Thanks to a long line of family members who appreciated the beauty of this area, had a knack for farming, and loved wine both as a hobby and a business, the Napa Valley has always been my home.
Thousands of tourists come to this region now to get a taste of a world-famous wine industry, but to me, it’s always been a farming community.
I grew up running in my father’s prune orchards with a half-mutt Irish setter, hunting birds and rabbits and always cooking what I killed. I remember being about 10 years old and shooting a linnet (a small bird) that was feeding on our garden lettuce, then frying him in a cast-iron pan.
Long before the Caymus vineyards were in our backyard, we had a horse, chickens, geese and bees, and a set of concrete steps that were the only remnants of the Liberty School, where my maternal grandmother attended grades 1 through 8. My dad, Charlie, and his four sisters also attended this school, where the kids could, during their lunch hour, swim in Conn Creek, which runs behind what are now Caymus’ bottling rooms.
My first summer job was working in our prune orchard at the age of 11 for $1 an hour. I had my own vehicle for use on our farm even then—a 1951 GMC pickup. I knew my way around the neighborhood enough to find the best fig tree (on the Beaulieu, now Beckstoffer property), and where cherry trees were growing in another neighbor’s orchard (the Coles, now Frog’s Leap winery). Another neighbor had delicious large Ribier grapes for our eating pleasure while waiting for the school bus. That vineyard is now part of Round Pond winery. I really liked the fruit of our area.
Seems like my life started out every day with one sound—my father’s sneeze after peppering the eggs! Every morning after a hearty breakfast, I could be found with gooped hair, Daniel Boone lunch box in hand, waiting for the school bus with my sister, Connie. We held off the chill of the morning wait by throwing rocks and counting the Canadian geese on their morning move.
|Chuck Wagner and his dad Charlie in Caymus' early days|
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