My Anniversary At RIDGE!

I apologize in advance, but I believe I’m going to be a bit self-focused over the course of this particular post. Why? Because today is the day I celebrate the anniversary of my arrival at RIDGE! July 17th. The day I signed my Employment Offer. Quite a day for me, to say the least. It was the culmination of what was truly one of the more difficult journeys of my life.

For example, my very first interview with Nicole Buttitta, the Vice President of Human Resources at RIDGE, took place at some strange truck stop somewhere in the wilds of Illinois!

Why? Because I was in the middle of a 3001-mile solo truck journey across the great expanse of America, from Long Island, NY to Davis, CA, to rejoin Amy, who at the time was my pregnant fiancee (being now my wife and the mother of our daughter!). Needless to say, I was in a hurry …

Anyhow, I’d like to share a strange little record of that particular day, which comes from what is now the manuscript of a book I am working on. It’s a book-length sectional narrative poem chronicling my cross-country drive. What follows is the Preface from the manuscript, which will hopefully do a better job of explaining exactly what I’m talking about:

“This book-length sectional poem chronicles a 3001-mile truck journey from Port Jefferson, New York to Davis, California that I undertook to rejoin my pregnant fiancée who’d flown ahead two weeks before. After 13 years of living all across this vast country, we were finally returning to our promised land of Northern California, to raise a child conceived in one of the most trying of all our many ports of call; the north shore of Long Island, a strange finger of land off the East Coast of America. On the drive I kept with me a digital voice recorder into which I entered a continual stream of spontaneous aural poetry as I tried to capture my thoughts, observations, and descriptions during the long and lonesome journey. The poem is comprised of 96 sections, each of which is essentially a loose transcription of each entry into the recorder.”

So that’s what the book is, a somewhat more structured transcription of everything going through my mind as I struggled though that trip. And in thinking about my anniversary today, it occurred to me that Ridge, and my first interview with Nicole, makes a brief cameo in the poem. I’ve included this section below, and in order to give some context, I’ve also included a few sections before and after as well.




Heading back east towards New York:

a car loaded on a trailer, behind a rental truck—

and I just say, “Good luck.”





Dead dog

on the side of a


empty stretch of


German Shepherd, I think,

but with a COLLAR on.

That can NOT

be a good story.





What a confluence of names!


Peru, Illinois’ Tiki Inn, featuring The Pine Cone Restaurant.


Wow . . .





Quite a scare this morning, actually;

apparently we’ve got a coolant leak.

I wasn’t on the road but a minute when the engine light went off,

the dashboard beeping, the coolant level sign flashing,

all of a sudden the engine completely cuts out—

I pull over, semis rushing by me, wind blasting my head,

my plans of making California in anything resembling good time

evaporating like steam off the radiator . . .


Fortunately, problem averted,

knock on wood,

for the time being.


Of course, I did pour a bunch of drinking water in,

then opened the manual and found out I’m not supposed to add water.

But the mixture still looks green,

and I’ve got 50/50 if it runs down again;

hopefully, we’ll make it through the day without that happening.

I’d have to wait for the truck to cool before reloading,

which means hours on the side of the road, waiting.

I do have a job interview with Ridge Vineyards at three o’ clock today,

I could park and use the mobile . . .

I suppose I could do the cool-down then.


C’mon Mr. Penske!





. . .and I see a sign for “Moline/Rock Island,”

and I’ve got Johnny Cash’s “Rock Island Line” in my head,

and my God, it’s the sign for Highway 61!


Highway 61!

How many songs have I heard chronicling that journey?


And just now, I see a man in a cowboy hat

fixing a fence, and then I’m

taking a bridge over a railroad track

that cuts through grass and trees.


Somewhere in there

is the America

that gave birth to my grandfather,

my parents,

maybe even me.


Somewhere in the dust of these farmhouses

there’s a fingerprint

that forensics cannot trace;

it’s a heartprint, not a fingerprint,

traceable only by God!





