Looking back at my time in Iberia so far | Catavino
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10 years on, a look back at my time in Iberia

2097332567_efca91ee3f_oLast week was pretty special around here, at least for me personally. Ten years ago, I boarded a plane from Minneapolis to Madrid for 1 week, or at least that’s what my plane ticket said. Gabriella had already landed just over a month earlier and was patiently waiting for my arrival so we could start our adventure together. I had stuck around Minnesota to clear up loose ties, move out of our house, and finish up my work obligations at the retail shop I managed, but I was itching to go!

Sometime in my youth, I had set a personal goal to live in Europe before thirty. I made it with two months to spare. On that fateful birthday, I distinctly remember a full on celebration among our roommates thinking, “Shit, I really did it. Wow, I did it!” It felt completely surreal.

To be honest, we started this journey without much of a plan. I don’t say that to brag, our chosen path was in retrospect not one of the smartest of ideas we’ve had, but I do think our naivety was what made it work out in the end. The minimalist plan we did have went something like this: Gabriella would teach English and I would find work in a winery. After several years working in the US wine retail, I figured I would be an asset to a winery in Iberia. We also assumed this would lead to us living among the vines, drinking wine and swimming in the sea. Ha. Silly dreamers.

18668362_59573c2ade_oGiving perspective we had around 6000USD liquid cash in our bank account. I think that number might be a little high, but even now, that seems like a stupidly low number to start a new life in a new country without set work. Plus, neither of us spoke any Spanish, nor did we have any contacts other than our one Minnesotan roommate. So we remained flexible, living in a tiny room – big enough for a mattress – among 4 other roommates. Things were tight, but they were exciting.

Writing this now I’m trying to find a way to rationalize what we did. It sounds downright silly. A week after I arrived, I was crossing the main drag in Madrid when I suddenly looked up to see a plane passing overhead. I thought, wow, that could have been my plane back to the States. It was a defining moment that my decision was set in stone. The wheels were officially in motion.

That first year was a complete whirlwind. I was shooting arrows in the dark, trying to find stable income. I wrote on blogs that were not mine, cooked in restaurants, traveled to wine fairs, did the one off consulting, all with unguided assumptions that something would happen, that I would be at the right place at the right time. Though not a straight line, it eventually happened with a computer and a dining room table. My life, the following decade, turned digital. My Flickr photo stream tells the story wine, food, new friends, travel and so much more.

Some perspective.

  • The year we moved to Spain was the year Youtube launched (pre-google). Google purchased it in 2006.
  • Facebook wasn’t openly available without a college email account
  • The iPhone was still 2 years away2318432466_2b2e3c006d_o

That first year my travel “computer” was a palm pilot with IR keyboard that I carried on trips around the country. I remember finding an open wifi signal in San Lucar de Barrameda in some backalley and attempting my first Skype call to my parents. It worked, barely, but it was a glimpse of what was to come.

In the past decade, I have traveled through the UK, Norway, Germany, Holland, Hungary, Greece, Croatia, Belgium, France, Italy, Turkey, Romania, Switzerland, Slovakia, Austria, Spain and of course Portugal. I have hosted, with my wife and partner Robert McIntosh, the Digital Wine Communications Conference in 6 countries, thus learning 6 different ways of doing business. I have judged in wine competitions in the UK, Romania, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece. I’ve been fortunate enough to stand on stage with some of the most talented and respected people in the wine industry and visited some of the most emblematic wineries and regions in the world. All this while persistently trying to get wineries to embrace technology to sell their wines. It’s been amazing.

But guess what? At times it feels like I’ve mis9534552299_c1e4d5b87d_osed out on something. Maybe it’s my desire to have more freedom from my constant quest to keep our business alive and liquid, or maybe it’s just my desire to see all that I can as quick as I can, I don’t know. But I will say, writing it down makes me realize that I am blessed. I have had a decade that is full of friends, and experiences so many never have a chance to call their own. As with any life, there are things I wish I had done different. Hindsight is always 20/20, relationships that have come and gone, places I have yet to explore. I can say there is a tinge of regret at times

Some say “Live life without regret.” I don’t. I like a small dose of regret as long as it doesn’t weigh you down. For me, it drives me to do better, to reach higher. I always wanted to live in Portugal, a country that is magical in so many ways. And as the next decade of this adventure approaches I can say I’ve accomplished another dream, a home and business in Porto, Portugal, a city where I truly feel at ease. Walking down to the ocean at dusk and watching the sunset has become a thing that I cherish deeply. Living by the sea makes me feel connected to the world in a way that I haven’t in the past. All the better with a new community of close friends nearby, my wife Gabriella and our son Mica.

