Many years ago, Paul Draper sat down with Ruth Teiser to record a lengthy interview that would be part of an oral history series documented by the Bancroft Library at the University of California Berkeley. Taken from that interview, here is Paul’s recount of his first Thanksgiving in wine country.
Paul Draper: When I was a freshman at Stanford, two friends of mine in my freshman corridor asked me if I would like to spend Thanksgiving with them, because it was too far to be going home (having grown up in Illinois). They both lived out on Dry Creek in Sonoma County — Bob Higby and Carl Peterson, Jr. The Petersons are grape ranchers in Dry Creek today, and they have been for years. I went home with them during Thanksgiving of ’54. I stayed with the Higbys, but the idea was that I would have Thanksgiving dinner with the Petersons. Carl’s mother was a Mazzoni, so it was the Peterson-Mazzoni clan that would gather out in Dry Creek.
The weather that Thanksgiving was what I guess we would call football weather, beautiful Indian summer. The leaves had not yet blown off the vines, but they had turned color, so Dry Creek was just unbelievable to my eyes. It was my first year in California, and here was a sea of color to rival a New England autumn.
The Peterson house was an old farmhouse much like the one I grew up in. It was out in the middle of a vineyard at the far end of Dry Creek. They invited the entire family, and it seemed to me at least fifty people came that Thanksgiving Day. They had a line of trestle tables, starting on the front porch, running through the living room, down the corridor, through the kitchen, and out onto the back porch. About every three feet along the table there was either a turkey, a leg of lamb, a roast of beef, or a ham — with all the vegetables and trimmings in between. Bottles of wine from the local winery where the Petersons sent their grapes were strategically placed.
Three generations, and I think probably four generations were at that table, from people in their nineties to babes in arms. Having grown up in a very Victorian family with one sibling, with the four of us sitting there straight in our chairs at a quite formal table, this was something else. Of course I had eaten with relatives and friends, but never had I been at a table like this, and in that place, where I could look out the window and see the vines entirely surrounding the house, and the bottles of wine on the table. I said to myself, “Someday I want to do this.”
I came to wine through loving it as food, as part of the meal, as part of a daily ritual. I guess I see dinner with family or friends as one of the last rituals in our culture. It is one of very few. Wine, really is, in a sense, a sacrament of nature and takes the meal to another level.