California Wine – Ridge Monte Bello Wins the Judgment of Paris – Revisited

The now-notorious blind wine-tasting event titled The Judgment of Paris, planned to coincide with America’s 1976 Bicentennial by ex-pat Brit wine merchant/wine school owner Steven Spurrier, could possibly be the single trajectory, unbeknownst at the time to change the course of the California wine industry. Spurrier was head of a Paris Wine School and Cave de la Madeleine wine shop owner who set up the blind wine-tasting competition at the InterContinental Hotel on May 24, 1976, inviting the crème de la crème of French judges; wine specialists, connoisseurs and winery owners. Among the judges who partook in both the Paris event and the London/California 2006 reenactment was Swiss wine writer and critic Michel Dovaz and Parisian sommelier Christian Vanneque formerly of restaurant La Tour d’Argent.

The taster judges save one were French. Patricia Gallagher of l’Academie du Vin and the British event instigator Steven Spurrier tasted but did not vote. Spurrier may have had an ulterior motive to promote his school and wine shop—never imagining the star-struck event would have such earth shattering consequences upsetting the presumption of pre-ordained results. Instead, two of the neophyte California winemakers stood side by side with the Chateaux of Bordeaux. This Defeat of the Gauls embarrassed the haughty French, and showed off the vintners from the other side of the transatlantic tracks.

Spurrier is said to have arranged for the unannounced, unpublicized Taste-Out-at-the-OK-Corral blind-tasting event with pedigreed French equivalents and California reds and whites to enhance the French Wine Industry’s already terra firma reputation as the world’s foremost producers with hundreds of years of winemaking experience, compared to the New World wines from infant vines and toddler vineyards in the unproven terroir of the Wild, Wild West. Four Bordeaux red wines and four white Burgundies were chosen to act as markers against which to evaluate six Californian reds and six whites.

The competition in the tiny Paris hotel near the Champs Elysees, with an entourage of professional tasters ready to blind-taste, rank and grade, with the standard 20-point system, their own French wines—became a veritable mano-a-mano against the California new-kids-on-block. The pontificating judges, with a foregone presumption of superiority, were not ready for the worthiness of the neophyte Californians. It could not have been imagined that the French sophisticates could have started off the tasting—sniffing, swirling, sipping, swilling and spitting—and mistakenly taking the California chardonnays for white Burgundies, Mon Dieu! That was just the beginning of their collective faux pas. It is said the judges may have colluded to rank the French wines high, and again they mistook the wines—not the variety, but the country of origin—mistaking a California Cabernet Sauvignon for their own beloved Bordeaux! Etre couvert de ridicule!

A California ‘competitor’, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, unaware of the event, won the first place for their Cabernet Sauvignon 1973 vintage, the vineyard’s first. Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello ranked fifth out of ten for the Cabernet Sauvignon 1971 vintage made by winemaker Paul Draper, the main subject of this article.

Others whose reds were part of the event; Heitz Wine Cellars, Martha’s Vineyard, Mayacamas Vineyards, Clos Du Val and Freemark Abbey Winery—California chardonnays were represented by Chateau Montelena, Chalone Vineyard, Spring Mountain, Freemark Abbey, Veedercrest and David Bruce Winery. The California red wines were up against some of the most formidable French wineries; Château Mouton Rothschild, Château Haut Brion, Château Montrose and Chateau Leoville-Las-Cases. The chardonnays were up against the white burgundy chardonnays from the legendary Meursault Charmes Roulot, Batard-Montrachet Ramonet-Pruhon, Beaune Clos des Mouches, Joseph Drouhin and Puligny-Montrachet Les Pucelles Domaine Le Flaive.

After all was said and done; the statistical interpretation of the judges’ marks added together resulted in Stag’s Leap as the overall #1 winner of the red with the most points out of a possible 20 followed by three of the four Bordeaux Chateaux and #5 the 1971 Ridge Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon. Next was Bordeaux followed by the remaining for Californians.

