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Friday, February 10, 2012

Wine Cave/Hoot & Hollers

I think it would be fun to use this blog to capture some old memories, stories I want remembered. So when I was in my '20's and newly married to my first husband Bill, and doing penance in Detroit (his family was from Grosse Pointe), I found an entry level job at Kidder Peabody a now merged Wall Street investment banking firm.  A story for another day is how I went from a $10K/year secretary to a $200K VP in three years - sheer moxie.  Our specialty was trading bonds for large institutions. That was done over open phone lines - we had a closed group of traders sitting in New York and bond salespeople situated in major cities all over the U.S.  When, for instance Tim in Boston wanted to purchase $10million of 30 year treasury bonds for the State of Massachusetts pension fund, we would hear the transaction that occurred between him and the 30 year bond trader in New York.   These shared phone lines were called "Hoot and Hollers".

There was a salesperson in San Francisco who covered most of the big banks and pension funds in California. He was a hot shot.   The rest of us traded a million here and there but his trades were enormous - $50-100million routinely, and he was always as cool as a cucumber even when the market was racing, always funny, so appealing.   Soon we started talking on the side. For the next year we were obsessed with each other.  We were both married, he to his cousin, me to my first husband, an up and coming litigator from an old Detroit family.  We were both restless.

Every year, we were required to make a pilgrimage to Wall Street and spend quality time with the traders, the thought being that an annual trip to the mother ship would ground us and instill loyalty or something like that.  George and I schemed to coordinate our New York visits - we planned a romantic week together.  Looking back, with more mature eyes, I'm disappointed in our decision to sneak around that way, we were young and selfish. And, I had my work cut out for me.   I was 100 lbs overweight and I had less than a year to get into shape for the appointed meeting.  By September I was stunning, a fit and lovely size 6 with a whole new wardrobe.  I still remember seeing him for the very first time, opening the door, we both must have been holding our collective breaths. He said, "You are so pretty."  He looked like Sonny Bono.   A blissful week in New York, then he to Wales for fly fishing and me to Boston for time with my family and then another week with him in Boston.   I divorced.  He stayed married.  We remained friends and flirty phone pals.  These days we talk every year or so.

So what made me think of George?  I think it's time to catch up - he bubbles up from time to time. The other day I Googled him and sifted through article after article about him.  He ended up being very successful, the CEO of a firm he founded and has since retired from that, at one point, owned about 25% of all the residential jumbo mortgages in the country.  I am very proud of him and flattered that he loved me for a while.

Then I found an article that I almost missed, an article from Wine Spectator about very wealthy wine collectors who were building their own wine caves.  A third of the article was devoted to George and his wine cave.  Seriously!  A wine cave tunneled into a hill on his Marin county property!   I thought of Patrick and how he described the month after we broke up - how he suffered in his man cave and licked his wounds until he was ready to be part of the human race again.  Two men:  two caves.  Ha ha!  Two cavemen!  I've been in love with cavemen!   Here is an exerpt from that article about George and his cave.  Even though you don't know him nor care about him, I think you will read this with interest because it's a glimpse into the life of an impossibly wealthy CEO - what jazzes these people - how they live.
George XXX who is CEO of XXX, views his cave as a destination, just steps across the limestone courtyard from the Santa Rosa, Calif., home that he shares with his wife, Sue. After cutting the house into the hillside, a wall was needed to retain the earth, which had been cut away and pushed back from the house and courtyard area. But as construction began on the retaining wall, George  became concerned about its size. "With the future wall in direct view of my front door, I asked my builder, Michael Cello of Cello and Maudru Construction [in Napa], how big it was going to be. Mike said, 'Pretty big,'" George recounts. "I'd just returned from Bill Harlan's cave, so I asked Mike about the possibility of digging into the space to build a cave." After finding out that this was possible, George contracted Tom Taylor of Taylor Lombardo Architects in San Francisco to come up with a design. 
But the equipment used in cave construction requires a lot of space, and the house was in the way. Don Magorian of Magorian Mine Services in Auburn, Calif., had to literally work around the house to tunnel through the hill. The hillside directly behind the portal was too flat to provide a sufficent amount of earth over the cave, so the entry was curved into a deeper part of the hill. "The area was a little tight, and we were working in rainy winter months to meet Geroge's' time frame," Magorian recalls. 
With the cave still under construction, George and his family moved into the house. "Looking out the window was like looking onto a battlefield," George says. By the summer, the muddy view had been replaced by a curved, asymmetrical portal cased in limestone. Only one year after that, the facade of George's cave looked like something from the Old World. 
"Walking from the house across the limestone courtyard to the cave adds a heightened sense of arrival," Taylor says. Massive double doors of reclaimed teak with speakeasy windows open to a 500-square-foot domed cave, complete with refrigerator, dishwasher, telephone and stereo. Terra-cotta wine racks with the capacity for 1,500 bottles house mini-verticals such as Marcassin Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast 1999 to 2002, Harlan Estate Napa Valley 1999 to 2001 and Rudd Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville 2001 and 2002. 
The cave is the setting for many of George's parties and dinners, but ultimately it is "the man's cave." Here, George hangs out with his wine buddies, smoking Fuente Fuente OpusX cigars, playing cards and expressing themselves freely at the expense of polite conversation. "It is a cave rule that if women enter, they can't complain about our behavior," George laughs. 
George's cave also provides him with quiet solitude. "Some of my favorite moments are spent alone in the cave, just rearranging my wine," he says.
I read this with mixed emotions:  impressed, proud of him for doing so well, wistful that he hadn't left Sue for me.  I felt vicarious pleasure knowing him, as if somehow the cave belonged to me too (OK, that's a stretch). But I also wondered how our lives had taken such different turns.  He became glitterati (Sammy Hagar is one of his kid's godfather).  He hobnobs with Arnold Schwarzenegger.  I am attracted and repulsed.  OK, so here is the big question.  If you could plop yourself down in that life, have so much money that your stresses are about stuff like the the size and location of your million dollar wine cave, was able to brag that your kid's godfather was a famous rock star (and he DID brag to me - wanted my approval for some unknown reason, like my approval really meant jack shit), anyway, would you want it?   Would you trade your life?

Notice his last sentence.  Some of his favorite moments are spent alone, rearranging his 1,500 bottles of wine.       Doesn't that sound a little sad?  Like a dragon sitting in its cave guarding a mound of treasure?  I wonder what he thinks of at times like that, if his thoughts are full of regret or satisfaction, how often he thinks of me. I always thought he and I would find each other again late in life (we had such fun together - he always said I was the one person he could really talk to, that I uniquely understood his work and gave him good advice, the person he could unburden himself to). Now I know that will never happen.  I can't imagine being with a man with a wine cave - it is so silly and self important. Give me a man who walks lighter on the earth, takes only what he needs and who invests himself in the well being of others - and not just for show and accolades.

Takeaway challenge for today is putting yourself in George's shoes. Would you trade places with him?   Ha, ha!  Tom if you're reading this, this will be a tough question for you - I know how much you like wine!   1500 bottles of vintage wine just might make you sell out too!!!


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