Catavino has been the vehicle for much of this. Even with a temporary hiatus where we tried to hang up the blog and move onto other things, our lives have been defined by it. Our friends are part of it. Our stories are its stories. It’s become a family member in some ways. One that needs to be fed. Sometimes I want to distance myself from it more but then just as quickly I smile at all it has given me.

Next month, I’ll be 40. The big one. Or maybe just another big one. This year, I’ll add new countries to my list, new friends  and of course, new stories told over bottles of wines while watching the waves lap upon the shore. I also feel like something is going to change, that I’m about to start a new adventure. I guess I’ll never know till it happens and I have a chance to look back and write it down. I do know that what ever happens, it will be reflected here on Catavino, in my Flickr photostream and across all the various channels that I frequent in various photos, videos and stories. That is the reality today and one that I have come to love.

15379275665_8e603c12c1_oI suppose my point is to say thank you for being a part of Catavino, and part of our family. Catavino has been the place where I’ve lived over the past decade. Today scrolling through the history of posts and projects is at times uncomfortable and at other times magical. Warts and all, I’m pretty content where we are now, and what we’ve done, what we’ve accomplished.

As I cross this next milestone, I don’t think I have any big wisdom to share. I feel like I should. A statement or revelation that explains what I have learned, encapsulated in a phrase or illustrated in an anecdote. In the end, the only thing I can say is that life is in the living. I thought Europe was a destination for me. Turns out, it was an experience, one that keeps making me smile. Maybe 30 years from now I’ll have something deep and profound to share, but for now, I’m just going to keep walking down to the water every chance I get to watch the sun dip into the Atlantic, hopefully with a few friends by my side and a glass in my hand.

Cheers to all of you and here’s to the next 10 years! Let’s see where they lead us.


  • jasonkallsen

    Great post and congrats on 10 years! I remember when you first told me about your plans while standing in the wine shop in Minnetonka. Well done and a glass is raised to the next ten!

    • Thanks Jason, I appreciate your support over the years. Looking forward to many more shared bottles in the future!

  • AndreaInWine

    Wonderful post Ryan! I have known many of those feelings over the years as well, and I will definitely have to do a write up when my 10 years approach! Happy to see you are proud of what you have accomplished in the past decade, cheers to the next! 🙂

  • Great post, Ryan. I find I as I approach 40 (end May) that I am having similar retrospective and philosophical thoughts. I like your attitude towards regret, very sensible. To pretend to have none would be a lie for most, I think. Happy birthday, in advance!

  • tracie p

    congratulations! that sounds like my experience when leaving it all behind for italy. i had about 5k, which didn’t last long…cheers to some seat-of-your-pants living and making it work with a family 🙂

    • Yeah, I remember the day we ran out of that initial money, our “time to go back moment”. Scariest thing we did was not to flee with what was left and instead keep going forward. Thanks for sharing

  • VinoPigro

    My fav: “I have hosted, with my wife and partner Robert McIntosh, the Digital Wine Communications Conference in 6 countries, thus learning 6 different ways of doing business” 😀 I think you are underestimating the great, amazing work you’re doing, Ryan, in this old (and lazy) Europe… Anyway, I’m happy to have met you guys, and wish your family many decades of next exciting adventures!

    • Thank you very much Elisabeta, it means a lot coming from you! Knowing you definitely falls into the highlights!

  • QuickBusinessEnglish

    Great post! I´ve just completed 10 years living in Madrid. It´s good to look back and see how far we´ve come in our journeys. Plus I liked the idea of living life with a little regret(more realistic) to motivate us on to bigger dreams. Thanks Ryan. Chris Wright.

  • As I approach my 40th year on our beautiful planet it is easy to be inspired by your story. It is always good to hear about the crazy stories that go right, especially when they are driven by passion and hard work. Good luck with the next ten years and beyond!

  • great post shared thank you congrats