06/12/2012 11:45 am ET Updated Aug 12, 2012

Father's Day Reflections From a Son and Father

Approaching this Father's Day on the heels of producing the 200th issue of The Wine Advocate and 10 years producing, I am pondering the critical roles in my life as husband for 43 years, father for 25 years and wine critic for 34 years. I'm content doing what I love, making a great living and thinking about my own father's impact on a major career risk and my impact as my daughter goes on to great achievements of her own.

NBC Newsman Tom Brokaw referred to my father's generation as "the Greatest Generation" since they were born prior to the economic crash of 1929, suffered through the Great Depression during their teen years in the '30s, and went through a horrific war in the early '40s. Through all that, my father -- a World War II veteran, small business entrepreneur and dad to an only child -- was not a sentimental man.

I don't recall any serious father-son discussions we had on what might be considered usual topics between parents and children, such as relationships with young women, finding a job or life path.
However, I do recall my father -- a true hedonist of life -- often talking about the elusive search for happiness and joy. And in 1983, I couldn't have been more appreciative of my father's perspective when I informed both my parents that I -- their only child and the first member in my entire family to graduate from college (my parents were dairy farmers) and go on to pursue my post-graduate degree -- was abandoning my law practice to immerse myself full-time in the world of wine writing and criticism.

Days after my announcement, I'll never forget what my father said to me: "As long as you pursue what you love the most, chances are you'll be successful and make adequate money. But if you only pursue the almighty dollar, you may make a lot of money, but you'll never find true happiness." I can't express how that has proven time after time to be a great message of life! I am now fortunate enough to pass on that legacy to my 25-year-old daughter.

After years of infertility tests, the best decision we ever made was to adopt, and in 1987, we were bestowed a three-month-old baby girl from an island off the south coast of Korea called Cheju Island.

Being a wine critic, of course I purchased a number of cases of both 1987 Bordeaux and 1987 Napa Cabernets for us to celebrate her life on every birthday when she was old enough. Now, I must confess that at 25, her favorite alcoholic beverage seems to be tequila, but considering that I didn't start my full-time wine career until I was 31, I figure she still has a few years to morph from tequila consumer to wine connoisseur.

For French Bordeaux, 1987 was not a particularly good year, but there were some well-made wines from that vintage, and one of the wines I bought was a case of the 1987 Mouton Rothschild, which is special as it has a dedication label from Baroness Philippine de Rothschild to her father, who passed away that year. One life given, another taken. There have always been rumors that because it was such a watershed vintage with the death of Baron Philippe de Rothschild, the estate took the wine I rated 100 points in 1986 and actually added a small percentage of that wine to the 1987 because their 1987 clearly outperforms everything else made that year. Moreover, it is still drinking beautifully and is a great example of a top, top wine from a so-so vintage.

Napa Valley actually had a very good 1987 vintage, and I was smart enough to buy some of my favorite Cabernet Sauvignons of that era: the Robert Mondavi Reserve, Chateau Montelena and Dunn Howell Mountain. These wines are far more consistent than anything I have from Bordeaux -- with the exception of the Mouton Rothschild -- and are still vibrant, powerful, young wines at age 25. I also bought a number of the Quintas, the port lodges of Portugal, which declared a vintage year (which I've told my daughter she should consume when she is past 30) as well as large formats of Chateau Montelena and Mouton Rothschild in the size known as an imperial -- nine liters of wine I intend to save for her wedding or the birth of her first child.

When I think of my daughter, I often think that while there's no rational reason for it, she often reminds me of my father with her stoicism and significantly less demonstrative sentimentalism than I possess. However, it is often Father's Day where I actually have her attention and focus to bring up significant life matters -- like responsible living, the importance of caring for oneself, drugs, sex and more. One topic we've never discussed is her feelings about my fame and success in the wine realm. She knows about it, has seen articles and has been with us when I've given lectures at fancy dinners and wine tastings in Asia and especially Korea, her country of birth.
In my opinion, the great success I've enjoyed in this small niche field is far more meaningful if she recognizes the hard road and enormous amount of work it took to get to this point rather than hearing of the success itself.

Recently, I posted tips for sustained success on the bulletin board, and it dawned on me how much I echoed my father's sentiments as the first two tips for sustained success are to have a "total and obvious love/passion for the subject matter" and to immerse "yourself in a field, preparing to know more about every possible nuance... and to never stop learning." The money will follow. It's how I chose to run my life then and the measure by which I rule my decisions today.

So this Father's Day will be a joyful occasion where I can fill myself with pride over my daughter's life and what she's achieved, stuffing the melancholy that sets in as I realize how quickly time passes as she's five years away from turning 30 and only 15 from turning 40. As she pursues her passions, my fatherly desire wants to see her select the perfect mate and then witness the birth of my grandchildren -- but for now, I wait. And encourage her own immersion as she explores her passions.

Finally, to the fathers and their fathers and to future fathers -- all who play critical and dual roles in the lives of their parents and children -- Father's Day is wonderful time to take stock of what's been impressed onto us and to pass it down to future generations -- over the perfect bottle of vino, of course. Happy Dad's Day!