Stephen Cary 1946-2018
Friend, co-founder and long time guiding light of the Steamboat Pinot Noir Conference Stephen Cary passed away in April of this year. While we were friendly I would not necessarily say we were close; I think the only times I saw him were at the conference but I attended so many times and over such a long period that it began to feel like and old friendship after a while. The Steamboat Inn, a fly fishing lodge that was the home and namesake of the conference, the nearby North Umpqua River, its tributary streams and swimming holes are a magical place to hold a wine event; my wife used to call it "summer camp for winemakers."
From the beginning, Stephen made sure to impress upon all of us attendees that we were to check our egos at the door and openly talk about our wines, the other wines we tasted, and to treat the newbies and the veterans with equal respect. We were also encouraged to let go, for a time, of all the other distractions that take away from the enjoyment we all feel in making and drinking wine. As a young man I found this both refreshing and inspiring--and the notion that we could form, for the three days of the conference at least, this happy extended family around our shared enthusiasm for making Pinot Noir was just about the most fun I could imagine. And then there were the many hijinks that went on after hours, including midnight excursions to some local hot springs (on a short unlit path through the woods) much drinking of good wine, and on and on.
Some, I suppose, found the event to be a bit too rustic and low key for their tastes but I never tired of going. Eventually, I found myself at the old guys table with Mr Cary himself. Conversation at that table often departed from wine to venture into the life history of the steelhead that populated the river, local history, fly fishing, and jokes of questionable taste. I hope the spirit that Stephen brought to the event carries on now that he's gone--but if it doesn't, I'm just glad I got to be part of it. Nothing good lasts forever, after all, we're just lucky if we get to be in it while it's around.