Poured with Pleasure

Bill Marsano’s blog on wine and spirits and cocktails: "If it’s good in a glass, I’m pouring it."

Category: Wine People

The Littlest Taster: A Sequoia Grove Dad’s Day Special

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Never mind him. The star’s the one on the right.

The last time I saw Mike Trujillo, top kick of Sequoia Grove, we were having a very splendid lunch [his card, naturally] at Gramercy Tavern. GT is among my favorite Your Card spots because of the Danny Meyer style. That means the food’s terrific, the tone’s peaceful, the service professional. Waiters take your order, bring your food, leave you alone. They don’t pester or comment. As, for example, at Allison, which recently opened just west of Fifth Ave. There the waiter greeted my wine order with ‘Nice juice!’ But I got off lightly compared to my former nextdoor neighbor Bernie Médoc, the crooked negociant and Club Fed jailbird, who once asked what the soupe du jour was and was told ‘It’s the soup of the day.’

Criminy! Does no one train waiters these days? Heavens to Betsy, Thirsty Reader, where is Craig Claiborne when we need him? Speaking of whom, Thomas McNamnee’s just-out bioThe Man Who Changed the Way We Eat: Craig Claiborne and the American Food Renaissance—is an acquired taste at best. And it isn’t a patch on G.Y. Dryansky’s Coquilles, Calva & Crème. But of this more anon; it’s time to get on with my Father’s Day Special.

So there we were at the GT, Mike talking and I [believe it] listening. Mike has that most admirable of virtues, quiet self-confidence, and so had no need to boast of his quite terrific Cabernets. Drinking them told that story. And so with all claptrap about degrees Brix, pH levels and oak regimes ruled out by common and tacit consent, Mike rhapsodized about his daughter, Sophia, who bids fair to be America’s youngest wine-taster. The story never hit print in Hemispheres because United Airlines’ stiffnecks got the blue creevies when they learnt that Sophia was four and a half years old.

Born in La Jara, Colorado, Mike was an engineering student who one spring break dropped in on Jim Allen, a family friend and owner of Sequoia Grove. Jim put him up for a few days; Mike helped around the winery; Allen offered a job. ‘I was 21’ Mike says ‘an age when you have no clue what you really want to do, but the money was good and the weather was great, so I said yes.’ He began with planting vineyards and soon was on his way to making Chardonnay, Syrah and his nifty Cabernet blends, which range from the $34 Rebellious Red to the new Cambium, which will cost you $140 when you can get it, which isn’t often. ‘Wine found me’, he says.

The peerless Sophia entered the picture as well as the winery a few years later. ‘My Uncle Joe always devoted some time to each of his three children individually, and I followed his lead. I began taking Sophia to the winery once a week when she was so young that her mother, Elizabeth, had to pack her into a bassinet along with her bottles and my lunch.’ Mike’s weekly Take Your Daughter to Work Day expanded as soon as Sophia zzzzzzzzzzzzzsophie3found her feet. To her, the winery was the best and biggest set of monkey bars a kid ever had. It wasn’t long before she got into the wine, Mike recalled. ‘I was barrel-tasting one day and of course she wanted to do everything Daddy did, so I gave her a sip. It went right down the hatch, and I thought that’s not going to work. So I spent some time standing over a drain with her, teaching her how to spit. Now she spits like a Frenchman. She spits better than I do!’

Sophia next began taking part in bank errands, vineyard tours and even lunches with growers. ‘She’s very well restaurant-trained,’ Mike said, although she will occasionally visit other tables to find out what people are drinking. Then she’ll say brightly, "My Daddy makes Cabernet!" She opens the tasting room door with a cheery ‘Welcome to Sequoia Grove’ [there actually is a Sequoia grove, and visitors seem to love it] and she’s a star of Mike’s cellar tours for the trade. ‘She’ll climb up on top of a barrel, pull the bung out and stick her fingers in for a taste’ Mike says. ‘Then she’ll sing out That’s good wine, Daddy! and when I ask her what it is, she comes right back with Cabernet, Daddy! Then Mike will send her off to the Merlot; Sophia will pull another bung; taste eagerly; proclaim it good. ‘When I ask again what wine it is, she’ll say Merlot, Daddy! At that point, as if on cue, almost all the guests ask the same thing:  She can tell the difference? And I’ll say Sure–can’t you?

