My Roots with Rothschild, a Post more than a Year in the Imagination

It was Christmas Day at 12:30 PM, and we were in the parking lot behind West Seattle Junction about to search for a place to eat lunch.  My phone vibrated and I pulled it out to reveal a text message from my brother with a photograph.

Image

“A friend of mine at Christmas,” he wrote.

“Holy shit!” I responded.

A sea of memories and aspirations from the last year washed through my brain as my eyes widened at the image that represented the Genesis for what felt like a more enigmatically personal addition to this blog.

In early January of last year, my mother was visiting me in Dallas from South Carolina, and while she was there we went to see a documentary at the Inwood Theater about Sholem Aleichem titled Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness.    The film detailed Aleichem’s upbringing in Eastern Europe and how he became a spokesperson for a culture on the cusp of unprecedented changes through uprooting, a transition that  brought my mother’s and father’s sides of the family to the United States generations ago.  One of the few writers to use the Yiddish language as a vehicle for artistic expression, I could hear echoes of my maternal grandmother’s exclamations in various moments throughout the movie.  It was his work that inspired my favorite musical, Fiddler on the Roof.

Fiddler on the Roof has resonated so closely with me ever since the first time I saw one of my mother’s best students play Tevye the Milkman (inspired by an Aleichem character) in a high school production.  I later performed in the play as Avrahm the bookseller in my junior year of high school.  Its themes of struggling to preserve tradition while seeking wisdom that must evolve seem so close to me every day.  There is a song in the earlier part of the production that rings true to me in this stage of establishing my early adult life, but also has struck a chord for many generations:

It was while watching the documentary on Aleichem that I learned of the inspiration for this song, a monologue by Aleichem titled “When I’m a Rothschild.” Ever since pursuing sommelier certification, the name “Rothschild” represented both an unavoidably important piece of history and also a symbol of status.  The Rothschilds first entered the world of wine in 1853 when Baron Nathaniel, a member of the English branch of the family, bought Brane Mouton and renamed it Mouton-Rothschild.    Years later, another family member Baron Philippe took it over and achieved the only elevation of Bordeaux classification status for any chateaux, a status that precedes it today as one of the more coveted bottles of wine available each year.

On the French side of the Rothschild family, Baron James bought Lafite in 1868 and died a few months later, but his son Edmond sowed the seeds for the establishment of the Israeli wine industry through his Zionist interests and purchases of land that later became Israel.

I had begun to see my studies in a different light.  The family of European bankers had a closer connection to me than I had noticed, as their roots stemmed from the same Semitic tribes of Ashkenazi Jews where my religious traditions began and continue to survive.

I finally read the Aleichem monologue last night, after coming up with the idea for this entry shortly after seeing the film over a year ago.  The monologue begins with familiar themes covered in “If I Were a Rich Man,” dreams of financial independence: “Oy, when I’m a Rothschild!…Guess what I’ll do!  In the first place, it’ll be guaranteed that a wife always has a three-ruble note with her so she doesn’t have to bother a man when Thursday rolls around…One won’t have to worry about where to find money to make Shabbos – what a delight to the soul that will be!”  But then Aleichem remarks “so that covers my needs – so then what?  I’ll get started…I’ll create…societies in Kasrilevke [his fictional Russian village], one after another.  But what makes us here in Kasrilevke so special?!  I’ll set up…societies everywhere the Children of Israel are found, everywhere in the whole world!”  I was struck by such a broad Utopian vision he seemed to be laying out, “and since we’re talking about ‘contribution,’ to whom do folks come for a loan?  To me, to Rothschild that is.  Here, take it…And when you pay me back, there won’t be a lot of interest to pay, because we shouldn’t become rich off others…Now do you understand?  I make a little business deal – and…the whole world will have an entirely different face…”

What kind of a businessman thinks “we shouldn’t become rich off others?”  I was incredulous at the sight of such a genuinely altruistic world view, something that has all but disappeared in our unapologetically capitalistic society.  Aleichem, a marginally known writer best remembered for his light-hearted, humorous depictions of everyday life in Eastern Europe, harbored a vision for the Rothschild family that I would have never imagined.  He imagined them as his own extended family sharing his same values, businesspeople not for the sake of personal profit, but for eternal philanthropy…And what kind of wine would he make?

