Felt the chill in the air far more powerfully today than I have in quite a few. I had the day off and was done with my newsletter stuff for The Wine Country so I had the entire day to just lounge around, get lost in my thoughts and focus on the part of my life that does not intertwine with the store. These are rare days these completely out of the store days, I’m a front of the house manager type so even when I’m not walking the floor my thoughts, ideas, stresses and concerns are with me if I’m on the clock or not. That store has quite literally saved me on a number of occasions so it is one of the first things I think about when my mind starts it whirling in the morning and slips in between the, “Just for me” thoughts that lull me to sleep. The one time I allow myself a total day off is when I have sent all my verbiage in for the newsletter.
Today was one of those days.After hearing that my standing date night with my adorable neighbor had to be canceled I kicked into cooking mode. Compiled a list and almost without thinking devised a plan for dinner…one that I had not cooked in almost fifteen years but rattled off the list of needed items as if it was a dish I had been making every week for like ever. Seven bone chuck roast, the makings for salsa and tortillas. I was making my mother’s burritos, the ones I had not made or thought about in years, yet here were the ingredients, cooking times and assembly instructions floating around in my work-less mind. Why? Why that dish right now?
“Do you think it would be okay if I stayed a couple months longer, just to save up some money and watch the seasons change one more time?” just part of an email I got from my soon to be graduating son. Jeremy, My Jeremy is about to be handed his degree. Every time I tell people that ask about him that he is about to graduate they all say the same thing, “Oh My God. Has it been four years already?!” and I stand there, grinning but feeling the weight of a heart that has been Jeremy-less for four really long freaking years. Yeah, it’s been four years, four long years without his smile, chuckle and touch. To everyone else it might seem as if the time flew but for his mother, well it has felt like an eternity. The “do you think?” email was heart wrenching but not in the way you might assume.
When that amazing kid…..man, first stepped foot on the campus in Louisville I knew. I can read that face as if it were my own and as we passed the brick buildings and lush patches of lawn my favorite reading material was speaking loud and clear, “Time to fly, it’s my time to fly”. He took weeks to tell me which school he was choosing but I had begun preparing myself, as best I could…I knew. And the past four years have also been a time of emotional preparation for me, preparing for the very real possibility that my son, the man that now wears my face, might choose to continue the life he has started building there in Louisville. I’ve waffled over the years, going back and forth between being adamant that he would return home, just knowing that the call of family, the near perfect weather and his history would be too much to deny, and facing the reality that he now has a life and history there as well. It’s never been easy for me but here’s the thing, it’s not about me. Never was and never should be.
As I sat in our home tonight, the smell of our history hanging thick and rich in the air, I thought about Jeremy’s email and started to cry. It’s not the coming to terms with his wanting to stay, however long he stays, I have been building a support around my silly heart for that. No, it was the sweetness and concern for me and my feelings in what I’m sure is one of the most terrifying and confusing times of his life. I could feel him so powerfully, feel his once tiny hand in mine, the furry brow I used to kiss, see those beautiful brown eyes filling with tears whenever he would see someone else cry….thousands of miles could never separate us, he is always here with me. Always.
So to my beloved son I would like to say this one thing, and I need you to hear me. The only sure way to break my heart is for you not to follow your own….
I’m fine baby, how could I not be fine when I get to wear the pride that is being your mother every single day? You have given me so much Jeremy, more than you will ever truly understand and more than my feeble attempt at writing will ever be able to convey. My heart doubled that July morning almost 22 years ago and has continued to grow, flourish and gain strength just by watching you become the man that you are. You have given me the strength that I will call on when the missing you gets too painful. I will visit with you through the smells in my kitchen, the pride in my step and the years of laughter we have shared….the waiting for the volumes more to come.Take those months my sweet and loving son, take all the time you want and need. That front door is just like this heart that you helped build, wide open and simply waiting for your return.
It’s your time Jeremy
Your time to fly
It is such a pleasure to watch you soar….
I love you baby
You are the reason I am the woman I am and I could not possibly be more proud of you.
