Our thirty year journey

Our story starts in 1989, the first post "Meeting Jim" lays out the framework for the events that follow. The subsequent posts will build on that narrative.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Burnt Vines

During the summer of 1991,  David Garcia our live-in vineyard worker sulfur dusted the grape vines in 100 degree weather. When I heard, I went out to see the damage and it looked like a war zone in the vineyard. I began to cry. I thought it was the end of my ranch experiment. I would not be able to continue to operate the ranch, the crop was gone, my family was right.

Over the next days, the  grapes that were burnt shriveled up and underneath there were many more bunches of grapes that hadn’t been affected.  This disastrous act turned out to be a blessing in disguise. The Zinfandel and Chardonnay vines had been overcropped and the sulfur only burned the exterior grapes; once they shriveled up and died and the rest of the grapes underneath were exposed, they flourished and we had a good harvest. In fact, we had a bumper crop of Chardonnay and we weren't able to sell it all. 

Although we were still under drought conditions in 1991, we had some rain and the vines were able to benefit from that rain and produce a good crop.

Jim and Susan get Married

In early 1991 my family had lost their patience with Jim’s and my ranch experiment.  They began looking for ways to remove us from the ranch.  It started with a March meeting with my Dad, Stewart and Anita at the ranch. They wanted to know what our plans were for the ranch.  It was at this meeting that I announced that Jim and I planned to marry sometime in the fall. No one said a thing.  Graham later heard about our plans to get married and was the only family member who wished us well.  


In mid June my mother came up to the ranch unannounced with potential purchasers who ran a vineyard acquisition group, and Graham joined them for a tour of the winery and property.  It was an extremely uncomfortable situation, especially since my mother made it clear to them that Jim and I were interlopers and told the group in our presence that Graham was the real winemaker. So Jim and I retreated to a hill nearby and waited for my mother and her entourage to leave.  I was worried that the family would try to find a way to move Jim off the ranch, so we decided that we should get married right away.  


The very next Monday, Jim and I went to the Napa County Courthouse and got our Marriage License.  The court gave us a list of people who could marry us, so I got in a phone booth and started calling people on the list. The attorney who married us was the first to answer his phone. His office was right across from the courthouse. He ushered us in and showed us a binder of marriage vows.  We read through them and picked a simple but well written ceremony; according to the lawyer who appeared amused, it was the shortest of his marriage ceremonies. He married us and his legal secretary was the witness.  I cried because it was beautiful and meaningful and I was in love. That evening we celebrated at Piatti in Yountville. Then we came home, folded laundry, made love and went to sleep.  The next day Jim took off for L.A. to sell wine.  About two weeks later I had cards made announcing our marriage.  I called my dad before I sent the announcements, so he would not be surprised. (He and my mother were divorced and he had remarried.)   I didn’t inform my mother and I heard later that when she received the announcement in the mail, she was so upset that she stayed in bed all day.


Tuesday, June 2, 2020


It was his very first race, he was six years old and he was the first horse that Jim and I raced together with our own stable. Jim went to the Vallejo Fairgrounds racetrack early the morning of the race to be with Jasonic. I arrived in the early afternoon with our new friend named Bob, who lived in Calistoga and liked to bet on the races.  Jim’s brother Bob and Bob’s girlfriend Darlene arrived at the track a bit later in the day in their motor home. Bob had lung cancer and had lost all of his hair from chemotherapy, but he and Darlene were there to support us. 

Jasonic was a big strapping horse, about 17.1 hands. Jim’s friends Carl and Mickie Pitti from Hemet had given him to us a couple of years before, after my mother had taken all of her horses off the ranch and we were left without any other horses than my riding horse, Zacker.  Jasonic was in the last race of the day. The second to the last race is generally the biggest race of the day. After that one, most people start packing up and going home. The stands were emptying out as Jasonic was brought to the paddock.  

When Jasonic was already in the paddock  preparing to be saddled, Jim’s appointed jockey informed him  that he had a stomach ache and wouldn’t ride the horse. In desperation Jim ran into the Jock’s room (The Jockeys dressing room) and looked for another rider. The other jockeys who were not riding in that race were changing and getting ready to leave the track. But one rider, J.C. Martinez jumped at the opportunity to ride any horse he could and took the mount. Jim told the jockey to break him very alert and do what ever he could, “see what he’s got.” When the gate opened up, Jasonic roared to the front; another horse challenged him on the outside for the lead halfway down the back stretch. J.C. slapped him on the shoulder and he kept the lead and opened up by a length and a half in the stretch. 

As we were all standing near the finish line and screaming “go Jasonic go” he maintained the lead and finished first. The five of us were jumping up and down and screaming so loud we must have been a sight to behold. He paid $20 on a two dollar ticket and we were all winners that day. After we posed for the win picture, cashed in our tickets, and waited for Jasonic to be drug tested and cooled down, we drove back to Napa Valley and went to the Rutherford Grill to celebrate. 

The staff put us at the large table near the window where you can see their famous roasted chicken cooking on a spit. We were all giddy from our exciting win and ordered the most extravagant dishes on the menu. 

The general manager of the restaurant apparently liked our high energy and when the time came for the bill, he told us it was on the house. 

