The Physicist in Sonoma

Raz, Chris, and Erica

Recently I took a trip to Sonoma, California, one of my favorite places to visit–and even more so when my wife is with me. 

So in touring lots of wineries there’s a lot more than “does the wine taste good?” It includes the atmosphere, the staff, the process they use, their focus, and a lot of it really has to do with their heart and passion for the winery.

For example, I don’t particularly enjoy going into the big commercial wineries where they don’t really have a knowledge or passion for the products. Even if the vineyards are gorgeous, the tasting room decadent, and even the wines excellent, it’s just not my thing. 

What is my thing, however, is to find someone and someplace with a story that led them down a path to where they are today. A unique and unassuming journey, a level of humility and unexpectedness to their ultimate destination, an ease of authenticity and the absence of traditional norms in the business combined with a calm confidence in what they’re doing–and ultimately a passion they’re following.

At the end of our trip, we found exactly that place with Loxton Cellars and the owner, Chris Loxton.

Raz and Chris touring Loxton


Here he is, an Aussie by birth and third generation of grape growers from his native land. But, instead of following the family footsteps he pursues a PhD in Physics, even ends up teaching at the University of Illinois for eight years. Finally, however, he followed his heart to become a winemaker, which he told me he always knew he would ultimately do, and as a result moved to the Sonoma region. Eight years ago he started making his own wine under his unique label. 

When we were there he gave us a private tour, and Chris told the story of his familial generations of grape growing, and his being the first of his generations past of actual wine making (vs. grape growing).

He showed me the way to care for vines and how he learned from both observation and “listening” how to generate the greatest yield and extract the best flavor from the grapes. He demonstrated the harvesting and winemaking equipment and explained the aging process, and types of casks and barrels used for his grapes and how to generate the right flavor tonalities. Chris was clear that his focus was really tight, just two primary styles of grapes and with the objective to simply produce a premium brand that has high value and exceptional taste. It needn’t be widely distributed or highly acclaimed by Robert Parker wine reviews. Instead, it was to be his best, and to follow his hearts passion (and, indeed, it is exceptionally amazing). 

From that experience, what’d I learn?

The fact of the matter is I can’t remember many of the details. Like about the watering, pruning–how and where and when–the harvesting process and how to deal with land gradients and slope with differing soil conditions; about all I can remember is that it’s important to do all those things. In some particular order. 

What I really learned is a lesson in the story of passion and following your heart, taking a risk, and jumping in.

Quite simply, here’s a guy who had a dream, he took the steps to pursue it, he faced his fears in the process of starting any new business venture, and he “just did it.” And while he’s doing well, it’s also not like he’s on easy street. With any business traditional business venture it can be YEARS before you start to even break even (BTW, reason number 72 why Direct Selling is an amazing business opportunity in the right company–low start up costs and an immediately recoverable investment w/ an ability to generate PROFITS right away).

Yet, despite all of the challenges in trying to run a difficult and captial-intensive business, I can tell Chris is happy. In fact, I think he’s having the time of his life, and is following his dream, and a part of his life’s purpose. In doing this, he’s not just making great wine, but he’s touching people like me who see and hear his story and within it sparks a fire of inspiration–and perhaps through a simple story like this through others as well. 

Which leads me to the lesson learned from the Physicist in Sonoma:

Whatever it is, really, whatever it is, find your purpose and passion. Then pursue it. 

Draw down into what really sets you on fire. And then just do it. Pursue it with vigor, with almost a reckless-abandon (but not recklessly, there’s a difference). Push through obstacles and seeds of self doubt or the hallowing cries of critics who have given into the abandonment of their own hopes and dreams and have nothing other to do than stand as an impediment to yours. Remember why you’re doing it, draw deep in your burning fire, and make it happen. Take the chance. And, regardless the outcome, I don’t think you’ll regret it. 

When Chris and I were finishing our time together, I asked him “Was it worth it? Are you glad you made such a switch, from University Physicist to local winemaker?”

His response was telling, he smiled and said to me with a look of consideration “You know, there are days when I’m struggling and people would probably look at my former job at the University of Illiniois with such favor, you know huge grants, get to travel the world, great house in low cost of living, distinguished position of influence…By most standards, very successful and well to do. Then people might look at my situation today and see a bad trade, radically different, making things work even when it’s financially tight at times, driving an old truck around a vineyard, long hours and always a project on the farm or winemaking facilities, tending vineyards and answering the phone and taking out the trash–a bit of everything. So, on the surface, it might look like it wasn’t the greatest exchange. But, I’m my own man, I control my freedom. I get to work with amazing people, and the things that I do endlessly fascinate me. I love meeting new people and talking to them, hearing about their background and learning about and from them; I’m invigorated by the ability to pursue high quality work with a focus and passion, and I live in one of the most beautiful parts of the world. So, was it a good trade? I wouldn’t change it for a minute; by some standards it was a crazy trade, but by mine I’m living the life I was supposed to live.” 

Which leaves me to the question I wonder myself, which is will I live mine? And will you live yours? 

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5 Replies to “The Physicist in Sonoma”

  1. That was AMAZING Rich! You are such a great blogger, you should write books, you have such a way w/ words. Is that next? :0) He sounds like a very interesting and profound man, can’t wait to go visit! My dad was a physicist for the gov. and left to become a teacher, 40 years later he is retired and wants nothing more than to go back and teach making a footprint in all those childrens lives! I too hope to be able to tell a story of my dream someday!

  2. Hi Nicole, thanks for reading and your comment, you made my night!!!

    I would love to write a book–but what would I write about? 🙂 There’s one I KNOW I am supposed to be working on, and its completion is one of my core GOALS (“goals= a dream with a deadline” -Napoleon Hill) for my personal category next year (side note for the newbies: I break by big goals into four categories which are: physical, personal (or family), cultural (or spiritual), and professional, and I have a big goal for each one and then work to clearly define my “next steps” for each one–specifically, what do I need to be doing NOW in order to make progress on each of these goals).

    I have really enjoyed blogging and am glad you liked this one story, it was one of those simple experiences that has become profound to me. Thanks again for reading–my dad was also a University prof for years so we’ve got some similarities there.

    Keep working on the story of your dreams! I can’t wait to hear how it unfolds.

  3. Great story and so apropos. I was teaching part time here at the university and just found that money ran out for my position. This propelled me to get into doing my Univera business on a much bigger level. And it has been much fun! Thank you, Rich.

  4. Hey Rich. Great blog… and very true. Very passionate story. I love Sonoma and Napa Valley too. My grandmother and uncle both live in Sonoma, so I have the joy of going down for visits every couple of years. I love the small, family owned wineries as well. My dad and I stumbled upon one of my favorites a few years ago, Rutherford Ranch Winery off the Silverado Trail in Napa. Loved it…

  5. Hey Karyn, thanks. Had no idea you had family in the area, I should have asked you for some reco’s! I’ve never been to Rutherford Ranch…You’ll love Loxton as well, once you go you’ll have to let me know how you like it (it’s very small!).

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