When a soul invests so much of his or her energy in a place, that place becomes part of them. For Barry Sterling, it was a happy place, the end of Ross Station Road in Forestville, where the road first dips down past his daughter’s house and the family’s vegetable garden to a stream, then up a steep bank to the white clapboard house he and his wife, Audrey, had restored, its rambling 19th-century simplicity looking like a little piece of New England settled in Sonoma’s foggy desert coast. Barry was always smiling when I met him behind the house, on the patio above his rose garden, a long cascading collection of roses that meandered down the hill below the house, a garden as beautiful in its simplicity and complex in its design as the life he had built, the sparkling wine he and Audrey had conceived when they bought a young vineyard, not yet ready to make the kind of pinot noir or chardonnay they would want to drink, so rather than do as virtually everyone else and create a style of still wine for their young vines, they created a sparkling wine that layered bottle-aged depth over that young-vine fruit the way Barry had layered his rose garden. Maybe Barry and Audrey and their family were successful with their sparkling wine because it grew in the right place, a collection of hills covered in a patchwork of vines, looking like patterns in a Victorian quilt book, or a children’s book in which a prince lives in the ideal partnership of the human and the wild, a place where morning mists catch the sun in momentary rainbows, as if the air and the sky were also part of the plan. The plan was for the sparkling mists to offer a quiet, cool welcome through a long row of palm trees on either side of the drive to a low wooden winery barn; there would be split rail fences around the old corrals, it would all look like it mostly tended to itself, like it wasn’t really trying, that it just happened to know this was its place, a place that would grow a fresh and optimistic wine to serve when the two leaders of the world’s most powerful countries, after a decades long battle, came together to toast for peace, bringing the promise of rebirth to a world long frozen in a cold war. Barry may have aced law school at Stanford, married a beautiful San Francisco princess who would take him to France, quit law to make wine that would bring the joy of Paris to his home in California, name his daughter Joy and then the most beautiful evocation of his vine-and-rose strewn hills Joy, delivering bubbles out of magnum bottles even as he kept quietly smiling, as if he knew what he had to do and he just had to do it.
Most every August, I make a pilgrimage to Green Valley to visit with Joy on her deck and eat peaches from her garden and talk into the evening over several bottles of Iron Horse sparkling wine. Often, we will take a walk or drive up to her parents’ house on the next hill to check in on them in the garden. Often, Laurence, Joy’s brother who oversees the vineyards, would be there, too. Now Barry won’t be there to smile, but his spirit will.
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