I got off of work early today to rush home, change my too tight pants and get some last minute shopping done for my up and coming trip to Chicago, just like me to leave things to the last minute, (leaving early in the am tomorrow). I rushed through the door, ripped my laptop from my bag and plugged it in to answer a few emails before I hit the dreaded mall, that’s when I saw it, the “did you hear” email from importer Michael Sullivan in my inbox.
Thinking nothing of it I clicked, “open”….was not at all prepared for the very brief but very crushing message, Didier Dagueneau died today….honestly even now an hour or two later I can’t remember the rest of the message. The gasping and slapping of my hands to my mouth along with the steady stream of tears that began right after, today, (and are still with me now making it difficult to type) were all I could hear even with the television blaring.
I met Didier 5 years ago on my first trip to France, and truth be told he was one of the biggest reasons I was terrified to go. I had seen pictures of him from Randy’s trip, overalls, wild hair, bandana and plaid shirt; he looked like a Grateful Dead roadie, not a winemaker. I had also read about him and how he had turned Pouilly-Fume on its ass, mocking his neighbors for their vineyard practices and bulk wine mindset. Taking a stand and standing behind his decision to make wines from the Loire Valley that would rival those of the Cote d’ Or, wines of power, wines of richness and wines made from the, “humble” Sauvignon Blanc that would not only survive in the cellar but would flourish with age. Unheard of before him and one can only hope that it will be his legacy….
I slowly walked into Didier’s winery being very conscience of the crushing sound of the tiny stones beneath my feet, (felt like an ogre) and stood in his beautiful, spotless barrel room tasting and admittedly, not spitting thinking, “I cannot believe I’m here, in this place, with this man, tasting these wines” I didn’t say a word through the tasting…just in awe of him and his wines. After the tasting we were led into the kitchen where Michael Sullivan got busy helping prepare dinner. I found a corner in the living room area and tried to keep to myself but found that after the wine, (that I didn’t spit) and the euphoria of being there found their way into my system I was drawn into the kitchen.
“This is my moment” I told my buzzy self, “I am so cool enough to be here” the liquid courage led me to believe….”I’m going to just talk to him” I puffy-chestedly announced to all the other voices that were swimming around in my head…..I opted to use the food as an opener. I had eyed a really large chicken looking thing on the counter, pointing at the very large uncooked bird I asked, “So Didier what is that?” he slowly looked from the large bird and back to me, his icy blue eyes never losing their twinkle and he answered, “Capon”…that was it. Taken aback at first I pressed on, big smile on my face, “Well, okay what is a Capon” I pushed…again looking from the bird to me, he held his gaze on me, stared in my eyes with a confidence that was palpable and said, “It’s a really big chicken Samantha”. I dug him from that moment on, he was bustin my chops and I loved him for it, I felt at home and welcome.
We began the dinner that evening with a lobster and Foie Gras dish and things just got better from there, steaks cooked in the fireplace, my first DRC….a dream night really and I found myself tucked into the little guest bed straining to keep myself awake…didn’t want the night to end.
The last time I saw Didier was two years ago when he and a bunch of other “rock star” French winemakers were down here to do a tasting. We had been invited to meet with them all for a late dinner the night before the tasting. Kelly McHugh-Lopes and I drove up to Venice with our sales rep Chuck, we were nervous and drained a bottle of white Bordeaux before they even arrived…by then we were loose and ready to charm! The winemakers, (Francois Chidaine, Eric Bordelet, Christophe Peyrus and Didier Dagueneau) looked weary but ready for a drink. I hopped up and ran to the bar to order 5 Margaritas, (one for Michael Sullivan) and while they sipped away on their lime scented cocktails we popped corks left and right.
The food came and was devoured while we all slurped and got into heated conversation about the wines we were drinking. The restaurant was closing and we were all in super relaxed mode on the patio…not wanting the party to end we began chatting up the servers trying to figure out where we should go next….everyone was talking and Didier was sitting off by himself. I pulled my chair next to his; he looked peaceful, pink cheeked and calm….time to strike. I was spellbound by his wild mane of hair, so long, so curly and so uncontrollable, it suited him….there was a voice in my head that said, “Just touch it”. I was trembling, the woman I was before the trip where I first met him would never even talk to him, now here I was a woman that had been changed simply by being in his presence and being accepted by him and the others on that voyage….”Just touch it”.
I reached into my bag and pulled out a hair tie, scooted my chair even closer, reached my pudgy hand out and let my fingers plunge into his wild hair. I let my nails scratch his scalp and started pulling that cacophony of hair into…..a ponytail. He was weak from wine and travel but I could feel his chuckle shaking his shoulders as I played hairdresser. His hair slapped against my palm with each twist of the hair tie and before I knew it I was sitting on a patio in Venice Beach California with Didier Dagueneau in a ponytail.....that he let me put there. Poor thing I can’t even imagine what was going through his mind, and there I sat puffed up with pride that I had the courage to do it…he must have thought I was an idiot but he never let on, wore that damn ponytail for the rest of the night and even returned my hair tie the next day after the tasting.
Today we in the world of wine have not only lost a great winemaker, we have truly lost a great man. A man willing to fight for what he believes in, make fun of those that sneer at his vision and a man with a sweet impish soul….you will be greatly missed Didier and I thank you for….the wine, the laughs, the comfort….for everything.
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