As part of the fifth generation of a California farming family, I’ve been blessed to meet many of the amazing people that help feed our nation – and our world. I’ve spent the bulk of my career in food & wine, with a special focus on the commodities my family grows, including grapes for raisins & wine. One of my favorite stops on my career path was being the first Executive Administrator of the Madera Vintners Association. (Yes, wine is gluten-free.)
And that’s where I met Peter Ficklin.
I met several incredible winemakers, and tried too many fabulous wines to count (although incredible winemakers & their fabulous wines sounds like a great blog post for the future, hmmm) but Peter is really the person who helped shape my born-into-academic-interest in wine into a passion.
Ficklin Vineyards is a winery in Madera that was founded by Peter’s grandfather in the mid-1940’s, and is known for producing some of the best Port wines in California. The original adobe building is still used to this day, as is much of the equipment. Walking through Ficklin is like walking through California’s wine history – and Peter’s patient, kind manner allows you to learn more than you ever would in a typical wine-tasting setting.
It was during a media tour of the Madera Wine Trail that Peter poured a bottle of 1957 Vintage Port and changed my understanding of wine completely. (Port holds longer than most other wines because it’s fortified.) The full flavor & notes of toffee, cognac & tobacco were so markedly different than the same wine from the 90’s, I could hardly believe it was the same wine, and Peter’s explanation of how wine changes was the most eloquent and passionate description of wine I have heard to this day. That was the moment I started looking for the artistry & craft in wines, rather than simply looking for ones I liked or ones I could sell (I still look for those too). I had grown up around the process of growing the best fruit possible – now I was starting to learn about creating the best wines from that fruit.
I’ve probably been to Ficklin Vineyards over 50 times since that day, sometimes for work, sometimes for fun. I’ve never once spent time with Peter and not learned something – and I’ll never tire of walking through their wine library. I’ve also come to know & respect Peter as a friend, and have watched him handle challenges with dignity & grace, and treat the people in his life with love and respect. The craft of wine is not the only thing I’ve learned from Peter.
The Ficklin Family was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award for the Wine Industry this year, and Peter was honored as Winemaker of the Year by the Madera Vintners Association. I cannot think of anyone more deserving.
I owe Peter Ficklin a debt of gratitude. I recently came to a moment in life that required making some sizable business decisions, and a friend asked me to consider what my true passions are. Wine is one of them. And Peter gave me that.
I think we’re headed in the right direction. And if you’re ever in Central California, stop by Ficklin Vineyards. Tell them I sent you.