. . . from the speakers, it’s

Neil Diamond, and he’s hitchin’

to a twilight train . . .


. . . in turnarounds, bored

Sheriffs watch for speeders, or

maybe kidnappers . . .





I’m just one of hundreds of trucks,

and I imagine I get no respect

from these journeymen roadster lifers,

because they know I’m a phony.


Well, I could be a phony. . .


But couldn’t I also be, as far as they know,

a professional mover?


Not likely.


That said, I do have

a lot of miles notched into my belt.

So there.





Ahead, the low tones in the sky

have taken a different feel,

like a key change

after the second chorus.



Hard to believe that interview, at an Illinois truck stop, in an overheating Penske truck, was the beginning of my journey to RIDGE! But that’s how it happened …

I’d like to offer one more poem of mine, if I may;

When I first started working here, and despite a commute that is an hour minimum at best, I would come about a half-hour early every morning, in order to spend some time up on the knoll writing, trying my best to capture the overwhelming grace, dignity, power, and beauty of this strange place on the mountain that would be my new workplace. Not too many weeks into the process, I began to realize that what I was working on was in fact one long inter-related work, as opposed to numerous short poems, as I’d originally thought. My goal was to complete the work in three months, to coincide with the end of my “trial period,” in the hopes that its culmination would function as a celebration of my having survived this 90-day inauguration. I made it, as did the poem, and at the time, I gave copies to my co-workers as a way of thanking them for accepting me. I’d like to share the poem here as well, as a way perhaps of thanking RIDGE for not only having me, but for granting me this forum to express my feelings for and about this amazing Monte Bello world up here. The poem is entitled “From The Mountain This Morning,” and it goes a little something like this …


From The Mountain This Morning 




As the kinky green napp skulling the hills

encases the strained hiss of a cyclist’s slender wheels

aching through the baking asphalt hairpins,

I rise above a plush fur of clouds

— above the birds, above the quarry, above the reservoir —

and come level with the shimmering hot yolk of the poaching sun,

feeling my skin as something separate,

as if sunburned.


It was the Italian nose for limestone

—the stonecutter’s compass—

that put the first vines in the ground here,

built the barns, made the wines.

With dynamite and mules,

they scraped the long road from the slopes,

carved the cellar from the broadside of Black Mountain.


The range attained the name Santa Cruz

— or, Holy Cross —

when the Spaniards came to claim

the Awaswas from their shamans;

Mission Santa Cruz, consecrated 1791,

a century before Osea Perrone’s first vintage,

two centuries before David Bennion died.


Below the knoll

beyond the tasting room,

a rock commemorates him;

one of four founders:

David Bennion.

The newspaper said he died in an automobile accident

on the Golden Gate Bridge.

I’ll never ask if his body is beneath this rock,

but when I press my hand to its surface,

despite the shade,

it’s warm to my touch.





Peacocks are silent on Black Mountain

as I stand still in shadows that emit no light,

absorbing everything.





The essing road emerges

from the tundra of the clouds

like a lizard from beneath

a barn door — up here

the sun is so hot, I’ve already

forgotten the cold, wet chill

of the ascent.


A dog bark echoes through the valley,

the clatter and grumble

of a quarry truck

caroms up against the slopes,

a halo of bird chirp

circles my ears.


Limned by faint blue shadows,

a white backdrop;

against it a dragonfly

bobs and weaves, heading

south towards the

stubborn curving balance of the

slender mountain trees.


The cloudscape is flat

as a throw-rug, save for one

lone knoll to the east;

a misted dome, crest

of a bomb’s spreading fungus,

ice cap in a sea

of false stability—


This is the arctic of the skies,

a polar second story,

a floor that one could fall through,

landing finally in the cold,

moist morning of the valley.





Atop Black Mountain,

a winding road behind me,

the quarry silent.


Like Christmas bows curb-

side on a bright trash day, the

reservoir sparkles.