Darlene and Bob second and third from the left, Susan, other Bob, Jim
Someone else who got lucky at the track that day

The racehorses are taken off the ranch

In the early months of 1991, my mother took all the horses off the ranch except Zacker, my older Arabian riding horse. Because there were so many young thoroughbreds that were leaving the ranch, it was quite an ordeal to get them loaded up on a stock trailer. Some of these horses had never been in a horse trailer before; so, they were very confused and scared. During the chaos, horses got loose and the ranch looked like it was in a dust storm. When the dust settled, the ranch was a very lonely place. Zacker was now the sole resident and the ranch seemed like a ghost town.The biggest blow was to lose our stallion, named Napa Valley, who was the cornerstone of our advertising.  As the new season began, visitors started arriving to see the race horses and we had nothing to show them. So, Jim got on the phone to his horse friends in LA and within two weeks, we had three new horses: Miss Stacy Lee, a broodmare, her son Stacy’s Knight a beautiful Black stallion and Jasonic, a gelding and potential racehorse. Jim also received a couple of additional racehorses that needed to be trained; so Jim was able to make some money and we were up and running again as the thoroughbred winery in Chiles Valley.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Poppy a most extraordinary cat

In the spring of 1991, Jim and I picked up an orange tabby kitten from a lady who had a Bed and Breakfast reservation service in Napa. She made many bookings for us and we had a rapport. When she told me about her kittens, I couldn’t wait to see them and bring one home. When we arrived at her home in Napa, she didn’t let us choose.  She selected the orange tabby and said that he would be perfect for us because he needed a lot of space. His fur stood straight up and he seemed docile enough when he was put in his cat carrier. Little did we know what we were up for. We named him Poppy, because he was the same color as the poppies in bloom. 

Because Poppy was only about five weeks old and so tiny, he needed to be in a safe place till he grew bigger; so, we moved him into our bedroom. This decision cost us three nights sleep and lots of cat scratches from Poppy’s nightly forays. He must have slept all day in anticipation of the evening attacks. When I spoke to the lady who gave Poppy to us several weeks later, she admitted that she was concerned that we might return Poppy. It seems he terrorized his litter mates and had to be removed quickly, so that's why we got him. 

Within a short time, we found a way to have restful sleep again. We got a second kitten, Jake, named after the man who gave him to Jim. This cream colored tabby kitten was feral, he had not had human handling. When Jim brought him home, Jake was paralyzed with fear and catatonic. We immediately brought him to our bedroom to meet Poppy. For the next three days, Poppy terrorized him and he took to hiding behind a dresser. This situation was a bit disconcerting except that we were no longer Poppy’s target and we could get a good night’s sleep. By the third or fourth day of this, I happened to go into my bedroom in the afternoon and found Poppy and Jake sleeping together so I knew that everything would be okay.  

Poppy grew up with the dogs and was the most unusual cat I have ever come across. He liked to ride on the truck around the ranch. He would jump on the back of Jim’s truck and then make his way to the hood by gingerly working his way across the side window and through the arm of the rear view window, or he would just jump on to the roof of the cab. It seemed that he enjoyed the wind in his face and knew how to brace himself for the turns. We tried to be very careful when he decided to act like a hood ornament. However, there were times when he jumped on the roof and rode around without us knowing it. When the truck stopped he would hop down to the hood to let us know he had been on the ride.

Besides riding on the truck, he liked to get into parked cars when their windows were open. In one instance he ate a half pound of pate some guests left in their car. On another occasion he must have fallen asleep in a guest car because after leaving the ranch, they returned several minutes later and dropped Poppy back at the ranch. 

Poppy didn’t have a lot of patience. He needed to patrol the ranch in the middle of the night so he figured out how to get out of our house on his own.  He would lay on his side by the sliding glass door and pry it open by wedging his front feet against the door and bracing his back feet against the door frame to slide the door wide enough to escape. We finally saw him perform this amazing stunt to solve the mystery of why the sliding door was always open in the morning.  Although he would leave quietly in the middle of the night, he would arrive home in the middle of the night with lots of fanfare. 

Poppy would disappear for several days, then would announce his return in the middle of the night by clawing his way up the screen door, and suspending himself on it to get our attention.  We’d let him in and he would curl up and sleep on our bed for two days; he wouldn’t even lift his head when we would come in and out of the room. Then he would stick around for a few days before leaving in the night. On one occasion he disappeared for 10 days and as we were sadly coming to terms with his demise, he reappeared.

Poppy was plagued with urinary tract infections and kidney stones which resulted in several emergency trips to the Pope Valley Vet. We finally determined that it was the spring water with its high mineral content that caused his problem so, along with his urinary tract special diet kibble, we made sure he only drank well water.

He frequently returned home at night with injuries from fights and needed first aid. He once fell into a bucket of oil and we had to rub all the oil out of his fur. The lady who gave him to us was right, he needed a lot of space and the whole ranch was his territory.

Poppy liked to go on hikes with Jim and me and the dogs. He explored every corner of the ranch and would show up just about anywhere on the ranch, even in a remote area where Jim might be working. Jim would hear him meow from a distance as he seemingly appeared out of nowhere. 

Poppy was a very social cat as well. He liked to attend parties at the winery. He attended  picnics, lunches and weddings as though he was an invited guest. He always showed up when there were big gatherings of people. He liked to sashay through the crowd and then sit at the table (on his own chair or on a picnic bench) and participate in the festivities. For the most part he behaved himself.

Sadly, the day we knew he wasn’t coming home again was when we had a big party at the winery. He didn’t show up that day so we knew something was amiss.

Poppy on the hood, Bo and Buster in the bed the truck
Buster, Poppy and Bo at the winery

He brought us joy 
and we loved him well
He was not ours
He was not mine
-from Out of Africa

Monday, April 27, 2020

Jim's Knee

In the Summer of 1990, Jim tackled a young stallion in an attempt to give him a shot. He and the horse tripped and ended up on the ground, Jim lay motionless  and appeared to be dead. But he was not unconscious and we were able to get him in a car and I drove him to the emergency room at Queen of the Valley Hospital. (This was my second trip to the emergency room with Jim. The first time was when some horses got loose in the night and he had to chase them. In the process of running up and down hills he got a rusty nail in his foot.)

