Thanksgiving and a Tale of Two Brothers

Window at Ehlers Winery in Napa, California
Thanksgiving is fast approaching, and it is this time of year I do think about what I am thankful for. I am always thankful for my family and friends, my health, for my continued opportunities to work with wonderfully enthusiastic clients who are so very kind. I am thankful for my sweet dogs who make me smile every day and for my home where it is a pleasure to wake up every day. There is much to be grateful for. 

But when I think about a small adventure I had last Saturday, it expanded my reflection about what I am thankful for. 

Original Stone building built in 1886 at Ehlers Winery
Tim, and I drove to the Napa Valley last Saturday with my Mom to reunite with some of my cousins that I rarely see. I have a cousin, Tom, who was out from Chicago with his wife, Anne. He had gotten in touch with a mutual cousin from another family and we all decided to meet for lunch in Napa. All of our parents were siblings: my father and Tom's father were brothers. Their sister was the mother of two more cousins, Norton and Frank, who met us at Farmstead in St. Helena for a delicious meal and much reminiscing. We got to know each other all over again after being apart for decades. It was a happy gathering and was way too short.

Bocce Ball in 100 year old Olive Grove
 I was thankful that we had the time together and also that we planned to renew our friendship by getting together again much sooner! While this reunion was so much fun, there is so much more that happened that day leading me to a moment of wonderment at the strangeness of coincidence.

After lunch, we parted ways with Norton and Frank, continuing on to our next destination: Ehlers EstateWinery. Now, Tim had made a reservation for wine tasting based on a recommendation from a friend. When we arrived, Tom declared that his mother, my aunt, had the maiden name of Ehlers. Just a little coincidence. I had never been to this particular winery, even though I have been to many and even though it is one of the very oldest in the valley. The 100 year old Olive grove is testament to its age.

I wandered around the grounds taking photos not even noticing that everyone else had already gone inside. The beautiful historic stone tasting room was built in 1886. It was a rainy day and lovingly restored by the current owners. I cannot imagine a better place to relax and enjoy the rainy afternoon. 

Ehlers Winery Tasting Room 
I sat down in a space reserved especially for us in a circle of comfortable couches and chairs with our own coffee table on which perched a little "welcome" sign. 

And then we met Nikki. Nikki is where this story turns..... she served us our first delicious taste of a Cabernet, which immediately warmed us up. I was sort of expecting her to pour the taste and go back to her other guests. But it turned out she was there to join us and tell us stories and listen to ours. Her story started with a description of the wine, but then turned to the establishment of the winery, its history, its current owners and what its purpose is today. And this is where the hairs on my arms rose up....

Notice the "heart" in the Ehlers Estate Logo
The Ehlers winery has a colorful history. Most recently it was  purchased by Jean Leducq and his wife, Sylviane in 1996.  Together they established Ehlers as one of the premier wineries in the region. Known  for their 100% organic farming methods, I personally appreciated the fact that a minimum of sulfates are added (I react those pesky sulfates with very irritating headaches!) After some years enjoying their success, Jean passed away in 2002 due to a heart condition, cardiomyopathy. Ownership of the winery passed to the trust of the Leducq Foundation which devotes itself to combating cardiovascular disease. 100% (yes, 100%!) of the profits from the Ehlers Winery go to fund research in the areas of Congenital Heart Disease, Peripartum Cardiomyopathy, Heart Failure and Stroke. The Foundation has awarded over $200 million in grants to fund this research as of 2011.

When Nikki told us this story, my cousin, Tom and I looked at each other in a bit of shock. We had been reminiscing all day about our fathers.....two brothers that were so very close that our families almost grew up like one. We cousins spent every summer together sailing and body surfing and generally carousing at the family beach house. Almost every weekend we spent at one family's house or another. Our fathers won international sailing races crewing for each other. They told us all stories of their youth as rascals pulling amazing pranks, some of which landed them in some trouble (Dad ended up picking peaches for a summer as punishment for one particularly bad prank.....but that is a story for another day.). There was one more thing they shared that was not so ideal. They both developed Cardiomyopathy, probably congenital, and both passed away at the young age of 54. Those were the days right before research developed strategies to combat this condition, and both families lost fathers way too soon....

Another coincidence, and another opportunity to memories bring Tom and I together on a rainy day in a cozy winery surrounded by people we love.

So we celebrated our fathers, two brothers, with a bottles of wine aptly named "120 over 80". With smiles at our good fortune to have had such great Dads and a wink in our eyes to each other,  we were reminded that "coincidence" may not be random after all. We were happy to contribute to the Leducq Foundation knowing our dads would have been happy we were toasting their memory with an excellent wine, and thankful we were together again.

Wishing you all the Happiest of Thanksgivings!