Drinking Wine out of a Highball

Ever since starting this blog I had intended to visit Scardello Artisan Cheese Shop during one of their late nights that occur the first Friday of each month.  I first dropped by the shop about two years ago, and was struck by their use of highball glasses for wines they served by the glass.  It seemed to promote an image free of pretension, a place where anyone could feel relaxed.  I could only recall stemware as the preferred medium since I began drinking wine regularly.  Businesses such as Scardello that serve wine and charge money for it often invest an inordinate amount of time and capital for what they consider the ideal glassware.  But in this small cheese shop, wine is a best friend that their cheese needs to keep around, even though it may have a life of its own outside of Scardello.

Foregoing expensive stemware, the preferred wine consumption vessel at Scardello is a basic highball

I finally had some spare time this past Friday evening, and I drove straight from work to the shop.  I approached the live jazz trio, when Ali Morgan, a short brunette employee with a bright demeanor, approached me.  “Hey Adam!” she said with gusto, hugging me.  “How are you?”

“I’ve been doing well,” I remarked.

“It’s Rich’s birthday.  Come sit with us.”

Cheesemongers Rich Rogers and Ali Morgan relaxing with a bottle of wine

Rich Rogers had left a career in the film industry to open this unique and personal vision of a cheese shop years ago.  It represents what he wants to share with the community, with a sense of enthusiasm that filters into the friendly smiles of his employees, some of whom were relaxing with him for their night off.

Rich poured me a glass of 2008 Teira Zinfandel from Sonoma, basic, big, and expansive, and a great partner for the piece of creamy Jersey Blue cheese he let me taste.  Someone mentioned that the winemaker, Dan Donahoe, was a friend of Rich’s.  “He’s a cool guy and he makes great wines,” Rich said.

I began fiddling with my new camera, snapping pictures in between sips of Corino Nebbiolo Rich let me taste.  Having just arrived from work, a couple glasses of wine were causing my memory of the familiar jazz tunes to elude me of their exact titles, but they were nonetheless relaxing to my pleasant state of revelry.

Teira Zinfandel and Colino Nebbiolo, with some special cheeses

I had invited an old friend’s current girlfriend, Gretchen, who had just moved to town.  In spite of her lactose intolerance, the mention of half-price wines by the glass and live jazz convinced her to join us.  I bought us each a glass of Malbec and told her about my week full of mishaps before Thanksgiving.

As the jazz trio packed up their instruments, Rich gave me and Gretchen a taste of the Iron Horse 2007 Wedding Cuvee Blanc de Noirs.  He explained how they were among those who had petitioned for Green Valley’s American Viticultural Area status in Sonoma back in 1983.  I inhaled the cherry blossom aroma percolating out of my highball, and sipped it as I browsed Rich’s small yet eclectic wall of wines.  On the bottom shelf in the center, I noticed an Italian Carménère-based blend.  The grape almost always originates from Chile, and this was the second time I had seen it from elsewhere, (the first time was from one of my favorite Walla Walla wineries, Morrison Lane,) so I was no doubt curious about the bottle in front of me by Inama.  Surely it’s not approved for us to sell at Whole Foods, I thought.

The interior of Scardello late night

I told my colleague about it at work the next day, and arrived yesterday to an open bottle to taste and a full case to stock our shelves.   I love being wrong at moments like these, because I had the opportunity to taste something new.  Soft, lush, relaxing, the wine was welcoming me into its home, a place with no frills where I could unwind amongst company.  In that spirit, I made sure my coworkers tasted it, and told them how the grape was nearly lost to the industry and is mostly only available in Chile.  Now we have something familiar that will allow me to introduce more people to Italian wine, and therein lies the most exciting part of what I do: the possibility of relishing my taste with others.

Channeling the Ancient

“Call me Dionysus,” my friend Matt proclaimed, adjusting his aviator sunglasses lower on his face.  Our friend Gus filled Matt’s coffee mug from one of many milk jugs of wine he had brought after his one-day stint bottling at a Walla Walla winery.  Matt’s statement forecasted a unique night of revelry that ensued, leaving me with what I consider an authentic association with the ancient Greek god.  Nietzsche described Dionysian intoxication as “nature overpowering man,” whereby a night of consuming naturally-fermented fruit juice resulted in unrestrained behavior akin to the acts of Dionysus’ followers, the kind of acts that got me kicked out of a bar for the first time.

