“Before and After”


When we bought our house, we bought it to be our “forever house” if you will. While many people I have observed seem to purchase houses with approximately the same or greater frequency at which they purchase cars, seemingly unable to be happy long-term or else incapable of figuring out how many children they want to have or what state they want to live in, Sonja’s experience as the daughter of a career military man made her long for and ultimately insist upon stability and longevity in where we reside. If you look at the middle of the house between the first and second floor, you’ll see a triangular window jutting out. That’s a coffin corner and, if Sonja has her way, that how I’ll be escorted out one day. We don’t plan to move, and this allows us some comfort in investing money in our property.

There is a lot to like about the house that sits on the hilly corner of 35th Avenue and Poppleton Street in Omaha’s Field Club neighborhood. For one, it’s close to all of the good restaurants and the only things of cultural significance in the city — theaters, museums, landmarks. With the noteworthy exception of a few friends’ houses, we can get to anything worth getting to in Omaha in ten minutes or less, including the airport. Aside from location, we like the porches and the patios, and we make the most of them in the summer. The master suite is a rare feature in a 1905 Craftsman, as is the 350 square foot wine cellar that I’m not as far from finishing as I was last time we spoke. Of course, there are also things we don’t love about the house.

If you can get past the fact that everyone in the neighborhood who has been here more than five years insists upon calling is “The Genovesi House” (it’s the Gudgel house, dammit,) then you can join me in focusing on difficulties less semantic in nature. For one, whoever did the original electrical and plumbing was apparently learning as they went, and may also have had a rather short attention span. In addition, there are all kinds of nail holes in our otherwise beautiful antique woodwork.  These aren’t huge issues, of course, but long term tenants are bound to notice them. The thing that vexed me the most, however, from almost the moment we moved in, was the fence around the back yard.


To begin with, calling it a yard is pretty generous. There’s a strip of land out back approximately six feet wide by twenty five-long that abuts the street on one side and a six foot drop on the other.  As if that weren’t sad enough, however, at some point in annals of history a person with a key to our house and apparently very few functioning brain cells constructed a grotesque metal fence in a manner that I can only describe as half-assed. They were obviously drunk when they did it — the fence ran in a crooked jag of a pattern and cut the already-small yard in half twice, once lengthwise and the other by width. This left a bizarre patch of land approximately four feet by fifteen feet, part of it paved, where I could put a grill so that, while I was cooking, I could sit and wonder what in the hell was wrong with the people who built that fence.  It brought me great joy to tear it out a few days ago. I used a sledgehammer for part of it, even though that probably wasn’t necessary.

This isn’t actually a story about a fence, but for those who read me often you know that I’m not one to write with economy if I don’t have to. Twitter and its 140 character limit baffled me to no end before they suspended my account for threatening Greg Gianforte, the congress-twerp from Montana who slammed a reporter to the ground. I still want to kick that guy’s ass, though I’ll admit that tweeting that at him may have been ill-advised. And now that you have a recent example of why it takes me thousands of words to say almost anything, let’s get back to the story, which again, isn’t really about a fence.


Things change over time. So do people.  So do backyards I suppose.  Maybe the person who first installed my awful steel fence grew up to be a brain surgeon. It would make sense if they were about six years old when they put in the original.  Wine, also, changes over time — it can evolve and mature much like a human and, much like a human, given more time than it can handle it will perish. It’s interesting to taste wine young, and again later, or to taste multiple vintages of the same wine, what is often referred to as a vertical.  It’s also interesting to think about things your passionate about and trace your passions back to some discernible origin. I can’t do that with everything, but I can do it with wine.

Before I met Sonja, I drank mostly Belgian beer and cheap bourbons mixed with cola. When I fell in love with someone who was allergic to wheat and loathed even the smell of whiskey, some adaptation was needed. We began sharing wine regularly, from our first date onward.  After that, I began to enjoy wine, and we decided to spend our brief honeymoon in California wine country.

Before we honeymooned in Napa and Sonoma, we drank a lot of, well, questionable wines, things like Apothic and Barefoot, wines that are absolutely functional… right up until you’ve had better wine. But after we tasted better wine on our honeymoon, we couldn’t really go back to our old bottom shelf drinking ways.

Before I fell in love with wine, good wine, great wine — the wine I tasted in Napa and Sonoma, I never really gave any thought to who was making it, where, or how. After I fell in love with great wine, my natural curiosity blossomed and I began to learn more and more about who made the wine I liked to drink, and what they were doing as they did so. I began to find the process utterly captivating, and was secretly thankful to be well-established in my career, lest I be tempted to jettison all reason and go back to school to become a winemaker.