Magic-Maker Winemaker of Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello—Paul Draper

I have chosen to feature Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello for twin reasons; because their award-winning Cabernet Sauvignon is legendary and that their chief winemaker Paul Draper has granted me a rare story interview. I have known Paul Draper for over fifty years; we were friends in Vicenza, Italy, the vineyard-rich Veneto, home to Valpolicella, Bardolino, Prosecco and Soave wines, where I was married and where my son Michael Sean was born. Paul Draper and my husband Richard Venezia were friends in the army working as civilians at SETAF—Southern European Task Force—during the Cold War and for two years we shared many Italian friends, many Italian wines. Our lives crossed again, when my friends Frank and Marilyn Dorsa, owners of La Rusticana D’Orsa Vineyards, and the Venezia family picked grapes at Ridge during their 1973 harvest, two years after their fabled ‘71 vintage. Since those early Veneto days, Paul has become a world-renowned and a revered winemaker, making his magic at Ridge since 1969, overseeing the fine cabernets, chardonnays and complex zinfandels. In addition, Draper pioneered “vineyard designated” wines, instigating the resurgence of the old vine zinfandel, thus rescuing that grape from obscurity.

Paul Draper’s life was somewhat romantically “Hemingwayesque,” if there were such a word; he grew up on a farm, graduated from the Choate School in Connecticut and Stanford University, majoring in philosophy, did a Military Intelligence stint in the Veneto, lived in a Palladian-style villa, rode a motorcycle on Italy’s back roads, rotated out of the Army attended the Sorbonne, interned at the original Chateau Souverain on Howell Mountain in Napa, then helped set up a three-man foundation working in nutrition and community development in Chile. He and a close friend from Stanford reopened an old adobe winery in the coast range of Chile producing cabernet sauvignon. Paul was in Bordeaux for the 1968 vintage and spent his time discussing traditional techniques with the older winemakers. In Chile making three cabernets from three separate vineyards, the differences between the three convinced him of the validity of the French concept of terroir – how the site, soil, climate, exposure and farming can create a consistent, individual character in a wine. Draper, through his pin-point observations of terrain locations, became an avid advocate of cool climate cabernet. Ridge Monte Bello, an established Santa Cruz Mountain appellation vineyard, founded by an Italian doctor in 1886, was purchased in 1959 by Stanford research scientists who brought Paul into the fold in 1969—and as they say, the rest is history. Paul Draper has made winemaking a fine art; fine tuning every aspect, focusing on every nuance from grape to the final nectar of the gods.

Paul told me why he accepted the position of chief winemaker at Ridge; “I had the unusual opportunity in the 1960’s and 70’s to taste the great Bordeaux wines in the best vintage years from the 1920’s to the 1960‘s. One of the main reasons for accepting the job at Ridge was when I tasted the 1959, 1962 and 1964 Monte Bellos; I realized they were as fine as the best Bordeaux. I was not surprised when the 1971 Monte Bello did well with the French tasters in ’76. It was very complex and beautifully balanced and at 12.2% alcohol—it was the style they understood.”

The 1976 Judgment of Paris, now a renowned incident, at the time was an unknown blind-tasting wine event to most of the California winemakers—the results taking them all by surprise according to Draper. “We had no knowledge that this tasting was to take place. I remember Steven Spurrier visiting a year earlier and I tasted several vintages of Monte Bello with him, he knew several of the top tasters in Northern California like Belle and Barney Rhodes—in those days there was a very short list of good Cabernets and Ridge had made wine for some five years longer than anyone else among the small, fine wineries—our first vintage being 1962. I understand he sent his assistant Patricia Gallagher a year later to pick up bottles of the vintages he had chosen. No one remembers her visit or what vintage she bought, or that it would go into a tasting. Spurrier had originally planned to show only six California red wines and six whites by themselves at an American Bicentennial celebration at his wine shop and school in Paris. His students were mainly Americans working for multi-nationals in Paris, and a few Brits doing the same. As he was putting the tasting event together, and had the California wines in hand, and had invited the French experts, he thought it would be more interesting to include four top Bordeaux as markers of quality against which to judge the California cabernets and four top white burgundies against the chardonnays. Most winemakers were unaware that the tasting was to be a comparison of Bordeaux and California, let alone it would have any effect. I received no phone calls, there was no press overage until George Taber, as a stringer for TIME Magazine Paris wrote a short piece and someone forwarded me a copy. I can’t stress enough how little wine coverage there was in those days…”

The Taber article was a fluke. Gallagher invited him because he had taken a wine class at the school. Taber sauntered into the Hotel InterContinental on a slow news day, was privy to the judges’ chit-chat and wrote about it. Paris TIME editors shortened the 2000-word piece to four paragraphs (ouch!). But, the debilitated piece was to be the serendipitous shot heard around the wine world; California wines had equaled the French in Cabernet Sauvignon and ranked well in the whites. No one else covered the ho-hum event—no one. Taber’s comments amused Draper—a Bordeaux Château owner who sat on the official committee that judges each year what is true Bordeaux—blind-tasted the Ridge Monte Bello ’71 vintage and stated; “This is classic Bordeaux….” It was Draper’s Ridge Monte Bello vintage ‘71 Cabernet Sauvignon! How do the French say ‘egg on ze face’?

