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How it all Began, a Quick Look Back at the Early Years

When we first moved to Spain, we arrived with almost nothing. Our Spanish consisted of  “hola”, “gracias” and after a couple of days hanging out with other Spaniards, “Vale”, the ubiquitous “ok”.

Our friends were back in Minnesota, but we were in Madrid and lucky enough to have a place to live. A fellow TEFL student offered up a room in her shared apartment which was about the size of a small closet. It had two thin twin mattresses on the floor, a small wooden wardrobe, and a tiny alcove where I placed a board on a stack of boxes to create a makeshift desk.

Our money was limited to a few thousand dollars in savings which we promised we would only use half of, and if we reached that nebulous halfway mark without either a job or stability, we agreed to buy a plane ticket and head back home. That day came in about 8 months, yet neither of us had a desire to leave. Our possessions included an old Dell Inspiron 1150, a palm pilot with a bluetooth collapsable keyboard (the height of technology), a few books, a bag of clothes, 2 pairs of hiking boots, and some of my favorite cooking utensils from when I was back in the States.

To make enough to stay afloat Gabriella quickly dove into English teaching as was the plan. Running each day from location to location, she took an untold numbers of metro rides through the Madrid underground to teach ornery bankers and tech specialists English, a language that most rather not have bothered with. She brought in a few euros a month to pay for the room we had in the apartment that was shared with 2 other couples. Sharing made the rent a reasonable 300 euros or so per month.

Working from home, and being an ex-chef, I cooked dinner for the household on most evenings, after spending the day sitting in our living room, staring at the computer, searching for a clue as to how I could work in the Spanish wine industry. Each day, I would explore new websites, like Google, seeking out new trends. But the truth is, I didn’t know what I was doing. So I headed out by bus, often late at night, landing in foreign cities without a place to stay or reason to be there, just a dream.

My goal was to ask enough questions to get someone to notice me, and in truth, my questions at that point were quite nebulous. When asked why we moved to Spain, our standard response was that we wanted a change of perspective, to explore new worlds, and that I had a dream to work in the wine industry. Gabriella, selflessly at the time, was there to support that dream, and for her own part, to explore the land that her family left many generations ago. We both figured a headstrong attitude and desire to succeed at something would eventually land us in the promise land. Little did we know.

So the onus was on me to find a “real” job. Gabriella couldn’t do it all. It wasn’t until my first trip to Portugal that I found a few indications of my future path, but nothing concrete or solid to sink my teeth into.

It was on my return to Spain by bus that I landed in Toro, where I for the first time got an idea of the challenge that laid ahead. After an very interesting journey, one that will be shared at some point in the near future, I found myself in a cold and blustery Toro, wandering through narrow alleyways to my first ever winery appointment. What for? I wasn’t sure, but I had had one winery respond to my request to visit and I wasn’t going to miss any opportunity.

At the winery that day, I found myself playing the role of the lost foreigner, unaware that late February in Toro was not the time of the year for tourists. Rejadorada had taken some modest steps to install a wine tourism regime, which consisted of a video in Spanish – of which I understood “Welcome” and the word “Tempranillo” – and a room full of old wine harvesting tools and machinery sitting as life models patiently as I wandered past. I politely watched the video and nodded to the gentleman, my guide,  who spoke about as much English as I spoke Spanish; and when it was finished, we ended up at a bar where my first “professional” wine tasting was to take place. Wines were poured, and while I shivered a bit with the winds from outside still rattling in my bones, I politely took tasting notes so as to show my interest. Hand gestures it turns out can be very enlightening, and it was in this way that we talked through a series of questions and ideas about their wines and my reason for being in Toro in February. While I don’t remember all we chatted about I do remember at one point realizing the question “why are you here” was being offered up to me.

I remember staring back at him and attempting the fewest words possible to explain that I had come to Spain to work in the wine industry.

“Why” came his astonished response.

“Because, I wanted a change of perspective,” I responded. “and I hoped I could help wineries in Spain to sell wines in America.”

“Oh, well good luck” came his reply with a polite smile and quizzical look of discovery not unlike finding a monkey sitting in the middle of the road as you drove down the highway.

I think I remember, trying to push him for ideas on how I might follow this dream, but with the lack of language or any real idea why I was there, it didn’t lead much further. We enjoyed the wines, while I took notes on my palm pilot for a short while longer. I remember leaving that visit and getting a message that another winery I had hoped to see saying they would need to wait to meet with me until the following day. Another day, meant another hotel room, and more money I didn’t have, which forced me to politely decline and instead, struggling against the sharp winter winds, I headed to the bus station to return to Madrid.

When I got home I think I felt a little less excited and a little more frustrated, and ironically a bit more determined. I still didn’t have a one line answer that made sense to the question, “Why did you come here…” but I knew I had to keep searching.

Between then and February 2008 a lot happened. Catavino was born and I began to design websites to help bring in a little money. We moved to Barcelona, and I logged a few thousand miles on busses late at night knocking at doors in regions I didn’t know – still trying to find the answer as to why I moved here.

A lot has happened since then, Catavino grew up and in time it became a respected resource for informamtion about Iberian wine. I’m still amazed that I don’t have an answer to why we moved here. I guess looking back I would sat that we did it because we didn’t have a solid reason to. If we had known why, we might have been too scared by failure to make it happen. Maybe not.

Catavino has come full circle, and I’m sure for Gabriella too. Today we are exploring what it is we have created and the opportunities that we have made for ourselves and evaluating all of them. You’re not getting rid of us this easily. Stay tuned as we share our final thoughts.



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