So my husband and I got on a plane for Santa Rosa’s Charles M. Schultz to visit Carrie and my family in Lake County, just over the border from Napa Valley.
Last year I sent Carrie my old Renaissance Faire costume (from the ’80s, ahem), but I hadn’t seen her since she was ten. I was so touched. And wine-tasting, of course, was on the itinerary.
Carrie sweetly volunteered to be our “designated driver” around Calistoga. I’d heard about the Castello di Amoroso, an authentic reproduction of a 12th c. Tuscan stronghold that produces sustainable wines. Carrie loves historical pageantry and we love wine, so it was a perfect pairing.
The Castello’s a wonder. It’s obvious that artisans lovingly crafted each stone, mural and piece of furniture, no expense spared.
The money came from Dario Sattui, great-grandson of pioneer California vinter Vittorio Sattui. Vittorio lost his winery to Prohibition but lived well into his 90s, long enough to give young Dario a magnificent dream.
In 1972, Dario got his MBA, raised $8000 and reopened old Vittorio’s winery after it’d been dormant for 50 years. V. Sattui Winery became one of Napa Valley’s phenomenal success stories, and let Dario indulge his passion for medieval Italian architecture.
But according to Castello detractors, it’s inauthentic, a tourist trap, and an insult to true wine connoisseurs. It’s easy to trash someone else’s magnificent dream, especially when they make it come true.
It’s kind of like trashing The Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten (b. 1948), for being neither barefoot, nor a contessa, nor even Italian for that matter.
An Education Deferred For Love
Like her predecessor Julia Child, Ina started out as a civil servant. She analyzed nuclear policy for the Ford and Carter administrations. But even before that, she showed classic signs of late blooming.
Ina dropped out of college to marry her high school sweetheart, Jeffrey, who’d been drafted into the Vietnam War. After Jeffrey completed his tour of duty, the couple spent four months camping through France, where Ina (again, like Julia) discovered her passion for French cuisine.
Jeffrey found work in Washington, D.C. and Ina went back to school, earning her MBA from George Washington University. She took an entry-level government job and worked her way up to that nuclear analyst position for the Office of Management and Budget. She found it exciting, “but it wasn’t me at all.”
Long before blogger Julie Powell made Julia Child her inspiration, Ina “…learned how to cook by working my way through every recipe in both volumes of Julia Child’s The Art of French Cooking.” She adored giving dinner parties for her and Jeffrey’s government friends.
But by 1978, the excitement wore thin. Ina found herself thinking, “I’ve got to do something more creative.” She came across an ad for a specialty food store for sale in the Hamptons. “It was love at first sight.” She lowballed a figure and the owner accepted, to Ina’s shock.
Birth Of The Barefoot Contessa
The store was named The Barefoot Contessa, after a classic Bogart film. Ina kept the name because it was “elegant and earthy.”
She had no food business experience. Over the next 18 years, she learned by doing and transformed The Barefoot Contessa into a celebrated gourmet shop.
By 1996, Ina was ready to remake herself again. She sold the store to two employees, moved into an office above and started writing a cookbook. She published three years later, at age 51.
“The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook turned out to be the most exciting thing I’ve ever done professionally and the response from readers has been absolutely overwhelming.”
More books followed, and The Food Network came knocking. Ina gave them the “only reasonable” answer (given her love of the quiet life in the Hamptons):
“‘Absolutely not!’ And they very kindly kept coming back every six months asking me if I would reconsider it.”
They took 18 months to convince her. The Barefoot Contessa show debuted in 2002, when Ina was 54.
To Build A Gourmet Shop Or A Wine Castle
Today, at age 63, Ina is a celebrity chef who never attended cooking school nor worked in a restaurant!
Like Dario Sattui, she used her MBA as a stepping stone to a magnificent dream. It gave her the job that gave her the funds to buy a brick-and-mortar store, but Ina taught herself to cook and to manage the business. She could have kept at it another 18 years, but she wanted to share her knowledge and passion by writing a book.
And then there’s my young cousin Carrie, off to study Theatre and Shakespeare. I’m know she’ll succeed in her magnificent dream. Not one adult in her sphere has asked, “What can you do with a theatre degree?”
But for those of us who didn’t get that kind of support, or who got degrees out of duty contrary to our dreams, Ina Garten reminds us a lifetime of passionate self-learning can commence at any age.
Or as Dario Sattui says, “It’s not about the wine, it’s about having a good time.”