After Taber’s minor piece in TIME, there were only four or five insignificant mentions of the Paris tasting and some reaction in wine-related letters; half of which attacked the conditions and tasters’ lack of experience with California wines. The French comments were that with age, the California wines would fade, as the Bordeaux wines developed their full complexity. It is worthy to note; Taber’s 2000-word manuscript, edited to three-paragraphs, is now housed in the Smithsonian Museum for posterity.

Draper continued. “As I mentioned we didn’t know what wine Patricia Gallagher had purchased and when we found out it was the ‘71, we were disappointed because it is a more elegant vintage at 12.2% alcohol and we felt the 1970 vintage was a more structured, longer-lived and greater vintage. We wished we could have chosen the ‘70. We weren’t particularly excited—after all we were in fifth place, having no idea that others would use it for marketing, and make a big deal of it as years went by…”

It seemed that the 1976 Paris wine-tasting event had faded—blurring, mellowing like wines in cool, dark barrel cellars, lost to the ephemeral memory of near-forgotten history until the sequel—The Sequel.

For some odd reason I remember the London/California sequel well. I was driving in Los Gatos to my antiques shop in 2006, when KGO radio blasted the news about the Judgment of Paris revisited on the 30th anniversary in London and at COPIA in Napa Valley. I heard about the near-legend of Stag’s Leap, and when they mentioned Paul Draper at Ridge Monte Bello as being one of the 1976 winners, my ears pricked up; I turned up the volume, followed the story. The young guns of California had finally come into their own; their recognition as superior New World winemakers toppled the elite French wines—the worm had turned—the best was yet to come. Paul reiterated the events leading to the sequel at COPIA—American Centre for Wine, Food and the Arts on May 24, 2006.

“Lord Rothschild, of the English branch of the family, a great wine lover, who sits on the Boards of Mouton and Chateau Lafite proposed to Steven Spurrier to have a thirty-year repeat. The proposition for the wine tasting was that it would take place simultaneously in the U.K. and California. In England they would taste in the evening and in the U.S. in the morning of the same day so the results could be combined as the two tastings would finish simultaneously. The panel at Berry Bros. and Rudd in London was even more experienced than the original French tasters of 1976, and included leading U.K. tasters such as Jancis Robinson and Michael Broadbent as well as the top French taster Michele Bettane.” California producers were abuzz about the tasting event, the historic first in Paris, the sequel in London and California—how better could a wine-imbued life be?

Paul Draper had known so little about the near-obscure Paris event until after the fact, but with the twin-tasting 2006 sequel—the wine industry and press were on fire. “I attended the Napa gathering, as did other Californians whose wines were in the tasting, as well as other producers whose wines were not part of the original tasting—we were rightly not allowed to taste, only the independent tasters. The media were there; television news, radio broadcasters, writers—the event was fully covered, unlike the Paris tasting. Articles, cover stories, television, wine magazines; British and Americans hung on every word. The significant event confirmed that some California wines could age as well as Bordeaux wines—most objections to the original tasting were finally silenced forever. For us at Ridge, it was much more significant as the 1971 Monte Bello won by 18 points over the second place wine— (2nd, 3rd and 4th were grouped together). Hundreds were gathered for an al fresco lunch when the call came through from London—the U.K. scores were tabulated with the U.S. scores—the announcement was made—the 1971 Ridge Monte Bello had won. I was invited to the podium in front of my peers…”

The déjà vu ghosts of the first Paris win returned; The Ridge Monte Bello vintage ’71 had held up over the thirty-year period In Draper’s own words; “Over the years, we had tasted several of the California and Bordeaux wines and most were not as fresh, some were fading, while to our surprise, the 1971 Monte Bello, given its elegant style and modest 12.2% alcohol, was holding beautifully at 35 years…I felt going in that we had a very good chance of placing well and possibly winning—but the fact of an actual win was something else. I was overwhelmed. I recovered sufficiently to get on my soapbox and remind my peers that this complex and long-lived wine was 12.2% alcohol and not the current California Cabernet style of 15% alcohol. The multiple interviews, TV spots, and the serious positive coverage in the U.K., Europe and the U.S. was a total change from the 1976 Paris tasting.”

