It was March in the Napa Valley, just under sixty miles north of San Francisco, and Joy Lammenais's favorite time of year. The rolling hills were a brilliant emerald green, which would fade once the weather grew warmer, and get dry and brittle in the summer heat. But for now, everything was fresh and new, and the vineyards stretched for miles across the Valley. Visitors compared it to Tuscany in Italy, and some to France.
She had come there for the first time with Christophe twenty-four years before, while she was getting her master's in business administration at Stanford, and he was taking graduate classes in oenology and viticulture. He had painstakingly explained to her that oenology was everything about making wine, and viticulture was about planting and growing grapes. His family had been making famous wines in Bordeaux for centuries, where his father and uncles ran the family winery and vineyards, but his dream had been to come to California and learn more about the wines and vineyards and vintners in the Napa Valley. He had confided to Joy that he wanted a small winery of his own. It had just been a vague hope at first, a fantasy he would never indulge. He assumed that he would go back to France to follow the expected path, like his ancestors and relatives before him. But he fell in love with California and life in the States, and became more and more passionate about the vineyards in the Napa Valley during his year at Stanford. His father's sudden death at an early age, while Christophe was at Stanford, left him with an unexpected windfall of money to invest, and suddenly made establishing his own winery in the United States not only enticing but feasible. After they both finished graduate school in June, he had gone home to France in the summer to explain it to his family, and came back in the fall to bring his plan to fruition.
Joy was the most exciting woman he'd ever met, with a diversity of talents. She had a natural gift for anything related to business or finance. And at the same time, she was a painter and artist, had taken classes in Italy over several summers, and could easily have pursued a career in art. She struggled with the decision for a while in college. Her teachers in Italy had encouraged her to forget business. But in the end, her more practical side won out, and she kept her painting as a hobby she loved, and focused on her entrepreneurial goals. She had an instinctive sense of what the best deals were, and wanted to work in one of the Silicon Valley high-tech investment firms, before starting her own venture capital firm one day. She talked to Christophe about it constantly.
She knew nothing about wine when they met, and he taught her during the year they spent together. She wasn't really interested in vineyards and wineries, but the way he explained it all brought it to life for her and made it seem almost magical. He loved making wine as much as she did painting, or her fascination with creative investments. Agriculture seemed like risky business to her. So much could go wrong, an early frost, a late harvest, too much rain, or too little. Christophe said that was part of the mystery and beauty of it, and when all the necessary ingredients came together, you wound up with an unforgettable vintage that people would talk about forever, that could turn an ordinary wine into a remarkable gift of nature.
When she visited the Napa Valley with him, again and again, she began to understand that making wine was in his soul and DNA, and having a respected label of his own was the ultimate achievement to him, and what he hoped for. She was twenty-five then, and he was twenty-six. She had been fortunate to get a job with a legendary venture capital firm right after they graduated and loved what she was doing. And when Christophe came back from France at the end of the summer, looking for land to buy, and vineyards he could replant exactly the way he wanted them, according to everything he had been taught in France, he asked her to go with him. He respected Joy's advice about all the financial aspects of any deal. She helped him buy his first vineyard, and by November, he had bought six, all of them adjoining one another.
The vines were old, and he knew exactly what he wanted to plant there. He told her he would keep his winery small, but he would have the best pinot noir in the Valley one day, and she believed him. He explained to her about the fine points of the wines they tasted, what was wrong with them and what was right, how they could have been different or better, or should have been. And he introduced her to French wines, and the wine his family made and had exported from Château Lammenais for generations.
He had bought an additional piece of property on the hill overlooking his vineyards and the Valley, and said he was going to build a small château there. In the meantime, he was living in a cabin with one bedroom and a comfortable living room with a huge fireplace. They spent many a cozy night there on weekends, while he shared his hopes with her, and she explained to him how to make the business side of it work, and how to design his financial plan.