On our arrival to the emergency room at Queen of the Valley, the hospital staff ushered him in for treatment immediately.  Hours later he came out with a mechanical leg brace and was able to resume his horse training activities but from the ground only. At that time he was training two young people, Aaron and Melinda, to be exercise riders and ultimately jockeys.

Jim was not healing the way he expected to and didn’t find his Napa Valley Doctor’s advise, to wait and see, sufficient. So Georgie our winemaker, decided to step in and recommend the top orthopedic surgeon in sports medicine, Dr. Dillingham.  Jim went to his sport’s clinic and was seen by Dr. Warren King, who had trained under Dr. Kerlan, an esteemed orthopedic surgeon from Centinella Hospital in Los Angeles. Dr. King recommended arthroscopic surgery. Jim signed on and had the surgery at Sequoia Hospital in early November, just after harvest. 

He stayed in the hospital for three days and I stayed nearby with my best friend Jenny and her husband Mark, in San Francisco. 

Dr. King had great bedside manner and checked on Jim everyday. Jim’s roommate a professional soccer player who had Dillingham as his surgeon, never saw him while in the hospital and was visited by another doctor in his practice. Needless to say, Jim’s roommate was very envious of Jim’s care. 

The HBPA (Horseman's Benevolent Protective Association) paid for almost 80% of Jim’s first knee surgery; however, we were unable to pay the other 20% around $20,000. My mother refused to help Jim with these payments even though he had been injured taking care of her horses. As a last resort, we filed a worker’s compensation claim. As it turned out, the liability for the injury ended up residing with the ranch's workers compensation policy so we dropped the claim.  In the end, no one came after Jim for payment, but it was a very desperate time for us. We were so grateful for the care he received that we considered naming a  racehorse after Dr. Warren King.

Jim was immobile when he was released from the hospital. It was very difficult to take care of him and run the ranch during that time. He had a therapeutic device that kept his knee in motion all night and allowed him to heal quickly. With Jim in traction, we celebrated Thanksgiving with Jenny and Mark at the ranch. 

Over the years, Jim would have six more surgeries performed by Dr. King: two hand surgeries for his trigger fingers,  three additional knee surgeries and a rotator cuff surgery. One trigger finger operation was performed by Dr. King in his office with the janitor holding the light. The other was performed in the hospital. Dr. King didn’t charge Jim for the office operation and wrote off what ever the HBPA didn’t pay. 

Saturday, March 28, 2020

1990 Grape Contracts

      When we took over the ranch June 30, 1990, we had no contracts in place for the grapes.  Stewart had previously begun negotiations for a 10 ton sale of Zinfandel to Conn Creek Winery and he had me follow up with it, but for the rest we were on our own. We subsequently  sold additional Zinfandel to Heitz. The rest of our Zinfandel was sold to Beringer as white zinfandel, but we did this through Dave Rose, who took a big cut.

Through the assistance of a wine broker we were connected with Fetzer Vineyards.  I  arranged to pick up Robert Fetzer, who flew his own plane,  at the Angwin airport and drive him to the ranch to look at our grapes.  He described our vineyard as a “hippy” vineyard because of its very minimal farming and trellising. It was not a negative in his mind since his family’s vineyards in Mendocino were organic and our unpretentious vineyard appealed to him. Fetzer ended up buying most of our Cabernet crop. 
We retained much of our Riesling and all of our Sauvignon Blanc. We sold our Chardonnay to Buena Vista, Mary Hall was the grower relations person, one of the few women who held this role in any company in 1990, and it was a pleasure doing business with her.  
We made a late harvest Riesling with all of our Riesling grapes without having any idea of the market for this wine and we ended up with a lot of wine that took years to sell out. Luckily it was a wine that kept well and got better in the bottle.

When we went north to visit Fetzer winery and taste our wine the following February 1991, Robert Fetzer told us our Cabernet was as good as it gets and he signed us on for another year. Unfortunately, he was not as happy with the grapes in 1991 year and likened the fruit to watermelon. We brought a sample of our own wine made from that harvest to our annual meeting at the Fetzer estate in winter of 1992 and he had to admit it was better than what they had. I had my suspicions about the wine he claimed to be ours, I felt it had to be mismarked. How could it be so different from ours. Unfortunately, he did not seem to be that interested in renewing our contract and after that meeting, I had a difficult time reaching him on the phone. Finally, his younger brother Joe returned my numerous calls and informed me they would buy my Cabernet for $1000/ton.

I rejected the offer, they had paid me $1500 in 1991 and I  felt it was an insult. Two things were going on that year that I was unaware of, Fetzer was in the middle of  negotiating with Brown Forman to be bought out; and the wine world along with the economy had weakened and Cabernet prices had softened.  I ended up selling most of my Cabernet to Beringer for $700/ ton. We felt fortunate that they took it.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Bob's trip to SoCal

After he had been at the ranch six months, Jim let Bob take my Dad’s old Oldsmobile station wagon with the wood side panels down to LA to bring up the rest of his personal belongings; Bob had decided to make RustRidge his home.
When Bob returned a few days later at around 10 pm, Jim and I were already in bed. We could hear him walking up and down the stairs bringing his items from the car. When he continued to bring his stuff in after midnight, Jim knew that Bob was high. Bob never slept that night. The next morning, every time I looked out the window I saw Bob on a different piece of equipment, first the lawn mower then the tractor, his energy level was off the charts. Later that evening we all had dinner together then Bob settled on the couch and fell asleep with boots and jacket on. The next morning we found him in the exact same position. Jim said to just leave him there. He slept there the whole day.

