Conversations For Transformation: Essays Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

Conversations For Transformation

Essays By Laurence Platt

Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

And More

Bomber Pilot, Winemaker

Stags Leap Appellation, Napa Valley, California, USA

March 2, 2019

"You can bomb the world into pieces, but you can't bomb it into peace." ... Michael Franti

"Wine is bottled poetry." ... Robert Louis Stevenson
This essay, Bomber Pilot, Winemaker, is the twenty third in an open group on People: I am indebted to John Shafer who inspired this conversation, and to David Stoneberg and to George Swan and to the Napa Valley Register and to the St Helena Star who contributed material.

Photograph courtesy
Consolidated B-24 Liberator "Diamond Lil" Bomber
One of the many celebrated features of a transformed life, is its "before" as distinct from its "after". Anyone who's experienced the onset of authentic, real, thrilling  transformation can attest to their before / after transition. And in most cases, since the "before" is merely a taken-for-granted way of living life ie a way of living life cocooned in tranquilized obviousness, it's only realized there was  a "before" when the lifted veils of the "after" begin to alter one's vista of what's possible - stunningly so.

Of course, many people have before / after transitions, all of whom inspire me. When I look at their lives as they are today, and learn about who they once were, I wonder how they ever got from A to B. I mean, who woulda thunk?  Many times such transitions are unintentional. Life just flows from A to B, so no matter what, something's going to happen anyway, even if you do nothing at all. But it's the intentional transitions that interest me most - like the guy who piloted B-24 bombers in world war II who re-invented himself as a legendary winemaker in Napa Valley where I live. I mean, A to B? Who woulda thunk?

When he was well into his nineties, he asked me (through an intermediary) to drive him places (his family had become concerned that he should have someone drive him). Gradually I get to know him through our conversations as we drive throughout the valley, taking him shopping, to his gym, out to dinner, or simply on errands. The first thing I notice is utterly remarkable about him, is where he pitches his vision. Most people I know, know what they'll be doing tomorrow (to be sure, some don't have that basic vision, but most do). A few I know, know what they'll be doing in the next one or two years. He, on the other hand, speaks about his interests over the next five  years, if not more, a future which can't come fast enough for him. Not only has he always done this, but he's still doing it at ninety plus. He pitches his vision forward, waaay  forward, hat over wall, then dedicates all his resources to catch up with it to meet it, a modus operandi  in which he's clearly brilliant.

Photography by Bob McLenahan

Stags Leap Appellation, Napa Valley, California, USA
Shafer Vineyards
He's a sculptor, a philanthropist who sponsored Napa's wildlife rescue and 9/11 memorial, and a world traveler among many things. Oh, and he mastered how to tango  - in Argentina, no less. And now (skipping decades of his checkered career), he makes wine in one of the valley's most exquisite locations where he lives in an unassuming house high on a hill overlooking what can only be described as sheer magnificence, an endeavor he embarked on long before the true potential of the Napa Valley as a world-class winemaking mecca was fully understood - again, waaay  ahead of his time, way ahead of the curve.

A man's got to know his limitations (as Clint Eastwood may have said), and his is a league, the majors, which I can merely observe as a spectator, not participate in fully as a player. Yet he's always kind to me, always respectful, always generous. As we drive around, he asks how my children are doing. He isn't just making small talk. He's really interested. And then he puts aside conversations about children, and pushes "And how are you  doing, Laurence?".

We talk politics, both local and federal. He isn't bombastic in his views. He's thought through the issues - diligently, carefully, intelligently. I'm comfortable sharing with him. I can say anything to him - whether he agrees with me or not, whether I'm completely out of my depth with the subject matter, or not. There was only one time he ever sharpened his tone with me - and it was entirely appropriate. He walks with a cane, and takes his time getting into the passenger seat, then folding his legs into the vehicle. I reached out my arm to support him, and he snapped "No!". A rare, elegant, self-made human being, he's fiercely independent. I learned to stand patiently by as he steadies his body getting in and out of the car, allowing him the dignity of doing it all by himself, the indomitable pioneering spirit.

I share a true story with him. Long before he got to know me as his driver, one of my clients on the east coast had the same surname as him (but no relation). In setting up my upcoming visit to present a technical seminar for fifty people at his company over the course of five days, I asked whether he would like something from the Napa Valley. My client wanted a nice bottle of wine - but not just any  bottle of wine: he wanted his  wine ie the one with their shared name on it. So I drove over to his winery and bought a bottle of his legendary red juice. Then, almost as an afterthought, I asked the server if she would have him sign it - fully expecting my request to be declined. "I'll see what I can do" she told me. When I returned two days later, there was the bottle, its label signed by him with a flourish in gold ink. I packed the bottle in bubble wrap in my carry-on bag (back in those days, you could still to that). My client was ecstatic, beyond thrilled.

"That's great" he smiles, looking over his vast expanse of pristine vineyards, eyelids lowered for the setting sun, "I like that" as a Piper Cherokee  buzzes overhead.

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