Behind the Scenes


stack of dusty old boxes, each one progressively dustier and older, teeters in a corner of my garage, competing for space with a headless shovel and Hefty bags of thrift store recyclables. Filled with back issues of National Geographic, the boxes see about as much sunlight as the shovel handle. But still, as a magazine lover, I can’t bear to get rid of them. And so they sit, collecting a patina of dust for the next generation to blow off.

A few minutes ago I cracked open one of those boxes to count the number of contributors listed on the masthead of this iconic publication. Small print vertigo set in around 206, before I’d even gotten to the Research or Advertising departments.

Things are a little humbler around here. With a tightly focused circulation area in Ventura County, mainly the western portion, Ventana doesn’t need to be translated into 32 languages; we don’t need editors in Czechia or Serbia. And rather than “Dear Sir,” most of the email correspondences leading up our editorial deadlines take on a familiar tone, as friendly banter replaces dry formalities.

But something about this particular issue brought out the jester more than usual. “YEEEHHHAAAA!!! Just shoot me the info and I’ll wrangle up a date!” wrote Pierre Silva when I assigned her and her husband, Gary, to photograph the Western-themed Watkins Cattle story (page 15). She signed off, “Clippity Cloppity…”

Andrea Kitay handled the words on that one. As a writer, she’s a natural storyteller, and personal anecdotes fill our emails back and forth. “I love cowboys,” she replied when I assigned the piece. “Smoked my first cigar with a cowboy at my grandparents’ summer house when I was about 13. He was a regular on the rodeo circuit. Grandpa thought he was so fun he brought him home. I barfed, and he stole a Navajo belt buckle from good ol’ granddad.”

She went on to pitch a story about a local business that hosts wine tasting parties in people’s own homes. Interesting. But I passed. We already had something similar lined up for this issue—an in-home wine tasting story that has nothing at all to do with business.

Back in February, writer Mark Storer, who also happens to be a certified sommelier, introduced me to a group of local professionals who meet for tightly focused, exceedingly specific wine tastings. These guys are serious oenophiles: swirling glasses with dead-serious intent, preparing topnotch food to pair with the wines, comparing notes after each sip.

But there is nothing priggish about these connoisseurs. And that’s part of the story, which focuses more on the human relationships that have developed out of a passion for wine than on the wine itself.

Storer attended a tasting in May, which gave him three months to sharpen the barbs on his emails. “Just wanted to show off some more,” he quipped as he forwarded menus announcing filet mignon, osso bucco, and some 20 top-shelf Cabernets. “One week until I get paid to become a spectacular hedonist,” he reminded me as the evening neared.

In the spirit of the lighthearted repartee that characterized the buildup to this issue, he took every opportunity to jab me. Which was okay. Let’s face it: there’s not much going on in Camarillo after dark. He found something special and pursued the story. He deserved a taste.

— Matt


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