It was the summer after taking a course in Ancient Theatre, a course where I studied the meaning of tragedy with a special focus on Dionysus, the supposed creator of wine in one of its most ancient forms.  To this day he evokes confusion within me, a figure at once wild and worshipped, capable of inspiring both happiness and madness.  It was through this lens that I began wondering about what wine meant to ancient cultures such as Egypt and Greece, a beverage that inspired both intellectual discourse and debauchery, sometimes simultaneously amongst its users.

In ancient Egypt, wine seems to have an association with the dead, the elite, and most notably gods.  Depicted in a red dress with cow horns, Hathor was the goddess of love, motherhood, and music among other things.  When she received word of the potential assassination of Upper Egypt Pharaoh Ra, she transformed into the hostile and vengeful war goddess Sekhmet.  It was through consuming wine and becoming drunk on the blood-colored liquid that her former, more kindly identity as Hathor reasserted its presence.  In the Festival of Drunkenness, communities came together and paid tribute to this tale of Hathor by becoming thoroughly intoxicated.

The goddess Hathor

I remain struck by this ceremonial homage to inebriation, something also common in Ancient Greece, where another festival called Anthesteria celebrated the beginning of a new vintage by dedicating the newly opened wine to Dionysus.  What intrigued me most, however, was the concept of a symposium, which literally means “drinking together.”  These most important of social gatherings between the Athenian elite began with a small feast before transitioning into heavy drinking of wine mixed with water and spices.  A symposiarchos would moderate the amount of wine consumed, determining the level of drunkenness on these all-night affairs, while flute-girls, or auletrides, provided musical and sexual entertainment.  The mixing of wine with water was a sign of class, while consuming undiluted wine was a habit associated with barbarians, believed by some Spartans to have caused the insanity and death of King Cleomenes.

“There it is,” says Michael Pollan in The Botany of Desire, “right in the middle of the word intoxication, hidden in plain sight: toxic.  The bright line between food and poison might hold, but not the one between poison and desire.”  But what does this perennial desire for personal adulteration tell us about the way we treat wine versus the way our Greek and Egyptian brothers treated it?  The same desires and debates present themselves in different ways, whether it is how we drink in moderation or the use of bottles instead of two-handled clay amphorae vessels for storing the wine.

A scene depicting Dionysus with two satyrs on a Greek amphora used for storing and pouring wine

Over the years I found myself curious about how wine was consumed before the French redefined and codified our understanding of its use, and knew the topic would manifest itself amongst the earliest posts of this blog.  When I told my colleague Bianca about this post and how much time it was taking me, she responded “you could spend the rest of your life researching that.”  I chose an image of Dionysus as the icon for this blog to show my interest in digging deeply into unknown, intangible and at once fascinating concepts tied to wine.  His figure represents the quintessence of what we seek to understand, yet are eluded for the very reasons we desire it, the eternal mystery.

If You Could Have Dinner with One Winemaker…

We walked toward the entrance of Victor Tango’s, concerned for a moment that we were running late.  As we neared the door, our hosts for the evening appeared, Chuck Weintraub (Owner and Broker for Wineright Inc.) and Randal Grahm (Owner and Winemaker for Bonny Doon Vineyards).

Randal smiled as he introduced himself to me.  “Nice hat,” he said, pointing to a large black beret I was wearing with the name of his red wine “CONTRA” written on it.

“I knew he’d wear the hat,” Chuck remarked.

Weeks into my position as Associate Wine Specialist for Whole Foods, Chuck visits the store with wines from Bonny Doon Vineyard.

“I just can’t quite tell you how great it feels to be selling these wines again,” he proclaims.

There are few California wines I regard as beyond the crowd-pleaser category, so my eyebrows go up with intrigue upon tasting these wholly original wines for the first time.

“Adam, you seem quiet,” says Chuck.  “I’m wondering what you think.”

“I’m really impressed by this rosé,” I respond, referring to the Vin Gris de Cigare.  It has a surprisingly dry and crisp flavor profile I have not experienced since my first tasting room job.  Vin Gris is the pink version of Bonny Doon’s flagship wine, Le Cigare Volant, a reference to a 1954 decree that no flying saucers can fly above Chateauneuf-du-Pape.  Here was the alien Californian cleverly concocting a Chateauneuf-du-Pape blend and a rosé version of the wine.

I dive into these wines head first, with a chance encounter days later of Randal Grahm’s collection of newsletters Been Doon So Long at Half Price Books.  I had kept an empty bottle of their European Syrah Domaine des Blaguers in my house, not recalling it as a Bonny Doon wine but more interested in the label drawn by Ralph Steadman, the focus of a previous Why Wine? post.  As I read the book, Randal Grahm sounds like a kindred spirit, someone outside the norm in his home of California and its wine business.

