Richard M. Foxx, MD
Standing in the shade of a 300 year old live oak at the crest of a hill in Buellton this weekend, surrounded by endless rows of Pinot Noir grapevines heavy with ripe fruit, I learned once again what passion is all about.
This time it came in the form of Richard Sanford, perhaps my oldest and very dearest friend. The not too distant ocean breeze ruffled his hair as he leaned against an ancient oak table, a glass of ruby-colored Pinot Noir in one hand, and talked about what it meant to be a wine maker, that we were about to drink wine that had been pressed from these grapes last year, and the long journey that had taken him to this spiritual place on an extraordinary day.
I first met Richard almost 40 years ago. We were both sought-after ocean-racing navigators, competitors, but both passionate devotees of an arcane, pre-GPS avocation that was as much art as science. When time for sailing became a luxury we stayed in distant touch through mutual friends. I knew that he was following his dream of starting an organic winery north of Santa Barbara and I cheered him on from afar, and cheered louder when President Reagan chose his wines to be served at his first inaugural.
We reconnected almost 25 years ago when my BW, JoAnn, and I began an annual pilgrimage (it always felt that way) to his eponymous winery and watched as it grew and prospered. Philosophical conflicts with his investors eventually resulted in his leaving Sanford Winery about the same time JoAnn and I opened The Medical and Skin Spa.
His passion for growing grapes in a sustainable, organic environment drove him to start over and to open Alma Rosa Winery in Buellton, CA, with his wife and soulmate, Thekla. My passion for the art of cosmetic medicine and the support of my soulmate emboldened me. The parallels of our lives continued.
Being a farmer is a little like going to the roulette table several times a year and betting everything you have on the red. But as a vegetable farmer you have the possibility of pulling out your crops if they develop disease, or infestations. As a grower of grapes you are dealing with plants that take at least three years to reach their potential. You can’t pull them out and start over. Multiply that by about a thousand if you are an organic grape grower. No fungicides, no pesticides to fall back on.
With a dedicated staff, working around the clock many days, Richard and Thekla gradually and painstakingly brought Alma Rosa to its present day, richly-deserved award-winning status. They make extraordinary Chardonnays and a memorable Pinot Gris, true, but their Pinot Noirs are pure magic.
Which brought us to last weekend. Walking through the pre-harvest vineyards, tasting the grapes from the vine, realizing their flavor is as far from table grapes as a Verdi aria is from rap, having the rich juice cover your hands and drip down your chin, having Richard talk about the fortuitous interaction of grape with mold with grape genetics, you get a rare and precious peek at passion, that extravagant emotion.
And you realize that passion is what propels some of us, the lucky ones, over the bumps, around the potholes, past the disappointments, and beyond the mid-night terrors.
If we are extraordinarily lucky we get to share it with others.
Richard M. Foxx, MD is Founder and Medical Director of The Medical and Skin Spa in Indian Wells, CA, a lover of fine wine, and devoted to passion in his life and his work. Visit his website at: www.medicalandskinspa.com.