At the end of Episode 3, Hawaii was in my rear view mirror as we headed for California. It was my first time in the Golden State and, as it turns out, also the beginning of my elementary education in wine, helped along by visits to David Bruce and Ridge Vineyards and a food and Zinfandel match that was apropos of the times. A few years later, I was tasting a Portuguese rose near the Arctic Circle, about to hear that I had lucked out in the USAF "dream sheet" lottery scoring my first choice: Colorado.
The year was 1966 and while I was in Labrador (drinking Mateus rose), Janet and our two oldest sons were staying with her mother in Philadelphia. At last, after a year of staring at the same walls, and people, day after day, it was time for a change.
Anyone who has spent time in the Air Force, or for that matter, any branch of the U.S. Armed Forces, knows that when it's time for a transfer, you fill out a "dream sheet," listing the top three places you would next like to be stationed. And then, the Air Force sends you where it wants.
My three choices were Colorado, Colorado and Colorado. And to my surprise, Air Force Personnel in Texas decided to come through by assigning me to a television production facility at Lowry AFB, Denver. I spent the next five years there writing and developing scripts for training films used in Air Training Command.
My interest in writing was about to mesh with my growing interest in wine.
Writing training scripts had its challenges, but explaining the proper way to use a fire extinguisher (The Air Force euphemism for the tool was "first aid fire fighting appliance.") didn't really get my creative juices flowing.
Little did I know that the answer to this dilemma was in a downtown wine store. One Saturday, while poking around in the bins at Harry Hoffman, then Denver's premier wine store, I saw a bottle of Ivancie Cellars Pinot Noir, with a Denver address.
A little research disclosed that Gerald Ivancie was a Denver periodontal surgeon with a passion for fine wine. At the time, Colorado had a few experimental vineyards in Grand Valley, near Grand Junction, that mostly supplied grapes to home winemakers. However, Ivancie didn't find the grapes he wanted in Colorado, so he went to California and persuaded Warren Winiarski, then winemaker at Robert Mondavi to become Ivancie Cellat's first winemaker. Winiarski arranged for Ivanice to buy some Napa Valley grapes, which were shipped in refrigerated trucks across two mountain chains to Denver.
|Vines near Palisade, Colorado|
Ivancie's scheme had all the ingredients for a good story. In the late 1960s and into the early 1970s, city magazines were a popular forum to tell local stories not covered by newspapers. The editor of Denver's city magazine liked the Ivancie story idea and, just like that, I had sold my first wine article.
Later, Denver magazine bought "The Colorado Wine Barons," about Colorado businessmen Tom Jordan, Ray Duncan (then Franciscan and later Silver Oak) and Joseph Phelps. It was a time when people in other fields were looking to get into the burgeoning California wine business: Jordan was in oil exploration; Duncan was in construction and Phelps headed a company that built major projects such as bridges.
While at Lowry TV, I met Rich Marschner who would become a good friend, fellow classical music listener and a budding wine enthusiast. Eventually, Rich would leave the Air Force for a job as an announcer at Denver's classical music station and to edit the station's listener's guide. The KVOD Guide featured arts-related material, such as wine stories. A holiday issue was being planned and Rich asked me to write a wine-related piece.
While shopping for Thanksgiving wine at Harry Hoffman, I found an Austrian white wine with a likeness of Ludwig van Beethoven on the front label. So I cobbled together a short piece on how nice a bottle of Austrian wine would be with your Christmas dinner, accompanied, of course, by a Beethoven symphony as background music.
Using carbon paper sets and a manual typewriter, I continued to develop my budding avocation as a free lance wine writer, a difficult job to be sure, as the Colorado wine industry had yet to take off.
I had heard of "Wine World," a southern California-based wine magazine, so I sent the editor a query about the Ivancie story and she bought it. The sale opened the door for more contributions to "Wine World" on a regular basis, plus querying "Vintage," then the other popular U.S. wine magazine, published in New York city.
This all happened in the early 1970s, at the beginning of what would be known as the "California Wine Boom," a surge in the recognition of the rightful place of California wine in the world market. And I planned on being a part of it.
But once again, it was time to go, this time to an Armed Forces Radio and Television (AFRTS) station in Taiwan, where I was told the Taiwanese enjoy a local beverage they call "wine," although there were no wine grapes grown then in Taiwan.
In the fifth installment of "My Life in Wine," set for August 13, 2020, I buy wine in a Piggly Wiggly store, decide to try my hand at advertising and publicity for Air Force recruiting, return to Colorado, then retire from the Air Force and take my first wine trip to Europe.
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