That was back in ’09; now Sophia has begun learning about blending, as Mike told me last week. She’s become a dab hand with pipette and graduated cylinder, and she has Rutherford Dust on the soles of her shoes.

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Sophia today, with ‘a little age [3 years] on her’

Books for Father’s Day

Excuse please, while I indulge again in my quixotic attempt to keep reading alive and on life support. Books do furnish a room, as Anthony Powell said, and minds, too. So for Father’s Day consider these . . .

One way to go is the monster reference book. A Dad or anyone else can lose himself in it for hours at a time because reference books are not just for referring to. They’re for opening in your lap in an easy chair with a bottle of wine handy and all electronic devices turned off, off, off. Maybe even stepped on and ground into the carpet. So with that in mind, I’ll say that the leader of the pack just now is Opus Vino, edited by Jim Johnson. It’s a Dorling Kindersley production, which means

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All graphics all the time: DK’s Opus Vino.

it’s well-organized [by country, by region, by winery] and heavy on the graphics: bottle shots, maps, mavens, labels and sprawling spreads of vineyards to lighten the many hectares of text. It’s also heavy, period; at just over seven pounds, it might require two laps. And there are contenders in the lightweight [under seven pounds] division. Jancis Robinson’s The Oxford Companion to Wine, long-established and now in its third edition, has gravitas to outweigh its ho-hum graphics: like OV, it has an impressive list of contributors; unlike OV, its individual entries are signed. It’s organized as a dictionary, with far less attention paid to individual wineries. So you’d better buy both? Yes, and toss in a brace from John Wiley: Wine Appreciation, by the aptly named Richard P. Vine, and Exploring Wine: Completely Revised 3rd Edition, by the CIA troika of Steven Kolpan, Brian H. Smith and Michael A. Weiss. The former gets no cosmetics points for its plain-jane black-and-white approach but the latter is a handsome full-color production, nearly as heavy as OV.

Another route is the contemplative narrative. It’s especially attractive to those who’d like to give Dad the trip to France he deserves but who have been scared white by airfares of oh, $1500 per person. A feasible, feastly alternative is provided by the Dryanskys, G.Y. [Gerry] and Joanne. They’ve been in France longer than most Frenchmen have, just shy of half a zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzdryFC9781605983295 century, bien sûr, and their Coquilles, Calva, and Crème is a rewarding memoir in two parts. One covers Gerry’s career as a fashion correspondent and general reporter for some A-List U.S. publications; it’s full of good gossip, cool-eyed but never malicious. It’s a treat for example to know that Régine missed attending the party of the year [or decade or century] because her elephant got lost in the Bois de Boulonge; that the Duchess of Windsor wasn’t really out of line when she wet the floor of a restaurant bathroom; that Coco Chanel said of a critic she loathed ‘mouth like a sewer, talks like a sewing machine.’ The second part follows a series of locavore voyages into la france profonde, the deeply rural countryside that remains, to most Frenchmen, the heart and soul of their nation. The object? To seek out the products, places and producers of France’s traditional cuisine: lampreys and smoked eels; calva distilled the old-fashioned way [unfiltered]; some of the celebrated 246 kinds of cheese; the beouf gras of Bazas; and Billom garlic, cassoulet and Baeckeoffe. The places? Pays d’Auge, Alsace, Normandy, the Auverne and elsewhere. The people range from cheesemakers who persist despite the crushing zealotry of EU sanitation laws and cooks who’d rather work 16 hours a day almost alone than submit to the bullying big-time rat race with its ‘shrill refrain of new, new, new’. The result is a book that is truly vaut le voyage.