Well, if I were a Rothschild, let me tell you, I would stop selling my wine.  Because wine should not be a status symbol; it should be a gift of hospitality.  That’s right, the only way you would be able to drink my wine would be if you came to visit me, or asked me to visit you.  And I would welcome everyone over to taste from my cellar.  If I were a Rothschild, there would be no “experts” in my wine, and no novices either, but only guests who can all learn from and appreciate the gift of a carefully-made bottle of wine.  Just as we ask Eliyahu to enter our home with a glass of wine on Pesach, so should we do the same with the rest of our brethren.  And since I’d be a Rothschild, I would have all the means to keep making wine, and everyone would want to feed me and keep me company, because I would just want to share all my hard work with them.

How would my wine taste, you wonder?  It would taste like something that makes you wonder and be curious about this big world where we live.  It would taste like I am trying to preserve all the traditions and joy that we do our best to bottle up and share with each other, but it would also taste unique, like I made that one bottle you’d be drinking just for your visit.  Because wine is special, and each bottle is like our own Children of Israel, a people that will always grow into something new but still be who we are…

Music at Mace

It began at Beveridge Place, when my friend Clark asked me if Carla and I would like to join him and his wife there.  A friend of theirs who made mead in Dayton was going to be pouring some new releases, and two of his meads were also on tap.  Carla jumped at the opportunity, as she had wanted to take me to our neighborhood dog-friendly beer pub ever since trying it out with our puppy a few weeks before.

Reggie Mace arrived from Mace Meadworks sporting a dark baseball cap, light red mutton chops and a hunter moustache, and large brown-framed glasses that rested over nearly the entire upper portion of his nose.  He walked around the bar distributing samples of his latest batches of Dry and Thistle Cask meads, the latter of which also had an earlier batch on tap.  I was nursing a glass I had picked up from the bar in between scratching my dog’s ears.  It tasted rich and pungent with flavors akin to a scotch that had left its barrel early.

“Where is mead originally from?” I asked.

Clark studied his iPhone a minute and smiled.  “Oh I have to read this Wikipedia entry,” he said, halfway chuckling.  “It’s profoundly poetic:

‘Mead is known from many sources of ancient history throughout Europe, Africa and Asia, although archaeological evidence of it is ambiguous.[7] Its origins are lost in prehistory. “It can be regarded as the ancestor of all fermented drinks,” Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat has observed, “antedating the cultivation of the soil.”[8]

Claude Lévi-Strauss makes a case for the invention of mead as a marker of the passage “from nature to culture.”[9] Mead has played an important role in the beliefs and mythology of some peoples. One such example is the Mead of Poetry, a mead of Norse mythology crafted from the blood of the wise being Kvasir which turns the drinker into a poet or scholar.’

“It’s so refreshing to drink something different from basic wine or beer,” I remarked.  “I’ve been so inundated with them the past few years that my taste buds often want a break.”

“We’re going to Reggie’s mead bar in early November for a concert,” Molly said.  “You should come.  The band is guys you met at our wedding celebration.”

We were sitting at the Mace Meadworks bar in Dayton, two mead cocktails in front of us.  We had received a text message from Clark earlier on our drive from Seattle that he and Molly would be unable to make it at the last minute.  My William Tell Routine was running low, a room temperature glass of dry mead, Jones green apple soda, and cinnamon-bourbon sour.

“People usually show up late,” said Reggie, smiling, “so we’re gonna’ wait until more people trickle in here.

One of the bands’ drummers Matt had arrived, an old friend of Clark’s who had joined us at Beveridge Place when we had first tasted the mead weeks ago.

Zebra Hunt at Mace

I ordered a bottle of Mace’s First Anniversary Mead made from wildflower honey to share amongst the evening’s acquaintances.  Only a few bottles remained of this pure, velvety batch.  As its relaxing effects kicked in, Zebra Hunt took the stage and kicked off with liveliness. They played about a half hour and handed the stage to Branden Daniel and the Chics.

