Mentors throughout the years...
I knew I wanted to quit my restaurant job the day I got to go spend a few hours with Larry, Ehren Jordan, Bob Nicolayson, and Thomas Brown up at a spot called the Whitney Tennessee Vineyard. Bright, cool, windy day of pruning vines with the Turley crew in February 1998. Larry had his candy apple red Suburban backed up against the vineyard, cooler on the tailgate provisioned with pork chops, veggies and couple bottles of Alain Graillot Crozes Hermitage.
They gave me a pair of old pruning shears, a handful of vines-worth of how to prune, & sage advice telling me not to “ruin the vintage ahead.” An old oil barrel had been sliced in half, one end cut out, a flat top welded on top, bicycle handles at one end to help steer, an old bicycle tire attached to an original fork for rolling. We’d fill the open end with the cuttings, a sprinkle of diesel and lite that puppy. Half hour later Larry is cooking chops and veggies on the flat top. Solo cups filled with Rhone Syrah, sitting in folding chairs enjoying a meal with new friends in a box canyon accented by a vineyard of old vine zinfandel in the northern end of Napa Valley. Are you fucking kidding me?!?! I gave my notice that summer and never looked back.
Larry, having a long career as a successful ER Doc, founded and sold his interest in Frog’s Leap Winery, and created one of the first world-renowned “cult wineries” Turley Wine Cellars….was also there to look at my business plans and give hard-earned advice as to what was silly and/or sound. Larry taught me fiscal responsibility when I had none. He also taught me to be good for my word no matter what. I have been through some extraordinarily lean years of my own making and he was always there to encourage/help me along within reason. I honestly don’t know how things would’ve turned out for the Napa Whetstones sans Larry.
Ehren was my boss at Turley Wine Cellars for the 7 vintages I worked there; A true vigneron and wildly rare in California. A vigneron directs all things vineyard and winemaking. He/she can diagram the vineyard layout, dial in a spray rig, adjust the spader depth, lead a pruning seminar on all things spur, cordon, or guyot, set up vineyard irrigation complete with fertigator, direct a vineyard crew from bud break to harvest, oversee all nuances of winemaking from when the grapes hit the barn, to fermentation temps, to pressing, to barrel down, to lees aging and all the specific oak influences in precise percentages, bottling predilections…all the while dictating pace of sales both wholesale and DTC.
I always thought Ehren should’ve been CEO of IBM, etc. An art history major, he just had a knack of knowing the right thing to do for any occasion involving the business of wine, vineyard or dinner parties. I was his assistant winemaker for Turley and a few years for Failla, his own winery. Ehren and I raised our first children a block away from each other, used the same contractor to remodel our first homes, got our pilots licenses in similar time frames, traveled to France & Steeler playoff games at Hines Fiend together, and drank a boat load of Kermit Lynch imports after long days on the crush pad.
The only person who pushed me more throughout my life was my high school football coach. But no matter the workday (realizing I absolutely earned his ire on most occasions), we’d retire down the ship’s ladder into his home subterranean cellar and choose a bottle of 20 year old Chave Hermitage Blanc and, maybe, a magnum of Thierry Allemand Cornas for dinner. His collection was ridiculous and Ehren was overflowing with generosity when you’d earned it.
I was fortunate enough to have worked with him developing his estate property out on the edge of civilization atop the Mohrhardt Ridge in Western Sonoma County. No electricity, a phone line, water from a “creek” we ran a 2 horse pump out of that ended up some hundreds of feet uphill by solar power into two 500 gallon tanks that funded the vineyard irrigation; Awesomely nuts and challenging and life affirming. My wife will tell you I am not a very reliable handyman so Ehren had his work cut out with me. I’d spend half dozen weeks out there most summers doing vineyard work, driving a tractor, killing rattlesnakes, running from wild boar, cooking meals by gaslight and fireside, sleeping like the dead. I owe EJ so much.