My mum, Dot Clarke
Mothers just get things done. They don’t wait to be told by anyone what has to happen; it’s been programmed into their DNA long before they arrive on the job. I think it really kicks in when handed a doll as a child, and the rest just evolves.
There have been many wonderful women in my life, including my own mother, who’s spending her first Mother’s Day with my also departed dad.
Many within the wine business have offered a mothering hand to me. Here they are, alphabetically:
Helen Bacigalupi, viticulturist, Bacigalupi Vineyards
Audrey Cilurzo, wine producer, former proprietor of Cilurzo Vineyards and Winery
Helen Concannon, wife of Jim Concannon, mother to all at Concannon Vineyard
LaVonne Holmes, tasting room manager at Gary Farrell Winery
Millie Howie, one of the wine industry’s first female publicists and wine writers, currently writing for Practical Winery and Vineyards, among her writing assignments
Each one is a quiet leader. Each one has offered something to me that has enriched my life, and I’m betting that you’ll enjoy those qualities, too.
Helen Bacigalupi and I were neighbors for five years, although we never saw each other, as we were quite unaware that the other existed. When I began my wine career at Belvedere Winery, we had a Bacigalupi Pinot Noir that was being sold in the tasting room. Although I knew the vineyard was just next door, I never met the family. Helen attended Foppiano’s First Annual Petite Sirah Noble Symposium that I helped organize. That’s where we met. When the group began, Helen instantly became a member, and has supported that effort for all five years of its existence. Helen knew that the varietal needed publicity, and even though Helen doesn’t have a brand herself, she understands that if she supports the marketing effort, it will cause a demand for her supply. Not every farmer understands this concept. I find myself explaining this to many farmers who ask, “Why should I be a member?” Many don’t buy into it. Helen understands this marketing concept, and I celebrate her for having the wisdom, enriching my efforts, like any great mother would.
Audrey Cilurzo and her husband Vincenzo sold their winery a few years ago. Before doing that, Audrey, like Helen Bacigalupi, was at the first Petite Sirah Symposium. During the day’s discussions, it was repeated over-and-over again, “We need publicity for this varietal.” The Rhone Rangers attended the Symposium in the hopes of signing up Petite Sirah producers, as they had just opened up the membership to Petite Sirah. My greatest concern, and I voiced it, was that Petite Sirah would just become one of many, and that wouldn’t give them their desired results. Audrey approached me after the event and said, “Just start a group, dear! We’ll join.” I celebrate Audrey Cilurzo for having that simple vision, articulating it in so few words, giving me the foresight for what had to be done.
Helen Concannon is a woman of epic devotion and love. Behind every leader is his impetus for getting up each day. Helen is not only Jim Concannon’s heroine, but she’s also one of mine. No matter what the circumstance, Helen goes along for the ride, as evidenced by the Blue Tooth Tour that Concannon Vineyard sponsored. Once the seed money was given, other PS I Love You members signed up for national tours that we’ve done in both a motor home and a luxury train. During those hours of living with the Concannons, I learned intimate details of the Concannons’ lives. One family fact is that when Jim’s brother Joe met an untimely death, Jim and Helen Concannon were faced with selling the winery in order to not only put their own four children through college, but Jim and Helen realized that they must also help Joe’s four children. Jim’s greatest accomplishment in life is that all four children have graduated from college, and are living happy, productive lives. In true selfless motherhood, Helen gave up what could be a lucrative retirement for the sake of all of their children. During the hours-upon-hours of travel all around the country, Helen held herself in a state of tremendous graciousness, meeting every challenge that living on the road offers… never uttering a sharp word, always quietly leading the course of events. I celebrate Helen’s quiet leadership and gentle, selfless ways, qualities of the sweetest of mothers.
LaVonne Holmes was the tasting room manager at Belvedere Winery, when I was dragging myself all over Sonoma County looking for any break I could get in the wine business. I showed up at Belvedere one day. A very kind person behind the counter greeted me, “Welcome to Belvedere Winery.” I asked LaVonne, “Could I please speak to your manager?” In what was almost a sing-song, lilting voice, she replied, “About what?” I responded, not know that LaVonne was the manager, “I would love a job in the wine business. I wasn’t born into it, I don’t know anybody in it, and I don’t know much about wine, but I just know that I can do the job and would love the opportunity to prove it.” I thought I was talking to what would become a colleague, completely letting my guard down. I just did a “girlfriend” thing. LaVonne said, “Well, I could use someone for Sundays.” LaVonne, without all the hoopla, bells, and whistles, hired me on the spot. It was trust, the blind trust that all mothers have about their brood, knowing that they’ll somehow make it on their own, that she gave to me. I picked up the phrase, “Bless her heart,” working with LaVonne. Now, every time I say it, I think of her.
Millie Howie, last but not least — as this is alphabetical, remember, has been my quiet inspiration in the wine business for the last 13 years. Once, when I hardly knew her, I told her, “I want your job.” What I probably should have said, because I sometimes become a bit too succinct, “I admire all that you’ve done. Eventually, when I have as much experience as you have, I want to have evolved to your stature.” Fortunately, Mille didn’t see me as a threat. In fact, Millie’s been one of my strongest supporters. When Millie discovered that I moved to California from Maine, she gave a gift to me, “Good Maine Food,” a cookbook written by Marjorie Mosser. How dear of Millie. As all great mothers, they just know how to touch your heart in ways that can’t be recounted.
These are intimate details of mothers in the wine business who have shared their lives with me. Today I celebrate Helen Bacigalupi’s wisdom, Audrey Cilurzo’s vision, Helen Concannon’s patience and selflessness, LaVonne Holme’s trust, and Millie Howie’s generosity… Bless all of their hearts!