After the 30-year reenactment of the Judgment of Paris, California wines and winemakers had deservedly reached the seminal momentum of rock-star status; world-wide coverage giving le vin de Californie placement among its pedigreed French equivalents, underscoring oenophiles’ already-experienced fervent epiphanies, sending fabled California wines on a soaring trajectory to victory allowing them to begin to compete in the Old World markets, thus reshaping the sphere of enology.

Terroir—A Sense of Place

California mountain ridges and valleys, with unique terroir and macro and microclimates affecting viticulture—produce some of the best appellation wines by imparting unique grape qualities. Ancient Greek, Sicilian and Etruscan vintners also valued the places where their grapes grew. It was a source of pride even before Christ walked Galilee—their imprimaturs sealed on amphorae for shipping across the seas. Wine has long been terroir-driven; it is said that medieval Benedictine and Cistercian monks of Burgundy actually tasted their soil.

The Santa Cruz Mountain ridge, high above Silicon Valley, with an elevation range of 1300 to 2700 feet, 15 miles from the Pacific Ocean, kissed by marine mist, blessed by perfect terroir, has been home to Bordeaux grape varietals at the fabled Ridge Monte Bello estate vineyards for 125 years—and for 42 of those years—home to winemaker extraordinaire Paul Draper, his wife Maureen and daughter Caitlin.

In the fall after the event, Paul was taken by surprise. “I was delighted and impressed when the top French critics, Michel Bettane and Thierry Dessauve chose Michel Cazes of Chateau Lynch Bages and me as co-winners of the Wine Men of the Year award presented in Paris in front of an audience of 500 representatives of the top French wine estates. It was clearly a result of the 30-year repeat and the Ridge Monte Bello 1971 winning by such a margin. Both tastings had shown that other regions of the world were capable of producing fine wines that could rival even the greatest French wines…”

The enormous success of Ridge Monte Bello is underscored by their refreshing approach of traditional, natural winemaking techniques—depending on organic viticulture, when the earth itself, with low-yielding century-old vines creates the grapes for wines of great significance, depth and complexity. The rich earth—combination of elevation, cool climate, chalky minerality and limestone-rich soils—contributes to the exotic terrain giving the wines distinctive character. When Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Cabernet Franc can contribute greater complexity by complementing the cabernet sauvignon, it creates superb one-of-a-kind wines.

Paul Draper, in his mellifluous beguiling voice and inimitable restrained savoir faire philosophizes; “Several thousand years ago the first grapes were broken, left in a bowl and in the course of a few days or weeks the yeast on the grapes transformed them into wine. This natural transformation was something inexplicable, something sacred. Wine carried this symbolism all the way to Christian and Jewish rituals of today. Grown from the earth it connects us to the cycles of the seasons and grounds us. It need not be an industrial product made from grapes. It can still be a natural beverage, kept on the straight and narrow by the hand of man…”

Stellar Cellar

How does one describe a serious wine lover? A connoisseur, an aficionado, a person with passion—this describes 17-year Professional Wine Society member David Markus who breathes the aura of wine and relishes the social ambiance that fine wines represent. His enological knowledge sets him apart savoring the nuances of the nectar, the vintages, the wineries, the winemakers and the earthy subtlety of each unique terroir.

I met David years ago at a grape harvest and later called upon his wine expertise when I liquidated a San Jose estate with a substantial wine cellar collection. David was referred as the Go To Guy and I told Joe’s wine buyer about Mr. Vino who was coming to help me pick and price the best for Mr. Montana. David came over, and in the dusty, musty darkness of the cellar culled the finest of the collection—helping me pull and price the most important wines. I never revealed to David who the mystery buyer was until now.

David Markus provided the images for this piece—not the first time—his photography appeared in ALIVE Magazine’s La Rusticana Vineyards story a few years ago and recently he was the official photographer for the Yountville Judgment of Paris Revisited event in October.

