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Last week we honored a good friend, Val Threadgall, who has decided to begin his well-deserved retirement after a lifetime (26 years!) working here at Markham Vineyards. It’s strange to think that in my 24 years of working here, this is the first retirement party we have hosted. Val began working at Markham in 1990 as our facilities manager. Winery president Bryan del Bondio knew Val from a previous lifetime. Val had spent nearly 20 years at Inglenook running the bottling line for Bryan's father, Al del Bondio. After leaving Inglenook, Val was hired by Markham to manage winery maintenance and single-handedly run all of our bottlings for another 20 years - until he finally got a helper.

Val practicing for retirement with his hammock on the crush pad. 

As a young man Val worked at Mare Island, which was once a local naval base and his mechanical knowledge was never less than impressive. As I look around the winery, I remember all the valuable lessons Val has given me. He helped craft who I am as a winemaker. He explained to me (not always so delicately) how to accomplish more efficient bottlings by organizing each run by bottle shape to create less chaos and work from the necessary equipment changeovers. As someone who is incapable of comprehending mechanics, Val took the time to help me understand exactly how the pumps worked, why I couldn’t always get them to do the job I thought they should and how together we might accomplish the task at hand.

Sometimes Val needed to use brute force...

As a winemaker, I spend so much time in the vineyards and ultimately crafting those grapes into fine wines aged in the cellars for several years. We celebrate the blessing of the grapes, when the first fruits of harvest are brought to the winery, but the day of bottling is so much less revered. Bottling day gets far less attention than it deserves but it is ultimately how we get all of our hard work into your wine glass. Val always took this undertaking very seriously which allowed me to always be so relaxed about bottling day. When our wines were ready to bottle, I knew he would take care and protect them as they moved to their next stage of life. 

Val in his normal role as "Mr. Fix-It."  

If a piece of equipment failed during harvest, Val would be first on the job. Often I would stand behind him breathing down his neck, perhaps worried about the press loaded with 20 tons of grapes, wringing my hands and asking question after question… Only to be told, without so much of a backwards glance, “yes, the repair guy is on the way, no I don’t know what is wrong and no, I don’t know how long until we will be up and running.” But I can’t remember a time he ever failed?! Val almost always had figured out the problem before the repair guy arrived - or more often than not, had already fixed the problem. It was a rare day that Val was actually stumped. Of course there might have been occasional statements in some version of “I can’t do it” only to be followed shortly by “there, it’s done!” 

Cheers to your retirement, Val!

Trying to find a replacement for the modern Renaissance man of Val’s stature was unlikely and improbable. His expertise was never limited to just one trade. He dealt with our waste water system, refrigeration, as well as all the electrical and mechanical issues a winery faces on a daily basis. The truth of the matter is, we now have several people to do the job that just one man originally tackled and they all know just how large those shoes were to fill. Thankfully Val lives just up the street and has promised to continue to show us his superiority when we are stumped by equipment malfunctions. And hopefully he’ll still bring us some of his delicious home grown tomatoes! - Winemaker Kimberlee Nicholls