|Posted by bruce-bradley on January 20, 2014 at 9:40 AM|
It was a Tuesday in December and I was sitting in the saloon at Jack London Lodge, in Glen Ellen, having an Irish coffee. At the end of the bar and adjacent to me was a Hispanic gentleman in his early fifties, eating his lunch. At the moment we seemed to be the only people at the bar except for Leann, the bartender. I was there to meet Jeff Hansen, owner and Grand Fromage (no, really, it says that on his business card) of Lula Cellars, in Philo, CA, for what used to be our annual pilgrimage to Jack London’s ranch. I say “used to be”—back when we both lived in the Napa Valley and Jeff was owner/winemaker of Amici Cellars, and I was winemaker for William Harrison Winery and we came here every year. It had been a couple of years since we had made the trip; Jeff now lives in Mendocino and I live in Grass Valley. Curiously, Glen Ellen is almost an equal distance from both of those two towns. Our plan was to meet at the lodge, get our rooms, then head up to the London ranch to pay our respects to Jack. I arrived first, got settled into my room, then headed straight for the bar. Jeff called and said he was about twenty minutes out. In days past, we would always drive over together, go straight to the ranch and then fall back to the Lodge for a couple of burgers, beers, and a shot or two of good whiskey. We always did this in December and, on our last two visits, we were there when the crew brought in the Christmas Tree. This time, the Tree was already up and gloriously decorated.
The Hispanic gentleman was finishing up his lunch. I asked him how his burger was and he said it was excellent. When I happened to mention that I was meeting a buddy and that we were headed up to the London Ranch for the afternoon, he looked at me.
“The Ranch is closed today,” he told me.
“You’re kidding me.”
“No, the Ranch is closed.”
Having just driven roughly one-hundred-thirty miles to get there, I was definitely bummed, but my disappointment didn’t last long. As it turned out, the man I was talking to (and the only other person at the bar) was named Chuy and he was the vineyard manager for London Ranch. When I told him I was a former winemaker and that Jeff had his own vineyards and winery, he offered to take us up and give us a private tour of the vineyard, which he most graciously did. Then he left and we had the ranch to ourselves for the afternoon. Couldn’t have planned that one better if we tried.
One of the last times that we were at the ranch, prior to this visit, was just after they opened up Jack’s house to the public. This isn’t the “House of Happy Walls” where the visitor center is, but the house Jack actually lived in and ultimately, died in. We were in Jack’s office, looking down at his study, with his books, his two desks, his Smoky Bear hat and an old gramophone that was complete with the old wax rolls that they used to record on. Jeff looked at me.
“I wonder if they have his voice,” he said.
A short while later we were back at the visitor center. I approached the docent and told her we had noticed the wax rolls, and that my friend was wondering if they had recordings of Jack’s voice.
“You know, I really don’t know…” she told me.
Fast forward to one year later. I was meeting Jeff for breakfast at Café Sarafornia, in Calistoga. Once again, I was there first, so I picked up a copy of the Press Democrat to read while I waited. There, right on the front page, was a story about how they had taken Jack London’s voice off the wax rolls from his gramophone at the ranch.
Later, when I got back to my house, I called the visitor center at London Ranch and asked if we could listen to Jack’s voice if we came over. The man who answered said no, the rolls were still at UC Berkeley, but they should have his voice recordings there soon. When I told him about us asking about the wax rolls the year before he said:
“Oh—you’re the guys!”
Check out Lula Cellars for some great Mendocino County wines! http://lulacellars.com/