That evening Jim confronted Bob in my presence about getting high while he was in LA.  Bob denied it over and over again, but Jim persisted. I was very uncomfortable with this interrogation but Jim insisted that I stay and listen. Jim didn’t want to keep any secrets from me. Finally after what seemed like hours, Bob finally admitted what he had done. 

Bob had been sent to San Quentin for dealing marijuana in the sixties.  After he had been released on parole, he found himself back in jail on numerous occasions for parole violations for “using.” (Having heroin in his system) 

Besides the fact that Jim knew that Bob would be an asset to the ranch, he also knew that if he didn’t leave LA he wouldn’t survive because of his heroin habit. I didn’t understand all of this at the time, but it explained Bob’s amazing physical transformation from the first days of arrival.  Bob never went back to LA and he lived his remaining years in Northern California heroin free.
Bob Fresquez, Jim's brother

Saturday, February 22, 2020

1990-Bob Settles in

Bob settles in

Bob was very engaging but his social skills needed refining.  Having spent so much time in prison he really didn’t know how to communicate with guests in the beginning.  I saw him corner guests and tell them about his three ex-wives. I think that was his way of trying to relate to the guests. In those early days, we were learning  how to run the Bed and Breakfast and Bob was trying to figure out his role.  As he felt more comfortable with himself he would sit on the front porch of the Bed and Breakfast, smoke a cigarette and chat with the guests. As Bob started talking about the vineyard and other things related to the ranch, his personal transformation began. Bob was an early riser, he was out at the shed at 6:30 in the morning on the darkest of days. He quit around 3:30-4 pm.  It was very hard to get him to do anything after that. It had to be an emergency.  However, he might be too drunk in that case to help. Since Bob was a gregarious guy, it didn’t take him long to find the nearest bar about 5 miles away.  He became a  fixture there every day right after work. 

In June, my mother presented me with two bundles of joy, two yellow Labrador puppies, a brother and sister.  I tried to care for them, but with everything else I was trying to do that summer, it just wasn’t working.  I would take them for a hurried walk in the vineyard before making breakfast for my guests and they would trip me. Then, while I was making breakfast, they would dig up my newly planted garden.  I didn’t have the time or patience for them. Eventually, Bob began taking them with him.  However, two underfoot puppies prevented him from doing the jobs he need to do and we made the decision to give my mother back the female, whom we had named Astrid. My Mother renamed her Tasha. 

Bo, the remaining male puppy, stayed with Bob all day long and they went on many adventures together. When Bo got a parvo type illness, Bob didn’t realize the seriousness of the condition and Jim and I had to rush him  to the vet hospital.  He was on an I.V. for a week. Each of us took trips down to visit our precious puppy at Silverado Vet Hospital. Thankfully, Bo recovered completely. From then on, Bo and Bob were inseparable. Bo didn’t have time to socialize  with the rest of us because he had work to do with Bob.  Bob shared everything with him. When Bo reciprocated by sharing his ticks, Bob made him sleep on the floor. 

The harvest of 1990 was Bob’s indoctrination into winemaking. Besides crushing Chardonnay, Riesling, Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon, we made a small lot of late harvest Sauvignon Blanc that oxidized in the tank.  Georgie, our first winemaker, said it was no good and we needed to dump it.  When Bob heard this, he was alarmed.  How could we throw away this high octane fuel which tasted just fine to him.  Against my better judgment I let Bob take the wine and put it into 50 gallon containers in the side barn.  That wine became legendary.  It was used for barter with the raucous county road crew that Bob befriended. It was shared with guests who found their way into Bob’s lair. It was tasted by drop-in wine tasters that Bob diverted from the winery to try his stuff, which he claimed was better than the commercial stuff we were selling. 

Our first Winter
In December of 1990  I saw what we truly had in Bob. We experienced the coldest winter on record in California.  For three days it did not get above 30 degrees during the day and went down to about 4 degrees during the night and we lost power and this all happened over the Christmas holiday. For  those three days the ice didn’t thaw, so the water pipes were frozen and we had no access to water. Jim, Bob and I were living frugally and we were very resourceful. Bob cut us a manzanita branch to use as a Christmas tree, and we expected to have a very quiet and uneventful holiday. But we were not prepared for the cold. The cold snap we had in 1990 was devastating to our infrastructure because it was so abnormal we could not have planned for it.  Initially when the cold set in we lost our electricity, but that was quickly restored. But without water we couldn’t flush toilets, we couldn’t clean up and cooking was out of the question. The first night of the bitter cold was December 24. Luckily, Georgie our winemaker had invited us to her home in American Canyon for a formal Christmas dinner. We spent the night there and were able to stay somewhat warm, although it was cold everywhere. The next morning we went back to the ranch and took care of the immediate crises. The swimming pool had a thick layer of ice on it which I broke up with a pole. Watering the horses was our biggest project. We had to pump water directly out of the well into the 300 gallon water tanker which we wheeled around to the 30 thirst starved horses. They were banging the aluminum fences and going wild. When we filled our picking bins with the water they sucked it up and kept drinking. But we could only feed one corral of horses at a time so the anxiety level was very high among the herd.

