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.

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.

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