I just got a great Email from – let’s call him – Michael (not his real name). He asked the following question:

Jo, I know you have said many nice things about  Mr. Penn, but wonder if you think the lead story for Friday and Saturday should be [Iron Horse’s] Earth Day or the death of Jess Jackson one of the most important men to the wine industry? Just wondering? By the way if you don’t remember me I have had a few columns about Petite Sirah.

I wrote back,

Yes, I do remember you, and have appreciated everything you’ve written about Petite Sirah. Thanks.

What an excellent question…

I was shocked, too, when I saw that Cyril had featured my blog as his lead blog post , with so many stories about Jess Jackson… Certainly one of our industry’s most iconic figures, I started evaluating Cyril’s thinking, too.

He had three lead news stories (versus blog postings) about Jess in that Email that went out; so, I saw lots of coverage for the fact that Jess Jackson had passed away. It was well covered in the news, to be sure.

I personally couldn’t even begin to articulate his passing, for several reasons:

  • Everyone was going to be writing about Jess. I didn’t even know where to begin. I was still in shock; although, one of my friends had recently told me that he was dying of cancer. I didn’t want to believe it.
  • I worked for K-J and didn’t know where to start. My job at the visitor’s center helped me segue from being an “employee” for so many years for others in the wine business, to becoming an independent contractor. That time at the center allowed me to put bread on my table… He saved my life in that regard.
  • I have had three recent memorials on my blog, each one meaning a lot to me…
  1. Patty Bogle, for whom I was one of two close colleagues speaking at her memorial service at UC Davis… And, realized that day (once I had the program in my hands) that I was the one speaking for the wine industry at large. This was actually the hardest public speaking of my life, because I wear my heart on my sleeve. I knew that I would mostly break down somewhere in the process, and possibly not be able to recover and finish what I had started as her memorial from me. I managed to not, for the family’s sake (a lot of deep breaths and pauses. After, as everyone gathered in the lobby, I  was thanked by her close friends for doing what they had told Patty (before she passed away) that they’d never be able to do.
  2. Wine Writer Millie Howie just passed away (the week before last), and I had just written about her, too. Although I was equally shocked, I knew that Millie was such a quiet woman, that I had to lead with that one. She was local to Sonoma County, and would have gone pretty quietly, if I hadn’t shared my love for her, and my sadness. I had no idea that she was ill. She had recently called me to ask about a former client. She knew I’d have an answer for her. She was like that… And now, those calls would never come again.
  3. And then my friend Jim Faber… I had just written about Jim, only one week to this very day as I write to you… That pain was still so deep, and now I had learned about Jess.

I was beginning to feel like the angel of death on my blog…given all the heavy memorials that I was writing. I needed to pull myself back for a bit, just to give it all some space and not be right there, reporting it all… again, and again, and again.

Earth Day… Ah, it was still happening on this very day of last Friday. It was a lifting of the black cloud that we were all feeling. Life was still going on, and we could all have a reprieve from what we were all still going to be obsessing over, regardless.

And I’m betting that Cyril felt the same way. He needed to also have other news, and it was Earth Day, and my blog posting was the only story about it. It was topical, and it was a breath of fresh air, given all the other subjects of that day on the blog roster.

Finally… blogs are blogs; they’re not journalism, no matter how well written or well intentioned. They’re written in an active voice, not a passive one; so, they’re not as newsworthy… They’re more informative and hold personal opinions. Cyril had covered the news and then covered other things going on, with Earth Day still that day’s subject… and there was my personal story about my experience the weekend before, and Ted Turner had just been in Wine Country helping with substantive fund-raising at Iron Horse. I had images that people could see. It was a true blog posting…

As you can see, I’ve done a lot of thinking about this, too; and, came to realize why Cyril put that one up there as a lead. Mother Earth wins over all of us, regardless.

You’ve actually helped me to work through a very tough week’s thoughts… We’re all angels of something, and your guidance question came at just the right time. I’m now grateful about even more, Michael. I feel like I just came out of a great therapy session.

I don’t know where to begin to thank you.

And that mystery check?

Dear Jess,

When I got this final check in the mail in 2002, as an incentive bonus for wine that I had sold in the tasting room before I left for good, I had to laugh. What a classic! And with your signature on it, it was worth more than the paper it was written on. Kinda like our Robert Mondavi Harvests of Joy book, when Robert inscribed, To Jose, May your harvest of joy be bountiful! God Bless You. Bob Mondavi, 11-24-98

Remembrances like this don’t come along everyday, and they’re invaluable. I framed the check, written on 6-14-02, and that’s where it’s been ever since… in a frame on the wall. Thanks for the memories, Mr. Jackson.

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