Now then: Having dismissed McNamee’s Claiborne book at the outset, I owe some explanation, and so: the writing is what I’d wincingly call workmanlike at best and it’s too often not best at all. It’s repetitious and hagiographic; it’s unfair to Mimi Sheraton, Clementine Paddleford, John Hess and the early Gourmet; and it makes way too large a claim. Changed the way WE eat? Who the hell’s we? A vexed question. Oh, we means that ridiculously small tribe of people called foodies. Never mind about the 300 million+ Americans who put agribusiness on its throne and fast food in their bellies; who make the author’s we about the smallest since Mark Twain’s  ‘kings, editors and people with tapeworms’. OK, Claiborne essentially invented restaurant criticism [in the U.S. anyway] and got food writing a much larger and more serious audience. And he was notably, even unusually generous in helping to launch the likes of Julia Child [whose influence was, I think, far greater], Marcella Hazan, Diana Kennedy and others. zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz His personal life? It’s nightmarish for readers, so how must it have been for him? Born in the Deep South in a family for which the term shabby genteel could easily have been invented. Mom ran a boarding house but she never surrendered her airs and graces, even to her end as a Frat Row house mother. She rejected him and boys in general as filthy creatures but haunted Claiborne like a curse: he finally cut her out of his life, not even going to her funeral. Dad may/may not have molested him [Claiborne was coy here]. He was an uncloseted homosexual in an era when that took real guts, but all his affairs seem to have been uniformly doomed and unfulfilling. That he drank himself to death can be no surprise. That he managed to make of himself an important figure with a positive contribution; to drag at least some of New York’s restaurants out of the Canned String Bean Era; to explore foreign cuisines before anyone’d ever heard the word ethnic; and to compile best-selling cookbooks that are still popular today? If you took that script to MGM you’d be back on the street so fast you’d think the building collapsed.

By the bye, all the books can be ordered from Amazon or, of course, anywhere else. Amazon’s advantage is in used books, whose prices and availability are noted right alongside the new-book prices. Often the books are not used but overstocks or remainders, and the sellers are reliable.

© 2012 Bill Marsano

Lunch with the Posse and John Concannon

The ineffable Pat Schneider was on the ameche the other day and saying all the right things, especially in the Three Little Words Department. From Let’s Have Lunch [always a strong lead], she doubled-down or whatever with Meet John Concannon and trumped my ace with the ever-reliable On His Card. Then she threw in Bring the Posse, just for lagniappe. Done and done, Patsy!

The Posse is my shifting and largely shiftless band of ne’er-do-wells, lowlifes and public nuisances, i.e., wine scribblers. For Pat and John’s edification and dismay a pod of us gathered at Ben & Jack’s Steak House. Zagat calls B&J ‘contenders in the Peter Luger clone wars,’ but surely means only the beef and bacon, for B&J, owned by two ex-Luger waiters, outdoes Luger’s décor and service by a country mile and a London stone.

Maître d’ Nick Velic saw us as a ravening mob, but was too suave to say so [he’d likely have preferred troupe des gloutons sauvages]. He chummed us with in-your-life bacon and a vast platter of shrimps and split lobsters while platters of sliced Porterhouse  image were done to glory, as was a plate of grilled salmon. With these we poured Concannon’s 
new Conservancy line of varietals: Petite Sirah, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. To all of the above our little troupe did full justice or even a little more, the wines in particular, while our host whistled the patter.

John Concannon, known as John,* likewise said all the right things. He recognizes consumers’ value-driven values [i.e., bargain-lust] and courts the thrifty with the Conservancy line, for which his mantra is ’50-30-15,’ by which me means that from packaging to palate they look like $50 wines and taste like $30 wines but cost a mere $15. zzzzzzzCONservancy[His other lines are the Reserve and Heritage, which run from $25 to $60, and the bottom-dollar Glen Ellen. It sounds as if it should be a Speyside single malt but is actually named for his great-grandmother.

Concannon Vineyard, which was founded by John’s great-grandfather James Concannon in 1883, is east but not far enough east of San Francisco and Oakland. Although the Livermore Valley had once been known for its fine wines, John says it has been plagued down the years by surpluses, Prohibition and that great evil, phylloxera. And so from its 50 wineries and 5000 acres of vines of the early 1900s it had shrunk to six and 1500 by the late 1960s. Then, having missed the California wine renaissance, it was left ripe for unrestricted urban expansion, a.k.a. development a.k.a. blight.

