Jan and Mitsuko Shrem invited Jose and me to their annual barrel tasting event at Clos Pegase. I’m going to punctuate this entry with images that I took there yesterday. Although they may appear to be random, based on the fact that they’re seemingly disjointed from the text, they’re not…
Everything pertaining to Jan and Mitsuko is about art. They live, eat, drink, and exude art. It’s at every turn in their lives. This is the man who told me once that the mobiles I’ve created (and continue to create) are “stunning.” Jan and Mitsuko own Alexander Calder mobiles. That simple statement told me that I have my own passions in balance, being able to actualize something that Jan would proclaim as “stunning.”
Jan, more than anyone else I know, is the closest person to Bacchus on earth. He’s playful, mysterious, brilliantly intelligent, and really knows how to enjoy a great glass of wine… always with a twinkle in his eye.
Mitsuko is not only his soul mate, but I believe she’s one of mine, too. We’ve just connected. She reminds me of when I met and talked with Tina Turner. These two women both exude warmth, compassion, and an abundance of great happiness. Both have reached pinnacles of success enjoyed by but a mere few. They’ve done this because in their processes, humility has remained their core value…
Jan’s told the wonderful story of how he met Mitsuko, and how they got from Japan to Napa Valley.
In 1955, Jan went to Japan on vacation. At the time, he was working his way through college as a door-to-door salesman. He said that he had to work very hard, which I don’t doubt a bit. College is a full-time job in itself, and door-to-door sales of encyclopedias was a very rough road for anyone, let alone a college student, to haul.
Jan’s vacation adventure turned into what would become years before he left; and when he did, it would be with the love of his life, Mitsuko.
This college student, who had gone to Japan on holiday, not only feel in love with this amazing woman, but he also had a great destiny placed before him.
When Jan arrived in Japan, English became the second language. He started to import technical and reference books in English. Before he was done, he had imported millions of books. Later on he translated English books into Japanese. Jan has command of many languages. Being very literate, articulate, and capable, he explained to me that it became the thing to do at the time, and that he was at the right place, at the right time.
This capability led him to build a very successful publishing company and become a very accomplished business man. As time went on, it became time to build a family; however, this wasn’t something that Jan and Mitsuko could do in Japan. Mitsuko’s descent is from the Samurai blood line.
That stoic, exacting, and imperial DNA has been handed down to Mitsuko. Although she’s a very precise person, Mitsuko doesn’t subscribe to the belief that people should be free from passion, unmoved by joy or grief, or submit without complaint to unavoidable necessity. So, she chose to leave her bloodline behind for the sake of love… The line was broken, but not her dignity… Mitsuko is very regal and stately in all that she does.
They headed for Europe, first settling in Italy for a time. Jan told me that it was a very difficult transition for Mitsuko, because she didn’t understand the language. Imagine the culture shock! I had a hard time coming to California from Maine, and that’s with no language barrier. I can’t even begin to think what that was like for her. After a while, Mitsuko told Jan that it was time to move their family, so off to France they went.
With the money that they had made from the sale of Jan’s extremely successful publishing company, they were able to purchase a villa. The Seine stretched before them, and they overlooked Paris.
By now you may have guessed that this was not going to be any ordinary villa, because nothing about Jan or Mitsuko is ordinary. This villa was part of what Napoleon had built for his 30 marshals. Jan decided that he was going to become a writer. The villa had four floors, and he converted the third floor to his studio. His passion had become wine and art by now. He said to me, “You know you can’t just spend eight hours a day – everyday – only writing. So, Mitsuko came to me and said, ‘Jan, I married you for better or worse, but not for lunch. Go back to work!'”
He was only 50 years old at the time. Jan chose the University of Bordeaux to study enology. I don’t have to tell you any more of his journey, except to say that the next move was from Bordeaux to Napa. You can easily find the rest of his story on his Website and throughout the Internet.
This rambling is just a glimpse into one of the joyous days at their winery, and we were invited. I spent the time sipping and photographing, dotting in-and-out with Mitsuko and Jan’s company.