Taking Ground

When we launched into our dream, of owning and operating a winery, our idea of what it would look like versus what it actually looks like today is much different. I remember, in 1997, sitting at our dining table in Huntington Beach watching our two little ones, a one and five year-old, play in the living room. Frank loosened his tie and threw his suit coat over the back of the chair, the single Cabernet Sauvignon vine he planted in ‘95 sprawled across the outdoor stucco wall that filled the four foot deep side yard outside the dining room window.

Earlier, he’d just landed at LAX, arriving from JFK, and drove the 37-mile (2 hour) trek down the 405 back home. I was anxious to share new information painfully discovered via dial-up-internet and a virus-ridden computer – more properties to see in Paso Robles. Our plan was to secure a location suitable for a tiny tasting room then plant enough grapevines, just an acre or so, and create a vineyard ambiance. We planned to source the remaining 95% of the grapes needed to make 1000 cases of wine from local growers. Frank would maintain his job in the fashion industry, make wine during harvest and I’d run the tasting room, distribution, food pairings and business side – that’s how we’d live “the dream”. This, of course, the logical plan based on our knowledge, experience and anemic bank account. But after several trips to Paso Robles, for some reason, the brown hill with the stoic oak tree, faux vineyard setting and semi-popup tasting room idea gave way to a higher, bigger plan: 91 acres of heavily forested, high altitude ground in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains in El Dorado, exactly what we were not looking for.

Chemistry is what brought Frank and me together and chemistry is why we didn’t wind up in another wine appellation but were led to El Dorado. I’m not talking science chemistry but rather that unexplainable spark and attraction to something, someone or a place. The kind of chemistry that one deduces, usually in hindsight, must be of God’s leading. We faced a seemingly impossible, and almost daunting decision of jumping into a vineyard and winery project much different than we planned, more expensive than we could afford, and requiring way more experience and expertise than we had. We were wannabe’s fervently gathering information from “reliable sources” and from other couples who’d fled their cubicles to pursue the vineyard life – couples just like us, with small kids, where every dollar counts, and where they too swallowed the sobering advice, “Don’t quit your day job”!

Since our 2000 leap of faith to Placerville we’ve desired to see others live their dreams too so we share this same story often in the winery in hopes of shedding the common thinking that what we all do in our own strength is what really determines our lot in life. This thinking is the pattern of this world and, we found, really undermines dreams and discourages ambition. “For we live by believing and not by seeing.” 2 Corinthians 5:7 NLT

We had no choice. After September 11, 2001 the day job quit us and the investment accounts nose-dived. A year and a half earlier our first leap of faith in buying this 91 acre piece of ground brought on difficult challenges that nearly made us quit if it weren’t for the eleventh hour reward of a miraculous timber harvest and the resulting finances used to plant the first 10 acres of vines. This was not a typical winery upstart pattern we’d ever seen, which got us asking more questions. Were we just “lucky”? What about building a winery? Where would that money come from? Surely banks were not likely to loan money to us unemployed, ex-fashion industry has-beens, especially for something as risky as a winery in El Dorado; the odds of another miracle, in any form, were altogether inconceivable.

Ah! But this glimpse of Divine intervention began to “change the way we think”. We didn’t feel lucky; we felt blessed and we were yearning, hoping and praying for more. I remembered a resourceful tip we received in escrow that sent me to the county recorder’s office digging deep into the history of our land. In 1992, after weeks of research, I discovered that within the greater 91 acres four separate parcels existed that were never legally joined, resulting in us selling off one of the smaller parcels. This miraculous parcel split generated funds enabling construction on the winery building. Lucky again? We think not. Letting go of our safe little 1-acre plan and choosing God’s intimidating 91-acre plan was really the beginning of us taking ground.

As many know we don’t conform to the typical industry farming or winemaking standards – these are areas where Frank concertedly wanted to take ground and not be different for the sake of being different but for the sake of stewarding well the vine and the wine made from it – not adulterating what is already “good” (the vine) and “very good” (the wine). We’ve also learned taking ground involves wholehearted commitment, and flexibility to weather the uncertainties, but without compromise. This is why the Narrow Gate story continues to take ground and overflows to you, our beloved wine club, friends, family and acquaintances who continue to play an essential role in it; without you we’d be reading, “The End”.

We want to say thank you and also encourage you to “go for it”, dream big, and press into God for guidance, miracles, blessings, and the faith to keep moving forward and taking ground – we are cheering you on!

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2 NIV

We look forward to seeing you either in the cellar, at an upcoming winemaker dinner, vineyard hike or open house event.

Happy Harvest!

Frank & Teena

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