What is the definition of being successful? Is it making more money than you know what to do with? Is it having letters after your name that people aren’t even sure what they mean? Or is it simply being happy? When Mike and I decided to enter the wine business, we knew it wasn’t going to be an easy road. We were realistic. We understood that we would neither be an overnight sensation, nor ever be as recognized as Robert Mondavi. That’s not why we entered the business. We entered the wine industry because we love wine and it was our dream to own a winery. We chose to not just wish or dream about it, we made a conscious decision to make it happen.We chose to Pursue Our Passion.
It’s a scary thing chasing down your dreams, but if you don’t enter the race you are never going to win. One of my favorite sayings about Pursuing Your Passion was made by “The Great One,” Wayne Gretzky. He very eloquently stated, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” He knows you need to take risks. You need to leave the safety net that tethers you to your comfort zone so that you can experience what happens next.
In this, what has become a monthly tradition, a guest blogger will tell you their story of how they pursued their passion in the wine industry. These people understood what Van Gogh meant by “I would rather die of passion than of boredom.”
Weimaraners are amazing animals. They are, in my opinion, the smartest dog breed there is. They are escape artists and goofy, and just plain loveable. If you are following this blog, then you probably know that we named our winery after our weimaraner, Draco, who we lost at fourteen years old. If you happened here by chance, then you can read about our story here.
When we lost Draco, I was a mess. Some will say I am still a mess. Tears come to my eyes very easily whenever someone mentions him or something reminds me of him. He was my baby. He was my world. He has left a very large hole in my heart.
Not to say that Mike doesn’t miss Draco, but he handles it very differently. He couldn’t come home to a dog-less house, and I hated seeing him so depressed, so we contacted the Tri-State Weim Rescue and amazingly there was a dog they thought would be perfect for us. We visited him. Mike fell in love and I refused to leave him in that situation. Enter Vegas into our lives. [we changed his name from Zero. We figured he was a pretty lucky dog]
You may be asking, what the heck does Vegas and weimaraners have to do with this blog post about Pursuing Your Passion, well, I’ll explain. We began hosting a “Weim and Cheese” at our home to raise funds for the rescue group. On one night, a couple named Amanda and Craig came. Completely unnecessarily, they brought us a plant and brought Vegas a toy. Vegas loved the toy, although it was destroyed in about a day and I still have the plant.
During conversation, Mike and I were talking about Dracaena Wines and how it is in Paso Robles. Amanda and Craig both chimed in that Amanda’s uncle lives in Paso and is just starting a winery, Four Lanterns Winery, named after his four daughters. [see how I brought that together?] So, on our next trip out, we stopped in to the winery and we officially met Steve and Jackie and two of their daughters. They were just opening up the tasting room. The official opening was the next day. As we picked their brains about the business, we helped clean glasses, move wine cases and get the tasting room ready. Honestly, it was one of the best afternoons. It was so much fun and we learned so much. [and we got to taste some pretty darn good wine]
Ever since then, we always make sure we stop in to say hello and to sip and savour. We love the wines and we love the conversation with Steve and Jackie. They are what my grandmother would always say, “Good people.” If you want to know someone who has pursued their passion, read Steve’s story below.
Let’s see. I quit a job that paid more than I ever thought I would make. I sold a large house with a pool in Orange County California, and moved my family to a small rural town. My two youngest kids changed schools in their seventh and eleventh grade years. And all this was to start-up a winery that I knew would not make money for at least 5 years.
People dream of making dramatic life changes, but almost no one actual jumps off the cliff. I did. Was it a pursuit of passion that made me jump? I am and was passionate about wine, although, it is one thing to love wine, and something completely different to start a winery. As a consumer I was well versed in wine, although I didn’t now much about making wine, and I knew even less about growing grapes.
People always want to hear the story, either for vicarious thrills or they are actually thinking of ditching it all to pursue their passion. Frequently this conversation involves wine. Either they have had too much or they envision themselves living in the middle of a vineyard. I try to be encouraging, but I know that to really pursue their passion (wine or otherwise) they will need to step onto an emotional battlefield and face “The Beast.”
