Chuck O’Rear

Chuck O'Rear

Interviewed by Julie Worthington
Interview Date: October 17, 2013

Julie:  So, this is Julie Worthington and I’m pleased to welcome Charles O’Rear. Shall I say Chuck?

Charles:  Yep, Chuck is good, yep.

Julie:  Whom I’m interviewing on behalf of the St. Helena Historical Society’s Oral History Program.  We are conducting this interview at 1 P.M. on October 17, 2013, at his home at 2140 Dean York Lane.  Welcome Chuck, can you begin by telling us where you were born and when you first came to St. Helena area?

Chuck:  OK, I think we can do that.  Born in Kansas City, Missouri.  And then your next question was how did I get to St. Helena and when.  I was photographing with National Geographic starting in the early 70’s.  And here is an opportunity to say about 1972, I was assigned my second project with National Geographic was to come to Napa Valley.  1972 and there was only the El Bonita Motel.  It was the only place to get a room and the Travel Lodge in Napa.   I went to the El Bonita Motel and they said “uh.”  I said “I need a room for three months” and they said “Oh sorry because in a month it’s taken up for a couple of nights.”  I said “Wait a minute you know, I’m gonna do the whole deal, three months, and you don’t have phones in the rooms so I need to have a phone installed.”  So, we arranged all of these things.  I settled in and a week later I got a call from Washington, from my boss, saying it’s all over, go home.  What I found out later, and this has not been told to many people.

What I found out later is Grosvenor Family who were responsible for operating the National Geographic.  The son, who was the editor, came back from a round-the-world sailing trip, went to the office, and called his assistant editors in to find out what the magazine was doing and they were reading the list, well, you know, we’re probably doing Kenya, we’re doing Japan, we’re doing all these wonderful assignments.  Well, Napa Valley, what is that?  Well, it’s a little place out in California that uh, you know, is becoming pretty popular.  Well what do they do?  Well they make wine.  NO, we WILL not do a story on wine at National Geographic because we do not accept alcohol advertising and if we ever do a story about wine, we will do Bordeaux first.   So now I’ve promised the motel that I’d be there for months.  Now I have to beg my way out and so I go home and then…

Julie: (interrupting) Wait a minute.  Where was the headquarters for the magazine?

Chuck:  Washington D.C. yep. 

Julie:  Oh, that’s right, OK.

Chuck:  Yeah, So, I went home and then a week later they called me and says OK you’re going down to Mexico, Acapulco, you need to work down there for six months so that was sort of the tradeoff of Napa Valley.   I went back, when I was back in the office at Washington, what really went, what happened, and that’s where I learned that the Grosvenors said that no way we were we going to do wine first.  Well, about 1976 or 1977, the magazine relented and decided to do a story on Bordeaux.   So, a year later, my boss called back and said “Guess what?  Back to Napa Valley.”  1978, so, uh, that wasn’t exactly my first trip here.  They had sent me here maybe in ‘71 to make photographs for a special book that they were doing, not the magazine.  And I went to Nicholini Winery.   1971, I photographed Jim Nicholini for a couple of days.  That was the first time I’d ever been here.  Then I guess it was the next year they thought well, gee, I’d been to Napa Valley, so I should know all about it, that’s why I should go back.  Then in, uh, then in ‘78, I am sent back here and I spent about six months photographing the valley for the magazine, for an article that published in 1979.  The rest is almost history. 

Julie:  Uh huh.

Chuck:  I had had the opportunity in the ‘70s to see a lot of the United States.  They had not sent me overseas yet.

Julie:  Uh huh.

Chuck:  I thought this is pretty nice, this is pretty special.  I could make it home, so, I bought a condominium.  I rented an apartment, then I bought a condominium, for six or eight years until the late 80’s that would make it whatever number of years, seven, eight, nine, and then I bought this house on Dean York in 1989, almost 25 years ago.  Meantime, in the ‘80s, the early ‘80s, they decided it was OK to trust me to go out of the country.  So, they had me going all over the world.  Which just validated how special this place was.

Julie: To you.