On the other hand, not so fast: far-sighted Valley residents forestalled the threat by banding together to protect the land with what is now called the Tri-Valley Conservancy, a conservation easement that fosters agriculture and walls out strip malls, big-box stores, high-rise condos, tract housing and other offenses. The Concannons are proud that theirs was the first winery to join it, and so have named the Conservancy line in its honor. [Napa’s vineyards are similarly protected, but it took some 20 years of bitter and divisive wrangling—and for some there the acrimony still lingers. See two excellent books by James Conaway: The Far Side of Eden: New Money, Old Land, and the Battle for Napa Valley and Napa: The Story of an American Eden. Both books are splendidly written, as well as occasionally and grimly funny.]

John says his ancestors were a resourceful lot. In 1865, James left Ireland at 18 and ricocheted off Maine and Oregon before putting down roots and rootstock in the Livermore Valley. His son, ‘Captain Joe,’ served under Pershing and Patton, and pulled the winery through Prohibition by making altar wine for church use. [Beaulieu’s Georges de Latour did likewise. The National Piety Index was never so high as under Prohibition.] Jim, or ‘Mr. C,’ John’s father, took over in the 1960s.ZZZZConcannonlabel In 1964 Mr. C made history by releasing the first varietally labeled Petite Sirah [left]. John grew up at the winery but wasn’t pushed to follow his  dad. ‘He said ‘Make your own name, follow your own dreams . . . and if you think it’s right for you, come back”.’ After some 22 years in medical sales, he did.

We heard more—about developing the Concannon Clones [Cabernet 7, 8 and 11, now widely planted], the winery’s new solar array, and the renovation of the old tasting room­—before talk shifted to the Deal of the Hour: Wappo Hill may be sold for a fire-sale price. The 56-acre estate of Robert and Margrit Mondavi was put on the market in May and priced at a rarefied $25 million. Finding no takers, it will be auctioned in November for rather less. Indeed, the minimum bid is $13.9 million, or 44 percent below the asking price. The house was designed by Cliff May, who designed the Mondavi winery, which it resembles with its low-sloped roof and viewing tower. It runs to more than 11,000 square feet on three levels, sits in an oak grove atop a hill south of Yountville, and has 360-degree views, two bedrooms and a large indoor pool whose roof opens to the sky.

That set off a skein of rich reminiscences by Posse member Hoop de Jour, the oft-disappointed New York Knicks devotee.

‘The first time I visited the place,’ Hoop said, ‘I was impressed but mystified. The place is enormous, so I asked Bob why it has only two bedrooms. He said “So the kids and grandchildren can’t stay over”.’ Hoop also recalled a failed luncheon invitation: ‘During another visit he invited me to lunch, and I had to say I had only a half hour before my next appointment. As I was leaving one of the staff came up to hand me a package. It contained a sandwich, a half-bottle of Opus One and a note that said Robert Mondavi doesn’t do half-hour lunches.

Then there was a tasting at the winery, a legendary tasting that Hoop stopped before it was fairly begun. Mondavi was about to pour when Hoop sniffed his glass and said ‘Excuse me, but I smell soap in my glass.’ Sniffing the glass for himself, Mondavi agreed. ‘Yes, there is,’ he said. ‘But which brand?’

Legend has it that Hoop, always quick on his feet despite the cane he leans on [and which he recently used to break the nose of a would-be mugger], shot back ‘I can’t name the brand, but it’s definitely a Procter & Gamble product.’

As for the house, the hammer goes down Nov. 16, so if you want to live like a god in Napa, hurry your bid off to the auctioneers, Sheldon Good & Co.

Love What You’ve Done with Your Hair

Joy Sterling is what Dr. Johnson would have called a woman of parts, for she writes books, runs rapids, scales mountains, imagecelebrates Earth Day and, ever since 2006, has been both CEO and queen regnant of Sonoma County’s Iron Horse**. She is naturally smitten with your tottering correspondent and has flirtatiously sent this Halloween billet-doux. I now share it with you, Thirsty Reader, from largeness of soul and a desire to show off.  So pop a few corks with me, why don’t you?

Wait—that isn’t Joy. This is:
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 ©2011 Bill Marsano
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*I just threw this in as an excuse to pass along H.L. Mencken’s nifty barb: ‘A Rotarian was the first man to call John the Baptist Jack.’

