Vine Wise

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Welcome to the New Vine Wise

Columnist: Tim Carl
August, 2015 Issue

Tim Carl
All articles by columnist

“But who is this guy?” you might ask. “What makes him even remotely worth listening to?” Reasonable questions.

Let’s say you’ve been asked to write a column for a well-regarded magazine.
“Well, that sounds interesting and is also an honor,” you might say. And that would be true. Columnists are in the unique position of being able to explore interesting topics of their choice, usually within their area of expertise. The opportunity to do that for a high-quality, local magazine is a potentially long-term writing assignment that’s both fun and exciting.
Readers might be thinking at this point, “But I’ve been enjoying Rich Thomas’ column for years—and I like it the way it was.”
Thomas is impossible to emulate, especially when it comes to parenthetical comments, such as this one from December 2014, which refers to the challenges faced by other wine regions around the globe: “This doesn’t include the real bullets and bombs that are being shot around the world by the religious zealots, power-hungry leaders and other idiots raising havoc. Those are political issues I try not to touch because some clown will get offended—not that I care, but my editor and loyal backer does.”
“Hold on,” many readers might be pondering. “What else is there to say?”
And that would be right. Thomas’ insights were often communicated in a deeply personal (and sometimes irreverent) manner, coupled with humor and a bluntness that was uniquely all his own.
But, as they say, the only thing constant in life is change. So in keeping with that theme, I’ve been selected to write a new “Vine Wise” column. Tasked with filling some enormous shoes, I hope readers will bear with me as I explore what the world of wine has in store for Sonoma, Napa, Marin and the world beyond.
“But who is this guy?” you might ask. “What makes him even remotely worth listening to?”
Reasonable questions.
I grew up in the area and graduated from St. Helena High School in 1984. My family had a few Chardonnay vines in our front yard, from which we’d make a barrel or two of wine each year. The wine we produced was barely drinkable, but it whetted my interest. Couple that with my family coming from five generations of Northern California farmers, and I grew up knowing I’d eventually find myself farming or making wine. But first I needed money for college, so I joined the U.S. Navy and ended up touring in the Persian Gulf.
When I got out, I married my sweetheart from Rutherford and started at Santa Rosa Junior College, intending to become a high school teacher and maybe work at my wife’s family’s vineyard in Rutherford. But phylloxera wiped out their fourth-generation vines, so I found myself having to work as a cook while I finished up school and we had our first child. Eventually, we had a second child, and I graduated from the University of Oregon. I earned my Ph.D. in Colorado and went on to a post-doc at Harvard. With my degrees in hand, I ended up as a business consultant at McKinsey & Co., a job that required lots of travel and writing. But what my wife and I always dreamed about was coming back home.
What we’d learned was that it’s relatively easy to leave this beautiful part of the world, but coming back can be daunting. With no remaining family land and no trust fund, our dream of returning was constantly being put on hold. As our kids got older, we vowed they’d have the experience of working the land for at least a few of their childhood years. With my wife’s and my deep roots here, there was no way in hell our kids weren’t going to get a little dirt under their fingernails before they left for college.
I wrote a business plan for a winery and vineyard, and a Boston friend brought in two additional investors to join us on our adventure. In 2006, we four partners embarked on a new winery venture, Knights Bridge Winery.
Between 2008 and 2012, I served on the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission, where I learned more about this extraordinary region. Over the years, I’ve taken numerous classes at UC Davis for oenology and viticulture and studied wine appreciation at Boston College, the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone and through extensive courses offered through local commissions and wine-related organizations. If there’s a book, class or seminar on growing grapes and making, tasting and selling wine, I’ve probably read it or taken it.
My life and experiences have exposed me to every aspect of the wine industry. Last year, however, I stepped away from active involvement in the winery and vineyard to focus on writing full time. I may not have my predecessor’s sharp wit, but I can promise you stories that entertain and illuminate from this wonderful place we call home.
Presently, Tim Carl lives, writes and teaches in Calistoga. He grew up in St. Helena and traces his California grape-growing roots back five generations. You can reach him at  



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