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: Festivals

A Non-Thanksgiving-Wine-Pairing Story

A tedious chore for the wine-scribbler is the Best-Wines-for-Thanksgiving-Dinner story. It’s a statutory requirement, probably because some jealous, sour, water-drinking prig attached a rider to the Repeal Bill back in ’32. And there’s no need or desire for it, because the old Norman Rockwell-stylezzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzglutton2 Thanksgiving dinner is a banquet of excess, with too many dishes that don’t get along with each other. And it stirs the Pairing Urge in many writers.

Not all Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving dinners were sentimental scenes of big birds and bigger grins. This 1923 magazine cover from the Rockwell Museum shows a darker side [nrm.org].

Pairing always seems a rather dubious enterprise to me. For one thing, it generates too much talk. Or prattle.* So instead, I’ll just tell you what went down, Chez Bill on The Day: All-American wines made from America’s own wine grapes, Zinfandel and Norton, because Thanksgiving is an all-American holiday. That simple.

image Zinfandel, American? you ask. Of course. Ours is an immigrant nation, and Zin, an obscurity of low degree, of murky origin and uncertain name, ignored by most and respected by none, is that American favorite, the immigrant success story. Croatia’s Crljenak Kaštelanski, which went to Italy as Primitivo, came to the U.S. as Zinfandel. On our East Coast it was a mere table grape until it went west and Californians began to vinify it. Then it became a hit—but not for long. Planted to excess and in all the wrong places, it faded, reduced to the status of anonymous blender.

Although Ridge Vineyards bottled its first single-vineyard Zinfandel in 1964 [it has 10 singles today], a real revival began only in the 1970s. Kent ‘Dr. Zin’ Rosenblum of Rosenblum Cellars told me that late-comers to California’s wine boom, priced out of the French varieties, turned to Zin at $300 a ton. ‘Many of the old Italian immigrant vineyards’, Rosenblum said had ‘maybe 40 or 50 different clones, many with distinct identities, often about a hundred years old.’ And small. Rod Berglund, owner and winemaker of Joseph Swan Vineyards, has a plot from 1872. How small is it? ‘I really can’t say,’ Rod told me. ‘I’d have to count the vines.’ Joel Peterson, whose Ravenswood Zins have been single-vineyards from his first vintage [1976], says most Zin grapes were sold to Big Blender ‘until smaller producers began to recognized their quality and character.’ Growers who appreciated being appreciated, so to speak, who wanted the pride that came from having their names on the labels, ‘often sold to the little guys at the same price despite the risk of non-payment and the added trouble of working with small lots’. A list of those old vineyards—Teldeschi, Frediani, Varozza, Bacigalupi, Mencarini, Saitone, Bacchi, Piccheti, Ciapusci, Forchini, Pagani, Galleani, Ponzo, Baldinelli, Gamboggi, Belloni, Gamba, Nichelini—reads like a field blend from Ellis Island.

I’m partial to many Zins, both rationally and irrationally. To Ravenswood, from the entry-level Vintner’s Blend that opens the double figures to the vineyard designates that threaten the triples, because of Joel Peterson’s bold motto: ‘No Wimpy Wines!’ [Also one of his cronies is thisclose to zzzzzzzzzzzzzzrattler Jessica Lange, and if you ask nice he might throw in a free rattlesnake with your multi-case order.] Amapola Creek, too. Richard Arrowood’s wit is as good as his wine: He once told me how he arranged the financing for his first winery on a napkin at Windows on the World, adding ‘Today it would be all lawyers. Talking to a lawyer is like talking to a fencepost with glass eyeballs.’ Also, he and his wife, Alis,

Ravenswood: no wimpy
visitors, either.  

have my favorite pairing on their website. Bonny Doon? Randall Grahm didn’t just break wine’s Mr. Stuffy mold; he shattered it with his flagrant puns and his Cardinal Zin. And Don Wallace of Dry Creek Vineyard is a sailor; he puts some of his favorite classic sailboats on his labels: I’m something of a salt myself, so I can’t resist.zzzzzzzzzzzzzzarrow

Isn’t it romantic? Richard and Alis Arrowood, a pair for the ages.

The price range for Zins is equatorial; i.e., wide. For about $10: Smoking Loon, Cellar No. 8, C.K. Mondavi, Concannon, Bogle, Dancing Bull, Barefoot and Marietta; $15-$25 fetches Robert Mondavi, Buena Vista, Frei Brothers,  Kenwood and Renwood, Liar’s Dice,Rodney Strong,  Trentadue, Valley of the Moon, Ancient Peaks, Boeger, Rosenblum, Château Souverain,  DeLoach, Cardinal Zin, Gnarly Head, Green & Red, Sausal, 7 Deadly Zins, Sledgehammer, Sebastiani, Rancho Zabaco, Edmeades, Mariah, St. Francis, and The Federalist. For a little more, Ridge and Franus; then come your pricier Sbragia, Seghesio, Rafanelli, tuxedo-styled Tyler Florence [demurely labeled ‘TF’], Louis M. Martini, Wild Horse Unbridled, Don Coppola’s Edizione Pennino [in honor of his maternal grandfather], Rochioli, and Williams-Selyem. So drink up!

