This is from my old winery blog, a tribute to a kind and gentle man I will always remember fondly. RIP, Art.
At 7 a.m. on a frosty Friday morning, Jim gently took his mother by the shoulders and asked her to look out the window. The vineyard canes were bare, the ground covered with a hoarfrost of snow.
“The buzzard tree,” she gasped. “It’s broken! Oh, it’s gone.”
For as long as Art and Lei Norman had lived in their home, a tall oak on the property had one large dead limb protruding from its crown. They called it ‘the buzzard tree’ because a flock of turkey buzzards gathered on the naked limb each morning and evening. And now apparently the limb was gone.
At four in the afternoon the day before, Lei had lost her husband, winemaker Art Norman. So the missing limb was doubly significant—a cruel affirmation of loss.
Art mentored and advised many of us throughout our wine careers. Dover Canyon is actually named for the view from Art’s crush pad. When Art built his winery he was only using a portion of the space for production, so Dan and Robert Nadeau were producing their first independent vintages in the cellar as well, and I had a few neglected, oxidized barrels of sangiovese tucked in a corner. We were like kids always underfoot. As I clearly was not cut out to be a winemaker, I wrote some of Art’s back label copy and other promotional materials in my spare time.
When I became a single mom and my ten-year-old son spent Thanksgiving with his father’s family, separating us on a holiday for the first time in our lives, Art invited to me to dine with the family. Ten years later I still remember the evening fondly, right down to Lei’s caramelized shallots. At that time, they still lived above the cellar, and their living room was also their tasting room. I played the grand piano while Lei prepared dinner, and we ate at the long picnic table that is still in the tasting room today. It was a stormy night, and their daughter Julia had slid off the road and needed rescue, so she was late, but arrived in time for dinner.
Art was the kind of man who made many friends, and in the few days before his passing a steady stream of people stopped by to offer help. Julia was in a remote location and police chief Dennis Cassidy offered his assistance in contacting her. Dr. Tom Morgan, owner of Casa de Caballos Winery, helped Lei understand the medical ramifications. Robert spent several long nights at the hospital, sleeping uncomfortably in chairs in order to be near Lei and Art, and winemaker Steve Felten was also constantly by Lei’s side. I arrived late in the afternoon; Robert and Willie, their loyal vineyard manager, had just stepped out to the cafeteria for a late meal. So Lei and I each held Art’s hands and spoke to him of cheerful memories and fun times. Finally, his chest stopped moving and we watched as he slid peacefully away.
Sometimes we cry for fear, or sorrow, or loss, but at the moment of Art’s passing, I felt as though I were a small speck in a cold, dark sea, and the lifting of Art’s spirit was like a warm tidal upswelling flowing past us, pulling our salty tears from us with the power and magnificence of life.
The next morning Jim pointed at the tree. “Look again,” he said to Lei. “The limb is still there. “
Two weeks ago the limb was as bare as it had always been. But now, on this frosty late winter morning, after several weeks of warm weather, the limb was suddenly covered with tufts of new green growth.
“New life,” breathed Lei, tears streaming down her face. “New life on our buzzard tree.”