In the mid-1990s, my oldest son, Matthew, was in high school and more deeply devoted to basketball than to books. A symptom of his misdirected energies was the goal that he told us he had set for himself, namely to grow to be six feet, six inches tall, which was exactly Michael Jordan’s God-given height. When we heard this, Molly and I comforted ourselves by hoping that he was being ironical. Anyhow, Matthew missed his goal by four inches, not for lack of trying.
Many weekends during those years Matthew, two of his pals, their fathers, and I would square off on a basketball court somewhere for a game of three on three. The boys against the has-beens, the wish they had-beens, and the were onces. It was bone and ego crushing parenting, practiced in the open, without cheerleaders or, more important, team physicians. None of them was six foot six, but they were tall enough, lean, springy, and inspired by the competition, so that they heartlessly boxed the old men out beneath the basket and set picks with merciless, hard hitting enthusiasm. At first, Molly laughed when I showed up after a game, bruised, sore, and needing to rest my back for two or three days. She eventually figured that we grownups were giving it all we had out of the same, though inverted, Oedipal instinct that drove the boys to give us the business every chance they got. Ultimately, she just worried that I was going to end up with a heart attack.
Matthew’s pals — grammar school through high school and beyond — were Rafe Mazer and Kieran Maloney. Rafe now works in Washington, D. C., for the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor. Matthew is a lawyer and father, and Kieran is a musician and jack of all trades who oversees the Scribe Winery of more than 300 acres in Sonoma, California.
Some of the Scribe acreage — the flatlands at the foot of the west-facing hill that dominates the landscape –— is planted in grapes of several varieties. The vineyard’s history and success has roots in the 19th century, though it fell on hard times during Prohibition and was for some time a turkey farm. Some of its turkey coops remain, though they are now used for other purposes. The imposing 19th century hacienda, built by the South Americans who developed the original winery, remains also, in romantic dishabile awaiting resurrection by the property’s new owners. The building’s long and varied history included a stint as a brothel and an artists’ colony. This is not a winery likely to be featured in the Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.
Traveling in California between Christmas and New Year’s Day, we visited Kieran at Scribe. The Times has often featured high school graduates who are making their way in the world, often far away from home, but it isn’t often that we get a chance to spend a few hours with them in their distant workplaces. Kieran’s father, John, is a stonemason and poet. (He was also the only one on the long ago team who had genuine and confirmed basketball skills.) His son’s responsibilities include building stone walls, creating gardens, building and rebuilding structures of all sorts, landscaping, playing music, and entertaining visitors to Scribe.
As Kieran described it, Scribe’s marketing philosophy extends way beyond the wine. Scribe is not a drink but a lifestyle of food, music, and socializing. By the way, every one of these California days was for us mild and clear, like the gift of a late spring Vineyard afternoon, minus the wind. The afternoon we spent with Kieran at Scribe was one of these. The picnic tables, which Kieran had built, were set at the top of a hill overlooking the vines, whose cultivation he looks after. He served a variety of Scribe vintages, and we brought cheeses and bread and an infernally tough sausage that defied all attempts to carve it. The grandchildren ran around, rolling down the hill, swinging on the swing, getting scratched and bruised, delighted to be so free, with room to roam and outdistance their parents.
What struck me was that 3,000 miles from his Vineyard home, Kieran’s working life resembled his youthful one — the hard work, the informal entertaining, the music, the rusticity of picnic tables set on the lawn, an agricultural landscape shaped but not imposed upon by man’s hand. He had found, I thought, a perch attuned perfectly to the spirit of the Chilmark life in which he had been raised. It was certainly not Falcon Crest. (Think 1980s evening soap.) It was not a wealthy Vineyard summer resident’s showplace, landscaped to within an inch of its life the way funeral parlors in modest little towns are swanked up to intimidate and inflate the humble and inconsolable. Rather, it might have been the Allen Farm.