Didn't they think we could eventually take business away from them?" He really didn't get it. "Of course not," Bob and I declared before the man could finish his thought. Bob and Patty want us to succeed. They want us to be as successful as they are. As Bob and Patty have told us: "Nothing would make them happier." And they really mean it.
In Bob's words, "What is good for one tasting room is good for all the tasting rooms." And he is right. When one prospers, we all prosper. When one is successful, we are all successful. No wiser words have ever been spoken. Bob, I mean "The Bob," is one smart guy. He laughs at me, but I really do keep a small notepad with me whenever I stop by their tasting room. I tell Bob that whenever he opens his mouth "little pearls of wisdom" come trickling out. I scribble down notes for fear I will forget his wise words, and our tasting room will forever be doomed to fail. As I scribble away, he laughs. He calls me his best little note taker.
As the evening unfolded, and Bob Souza likened the dinner to a meeting of "The Five Families," the exchange of ideas and experiences continued, including some hilarious stories. Gary Adams recalled a story from a few years back when he and his wife Sandy decided to plant their first vines. He shared his dream with his family, declaring to anyone who would listen, "I'm going to be the best darn voyeur Tehachapi has ever seen." Voyeur... did he just say voyeur? Yes, he did. Voyeur! Poor Sandy just hung her head. "Vintner, Gary, the word is vintner. Not voyeur. Vintner." Oops! More laughter.
In addition to catching up with the usual suspects, we welcomed the "new kids on the block," Jim and Sally Arnold. They shared with us their hopes and plans relating to their new tasting room, and we hopefully helped answer some of their questions. With the end of the evening nearing, we officially moved up one rung on the ladder. It was a graduation of sorts. Mike and I were no longer sitting on the bottom rung. If we're lucky some day we, too, might have someone chasing after us with notepad in hand, scribbling away. And so it continues... "When one prospers, we all prosper. When one is successful, we are all successful." How true those words are... how very true. Happy New Year Everyone! Keep enjoying that wine!