The sound of car wheels

far down the serpentine road;

insistent whispers.


Like a questioning

eyebrow, dust hovers above

the fog-bound quarry.


I want to write, “I

see bird backs from above,” but I

don’t, because I don’t.





No fog this morning at all,

only the persistent malevolence

of the pollution strip

that binds San Jose

to the shimmering blue mirage

of foothills in the east.


A stranger has entered

the village of the air;

a cold, sharp stranger

that brings blood to the ears,

raises arm hair,

causes shivers with no seeming cause.


The dead-leaved heart

of autumn, bathed in a glaze

of viscous mystery,

beats firmly in his breast,

this autumn hobo,

as he comes once again


to the ancestral home of

wanderers, the mountain.


And across the shining silver

surface of the reservoir,

a thousand simmered mist-pixies,

warming in the ladders of the dawn.





The knoll is freckled

with shards of broken glass—

shattered remnants

of Mexican beer bottles,

some so old their edges

have worn smooth,

as if polished by the tide.


The winds keep the small clearing

clear, push the detritus

up against a perimeter

of low tenacious bushes;

a glittering fringe

around the dusty brown pate

of the mountain’s weathered brow.


Like congas in the round,

old wine barrels encircle

the lot where the vineyard

workers park. October beats

a breeze on their drums

that can be heard clear

down to the reservoir;

the rhythm grips

the sky’s green reflection,

makes its figure swing

as gently as a ballad.


My back to the valley below,

gazing up at the remainder of the mountain,

I spy rooftops looming over

weaving tree lines.

Who lives at the top of this world,

and can they see me down here,

trying to spell their dreams out







Beware of Rattlesnakes;

the words etched into weather-beaten

signs beside beige and gray

gravel footpaths;

take their slopes

up to the knoll and pass

wily gnarled vines with

low centers of gravity, deep tenacious roots,

and wild dreadlocked limbs

medusa’d out over their wood-sifted cover.


The soil is riddled with holes;

mammals, reptiles, insects.


It’s autumn now, the once-docile breeze

is teething; tiny brittle bites

as it passes through the leaves.

Feel the soft hairs in your ears

vibrate with their whispers.


In the distance, the unlubricated

churn of machinery trundling

over soil that prepares to turn its palms up

with a questioning suggestion;

pick a hand.





Crisp autumn morning;

a deer heart’s worth of inno-

cence stirs my soul.


In a clearing, the

new wind reminds me, you can

fall off a mountain.


At the insistence

of the wind, thin mountain brush

fidgets, pointing east.


Birdless, the wind-swept

air; snakeless, the cold, dry soil;

empty, my mouth, of words.


As might a painter’s

palette imitate the sky,

I try the mountain.


The wind, stripping our

revisions away, reveals

the first masterpiece.


Stone greets vine-root, brush

greets breeze, sun greets fog  — Grateful,

I take autumn’s hand.


If terroir is a

sense of place, then my soul is

a moveable wine.








Happy Anniversary to me! And thank you Ridge! 


Categories: History, Monte Bello, RIDGE Staff, Viticultural Salmagundi, Wine & Poetry, Wine Tales


8 replies

  1. This is really wonderful, Christopher! I especially like the haiku at the end and the narrative the string of haiku offers. So I’m going to share that section on my blog this week, making you a special guest poet in honor of the Wine Bloggers Conference 2009 which I’m sorry you missed…and of course I will link back here! Hope that’s OK with you–let me know if it isn’t!

  2. I am grateful to Ridge for many things. You are chief among them.
    Cheers to you, Christopher Watkins.


  1. Some poetry from Ridge’s blogger Christopher Watkins « art predator
  2. Some winery inspired poetry from Ridge’s blog by Christopher Watkins « art predator
  3. WBC 09: visiting Ridge & other adventures before the conference « Wine Predator
  4. - Two Sisters: Wine Tripping
  5. Riding on the Ridge | Two Sisters - Wine Tripping

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: