by Alex May photography by Hemali Zavery
Walking into the quiet corner office, I’m greeted by a gentleman in Friday attire with a broad smile and a robust handshake, reassuring me I’m in good company. He immediately jumps into a story about the birds outside his fourteenth floor window, and then shows me a video on his iPhone; something he’ll continue to do the rest of the day. This is randy Ferguson.
He takes me gently by the elbow and walks in the direction of food, interrupting one story to tell another; a recurring motif. randy speaks with the measured pace of someone with a weighty tome of anecdotes archived beneath his ivory swath of hair. randy grew up in Southern California, in a house his father, Thomas, built. It was the same house Thomas would later die in at the age of 101. randy’s mother, eliza, was a writer, and his father was one of the 600 original FBI agents. After the war, Thomas segued into the burgeoning wine industry in Northern California, an occupational change that would soon influence his eager son.
He shows me a picture of Thomas at a party looking stoic, regal. His mouth is taut, but content. Seated to his left is Andre Tchelistcheff, a close friend and business partner at Buena Vista winery, someone that many have called the “dean of American winemakers.”
A wistful twang saturates randy’s stories, of which he has an endless supply. He sips his wine and the angelic expression returns as he speaks more of his father and his upbringing. The most poignant story begins with randy surprising his family on Thanksgiving 30 years ago. Thomas held court as randy walked into the living room. His father took him by the elbow before they sat and talked, for seemingly the first time as two adults, two equals. It turned into a conversation that lasted until Thomas died in randy’s arms in 2009.
Randy derails his train of thought to introduce me to somebody. It seems he knows everyone within a seven-mile radius.
His father preached hard work, and randy has: from picking grapes on his father’s vineyards, to attending law school, and growing his own grapes in the Carnernos fields. entitlement, he thinks, is for the birds. “we’re not raised that way,” he says. As a law student, he advocated for Native American rights, advising richard Oakes before his murder. He found customs law while working in Germany and made it his own, building a significant reputation. “Go, go. eat, eat,” he commands me as he finishes his anecdote.
Randy’s repertoire is vast, and conversation swings from jurisprudence to the subtle variations of sauvignon blanc, music, and everything else under the sun. He takes his time. He wants you to soak in the experience as he did. “I tell these stories…” he pauses, “because I spent all my life as a kid not being able to tell stories.”
Randy lost a pronounced stutter in the mid-1970s, an obstacle that both plagued and identified him for 30 years. Now it seems he has some catching up to do. His pursuits are so varied one can’t help but wonder if there is a chemical dependence to vocation, but he eschews a singular title.
“I don’t want to be known as a customs lawyer, I don’t want to be known as just a surfer. I don’t want to be known as a wine guy.” He stops, seeking verbal precision. “I just want to be known as someone who thoroughly enjoys this ride.”
The day ends at a trattoria on Fillmore Street, and he introduces me to the entire staff. At the end of the bar, we sit barely an arm’s length from the bustling kitchen. “They gave us the bruschetta so we won’t riot,” he says, a boyish glint in his eye. when we exit the noisy restaurant, it is dark. Conversation concludes and he gives me, a perfect stranger, an enormous hug before stumbling home our separate ways. randy is someone whose innate drive is to connect with people, and he wouldn’t have it any other way. That much, above anything else, is clear. This is randy Ferguson.