Branden Daniel and the Chics at Mace

As I reach the end of my reminiscence, I feel eluded by my efforts to capture my cozy exuberance that evening. We had escaped to a site full of undiscovered gems, as I had only visited downtown Dayton once during my college years.  Live music, one of my favorite things, was washing over our ears in the narrow lounge and we were taking in new tastes over friendly conversation.  Music and complex libations have a rare interplay of sophisticated ease.  An author once told me his favorite place to eavesdrop is a wine bar, because the conversations there are of a deeper and more intriguing flavor than that of a bar serving hard alcohol.  With mead, the oldest known alcoholic beverage, the same must have been true of the sounds that evening, and perhaps evenings in the distant, ancient past.

Mace 1st Anniversary Mead

A Thank You Note

Dear Jane

 
About nine months have passed since our last correspondence, and the possibility of me moving to Argentina and working for Algodon has fallen off the radar.  My job search has instead taken me to Seattle, Washington as of this summer, where I am now working for Starbucks as their tea quality specialist.  Though my career has shifted away from wine at this time, my taste buds are getting more exercise than ever, and I am nurturing my former passion through the blog I started last year.
 
Regardless of how long it has been and all the unpredictable things that have passed, I am reaching out to let you know you were in my thoughts on Sunday evening, when the appropriate moment finally came to open the 2008 Algodon Private Collection Malbec you had given me toward the end of last year.  My girlfriend and I took our puppy to the West Seattle Farmer’s Market to pick up ingredients for dinner, and spent four hours making a bolognese sauce of ground elk, bison, and yak to toss with fettucine we cranked out on a pasta-maker she had bought me for my birthday a year ago.  With game meat, your Malbec came to mind.  It was no less intriguing to my girlfriend, who had learned to make pasta from an Argentinian, and was teaching me to make it that evening.
 
Lush, bright, and supple, its soothing taste befit our rainy Autumn Sunday well.  There was more to that wine than its mouthfeel though, as it occupied a unique space in my memory.  It evoked the brief dreams I had harbored of another life months ago, and reminded me of the kind support you offered at that time.  Moments like those are what nurture my penchant for wine, and I thank you for your generosity and interest in that pursuit.  I will no doubt make it to Argentina one day, and I hope to make Algodon an early stop on that trip.  For now, I am enjoying the opportunity to explore the Emerald City and experience Autumn for the first time since I can remember.  If you make it out here, feel free to reach out and we will catch up.
 
Warm regards,
 
-Adam

Island Relief

Balcony view at the Boatyard Inn

I was veering into the exit to Harbor Avenue a couple weeks ago, listening to a segment on NPR about Washington apple harvest festivals.  The host described a Whidbey Island festival called Apple Day and Mutt Strut, where people gathered to taste apples and freshly pressed cider, and dressed their dogs in costume for a contest.

The festivities were next to the Langley Farmer’s Market, which stood adjacent to a nursery a few miles from where we were staying at the Boatyard Inn.  They were a casual community affair, and despite not getting a costume for our puppy Nora, she was awarded “Best Trick” when I got her to lay on her back for a treat.

We returned to the main drag and went inside a winery called Ott & MurphyHeavy rains outside gave me a sense of coziness sitting indoors I have nary felt since my childhood.  A flight of wines, a cheese terrine, a salumi platter, and a bottle of Grenache later, we encountered a flavor that was a gateway into our next stop on Whidbey Island.  It came in the form of loganberry liqueur drizzled on a Chocolate Espresso Tart, tasting like thin, silky syrup.

“It’s from Whidbey Island Distillery,” the winery owner David Ott said in his gentle voice with a mild raspiness.  “It’s nearby, and I think they’re just releasing a raspberry liqueur too.”

We nearly missed our turn into the Heising household the next day, where Whidbey Island Distillery co-owner Steven invited the three of us inside to see his copper still named “Bubbling Betty.” It was a project he and his wife Beverly had undertaken as their retirement, making liqueur out of surplus wine from local wineries, then adding local loganberry juice and raspberry juice to produce their two current offerings.

