Howard and Bret Fishman with their dad, Al.

Diane De Filipi photo

A visit to the Napa Valley can change your life. I say this with certainty because this happened to me. Once an annual visitor, I’ve now been a resident for 25-plus years.

For one Colorado man, his romantic getaways led to re-invention and a later-in-life second career.

In 1996, I had been the owner of the Ink House B & B for less that a year when I received a very special phone call. On the phone were Howard and Bret Fishman. Their dad, Al, was soon to arrive at my B & B for a visit.

The guys explained to me that Al was visiting the valley alone for the first time. Every other year for seven years, Al had come to the valley with his wife Arlene.

On this upcoming visit he would be alone, having lost Arlene to cancer.

Howie and Bret were concerned that this visit might be very emotional for Al and they asked if I could subtly keep an eye on him and let them know if there were any problems. The love and concern, the closeness between father and sons, was undeniable.

My trusty staff and I took pride in attending to the personal needs of all of our guests, but this was the most special of special requests.

It was several years into our friendship before I shared this phone call story with Al.

Wanting to ensure that Al had the best of experiences, I called and set up several tastings with winery friends, sharing Al’s story so that he found TLC everywhere he went. The relationships he built remain solid today. As these associations grew, so did Al’s knowledge and the education of his palate and what it takes to create a truly great wine.

I’ve watched Al traverse the winery road from the more typical tourist venues to some of the finest boutique and cult vintners offerings.

Fast forward to 2016 and my most recent visit with my dear friend Al Fishman.

Al and I were having our biannual get together. We’ve watched our grandchildren arrive, we’ve tried any new restaurant that has come to town, we’ve made more mutual friends, we’ve watched wineries come and go and, above all, we’ve remained friends. At one point in time, Al was house hunting here for a vacation home.

After I sold the Ink House, Al returned once to his favorite place, but decided that it just did not feel the same once my staff and I had stepped away. I’ve managed to find him some new digs that he now calls his home away from home when in town. We reminisced about my B&B recently and agreed we both missed the old place.

One of the things Al misses the most about the Ink House? My old persimmon tree. After many years of visits I knew which of my breakfast offerings were his favorites and these were, of course, on the menu whenever he was on the guest list. My persimmon bread was a must. So much so that somehow several persimmons leapt from my tree into his suitcase and became persimmon bread for his family and friends. I think the statute of limitations on persimmon smuggling has expired.

Al, at 82, is still an active CPA. His now twice yearly visits are planned around tax season, visiting in December to enjoy some R&R before the intensity of tax season begins and again in May for more R&R to recover.

Not one to have any dust gather under his feet, and with a passion for unique wines, Al added to his resume five years ago when he began Fishman Wine Imports, based in Denver. The educational process involved was daunting. The most challenging aspect, according to Al, the labeling.

Al’s favorite Italian restaurant in Denver, Venice Ristorante, was the catalyst for this adventure. Owner, Alessandro Carollo, wanted to have the opportunity to have more imported wines from Sicily on his wine list. Sicily being the region of his family origin. Alessandro encouraged Al to work with him to make this happen.

Working with distributors who supply restaurants was an education unto itself in Al’s process.

More education came when Al visited Sicily and explored their wines.

As an importer of mostly Sicilian and Napa Valley wines, his clients are primarily restaurants and wine shops in the Denver area.

One of his biggest challenges with our local wines is our price points. For folks living in the Denver area our wines are typically enjoyed specifically by high end consumers in restaurants.

I asked Al if he had to pick one style of wine as his favorite, what would it be. Without hesitation his response, Amarone. I can’t say that I disagree.

During this last visit, and with a story in mind about our mutual life re-inventions a la Napa, I asked Al what his favorite Ink House breakfast dishes and am happily sharing below.

So, the next time you meet a visitor to our valley, remember that one day they might be your neighbor because an innocent visit to Napa Valley can truly change your life.

Ink House Artichoke Frittata

2 13 oz. cans artichoke hearts

1 cup heavy cream

12 eggs

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. pepper

3/4 tsp. nutmeg

1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce

2 cups shredded Jack cheese

1 cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese

Note: The most important step is to make sure to squeeze every bit of moisture out of the artichoke hearts or your dish will be watery. Don’t be afraid to squeeze hard.

Treat 9-by-13-inch baking dish with nonstick spray. Remove any hard leaves from hearts. Place hearts evenly in baking dish. In bowl, lightly beat eggs, cream, Worcestershire and seasonings. Stir in Jack cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes. Sprinkle Parmesan evenly over top of dish and bake 5 minutes longer.

Cool 10 minutes. Cut into 15 equal portions.

Serve as breakfast, brunch or main meal.

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Ink House Persimmon Bread

1 3/4 cups un-sifted flour

1 cup sugar

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1 cup Hachiya persimmon pulp

1 tsp. baking soda

1/2 cup melted butter

1/3 cup brandy

2 eggs—slightly beaten

1 tsp. ground ginger

1 cup golden raisins

Combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in large bowl.

Remove flower stem and skim from persimmon and mash to make 1 cup. Approximately 3 large persimmons.

In separate bowl, combine persimmon , baking soda, melted butter, brandy and eggs. Stir mixture into dry ingredients. Do not beat. Just stir enough to blend. Add ginger and raisins.

Fill 2 well sprayed small loaf pans. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool pans 10 minutes. Turn onto cooling racks until completely cooled. Wrap well in saran and store in refrigerator. Prior to serving slice and allow to come to room temperature.

I served this bread at breakfast with a little cream cheese on the side to schmear and also as a dessert.

Please note that this bread will not rise and crown. It’s more flat on top.