Last weekend, I got to be the pacer for running legend Bart Yasso at the Heartland Marathon for about the first five miles of the race. At the finish line, a little unlike me, I asked him to sign my pacer stick, and it now sits with my other running medals and trophies behind our bedroom door. It occurred to me then that Bart Yasso, famous amongst runners for being the creator of Yasso 800’s, a marathon training technique that is eerily effective for reasons none of us really understands, would soon leave the finish line where people were eagerly taking photographs with him and having him sign things, and walk through the relatively quiet two-terminal airport that is Omaha Eppley Airfield virtually unrecognized.
In wine, we sometimes use the phrase “Sonoma Famous” to describe this phenomenon. If a wine geek — maybe like you, dear reader, but possibly not, were to see Jean Hoefliger or Mike Duffy or Steve Ledson or Stu Smith or Michael Trujillo or Tom Meadowcroft walking through an airport you might approach them, just as a running zealot might approach Bart Yasso, but for most people this person who had achieved fame and greatness in a quiet arena of life would go unnoticed. I find this fascinating, and a little counterintuitive. Decades ago, I was walking through Hollywood with members of my basketball team when they recognized Larry King and lost their minds. Incidentally, King wasn’t very nice about it, but I suppose I understand that it would be tedious being constantly adored by strangers. Only a few years ago, in DC with students for the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, a crew of my young ones screamed and chased Puff Daddy across the National Mall in front of the Washington Monument. It was quite a scene, and Diddy apparently didn’t mind taking selfies with them.
Most of us live lives of relative quiet, our greatness either uninspired by our lackluster surroundings, unrecognized by bosses who were promoted for the wrong reasons, or perhaps even untapped by ourselves as we unwittingly let life drift by without ever figuring out what we might be truly great at doing.
For my part, and I suspect I’m not alone in this, I find that I am good at a lot of things, and that I love doing all of those things, and that my myriad interests in turn perhaps prevent me from being great at any of them. For example, I coach and I really enjoy it, but I would be better at if if I were able to devote more time to it. The same is true of teaching, where last week the intangibles — the relationships with students, the hugs, the understanding, and even those beautifully organic teachable moments were definitely there, but perhaps I could have improved upon what I was doing had I given over more time to planning. I blog, but as you know I’m not great at it, and the same is true of my other writing (I had an article on the Wannsee Conference rejected yesterday) and even my running. I’m a good runner, all things considered, but I’d be better if I devoted less time to other things and trained more seriously with a heart rate monitor. The twenty-four hours of each day that I get have never felt like enough. My desire to be a great dad has me up early writing today, before my kids wake up, so that later I can focus more on them. That brings me to the next thing I want to share.
Some people are great at what they do, truly great, like Bart Yasso or Jean Hoefliger, and I think it has something to do with laser focus. And while nobody will ever stop my wife in the airport to tell her so, Sonja is an amazing mom. Interestingly, despite being good (maybe even great) at her career and attentive to housework and a small handful of other things, it’s parenting that she’s zealous about, parenting at which she thrives and dominates her competition, and that shows. From getting the kids to WeBop with me yesterday to doing loads and loads of diapers in the wash to making the experience of watching a four-hour-long football game fun for them on a rainy Saturday afternoon (see above), she’s just great at what she does. I should probably have her sign something for me, or at least take a selfie with her, but as we all know its easy to take greatness for granted when you’re in the presence of it every day.
Chris Upchurch would be “Sonoma Famous” if the term made more sense, given that he works as a winemaker far north of Sonoma in Washington State. I met Chris last year at Taste of Washington; he’s an amiable fellow, and while I truly enjoy his wines I think I enjoyed his casual demeanor and willingness to chat even more. Chris is the executive winemaker at DeLille Cellars, a favorite Washington State producer of mine. Last night, after the kids were in bed, Sonja requested a bottle of “really good” wine — and I went for the jugular with this one.
The first vintage of DeLille Four Flags that I ever tried was 2013, but from the two I’ve had since I’ll say that I find this wines consistent. 100% Red Mountain Cabernet sourced from a variety of premier vineyards, this wine to me explains without words why famous reviewers like Robert Parker and lesser known vinophiles like Jay Frogness hold DeLille in such high regard. Subtle in its aromatics, the bouquet opens up in time. Dark, bold, and rich, dusty tannins cling to the palate while waves of black fruit and oak imparted flavors drift casually throughout the mouth. There is a distinctness about the wine that I can only account for with the terroir of Red Mountain, a sort of vibrancy that plays upon an otherwise austere and commanding wine, with prominent flavors of ripe blackberry and plum, the color blue never far from my mind as I sipped at this beautiful wine. At 14.2% alcohol, it rests comfortably in the space between the monsters that are produced farther south from this varietal and the still more delicate French counterparts being blended in Pauillac. Impeccably structured, the DeLille Four Flags Cabernet will last for decades but drinks beautifully now, the youthful wine benefiting from a short decant and a good swirl of the decanter for good measure. Last night we paired it with Darkest Hour, Sonja and I enjoying the many scenes set in the Churchill War Rooms which we toured together shortly after our wedding.
I’ll wrap up this morning by saying that, regardless of whether or not you are a LeBron James or Billy Joel or Barack Obama who can’t go anywhere without being photographed and asked to autograph peoples’ babies, or instead a Sonja Gudgel sort of mom, Bart Yasso sort of runner, or Chris Upchurch sort of winemaker, whatever it is you’re doing, don’t hesitate to be great at it. I think many people view their work, or their hobby, or their routines as somehow normal, even mundane, yet I wonder what would happen if, like the people mentioned above, we put our hearts and souls into those things to see just how amazing we could be. I always sort of enjoy it when people ask me “How do you do so much?” and yet I am coming to fear that perhaps the most logical response to the inquiry is that I do it by doing none of it as well as I am able. This idea is certainly something I’ll continue to wrestle with. As ever, thanks for reading, and whatever you are, I hope you are — or can become, a great one.
Cheers to the great ones we find in our daily lives,