Bottles of whiskey lined the table by the door.  “Most of those are just to see the color behind our labels,” Steven remarked.  “We’re hoping to produce our own whiskey soon.”

“Have you thought of producing grappa?” I asked.  “Since you’re dabbling in brandy already…”

“We’ve thought about it, but not everyone has a taste for grappa, plus you need to add sugar when you make grappa, which would mean we would have to buy more, rather than use products that would otherwise be wasted.  We’re trying to make something as natural as possible.”

While tasting their spirits, Beverly eyed Nora and asked if we had been to Spoiled Dog Winery, just up the road.  “You can bring your dog in there,” she said, smiling.

Pinot Noir vines at Spoiled Dog Winery

With two bottles of liqueur, some infused chocolates, and a couple branded shot glasses given as gifts for our anniversary, we set off for the winery before heading back to the ferry.  Spoiled Dog Winery was up a hill, its tasting room behind a modestly sized field of Pinot Noir vines.  While we tasted their wines, Nora played with their elderly Australian Shephard named Blue. We tied a red scarf from the winery around her neck as a memento for our weekend of relief from the chaotic election season.

Our yellow lab Nora playing with winery dog Blue

“I love how this town is pretty much all small businesses,” Carla said as we were nearing the ferry.  The statement epitomized Whidbey Island to me.  There had not been a Subway, Pizza Hut, or even my beloved employer Starbucks in sight.  Our only distractions came in the form of our eyes fixed on our puppy and the serene island views, and our taste buds that were seduced by various libations of comfort.  As with any fulfilling trip, the worst part is knowing I can no longer say I have been there and done that, but must instead long to return once Whidbey Island Distillery releases their whiskey.

Waters at the Water

I have been living in Seattle for nearly two months, renting a new house with my girlfriend since the beginning of August.  Last weekend was the first time I put the responsibilities of moving aside and relaxed with old friends at a wedding celebration on Vashon Island.

Taking the Ferry to Vashon Island

The party was scheduled from noon Saturday until noon Sunday, and was nearing its end.  We were packing our belongings, thinking we would soon head back to the ferry, when my friend (and our host) Clark came to us and said “so guys, we were thinkin’ of going to the beach for a little while…”

The first thing I noticed upon stepping onto KVI Beach was endless patches of sea beans.  In spite of my penchant for foraging, I would sooner climb a mountain than lay out on the shore, so I had not seen these salty morsels in their native habitat.

Miniature geysers squirted from the sand, and someone indicated they were clams.   Ever since reading Hank Shaw’s entry on digging for geoducks, I had been waiting for this moment.  A little help from Clark and two sore arms later, I was out of breath and sipping a Syrah from Waters Winery alongside some sea beans as Clark filled a bucket to hold the four large horse clams—at the time we thought they were geoducks—we had dug from the sand.

The bounty of Horseneck Clams

We all gathered on a blanket for a picnic after the dig.

“Guys,” Clark said, “this is Molly and my wedding cake.”  He opened a large button of soft goat cheese covered in lavender, rose petals, and coriander.  “It’s called River’s Edge True Love Chevre.”  Since they had such a small group of people with them when they got married a year ago, a traditional wedding cake was not what they were after.  They had instead chosen something special they could revisit and re-taste.  I cut off a knob using a chunk of bread, and topped it with some smoked salmon and sea beans, then sipped my plastic cup of Syrah.  I could say the marriage of saltiness, lush juicy concentrate, creamy fat, and flowers was an indescribably beautiful taste sensation.  But I tend to believe such ideal pairings achieve greatness because of their setting.  The cool, crisp air and bright, vast landscape of solitude with many of my most cherished companions made a quiet afternoon into a rare weekend’s memorable end.  A cup of Washington’s finest grape is merely the final piece of the puzzle, the one that completes the image so you may begin piecing together the next set of flat jigsaw blocks.