Who Couldn’t Use a Million Dollars?

Given how the economy has devastated us financially over the past few years, with tax day right around the corner and because those *%)@!& Pittsburg Steelers didn’t cover the point spread at the Super Bowl last month, who couldn’t use a little money right now? By little, I’m talking about a round number like $1,000,000.00? Granted, a million dollars doesn’t go as far as it used to, but it’s not like any of us wouldn’t bend over and pick up a $1,000,000 bill if we saw it lying in the gutter. It’s a healthy enough sum that it would legitimately make a substantial impact in our lives as we scratch and claw our way of the pit of financial despair. In the 1967 movie, How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying, the opening voice-over states that if someone placed $1,000,000 in a standard federally secured bank savings account, the bearer would receive $50,000 annually. In 1967, at the financially savvy age of five years old (think E*Trade baby in kindergarten), I determined that if one could accumulate one million $1.00 bills one would never have to work or ever worry about money. So, I started collecting George Washington’s and hoping that savings accounts would always pay a 5% interest rate. Sadly, somewhere along the way, (candy, baseball cards, comic books or girls), my plan was derailed. If only….

The popular musical artists, Travis McCoy and Bruno Mars recently wrote and performed the catchy little ditty called, ”Billionaire,” which to me seems a little greedy, but given that Mr. McCoy and Mr. Mars are likely already millionaires (thanks to that one song) a billion would obviously be the next goal. Me, however, I would be more than happy with a million smackers. The question is: How do I help me get a million smackers (or dollars)? Oh sure, I could work really hard, but I’m almost fifty. Let’s face it my best days are behind me. The only people “killing it” at work are hedge fund managers and internet brainiacs. For me to accumulate real wealth in my career, I would have to work 26 hours a day in a real growth industry. Let’s see, what’s hot? Solar; cloud computing; social networking; electronic gaming and porn are probably my best bets. Just to be prudent, I better come up with a few more ideas.

Game shows: There are game shows that pay the contestants $1,000,000 if they win the grand prize. Who Wants to be a Millionaire is the obvious choice, but shouldn’t it be called Who Doesn’t Want to be a Millionaire? I’ve watched it a few times and can occasionally get some of the questions correct, but you have to answer all of the questions correctly if you want to be in the big money. They’ve got these things called Lifelines, Phone-A-Friend and 50/50 to help “hook a brother up,” but some of the questions are really hard. How do I know who invented internet, Al Gore? Maybe I stand a better chance at Minute to Win It. I could totally rock those baby games. You know what else I could rock, Deal or No Deal. The objective apparently is to hook-up with one of those smoking hot models holding a briefcase and outsmart Howie Mandel and some anonymous banker? I would select case number one and start picking off briefcase-toting hotties, numerically, starting with numero dos. Maybe I could create my own game show, Mail Mike One Million $1.00 Bills or Else I Start Dancing. That show would have to be on cable. Truth be told, my game is really Wipeout.

: Probably not. White collar crime maybe? I wouldn’t want to actually hurt anyone or steal anything, but crime does seem like easy money if you have half a brain. The problem is, most criminals are idiots. Too many criminals use the “smash and grab” approach which never works. The movies such as Ocean’s 11 and Sneakers, come up with incredibly complicated and complex crimes. That’s way too much work. My Robin Hood crime spree would include getting really wealthy people to each give me just a little bit of money. It’s a pyramid scheme essentially, where one million of the world’s wealthiest people each send me $1.00. That’s not really a crime and I likely wouldn’t go to jail. I’m confident that I wouldn’t like jail. Three squares and a cot is a nice concept (like camp), but in reality there’s a lot more involved than just crafts and games. Besides, I’ve heard those prison jobs don’t pay much.

Gambling: The World Series of Poker has a huge payday and a nice bracelet to boot. Guys like Phil Ivy, Johnny Chen and Annie Duke seem to be doing pretty well for themselves. I don’t want to brag, but I’ve faired nicely at the annual Sycamore Valley Elementary School Texas Hold’em tournament. I haven’t actually ever won, but I’ve finished in the top 25 (out of 25) every year. As alternatives, there’s roulette, horse racing and I have heard there’s an interesting line brewing on next season’s Dancing with the Stars finale. Obviously, betting “sure thing” football games didn’t work out too well for me.

