Master Gardener, Wente Vineyards
“There are times I’ve really had to dig my heels in and say, this is the way I think, and this is what I think, and this is what I want. And they will respect you for that. You have to really, sometimes, just stand your ground.”
BC: Tell us about your time at Wente and how your career started in the gardening space?
DD: I’ve been at Wente 32 years this month. I actually started as a food server and did that for eleven years. When the restaurant was set to be open, I put in an application. The restaurant wasn’t even done yet, I got to taste food and wine for two weeks–I thought I’d died and gone to heaven! I did food and wine sales for eleven years and [Wente] had a little garden out front. I kept noticing I was looking out the window while taking orders looking at the garden and wanting to be out there. Carolyn Wente let me go in the garden, I found a little patch out in the back and said, “can I have that?” And they said, “yes.” Then they ripped out the vineyards and I said, “Can I have that?” And they said, “well, you can have half of that.” Now, there’s one part left, which I want to be an orchard. Then, this entire area will be garden.
BC: After years of spending time in the garden, would you say being a gardener is an art or a science?
DD: I’d say it is a little bit of both, but it’s actually just hard work, being present, being honest, getting people to enjoy what you do, and you get to enjoy it because you want to create beautiful things for people. It’s a little bit of everything.
BC: How do you embody your role in this industry and what do you aim to bring to your guests at Wente?
DD: I feel that, you know, restaurant means “to restore” and out there in the world, it gets pretty fragmented and you can tell when people come in and feel that. My goal is to educate them, to give them a good experience here, and to leave them happy with a little something in their hand. I try to make the garden beautiful, we do little classes and workshops in the summer.
BC: What is the best career advice you can impart to readers?
DD: If you have that passion, you’ll find a way to do it. It’s just common sense, hard work, and integrity. Those are the three things you have to have. You have to have respect for the people that allow you to do what you want. You have to show them that you can do what you say you can do.