The Norton grape is native but obscure. When and where Thomas Jefferson expensively failed with Vitis vinifera, the recently widowed Dr. Daniel N. Norton of Richmond, Va. successfully dealt with his grief by retreating to his farm and immersing himself in viticulture. There he’s credited with having created Norton [or Norton’s Virginia Seedling, Norton’s Virginia, or Norton’s Seedling,] from the native Vitis aestivalis and an unknown vinifera, now extinct. First ‘published’ in 1830, in the noted New York nurseryman William Prince’s ‘A Treatise on the Vine’, Norton went west to Missouri, then a center of American wine. It was adopted by the German immigrants who in 1837 founded the town of Hermann and, at essentially the same time, the Missouri wine industry. But not by intent: they’d planned to farm, which requires fields, not the steep hills they found. No crybabies, they! Instead of mounting violent protests and demanding a government bailout [this wasn’t France, after all] they took note of the thriving wild vines all around and concluded ‘God gave us a vineyard, so let us make wine’. If not in so many words. Their Norton was much admired in time, and was called ‘the Cabernet of the Ozarks’.

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzstonehill Then came decline. One reason was the rise of California and the heady success of its Zinfandel; another was a change in tastes that favored hard liquor. Many wineries converted to distilleries to stay alive. There was a wave of anti-German hostility during World War I: especially after the Mauretania was torpedoed, there was more to it than merely re-naming sauerkraut, which was called Liberty Cabbage. Finally, Prohibition, the Depression and World War II put paid to the state’s vinous prominence.

Unlike Zin, Norton hasn’t really recovered. Few have even heard of it. Confusion doesn’t help: Argentina’s fine Bodega Norton has a large online presence, and some Norton is called Cynthiana. Under either name, it’s found these days in Arkansas and Texas, but the Show Me State is its real stronghold. It is Missouri’s State Grape, grown by six dozen or so wineries. Stone Hill, Augusta, Montelle, and Adam Puchta are some of the leading producers, and some others that are well regarded include Cave, St James, Westphalia, Chaumette, Native Stone and Mount Pleasant. ‘We hand-sell it’, says Tony Kooyumjian, Augusta’s owner-winemaker. ‘It can be too tart by itself but is excellent with food. With a well-marbled steak, with sausages and with rich cheeses, it’s a very satisfying wine.’  Still, the grape remains an obscure one. After all, who these days associates Missouri with wine? Stone Hill’s winemaker, Dave Johnson, says Norton wine is unknown ‘even to some people who live across the street from the winery.’

In Virginia, its manger, it’s largely ignored, despite the fact that a Virginia Norton won a gold medal at the Vienna World Exposition in 1873. In fact, it took a Hermann boy, Dennis Horton, to re-introduce Norton to Virginia, when he founded Horton Vineyards in 1988. Most of the state’s other zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzznorton  Dennis Horton not only restored Norton to Virginia, he restored and updated this handsome old label.

wineries played it safe, planting the French varieties that did so well for California. They were, after all, established as public favorites. But Horton wasn’t alone. Jenni McCloud, owner, founder and head evangelist of Chrysalis Vineyards, put in 69 acres of Norton; other producers include Cooper, Keswick and Abingdon, although there are not so many as what McCloud calls ‘this gem’ deserves. In Virginia as in Missouri, the internet is the best friend of wine-lovers whose states are sufficiently advanced to allow direct shipment from beyond their borders. Those who don’t might well look into www.freethegrapes.org and wine hero Tom Wark’s winefermentationblog.com. Both of them tirelessly attack the Three-Tier System, the oligarchy that makes sure consumers pay more for less choice.

So—Norton and Zin for next Thanksgiving. Why not? On the other hand, why wait?

*When Doug Pendleton, owner of the famous Grapevine Cottage in Zionsville, Indiana asked a clerk for his favorite pairing The fellow rubbed his nose, pulled his beard and stroked his chin [this is made up] and said ‘I’m torn between cedar-roasted salmon with a corn-and-scallion soufflé and a Russian River Pinot Noir ‘or a grilled ahi-tuna sandwich with havarti and Conundrum.’ [not made up]. Torn, is he? Well he’s not invited to my house. I’m fresh out of ciabatta rolls and wouldn’t give havarti house-room.

©2012 Bill Marsano

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

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 bio—The 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.

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

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

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.

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzpinot noir

 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.’

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.

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.

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