Chuck: To me.  Everything about it: the people, the weather, the scenery, the fact that wine is made here.   At that time, in the late 7’0s, it wasn’t known for great food.  There wasn’t much around, as you know.  But there was enough other things that made it unique enough that I said if I want to live somewhere.  Right now, I’m living out of a suitcase, mostly, with a base in Los Angeles, where I would go periodically.  So, now through the ‘80s, I’m gone most of the time, even though I own this condominium.  I was probably gone ten to eleven months of the year.  Non-stop travel, all the time, all corners of the world.  Exposed to a lot of the world and still every time I would come back, I’d say this is a really special place.  And part of what made it special were the friends I’d made while photographing in 1978.  People would invite me into their homes.  I would sometimes stay with them, before the condominium, I think.  I would, uh, share a lot of times with them and I was realizing that all my travels around the world, I was never welcomed as much as I was welcomed in Napa Valley.   So now we’ve got a lot of things going on here.

Julie:  (laughs)

Chuck:  As people, well, so anyway, continued to travel.  And then I bought this house.  And 1995 was my last project with National Geographic.  So, what a nice place to just be permanently.  What people say to me often, “Oh you’re so lucky living in Napa Valley.  You’ve got that great wine, you’ve got that wonderful food”, and I say, “More than that, if you live in Oklahoma, you can get most of the wine that we get here, maybe it’s a little more difficult to get, but you can get the same wine, so that’s not really part of it.  You can find some really good restaurants, probably in Oklahoma or maybe you have to go to Dallas, but you can find, food is available and it can be good.  But what you don’t get is the weather, the scenery, and the people.  And that package is really what makes it for me of Napa Valley.  Why, why haven’t other places figured this out? Well it’s, you know those of us who choose to move here, we come here because of these things.  Climate, scenery, people.  Mostly.  We can get the wine and the food some other place, even though, what do we have, 25 top restaurants we can choose from at any one day?

Julie:  Yeh, it’s unbelievable.

Chuck:  OK, so now we’ve brought us up to the present time.  What do I do today?  I’ve been publishing books about Napa Valley.  Coffee table books and also books about wine, regions around the world, wine, different kinds of wine, cabernet, chardonnay.  The coffee table books, Julie, started in 1989, when I did my first large coffee table book on Napa Valley.   Very successful.

Julie:  I think I bought that for my mother, in La Jolla.

Chuck:  1989, really?

Julie:  Yeah, yeah, ….yeah

Chuck:  In La Jolla?

Julie: Um hum.  Yeah

Chuck:  Then a decade went by and it was time to do another book on Napa Valley because that one, times had changed, people had changed.  In 2001, I produced, published, …photographed, produced, published another Napa Valley book, 2001.  That book has been my most popular book.  I think the reason is because I chose to photograph growers, grape growers, the forgotten people of Napa Valley.  Your name may be famous because you own a winery.   Your name may be famous because you travel around the world, but what really makes this happen is, would be and are the people who grow the grapes.   So, I spent a year taking a studio to various places in Napa County, setting up a studio, making a portrait of, I think I photographed 60 to 70 growers.  Specifically, a grower, I don’t want a winery owner.  If you happen to be a grower and you have a little winery, fine, but mostly I want to know that you’re growing grapes. That your hands get dirty.

Julie:  Um hum.

Chuck: That was the most popular, has been the most popular part of that book.  I shot them in black and white, so the color didn’t distract.  So now we’ve got color, I mean black and white, and we see the real people, who they are, we see their faces, and it brought out a side of the valley that hadn’t been shown before. 

Julie:  That’s beautiful.

Chuck:  Robert Mondavi, Bob Mondavi, wrote the forward to that book.   I took him in selections of photographs that were going to be on the book, in the book, so he would have an idea what to write.  And when we came to the point where I showed him the portraits of the growers, he sat, I can remember it now, he sat back in his chair and but his finger down on one of those photographs and said  “This is what this valley is all about.”

Julie:  It’s true.  It’s true.

Chuck:  He knew.

Julie:  He knew it!   And that’s why he did so well.

Chuck:  And that’s why he did so well.   And that’s why so many of us looked up to him and respect and honor what he brought to the valley.

Julie:  Um hum.

Chuck: He knew that those growers were what really made the valley.  So then onward and upward.  Now we’re into this year and to the decade of 2000.  Is that the right way to say that, well if not, we just made it up. 

