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Autumn Gray '95-now
Monday, August 31, 2009
One-On-One with John Calvin
By Autumn Gray
Assistant Business Editor
The Basics: Born John Randall Calvin on May 3, 1953, in what is now Los Ranchos; bachelor's degree in world music study from the College of Santa Fe — "I went to the College of Santa Fe for a year and then at the end of about a year, I got the dean of students to figure out a way that I could apply all these different experiences in music to a degree. To say that I graduated from the College of Santa Fe with a degree in world music study, I have a piece of paper that says that;" married to Christina since Aug. 21, 2006; two sons, Ross and Clayton; no pets.
Position: Founder and owner of Casa Rondeña Winery
What You Didn't Know: "The first thing I got paid for where I made any money was I created like a backyard circus where I got some guys I knew with a Shetland pony and I set up yard games and a clown, you know, stuff like that, and would charge admission. I could make five or six bucks doing that. I'd advertise and we'd have the circus on Saturday."
To tell John Calvin's story in words already misses the mark. His is a life of music.
It's not just that his mother forced him to take piano lessons at about age 7 and that he took to it with a classicist's passion, or that he was jamming on the guitar in rock bands during high school, or even that he became proficient on the Indian sarod, having learned from the world's master as a young adult.
That is all artifice. For Calvin, owner and founder of Casa Rondeña Winery and a builder of custom homes, fine music is cosmic — a heavenly sound, a mathematical dance, a spiritual guide and the heart of architectural design.
"I would say even wine making has a direct relationship, or comes directly from my studies of raga (Indian classical music melodies). It's how I think about everything is that music. It really is the basis for everything that I have that I feel is good," says Calvin, sitting under a portico between the winery's tasting room and his personal residence just the other side of a fountain and small pond.
Every structure on the property he built, drawing in part upon architecture he saw while living in Andalucia, Spain, and in part from native New Mexico craftsman skills passed down to him from his father's side.
Calvin's grandfather, an Episcopal priest and Harvard-educated scholar, was living in Silver City when he met the famous New Mexican architect John Gaw Meem.
"They became such good friends that my grandfather was able to get a commission from the diocese to help with the construction of a church that John Meem designed in Clovis — St. James Episcopal Church in Clovis. My father was home from being in the service in the Second World War and helped build that church, which was made of adobe."
His dad, a lawyer and oil and gas producer, then built their home in Alameda using some of the same techniques.
"It was a very typical, I would say almost 17th-century New Mexican adobe — very, very simple. It had concrete floors in it. We actually went to the Jemez to cut the vigas, and I remember my father peeling them with a draw knife, you know, all the things that I ended up doing myself (when he started building houses)."
Calvin began building million-dollar custom homes in Albuquerque in 1981 after traveling, studying music and architecture during what would have been traditional college years. He learned to play the sarod under pre-eminent musician Ali Akbar Khan at his world-renowned school in California before heading to Spain for a few years primarily to study the flamenco guitar.
In 1995, he founded Casa Rondeña on five acres in the North Valley, not far from where he spent his childhood. Its wines have won numerous awards, and the winery contributes annually to local nonprofits, most notably the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra and Guild.
Casa Rondeña's annual grape harvest begins Sept. 12.
Q: Did you have an idea of what you wanted to do when you finally stopped traveling?
A: I would have to say I did not. I spent a fair amount of time doing oil and gas work that I considered work. I wasn't passionate about it. But other than that, I don't really feel like I've ever worked. I mean I work harder than most people I know, but I don't think about any of these things as a job. The music was an end unto itself. That spiritual quest, whether it's music or it's architecture or wine making, it's very similar — it's a quest. And if you're really, really lucky in life, your quest can be the way you get paid.
Q: Where did the money come from for you to have the luxury of travel and self study as a young adult?
A: It didn't. The tuition at (the Ali Akbar College of Music) was $225 for three months, so I worked my butt off. I worked in restaurants. That's what happened. I was a waiter and a busboy. (In the years before that), I went to a very expensive, extremely fine private (high) school in Colorado. There wasn't a lot of money in the family, but that's really what the money went to. In the graduating class of '71, every single one of those guys got into multiple Ivy League schools except me. I didn't apply and I wasn't a very good student. I should rephrase that — I was a poor student. But you know I was also living on my own (in high school), making my own living. My father paid the tuition, but I was living in kind of a little flophouse playing the guitar and keyboards. I was in all these rock bands and that's how I made a living.
Q: You had to have been pretty mature and self-sufficient to live like that at the age of 15.
A: I think a better way to say it is in some ways I had to be. We do what we have to do sometimes. I wouldn't have ever required of myself to reach as deeply as I did at such a young age so that I could have all these great experiences. I think that's what adversity does. You become resourceful not only in a material way but in an emotional way and in a spiritual way. You reach harder and higher I think if you have to confront things like that. I looked at it as sort of a gift.
Q: Will we ever see screwtops on wine bottles from Casa Rondeña?
A: Probably not. But that's a fair question because there are a couple of really top-notch winemakers around here that use them and for whom I have a lot of respect. The fact of the matter is that a screwcap does a better job keeping oxygen out of the wine than a cork does. I actually kind of am a little old-fashioned and appreciate the aesthetic value of the cork. But there's another reason: The screwcaps are not biodegradable. They're made of aluminum and plastic and petroleum product.
Q: Your grandfather was an Episcopal priest and wine was introduced to the state by Spanish missionaries. Have you considered the connection between you having this winery and that personal history?
A: Yeah, I really have. But it's not just about the wine. It's a deeper thing than that. It's about the buildings and it's about the music. It's about ways, or finding ways, to have a closer relationship to God, for me. My grandfather inspired me to think that way.