Six of us sat at a table toward the back of the restaurant and the night began with two different bubbling beverages.

“Randal has brought a bunch of wines that are not available in Texas,” Chuck began, “so this should be fun.”

He poured glasses of sparkling cider made from apple, pear, and quince, and finished it with a splash of dessert wine to add sweetness.  The cider tasted like dry champagne without heavy-handed yeastiness.

“Are you growing the fruit for this cider yourself?” I asked him.

“Not yet but we’re hoping to grow the pears and quince.”

Then came sparkling riesling.  I took my glass and smelled, and immediately turned to Bianca, my superior and the buyer at our store.

“Bianca I could sleep in this glass,” I said.  In retrospect, a glass of liquid lends itself more to swimming rather than sleeping.

“Yeah, we need this wine,” she responded.  “New Year’s resolution for the store.”

Food began arriving, and kept arriving throughout the night as the restaurant manager and wine buyer joined our table.  We tasted an Albariño, Dry Muscat, Syrahs, a Nebbiolo, and many more.

At one point the topic of stelvins came up.  Most people I know refer to “stelvins” as “screw-tops,” but the simplistic designation of this term bothers me as much as the term “foodie,” for which I prefer to say “epicurean” as I prefer the word “stelvin.”

“Wine ages better with stelvins,” Randal declared.

“Really?” I asked, my eyes widening.  “Because I have always told customers the exact opposite.”

“Oh no.  We have done experiments.”

After dinner, Bianca asks if I am not too tired for a nightcap at the Libertine Bar.  We sit at a stool as she drinks a digestif, me with a Deschuttes Stoic Ale in front of me.

“So what about the whole cork versus stelvin thing?” I ask.  

“There’s a lot of information coming to light about it,” Bianca notes.

“Because I have seriously told customers a stelvin means the wine is ready to drink and a cork means it should be aged.  But tonight Randal told me the exact opposite.”

“Well what we want with wine is controlled spoilage.  There’s a book called To Cork or Not to Cork that tells the whole story of each closure method.”

Toward the end of dinner, my boss Casie asked Randal how he went from sweeping the floors of a winery to the owner and winemaker for one of California’s most respected vineyards.

“Well, I came from a very privileged background…”

Casie brings up his comment afterward, and points out the perception that people think those with Trust Funds never need to worry about money.

“I distinguish between someone with a privileged background versus someone with a trust fund,” I say.

“What’s the difference for you?” Casie asks.

“I’ve been privileged growing up,” I explain, “but once I became an adult, there was not much money to my name.  Someone with a trust fund has that luxury.  It was also hard doing things my parents didn’t understand when they were financing my education.  Strangely they’ve been most supportive of my career in the wine industry.”

“I think your parents realize you’re serious about what you’re doing,” Bianca says, “and they see their persistence and work ethic reflected in your struggle, so they respect you more for it.”

“Interesting,” I respond.  “I can see how that may be the case.”  I think about how our conversations have made tonight’s main event seem more significant for all of us.

Last Week at Owen Roe

The air is laden with clouds and light rain, the most common weather in this part of Oregon.  I am getting closer to St. Paul, about an hour outside of Portland, passing roadside produce stands and fields of peppers and corn.  My destination is Owen Roe Winery, a boutique winery that sources grapes from Washington and Oregon to make artisanal wines with wide Texas distribution through Glazers.  Texas broker Chuck Weintraub suggested I visit them during my trip to the Pacific Northwest, as he sensed I would be drawn in by the location and his longtime friend, winemaker and former Dallasite Aaron Berlin.

The winery is tucked away with a small black and white sandwich board of a sign.  I am introduced to Aaron upon my arrival.

“So you’re coming from Dallas?” Aaron asks rhetorically.  “You look like you’re straight out of the Pacific Northwest.”

I scratch my chin, my face unshaven after three days at my college reunion in Walla Walla.  “Yep,” I remarked.  “Texans don’t know what to make of me, because most of them I know don’t make it up to the Pacific Northwest.”

We walk toward an alcove with a table of wines to taste.  When he pours a glass of Kilmore Pinot Noir, I ask about the origins of the winery name.  Named after Irish Gaelic soldier Owen Roe O’Neill, Irish owner David O’Reilly was inspired by O’Neill’s loyalty to his kin, a mindset he strives to utilize at his winery.  Aaron describes examples of this generosity, such as the opportunity for staff to make their own wine using the facilities, and lunch prepared by an on-site chef each day for staff and visitors.