Julie:  (laughs)

Chuck:  The decade of 2000.  I am photographing, continuing to photograph in the valley.   I photograph things that seem good to me.  I have now, my photographs are held in an archive in Seattle,

that happens to be owned by Bill Gates.  Bill Gates bought a company that I had in Los Angeles with another photographer where we created a photo archive of our photographs.   A library, people could come to us, and rent, lease, buy our photographs.  So that was a developing business in the ‘90s.   In the late 90’s, Bill Gate’s company in Seattle bought our company.  Included in that was a photograph that I had made, maybe about the year 2000.  And about 2001, Microsoft saw one of the photographs I had bought and arranged to buy that for their computers.  And they call it the Bliss Photograph.  And you’ve probably seen that.

Julie:  I think I know the one, yeah, yeah, love it.

Chuck:  The photograph was made near the Napa Sonoma County line.  I’m told it is now the most recognized photograph ever in history in the world.   More people in more countries, if you show them that photograph, will recognize it more than wherever else.  So, I say to people, isn’t that wonderful, right here in River City.

Julie:  (laughs) Exactly.

Chuck:  You know we thought we were famous before and now even more people

Julie:  It’s the beauty.

Chuck:   More people know about it.  So, this is what happened in the decade of 2000.  No more National Geographic work.  As the Internet becomes more popular, as videos and television become better, the magazine tries to hang on to their circulation.  That’s their competition now.  And they continue to try to hang on even though it’s a challenge.   Now with the iPad, with an iPhone, computers where you have video and you have sound and you have beautiful colors; magazines might be on the way out.  And maybe in five or ten years they might be fewer magazines, maybe not even a National Geographic.  So now we’re in the decade of 2000, that’s the third time I’ve said that, so hopefully we’ve got it right.  I continue to photograph and I produce, uh, uh, two or three more books during that decade.  A book for Beringer Winery.  And then two years ago, which would have been 2011, I produced my third coffee table book called Napa Valley.  So, I’ve covered Napa Valley very well.  That book has been out there a couple of years, sells well, I’m very pleased with it.  And the question is what am I going to do next.  If I’m alive in ten years, am I going to do another book?

Julie: Yeah

Chuck:  I don’t know that I want to or would have the energy.  But the valley is changing and I did ask that question a lot.  What changes do I see in the valley?  From a photographer’s point of view, my point of view, I see the architecture of wineries changing, evolving.  I see the way the vineyards are planting, changing as the styles of viticulture change.  I see, uh, which are the visuals, what the camera sees.  Those are the two main things I see.  Certainly, I don’t see weather changing.   I see food getting better.    I see the wine being wonderful still.

Julie:  More expensive.

Chuck:  More expensive and more wine.  More choices.

Julie: Yeah.

Chuck: So, now here we are now in 2013.  What does somebody do who was sent here, who didn’t grow up here.  I’m not Italian.  With a name like O’Rear, my god, you think it would be one of the last; my genes would be the last ones to be attracted to a beautiful area like this.  Well, good, I’m glad I was attracted to it.  It’s worked out very well. And thank you National Geographic.  Had it not been for them, I wouldn’t be here.  Strangely, fortunately enough, the last two editors of National Geographic have had a great interest in wine.  And that has helped with the knowledge and the information and talking about wine.  So, let’s think about what, what have I done to make this a better place for people after me.  I think putting these books out which will go down in history. They’ll be in the library when I’m long gone.  And children today, children who haven’t been born yet, will go to a library and they’ll find this book that was made 50 years earlier and it will have a look, the clothes that we wore, the tractors we drove, the cars we drove, will all look very different.  It will look like us looking at photographs made right after the war, let’s say, or in the ‘50’s.  And everything looked funny.  The hats they wore.  The clothes they wore.  The cars they drove.  Tractors, everything.  Even the vineyards might even take on a different look.  That is what I see happening in the next, let’s say, 50 years.  So, when somebody reads this in 50 years from now and look back and say “Gee uh, Chuck, you were almost right.”

Julie: (laughs)

Chuck:  How did you know that?

Julie:  Right.  Let me ask you just a couple of questions.  A lot of your photographs are from the air.  Right?  Aerial?