That night was Christmas, and Jim and I stayed at the old Mt. View hotel in Calistoga. It was kind of sad to be at that stark place at Christmas. Our room was very simple with no television. We ate dinner at the Cinnabar Restaurant across the street from the hotel with a few others who must have been in similar circumstances because it didn't feel festive. The next morning we were back at the ranch for another bitter cold day of feeding and watering horses and damage control. That night we stayed at The Chateau in Napa. It was really warm there and we watched movies all evening. By the third day, December 27, the weather warmed up enough to thaw the pipes so we could have water again. We were able to move home.

Due to the extreme cold, the copper pipes in the winery split creating leaks throughout the building. We were unable to replace these pipes because there was a shortage of materials at all of the hardware stores throughout northern California and the wait was two to three weeks. However, we had Bob and he systematically repaired every broken pipe, by crawling on his back in narrow spaces and welding each pipe back together. His talents held us together that very difficult year.

Having never run a bed and breakfast before, we learned quite a lot that first year. One thing we learned was the guests wanted to be able to lock their doors when they left their rooms. They could lock their rooms from the inside, but that wasn’t sufficient. So, we had Bob add locks to all of the doors. I thought it must be a fairly easy job because he zipped through it in half a day and had put deadbolt locks on every bedroom door. Later, after Bob was gone, I needed additional locks added and I found out that it wasn’t such a simple job and it was very expensive to have a locksmith come out to do it. Sadly, I did not fully appreciate Bob’s talents until I had to hire someone else do the same projects.

Monday, February 3, 2020

Taking over the reins

January 1990- getting the stable together

In the early months of 1990 my mother's stable of horses was growing, Jim needed help first at the ranch as he was getting the horses ready to go the race track then at the race track when the serious training began. Jim requested and was permitted by my mother to place an ad in the paper to get stable help by offering room and board and the opportunity to learn how to ride race horses. In a short time, he got three takers for the job: Aaron, Melinda and another gal who didn’t last long. Aaron was the first to respond and when  he came up to the ranch with his mother, Jim saw a fabulous prospect. He weighed about 100 pounds was about 5 feet tall and had never been on a horse before. When Jim went to pick him up in Hayward, Aaron couldn’t get out of town fast enough. He was leaving a janitor’s job to become a jockey. Aaron suffered from low self esteem because of his size and a difficult family situation. He was eighteen years old but acted like an adolescent, eating his cereal and watching cartoons almost any time of day. Aaron was eager to learn so  Jim was able to get the barn organized and teach Aaron as they went along. 

Then Melinda arrived. She came from a Mormon family and lived in a small town near Yosemite. She was a cute blond, eighteen years old, weighed about 114 pounds, and had experience with horses. She took to the fine points of race horse riding more quickly than Aaron which helped speed the process of getting the ranch horses ready to take to the track. Melinda and Aaron received their training on Zacher, our Arabian riding horse, who was also 18 years old. Jim had taught my wonderful western riding horse to be a race horse and when I got on him I was amazed at how his disposition had changed, he wanted to race! 

They trained the horses my mother had bred on the ranch: Napa Ruler, Napa Chardonnay, Misty Angie Kfar, Lu’s First release, Kool and Lovly, Napa Cabernet, Napa Native, among others. As Melinda’s and Aaron’s skills developed they began to ride the young race horses. Previously, Jim had done all of the riding, until he got tripped by a young horse he was trying to control.  He dislocated his knee which sidelined him from riding for a year. 

After a couple of months of training at the ranch, Jim's stable moved to the track at the Santa Rosa fairgrounds. There they began the rigorous training of both the horses and the riders.  At Santa Rosa, Jim interviewed a groom named Duane. I had my reservations about his work ethic but he was hired and he and his dog, a blue healer, eventually moved to the ranch too. He and Aaron shared the one bedroom house but they didn’t get along very well and created physical barriers between their living spaces.  Duane was in his early twenties, he was from Sacramento where his father was a veterinarian and so we thought he would work out okay. But I started to feel sorry for him because he was a young man marooned at the ranch without a car.  So, I paid for a car he selected, an old Ford Mustang and he was expected to make payments to me from each paycheck. He was also required to give me the pink slip but every time I asked for it, there was some reason why I couldn’t have it. One morning it was very cold and Duane was barefoot as he went down the steps to his car to get the pink slip for me but then I relented and said give it to me later. Soon after, he started driving off and staying away for a few days at a time. When he came back he was a wreck. He looked like he had been on a bender, although he didn't drink. 

While Jim was in LA and I was leaving the ranch to visit a friend for the night, Duane disappeared on the ranch. I felt that he was hiding on the hill waiting for me to leave. We asked Bob to disable his car so he couldn’t leave the ranch. Bob did pull some plug from the car but unbeknown to us, Duane took our blue Chevy truck and drove to Sacramento to get the three dollar plug that Bob had pulled out of his car. We figured it out later when we found his discarded receipt on the floor board of the truck. Duane then left for good without paying me back for his car. We called his mother to tell her what happened and she said, “you should never have bought him the car. He is a compulsive gambler. We sent him to gamblers anonymous in Hawaii and he conned someone into buying him a ticket to return home.” I guess she hoped her son would be safe from his addiction in our environment. Unfortunately, had she provided us with that little bit of information it would have helped us handle him better. 

Starting up the Bed and Breakfast in Spring 1990

By March of 1990, I decided that I should get the Bed and Breakfast up and running, how else could I hang out at the ranch with Jim without raising any suspicions? Although my brothers had started operating the Bed and Breakfast the prior year, there were no plans to continue with it. So, I notified our chamber of commerce and started advertising it and guests began to trickle in.  As I spent more time at the ranch, I became worried about the future of the property. Although he had said it for the two previous years, it became clear that Stewart was tying up loose ends to leave the ranch for good. He even advertised the property for sale in the Wall Street Journal and the San Francisco Chronicle. During the final period of time that Stewart was shutting down operations and I was revving up to take over the ranch, we were not able to go over all the things I needed to know to run the ranch. As Stewart was frantically finishing up, I was completely immersed in operating the Bed and Breakfast and we were both exhausted by the end of each day. 

