A common winemaker adage is that their wines are like their children. There are no favorites. Each is unique. Each has its own personality and it’s impossible to choose one over the other.
Here’s my corollary counterpoint: Winemakers are far more complex than their wines. Take Dick Grace, of Grace Family Vineyard, one of the early cult Cabernets of Napa Valley.
Grace became an overnight sensation in the early 1980s, starting with his debut 1978 vintage. Caymus owner Charlie Wagner sized up Grace’s then 1-acre Cabernet vineyard north of St. Helena and said it looked like good Cab turf and offered to make Grace’s wine, which he did, bottling it under the Caymus label with a Grace Family Vineyard designation.
The wine deservedly won immediate acclaim for its uncommon richness, elegance, finesse and polish. But it wasn’t long before that heady adoration turned, in Grace’s mind, to worship of him and his wine, a sort of vinous deification. And by his own admission he became possessed by both the bottle, developing a serious drinking problem, and his ego, which was intertwined with his wine.
As he and his wine became celebrity superstars, winning huge bids at charity auctions, fans lavished praise on him and his wine. It reached the point that he seemed to think both he and the wine were nearly perfect and he couldn’t stand any whisper of criticism.
Somewhere in the mix of sudden fame and glory, Grace lost his way. He built a beautiful dollhouse-size winery near his spectacular Victorian home, added a second acre of grapes, and Grace Cabernet catapulted to the rarified air that few ever experience. The pull of that renown, mixed with excessive drinking, eventually pushed Grace to yet another extreme. He quit drinking completely and hasn’t tasted any alcohol in 20 years. Once he quit drinking he saw himself in a different light. He has refocused his passion and redirected his ego, turning away from promoting himself and toward helping others.
For someone who has seen both sides of Grace, it’s a remarkable transformation. He still has a sizeable sense of self. As I mentioned in Monday’s blog, he markets his and the Blank Vineyard Cabernets as being made form the Grace clone, when in fact he got his cuttings from Bosche. Yet his work with the poor and less fortunate is admirable and heart-warming. He still lives an upscale lifestyle, drives a fancy new coupe and sells his wine for $250 a bottle. Yet he says he gives 20 percent of his winery’s earnings to charity and devotes much time and energy to helping feed and educate the poor, or provide medical assistance to those in desperate need. His humanity endeavors have taken him and his wife, Anne, to India, Mexico and Nepal, as well as around the U.S.
On Monday, Grace, now 70 and battling cancer, stopped by my office in Napa both to drop off wines for review and talk about his charity missions. He knows he’s a controversial figure, yet the same drive and arrogance that made him so intolerable many years ago is now manifested in a kinder, gentler, more introspective manner.
The winery and the wine are now viewed by Grace as a sort of Buddhist blessing, which he uses as vehicles for helping the poor and, in his words, “closing the gap between those who have and those who don’t.”
Tom Wark — April 4, 2008 7:02pm ET
Chris Buddress — April 5, 2008 9:52pm ET
Mark Owens — Cincinnati, Oh. — April 7, 2008 10:12am ET
Alexander Velto — Upland, — April 7, 2008 11:56am ET
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