Chuck: There are, there is a fair amount from the air.  Yes. 

Julie:  Do you fly or did you have somebody…

Chuck:  I have had a pilot’s license.  It’s not active any more.  I usually rent an airplane or a neighbor takes me up in his airplane.   In every book it was important for me to make at least one major aerial photograph.  Because, again, the valley’s gonna change.  The shape of vineyards will change.  Mount St. Helena’s not gonna change, we don’t think, unless it erupts again, right?

Julie:  Yeh

Chuck:  Everything we see from the air, probably in the foreseeable future is not going to change.  If I’m alive in 20 years, and go into an airplane then, it’s gonna look a lot like it does now.  There may be more vineyards from today.  I don’t know where we’d put them, but more hillsides maybe, get permissions to put vineyards.   That is one of the reasons I go to the air.  To just give viewers or readers a wide view of Napa Valley.  I always try to get Mount St. Helena in it, as a point, as a perspective,

Julie: A reference. 

Chuck:  A reference.  Here’s Mount St. Helena and here’s the valley.

Julie:  The other thing is I notice you were trained as a newspaper person, sports writer and all   How do you think you came to be so interested in the art and the beauty and the people?

Chuck:  Starting writing, my first newspaper article was at age 13. 

Julie:  In Kansas City?

Chuck:  In small town Missouri, I call it, near Kansas City.  My mother was in journalism and she was the influence to me to have a curiosity about writing.  Journalism is really about curiosity.  And trying to understand what’s really happening in something.  Whether it’s sports and this is what I saw and this is what I’m reporting.  That’s why the word “reporter”, reporting what I saw.  That interest in writing then led to the curiosity of why don’t I photograph to go with that writing.  So that evolved and off to college and the only job I could find was a photographer on this small newspaper in Kansas where there was a college.  So, I’m probably not a very good photographer.

Julie:  (laughs) I wouldn’t say that.

Chuck:  In the beginning I’m sure I wasn’t.  And for many years I did not consider myself a very good photographer, but I pushed hard.  I tried hard.   I have often said, if I had decided to be a carpenter, I’d have to be the best carpenter in town.  So, I pick up a camera.  I’m gonna work hard at being a better photographer.  So, that evolved.  Then off to the Kansas City Star as a reporter/photographer.  So, I could use both things I knew.  That evolved into being just a photographer because that was something, I was more comfortable with I realized.  Using my hands.  Also realized there were better reporters than me.  So, recognize that and move on.  What I’ve learned in those years, Julie, in understanding journalism and realizing the importance of having a curiosity and trying to understand the world around us and having an open mind can go in a lot of directions.  The directions it does not go would be a business world.  Directions does not go, uh, you can probably think of a lot of things. Uh, teaching would have been a natural direction, but now I’m confined to a classroom, every day, with the same students.  Having that curiosity about the world, wanting to know more about it, is most likely the reason that National Geographic agreed to try me when I proposed a project to them.  They tried me, it worked, they tried me again, it worked better, they tried me again and then it just kept going.  I was on a contract from year to year which meant that I was only as good as my last photograph.  I was never a staff photographer because they hired very few of them.  So, there were maybe a dozen of us in the world who were just on a yearly contract where we would, we would have to produce or not have a job next year.

Julie:  That’s pretty scary, isn’t it?

Chuck:  Don’t feel any pressure….

Julie:  Yeh right!  That’s it.

Chuck:  That’s whats, that’s where it is.

Julie:  Yeh,

Chuck:  That’s been my strong point.  So how does that relate to the wine industry and wanting to live here?  Being exposed to this, thank you National Geographic for sending me here.  And appreciating the values around us in life, that we can have around us.  If I’d chosen to live in Des Moines, Iowa, I wouldn’t have many of these things.  Could I be just as happy?  I don’t know.  I don’t live there and I don’t want to know.  If they said, OK, you need to live in Washington D.C. would I be just as happy?  I could be happy, but how can I be happier than where we are?  Than where we are right now.  We all recognize that when we come into a community where people have lived here for 50 years or their families have lived here for 100 years, we’re not always welcomed immediately.   We sort of have to prove ourselves.  We care about you.  We’re nice people.  We want to make life better for you and it can take a lot of years sometimes to be accepted.  It took me, for example, the man who farms, who did farm the 25 acres in front of our house, Bruno Bartolucci.  Bruno bought this land; I think he said in the early ‘70s and it was a walnut orchard or something like that.  So now I move up here in, like 20 years later and he has a vineyard there.  And I say hello, but there was always, uh, there was always a, you knew there was a line between his feelings and who I was.  It took 15 years of being nice.  He knew I had a camera, before he consented to me taking his picture.  And that was one of the best photographs in the book. 

