A Leap of Faith
Sometimes if we’re lucky, providence comes knocking, though we might not always recognize the opportunity when it appears. The world of business relies heavily on analytics, metrics and informed decision-making based on mountains of data, balance sheets and deductive rationale. But then, there is the intangible, the third eye or sixth sense, which sets some individuals apart. It’s that gut feeling deep inside that motivates final decision-making. It’s that “ah-ha” moment when you know it’s just right.
That’s what happened to Jim Arnold. Jim sold his HR benefits consulting business in Newport Beach, where he and his wife, Sally, had been residents for 43 years. They raised four children and were empty nesters with an uncertain future ahead. Jim has always been a man of deep faith, and it has sustained them during their long marriage. But, life can be perplexing at times. Most of us struggle with the indecision, fear and anxiety that consistently pervades our daily lives. And then out of nowhere, like a lightning bolt, the storm clouds part, and the answer suddenly appears, as clear as day—figuratively speaking, of course.
Newport Beach to Tehachapi
The Arnolds had been traveling to Tehachapi for many years, in fact. Jim comes from a large family, and they’d all gather at his sister’s house. The gatherings were always to celebrate a holiday or family occasion, so the Arnolds really weren’t well acquainted with the surrounding area; it was familiar but not well-known. When Jim became aware that Triassic Vineyard was for sale, he shrugged it off. While he liked wine, he was no wine expert; he likes many distilled spirits, as well. Nor did he know the first thing about farming, horticulture or anything about rural life.
The notion of winemaking and growing grapes never entered his mind nor did it occur to Sally. But he thought about it. The seed was planted, and he thought about it. The months passed, and he still thought about it. He met with geologist Chuck McCullough, who owned the vineyard, and learned of the unique qualities of the special soil. He was intrigued. He thought about it and prayed. What was this? He learned more and more and could not get the gnawing feeling out of his head. He thought about it more and prayed—perhaps this was somewhat of an epiphany? Something was telling him despite his lack of knowledge or passion or experience that this was an opportunity that he had to seize. And so in November 2013, Jim and Sally Arnold went into the wine business.
The Journey to Terroir
The vineyard, which had been previously planted by community volunteers in 2008 under the direction of geologist Chuck McCullough, sits beneath two large hills that date from the Triassic Period when dinosaurs roamed the Earth and life was abundant. A cataclysmic event caused mass extinction, the cause of which is still only theorized. The mass decomposition of plant and animal matter created a soil that is approximately 30 times more nutrient-rich than the topsoil we know today. Geology of this period is characterized by three distinct rock layers, hence the prefix Tri(assic). The surrounding hills that arose from an ancient earthquake are composed of soil that is rich in minerals, trace elements and nutrients. Over time, erosion has washed the soil down to create a perfect growing environment for grapes. In fact, Triassic’s rocky soil is similar to the terroir of some of the famous wine growing regions of France.
In addition to the unique soil composition, Triassic Vineyards sits at about 4,000 feet above sea level, which makes it the highest elevation of any vineyard in the United States. A unique microclimate is created by consistent warm breezes, which minimizes frost. That is particularly crucial at bud break in early April. Also, the grapes are closer to the sun. The warm days with strong ultraviolet rays and cool nights create a thicker skin on the grapes. When the grapes are crushed, the skins are left in contact with the juice which tends to intensify the flavors and darken the juice, yielding a richer wine.
Newly Minted Oenophiles
Triassic Vineyards grows three acres of zinfandel grapes, three acres of viognier grapes and one acre of syrah grapes. Together, they yielded 20 tons of grapes in 2016. Jim and crew harvest the grapes and transport them in refrigerated trucks to Pulchella Winery in Santa Clarita. Pulchella winemakers Nate Hasper and Steve Lemley, known as the “Troublemakers,” create the magic. They oversee the crush, barrel age—30 months average—and bottle it. American and French oak are used to barrel age the reds, and stainless steel is used for the white viognier. When asked how Triassic Vineyards grapes compared to the renowned grapes of Paso Robles, the winemakers replied that they compared equally and rated them a score of 10 out of 10.
Triassic wines have won five awards in California wine competitions, including a Double Gold for a 2012 zinfandel, Gold for a 2012 syrah, Silver for a blend called “Rocks” and Silver for a 2015 viognier, all at the prestigious San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. The Arnolds host wine tastings and private events in their elegant tasting room that offers lovely views of the surrounding vineyard and venerable hills. Their wine club offers wine discounts and hosts club events. A guest once exclaimed, “I love that dinosaur wine!”
Life is different for Jim and Sally from their former life in Newport Beach. Not content to retire and take it easy, the Arnolds are forging a new beginning with lots of hard work and an emboldened faith. They have found peace in their idyllic setting in Tehachapi and an appreciation for the things that matter most in life. They have learned to respect the forces of nature, the value of a supportive community and made many new friends along the way. Partners in life and business, the Arnolds remind us to listen to that inner voice and have faith.
“I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.” -From Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken