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The Maestro in California

Updated: Oct 11, 2022

I finally left academia after my rather disastrous and traumatic experience teaching at Davidson College. Making woefully little money, being mistreated by many people around me, and finding myself subject to the unnecessary and often laughably absurd nonsense, politics, and drama of academia was enough for me to finally learn I had erred in my career pursuits, and that I needed to rethink everything I had considered dogma for myself since setting out on the course to conduct choirs in college since I was 16 years old.

I sold or donated almost everything I owned––all my furniture, my clothes, and even my car, which I traded in for a California-friendly electric vehicle. I wanted a clean start, a complete do-over, and after a balls-to-the-wall summer fueled by my post-Davidson rage and depression, I took the first step toward my next chapter––applying for jobs working at wineries in northern California.

Within five days of sending out applications, I'd landed the perfect job. Nestled unassumingly just south of St. Helena, 18 miles north of the town of Napa in the Napa Valley, the Salvestrin family's parcel of the famous Dr. Crane Vineyard had been farmed by the family since 1932. Still owned by the grandson of the immigrants who purchased the property 90 years prior, the hidden gem Salvestrin Winery was exactly the type of place I wanted to work––family-owned, boutique, distinctly non-corporate, with only ten full-time employees and absolutely magnificent wines.

I've been working for Salvestrin for just over two months, and while moving is always challenging and changing careers so suddenly is daunting, I can't say I have much in the way of regrets. While my wine experience in the past has been extensive on the consumer side, I have found my knowledge of wine to be more than sufficient for the work, and my penchant for learning has allowed me to absorb countless things every day on the job, particularly from our brilliant and super cool winemaker, Natalie.

Working in the tasting room, I've quickly become an important part of the sales team, and make much more money than I did teaching while having complete freedom and zero expectations on evenings and "weekends" (service industry weekends––Tuesdays and Wednesdays). The work-life balance is wildly superior to academia, and with nearly twice the pay, I couldn't have asked for a better transition to the wine world. No regrets at all, kids––academia is fucked and wine makes everyone happy.

Tasting rosé from the barrel, or chugging children's Tylenol PM?

I haven't posted in over two months while I got settled in California. But here's a look into how rad life is here in NorCal to introduce both of my loyal followers to my fantastic new gig in the place where I was born.

1: The wine.

This is the capital of wine in California, and the perks of working in the wine industry can't be beat. Any serious (non-asshole) winery in California offers complimentary tastings to folks in the industry in hopes of nourishing a thriving network of people that will help all wineries flourish in the region with a broad network of recommendations and support.

I live on the Sonoma side and work on the Napa side, giving me the best of both worlds. In Sonoma County, I have found some standout favorites and made countless new friends tasting wine on my "weekends." Particular highlights new to the Maestro have been Littorai, Small Vines, Gary Farrell, Reeve, RAEN, and Rafanelli.

And, of course, favorites Red Car and Marine Layer, previously written up on my reconnaissance trip to wine country back in March, are still amazing, and both have now commanded my membership in their wine clubs.

Exploring the Napa side requires more of a drive that resembles the commute to work, and as a pinot drinker, I have has less reason to schlep over to Napa Valley on my days off. More to come!

I would be remiss not mentioning the amazing wines at my place of employment. Elegant, balanced, fresh, and incredibly drinkable, I love these wines and love showing them to our guests. The 2019 Estate Cabernet is a particular favorite.

2: The food.

You can't throw a rock without hitting amazing food in the Bay Area. San Francisco is the epicenter, but wine country has no shortage. In true Maestro fashion, I have done plenty of exploring of the food scene in my new environs.

Particular new favorites include Oenotri, a bomb Italian place in downtown Napa with rotating specials and a wonderful local garden. I have enjoyed several meals here, each with a spectacular seasonal pasta and a plate of their garden-grown green salad with Meyer lemon vinaigrette. The cocktails rock, too.

In my hometown of Petaluma, I can't resist my new sushi haunt, Sake 107, run by a local Japanese family. With nightly fish specials at prices a fraction of frequently-visited O-Ku in Charlotte, it's the perfect neighborhood sushi joint I can frequent for amazing and often local fish at prices that will never break the bank.

Despite being a creature of habit, I've found dozens of other places to chow down, including an amazing diner with a killer breakfast burrito, a bagel joint I visit every week for their Wednesday-only asiago bagel special with shishito cream cheese, an extra-special Swedish restaurant just blocks from my apartment complete with meatballs, and one of the most storied and well-trafficked Italian joints in Napa.

3: The natural world.

I am back in the natural beauty and wide open space of the west where I belong, and my soul is full. I hike 15 or more miles each week, often deep in the wild of Mt. Tam or Point Reyes National Seashore, and am addicted to my incredible hiking adventures. The weight continues to fall off, and I have never been stronger.

Of course, I let myself enjoy the bounty of California's foods on hikes, like carrying oysters out to the shore or finding wild blackberries on the trail.

I was miserable in academia. I made a leap, and I am reaping the dividends of that risk. For me, this means an environment surrounded by the glories of food and wine and the magnificence of the natural world. For all two of my loyal followers, it means y'all will have no shortage of dynamite food content, which I'm ready to get back to after getting settled out here.

I have a bunch of catch-up posts from summer in the back(b)log forthcoming, but can't wait to offer up some of the superlative Northern California food and bev offerings in the next several years. I think I have finally found where I belong, and can't wait to share more with y'all from the most exciting food/wine/bev region in the country!

Glad to finally give an update, and excited to post more! Stick around, Maestro fans!

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