The beginning of Whetstone...
I went into Larry’s office end of the working day. He knew I had something to get off my chest. Turley was a juggernaut; expansion & renovation of the Paso property in full swing. Howell Mountain vineyards coming on line. Failla was small but ramping and taking up whatever space was left in St Helena. Heady times with so much to do every minute of every day. And it was SO. MUCH. FUN.
Larry is a fantastic listener. Not verbose. Poignant. Speaks in parables applicable to the sitch:
Larry: “Do we have to do this now?” deadpan, heavy air, eye contact. He’s a very big dude, btw.
Me: “I would like to, yes.”
Larry: “Ok. (looooong pause) then I need your business plan. We’ll go over it together, put some parameters in place, discuss it further, decide.”
Me: “That’s it?!”
Larry: “Get out.”
Note the word “we” he used twice in our conversation. That’s how you knew you were inner circle with Larry. I had already run it by Ehren and had his blessing. After the dismantling and restructure of said plan…
Larry: ”Don’t ask me for a raise. You can make a maximum of 1000 cases here. And Jamey…this is important…Turley first, Failla a wildly distant second, and Whetstone not even on the radar. Got it?!”
Me: “Got it!”
Larry: “Get out.”
Crazy the paths we go down when we don’t know any better. Hattie was barely 15 months old and I would be divorced from her mother two years later.
Whetstone was off and running. I garnered fruit from David Hirsch, Rich Savoy and Sara Lee Kunde. Couple tons from each. Pinot Noir from the guys, Viognier from Sara Lee. Bought a few new barrels and borrowed everything else. Making the wines at Turley was the only way I could’ve done it financially. Tricky parts were tank space at harvest, trying to fit in sampling my own fruit, getting bins to the vineyard for a pick, borrowing a flatbed truck from Turley for all things involving fruit.
Savoy Vineyard is in Philo above Booneville, Hirsch is out Bohan-Dillon Road, back side of Cazadero, and Catie’s (owned by Sara Lee) north of the Windsor airport. You can go to your Maps app and figure out the driving time between those spots and Turley in St Helena. I would leave the house at 2 in the morning, strap a miner’s light on, and sample my grapes until my hands were numb. Back to Turley before sunup or other vineyards attached to my day job(s). GPS wasn’t very efficient in 2002. We used Nextel Walkie Talkie Radio phones back then so we had the newest technology, but it didn’t play out well at many spots where vineyards tended to thrive. I come outta the deep woods into walkie talkie range and would here the familiar “chirp” of my Nextel followed by a stern, non-loving voice in a low grumble/growl asking for immediate updates on my location and ETA to wherever the fuck I was supposed to be soon.
Precarious, maddening, wonderful, adventurous. Money sucking, dangerous, humbling, unfamiliar, challenging. Wouldn’t trade the early days for anything. Even now the earnest feeling I get from driving my ’94 Chevy with 333,000 miles on it to a vineyard meeting, the bank, grocery store, dinner fills me with pride and sense of well-being.
I was lucky to have Larry but I worked my ass off for that privilege, 7 days a week for many years. Blue collar is wonderful work when you want to be there and have a profitable stake in it. But man is it deafening on the molding of the body and mind. I could keep going here but feel like taking a martini break. Will pick up soon with the next installment.