**Moreover, she walks in beauty like the night and is never, ever sick at sea.

Pinot on Parade

Oh, to be in McMinnville, now that IPNC’s there’ somehow falls shy somehow of poesy immortal, but if the words themselves could give Browning [and even you, Thirsty Reader] the dry fantods, the sentiment is worthy. For the IPNC is celebrating its 25th anniversary July 29-31. Some may gallivant at the other IPNC [a.k.a. the International Pathogenic Neisseria Conference in Würzburg. Yes, it is nicely surrounded by the umlauted likes of Veitshöchheim, Waldbüttelbrunn, Wöllriederhof and the -dürrbachs Unter and Ober], but the real thing and right stuff, found only in McMinnville, Ore., is the Internation-al Pinot Noir Celebration.

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 What the fuss is all about: Pinot Noir grapes. Photo courtesy of Laurel Ridge Winery.

You could run across some taka mavens, such as Jancis Robinson, say, or Ray Isle of Food & Wine, or famous winemakers like Pete Rosé, the switch-hitting infielder and saignée specialist. You could visit some vineyards and dine very well and drink a goodly quantity of excellent Pinot Noir, the local likes of Eyrie and Erath,Chehalem, Sokol Blosser, Ponzi, the 5 A’s [Adelsheim, Argyle, Amity, Archery Summit and Anne Amie], Domaine Drouhin, Bethel Heights and Brick House, Cristom, Rex Hill and WillaKenzie. And other Willamette Wonders, plus more from hither and yon: California and New Zealand, and French Burgundies. Winery visits? But of course. Most important, the famous Salmon Bake. Of which more anon.

I attended the IPNC [pronounced ipnick] a few years ago owing to the event’s Amy Wesselman, who gently but persistently nagged over several months. I resisted; having been to such fests before I viewed them with a warm rush of loathing. They seemed always to be either ‘laid back’ to the point of chaos or rigid with Teutonic regimentation—and to boot were always grossly overcrowded. In the end, Amy won and I’m glad she did.

Not to say there weren’t some shocks. First, the temperature. Had the previous summer had been a hot one? If so, Oregon was taking no chances. The airport was so cold you could hang meat in it, and while folks elsewhere craved tans, the locals favored a palette of ACB [air-conditioning blue].

Then there was the air itself—almost unbreathably clean stuff, devoid of any taste or texture. Here in Manhattan, which bards in fealty to Apollo hold, we are used to air that’s full-bodied, with a long, diesel-nuanced finish and an abrasive texture. Terroir air, in short, to which Oregon’s was but kids’ stuff. Still, there was compensation in IPNC’s calm and serene organization. La Wesselman had been in command back in the day when Gen. William Booth entered Heaven, apparently, and that event went off with celestial perfection. So here she was equally skilled. No long lines of guests grown mutinous because of missing guides and transport, just seats aplenty and no one clinging to the roof racks.

The tasting tables were swaybacked with Pinot and  eagerly attended but without attracting that taster’s curse, the pesky little knots of two or three oblivious dolts who insistently park or plant themselves and refuse to move. Dinners on the campus meant fine food and wine to match, both in abundance. There were lines, but they didn’t stand still. The carvers hewed with an alacrity worthy of their kin at Katz’s; the commissary staff was likewise up to the mark. Guests were no sooner seated than Pinot was poured restoratively.

image  IPNC commissary staff: ain’t no flies on them. 


The evening’s centerpiece, long and fiery Salmon Bake, deserved a four-color full-bleed magazine spread, assuming that anyone still remembers what magazines are. Or were.

The Salmon Bake is the IPNC’s annual highpoint and signature. It can’t be made too much of; indeed it has achieved sufficient fame that last year Jason Stoller Smith, an IPNC board member and eternal guest chef, was invited by the First Lady to bring the Salmon Bake to D.C. for a picnic for 2000 on the White House lawn. [Smith will stage a salmon bake for you, too, on some special and doubtless expensive occasion: he is now executive chef of Timberline Lodge, a hundred-odd miles east of McMinnville.]

The event is no mere cookout, and its importance lies in being not just a ‘traditional’ Native American affair but a genuine one, devoid of Disney-hokery. It is not what was done once but that still is today: this is the way wild salmon is cooked by the Indian tribes of the Pacific Northwest.