Owen Roe O'Neill, Irish Gaelic soldier and source of the winery's namesake

We taste the remaining wines, ending with the recent release of 2010 Sinister Hand, a Grenache-based blend that shows with a restrained and juicy gentleness, just emerging from its shell with youthful vigor.  He asks if I want another glass of something before he shows me the production facilities, and I revisit the Kilmore Pinot Noir.

“I’m excited you like that one so much,” he remarks.  “I was nervous about this vintage…”

2010 Sinister Hand, a blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre

We remove bungs from barrels of white wine, mostly chardonnay.  The odor is initially overwhelming, an ammonia that numbs my entire palate for the glass of wine in my hand.  Intense aromas of banana, overripe mango, and passion fruit come through, manifesting themselves restrainedly together in the bottle, free of lees and wood, when we return to taste some newly opened bottles from the production facility.

He shows me projects from former on-site chef Jesse Skiles, now crafting wines for his label Fausse PisteOne vat holds grapes macerating in their own juices, and another is equal parts Syrah and Viognier piled in individual layers as an experiment to see how separating them in such a way will affect the flavor.  I taste raw viognier grapes, juicy syrah grapes, and somewhat more rough-skinned merlot, all of them sweeter than I would have predicted, hinting at the concentration that may come through as they ferment.

We hop in my rental car and drive ten minutes to one of their vineyards producing grapes that currently go into their Sharecropper Pinot Noir.  Aaron is worried many of the grapes have been consumed by birds and pests, since they had not covered the vineyard with netting yet.  He is pleasantly surprised when we arrive.  The grapes are tart, not quite ripe, and few seem to have been lost to the unwanted predators.

One of Owen Roe's nearby vineyards with Pinot Noir grapes

We head back, and I taste the Sharecropper Pinot Noir with a lunch of pasta mixed with brussel sprouts, corn, and braised pork shoulder.  I then head downstairs to speak with Aaron one last time before I depart.  I ask him what prompted him to leave Dallas for Oregon and how he specifically became the winemaker at Owen Roe.

Unable to survive solely as a musician, he explained, he eventually took a job at specialty wine store Pogos and started reading some magazines about wine.  “I thought ‘this is cool,” he said.  “People drink good wine often; they eat well.  I’d like to be a part of it.’ ”  He left Dallas in 1998 and took a job at Argyle Winery for three years before securing his current position at Owen Roe.  Though it took awhile to regain financial stability, he explained, “I’m happy now.”  Twenty minutes passed quickly, and I shook hands with him and headed to the airport.

 

“So,” Chuck said as we took our seats at a table with Randal Grahm (of Bonny Doon Vineyards, the focus of my upcoming post), “how was Owen Roe?  I bet it was nuts with production going on…”

“It was actually very laid back,” I responded.  “A very casual visit.”

“I want to hear all about it.”

As I reach the end of this chronicle, I wonder what I can tell Chuck that will intrigue him so.  My visit felt relaxed and everyday at its core, with no big surprises or monumental stories.  Perhaps Aaron’s comment when we first met alludes to my slight confusion about what excites people so much.  In all my college years living in wine country, many of the wineries do not lend themselves to tours, and merely want to produce good wine and sell it all on-site.  Owen Roe is an exception insofar as their wines have wider exposure, yet their facility feels like a departure from their unique packaging.  The winery and its team are a no frills bunch simply trying to get the most out of what they do, and bring that same spirit to one another, day by day.  Perhaps this mentality seems natural to me, but may be more unusual than I realize.

Garden Café, a Case of Wine Controversy in Dallas

“Whenever we had a photographer,” explained Dale Wootten, owner of Dallas’ Garden Café, “we’d offer complimentary wine and cheese and promote their art.  We had a lot of birthday parties or anniversary parties or whatever and we just can’t do it anymore.”

Wootten refers to the recent rejection of a proposal that would have allowed his small café to continue hosting private events where guests could bring their own alcohol, and potentially begin selling and serving beer and wine.  “We filed the application because a lot the neighbors kept saying ‘why don’t you have wine with dinner?’ ” he said.

In the midst of my conversations with Dale and his son Mark, the café’s General Manager and lead cook, I became more curious about how the presence of wine (or lack thereof) could impact a business.  Questions from various angles formed in my head, as I tried to sort through why wine represented a restaurant’s ticket to growth, and the implications a surrounding community saw with that privilege.