Stewart’s final departure in June 1990

Stewart left for the last time on June 30, 1990 and handed me power of attorney to run the vineyard and winery. He told us he planned to drive up the road out of the ranch heading east to Highway 5 on his final trip from the ranch. He said that if he happened to look in his rear view window and see the ranch in flames he would not turn around, he would just keep going. Frankly, it was a relief see him go because he was very negative about the future of the ranch and saw it as a hopeless endeavor. He left me with a negative balance in the bank account, no contracts for grapes and so many case goods from all his prior vintages that they were stacked all the way to the front doors of the winery. 

Before he left I asked Stewart to ask his close friend Dave Rose, who lived on a ranch nearby to manage the vineyard.  Dave agreed. Then Stewart wrote out on two sheets of paper a list of all the government forms I needed to fill out for the winery and ranch operations and a few important items to be aware of on the ranch. This information wasn’t sufficient to solve the numerous issues that came up so I had to call  him periodically to ask for his help.  He was so unpleasant each time I called him at his home in Washington to get help with ranch questions, that I got Jim and Bob to call him instead. 

Tackling the Winery
A day or so after Stewart left, I walked into the winery and climbed on top of the pallets of wine and surveyed the inventory and said to myself, what am I going to do now?
When the shock of what I had undertaken had worn off, I got to the business of figuring how to move mountains of wine which were cascading to the front door. I met George Kolarovich, a wine broker, early on and we had an immediate bond. He was from Yugoslavia and was Serbian as was my maternal grandfather. He was quite impressed that I was related to Vladimir Dedijer, a war hero and confident of Tito. Like a grandfather, he helped me step by step to organize then sell the various lots of wine. He even brought in workers to help label certain wines so that we could start selling them.
Koerner Rombauer purchased a pallet of an unlabelled pink wine to sell under a private label and picked it up himself in his vintage truck.

Getting Ready for Harvest

When Stewart exited the ranch and left me in charge, he thought I would act as a caretaker until the ranch sold; so imagine his upset when he found out I would be making wine at harvest time. Georgie Hesse was our first winemaker. We hadn’t even contemplated  making wine that summer until Bed and Breakfast guests Barbara and Keith, the sister and brother-in-law of  Elaine a  good friend of mine from law school, came up with the plan. During the course of their weekend bed and breakfast stay Keith, a heart doctor at UCSF,  told me about a nurse he worked with in the cardiac catheter unit who had a degree from Davis in enology.  He thought she might want to make wine for us; so, he introduced us. When  I spoke to her on the phone, I pictured her to be a very natural looking athletic type person. Isn’t that what a woman winemaker would be like? When we met she blew my image with her blond coif, red lipstick, perfume, plump figure and her three dachshunds. (My second winemaker personified the image I had formulated in my mind).  What ever Georgie lacked in her first impression, she made up for in her ability to take charge and pull the winery together for our first harvest. She and I cleaned the lab from top to bottom and Bob painted all the surfaces white. She wanted an immaculate environment before she took over. When she took over, she ran the winery like a drill sergeant.  She enlisted her neighbors from her American Canyon cul de sac to perform all the necessary operations, from crush to barrel. The most amazing thing she did however, was to connect Jim with Dr. Warren King, who performed arthroscopic surgery on his knee at the end of harvest.

July 1990
That Summer, Kool and Lovely won at the Solano County Fair. This was Kool’s first start and my Mother’s first win with her racehorses. Kool was a big mare, burly and difficult to gallop because she was so strong. She had a bowed tendon from prior training so Jim was extremely careful with her training. He didn’t risk working her long distances and ran her on class alone. Jim, Melinda, Duane, my mother, Virgil, Jim's best friend and Aaron were elated. Unfortunately, Aaron was so anxious to pick up his winnings that he didn’t make it to the winner’s circle in time for the photo. I missed the race because I had to make breakfast for the guests at the ranch.

Standing from left: Jim with leg brace, Melinda,unknown,Virgil, friend of my mother, my mother, another friend of my mother and Duane.

August 1990
One day, late in the summer, Jim and I decided to get away for the night to Bodega Bay. My mother had become increasingly suspicious of Jim and me yet couldn’t get anyone to confirm whether or not we were an item. We only told people we could trust and they kept our secret. When my mother couldn’t contact Jim or me that day, the light finally went on and she was furious. So, just when Jim had the stable up and running with 10 promising prospects, my mother fired Jim, moved the horses to another trainer and left Aaron and Melinda to fend for themselves. The new trainer said he would take Aaron and Melinda on but he had no use for them and they were not experienced enough to go on their own as exercise riders.  In the meantime, Melinda had met a cowboy on the track and her parents decided it was time to pick her up and bring her back home. Aaron also had to go back home and find a job. Jim stayed on the ranch with me and began learning about the vineyard and winery. 

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Bob Arrives

My brother Stewart had been operating the ranch for many years and had established the winery with my other brother Graham in 1985. However their partnership only survived a year and Graham moved away and Stewart continued to run the winery.  Then in 1988 Stewart moved his wife and children to Washington State and began commuting back and forth from there. So Stewart’s energy was split between trying to keep the vineyard and winery functioning while building a life for his family in another state.

