Wine Pioneers — Born Where East Meets West

Dreaming in Constantinople

The partnership that grew into the Wine Pioneers first took shape at the crossroads of Europe and Asia. It all goes back to Istanbul in 2012. June is the magic time in one of the world’s great places. Istanbul in that moment is never more alluring, green, vibrant and pregnant with the dreams of 2000 years. The city offers everything a traveler seeks. It has a spectacular geologic setting, an ideal climate and the world’s richest concentration of historically significant architecture. It also has a well developed local cuisine with access to great ingredients and a longstanding climate of hospitality from the Turks. But most importantly, it has ready access to lovely wines.

It’s not for no reason that Constantine, with the ability to base himself anywhere within the vast Roman Empire, chose Byzantium for his capital. It’s hard to fault his judgment in real estate.

Add to that history, the shared vision that led us to our game plan to eventually journey around the west capturing the promise of American food and wine culture. After visiting many of the most compelling destinations across Europe and Asia, we were motivated turn our lenses and notepads west to one day document the best available in the United States, with a focus on California’s wine-producing regions.

We were expats in the city on business. John Smallwood is a professional photographer; Scott Park a former reporter turned corporate communicator. We were staying at the Hilton, which was the city’s first five star hotel and the place to be back in the 1950s. Conrad Hilton spared no expense to create Shangri-La along the Bosphorus Strait to placate a female admirer. In a setting like an embassy, the Hilton completed during 1955, was designed to be Istanbul’s premier destination.

Among its advantages are al fresco dining on the lower plaza overlooking the Strait. It would be hard to improve upon the setting. One looks down from Europe to the dark waters of the Bosphorus Straits as the setting sun slowly sets the windows of Asia ablaze on the far shore. In June, the heat of the day gives way to the cool blustery breezes of evening. The Black Sea air comes whistling down the Strait toward the Sea of Marmara. There’s an outdoor restaurant serving Lebanese Mezze under a rooftop of umbrellas. The Hilton runs patio heaters under the tenting to take the edge off of the cool breeze. Pure magic. Although our organizing principle was the world of wine, we first came together over an Efes Pilsener Beer at cocktail time — the perfect start to an evening in Istanbul.

Expatriates abroad, John Smallwood was based in Central Asia and Scott Park in the Middle East. We set a future goal. We would return to the States with the same mindset of discovery we had felt during our respective travels across Europe and Asia. We longed to train the same eager curiosity we felt overseas on the United States. We wanted to discover the best that California and the Western US had to offer.

Traveling as natives, but informed by the fresh eyes that we would bring as returning sons, we planned to document the bounty available in the West. One quickly sees in Europe that the enjoyment of life is elevated to an extremely high standard. However, we also knew that one could live extraordinarily well in American wine country, with a lifestyle that was on par with anywhere else in the world, if one knew where to look.

We struck a bargain along the Bosphorus to eventually explore Pacific wine country, with the goal of documenting for others the splendor available in the American west. Pacific Wine Pioneers is our platform to share that knowledge with wine lovers everywhere. Our brief is to open a door into the people and places that make wine country special, by sharing the stories of the women and men who are defining California as the most world’s most dynamic and compelling viticultural destination. Today, the Wine Pioneers are committed to creating opportunties to introduce the people who make California Wine Country one of the world’s great places.

Spring mustard blooms hint at the Napa Valley’s future promise.
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