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, 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