Inventions: I’ve been noodling on a few ideas that might be patentable. People love their animals and hybrid vehicles, so I have this crazy idea about energy efficient cars for cats. The Catmobile is in its infant stages, but last I checked the former Nummi assembly plant is empty. There are obviously plenty of qualified auto workers looking for a job and I doubt if they care who the end-user is, they just want to work. There’s also sure fire ideas like tuna-flavored chewing gum, bullet-proof hoodies and musical i-pod shoes (for spontaneous dancing). Brilliant, right? All of my inventions are available for sale at the low, low price of $1,000,000.00.

Writing: For Sale, one unpublished collection of children’s bedtime stories written and autographed by a talented Danville resident. Price: $1,000,000.00. Additionally, for sale, one finished screenplay – script ready for big budget production by a major motion picture studio. Also written and autographed by an acclaimed Danville resident. Purchase price: $1,000,000.00. Finally, get your limited collection of humor lifestyle and personality profile articles written and autographed by a handsome and charming Danville resident. Purchase Price: $1,000,000.00. Did I mention I have a concept for a new autobiographical comic strip? Think Calvin and Hobbes meets Garfield and you’ll love, The Adventures of Mike, Mr. Whiskers and Bobo. Purchase price: $1,000,000.00. Isn’t this how Scott Adams started?

It’s been said that money is the root of all evil. You know who said that? Probably someone who had a bunch of money and blew it all. If you read business magazines, listen to the business news stations, follow economic blogs or just have an inkling of common sense, you’ve probably figured out that the economy is going to remain stagnate for the foreseeable future. All we can do is keep working hard and hope we come into a little extra cash somewhere. As one of my friends likes to say, “I’m only six numbers away from retirement every Wednesday and Saturday. I’m playing the Lottery baby!”

The Sea Lion Legacy

Crow Canyon Country Club Sea Lions swim team has emerged as one of the preeminent recreation swim clubs in the Bay Area, if not the state of California. Finishing up the club’s fifth consecutive undefeated Valley Swim Association league season and sixth consecutive Contra Costa County Championships, the team of youth swimmers has established a remarkable legacy of swimming excellence. Led by a devoted coaching staff, a collection of talented young athletes and a committed group of parent volunteers, the Sea Lion’s program maintains a level of excellence envied by competitors near and far. However, as the team begins their 32nd year, it’s an appropriate time to reflect on the team history and how the Sea Lions came to be.

In the summer of 1978, Crow Canyon Country Club Pool Manager, Rick Fields and a loyal group o f member parents, including Anne and Tony Brennan (current 7-8 age group swimmer Katie Mitchell’s grandparents), Roger and Tina Kageyama and Maryann and Jerry Stumpf and Barbara and Bob Mc Calmont established the Sea Lion team. The initial objective of the program was to make it a fun recreational activity for families of the club. With a core group of thirty swimmers, the first year goal was to grow the team large enough to afford an experienced coach. That first summer, the team was coached by Rick and a few of the club’s life guards. The Sea Lions competed against other small swim clubs as far away as Albany. By 1979, the Sea Lion team roster had grown to seventy swimmers which allowed CCCC to hire Tracy Wedemyer as the team’s first official head coach. “We were begging families to join throughout the off-season,” said Anne Brennan. “But our efforts paid off.” Thanks to swimmers Sam Stander, Robin Stanko, Yvonne Bennett, Andy Eckel and Mark McCalmont the team picked up their first league victory that year. A successful Swim-A-Thon and Bake Sale allowed the team to raise enough money to afford team swim suits, stop watches and starting blocks. The starting blocks were designed and constructed by Crow Canyon Country Club member, Jack Bennett providing quite a savings to the team.

Jane Brennan Mitchell (1978-1989), Anne’s daughter and Katie’s mom, was on the team from its inception. Jane says, “From the beginning there was a real sense of community. We weren’t very good and we didn’t have a lot of swimmers, but we had so much fun.” Once Jane and her husband, Glen, were finally able to return to and settle in Danville, they promptly signed their daughter up to be on the Sea Lions. Jane, who started swimming for the club when she was seven says because of her wonderful memories of summers spent with the Sea Lions she never considered any other swim club. “I watch Katie playing around with the coaches in the pool or after practice and it brings back such wonderful memories,” Jane adds.

