In 2007, when my father and I were being shown what is today known as Distant Cellars, I did not identify myself as a wine person, let alone a winemaker or vineyard owner. I can also attest to the fact that my father did not identify himself as a farmer. What we did now, however, was that there was something special about the piece of land we had found in the small corner of Northern California. As we walked the property, my father and I commented on the potential, highlighting both the things we liked, as well as the areas for improvement. By the end of our tour, we knew we were going to make an offer on our vision of the future. You see, the Gaiser Family has always liked a good project. Every house we had ever lived in began with a plan for renovation and ended in a home. We took a similar path in our journey which ended in the state of our winery today. I’d be lying if I said the makeover was quick, easy or painless. Nevertheless, here we are today, proud of our accomplishments and still focused on those areas of improvement.
So, with a very loose plan to “make it better” and the understanding that it was going to be our largest project ever, we decided to make an offer on the property. We went in at half of the asking price with the opinion that the rest would be left up to God. If it was meant to be, it would be. After the offer submission, we went out to a celebratory dinner at what was then, the only available option in town. We called it a night with the thought that our offer most likely would not even be considered! The next morning, however, I awoke to the sound of a car pulling up the gravel road of the house where we were staying. It was our realtor with life-changing news. As it turned out, the sellers were ready to move on and were more than happy with our offer. Just like that, we found ourselves to be the owners of a vineyard in one of the two existing AVA’s in Amador County.
I guess the best way to describe the next several years would be to use the analogy of a new parent. When I had my first child, I did not have time to think about whether or not my identity had shifted to being a father; I simply maintained status quo by doing my share of the work and contributing where necessary. It was the same with the vineyard. We didn’t really have time to think, we just knew that we had a lot to learn and needed to ramp up quickly. If we are being totally honest, most of the education we got was through the school of hard knocks. For example, my first project was to fix the irrigation system in the vineyard. I foolishly decided that July would be a great time to get out there and kick-off the project. For any of you that have spent any time in a field in Northern California in the middle of July, you’ll understand that this is a less than ideal time to spend your waking hours outside. Still, though, these little lessons helped us to connect to our land and develop a deeper understanding of the true demands (and rewards!) which we would experience in the coming years.
The following 10 years were spent focusing on moving towards our ultimate goal of a successful winery, though the time did not pass without some massive setbacks. For example, in 2010, which was just our second commercial vintage ever, we lost 80% of our crop due to a powdery mildew. We had never heard of the mildew and feared we were ruined before we even got started. We also had many success stories. In 2016, we celebrated our beautiful, brand new tasting room by toasting with a glass of wine at the bar which was built by my father and I. What had once felt like a distant dream back in 2007, was now a reality for the Gaiser Family. We have received many accolades and one or two vintages that were not our best, but through it all we have progressed and continue to develop. We have learned to work with the land and the weather through years of struggle and years of abundance. This is yet another part of how we define our story and our identity.
As I reflect over the last 10 years, I realize that we haven’t really taken the time to reflect on the progression of our identify. What started with the red dirt of our vineyards has now grown to encompass our wine and facilities, and more importantly, the people and relationships which we are built upon. The hours spent as a young man sweating in the vines back in 2007 has enabled me to be a slightly less young man who is hosting guests in our tasting room. The time spent and lessons learned over the years have taught me that adversity can be not only a challenge, but an avenue to build confidence and growth. Through it all, there has been a silent partner who helped us to shape and steer Distant Cellars' identity. It is the place and the land where we cultivate our wines. It is the Fiddletown AVA which gives us our flavors and uniqueness. Our past has given us a foundation, but in our future focus, we will build on that foundation by working even harder to produce the best wines to ever come from Fiddletown.
Sound like a big statement and goal? I agree, but so was starting a winery with no experience or resources. If I’ve learned anything so far, it’s that you can’t achieve something truly great if you don’t reach for something that seems unattainable and absolutely terrifying.