Bear Dalton, the original Texas Storyteller.
I received news this morning that my good friend and wine business mentor Bear Dalton passed after a 3 year cancer battle. I'm writing this with a very heavy heart this morning.
Bear came into my life in 2005 in the beginning months of running my prior sales and marketing agency TexaCali Wine Co. I’m pretty sure I secured my first wine tasting appt. with him solely due to announcing myself as “TexaCali Ali" on the phone summer of 2005. I drove down from Dallas the following week with such excitement and nervousness too. Our first meeting, it was a typical summer muggy hot day in Houston. I waited patiently in the receiving area upstairs at Spec’s headquarters among a handful of men in suits waiting their turn. I heard his voice “Ali darling, you’re up next” as he sauntered down the shiny wooden floor hallway to his office. Oh I can still hear his cowboy boots walk down that long hall. I had no idea that faithful day how much Bear would shape my career and mean to me.
Bear took the time to get to know me. I think 30 minutes went by before we even got around to tasting the bag of Argentine wine I had brought to pitch him. We not only shared the love of wine, but also shared the love of dogs, travel and real “non-bullshitters” too. Over the years, I sat with him and listened. I always learned something new about wine and the wine world from Bear. His wisdom, the advice he gave me over the years is priceless. Bear was a building block of the confidence I developed in my business over the years. Always encouraging, a teacher, a friend and a true gentlemen. I probably enjoyed dinners with him and his wife Carol the most, work decisions intertwined with storytelling each and every time.
We had good laughs together joking about my childhood as a Southern Baptist, “Ali you know why you always need to take two baptists fishing with you? If you take just one, he’ll drink all your beer!”. HA! I will miss him so much. Bear always and I mean always had me write down a few names in the business that he thought I’d benefit from connecting with too. Bear was the definition of generous.
Over the years Bear and I met over wines I represented from all corners of the wine world. My winemakers always lit up when I sent the meeting itinerary that included time with Bear Dalton. No matter how packed his schedule was, he made time for us. It was always such a delight sitting in his barn wood office that was covered in wine samples. A gentle giant in our profession, always conducting himself with dignity and respect for others.
In 2011 I had the privilege of spending time in Bordeaux with Bear. He joined my group from K&L Wines for a tasting at Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande in the Pauillac appellation. I’d been in France for nearly 2 weeks at this point, Bear was such a welcome sight when he walked into the Chateau that afternoon. Before dinner, we gathered on the lawn sipping Champagne and talking about how lucky we were to be there and share moments like this. The dinner that proceeded is one that I’ll never forget. I was seated next to Bear, along with Clyde Beffa, Trey Beffa and Ralph Sands who have all played a significant role in my wine life too. A wine dinner of magnums opened after decades of cellar aging, storytelling and smiles. A photo of the evening was one of the first to be placed in our tasting room.
My last conversation with Bear, he told me how proud he was of my wine journey. ‘You gotta have tough skin in this business Ali, you wear it with grace”. There hasn’t been a day that’s gone by for years that I don’t think of Bear right here in the Anderson Valley as well. Yes he was such a tremendous ambassador for Bordeaux, but he loved the wines and the people from this magical part of California wine country. One of my favorite stories he told was the time he had a gap in his tasting schedule in Calistoga and decided to drive up to Philo. He never made it here, there was a rodeo happening at the Mendocino County Fair in Boonville. He smiled so big when he told me this story, “a real small town Americana experience, well I just had to stop and buy a ticket”.
What a privilege to have his friendship for nearly 15 years. Bear’s last few years he began posting his “Scout” patrols (dog walks) nearly daily and scriptures on Sunday mornings, I’m going to miss those so very much. Rest in peace my friend, thank you for your giving heart.
Bear was and will remain my favorite cowboy and storyteller.