Julie: (laughs)  That’s great.

Chuck: And he was very proud to have it done.  I suspect he’d never been photographed.  And that got the momentum going for the rest of the book.  Of the portraits.  He was sort of the icon.  In fact, it was so good the Vintners’ Association wanted a huge blowup of just Bruno, which they hung in their office for several years.   I recognize that it might have been the same if I had decided to settle in Des Moines or in wherever.   There, um, of course a city, Julie, is going to be a little easier to blend in.  But my roots have gone very deep now.  They’re probably deeper than these cabernet roots out here that might be 20 feet down.  I think my roots are deeper than that.

Julie:  Right.

Chuck:  Do you like that line?

Julie:  Yeh, that’s a good one.

Chuck:  I think I’ve made my roots deeper.  And this little street we live on, on Dean York is private.  It’s a little one lane road, dead end.  And we all try to care about each other.  We’re all on this planet at the same time.

Julie:  Most of the people on this road have been here for a long time too?

Chuck:  Most of them have been here; I was one of the last ones to buy.

Julie:  Really, really?

Chuck: 25 years ago.  I’m thinking of a couple of exceptions now.

Julie:  Yeh, yeh.

Chuck:  It is, uh, there’s a lot of history up here.  If I lived down in the town.  If I lived in a condominium in St. Helena, which I did, which I owned for a while, would it be just as nice?  It would be nice, but it wouldn’t be as nice.  I feel like it’s an ideal place as my life could be and I thank every day, everything around me, the people, the weather, we’ve got a beautiful day, we’ve got 75 degrees and it’s Fall.  The colors are starting to change on the vineyard.  Where, and I had a choice of being anywhere on the planet.  I had an apartment in Paris for a year.   Well that’s beautiful, that’s wonderful, yeh, but then after a while you’re wiped out, you’re exhausted.  Because of all the energy.

Julie:  Too much going on all the time.

Chuck:  All the time.  So, to me this is the ideal place on the planet Earth to live.   And I’ve certainly covered a lot of the 25 countries I’ve worked in.  For long periods of time, Japan, a year, Indonesia, a year, India, for a couple months maybe, France for a year, so it takes a lifetime to realize this is what touches me the most.  Makes me feel good.  Now, if you were 18 years old, or you were 14 years old and you’re in high school and you gonna read this, you’re gonna go to the historical society and you’re gonna read these interviews and you’re thinking, Fourteen years old, I’m in high school in St. Helena, this is a boring little town and I can’t wait to get out of here.  This valley is boring.   Go!  Spread your wings.  I’ll bet you’re gonna come back.  There’s a good chance you’re gonna come back.  Not because your parents live here necessarily, but because you’re gonna explore the world around you and you’re gonna realize that what you’ve got here is really special and different.  But it will take leaving here to recognize that and come back.

Julie:  It’s really interesting, isn’t it?  In your visits with different people, I wonder if you could tell any stories that you recall of, you know chatting with people before you took their pictures, like Nicholini or any of the old timers. 

Chuck:  And what the conversation might have been.

Julie:  Yes, if they had stories of their families.  Because your family wasn’t here before you came.

Chuck:  That’s right.

Julie:  We know that a lot of St. Helena families had grandparents and great grandparents here.  Italians, especially.

Chuck:  Especially.  I have been told stories.  By some of the people I have photographed and uh, let’s get them in print.  Bruno Bartolucci and his brother, if I’m remembering correctly, had a winery in Oakville, which is now that, that whatever it’s called, the Co-Op,

Julie: Oh sure, sure, sure.

Chuck:  Apparently, he and his brother either owned or leased that as a winery during Prohibition.  The good stories were all about Prohibition.

