Connected by electrons, grapes, and the church of the spinning wheel

July 20, 2013 § 16 Comments

One day a few months ago, a funny email popped into my inbox.

“Before I ship, I wanted to make sure you drink red wine. No offense if you don’t, different strokes, you know? I grow it and make it and thought you might enjoy  it. We (wife, daughter and I) just got done bottling a Rhone blend (Grenache Noir, Syrah, Mouvedre) which is kinda good. Let me know, it’s on the house.”

The email was signed by someone I didn’t know, and had a quote at the end that went “I’ve got no answers of my own, and none have been provided.” — Robert Hunter.

I emailed back saying that I drank red wine, white wine, green wine, purple wine, and would drain whatever he sent my way. Of course there was some story behind this, and I asked for it. The writer responded, and, I’ve changed around his story a bit just because I like to tinker, but what follows is, except for the parts I’ve made up, all true.

The cycling story

I started riding a trike, like most., and had a 20″ brown beater when I was six. It got stolen from the Piggly Wiggly. I exacted revenge on the teenager who stole it the following year by whacking him upside the head with a baseball bat as he hid behind a hedge, playing kick the can. Then I stole the bike back.

I rode my Royce Union BMX bike and Huffy ten-speed everywhere while living in the Valley in the late 60′s. At thirteen, I glommed onto my older brother’s bike, which was first bought for us both in 1965. He used it for a couple of years, as it fit him far better.  We got it from the Belgian custodian of our church, who had purchased it for his son, Andre. This man, Mr. DuManshe, was from the Belgian Congo, and had been raised in Brussels. He had the foresight to buy the 58 cm Garlatti, a weird bike made from Columbus steel straight gauge tubing.

It had Campy Valentino components, steel cottered cranks, and tubular wheels. It was a real “racer.” My brother turned sixteen and got into cars, drinking, and girls. I had eyes for the bike, though, and overhauled it, painted it bright red/orange, and rode it everywhere. It was my ticket to freedom, my own personal revolution, as we lived in the middle of the Valley. It’s not the first or the last time that a revolution has been delivered on a crank and two wheels.

That bike could get me anywhere I wanted to go: The beach, Simi Valley, Westside, even the remote wilds of Palos Verdes.  I played baseball growing up, and was in Senior, Pony, and Colt leagues at the fields in Encino. One day in 1969 in my baseball uniform with my glove on the bars, I rode up to the rail at the Encino velodrome and saw some real bike racers. An older guy named Paul Therrio, Ralph Therrio’s uncle, noticed me, and approached, telling me that I should give the track a spin.

I got a loaner track bike and started racing Juniors as a fifteen year-old. I started doing training rides with the North Hollywood Wheelmen, then a small club, and then I got an ABL license, and between high school sports and bike racing managed somehow to stay out of jail. Fast forward to 1972, if it’s possible to fast-forward to the past. I was out of high school, and had been appointed to West Point, and went there for a year before I came back and lived for most of the summer in the Bay Area with an aspiring junior roadie named Eric Allen. Eric died in the 80′s when he was run over by a truck. RIP, my friend.

I worked for Wente Winery in Livermore to pay the bills, trained hard, and won a couple of races as a Cat 3, which is where they stuck you once you left the juniors. No Cat 5 back then! I went down to UCSD in the fall of ’73, played baseball and basketball there and rode for training and fun, and kept the license alive but only raced three or four times a year.

I tore my knee up playing basketball and started riding a lot for rehab in ’74. Then I went to UCSB in ’75 (spring and summer) and rode with a bunch of the SBBC crowd, raced Cat 3 again and liked it, and returned to UCSD in the fall of ’75, where I rode hard all winter. In 1976 I raced up in Washington State as a Cat 2 during the summer, and got free room and board at a girlfriend’s parents’ house in Yakima while working at a vineyard and getting very dirty for my money. After that I rode about 2,000 kilometers in light, fast touring to get back down to UCSD for the fall quarter. I liked that better than road racing, which usually consisted of fifty wheelsuckers and ten guys who did all the work.

I started racing in earnest in 1977, got a job in a bike shop and ended up managing it and then owning one. I went to grad school in ’79 and moved to Palo Alto, where I worked for Avocet. The family also owned PA Bikes on University Ave. I raced most of ’78-81 as a Cat 2, then as a Cat 1 on the road, and even tried he kilo for a while. That was okay as I got to go to the USOTC in Colorado Springs and got coached by Eddy B. in the winter of ’79. I still don’t remember him fondly.

