The Drake Magazine, Spring '17
Ron Johnstad’s obituary covered the bases but left out a few important details. “There were few better than Ron with a gun or fly rod,” wrote the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. It was true, but written from a distant office, likely in the wee hours by an overworked journalist who never thought the dead would be her beat. Almost certainly, the writer never got the first-hand pleasure of Johnstad’s unorthodox war against Yellowstone River whitefish.
Certain sounds remind me of Ron. The arhythmic rattling of his John Deere mower, faithful transport between his Paradise Valley home and the shore of the Yellowstone, about 200 yards away. The subtle slurp of a Montana bonefish taking one of his bizarre, homespun fly pattens. And, later, the rhythmic whoosh of an oxygen tank, which followed him around his deck as he told stories and looked knowingly towards the river. The tank didn’t so much interrupt as keep time as he talked about singing in the Norseman Quartet, playing college football, growing up in Wisconsin, the many merits of his wife, Mary Ellen, and whitefish; which in their best incarnation, ought to be smoked.
Johnstad’s casts were short and sloppy and the shadow he threw nearly forded the river. Surely, the cutthroat had fled long ago, if not for the loudness of his voice than for the ruckus his three golden retrievers amassed chasing killdeer along the bank. Yet, every summer evening, under the idyllic purple-grey light of dusk that’s bright enough to tie a #14, but nothing smaller, the pile of whitefish behind him grew to impressive heights.
“Just making more room for trout,” he would say, removing a tussled fly from another whitefish’s vacuum cleaner of a mouth. Just before dark, as larger fish began to slap the surface behind big boulders and the forked tip of Emigrant Peak was barely a silhouette, he would fumble through his fly box for his favorite creation.
The wine industry draws all types, from burnt-out pharmaceutical reps to engineers to musicians. For many, the pathway arrives in the form of an unforgettable glass of wine, often enjoyed abroad. For Kort Clayton, the connection to wine was forged by the wings of a well-trained bird of prey.
Clayton is part of the small and intriguing community otherwise known as falconry. His Portland-based business, Integrated Avian Solutions, trains raptors to scare off so-called “nuisance birds.” A day on the job could see Clayton anywhere from a waste facility looking to rid the premises of seagulls to a downtown business district looking to fend off thousands of crows.
The growth of Willamette Valley wine and its longstanding battle with grape-loving birds is an obvious target for the business. His current team of five falcons was subjected to a training program not entirely unlike that for most pets. Trust is established between bird and man and positive behavior — namely the raptor’s instinctive ability to chase smaller birds — is rewarded with food.
The birds are naturally afraid of humans but Clayton is able to overcome that gradually. Once a bird is feeding from the glove, it is taught incrementally to step up to the glove and ultimately fly from growing distances to the glove. “Within a month or two, they are flying free, following us around the vineyard and sometimes soaring and chasing birds for an hour or more,” Clayton says.
Thomas Pastuszak could just as easily have been a musician or a medical professional. The polymath and New York City native has a gift for the former and formally studied the latter, but it was upstate New York Riesling—and the broader food and wine culture it inhabits—that ultimately dictated his career path.
Pastuszak, the sommelier and wine director of The NoMad Hotel in New York City, oversees an expansive wine program at its restaurant and multiple bars, with more than 50 by-the-glass (BTG) options, a 10,000-bottle cellar, and a focus on one of his favorite varieties, Riesling.
Pastuszak grew up in a musical household. The maternal side of his family tree is full of Polish singers and instrumentalists. He started to study classical piano as a kid and went on to enroll at the Manhattan School of Music’s precollege division. By his late teens, he was traveling to master classes and competitions all over the globe.
In addition to music, Pastuszak was intensely interested in the sciences, and he studied neurobiology and behavior at Cornell University as an undergraduate. Unable to part with the keys, Pastuszak decided to pursue a double major, with classical piano. On the side, he worked at Stella’s, about 15 minutes outside Ithaca, in Newfield, and developed a taste for food and wine. He advanced from server to bartender to manager and oversaw the catering business shared by Stella’s and its sister restaurant, Olivia. “By the time I was writing my medical school applications,” Pastuszak says, “I realized—with the appropriate encouragement from my now wife, Jessica Brown—that that was the path I wanted to pursue.”
While living near Cornell, Pastuszak spent his days off exploring nearby vineyards and learning about winemaking techniques. Local wines, like the Ravines 2007 Argetsinger Vineyard Dry Riesling, which showed the region’s potential, were eye opening for Pastuszak and helped solidify his love for the craft. He became convinced that the wines were simply too good to be left off retail shelves and wine lists in nearby metropolises like New York City.