Working in the Sierra Foothills for Ironstone Vineyards, I learned pretty quickly about the Sierras and Calaveras County.
DIGRESSION: Pre-Ironstone, I worked at Belvedere Winery. I was very fortunate to have Puerto Rico as a one of my sales territories. I worked with V. Suarez, as my wholesaler. They were one of the greatest distributors that I worked with. When I would leave the island, the sales that we worked on while there were actualized in just about every location we visited.
My boss at the time had told me, “You can’t sell wine in Puerto Rico!” So… I was out to prove him wrong. I was responsible for monthly depletion reports at the winery, and V. Suarez at the time wasn’t selling much wine. I knew it was because no one was visiting and paying attention to the market. It was first on a personal trip to visit with my husband’s family that I realized I could at least introduce myself to the company. That one simple act of reaching out turned into a couple of years of great sales. During my second sales call at one resort, I called Ed (my boss) and said, “Hey Ed, this hotel/casino wants 60,000 cases of the Sonoma County Chardonnay.”
He yelled back at me, “You can’t sell 60,000 cases of Sonoma County Chardonnay!!!”
Belvedere at the time only made 60,000 cases, but Ed didn’t even think outside the box. This wine was purchased on the bulk market, and I’m betting that there was more of where it came from, but I was so shocked by his answer that I didn’t take him where he should have gone… Into closing the deal… (Let that be a lesson to all you sales people. As Tim Gunn likes to say, “Make it work!”)
So, how’d I do it?
Two simple factors:
- My husband José was born in Puerto Rico
- While at Belvedere I took two semesters of college Spanish (Spanish I and Spanish II), during my sales experience, and I had already taken a year of Spanish in high school.
(Notice the Spanish-English dictionary sitting on the right hand corner of my desk in the above photo.)
I got really good with the present tense, but when we got into the past and future tenses, I began to trip all over my tongue. The bottom line was, though, I’d be introduced to a wine buyer/sommelier, and I’d say all the right things in Spanish; most importantly… “Mi esposo es puertorriqueño.” (My husband is Puerto Rican.)
I made every effort to be part of the culture, regardless of the fact that I didn’t fit the complete profile. This meant that I carried a Spanish/English dictionary everywhere I went, 24/7/365 during those days.
Fast forward to Ironstone: As I was driving my four hour weekly commute (in one direction), which I did for nearly two years – once a week for a two-day stay – I got to thinking… “Hum… Calaveras County… Calaveras has to be Spanish.”
So, while driving those back, lonely roads, I pulled out the dictionary, which I was still connected to my hip, and looked up “calavera”… (I knew it was plural, so I looked up the singular.)
calavera 1. f skull; 2. m gay dog; b.s. rake; fig. necio
Okay, I got the meaning, and it had to do with a skull and logical inferences… I thought, “cow skulls” that Spanish people no doubt found in those dried out creek beds that I’d pass along the road, as I drove to the winery in Murphys, California.
Honestly, Murphys is a cowboy town… very narrow streets, the same width they had during the gold rush; the only thing missing are the posts for tying up your horse while you go into the modern day saloons (called tasting rooms). The Old Murphys Hotel is still standing. I can’t even tell you how many nights I blew into town and stayed there as part of my winery agreement. I guess you could do the math of two years and once a week.
Noisy before 1:00 a.m. (and haunted for the rest of the night), I got to hear the saloon below enjoying the night’s local revelers.
My favorite night was when I was awakened by a howling coyote. I woke to hear it in the distance; full moon in the sky. As I intently listened, I realized it was getting closer and closer. It became louder and louder until it was right under my room, but it was moving with the speed of four legs with Diablo on its butt. It seemed to come and go, in what now seems like the blink of an eye. As swiftly as it blew into town, it kept right on going… howling off into the distance, trailing sounds in the opposite direction. It happened so fast I didn’t get up to see its journey, but I can’t get the howling out of my head, and I honestly don’t want to. It was the chance of a lifetime, at a time that I had left behind a suburban world for a brief moment of enjoying this cowboy Calaveras County.
So… Calaveras County…
- It’s cowboy country. It’s a place for beer (guzzling at its worst, enjoying at its best)
- Tobacco chewing (doesn’t that just go with cowboys, not that I’d ever put chew in my mouth… thank you very much. My father died of tobacco related illnesses).
- Tequila shooting (okay, I’ve shot some, but mostly they let me shoot wine during those “shots” days… and Calaveras… Cow skulls in the dried out creek beds.
Now you know… about some of my wild and woolly wine days… Although, by the locals, I was considered a tame observer… which I actually was. And, yes, there was wine in this process… and a night of drinking games…