Pete Knoedler, and his sister Amy Knoedler Chambliss, both parents of current Sea Lion swimmers, swam for Diablo Country Club as kids in the mid 70’s and to late 80’s. Pete and Amy remember swimming against CCCC when the team was fondly known as Slow Canyon. “As bad as Diablo was, we always knew Crow Canyon was the one team we could beat,” Amy says with a chuckle.

By 1984, behind the strong coaching of Penny Powell, Carol Kellagher and Steve Pitzer, the team finished with a winning record posting an impressive six wins/one loss record (three wins/one loss in league). That news was reported in a special edition of the Sea Lion Sentinel, a parent published team newsletter. “Led by swimmers John DePiper, Tug Brennan, Justyn LeDrew (Connor Doyle’s aunt), Samantha Lewis and Karen Elgaaen the season had many highlights including a strong showing at the Greenbrook 12 and Under Invitational. Equally successful was the club’s annual Swim-A-Thon organized by Nancy Tatarka and a series of prosperous fundraising bake sales, featuring gourmet pastries, at each home meet.”

Zack Smith (1984-1989) and his sister, Lauren Smith (1986-1996) both fondly remember swimming for some pretty bad Sea Lion teams. Zack refers to those summers as organized chaos. He still remembers the old starter’s guns startling him as a little kid. Lauren’s fondest memories revolve around qualifying for the County meet and anchoring the free relay team. “They used to call me ‘The Motorboat’,” she proudly state. Together the siblings remember being dominated by Del Amigo and desperately wanting to beat DAPA every year. The team was led Penny Leach and her husband, John, who was a San Ramon Valley High School chemistry teacher and high school swim coach. Top swimmers of that time included Matt and Melissa Acolla, Katie Heim, Carl Parisi, Adam Keane, Samantha Lewis and Amy Sneed. Amy says that her family is still close friends with many of the Sea Lion families from that time period. “It was a real sense of family and friendship,” Katie affectionately recalls.

Ashlee Fox (1995-2001) remembers her father making her swim in a lake every day of her three week summer vacation in Michigan so she didn’t come back slower and behind the rest of her teammates. It paid off as she was represented the team at County and was named Swimmer of Year for the 13-14 age group. “We were a small team in terms of numbers, but we had a lot of heart.” Ashlee pronounced. Ashlee, along with Nina and Stephanie Davi, Chris Glass, Lauren Brochie, Cori Grundmeier, Katherine Brandt, Terrie Waterman and Sean Gruendl were the core of a strengthening Sea Lion team. “We were all very close friends and that made a big difference when we competed,” Ashlee added. The Gruendl family eventually added brother, Byron and sister, Jacquie to the team. Their mother Darlene worked on the board for many years and their father, John, is widely regarded as the preeminent swim meet public address announcer in the Contra Costa County.

Miranda Schneider, who has been a member of the team for twelve years (1998-2010) as a swimmer and junior coach would like to see the club bring back some of the great traditions lost. “The overnight Santa Cruz beach campout, a day trip/picnic to Rock City with the coaches, Greek games (tug-o-war, water balloon toss, watermelon and t-shirt relays), movie night, family pot luck dinners and Survival Week were what made this team so special.”

Thanks to the efforts of wonderful coaches past and present, most recently Dan Cottam, Ethan Hall, Dave Madden, Matt Struemph and now Jake Schroeder, the team is enjoying an unprecedented level of dominance. There has also been an incredible succession of phenomenal swimmers including Danielle Orlandi, Marina Smith, Forrest White, Gianna Garcia, Danielle Taylor and Conner Doyle to name just a few. The Crow Canyon Country Club Sea Lions have built a recreation swim team dynasty to be admired and emulated.

As any sport fan will tell you, every dynasty (San Francisco Forty-Niners, New York Yankees, UCLA Bruins Basketball or the De La Salle Spartans football team) starts with a legacy. Today’s club families owe a debt of gratitude to the legacy of pioneering Sea Lions families for getting the program up and running more than thirty years ago. Good luck to the Sea Lions and to every youth swimmer participating in a recreational swim program this year.

All photos for this article, courtesy of Karin O’Connell.