 

Three Oregon Wineries: Visiting Through Vignettes

MAYSARA

It was our second weekend in Oregon.  My girlfriend Carla and I had taken a trip to Wandering Aengus Ciderworks in Salem to fill our growler with Anthem Hop Cider.  We were becoming hungry and exhausted after we left, and we were making our way to Mcminville for a winery visit before heading back to Portland.

Maysara Winery is the first place featured in Katherine Cole’s book Voodoo Vintners: Oregon’s Astonishing Biodynamic Winegrowers,  and the portrait she painted of Moe Momtazi’s uncompromising and genuinely radical vision for his namesake vineyard had captured my attention and kept me scratching my head about such an unusual form of viticulture until I reached the book’s index.

We stopped at a café a few miles from the vineyard for a roast beef au jus to sate our appetites, and turned into the inclined dirt road an hour before Maysara’s scheduled closing time.  Each row of vines had colorful flowers in front of them, a practice we later learned was intended to attract insects and keep them away from the grapevines.

The winery and tasting room appeared majestic and medieval, with tall ceilings and large stones on the walls.  We met Naseem, the middle daughter in the Momtazi family business and National Sales Representative for Maysara.  She poured seven wines for us, five of them Pinot Noirs, each its own wild animal with unique subtleties of flavor.  We walked out with the white (a Pinot Blanc) and two of the reds: the 3 Degrees and the Asha Pinot Noirs that had an ample balance of soil, bramble, and fruit to please my finicky palate for this elusive grape.  On our drive back, we saw a sign for Anne Amie Vineyards.

“Oh, Anne Amie,” I said.  “They make such a great dry Riesling.  I wish we had time to stop there.”

“Maybe next weekend, mi amor,” Carla said softly, patting my back.

ANNE AMIE

It was our third Saturday in Oregon, our only remaining full weekend in the State, and we were driving back from Chatoe Rogue, a farm owned by Rogue Brewery that grows hops and barley for use in their microbrews made in the coastal city of Newport.  Once again, our last stop on the way back was a winery.

We had checked the website for Anne Amie Vineyards and learned they would be hosting a movie night that evening, which allowed us to make our way back leisurely without worry of their tasting room closing.

The sky was full of cirrus clouds made gold by the bright sun touching the tips of the vineyard’s rolling hills of vines and its perennial bushes on its patio.  Carla and I walked in the tasting room and were told the movie would start at 8, so we tasted a few wines and bought a cheese plate to enjoy with their Viognier.  It was a bright and beautiful example of such a friendly white grape, full and layered with floral tropicality that cooled our lips as the sun shone over us.

We drained the bottle well before the movie was even close, and opted to take another one home in addition to their dry Riesling.  The simple pairing of herbed goat cheese, Viognier, and an approaching sunset over their vineyard had provided enough entertainment that evening.

View from the patio at sunset at Anne Amie Vineyards

MONTINORE

It was our last Saturday in Oregon, and we would be leaving the State before the afternoon closed.  Our last stop was again a winery, one that had also captured my interest in Katherine Cole’s book, and had been the subject of a previous post: Montinore Estate

The site was the most beautiful winery we had yet seen.  We were again confronted by roses in front of the vines, a densely packed bunch of low-lying green specimens covering a wide expanse of rolling hills.

“Interested in a tasting?” the Attendant said as she rose from her chair behind their bar.

We chose ten wines to taste and with every few, I walked around the room, sipping and browsing the diverse array of products they were selling.  I sipped the first Pinot Noir she had poured, and recalled the last night I went out to dinner with my parents at FIG in Charleston, South Carolina where I had tried a glass of the same wine for the first time.

“What’s this?” I asked, picking up a large bottle full of brown liquid labeled “VERJUS.”

“It’s basically the best thing ever,” (the Attendant) said.  “It’s the juice of unripe grapes.  I use it in everything, for salad dressings, poaching pears, cocktails.”

Carla gave me her first look of longing at the bar.  “Are we buying it?” she asked.

“I guess we are,” I responded.

We tasted through another few wines and were at our last, their Pinot Noir Ruby Port.  She poured it for us and I raised my glass and smelled it.

