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A Toast to a Personal Wine Hero

James Laube remembers his father

James Laube
Posted: January 27, 2006

The wine world lost one of its champions this week.

No, Ernest Gallo didn't die. And neither did Robert Mondavi.

Thankfully, they're both still with us. But my Dad, who never made a wine, but drank his fair share, isn't.

Edward James Laube passed away earlier this week. For most of his 84 years, Dad somehow rather miraculously avoided being in a hospital bed, until the bitter end.

Born on a farm in Boyne City, Mich., he was the quintessential American patriot, a decorated bomber pilot in World War II, serving as a first lieutenant in the Army Air Force in England and France.

Despite flying dozens of dangerous missions and watching many of his comrades die in combat, Dad came out largely unscathed. He crashed a few planes—he piloted a B-26 Marauder, dubbed "the widow-maker" because of its early technical problems—and picked up some shrapnel in a dogfight with German aircraft. But he always walked away and looked back on his days in the service as among the most exciting in his life, and he made lifelong friends with many people he met while stationed near Dedham, England. One of his favorite sayings was, "We'll have a good time even if it kills us."

My Dad grew up with wine; his father made wine every year in their basement. Dad said the wine was sweet and tasted good for a while (he'd sneak a glass or two from time to time), but undoubtedly it eventually turned to vinegar. In 1944, as the war wound down, he lived in a tent outside Paris for six months and came to enjoy French wine. It was one of those small pleasures he learned to appreciate.

Wine became a much bigger part of my life, in ways that would have been impossible to predict. I moved to Napa nearly 30 years ago and began writing articles for a giveaway wine publication, then called The Wine Spectator. At about the same time I met the owner, Marvin Shanken, another wine lover, and he offered me a job.

None of us knew what would ensue as we embraced the wine world, me writing about it and Dad drinking it. But wine became a staple at Laube family gatherings. I had some of my greatest experiences with my Mom and Dad seated at a dinner table drinking wine and talking about life. For years I shipped them a case or two each month, just to make sure they had a steady supply. They were thrilled when the UPS truck screeched to a stop in front of their house with the latest delivery.

My Dad taught me many things. He loved to cook and to tell jokes and stories (some of which I heard hundreds of times!), and he was eternally optimistic, always looking forward to the next adventure. Yet he always had time for his family and friends and loved to party. His motto: "The more the merrier."

So, tonight, or tomorrow night, if you're sharing a glass of wine with your Mom, or Dad, or an old friend, or a new one, cherish those special moments. Even long runs come to an end.

Sad as I am to have lost my Dad, he lived his life to the fullest and considered himself the luckiest man on earth. Having had him as a father for 53 years, I consider myself blessed.

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