How Hypnotherapy Addresses Insomnia and Procrastination

New clients are often amused when they enter my office and catch sight of the tan leather tool belt that is slung over the back of a chair. In each pocket of this leather tool belt is a card naming the different “Life Tools” that I offer in my private practice. Sometimes, a hammer can be seen hanging from the tool belt’s metal loop. When I notice a new client curiously checking out the tool belt, I explain that I teach people how to stop reaching for a hammer to clobber themselves…..after they’ve made a mistake or if they haven’t done something “perfectly.”

In addition to being a humorous “conversational icebreaker” for new clients, my visual depiction of healthy “Life Tools” reminds returning clients to reach downward (inside themselves) for healthy tools rather than reaching outward for self-soothing methods that can add to their challenges. Self-soothing methods might include attempting to avoid, numb, outrun, or distract from uncomfortable thoughts and emotions by overeating, overdrinking, overspending, etc.

When it comes to my own self-care, one tool that I personally would find difficult to get along without is self-hypnosis. When I’m unable to sleep (yep, I know how to ruminate with the best of ‘em!), one of my most effective ways of relaxing is practicing self-hypnosis.
For this reason, I teach many of my clients how to use self-hypnosis to relax their minds and their bodies so they learn how to “let go” of each day’s stressors and “invite in” restful sleep. That way, the next morning—after they’ve had a chance to refresh and recharge—they’re more likely to take effective action toward solving the challenges that may have initially triggered the “passive worry cycle.”
In addition to sharing relaxation techniques, I teach clients how to use self-hypnosis as a supportive tool for propelling them toward their personal and professional goals. For instance, many clients who contact me are seeking hypnosis after procrastination (sometimes referred to as “analysis paralysis”) has them feeling stuck or blocked from moving forward in their lives.

Now, let’s get real here. When many of you hear the term hypnosis, I bet you think about the “eerie” mind-control scenarios from Hollywood’s depictions. Or, if you’ve seen stage hypnosis, then you probably think of a guy swinging a pocket watch while telling his volunteer to quack like a duck. Am I right?

If so, then I want to share with you that stage hypnosis is for entertainment, whereas hypnotherapy is a powerful tool for personal growth and positive transformation. Simply put, hypnotherapy is a way to relax and calm your mind, body, and emotions in order to enter a focused state where unhealthy habits and challenges can be explored.

During hypnotherapy, you are given an opportunity to gain insights into your established patterns of behaviors, move through emotional blocks, and head toward your personal and professional goals. It may help to think of your mind as consisting of two parts—the conscious and the unconscious. Your conscious mind operates within your awareness and on a surface level. By contrast, your unconscious mind operates outside of your conscious awareness and below the surface. Hypnotherapy addresses your challenges and behaviors at a deep, unconscious level—below the surface—to address issues from the inside out.

During hypnotherapy, most of my clients feel an increase of concentration, and their awareness becomes heightened, allowing them to notice sounds, scents, or images that are part of their experience. Landscapes that they often choose for their hypnosis work include beautiful forests, gardens, or sunny beach scenes. And, even though their eyes are closed, clients will be speaking and connecting with me verbally throughout their hypnotherapy session.
While experiencing this deeply relaxed and comfortable state, I teach clients how to connect with their own inner wisdom the Higher Self. Creativity, clarity, and insights are often available during this rich, “soul-nourishing” state. And the truth is, most of my clients, after completing their first hypnotherapy sessions, gratefully express how profound and inspiring their hypnotherapy experiences were.

Sound intriguing? If so, then consider adding self-hypnosis to your self-care toolkit. Discover holistic ways to cultivate restful sleep patterns by learning tools that shed light on underlying self-defeating habits. Finally, how about creating a new goal in your life that includes leaving insomnia and procrastination in the dust?

Trina Swerdlow, BFA, CCHT, is a Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist, an artist, and the author of the 2-CD Set, Weight Loss: Powerful & Easy-to-Use Tools for Releasing Excess Weight. Her artwork and personal profile are included in Outstanding American Illustrators Today 2. She is the author and illustrator of Stress Reduction Journal: Meditate and Journal Your Way to Better Health. Trina has a private practice in downtown Danville. She soulfully shares her creative approach to personal growth and passionately supports her clients in reaching their goals. You can reach her at: (925) 285.5759, or

Certified Clinical Hypnotherapy services in California can be alternative or complementary to licensed healing arts, such as psychotherapy.