Julie:  Exactly.

Chuck:  And they had a pipe that ran out underground, under the railroad track, somewhere else.  And the story that I was told was that Bruno was in town shopping one day, i.e. St. Helena.  And the revenuers or whatever they were called, the Federal Police, came by, found the illegal wine operation and Bruno’s brother went to jail.  Bruno happened to be in town.  And he missed out.  Bruno tells me the story that during those years in the ‘30s here in the valley, you could look up on the side of the hills and see smoke, and you knew that was a still.   And so, the trick was to figure out when the government agents were coming into the valley, and then you wouldn’t see much smoke.  And somehow, they knew when to fire up their still, which would always require smoke.

Julie:  Oh, OK.

Chuck:  Smoke, you just look up there, go up there and arrest them.   The side of the hills.  Uhhhh.  Angelo Regusci said that during Prohibition, he would have been probably a teenager.  The main road, not the Silverado Trail, went in front of their barn and then went behind what’s now Stag’s Leap Winery and continued on up the valley.  Well, in those days they had a crank telephone.  Well, apparently where Stag’s Leap Winery is now, they were making something illegally.  So, when the government agents would come along the road, and the Reguscis would see them, there would be a certain number of rings to warn them.  Perhaps it was like three shorts and a long, or whatever it was, to warn them, hey look out, here they come.   I think there was a lot of energy in those years, avoiding arrest.  That, uh, that is a classic story.  Nothing in there could have been photographed.   Those are wonderful stories.  Will they ever tell them to a microphone?  I suspect not.

Julie: No, probably not.

Chuck:  And Angelo’s dead and Bruno’s dead.  I’m trying to think of the name of another grower I photographed outside of Napa maybe in, I’ll remember here in a minute.  He told me the stories that his vineyards were near Hess Collection, on the hills west of Napa.  And his father was making illegal wine and they would take it in barrels in their truck to the ferry, which I suspect must have been Vallejo.

Julie: Yeh, could have been down in Carneros area, I think.

Chuck:  Maybe that’s what it was.

Julie:  I think there was a ferry down there.

Chuck:  And these are going to be barrels put on to a boat and taken to San Francisco for delivery.

Julie:  There was a bridge, uh; well there is an old bridge down there.  Yeh, I think…

Chuck:  However, it happened.  A boat comes into the story somehow.  So, he tells the story that halfway across the bay, one of the barrels started leaking…wine….because they disguised the barrels as something else.

Julie:  OK.

Chuck:  So now the wine is leaking.  It’s obviously wine and they’re going to dock in San Francisco and do I remember, did they get caught?  I think they didn’t.  Somehow, they didn’t, but it was a close call.

Julie:  Yeh, yeh.

Chuck: OK, so there’s that story.  Then there is uh, think of the name.  His house is next to Sattui Winery on the south side.  And I used to, I tried to spend as much time as I could with this man and help me, it will take me a minute to remember his name.

Julie:  I’m trying to think too. 

Chuck:  Uh, he, his father owned Summit Winery at the top of Spring Mountain.  During Prohibition.  Charlie, I’m almost getting it.  Charlie, Charlie. Give me another minute.

Julie:  They came from Marin County.  Not the one, not the house that was the miniseries on T.V.

Chuck: No, Falconcrest, that’s just behind here, no.  Charlie Volpi. V-O-L-P-I.

Julie:  I don’t know, I didn’t know that family.

Chuck:  Ok.  Charlie’s been dead 20 years.  Charlie tells a story that at his dad’s winery, now Charlie is, actually Charlie has a lot of wonderful stories, one of which he lived through the earthquake, so now he is, today he would have been 100.  So, he’s been dead maybe 20 years.   At the Summit Winery and now he’s maybe in his 20’s.  The government agents would come in, ask his father “Which is your favorite wine?” and he would point to a barrel and say, “Yes, that’s my favorite wine. “  They would then take their own barrels and fill up from the other barrels, or casks, put them on their trucks.  They would be ready to go and they would turn, and just barely turn the spigot on his favorite wine and say good-bye.  So, in other words, if you don’t tell, we’re not gonna tell.

Julie: Ah, I thought you were gonna say they made him drain the tank.