Dale purchased the space that is now Garden Café in 1991, at which point he used it as an office.  Rather than pursue the completion of plans considered the highest and best use of land, Dale saw the potential of catering to his pastime of gardening in the building’s back lot.  He decided to expand his vision into a café because, he remarked, “I have always liked little places like this.”  It has evolved into a Junius Heights institution with its picturesque patio by a garden that takes up half the space.

A photo of the original building purchased by Dale Wootten in 1991

Garden Café in its current state

The limitation of offering beer and wine stems from a zoning ordinance that deemed the space a dry overlay.  Though properties can no longer receive this designation, any overlays made before 1987 still stand, and Garden Café falls into this category.

In spite of the overlay, they had been serving beer and wine at private functions and allowing guests to bring their own for nearly nine years.  The city suddenly took notice of these activities as illegal “because we had the application,” said Dale, and “the city attorney explained that what we’d been doing was illegal.”

After a vote defeated their bid for offering beer and wine, Garden Café is reassessing how they will make up for what they believe helped their business remain economically viable.  “We were going to do dinner service,” Mark Wootten began, but “it was going to be more pop-up dinners with other chefs, and we were going to do some of our own with poetry dinners.”  Mark continued that these dinners were a long tradition for the café, and he felt skeptical they could retain the same spirit they evoked, and fill up such events without the ability to bring or purchase alcohol.

A vision unfulfilled

I recently attended a pop-up dinner at a different location, hosted by My Private Chef and cooked by Nicole Van Camp.  It was a rare opportunity for me to open one of my bottles of wine in the intimate company of friends with a meal cooked by a full-time chef.  Something about this opportunity is unusually gratifying for the cook and the diners, an opportunity for everyone to literally bring something to the table and spark conversation about the different flavors around the room.

I have difficulty relating specifically to how this intimacy and curiosity manifests itself at Garden Café’s events, since I have not attended any, but I gather Mark felt similarly about such events: “the spirit of these dinners is really beautiful,” he remarked.  “In the beginning you’ve got thirty near strangers and by the end you have thirty people hanging out.”

I still find myself struggling with the role wine and beer play in fostering this unique sense of curiosity and camaraderie.  Something intangible makes us feel relieved or intrigued by a glass of rotten grape juice, so much so that it puts the economic viability of an event in question.  At the same time, however, the mere presence of alcohol in a beverage sparks controversy over our desire for intoxication.  And while beer and wine often fall under a separate category, more geared toward a food-loving, controlled crowd, they still end up privy to controversies such as the one I have described.  Would you attend an alcohol-free pop-up dinner?

Ralph Steadman, the Modern Wine Artist

Months before taking the Certified Sommelier Exam with the Court of Master Sommeliers, I sat by the pool with some friends, studying Ralph Steadman’s run-down of German wine classifications with accompanying pictures in his book The Grapes of Ralph: Wine According to Ralph Steadman. “Tafelwein is the wine that Mercedes advise you to use in an emergency to top up the brake reservoir in the rare event of a disc brake leakage caused by a temperature burst at boiling point because you have just seen the whole of the Rhine valley over a period of six hours at 200 km per hour,” I read aloud to a friend, and then showed him some of the paintings with sinister-looking grapes on the vine with eyes.  “Adam,” my roommate remarked, “I think you’re probably the only one using that book to study for the exam.”

“You’re probably right,” I responded, “but I can actually remember some of what’s in this book.”

It seems fitting that my preferred gift for the wine professional, novice, art lover, or curious thinker is one I can never seem to find in a bookstore.  The Grapes of Ralph is a wholly original account of the artist’s many experiences tasting wine around the world.  I first happened upon the book through his follow-up to it, Untrodden Grapes, when I found the latter in Half Price Books a few years ago.  As is my penchant with this blog, I am interested in wine writing that says more than someone’s subjective tasting notes or technical data.  Steadman’s signature art and underrated writing style hooked me immediately.

Untrodden Grapes reads like the artist’s collection of notes, outtakes, and B-Sides that did not make the final cut for The Grapes of Ralph, yet it seems to appear on shelves more frequently (and more stores are capable of special-ordering it) even though the first book won a Glenfiddich Award for Food and Drink Book of the Year.

