The years that followed my wine revelations at the hands of Charlie Wagner continued to advance both my zeal and enthusiasm for the gospel of the grape. Austin’s wine scene grew exponentially, due in no small part to the hi-tech boom fueled by the meteoric rise of Dell Computers and the literally thousands of “Dellionaires” (many from California) looking to spend their good fortune on wine, food and a party time. Winemaker dinners, wine bars, wine friends and a few more trips to wine country filled the rest of the 1980’s and well into the 1990’s, often to excess. That period saw the birth of the Texas Hill Country Wine and Food Festival, a wonderful series of winemaker dinners at the newly opened Four Seasons Hotel and a bevy of restaurants with great wine lists and bars in the newly re-envisioned Warehouse District, near downtown.
Late in the fall of 1983, John, an eccentric wine-business friend, insisted we join him and his wife, Jennifer, on a trip to Napa and Sonoma. The excursion included events that would ultimately change both our wine-stained lives forever. We flew into San Francisco and rented a white Lincoln Towne Car, the size of a small yacht. We cruised across the bay and into wine country. I was mesmerized. In November, with harvest completed many of the vineyards still had leaves of rustic red, yellow and harvest gold. The trip had many memorable moments, including the haunted San Francisco B&B’s where John insisted we stay. Lest we forget the corner sushi bar whose concept of hospitality was to curse in Japanese as you entered.
Donna spent the whole trip politely passing on any red wine tastings, limiting herself to whites. She had yet to develop a taste for rich red wines with their structured tannins. As if acting in unison, the red wines would begin to pour and her right hand would cover the wine glass. That was until the moment in the living area of our Healdsburg B&B when Donna lost her cabernet virginity. Around four in the afternoon we sat with a few other guests to share the day’s wine tasting bounty. John opened a bottle of Jordan Cabernet and insisted Donna give it a full-on chance. With much trepidation, she lifted the glass to her lips and took a sip, letting the wine settle on her palate. At that instant she knew what she had been missing all along.
The rest of the 70’s and into the early 80’s were spent ensconced at the University Of Texas School of Business finishing my undergraduate business degree, MBA degree and teaching undergraduate business classes. Wine, however, remained a growing fascination. Those years were lean. Odd jobs generated what little spending money I had. Once, my prospects were so bleak, I even took a job catching live snakes at night for a campus area pet store and the occasional rattler for a university science project. Wrestling rattlers on the end of a snake stick is a bit off the wall and frightening. But I needed some, as we say, walkin’ around money, and hell, this is Texas. Finally, I ended up with a desk job at an insurance agency. At least that was safe from venomous reptiles. During this time I also received a small university paycheck as I continued my position as an instructor at the UT Business School. Certainly, not the income needed for a fine wine collection or even much consumption, but we did our best.