Jim talks up his brother

During Jim's frequent trips to the ranch, he saw a need for someone to be present during Stewart’s absences. Jim suggested that his brother Bob come up from Southern California because he had the practical skills to keep the ranch going while Stewart was in Washington. Also, a difficult situation had arisen at the ranch caused by Stewart's absences and Graham's poor choices.

Although Graham had left the ranch in 1986 when he and Stewart parted ways over business matters, my mother called Graham back in 1989 to help her get the Bed and Breakfast up and running. My mother had applied for the Bed and Breakfast permit in 1987 and had subsequently put a fair amount of time and money into turning the ranch house into a bed and breakfast. But she had her real estate business to run in San Francisco and had no desire to move to the ranch and run the bed and breakfast once all the permits had been approved in 1989. She and Stewart were not getting along because of Stewart’s frequent absences and his lack of interest in the ranch so that is why she turned to Graham. 

Graham actually got the bed and breakfast running with Stewart’s help. Although they didn’t advertise or promote the property, in the summer of 1989 some guests managed to find out about the property and ventured there. But when the fall came, Graham began moving undesirable people on to the ranch. By the time I became aware of this development, a couple named Tim and Judy, who purportedly had a lease but were living rent free were staying in a one bedroom house on the property.  Some guy with a vicious pit bull was living in the basement of another house that Graham had moved into.  We discovered gunshot holes in our stable doors. One of our wine tanks had a bullet dent in it. Graham let Tim and his friends rent the tractor barn to use as a mechanics repair shop and they started piling up cars and motorcycles there.  We surmised that these vehicles were stolen property. Strange scary tattooed men were hanging out on the ranch.  Sometimes at night there would be seven cars parked outside the one bedroom house that Tim and his girlfriend inhabited. We knew that whatever they were doing was probably illegal and we felt unsafe.  My mother and father were also alarmed by the activities on the ranch and set up a family meeting in San Francisco with Graham to demand that he get rid of these people.  At the meeting, Graham got very angry and stormed out. He saw our discomfort with his friends as a personal affront, and didn’t think there was any problem with the situation he had created. Soon afterwards Graham started feeling the heat from the family and chose to move off the ranch to save face with his friends. So we had to take the next step.  With my family’s urging, I filed suit for unlawful detainer. Having just recently passed the bar, I had never done this legal procedure before. I filed the suit against Tim in the name of Stewart, Graham, Susan and Anita as partners of RustRidge. Jim served the complaint to Tim.  Then Jim and I started staying in the house next door to Tim, that Graham had vacated, so we could monitor his activities.

Tim was required to answer the complaint within the statutory 5 days.  He didn’t respond; so, we thought it would be a cinch to get him out.  Then I received a call from the Superior Court Judge of Napa County handling our complaint. He informed me that he had received a letter from Graham stating that I did not have permission to put his name as plaintiff on the complaint.  He said unless I could show that I had some authority for doing so, I had an ethical violation to deal with.  I was completely freaked out. Barely an attorney, now I had already put my license in jeopardy. The judge told me to send him anything I had to prove my authority.  He also told me he could sympathize with my situation. He knew of the people we were trying to evict since he had dealings with them in the court.  He also thought that my brother was “not operating on all fours,” based on the letter he had written, which he forwarded to me.  Stewart and I racked our brains to come up with a basis for putting Graham on the complaint.  I had recently represented Graham in a personal matter up in Chico, did that make me his attorney.  I had represented the ranch on a  delinquent account receivable.  Did that make me the ranch counsel.  Stewart dug up a power of attorney that Graham and he had with each other in their ownership of the winery.  All these documents were put together and presented to the judge.  When the judge responded granting me the authority to list Graham as a named plaintiff, it was based on Stewart’s power of attorney to bind Graham on matters relating to the winery. The BATF required that partners sign powers of attorney over each other and Stewart had the right to sue in his and Graham’s  name in matters concerning the winery. Phew! I had my first big legal lesson. We took Tim's default. But the suit didn’t end there. Tim and Judy continued to live in the house without indicating any signs of moving out.  

Given these circumstances, Stewart was willing to try Bob out.

Bob's arrival

It was in the early days of 1990 when Jim dropped me off at my Dad’s home in Tiburon while he picked up his brother at the airport. When Jim and Bob arrived later in the day to pick me up, the three of us climbed into the cab of Stewart’s blue Chevy truck and headed up to the ranch. As we left my dad’s house we could see San Quentin across the water and I could feel Bob’s energy as he looked towards the prison where he had spent 11 years of his life.
Bob seemed wizened, his deep blue eyes had seen a lot. he wore a tattered coat very close to his body as though he was very cold. Despite his appearance he seemed very pleasant.  When we got to the ranch, we put him up in our guest bedroom.  We did not allow him to smoke in our house; he had to walk out on the deck. Two things we found out right away.  He did not know how to use the spigot to get water from the tub to the shower and he didn’t know how to use a microwave oven. My brother and I wondered if he really was the mechanical genius Jim had told us about.  Also, Bob could barely walk from our house down to the Bed and Breakfast and back again. He was out of breath and appeared weak.  So we let him acclimate and get acquainted with the surroundings.  He liked his beer and was a prolific smoker and soon we moved him down stairs where he had his own living space and could do as he pleased.

Bob’s transformation was gradual but with every day working on the ranch his body changed until one day I saw him move like a cat, as he climbed to the top of the forklift.