Steadman is best known in the U.S. for his collaborations with late journalist Hunter S. Thompson, for whom he illustrated Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72.  The artwork added to Thompson’s signature hyperbole with sensationalized depictions of long cigarette holders and skeleton-like limbs.  This work and other cartoons caught the attention of English wine purveyor Oddbins, who commissioned him to illustrate a wine list and then visit various producers in the world.  These travels unlocked what comes off to me as a more personal artistic expression from him.  We see how wine spoke to him, and literally see it through his eyes in the collection of paintings he composed.

Even when Steadman does provide his tasting notes, his unconventional prose brings a different perspective on how we can taste wine: “we drink a bottle of Santa Rita Medalla Real Cabernet Sauvignon.  This has a more interesting, homespun Chilean taste.  It is much sharper and brighter in colour — more the child, and livelier for its innocence.”  I can think of no professional, focused tasting where someone describes a wine as a lively, innocent child.  It seems ironic that the wine business has a need to exude charm in every aspect of its products, yet seems to miss the point when honing in on a wine’s acidity level instead of its personality.

As I look back through the book each time I show it to someone, I always find familiar wines I now sell but did not previously recognize, a reminder that the artist’s knowledge was far ahead of mine.  One of those books that changes how I view a fundamental aspect of my life, Steadman brings wine to life through his words and images.  Perhaps he and Hunter S. Thompson found kindred spirits with one another because they chose not to hide their presence from their work, recognizing that readers were seeing the world through their eyes.  And through the eyes of such passionate observer, there is no doubt much more to excite our taste buds, nostrils, and thoughts.

“To Life” with Charles Smith

It was the first time I had seen my friend Kevin since April, when we were at a house party hosted by Pioneer Wine Company and Charles Smith Wines.  This time we found each other at the same house for a an after-party for Pioneer’s portfolio tasting.  I reminded him about the night before I flew to Walla Walla, Washington and saw Charles Smith’s newly opened downtown tasting room.

“Oh yeah,” Kevin said, “how’d that go?”

“Well,” I responded, smiling, “I wasn’t able to coordinate my flight to get a ride with him from the airport.”

“What about that party?”
“It was awesome.  So much fun.”

Charles Smith began producing wine in Walla Walla in 1999, and released his first vintage under the K Vintners label in 2001.  Since then, he has developed other labels and projects, and opened a tasting room in downtown Walla Walla when I visited in April.

The tasting room was a simple and spare lounge, a few couches and tables, boxes lying around, lots of open space, and a bar for pouring with his signature graphic design behind it, alerting people to available products.  It felt like a place to relax and drink wine, rather than stop, taste, and purchase, as is the goal of many tasting rooms.  Having spent four years in Walla Walla as a college student, it gave me a sense of how the town has been changing over the last five years, and how people from my younger demographic were becoming part of the wine scene in Walla Walla.

That evening, the relaxed lounge became a vibrant bar for its opening dance party.  A giant pan of paella with the most refreshing flavor of saffron stood in the back while Danzig’s former bassist pooled through his vinyls and played old school rockabilly and the staff popped and poured, plowing through some of Smith’s finest fermented juice.  Smith’s entire library of wines was available that evening, everything since 2001 by the bottle, with a selection by the glass I had never seen in a tasting room.

Former bassist of Danzig spinning

 

I first met Charles Smith years ago, when I was walking my dog and dropped by the tasting room where I worked to say hello to my co-workers.  After a few glasses of wine, we went to the K Vintners tasting room to hang out after closing time.  Charles sat on his porch, and my dog was becoming noticeably thirsty.

“Um, is there any chance she can get some water?” I asked.

“Yeah man,” Charles responded, and came out with a pot full of water.

Charles Smith has a reputation for being big in every way.  Big personality; highly concentrated wines; in-your-face labels; long curly hair; a rockstar lifestyle both in his past and now selling wine.  He also possesses a down-to-earth friendliness whenever I have spoken to him, which I venture to say is the actual foundation of his bold traits; he is a promoter of the spirit of life in wine.

When we encountered each other at the party in Dallas, I reminded him of the story when he gave my dog water, knowing he wouldn’t recall it.

“Oh, was I nice about it?” he asked.

“Yeah, man.”

Just as the smell of a wine can influence the flavors on my palate, my memories of someone such as Charles Smith evoke pleasant memories of fun and friendship.  While they remain fresh in my mind ever time I look at one of his labels, it is a challenge to convey these intangible tastes to those unfamiliar with Smith’s charisma.  A common challenge, and perhaps the linchpin for anyone selling, promoting, and serving wine; a fine opportunity to reminisce about these anecdotes.

 

Second two photos by Adam Sachs