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For the first couple of hours, preparations for the Salmon Bake resemble lawn vandalism. 

A rectangle of Linfield’s lawn is marked off and denuded of sod by Smith’s team of 12; then down the center of it they neatly cut a long narrow trench. This they fill with a little newspaper kindling and a deal of hardwood, whole logs and splits.

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The ground is clear and the fire is laid. Short lengths of pipe [background] serve as sockets for the salmon-bearing alder saplings.

The whole is set alight in the afternoon, and while waiting for the flames to subside, the team lashes  split salmon to the green alder saplings that will suspend them above the pulsing heat of the embers.

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Mid-afternoon: the flames are banking down and several dozen salmon go to glory.
 
It is, Thirsty Reader, not the sort of thing you see every day, which is why the photos here give pride of place to the Salmon Bake. Pictures of wine bottles surrounded by schmoozers and schnorrers are two-a- penny on a good day.

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A last look before these salmon are served.

I must say a word too about the breakfasts—what I think of as the Semi-Sportive Breakfasts because of their non-competitive athleticism. As for the food, remember that 1950s anecdote about Mr. and Mrs. DiMaggio entertaning our troops in Korea, with Marilyn returning to their hotel after one of her deafeningly successful appearances and naively saying  ‘Joe, you never heard such cheering!’ And he evenly replies ’Yes I have’? Well do but substitute seen/bacon for heard/cheering and you’ll get the picture. Then repeat, with waffles.

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Starting the day with a volleyball breakfast. 

The athleticism centered on wading pools ringed by blissed-out munchers dunking their dogs and kicking, heading or batting beach balls about with no particular end in view. No scores were kept, so it was no-net-tennis, so to speak, and Robert Frost wouldn’t’ve approved. What mattered was nothing less than players’ proper etiquette, which held that anyone could return any ball that came his way to any other pool in any way but without leaving his seat or significantly interrupting his meal.

Somehow I managed not to catch up with David Lett, whom I’d had several good phone interviews with but had never met. And I regret it, for he died too young two years later. He was Pinot’s pioneer in the Willamette Valley; naturally some [t]wit dubbed him Papa Pinot. He had an earthier sense of humor. Recalling his neighbors’ horror as he ripped up acres of profitable prunes, he called himself the First Fool; called his assistant ‘my caseworker’; scorned the fad aspect of organics. He said to me during one of our phone talks ‘I’ve been organic since I planted my first grapes 35 years ago, but I’m not certified because I won’t have anything to do with another regulatory agency. And I wouldn’t put it on the label in any case. I’m about eco, not ego.’

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David Lett in the 1960s with a double armload of Pinot Noir. Photo courtesy of Diana Lett.

Next year’s IPNC will be held July 27-29, and it will be the part of wisdom to request event and ticket information pronto from [email protected].

Post-IPNC I discovered the town’s Historic District [both blocks!] as well as its farmers’ market, which compensate for the poison of Rt. 99W. McMinnville’s share of 99W is its main drag [in both senses]: a fluorescent glare of strip-mall marts, car dealerships and gimcrack road-front businesses decorated with parking lots, hideous and apparently endless. Did I really see a sign reading ‘Last Strip Mall for 50 Yards’ or was I [please!] hallucinating? The Historic District may be small but it convinced me that just about nothing built in the last half century is worth a second glance.

The surprise or even shock of McMinnville was the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum.

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Airplanes galore: The EASM is large and well-organized, with superb restorations.

With its IMAX theater and dozens of professionally restored airplanes, among them Howard Hughes’ infamous  Spruce Goose, combat airplanes from WWI to the present, and many more, this museum is a must. Its wide array of well-documented, well-organized exhibits would do the Smithsonian proud, let alone a town with a population of 32,000.

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This ex-United Airlines DC-3 is one of several airplanes that crouch comfortably beneath the wings of the enormous Spruce Goose. 

Then it was back to the airport for me. There I realized I’d got used to the air-conditioning as well as the air and was told that I look good in blue.

©2011 Bill Marsano

 

 

 

Jess Jackson, Titan

Jess Jackson died of cancer recently at the age of 81, after a life of achievement that made him a titan of American wine. Unlike silver-spoon millionaires who [I borrow here from the great Red Smith] were born naked into the world and had to inherit everything they have, Jackson was in the grand but fading tradition of the self-made man.

