Ranch is refuge amid heartache

Architect, author create beauty, wonderful wines after loss

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At a recent wine-tasting event in Castle Rock, there was a Sedalia winery, its husband and wife owners there, and it all seemed so perfect — a lovely, carefree life.

The winemaker, an architect by day, poured samples of his wines that were aged in, and seem to thrive in, the constantly cool basement of the 100-year-old farmhouse he and she renovated.

“It's creative, and fun, kind of a people thing … kind of a mystery and difficult,” he said about winemaking. And he likes the challenge.

“If it was easy, everyone could do it,” he said.

He is Dave Rhyne, with father-wisdom gentle eyes and gray locks of hair in the tousled hairstyle of someone who had better things to do this day than comb. It's an appropriate look for someone reputed to lean into life, heading always in the direction of adventure.

She is Margaret Marshall Rhyne, sitting nearby, married to him. Beyond sharing her husband's zest for things interesting and challenging, she is a mother and grandmother, and still has the model face that people once said should be in Pepsi commercials. And she is an author, public speaker, marketer and magician who takes can't-be-done-anytime-soon ideas and does them soon.

One of her projects: Turning the dream of former Denver Broncos quarterback Brian Griese — a foundation for grieving children — into a quick reality through her major fundraising efforts. When Griese was 12, he lost his mom to breast cancer.

House project begins

It wasn't even a thought to start a winery, when, after Dave Rhyne designed and they built their dream home in the Sedalia area, they then took on renovating the nearby Allis Ranch house, which had been built from a Sears catalog kit.

They took on the beyond-dilapidated structure so they could then rent it to a nice family who could sometimes help them with Alexis, Margaret's adult daughter from a previous marriage.

When Alexis was born, it was initially thought she was “normal.” But she stopped smiling at age 1½ and she never progressed like other children, Margaret said. She stayed at the level of a 3-month-old baby — never could sit up, or feed herself or speak.

Starting in November 2004, the couple would spend hundreds of hours renovating the house, which was in an abandoned state, taken over by field mice and wasp nests. They still weren't done with it when one morning before getting coffee Dave walked into Alexis' room in 2005 to check on her and greet her — and found she had passed away.

“I felt like half of my soul had been torn away,” said Margaret, who credits Alexis with many things, including teaching her about unconditional love.

Work helped with healing

Finishing the house became a part of the healing. And friends and family were a part of creating a memorial garden in the house's front yard, with bleeding hearts flowers and forget-me-nots and a bench with Alexis' name on it in front of the house.

Efforts to continue on, despite their grief, included spending time with their remaining grown children and a new grandchild and getting involved in new challenges. An interest in collecting wine progressed to much research and trying to make wines — and later, in the cool farmhouse basement, they created the Allis Ranch Winery.

Dave, the winemaker, and Margaret, the assistant, have received praise. Robert M. Parker Jr., often touted as one of the world's most respected wine critics, gave one of their wines a 90 rating on his 100-point rating system. And Dave, who had brought Parker a couple of the Allis wines to a dinner they both attended, remembers Parker exclaiming he was very surprised, that he didn't know “Colorado wines would be that good.”

“That's huge,” Dave said about Parker's comments.

Allis Ranch Winery - which Dave describes as very small, a “boutique winery” that produces 300 to 400 cases annually — has also received gold medals at the Colorado Governor's Cup Wine Competition, hosted by the state's Colorado Wine Industry Development Board.

While Dave was working on wine, Margaret was writing a memoir published in 2009, “Remembering Alexis: Finding Perspective in Love and Loss.” Later, she was encouraged to give talks about writing a memoir. But early efforts to do that were nearly impossible, despite years of public speaking, because she couldn't trust herself to speak.

She said at times her brain would reach a “dead end.” She couldn't think of anything, just blackness, symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, she said. It has taken a lot of work to climb through it. One therapy has been to produce beautiful things.

She said she and Dave, her soul mate, like to create beauty.

And then she left the interview to care for things, make things prettier. Mow the grass — around the ranch house brought meticulously back to beauty. And around the beautiful memorial garden. But maybe there's always beauty around her, now, regardless.

She can recount moments, experiences, “signs,” that tell her the beautiful spirit of brown-eyed Alexis is still with them.

And just that can make life beautiful, at times, again.