Chuck:  No.

Julie:  Ah, OK.

Chuck:  No, according to Charlie.  We’re gonna take your wine back and nobody knows it and we gonna leave you your wine and you don’t talk and we won’t talk.

Julie:  That’s rather…that surprises me.  He got to keep his best wine.

Chuck:  Now here he’s in his 20s, or probably late teens at that point.  So, he probably had a very vivid memory of what happened.

Julie:  Oh yeah.  If it, if that barrel was his favorite, he would have known.

Chuck:  How many stories, how many times did he tell that story?  Probably not very many.

Julie:  That’s a good story isn’t it?

Chuck:  There’s got to be a lot of stories like that of the people who are dying now, who lived through the Prohibition.  How about Nicholini Winery.  They were making wine on top of  (garbled) .  Now how they got grapes up there I don’t know.

Julie:  They still are, aren’t they?

Chuck:  No not near the winery.  You have to go through this deep canyon on the other side, hundreds of feet away across the canyon.   They were making wine up there and they ran a pipe down to the winery.  So, when they got word that the agents would be coming, they would just turn the valves.  I think Jim told me this 40 years ago, and water would now come through the pipe.

Julie:  (lots of laughing) So clever.

Chuck:  And the agents would go away, they would just turn the valves and now they could send wine down to the bar, I don’t know what they were sending them to.  So, my golly, here we are in 15 minutes I’ve thought of a lot of situations people have told me.

Julie:  Good, that’s good.

Chuck:  Maybe they trusted me, maybe they knew I couldn’t photograph it and they wouldn’t go to jail…

Julie:  Yeh that’s right.  Now they still won’t know ‘cause all of them are gone.

Chuck:  And it’s all illegal.  You’ve got to believe that the federal agents were in on some of these like the one up at Summit Winery.  They knew what they were doing there, and they wanted wine, so we’re gonna do a trade.  Revenuers, I’ve heard them referred to.  So, the stories during Prohibition were probably the wildest.  If we look back on the last 100 years, they had to be the wildest because of the laws.  I don’t know that they’re wild now.  The wildest thing is somebody come in and spending too much money for a winery that will never make them any money, but they have a lot of extra cash, so why not have a winery.  I put my name on the label.  Will that change, Julie, do you suppose?  In 20, 30, 50 years from now.  Will people still be wanting to come here and I want to buy that little parcel of land that gives me five acres of grapes, so I can make wine that will have my name on the label.  What could possibly change?

Julie:  Well, what about all the foreign people coming in and buying land?

Chuck:  That might start happening more.

Julie:  It’s happening.

Chuck:  We might think about some of the Facebook people, those foreign people and how much money they have.  They’re in there 20s now.  Wait till they’re in their 40s or 50s and they still got a billion dollars in the bank and they start to recognize wine and they take time to eat and drink.  They think wine’s pretty nice.  We could see that influencing what we do up here.  And lots of money will have an effect on the county regulations.  It will have an effect on the 40-acre Ag Preserve.  You’ve got to believe that pressure is bound to happen.

Julie:  It happens every day.

Chuck:  And someday they’re gonna have to give in.  Someday, whatever that pressure will be.   They just can’t withstand that forever.  Unlike Silicon Valley, which didn’t withstand it and now it’s all industry.

Julie:  I remember reading years ago, when there was always a big push to have Jameson Canyon be wider.  To have the road up here be wider.  If we were to do that, they said the smog that would be the result of so many cars might affect the vineyards because of our air.  So, it’s a very delicate situation and we need to have people ever vigilant, I think, and strong, so that people 50 years from now will still enjoy what we’re enjoying, today.

Chuck:  We would like to think that would happen. Do you hear that?  (Spoken to the microphone and future listeners)

Julie:  Yeah, we want to tell them.

Chuck:  Just be careful.  Protect the land.

Julie:  Be careful.

Chuck:  We don’t have that much of it.  And the pressures, the outside pressures, financial mostly, political, are bound to get the county and the cities to alter their views a little bit.  Gee, business, the economy’s down.  Let’s relax this law a little bit, and let more wineries come in.  Let’s let the state build a wider highway so that more people can come here.  Those are inevitable pressures.  What will future generations do about it?  It’s up to you all to do something.