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Born during the Depression, Jackson pitched in early to help his family, starting as a paper boy at five and going on to work at many other jobs— cop, teamster, stevedore and ambulance driver, among them—to put himself through law school.

After success as a lawyer he stepped away from the bar and in 1974 proceeded, with his first wife, Jane Kendall, to buy and replant, 80 acres of pear and walnut trees. He was a grower until a late-cancelled order left him lumbered with a crop, so he began making wine himself. Kendall-Jackson’s first Chardonnay was the 1982 vintage [below]. It was successful, attracting many new recruits to wine largely because of its evident sweetness [which was, some say, a happy accident resulting from a slip-up during fermentation].

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Many more successes followed. Although devoted to Thoroughbred racing, as Rachel Alexandra fans well know, Jackson also reinvested in the company that would become Jackson Family Wines. Perhaps heeding the wisdom of Will Rogers [“Buy land. They ain’t making any more of the stuff”] he bought land in California to the extent of needing a helicopter to tour it all: 14,000 acres under vine and just as many not. The company’s portfolio in the U.S. includes K-J [and Kendall-Jackson Extra Virgin Olive Oil], La Crema, Cardinale, Vérité, Murphy-Goode, Robert Pecota Winery, Edmeades, Matanzas Creek, Stonestreet, Arrowood, Lajota, Cardinale, Atalon, Lokoya, Carmel Road, Cambria, Hartford Family Wines, Vérité, Archipel, Chateau Potelle, Freemark Abbey and Byron Winery [which just introduced two new Santa Barbara County wines, the 2009 Chardonnay and 2009 Pinot Noir. Abroad are Château Lassègue in Bordeaux, Tenuta di Arceno in Tuscany, Viña Calina in Chile and Yangarra in Australia’s McLaren Vale

His wine to a large degree established Chardonnay as America’s favorite wine and K-J as its favorite Chardonnay. Snobs never forgave Jackson for that: as Americans have grown what some like to think of as more ‘sophisticated’ about wine a coterie of snobs and geeks has bred and inbred apparently for the sole purpose of scorning success. As so it follows as the night the day that such folk amuse their self-important selves by heaping scorn upon K-J. they are, they think, far too good for a wine produced in such quantities that ‘bottles’ and ‘cases’ have no real meaning and the only graspable unit of measure is probably metric tons. K-J Chardonnay may not be the artisanal or ultra-natural or bio-confragable stuff so beloved of the snooty but showed and still shows showed thousands and even hundreds of thousands of people that there is life moistened only by Coke, Fanta and Mountain Dew.

In 2009 Jackson was inducted into the Vintner’s Hall of Fame in a ‘class’ that included Warren Winiarski of Stag’s Leap; Jack & Jamie Davies, revitalizers of the old Schramsberg estate; the legendary Beringer Brothers, Frederick and Jacob; and wine writer Gerald Asher. At the time Jackson said ‘Wine is a part of our cultural heritage. . . . Wine celebrates friends, family, and love—all of the best things in life. . . . From day one we have been a family-owned and family-run business. It is a distinction that is rapidly becoming a rarity in our industry. Our family culture is built on the time-honored principles of hard work, integrity, and uncompromising desire for quality and the long-term stewardship of the land.’

Jackson is survived by his wife, Barbara Banke, and five children. All are active in Jackson Family Wines, something of which Jess was extremely proud. The Family will welcome anecdotes and recollections sent to [email protected].

Golden State Tax Crackpots

CrackedPotsQuiltKarenandJoeNelson 

Amazing, is it not? Our republic enshrines separation of church and state yet is equally devoted to sin taxes. The latter originate with the Puritans, a group of crackpots who fled religious persecution in England so they could practice it here. Their mean, joyless ethos lives on. H.L. Mencken deftly described it as ‘The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.’

