I can’t think of another book I’ve read that needed to be cleared by the CIA before it could be published. The Secrets of My Life: Vintner, Prisoner, Soldier, Spy by Peter M.F. Sichel is such a book. Sichel grew up in Germany as a member of a Jewish family who fled the Nazis. He wound up moving to the U.S. where he joined the military and was recruited by the OSS to recruit German PWs and train them to be spies.
I visited with the author by phone and was fascinated to hear him tell his story. It’s such a fascinating read I told him if he had submitted it as a novel no one would have published it because it is simply unbelievable. He replied “It should have been a novel. It would be easier to sell! It’s been a very lucky journey. Very lucky that I survived and that I had all these interesting things to do.”
Sichel is a 4th generation wine merchant. His great-grandfather started in the wine business in 1857. He grew up in a family immersed in wine as both growers and salesmen. His daughter Bettina has Laurel Glen winery in the Sonoma Hills and he has six cousins who grow and sell wine in Bordeaux.
After the war, he said he couldn’t imagine working in the family wine business with an older generation whose ideas were “not my ideas.” He left his money in the business and spent 17 years in the CIA, finally as chief of the Hong Kong bureau. The book has several historical photos and documents, among them a letter from then CIA director Allen Dulles following his resignation. The two remained friends.
After leaving the agency, he took over the family wine business. At the time, there was a blue nun on eight different products that tasted differently and sold at different price points. It made sense to him to put the blue nun on one product, a wine suitable with any dish. He wanted to create an answer to the question of “what to drink?” Thus the iconic Blue Nun wine was born. It was at the beginning of the wine revolution and he wanted to offer a solution that was “suitable and at the same time memorable.” He gives credit to partners who also embraced his vision. “Many successes are not due because you’re clever, but because you’re at the right point at the right time. A lot of luck is involved, also exploiting that luck.”
The Secrets of My Life is an absolute page-turner and I highly recommend it.
Tom Plant launched WINEormous in 2009 and is a member of the International Food Wine and Travel Writers Association. Based in Temecula, California, he offers intimate winery tours for no more than seven people. Tour details and pricing are available at www.temecula-tours.com. Call now to book your Temecula Winery Tour at (951) 907-9701. Ask about special discounts.