CAZADERO — Across the valley from Rick Paulus’s home atop a Cazadero ridge, a small winery pokes out from the tree-covered hillside.
It’s Flowers Vineyards & Winery, visible from the backyard of his home off King Ridge Road where he and his wife Julie Guibord moved in October 2014.
For eight years, under presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, Paulus served as chief calligrapher of the White House, where he spent countless hours hand-lettering programs, invitations and menus inside his East Wing office. Ten years later, the final versions of many of those elegant designs are stored inside a clear plastic storage bin beneath the ink-spattered desk in his home studio. Two of the menus, the now-57-year-old realized, featured a pinot noir from Flowers.
“I was kind of fascinated, actually, that I ended up out here, and the only building I can see across that beautiful valley from my studio happens to be a vineyard (whose name) I wrote at the White House,” he said. “It was pretty cool. I was like, ‘Boy, what a small world.’”
The first menu that featured Flowers’ “Camp Meeting Ridge” pinot noir was for the White House celebration of the 50th anniversary of the signing of the North Atlantic Treaty, held April 23, 1999. Wine from Flowers was poured just one other time at the White House, for a holiday dinner later that same year. Paulus lettered that menu, too.
Michelle Forry, member concierge for the winery, remembers the occasion well. She’s the one who answered the White House’s phone call. A copy of Paulus’s first menu was sent to the winery after the dinner, and still hangs on a wall inside the administration building, she said.
“For us, to have it, it’s a great honor,” she said. “You feel so proud, really. Proud of what you do. ... It’s pretty interesting that he would end up out here.”
The White House calligraphy office creates thousands of menus, invitations, programs and place cards for social events each year. A typical menu can take up to four hours to design, Paulus said, and calligraphers place a high importance on etiquette and elevating the utilitarian items they produce into personalized pieces of art.
“Probably 99.9 percent of people look at the alphabet, look at what they’re reading, and they don’t consider the design of the shapes, but it’s something that we calligraphers do,” he said.
Paulus’s journey to the White House began when he was 10 years old and bought his first calligraphy set from a five-and-dime store near his family’s home on Cape Cod. The Speedball calligraphy set cost him $5, and sparked a self-taught passion for lettering that only grew as friends and family members realized his talent, requesting personalized textbook covers and designs featuring Paulus’s elaborate penmanship.
His first job as calligrapher came at age 23. After a four-year stint with the Navy where he never quite found his place, Paulus was staying with a friend in Washington, D.C. who found a job listing in the Washington Post seeking a calligrapher to letter certificates for the city’s plumbers and pipe fitters. Knowing Paulus’ ability, he convinced him to apply. It took more than a few reminders before Paulus culled together a few samples of designs, applied and got the job.