We had to go through each step of the eviction process before Tim and Judy finally left. With Bob's presence, we felt more secure during this time. In February 1990, on the day when the sheriff was scheduled to officially remove them from the premises, Tim and Judy hauled away the last of their belongings at 10 am in the morning. The sheriff arrived at 1 pm to find an empty house.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Meeting Jim

It was a biting cold February night in 1989. I had just taken the bar exam for the second time, and I was sitting in front of the fireplace with my mother, some of her friends and my uncle and aunt. We were drinking wine and other alcoholic beverages to warm our bodies as we huddled in front of a huge but inefficient fireplace in a very cold cinder block ranch house, in the middle of vineyards in the eastern hills of Napa Valley. This was the family ranch, named RustRidge by the previous owners Dr. Del Weaver and Nancy Wood. My family had owned this property since December of 1972. It had been a thoroughbred race horse breeding facility and black Angus cattle ranch at that time. Dr. Weaver was a San Francisco dentist who commuted to San Francisco to her practice in her early years of ownership. Later she moved her practice to St. Helena. When my family bought the ranch in December of 1972, Rustridge Ranch was a well known thoroughbred horse ranch. It appeared that Dr. Weaver was the dentist to most of the St. Helena residents. Her partner, Nancy Wood was a horsewoman almost from birth. She and her three sisters all rode together in special events in their home town of Woodside. Nancy and Dr. Weaver had met in Woodside when Del had taken her children to her for riding lessons. Nancy was an icon in the thoroughbred racing industry and she was very involved in the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association. My parents had bought the property to plant vineyards. Later my brothers decided to build a winery. We eventually brought the racehorses back to promote the wines.

While we were huddled around the fire, a car pulled up to the front of the ranch house. A man in a heavy overcoat walked in through the kitchen door and he was ushered in as though expected. I was introduced to Jim Fresquez and as I shook his hand I felt the strong and calloused hands of a man whose life was far removed from mine. I then learned that he was my mother’s current race horse trainer. I had met several of her former trainers, but Jim was clearly different. Jim joined our group by the fire, holding the glass of scotch that my uncle had served him. We resumed our conversations, however, at some point during that evening I felt his eyes focused on me and it made me feel awkward and unable to turn my head. When I couldn’t stand it any longer, I said to him, “why are you staring at me?” He responded, “because you are so fine.” My mother’s young gay friend piped in, “when someone looks at you closely, it forces you to look at yourself.” So much for subtleties the rest of the evening is a blur. We all bunked down in the large ranch house that night but Jim left very early the next morning to take care of my mother’s horses stabled at the race track in Albany. He had come to the ranch on the previous night to monitor the mares in foal and to be available should they foal.

The next night I stayed on at the ranch to recuperate from the months of studying for the bar exam and the psychological trauma of having taking the bar for the second time. When you fail the bar the first time you become a second class citizen in the eyes of the legal community. Each of us in that position worries that we will become one of those horror stories of law school graduates who take the bar multiple times and still can not pass it. Jim arrived in the evening as he had the night before. My mother’s Union Street hairdresser John, who had been on hand the night before, was the only other person who remained. He was planning to sleep in the hay barn so he could witness the birth of a foal. Sometime during that night John rushed into the house to wake Jim and me up because the mare was in labor. Within moments Jim and I emerged from our bedrooms and found our way in the darkness to the corral where the mare was laying on her side in very stressed labor. After a brief observation Jim knew that there was something seriously wrong with the situation. We called our veterinarian, Dr. Latham, who arrived about 45 minutes later. He reached into the mare’s uterus and discovered that she had live twins tangled up inside her. Rarely do thoroughbred mares bring twins to full term. He told us he would have to use chains to pull them out. He had me get towels from the house, he positioned John to hold the mare while he and Jim worked to free the twins from her body. It was a grueling several hour ordeal but eventually they pulled the now two dead foals out of her. The afterbirth didn’t follow as it would in a normal birth, it just hung out of her vagina. Dr. Latham tied it in a knot to give it some weight to help her expel it and gave her medication as well. Jim and I got a few hours sleep, then we buried the two perfect foals. 

The events of that night brought Jim and me together. I got to know him in a profound way, we had worked together in a very stressful, depressing situation and had learned about each other. Unbeknownst to us, this sad experience would be the first of many, yet we already knew that we could work together and endure the challenges that were yet to come.
I left the ranch later that day, Jim had left right after the burial. Three days later the mare died. If there was way to put a positive spin on this tragedy it was that I would be embarking on a new direction in my life. I began making more frequent trips to the ranch. I encountered Jim there on several occasions. I found him to be magical with horses. I had seen previous trainers. They had been rough with my mother’s horses. Jim was different, he loved the horses, he demanded respect from them and he treated them with respect. But Jim was employed by my mother and I knew better than to get too friendly with her employees. I knew Jim would be fired if he and I got involved. I tried to keep him at arms length. We had a lot of laughs, we flirted and talked for hours but I didn’t let it go any further. I wanted him to stick around.

In May, I invited Jim to my birthday party which I held at the ranch with my close friends. On the following Memorial weekend, I got my bar results and I had passed. My friends Laurie and Elaine and I had made a pact prior to knowing our results, to meet at a Sausalito Restaurant to celebrate on the day the results were announced. All three of us showed up, we had all passed.

Shortly thereafter I called Jim and asked him to come see me at my San Francisco apartment. We were no longer just friends, but we kept it a secret for quite some time. We dated for about nine months while I lived in the City and he lived at Golden Gate Fields. During that time I was working on a personal lawsuit and was looking for a job in one of the Bay Area Public Defender’s offices. Jim was busy training my Mother’s many horses both at the track and at the ranch. It was a wonderful time and it was during this period I could see the possibility of living at the ranch and running it.