One of the things I love best about being a writer is all the interesting people I’m privileged to meet. That and the fact that I get to work at home in my pajamas as a freelancer. But back to the subject at hand.
During my two years as a newspaper reporter in Washington State several years ago, I loved writing feature stories. I wrote articles about adults who were adopted and later reunited with their birth parents (the outcomes were not always positive), a man’s vivid memories of World War II, an 83-year-old widow who had traveled to 183 countries after losing her husband, and a local doctor who visited Albania to help refugees with their countless horror stories. The stories and the people behind them all touched my heart in different ways.
(The marketing company that produces the magazine had a wine tasting contest to choose which winery would be featured in the magazine. The Legend from George’s winery, The Seven Stones, won hands down. Man, wish I could have been there to participate, but no such luck!)
So I gave George a call.
He begins by telling me about how he moved from the wild and mountainous Whitehorse, Yukon, well-known for its dog sledding and viewing of the Northern Lights, to British Columbia to fulfill his lifelong dream of creating a vineyard and winery from the ground up.
I ask about the name of his winery, Seven Stones, and he tells me of the legend behind the seven rock formations scattered throughout the Similkameen Valley. The native people believe the rocks were there to remind them of what’s important in life. The rocks represent relationships, love, food, water, fire, magic, and home.
“I planted the vineyard, but it was a bit lonely,” George admits.
I wasn’t expecting an enchanting love story, but George starts telling me about how he met a woman online named Vivianne. “We fell in love and I convinced her to marry me,” he says. “She moved here and together we started to build the wine business.”
It was all going well, until George wanted to fulfill his ultimate dream to build an elaborate underground cave to store the wine. His wife had other priorities. Vivianne wanted to build a home and get out of the double-wide trailer she called, “the ugliest house in the world.” She offered to pay for it and the building commenced.
After their charming home was finished, George still wanted to build the cave, but his wife was resistant. Clever George suggested visiting some wineries in Napa, California – just to get some ideas for their own winery. Vivianne was game. George made sure every single winery they saw had a cave.
“That did the trick,” he chuckles on the phone. “We came home and she said, ‘why don’t we build a cave?’ As if it were her idea.”
I laugh, amused by the charming love story. They agreed that Vivianne’s son, Colin, would tackle the project and began making plans for the massive caves.
“And then she died,” George says.
WHAT? Nothing prepared me for this somber moment. My editor had sent me a link to George’s website, which I checked out before the interview for background information, but it didn’t say anything about his late wife. “Oh no,” I say quietly.
George explains that Vivianne had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer a year after they got married. They thought they had beat the disease, but then the cancer returned with a vengeance.
After Vivianne died, her son moved in as previously planned. George and Colin began building the underground caves. Halfway through the project, George was leafing through a book on caves and by fluke discovered instructions that his wife had painstakingly written regarding the final details.
“Colin and I changed our plans,” George says. “The little French Canadian girl always got the last word,” he adds with an affectionate chuckle.
Now, I’m wiping a tear away.
Four years have passed since George’s tragic loss. Vivianne didn’t live to see their dream of a world-class underground cave built, but they were finished in her honor about two years after her death.
Mind you, these are no ordinary caves. We’re talking about an Old World-style cave with a spiral staircase, a commercial kitchen, a cave for events that sits 80 people, and even a waterfall to provide just the right amount of humidity. And of course, a man-cave entrance from George’s home.
George then describes the music that resonates through the acoustically-perfect caves every day. Baroque-style classical music with such a pure sound visitors often shiver and some even shed a few tears. The music plays around the clock to help the wine ferment. George firmly believes the vibration helps produce better wine.
Maybe he has something, since the 2013 vintage produced the award-winning Legend wine, which is George’s all-time favorite and the winery’s most popular wine.
I love George’s story, not only because it’s so darn romantic, but also because it shows the reliance of the human spirit. Even though George never remarried, his story does not have a sad ending.
“I have a good life,” George says. “I’ve had my ups and downs with Vivianne passing, but overall it’s been wonderful.”
As he makes plans to build more warehouses on top of the caves, George says joyfully that he is living his lifelong dream with no regrets. “I wouldn’t change a thing.”
He enjoys hosting special events in his caves, the breathtaking views from the winery’s patio, and personally supervising the wine-making every step of the way with an extraordinary passion for what he does best. In other words, to quote the title of my blog, George has found his baby boomer bliss!
I love that. And if I ever venture his way, I am visiting those caves!
Image courtesy of mrsiraphol at FreeDigitalPhotos.net