I moved to the Sierras and rode for fun, got fat and happy, and went to work for Huffy Corp. in ’84. Somehow I started moving a lot and ended up in Ireland working for True Temper, a Huffy division that made long-handled garden tools, and was there for almost three years. I was thirty and the cycling light went on. I rode with the Dublin Wheelmen although I lived a ways away from Dublin.

There were four or five of us who hopped flights over to Brussels and Paris and San Sebastian and Milan during the spring and summer, riding the Saturday and Sunday events as amateurs. I got dropped a lot at first, then learned to hang on. They rode in stupendously bad weather and they were hard, hard men. I found out I was pretty good when it was fairly flat, cold, wet, and windy. A lot of Pot Belge back then, and I got transferred back to the states, and after the spring of ’89 I hung it up, using the excuse of the drug use I saw, but really, I’d had enough. Bike riding was really fun for me, but racing was getting really hard, a lot of suffering, and I couldn’t make the family-life balance work with the bike racing thing. My son, born on the last day of 1989, is autistic, and that took a lot of time, shifted a lot of priorities, and turned my focus elsewhere.

The wine part

I was always a wine drinker, especially when travelling in Europe, and when I met my second wife, we were soon married and I sold my place in Carlsbad on the beach and moved out to Alpine, on the way to Boulevard and home to what used to be a great road race put on by SDBC — The Willows Road Race — on the Viejas Indian reservation, which is now a casino, hotel, and shopping outlet center.

We needed to landscape about an acre and we decided to grow grapes in 2006. I had a couple of severe crashes with cars and had a cracked pelvis, a whacked out back, and a tricep that was torn just about in half. I tried to ride too soon, and suffered some setbacks, so the vineyard was a good fit. It was an outlet that was calm and peaceful, but required some effort. I joined the San Diego Amateur Winemaking Society and met some very nerdy ex-engineers/retired geeks who loved to make wine, though only about 20% actually grow the grapes. We have one of the greatest exposures, combined with incredible soil for grapes, so I am growing several Rhone varietals (Syrah, Grenache Mouvedre, Viognier) and am now in the sixth year of growth for these vines.

I don’t buy grapes, but rather make wine out of what I grow. I don’t sell it either, but usually give it away or drink it with friends. We have lots of dinners and parties here at the hacienda. I built a semi-subterranean wine room and have a half dozen Hungarian Oak barrels and all the techno widgets that winemakers like to have, which is amazingly similar to bike tech-weight weenies. Making wine is pretty easy if you have good grapes and keep everything clean.

I have a dog named Honey, and I have attached a picture of her. We call the syrah “Yellow Dog Red.” What you are going to receive tomorrow via FedEx Ground is our blend, which is 65% Grenache and 35% Syrah. Open it, let it breathe for an hour, pour it, let it breathe 15 minutes more, and then drink it.  It is 2012, so it tastes a bit young, but I think you will be impressed.

I have also attached a picture of my love, who by day is a banking executive, and we have a loft up in L.A. where she goes every week, but I go to once or twice a month. I am very lucky to have found her this late in life. She is a beautiful woman and has two grown children, as do I. Last, I attached a picture of me lying around in a hammock on our gopher-infested lawn next to the Bocce ball court and roses. I don’t drink as much as I used to, and really enjoy riding a bike more now, but only get out three or four times a week. Occasionally, I ride more often, get fitter, and do some time trials or jump in the Fiesta Island hammer-a-thon on Thursdays. I have been having windows of memory, usually in a dream, where a certain bike race gets re-lived. I am trying to get those things entered into a word file, so that keeps me busy.

Shame about the whole drug/doping thing, but it was way too obvious to me, and when Kayle and others started getting popped, it wasn’t hard for a lot of riders and fans to connect the dots. I had been telling friends for years that almost all road pros were all on their own “programs.” It’s funny how we want so badly to believe in our heroes. Hope this didn’t bore the living shit out of you. Enjoy the wine and be well.

The interlude

Sure enough, the wine showed up via FedEx. I’m not a connoisseur of anything except maybe sleep, but when we cracked it open at a party a few days later it was consumed “good to the last drop.” There’s something about knowing the story behind the thing’s creation that makes it taste better. This was no exception.

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