“Wait, let me get you some chocolate,” she said from the back of the bar.  She presented us with two small paper sample cups with a thick chocolate reduction.  “This is our Pinot Noir chocolate sauce.”

Carla gave me her second longing look, and I consented yet again.

We walked out with the majority of what we had tasted, and I filled the gaps in the box with some additional loose bottles of beer and wine we had bought earlier.  I snapped a few pictures with my new iPhone of the flower-lined vine rows before getting in the car to begin our drive to Seattle.  No VIP tours, no sample bottles, no business lunches, not even an industry discount anymore since I have shifted my focus back to the tea world.  Just good wine worth devoting the time for our taste buds.

Roses at Montinore Winery

When the Trade Trades: Part I

I would not initially characterize myself as a betting man, but a chance encounter on my final night in Dallas yielded an irresistible opportunity.  It was late in the evening, my stomach full of stellar sushi and beef soup from my favorite sushi joint Yutaka, and my girlfriend and I were at Strangeways for a final night-cap with friends.  I sipped my cider, and my friend Kevin Trevino, Sommelier at Oak, walked in the bar unexpectedly.

He joined us with a snifter of barrel-aged beer, the name of which escapes me.  We discussed my departure and his upcoming trip to Oregon, where I would be spending the next month training for my new job.

“When are you leaving?” he asked.

“Tomorrow,” I replied.

“What time?”

“The morning.”

“Yeah, right,” he smirked.

“No.  We won’t leave any later than noon.”

“You’ll be leaving by 2 pm or later.”

“No way.  No way.”

“I will bet you a bottle of my 1993 Châteauneuf-du-Pape.”

“All right.  Easy bet to win,” I said, clinking my glass of cider to his beer.

He turned to Carla, my girlfriend.  “You make sure he texts me when you actually leave,” he emphasized.

“If we leave after noon and you win, I’ll open something special.  I’m just not sure what yet.”

At 9:44 AM the next day, I texted Kevin:

“Hittin the road Jack.  Looking forward to taking a trip back in time to 1993 with ya soon.  I will open a bottle of Morrison Lane! :-)”

Kevin was flying into Portland a little before 1 AM this past Friday night.  He spent the weekend at Pinot Noir Camp in Newberg, taking seminars and enjoying lavish meals of crab and salmon baked over outdoor fires.  He remembered to bring the wine, a bottle of Chateau La Nerthe, from 2003.

“I thought you were bringing a CDP from 93!” I exclaimed.

“Turns out I forgot that I never had a ’93.  The 2003 just had 93 points from Robert Parker.”

It was about 1:30 by the time we arrived at my apartment.  I pulled out a hunk of Mt. Townsend Red Alder Toma, and removed the cork from the wine bottle.  One side of the wood had a string of wine that had nearly soaked to the edge, confirming the bottle’s passage into adulthood.  I poured short pours into two glasses and held one to my nose.  I recalled a moment of shoveling dirt in front of my second Dallas house, the day I spent laying the foundation for what became my first successful garden.

The wine tasted heavy yet balanced, slightly warming on a late and wet Portland night.  It quieted us as my tongue swam through soft flavors of fresh berry conserve akin to the local marionberries and strawberries I have seen so often in the Pacific Northwest.  At such a late, tired hour, my taste buds felt as if they were genuinely budding and new, just trying to absorb the wise prophecies of an elder who had remained quiet for nine years.

We toasted, and spent the next two hours wandering through conversation.  As I reach this point of the story, I remember the moment Kevin and I first met three years ago at the Texas Sommelier Conference, and how that instance was one of many chance parallels drawn together with wine as their point of intersection.  We both found ourselves on the job market shortly after having lunch with a winemaker a couple years after meeting one another, and it was a wine event that brought him to my new one-month home.  Ultimately, we shared these many bonds through a bottle of wine.

All that said, I have a promise to keep, one we were too tired to pursue at 3:30 AM.  Kevin and I will meet again one day, and I will open a bottle of Morrison Lane, so I can write Part II of this entry…