Julie:  Did you have children in schools here ever?

Chuck:  I did not.   I have not been involved in the schools at all.  Other than what I read in the St. Helena Star.

Julie:  And with the government in the town of St. Helena.   You haven’t been too involved in the politics of it?

Chuck:  Not much.  I go to City Council meetings occasionally.  I try to support conservation efforts.  I try to support controlling what we have.  And it’s very delicate.  It’s very delicate. If we all arrived and we think we should close the gate behind us and now where do our teachers live, where do our people who work in the stores live, they can’t afford to live here because it’s become such an enclave.  Where’s that balance gonna be.  I have no idea.  We need affordable housing; we need more of it.  There’s a lot of people around this town that say oh yeh, we need affordable housing as long as it’s not next to me.  So, I don’t envy the issues coming up before the city and the county, where this has to be decided.  There will be mandates from the state that you will have to provide certain amounts of affordable housing or else we’re gonna shut you down.  Now with all the money in the wine industry, I’m surprised that there’s not more support there in subjects like affordable housing, which might mean a vineyard owner would have to give up a couple of acres to allow some affordable housing to be built.  But the agricultural land is worth more with grapes than it is with housing at the moment. 

Julie: Right.

Chuck:  Why doesn’t St. Helena have a Community Center?  Look at Yountville.  Napa has facilities for community centers.  We’ve got all this money around us and yet the city can’t come up with a Community Center that we can go for multiple purposes.  The library serves that purpose now.  But they can seat like 50 people at the most.   That’s it.  I sure hope that happens in the future.  Some of the wine money, winery money, would be used for that.

Julie:  The wine, they’ve been very good with health issues like the Clinic Ole.  Doing what they’ve done for that.

Chuck:  Thank you vintners.

Julie:  Yea, that’s what I mean.  I want to ask you what you think about.  You came to town about the same that the Wine Train came and don’t you remember how it was so explosive in those days.

Chuck:  Yes, how do I feel about the Wine Train?  I think the Wine Train is out of bounds.  It’s pretty coming up to the valley, but the Wine Train is using rules that were made more than 100 years ago.  Watch the black smoke that pours out of the train.  They do not have to come under any environmental controls because of old laws.  I think that’s wrong.  They can have their own police force.  That’s wrong.   They can put gates down in front of our streets.  We have no control over that.   I think that’s wrong.  It’s a restaurant on wheels is all it is.  It’s a great experience.  Does it help the economy of the valley?  When all those people get off their train, get on their buses, go back to San Francisco, go back to Texas, does that mean they’ll go back, go into the store and buy more Napa Valley wines?  I think not.  I think the only people benefiting from it are the owners of the Wine Train.  I don’t see anybody else.  Now what can happen?  I think stricter controls.  But those controls are starting to go away.  People cannot disembark in St. Helena, here in the year 2013.  The City Council is writing a General Plan.   I understand that they are considering that the Wine Train be able to let people out.  Well, if I have a little shop in town, I may say Great.  I’ll sell an extra $500 in T-shirts today.  If I’m a business owner, I might like that.  So, where’s that balance between the quality of life and the quality of living here and having a business.  Somewhere there is a balance and that is the challenge.

Julie:  The key, yeh.  That’s right.  I totally agree.

Chuck:  Does it stop it Yountville?  I don’t think so.

Julie:  I believe there’s a stop right near where the entrance to the Veteran’s Home is.  There’s a platform.

Chuck: Can they let people off?

Julie:  I don’t know if they can.  I think maybe there’s a bus that meets them.  And it might take them to Yountville…

Chuck:  Hmmmmmm  maybe so.

Julie:  I’m not sure though.  But these are issues that we’ve seen.  They were bigger at certain times than others.  But they don’t go away.  Because we, you and I, realize how just a little bit of tipping one way or the other can really change.

Chuck:  It’s a delicate balance.

Julie:  Very delicate.

Chuck:  And we hope our future generation will acknowledge that and not be influenced by money, but be influenced by their heart and their soul and where the balance should be so that more people benefit from any law that’s enacted not just a few.   How we doin’.  We covered everything?

Julie:  I think we covered everything.