Father’s Day Reflections in Wine Country
As June begins, thoughts of graduations and Father’s Day, along with the upcoming harvest, are top of mind with our friends at Cartlidge & Browne, producers of award-winning wines from California’s North Coast region.
Stefan Cartlidge, son of wine industry legend and founder of Cartlidge & Browne, Tony Cartlidge, recently graduated from Oberlin College. We asked him to reflect on the lessons he has learned from his dad.
“Much of what my father taught me he never endeavored to teach. As a kid I obsessed over the stories he told me about his life: racing through the streets of London in a taxi truck, hitchhiking across Europe, camping in Morocco and the former Soviet Union, and last, but not least, abandoning his English sensibility in order to come to America. Growing up, I thought to myself there was no way I could do half the things my dad had done before turning twenty three. When I told him this he looked delighted and said “What a relief!”
The stories Tony Cartlidge tells are seemingly endless, told in a meandering way that is endearing, thought-provoking and often hilarious. After several attempts at different occupations and a few fortune hunts, he fell upon an idea to become a vintner while driving a cement mixer in Washington State. Although he knew virtually nothing about wine, he hopped into his 1960 Rambler and struck out for Napa Valley.
After talking his way into a winery tour guide job, there was no stopping him. In short order, he was producing his own wine label with a winemaker who had never made wine before, bankrolled by a financier with a government pension. In 1980, Cartlidge & Browne (C&B) was not so much launched as spontaneously created. It sold faster than imagined, garnered plaudits more usually lauded upon bottles with higher prices and fancier pedigrees and wound up changing the winemaking establishment for good.
Today, Cartlidge & Browne produces four wines, all sourced from the North Coast of California: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Use the store locator here to learn where to find these wines near you.
As Stefan tries to explain this approach to life, he quotes another uncompromising iconoclast.
“Unsurprisingly, my dad adores Dylan and never hesitates to quote him to me when he can. ‘There’s no success like failure, and that failure’s no success at all.’ It’s easy to live a comfortable life if you never risk anything for something you want. But is that life satisfying? Probably not. My dad, unlike most people, tries to remember his successes more than his failures. After all, it makes for a better story.”
How does a young man follow in a father’s footsteps that lead off the beaten path?
“My problem was I saw my father’s anecdotes as pieces to the whole jigsaw puzzle that was his life story: every piece of the puzzle seemed to fit perfectly into the larger pattern of his successes. As I grew older, I began to learn more about the pieces that never fit, about the failures. The first thing my dad ever tried to sell in America, well before wine, was a red sequin dress that nobody would touch. The older I get, the more I treasure stories like the one of the sequin dress.”
Cartlidge & Browne was one of the earliest adopters of an American “garagiste” tradition. Originating in Bordeaux, this term was used to disparage small-lot winemakers, sometimes working in their garages, who refused to follow the rules. Now, of course, it is a full-fledged movement responsible for making some of the world’s best wines. In that same tradition, the founders of Cartlidge & Brown broke with the expected to pursue winemaking on their terms.
The legacy continues as Stefan enters the wine business upon his graduation this May from Oberlin College with a Bachelor’s degree in English and Literature.
“Throughout my college career I have witnessed the uncertainty in my peers’ faces when they discuss their futures. Like I felt with my father, when many of my friend’s hear of another’s success it only highlights their own failures. No one teaches kids how to fail in college, and how to fail with grace. The surprising thing, as I learned from my dad, is that the people who don’t fail are the ones who have never tried. To make matters personal, had my dad not risked humiliation and failure in order to come to America and start a business like Cartlidge & Browne, I would never have existed.”
The story of Cartlidge & Browne is one of taking chances: following your dream or even your hunch. Stefan has watched his father live his entire life without compromise, saying; “Risks are like the hidden roads to a destination, they’re everywhere but most people don’t take them.”
Here’s a toast to all the rule-breakers, rebels, mavericks and “Wine Misters” out there! Happy Father’s Day!