Back in 1972 I was sent to Germany as a high school AFS (American Field Service) exchange student. It changed my life. I was placed in a wine making region (Rheinland Pfalz) with a family that was indirectly involved in the wine industry. I spent much of my time working in the vineyards and enjoying the wines. Not bad for an 18 year old who could not legally drink at home. It was then that I was bitten by the wine bug and dreamed about becoming a winemaker.
After returning home I went on to college for a while and then took a harvest job as an apprentice winemaker for the new winery in Amador County, Montevina. I was like a sponge learning everything I could from the owner/winemaker, Cary Gott. I was so excited about wine making that I decided that I would go back to Germany to learn wine making there. Only problem, a harvest apprentice was not the highest paying job in the wine industry. So I had to figure out a way to get to Europe on as little money as possible.
A buddy and I ended up hopping a freight train out of San Bernardino in southern California to El Paso, Texas. A three day rough and cold December ride. We were caught in the freight yards by the Rail Road detective, known as the “Bull”, and promptly thrown out of the yard. Just south of the yard was the Rio Grande and Mexico, so north we walked 3 miles up to the freeway. We hitch hiked from El Paso all the way to Miami where we knew some friends. Needless to say, after hitch hiking all the way across Texas, you felt like you were almost there. Now all I had to do was get across the Atlantic. Couldn’t hitch hike, so I did the next best thing. The least expensive way across, the slow but adventuresome way was to pay passage on a freighter. I found a German freighter headed out of Tampa Bay to Rotterdam. I ended up boarding the ship the evening of New Years Eve 1974. At 20 years old I remember looking aft at the lights of Tampa Bay as we sailed out of the harbor thinking, “It will be a long time before I see home again”.