“The richness of life…the textural thread that weaves through every heart, past present and future, fine and illusive, but when the light and my inner calm is just so, I can see and taste droplets of love travelling along the tapestry of human spirit. Imagine drinking from the cup of life!” – Greg Brown, Winemaker, Dreamer, Grape Guardian, Yoga Dude. So says the back of the bottle of the 2007 T-Vine Zinfandel that we shared recently. The T-Vine wines are excellent, but the story is extraordinary. It is a story of a life well lived, of deep and profound love, and of aching sadness.
Our first encounter with T-Vine was at the outstanding Auberge du Soleil in Napa Valley. Ally had taken me there for dinner and was reviewing the wine list with one of their Sommeliers. She thought she had settled on a wine, described to him the sorts of styles we most enjoyed and asked the Somm if he had a recommendation. He recommended we try the T-Vine Zinfandel. The T-Vine was noticeably cheaper than what Ally was considering, always a good sign with a recommendation. We decided to give it a try, and we are so glad we did! Our own love story began around that time. That beautiful night at Auberge and that delicious wine became cornerstones of our own nascent relationship.
T-Vine is not a big production winery and it can be a bit difficult to find outside of its home in Napa Valley. But whenever we did encounter it, we always bought some. They do a great Petit Syrah as well, but we always come back to the Zinfandel. For a time they did a designated vineyard Zinfandel from Brown Vineyard, and that has always been our favourite.
T-Vine is the creation of Greg Brown, T-Vine’s Winemaker, Dreamer, Grape Guardian and Yoga Dude quoted above. The T-Vine story is very much the Greg Brown story. Greg’s route into winemaking was not a direct one. After graduating from Chico State University in California, Greg joined the Bank of America, rising to the level of VP, and made loans to local technology companies and even to a few wineries. He quickly developed a love of wine and eventually amassed a 1,500 bottle wine cellar. Good fortune came his way when Cain Cellars in Napa Valley offered him a job… as a cellar rat. But as this story unfolds you will realize that it was not so unusual for a man with Greg’s mind and heart to turn his back on the corporate office and do the grunt work for $7 an hour. It was never about the money, it was about the opportunity to learn and have an authentic existence, which to Greg meant doing something that he loved.
At Cain he would meet Napa super consultant, Tony Soter. Soter went on to create his own Napa winery, Etude, which he subsequently sold and then moved back home to Oregon where he created Soter Vineyards, one of the State’s top wineries and certainly among our very favourites, anywhere. In 1991 Soter introduced Greg to grower Jim Freidani who just happened to have some extra Grenache, a variety Greg wanted to make wine from. Greg made his first vintage in 1992 in the Etude Winery and over the years achieved considerable success, including having his wine poured at a Presidential dinner and being named the San Francisco Chronicle’s Winemaker of the Year in 2000. He named his own little winery T-Vine. The T refers to the Trinity of the mind, body and spirit, a reflection of Greg’s own personal philosophy about life, about authenticity and about a holistic existence. That is why Greg wrote what he did on the back of the bottle of that 2007 Zinfandel. That is why in his newsletters he would write lines like “Feel this moment, savor this breath, remember this tear, welcome this laughter, this is your precious life.” Sage advice indeed.
The love story of Greg Brown is not just a story about the love of wine. It is really the story about the love of his life. His wife, Yvonne, was by accounts a stunning looking, 5’11” weight trainer and fitness coach from Canada. They were soul mates, sharing a profound connection and true love. They were married 13 years. In October of 2000, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Three years later she lost that battle. Greg was never the same. A few years after Yvonne’s death he sold the winery. After that he travelled to India, Thailand, New Zealand and Hawaii on a spiritual quest, trying to deal with his sorrow, with his overwhelming sense of loss, the loss of the deepest, most intense love that one can know.
Life is sweet, but life can be bitter, too. Many years later Ally and I were in Sonoma. By chance I came across a short news item that said Greg Brown had died. No explanation was given. I searched for an obituary and found it; it too gave no cause of death. I have come to learn that when an obituary does not provide a cause of death, there is only one cause of death. Greg Brown had known an unconditional and pure love of the highest order. Happily, I now know such a love myself. Sadly, my brothers and I once had to write such an obituary.
Greg Brown made his life a beautiful love story. And wine was a part of that story. We raise our glasses to Greg, Winemaker, Dreamer, Grape Guardian and Yoga Dude. A man who made wonderful wine, and who showed us what it is have a profound love.
2007 T-Vine Zinfandel Brown Vineyard
Dark red in colour, this wine is showing none of its age. At 10 years old, its full body has lost none of its lustre although it’s very balanced so very approachable now. Tons of complexity with blackberry, blueberry and plum backed with earth and pepper. This is a bold, intense and expressive wine that will not disappoint.