Volume 29 · Number 3 · Spring 2012
Steven Levi '70, Cred. '72
Occupation: Historian, teacher and author of about 40 books, including The Clara Nevada: Gold, Greed, Murder and Alaska's Inside Passage.
Cold case: After more than 25 years of research, Steven Levi believes he has finally solved what he calls the "coldest cold case" in American history — the sinking of the steamer Clara Nevada in Alaskan waters in 1898 during the Klondike Gold Rush. With the ship, as many as 165 people and 120 ounces of gold disappeared. It was, Levi says, a crime "twice the size of the Brinks job and the largest mass murder in American history until the Oklahoma City bombing." When tales of the shipwreck first caught Levi's curiosity, he was uncertain whether any clues to the disaster had survived. "This is 100 years gone by. Almost all records are gone," he told himself. "You'd be lucky to find anything." But over the years, Levi found enough information from newspaper accounts, census records and other historical documents to piece together an account of what happened. He reports his findings in his book, The Clara Nevada: Gold, Greed, Murder and Alaska's Inside Passage (History Press, 2011).
Telling untold tales: History is one of Levi's passions, but his books cross many genres, including fiction, biography, poetry, travel, humor, aviation and how-to. Titles include Deadwood Dick, a biographical novel about African American cowboy Nat Love (1988) and his latest, When Lightning Tickled History, a collection of true stories about times when a lightning bolt changed the course of human affairs. Levi said he likes his books to break new ground. "I always look for something that is completely different," he said. "Most writers choose something like murder mysteries, but I look for something like the Clara Nevada — nobody has ever done anything about it."
Man of many careers: Levi moved to Alaska in 1976 to teach history classes at remote military bases. He settled a year later in Anchorage, where he still lives. Levi has held numerous writing jobs, including writing utility tariffs for the public electricity company and writing bills for the state legislature. Today, he is a part-time teacher as well as a writer for Alaska Medicade. His website, parsnackle.com, offers resources for teachers and creative-thinking tutorials. "I like Alaska because it is still a frontier," he said. "I have a degree in history, but I've been a teacher, public utility consultant, software developer, technical writer, small business trouble shooter, editor and financial consultant over the years. Had I stayed in California, I would have had one career."
"Writing is an art. If you talk to anyone in the arts, they'll tell you the same thing. If you don't do anything new and different, you won't be successful…. If you're not going to be different, then you're already competing with people who are already established. If you want something good, you have to look for it."
Vintage Aggies: Jeff Mathy '99 and Karl Lehmann '02
Karl Lehmann, left, is the winemaker and Jeff Mathy is proprietor and managing director of Vellum Wine Craft.
You could trace the genesis of Vellum Wine Craft's award-winning Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon to both the wine cellar and to the world's tallest mountain.
Jeff Mathy '99, a sponsored mountain climber, was scaling Mount Everest in 2003 when he decided that attempting the last 1,000 feet to the 29,000-foot summit wasn't worth the risk. On his way back down, he realized that after four years of climbing the seven summits, the highest mountains in each of the seven continents, his new calling was in wine.
"While sleeping on rock and ice at 26,000 feet on Mount Everest, I started to dream about life after climbing," Mathy said. "I went from denying my senses, ignoring the cold, hunger, fatigue and exhaustion, to a life that dedicated itself to the senses."
Mathy moved to Sonoma Valley, where he interviewed for a cellar position at a winery. The winemaker who hired him was Karl Lehmann '02, who had studied at UC Davis' viticulture and enology program and practiced his craft in wineries in Northern California and New Zealand.
The two became best friends and, with their 2005 conception of Vellum Wine craft, business partners — Mathy as proprietor and Lehmann as winemaker. They poured their first vintage in 2007.
The goal of Vellum Wine Craft, according to the company website, is to create Cabernet on par with the finest Bordeaux from the St. Julien region of France. "We release only one wine each year," said Mathy. "Every one of our releases since the inaugural vintage has won a medal at the World Wine Awards in London."
Lehmann, who served four years in the U.S. Navy during the Gulf War before attending UC Davis, comes back to campus a couple of times each year for viticulture and enology seminars.
He said Vellum's participation in the UC Davis Alumni Wine Program is important to "show students that UC Davis graduates can go out into the world and lead in their respective careers."
He added: "UC Davis' is among the finest of the winemaking programs in the world. My education at Davis guided me to make good decisions that led me to where I am today."
For more information about the UC Davis Alumni Wine Program, visit the Cal Aggie Alumni Association.