From Paris to Princeton, It Has Been a Vintage Year for Winemaker David Park
Rising from a sea of orange-and-white striped seersucker jackets at the Princeton Class of 1950’s 25th reunion, class president Jack Wilson raised a glass of Château Saint-Georges 1972 in praise of the myriad accomplishments of his former fellow students—one of which was the very Bordeaux in his hand. A grand vin from Château Belair Montaiguillon which won a gold medal in Paris, it came from the vineyards of David M. Park. And for Park, 46, the triumphant return to Princeton with his own vintage wine was the fulfillment of a Mittyesque dream.
Just 11 years ago Park was slogging through the suburban life typical of many Princeton graduates. Treasurer of Philadelphia’s Acme supermarkets, fourth largest in the country, Park had a wife, two children, a Tudor-style house in affluent Bryn Mawr, two cars and a button-down Brooks Brothers wardrobe.
“I wasn’t happy with my job,” Park admits. “Once a week I got those tension headaches.” One day, he recalls, “I looked at the people riding the commuter train with me and said, ‘Gosh, I can’t do this for another 20 years.’ ” His misgivings worsened when his first wife died in 1965. Park put his son and daughter into summer camp and took a long, leisurely solo tour of Europe. The slower pace of life on the continent appealed to him. Once back home, Park dropped out. He cashed in his stocks, quit his job and eventually married a divorced mother of two.
But Park’s tenure among the unemployed was decidedly short-lived. Within a year he was back in a rut—this time working as a Merrill Lynch stockbroker—and the tension headaches returned.
Again the cure was a trip to Europe. While in Paris in 1971, Park and his new wife, Edith, were told of a 10-acre vineyard for sale in France’s Bordeaux district. Park plunged into his savings for the down payment. A few months later the adjoining Belair Montaiguillon with its château went up for sale, and Park bought it as well. The total cost was $250,000.
The Parks faced some sobering realities—neither of them knew anything about winemaking nor spoke anything but halting high school French. Park enrolled in a vintner’s course at the University of Bordeaux and picked up what knowledge he could from locals. Now, four years later, with only one resident couple and a part-time cellar master to help out, Park does everything from spraying pesticides to running the Rube Goldberg bottling machine. His hard work paid off in 1973, when his first full vintage won a coveted gold medal for its excellence.
With his 25th reunion coming up, Park offered to slake the thirst of his Princeton classmates for free—an offer that was enthusiastically taken up. While there were some sour grapes at the reunion—”Park’s is just one of 280 success stories at this reunion,” a classmate grumped—most were delighted. None more so than classmate Arch Brown, who owns a Princeton liquor store. Brown ordered more than 400 cases of Château Belair Montaiguillon 1972—a $10,000 windfall for Park—and had already sold 55 cases at $43.10 each before the class of 1950 departed Old Nassau.