It was on this day, three years ago — years both long and short — that Ridge Vineyards, and the world at large, lost Donn Reisen.
To this day, I cannot walk into The Old Winery Barn without thinking of him.
To me, he was the wine world’s Walter Matthau, the wise curmudgeon, the salty, melancholic prankster, the grifter with the soul of gold.
I looked forward to seeing him every day, I truly did. There are not a lot of bosses out there one can say that about, but it’s true.
It was like going to your regular pub, knowing that your mate would be there just ahead of you, doing the crossword, or reading the paper, or ready with a report on the weather.
By saying that, though, please know I don’t in any way mean to belittle his power, his knowledge, his work ethic, his dedication, his vision. He was incredible, and without him, Ridge would not be, could not be, what it is today. He was my boss, and with good reason.
But somehow, he didn’t walk that way. There was no pomp and circumstance to him at all. He used to tease me about looking “East Coast,” because I wore a sportcoat to work. He wore flannel shirts and laughably misshapen jeans.
He could turn on you, it’s true, and for all the cranky congeniality, he did not suffer fools gladly, particularly when they worked for him. My goal, for as long as I worked for Donn, was just to try and stay one step ahead of him. If he didn’t have to call me out for something work-related, that meant we could just shoot the breeze. So I did my best to keep my ducks in a row. For as long as Donn and I were both at Ridge, probably my truest goal was to just not screw up in front of Donn. I wanted him to like me. That’s the truth. I just wanted him to like me.
I miss you Donn. Something flew away into the horizon when you left, never to return.
As with all things though, all things must pass, and the Samsara of Ridge is such that every passing, every departure, every loss, begets a new beginning. The teaching of the vineyards, if nothing else, teaches us this.
I often talk to guests about “library” wines, how they’re finite, how not even the richest man or woman in the world can bring a vintage back when it’s finally gone, but Samsara or no Samsara, it’s hard to say goodbye. Loss is the great equalizer. Be you Bill Gates or Bill at the shelter, neither of you will ever taste the 1971 Monte Bello again.
That’s Donn. A vintage we’ll never taste again.
Bless you Donn, you are remembered.