Enter Josephine and Kent M. Whitney of San Diego, whose fevered wish it is to send California taxes on alcohol to the moon. Currently those taxes are 65 cents a bottle for liquor, 11 cents a six-pack for beer and 4 cents a bottle for wine. Claiming that alcohol use and alcohol-related problems cost California $46.7 billion a year, the Whitneys want to impose increases that the word astronomical is helpless to describe. If by August 23 they can collect the signatures of 433,971 registered voters who also happen to be loons, they’ll put on November’s ballot an initiative calling for taxes, respectively, of $17.57 (a 2700% increase), $6.08 (5500%) and $5.11 (12,775%).

Yes, I know it’s awfully close to April 1, but the Whitneys launched their application last December.

The money raised would, according to the Whitneys’ pious hopes, go to the California Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs for the doing of good. How much money would that be? An extra $7-$9 billion, the state estimates. But I suspect the state is smoking fairy dust and basing its guess on such gorgeous unlikelihoods as a] full compliance and b] consumption remaining at 2010 levels. Gros chance! as they say in France.

Prohibition via taxation is not going to work—not as the Whitneys think, anyway. For confirmation I turned to my legal prognosticator, Silo Vance, the ruminative ace detective of California’s Cattle Feed Marketing Board. ‘If Californians live up to their reputation for lunacy and pass the measure, what you’ll get is not more revenue but less, so the state will have to tax trail mix, organic fruit juice and Miley Cyrus instead. ‘Californians are a creative lot, so there’ll be tax avoidance (which is legal) and tax evasion (not) on a scale unparalleled since the 1920s. Lawyers will get rich inventing ways for people to get wine without actually buying it. Like forming winery investment clubs that people can buy shares of and then take their dividends in product. Or they’ll sell raffle tickets that pay off in bottles and cases; whatever. They’re lawyers, remember. They will figure it out.

Puncheon Judy, the producer of a ‘California reddish table wine’ called Motley Cru for the benefit of the BATF but known to its constituents as One-Buck Chuck, expects ‘no decline in consumption—just in taxable consumption. If people will drink my stuff [whose label boasts “made from any grapes from anywhere”] they’ll drink anything—Old Spice, Aqua Velva, vanilla extract. Wine they make in the kitchen sink and gin they make in the bathtub.’

It wouldn’t be the first time, Thirsty Reader. During Prohibition, many California wineries shut down and wine  production plummeted, but the grape harvest actually increased. The smart money cleaned up by not making wine. Instead they grew grapes by the long ton—getting millions in federal loans for new vineyards–and sold DIY wine kits. Ukiah Grape Products Co. sold fermentable juice and got clean away with it until a federal judge thought it a bit much that Ukiah agents, in outstanding displays of on-site service, made house calls to bottle their clients’ wine. Fruit Industries Ltd. also sold juices and concentrates, and is even now fondly remembered for Vine-Glo—‘bricks’ of dried grapes sold complete with pacWine Brick (Vine-GloAd) smkets of yeast and stern warnings to keep the two away from water lest the unthinkable occur. (Actually, what occurred was the undrinkable.)

There was a varietal aspect. Zinfandel was a favorite for such foolery because, given its head, it will crop like mad–12 tons an acre will shoot out of the ground with such vigor as to constitute a menace to migrating game birds and local poultry. (Indeed schismatic philologists insist that the word zinfandel derives from the Croatian for birdshot). The resulting wine, or ‘wine-like beverage product,’ did much damage to the grape’s reputation.

But I digress; taxation is our screed. Suppose the Whitneys’ taxes to come to pass and California does reap $7-$9 billion from them. How much do you suppose will go to ending alcoholism and its related problems? I’d guess about as much as goes to ending smoking.

Every year every state in the union gets a handsome bunch of bucks from Big Tobacco as part of the agreement with the states’ attorneys general to take an annual settlement rather than sue tobacco companies day in and day out. The money was needed for and would be directed to fighting tobacco addiction and keeps kids from smoking.

A few years later the New York Times took a look-see, hoping to find a sea of butt-less, clean-lunged teenagers, only to discover that 46 of the states had found higher and better uses for all the money. There are many things to be said against politicians, but few of them are so stupid as to kill a golden goose.

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Credits. Upper: photo by Joe Gibson of Cracked Pots, made by his wife, Karen Gibson, the Quilt Queen of Hendersonville, Tenn., to a design from Rosie’s Quilts. A Vine-Glo advertisement.