Getting Engaged in Napa - A Survival Guide for When the Ring Gets Lost

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People travel from all over the world for that romantic gesture in Wine Country. Rick Bakas tells his story of his perfect proposal gone awry. Rick, I'm laughing as I'm reading this now, but I'm sure it was a challenge then! Congratulations for your Happy Union.


In May 2007 I was planning on being in San Francisco for the Broadbent Selection annual wine importer sales meeting. At the time I was a broker for Bartholomew Broadbent, one of the most well known people in the world of wine. Bartholomew’s father, Michael Broadbent has been a major force involved with Decanter magazine and Christie’s wine auctions for decades.

The annual sales meeting is always a great time. My girlfriend’s father, Jim, worked for me representing the portfolio in the state of Colorado. Jim and I were planning on attending the sales meeting together, however, I was planning something bigger.

I was planning on proposing to his daughter, Jaimie in Napa. Both of our families are all about wine and food, and early on in our relationship I had the notion of proposing in a wine-related setting.

The little wheels in my head started turning as I thought about Jim and I being in San Francisco at the same time. I really wanted our families there for the event. My challenge would be to get his wife and Jaimie out there at the same time without Jaimie catching on. We had talked about getting married, but Jaimie is a pretty smart cookie. You have to get up pretty early in the morning to sneak one by her. At Christmas it’s almost pointless wrapping gifts for her. She’ll pick up a box, and shake it. Then she’ll guess what it is. If I was going to surprise her, I had to plan carefully.

As if the heaven’s opened and the planets aligned, my Mom’s 60th birthday just happened to be that same week. Jaimie’s Mom was also turning 60 the following week. Long story short, I used the 60th birthdays as an excuse to get everyone out to Napa to celebrate first class-style.

Once her parents and my Mom booked their flights I moved onto phase two of the plan–getting the ring. I had been saving my pennies to eh’er...uh, what am I saying pennies?? I had been saving my Ben Franklin’s waiting for the day to buy the ring. I went to our family jeweler.

I hemmed and hawed waiting for the perfect diamond to reveal itself. Since the jeweler was a friend, he gave me a fair price, but he also offered to save me about $250 by mailing the ring out to California for me. I asked how often he had been mailing expensive pieces of jewelry. He replied he had been mailing diamonds and rings for 40 years. I asked him if he had ever lost anything in the mail. About once every seven years. I asked how long it had been since the last time something was lost. Three years. That, and everything is insured.

Okay, sounds good to me. I asked him to send the ring to Spann Vineyards in Sonoma, the place we’d be staying.

So we get to California and I’m having breakfast in downtown San Francisco with Jim during the sales meeting. I ask for his permission and he’s delighted. The sales meeting ends and we all head out of downtown on our way up to wine country.

Peter Spann of Spann Vineyards calls me while we’re in the car with Jaimie and her parents–he tells me the ring didn’t show up. I shit my pants. But at this point only Jim knows what’s up. Jaimie could see the color leave my face and my facial expression looked like I was going to throw up, probably because I was.

I hung up and Jaimie asks me what’s wrong. What I wanted to say was I had spent the last three months orchestrating a proposal, only to have the ring get lost in the mail. But what came out was some excuse about an expensive bottle of wine getting lost. We have a few gems in the cellar for a special occasion. I said I had mailed one out to celebrate the Mom’s birthdays.

The whole ride up to wine country was similar to having a root canal for two hours. It was painful but I felt numb.

Once we got to Spann Vineyards, Peter wanted to give us a tour of the winery before having lunch in the vineyard. His wife, and brilliant wine maker, Betsy, was inside helping me breathe into a paper bag while we tried contacting the post office to see where my ring was. What was I going to do? The following day I was going to propose to my girlfriend in front of our families with no ring.

Peter and Betsy Spann attend all sorts of wine country events, including a charity auction where there was costume jewelry handed out. Betsy had a fake diamond ring from that event.

It just happened to be the right size, but the “diamond” didn’t resemble the diamond I had bought. It looked like a 20-carat golf ball sized über rock. Only celebrities and people who own islands buy diamonds this size. I had no choice. It was über rock or call the whole thing off.
Wow! The following day was surreal. I don’t know how most guys feel when they know they’re going to propose, but imagine that feeling AND having lost a diamond ring in the mail AND proposing with a stunt double ring.

We got to Silverado where the view overlooking the valley was ideal. It was a perfect spring day and everything was set. Was I going to do this? Had to remember to breathe. What would she think when I pull this gaudy fake ring out of my pocket on one knee? What if she said no? How could a serious moment happen without THE ring?

As I proposed, I explained the phone call in the car and how a bottle of fine wine wasn’t lost, but her ring. She said yes and wore that ring until we located the real one, which was two weeks later. What’s funny is right after I proposed, everyone in the Silverado tasting room saw what happened and gave us a round of applause. There was a bus full of girls there. As we walked by them to the tasting bar we could see them eyeballing the ring making all sorts of funny faces. One girl leaned over to her friend and mentioned under her breath how gaudy the ring was.

Jaimie went with it and told the girls I was a shipping tycoon.

The story has a happy ending because we located the ring. But Jaimie wore that big ol’ fake rock with pride until we did, and now we have a fun story to tell. After all, isn’t that what life and marriage is all about? Good stories are what binds family. Especially when you can laugh about it, like we do now. Thanks to Peter and Betsy for saving the day. We served Spann Vineyards wine at our wedding with a special bottle of Silverado for the main table.

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