Yesterday we said good-bye to a true gentleman, in every sense and meaning of the word, I had the privilege of only just getting to know. The first time we met John Fredrick, Jr. was on our yearly Thanksgiving wine tour in 2012. On Facebook I had been watching the progress of the pergola being built and other things going on at Blue Ostrich Winery and I knew it was a winery we HAD to visit! We dropped the kid off at Gramma and Grampa’s, packed a picnic of bread, cheeses, and meats and we headed north. We drove…and drove…and DROVE!! It wasn’t so bad, just a couple of hours…NORTH of I-20!
We arrived and pulled into the parking lot noticing the pens of ostriches and the winery that was a gorgeous whitewashed barn. We stepped inside and were greeted by a couple of lovely ladies behind the bar, who turned out to be Julie Whitehead (one of the owners and who is married to the winemaker and another owner Patrick Whitehead) and Danna Fredrick (who is married to the vineyard manager and other co owner). They kind of tag-teamed between us and another couple at the bar easily keeping track of where we were on the tasting list and what we’d like to try next. We thoroughly enjoyed the wines we tasted and the visit with the ladies. We chose a Zinfandel for our picnic wine and took the bottle out to the patio and enjoyed a chilly fall afternoon under the pergola overlooking the vineyard as it swept across and down into the valley. After we completed our wine and picnic a tall lanky gentleman strode up from the vineyard and introduced himself to us as John Fredrick, vineyard manager and asked how we were enjoying the wine and did we have any questions. We assured him we enjoyed it very much and began talking to him about the ostriches, the vines, the grapes…he patiently, graciously, and thoroughly answered our questions and offered general funny comments and stories. He told us of his foray from cattle rancher to ostrich rancher (farmer?) to grape grower. We totally enjoyed his stories, his candor, his humor, and the way he talked to us like he’d known us for years. What a wonderful ambassador he was for Blue Ostrich Vineyards and the Texas wine industry as a whole. We left that day knowing we had made friends and that we would definitely return.
We joined their wine club on a subsequent visit and we now had an excuse to make the trip to Saint Jo regularly to visit our friends at Blue Ostrich and drink their wines. We’ve been several more times to pick up our wine club, to help with crush and bottling, and to just visit for a little bit and hang out. More often than not if John wasn’t in the vineyard tending to his precious “babies” he would be hanging around the tasting room and patio making his way around to the various groups visiting and answering the same questions over and over, but you wouldn’t know it by listening to his answers. He had a way about him that made you feel like yours was the most important question he’d answer that day.
Yesterday I made the trip to Saint Jo to join with several hundred of his family and friends to say our final good-byes to John. As members of his family bravely stood before us and recounted funny and touching stories about John from his childhood and younger years to more recent times I listened and laughed and was reminded that John was a man who was easy to like, he enjoyed his family and friends, and he would help anyone with any problem of any kind. We heard stories of hunting trips, raising quality cattle, herding ostriches, and making sure the lines in the vineyard were straight. He loved life. I know that is cliché, but John packed a whole lot of life in his 53 short years and he loved every minute of it! He adored his wife, Danna, and their 4 boys. He was busy working on spoiling their grandson, much to his son’s dismay (and amusement!).
After the church service we made our way to the cemetery just down the road past Blue Ostrich Winery. I think I was about car #30 in a line of at least 50. As we passed cars on the little country road, they respectfully pulled to the side, but instead of like in the cities now these drivers waited until the whole line of cars had passed before they pulled back out to be on their way. I made a mental note to slow myself down and do the same the next time I encountered a funeral procession. We gathered around the graveside and more beautiful words were spoken, the Bois d’Arcs sang, then Patrick stepped up to say some final words and read a poem about Texas wine. Several of us had been asked to pass out cups and pour a taste of wine so we could offer a toast. As a group we raised our glasses and said, “To John!”
I realize now that much of my sadness comes from the fact that I will not get to know the man better that was described to me yesterday. Yes, that is selfish, but often times our sadness is just that. A selfish act of wanting something for ourselves that we cannot have. I will enjoy the memories of John that I do have, but I would love to have learned more from him about the fine art of growing grapes as he was enjoying learning about it and sharing what he’d learned.
Several times during the service it was mentioned that John’s favorite Bible verse was Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.” But as I sat there and listened to all the wonderful things his family and friends were saying about him I couldn’t help but think about Matthew 25:21 “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” I can certainly see John in charge of the heavenly vineyards growing some awesome grapes in nothing less than perfectly straight lines!!