When we were kids, we wanted to be firefighters, ballerinas, princesses, superheros, and the President of the United States. But then something happened. Hopes of following the rainbow gradually morphed into hopes that we’d make rent for the month. Our potential was never lost; only misplaced.
Some of us lucky ones found ourselves discontented enough – and disconnected enough – to jump out of the rat race and toward our passions. Here, we explore the ways in which each of us has dropped everything to pursue something we love: WINE.
I was 21 years old, working in event planning and fundraising for the office of Senator Alan Cranston in Los Angeles. It was a great job – one most would envy – but I felt like I was growing up too fast. All of my 30-year old friends had traveled in their 20s already, but I hadn’t. So I decided to put my career on hold and go to Europe for a year. I wound up in St. Gallen, Switzerland, learning German through an immersion course and working in a hotel there. The budget was shoestring, but I had some of my most incredible experiences while on that journey. While spending time with my Swiss uncle, I uncovered a deep affinity for wine. He was quite the wine collector, and took it upon himself to share a few treasured vintages with me. At the time, as he shared many dusty bottles from the cellar, I thought, “Wow. That is really good.” Only years later, when I stumbled upon one of the labels I’d saved from those wines did I see that it had been a ’47 Chateau d’Yquem we’d shared. I can only imagine what other treasures Uncle Urs poured for us. I can trace a huge part of my passion for cuisine, wine, and travel to that year.
Linda Parker Sanpei
I was about to turn 30 and could feel myself falling down the rabbit hole. Directing education programs for a symphony orchestra was one of the best jobs I’ve ever had, but it wasn’t one for which I was truly, profoundly passionate. That place in my heart was reserved for travel and wine. Since my husband and I had been married, we’d believed that we should try living internationally, and the time was right. We took private Italian lessons for a year, saved our pennies, and I got my sommelier certification – all while working 10-hour days. (I routinely awoke at 5:15am to study the appellations of the world.) At last, on my 30th birthday, we departed for six months of working and living on organic farms across Italy and six months working at a winery in New Zealand. All the while, I blogged about our adventures, and that became the foundation of my wine/food/travel writing career. Aside from motherhood, nothing has shaped me so much as that year. And to have done it with my best friend – my husband – was so perfect. When people tell me they want to “experience life” before getting married, I always reference our trip and point out that experiencing life should happen from the cradle to the grave, not just when we’re young and single.
Last summer, I left two jobs and went to Europe for a two-month excursion to Switzerland, France, Italy, Spain and Greece to learn about my true love in life: Wine! There were only 16 students chosen from Cal Poly to represent the wine/viticulture department and I was one of the only two Wine Business students selected. During my first week in Europe, I tasted through the wonderful vineyards and wineries that surrounded the beautiful shores of Lake Geneva. One of the most memorable things about Switzerland was the steep vineyards – which seemed pretty dangerous for vineyard workers. During the second week of my trip, we went to Italy to experience the wonderful wines of Tuscany. Something about Italy: They know how to cook! I sometimes still dream about the hand-made tortellini I ate in Siena paired with Tuscany’s claim to fame, Sangiovese. After Italy, we traveled to France were we tasted through some of the best Alsatian wines and bubbles from Champagne. I also got to take a weekend trip to Paris, where I enjoyed a fine bottle of Xavier Laroux from Champagne underneath the sparkling lights of the Eiffel Tower. The last week of my trip was back to Switzerland to sadly say goodbye to the Chasselas and Gruyere that I fell so hard for. After my Cal Poly wine trip was over, I continued my journey on to Spain were I spent a week basking in the sun on the beaches of both San Sebastian and Barcelona. All I can say about Spain is: AMAZING! After that, I traveled to Greece were I met up with my family. We spent our first couple nights in Athens, right next to the Acropolis, which is truly breathtaking. The food in Greece was also something to remember! (The stuffed grape leaves were to die for.) After Athens, we continued our travels to the small islands of Mykonos, Santorini, Crete and Skiathos, each with their own personality and charm. Overall, this trip was life-changing and I will never forget all of the wonderful experiences I had in the summer of 2010.
I had just finished spring quarter at Cal Poly University, and was planning to leave the only city I had ever known and move up to Napa for an internship with a boutique winery. As the days rolled on, I left my job and began to pack for my trip up north. To my surprise, my excitement started to turn into nervousness and hesitation. I could not help but wonder if I was doing the right thing, leaving the safety and comfort of my home to pursue a dream in the wine industry; however, the love and support I received from my family and friends was enough to give me that extra confidence that this was the right choice. Napa was a different world in itself. I lived in St. Helena with my two close friends from college which was a lifesaver because it helped me to feel a bit more at home and settle into a rhythm. Every opportunity that I could take to learn more about the wine industry, I took, leaving me to travel throughout the surrounding cities selling wine, working in the office doing administrative work, social media, and then going out tasting the iconic wines of Napa. I was in the heart of wine country, soaking it up, and yet my heart seemed to still be rooted back in San Luis Obispo. As August came to a close and harvesters had begun to pick the ripened grapes, it signaled to me that it was time to go back to school. I was leaving Napa with a new appreciation and understanding of the wine industry, and had a sadness in my heart knowing I would not be waking up to another perfect day in St. Helena. The sadness quickly dissipated as I realized I was heading home! Leaving my life in San Luis Obispo was one of the toughest things I have done, but the rewards that came with it are indescribable. I would not change one day of that summer for anything. It has changed my life forever, for the better.