The first three years of my collegiate career could be summarized as a dodgeball match between academic probation and myself. Each quarter I was greeted with the same warm engineering (greeting), “Welcome to a ridiculous equation class, my name is professor foreign language you can’t understand, 60% of you in this room are going to fail. Good luck.” Of course, at this point I would start looking around the classroom and doing my own calculations. Okay, 30 people in this class, that means about 18 people are going to fail. Well, the Asian kid up front is a lock to make it, so is the girl sitting next to me who has already printed all the power point slides and class material. That German group in the corner with the 3-inch thick physic books is definitely cool; they didn’t travel across the pond to party. Throw a few more obvious non-social, pimple prone academics and I’m fighting for a few spots with 15 other people. I felt like the fat kid at baseball tryouts, thinking if I concentrate every bit of my energy, I might make it first base without collapsing.
During my third year of college, I was searching for alternate, more appealing career paths. I attended a business seminar, and decided to challenge myself with an internship that was supposedly ranked top 10 in the U.S. by Forbes magazine, Varsity Painting. Varsity Painting sets you up with all the knowledge to run a painting business, all the flyers and marketing material you need, and help along the way for 40% of the cut. Naïve, I salivated at the opportunity of something different, and starting running the painting business out of my 2-door Toyota Celica hatchback. The looks I received as I was driving down the freeway with an 18 foot ladder hanging out of the back of my car, were the same looks I had when I was analyzing my income statements. My cost of materials were too high, my profit margins too low, and my employees turned out to be either ex convicts of drug addicts. The headaches weren’t worth the effort, but I enjoyed the business aspect of the challenge so much I decided to search for a business related major.
With a dodgy G.P.A., I was denied entry to Business Administration, but was then informed of a new major, wine business by my good friend, Sara Lutsko. I knew nothing about wine other than it came from grapes. My favorite wine was “2 buck chuck”, and I thought the vanilla flavors that were described on the label were actually added at some point during the fermentation process, as if someone was standing over a tank of wine shaving vanilla beans. Desperate for a change, I enrolled in wine business in the fall of 2004. My first wine oriented class, Fruit Science 211, was an introduction to viticulture. We commenced on a Friday afternoon field trip and took a large bus up to a vineyard in Paso Robles to learn about brix levels in the grapes. After about 45 minutes in the vineyard, picking grapes and crushing them onto a refractometer, our professor gathered our attention. His name is Dr. Patterson, a rosy cheeked, white bearded man with an Arkansas twang. Gentle and kind spirited, think of him as a cross between the Monopoly guy and the founder of KFC, Coronel Sanders.
“All right y’all, we’re about finished up here”, he announced, “why don’t y’all head over that knoll right there, I got a surprise for you under that Oak tree.”
The group of students and I (moved) like a herd of cattle over the knoll and found a glorious treat; several tri tips on a large BBQ, dozens of bottles of wine, and a few winemakers to share them with. My jaw dropped and within minutes wine was flowing, laughter was shared and friendships were starting. After a few glasses of wine, I approached Dr. Patterson with my thoughts.
“Excuse me, Dr. Patterson”
“Hello, my name is Danny, I just want to introduce myself. I’ve recently switched from engineering to wine business, and I have to say this is the greatest lab I’ve ever had. The only thing we did in engineering labs was crunch equations!”
With a cheeky grin, Dr. Patterson replies, “Equations? The only equation I know is 1 + 1 = MORE WINE!”
He lets out a huge roar of laughter, and I can’t help but do the same. It was at this moment, I knew I had found my new major, a new passion, and a new direction.