Before I learned about what makes amazing wine, and who, I assumed that all winemakers and wine families were like the first ones I encountered in literature and pop culture, people with infamous names like Mondavi, Jackson, Coppola, and Gallo. But after I began to look into it, and to spend more and more time in wine country, I began to meet other families, people with names like Smith, Eisele, Ledson, and Varozza — people many casual wine consumers likely haven’t heard of, people who are special, even vital, to the future of the wine industry.

Before I met these people, I didn’t give much consideration to who was creating the wine I drank, but after it meant everything to me. Memories of riding around in a side-by-side, delicious Chardonnay sloshing out of the glass and all over us as we banged around the gravel roads surrounding the vineyards, make drinking Smith-Madrone wines far more special to me, as does a bond I feel I share with Stu Smith over a mutual friend we recently lost. Reminiscences of feeding the horses at the horse rescue with Jennifer are part of what make the wines of Tamber Bey rank among my very favorites.  Recollections of helping Hugh Davies figure out where to plant a sign in the ground, marking the edge of the Napa Ag Preserve, return to me every time I pop the cork on a bottle of Schramsberg Blanc de Noirs, while Jean Hoefliger’s insistent, almost impish smile forces its way into my mind’s eye whenever I taste his incredible wines, the time when he jokingly berated a colleague for exploding an older vintage bottle of Dunn Howell Mountain (which belonged to me) in the hot back seat of her car. In June. And among my favorite memories is one of sitting with my wife and our friends Catherine and Alexander Eisele on their patio high in the Chiles Valley AVA, listening to Alex speak quietly to their children in German while regaling us with stories of the bears that like to wander up and visit. It must have been this memory that was closest to the surface when I selected the wine for dinner a few nights ago to thank my father, mother, and friend Travis for helping me to install the new fence.

The process had been long and somewhat arduous. It’s hard to estimate how long a task like that will take when you’ve never attempted anything like it before. I was thankful for Travis’s experience in carpentry and the quick math he can do in his head, and I was appreciative of my dad for never shying away from dirty work and for bringing down tools that I never would have known I needed. For her part, my mom keeps my dad going, and I appreciate that as well. We worked most of the day, skipping church and getting rained on, yet making the sort of slow and steady progress that encourages you to keep at it. When at last the rain was too heavy to keep pouring cement in, we gave up and went inside. The following day, with favorable weather, we wrapped things up.

For dinner that night, Sonja had made some beautiful steaks provided by Travis and Baron, and had “thrown together” a litany of side salads and other delights — including a baked cherry crisp made from cherries picked fresh from the tree across the street, the ones I didn’t turn into bitters that is.  Knowing we were having steak, and owing a huge debt of gratitude to the people who had just risked pneumonia and chronic back pain to help beautify our domicile and expand our modest cloister, I grabbed a few of my very favorite bottles of wine and began decanting.

The 2013 Volker Eisele Cabernet Sauvignon is wine worthy of serving to close friends and loved ones when you need to express to them a sincere and heartfelt thank you. One of the things about VEFE that stands out to me is the consistency of quality. Sourced from their estate vineyards high in the mountains that tower over the southerly and eastern side of the storied Napa Valley, I can spend a lot of time swirling, sniffing, and sipping at this amazing expression of Cabernet Sauvignon. Dark and rich with expressive black and purple fruits and earthy notes throughout, it is an undeniably smooth and enjoyable glass of wine that pairs beautifully with our Nebraska beef or can be enjoyed just as easily by itself. Before I could see beyond the end of my own nose, I might not have cared that it was farmed organically — and has been for many decades, but after spending a little time in the world and learning to love the earth, it makes me appreciate the producers even more for the added care and effort they put into every bottle.  In my mind, this is one of the very best bottles of Napa Cabernet available at this price, and I highly recommend it to anyone and everyone who has people they appreciate to share it with.

It took a few hours to tear out the measly excuse of a fence that came with the house on the corner of 35th Avenue and Poppleton Street in the Field Club neighborhood of Omaha, and two days to replace it with something better. Before, however, I would go back to grill and, when Titus or Zooey asked to join me, I would reluctantly acquiesce to letting them sit on the step, terrified that in such close quarters they would burn themselves on the grill when I wasn’t looking. After — now, I look forward to grilling, and to having them back there with me, playing in a yard that has doubled in size while I burn meat and sip at a glass of Volker Eisele Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s terrific, really, how things change over time, and I’m thankful for all that I have learned  — about wine and winemakers, about building fences, and so many others things.


Cheers to the befores and afters,


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