The Beast in its meekest form is simply inertia. In the progression of life, most of us end up in careers that devolve into jobs. We get used to going to work, day in, day out. We have little passion in our work and less joy for having done it.
If you can fight inertia the battle for dramatic change intensifies. The Beast would keep you from your passion by baring the teeth and claws of mortgage payments, college tuition, a family comfortable in their surroundings, status, titles, collegial friendships, retirement plans, a sense of commitment to community, clients, suppliers, “the company” and the comfortable complacency of competence.
How can you ignore all of this and leave your job to pursue your passion? Maybe you shouldn’t. It may take years before you know if your passion can support you and your family. We live and work for all the people around us. Chucking everything to pursue a passion can be an incredibly selfish act.
In my case, at least initially, it was not that I was courageously running with eyes afire to slay The Beast, but that I was running dejectedly away from a job that made me miserable. I felt I was dying a slow death. A sense of disillusionment in my career was so profound that it crushed inertia like a bug on a windshield. I stumbled about the battlefield searching for a standard to carry forward. It was thrilling to cast off the weight of a dead passion. My eyes cleared as I scurried about in search of something new. Finally I realized I already had what I was looking for.
No matter our choices we can look back and see markers along the path. Here are some of mine.
- Raised in the Finger Lakes Region in New York, I remember my father telling stories about his friend Walter launching Bully Hill Winery to make high quality wines in the region (then a novel idea).
- I also remember sitting at the tasting bar in the beautiful old Gold Seal building on the shore of Kueka Lake and drinking wine at the ripe old age of 17 – my girlfriend pouring on the other side of the bar (18 was legal in NY back then)
- Cheap beer sufficed until I graduated from college and headed to New York City to start a long carrier in the bond industry. The beast was born, but so too was a love of great wine.
- A business dinner at Sparks (weeks before Gambino crime boss, Paul Castellano, was shot to death on the street outside this restaurant) introduced me to a bottle of Bordeaux that transformed how I thought about wine
- A Chianti at Spago’s in Tokyo ignited a love of Italian wines
- In the early 1990’s my wife and I visited my brother in Paso Robles. We were so enthralled with the countryside that we came back again an again for the next 20 plus years.
Many more memories build the story but life is short and so are blogs so I will spare you, dear reader. I will leave you with two final thoughts.
The first is that faced with the prospects of a dramatic life change, my wife didn’t blink an eye. She is a force behind our venture. My first step in this pursuit of passion was to search for a vineyard. I drove from Orange County to Paso Robles every couple of weeks for six months before I found it (thanks Pete and John for all the help). My wife recalls me calling home from the last of these trips with excitement, apprehension, joy, and fear in my voice. “I love this place,” I said. I didn’t know what to expect. She said something about me working hard all my life and then was quiet for a moment. She seemed to be equivocating. It felt as if The Beast was getting the upper hand. To my complete surprise she said, “go ahead, buy it.” With that one swift stroke she killed the beast and started our new life.
Finally I would offer a toast to those who don’t make the leap. As I noted earlier, many of us work in jobs we don’t love to support those who depend on us. It can take an act of courage to, in the words of Jackson Browne, “get up and do it again, Amen.” It is a selfless gift they give to those they love. I carry a bit of dreadful pride from all those days commuting to work, or sitting in endless meetings, or stuffed in the back of a plane. Even though I work harder now than I ever have, it doesn’t feel like it. I feel lucky to do what I do.
We are blessed here at Four Lanterns with a passion rooted in a beautiful vineyard that enables us to make beautiful wine. I hope that people love it here when they visit. But more importantly, I hope that when they get home and after suffering through a tough day or week at work they can have a glass of our wine. I hope the wine reminds them of the better things in life, like time spent with loved ones. Maybe they will even remember time spent here at Four Lanterns. And I hope above all else that it makes them happy.