Eric Gordon, Winemaker
A Ten Day Drive.
I sold almost everything.
All I had was a 1992 Crown Victoria with 75,000 miles, a few weeks’ worth of clothes, a Nokia cell phone, a Rand McNally Map (remember when there weren’t GPS’s), and well, a dream.
What more did I need? I headed west.
When I hit the road, I don’t know about you, but my mind lights up and this was no exception. On that ten-day drive I had some of my best reflections, ever. No static or noise. Just freedom.
Summers with grandfather.
I reminisced on the summers at my grandfather’s place in Santa Rosa, California. His home was the setting for some of my fondest memories, including when he would share anecdotes about his travels. He was a fourth generation Californian, my ancestors may have come out as prospecting 49ers, and ended up settling in Santa Rosa with hop ranches. He shared their same zest for happiness, opportunity, and adventure. I’d sit for hours, enthralled in his stories, as he’d take me from Edinburgh to Wales, and back to his humble home in Santa Rosa. Although he enjoyed wine, he never really became an oenophile, and that was a new adventure I could share with him.
Just after my first crush, we shared our first bottle, a Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel. It was unforgettable. We propped up our feet, enjoyed an exquisite wine, and had one of the most memorable, joyous, pompous-free, conversations about life. I think that’s when I first realized, you have to “take your fun seriously.” That may be an oxy moron, but that’s my favorite type of moron.
Saw the light, when I left behind fluorescence.
Without noticing, I’d driven a few hundred miles and just passed Atlanta, Georgia. As I drove, my thoughts turned to what I would do when I arrived to Santa Rosa and, ultimately, Sonoma, Napa, or both. I had no job, my savings were meager, and my grandfather offered me his place, but I didn’t want to be an imposition for long.
I figured, in the worst-case, maybe I could volunteer at a craft winery. Work hands-on, get in at the ground level, and grow my way up to one-day crushing, bottling, and sharing my own wine.
I knew one thing for sure: there was no way I could spend another minute, no, waking moment, in a laboratory. The subtly cacophonic buzz of fluorescent lights, the hours on that same laboratory bench, the lack of fulfillment of fleeting tasks I could never follow end-to-end, was draining the life out of me. As I drove, I’d never felt as free. Unshackled, unobstructed, awake dreaming.
Dead Presidents, Eruptions, and Gambles?
Why not create an adventure? Instead of going directly to Santa Rosa, I filled my tank and drove to see the sights I hadn’t seen. I drove north through St. Louis, to the Badlands and Black Hills of South Dakota to see Mount Rushmore, and admired the gorgeous streams and volcanic springs of Yellowstone National Park. Heading south, I followed the snake river to the Grand Tetons, down to the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, and, perhaps a bit less exciting, although you would call me out if I said I wasn’t a gambling man at this point, I stopped by Reno. I didn’t stop to gamble, although this was all a big gamble. I digress . . . I stopped for a good night's sleep. I was exhausted, it takes a lot of energy to take a vacation.
The laboratory or the cellar?
Upon arrival at Santa Rosa, I took a day to settle in, and began scouring wine country for work. Within a week, I was offered an opportunity at Dry Creek Vineyard, and was asked: do you want to work in the laboratory or the cellar?
As you would imagine, I jumped at the opportunity to work in the lab. You’re probably asking yourself, “wait, what?” I was just checking to see if you were paying attention. Of course, I chose the cellar.
Messy was perfect.
It was mid September, crush season had just begun. My days went from conducting bioassays, seated, in a clean laboratory room, to harvesting grapes from vines, transporting them to the cellar, sorting grape clusters, and preparing them to be fermented in wooden barrels and stainless steel tanks. There wasn’t a day I didn’t smell like fermenting fruit, aged barrels, or soaked with water and wine. It was perfect.
A PUNK DOG & E. GORDON CELLARS.
A Punk Dog Named Sophie & E. Gordon Cellars
Since my starting days at Dry Creek Vineyard, I’ve worked with the likes of Kirk and Nils Venge, Philippe Meka, and Marco DiGiulio, and started crafting my own wines right in the Crusher District. My first wine Punk Dog, was named after my Corgi, Sophie. Sophie is a little dog with a big personality. I remember taking her to vineyards, and when I was evaluating the fruit, Sophie, inevitably, would run to the fringe of the property. Whether it was 10 or 100 acres, she’d make her way under the boundary fence. I’d call her to come back and tell her “there are gophers on this side of the fence too!” She’d pay me no mind. As always, she’d give me the proverbial paw. She was a punk dog! But, I loved her all the same. As my team and I experimented with varietals, we called our blends “Punk Wine” after Sophie. The name which we came to love and evolved into “Punk Dog Wines.” In 2004, I launched Punk Dog Wines. By 2006, I was able to open my own custom crush facility where I produce beautiful wines, while working alongside some of the most recognized winemakers.
Take your Fun Seriously.
Since then, E. Gordon Wines was conceived and we've crafted numerous critically-acclaimed varietal blends, from small lot luxury brands to larger lot lifestyle wines. But, rather than focus on accolades, what I'm most proud of is that while our grapes, team, and visibility have evolved, my objective remains the same as it was when I started on my journey out west: to do what I love, create unforgettable memories in the process, and inspire you to do the same.
So when it gets late in the evening, like the ripening of a Grenache grape from the Tejada Vineyard towards the end of the season, I hope you decant some Kolbe. And, like its back-end spice notes does to the back-end of our palates, I hope it ignites the back-end of your evening back to life. Whether you are with a friend you haven't seen in a decade, your mother at your childhood home toasting on a Formica table, a partner at a bistro on a date, or accompanied by a filet, just like I did with my grandfather, go ahead and prop your feet up, and take your fun seriously.