Not going to climb atop my soapbox, not going to point fingers or even really pick a side. I think we all have the right to like, dislike, drink or not drink whatever we damn well please. The arguments over high alcohol, pruney or hot wines shall never die and I happen to believe that there are wines with super high alcohol levels that are in fact in balance, just as there are wines with lower levels that can give me that same Bourbon like burn. There are no blanket truths and on that I think many of us agree but this little stunt pulled by Mr. Lee is just like when my mother in law "sneaks" veal into her meatballs, just because I might not taste it does NOT mean I want to ingest it! I choose not to eat veal, don't care if others do and I would never, ever give anyone shit for eating it, I just don't want to and it is not a matter of taste....
"You can't even taste it" is not the point when it comes to veal for me and it's not the point when it comes to glugging back a balanced or unbalanced bottle of wine that is over 15%....taste it or not, I don't WANT to. I happen to drink close to or often, a bottle of wine a night and I find that those few percentage points do in fact make a difference for me. Not looking to get looped or feel sluggish in the morning so I favor and choose to drinks wines closer to the 12-14% range 99% of the time. Just like veal it's a personal preference and not one I want people fucking with in order to prove a point that makes no real point at all.
I guess I do kind of have to admit that I come down on one side of this debate and that happens to be on the side that feels this little stunt did more harm than good when it comes to closing the gap of disagreement and the whole thing takes me right back to the in laws and where I stand on those meatballs, "Pass. Thanks" Point taken but not much proved....are those wines the exception or the rule?!
A couple of summers, before my little sister was born, my mother found a program at the local YMCA, a day camp that she could afford and that would indulge me in my most beloved summer activity, floating silently away in the water.
I grew up in a beach community, was a water kid from the beginning. Didn’t matter, ocean or pool, I was in from the second we hit the sand or chlorine scented concrete and would not get out until I got the “You have 5 minutes to dry off before we have to leave” alert. At the pool I would lock my legs on the blazing hot edge, pinch my nose, arch my back and plunge my body into the water pushing back until I felt the tiles resting against my shoulders. I would do this for hours, just float there seeing how long I could hold my breath, watch…upside down the frenetic activity at the shallow end of the pool. The legs wiping wildly, the sploosh of white foam as a body jumped in, the curious faces of my pool mates as they swam past the weird girl that was hanging like an underwater bat in the deep end of the pool. I loved the way my body would rock as the water was pushed to and fro, adored the absolute quiet and craved that big chest filling breath as I came up to the surface, panted and then took the plunge again. Pool time was for peace…
Now the beach was a whole other thing. This was where I would run, swim and ride the waves until my body was wrinkled and felt like it were about to give out. I would wiggle my body to deepest part of the cove and dig into the wet sand while I slowly released the air in my chest and watched the bubbles break along the murky surface. The dark cold water, the sting of salt in my little cuts and scrapes, the slight thrill of fear before planting my feet in the sand and with all my might, propelling myself through the frothy water, the cracking of waves, the lapping of water along the shore and the seagulls slamming into my ears and filling me with a rush that, to this day, has been hard to duplicate. So the pool was for tranquility but the beach only meant two things, total exhaustion and the worst lunch ever!
The YMCA took us to the beach twice a week and twice a week my mother would pack me a lunch that, had I not been such a freak (and like made friends and junk) I would have traded just about anything for, the cheese sandwich. White bread, mayonnaise….lots and lots of mayonnaise and one inch thick slabs of Monterey Jack cheese. Now let’s forget for a moment that we are talking summer in Southern California here, that the temperatures were often in the high nineties and those lunches were just stacked in portable plastic bins without refrigeration and that by the time we were….forced in my case, to eat lunch that thick, creamy swath of mayo now looked more like petroleum jelly than a condiment. No, that wasn’t the worst part. The most gag inducing part for me was having to remove the warm, squishy, sweating cheese sandwich from the plastic baggie, my wet fingers turning the doughy bread into a sponge and feeling that disgusting crunch of sand that was there no matter how many times I wiped my hands. Fuck just typing that memory gave me a gag shiver. Warm mayo, wet bread, thick, sweaty cheese and sand…gross.
“Sam eat your sandwich!”
That was many moons ago those crunchy sandwich beach days but had I known then what I know now, well maybe I would have been a happier little salt covered prune. If I had only known there was a perfect beverage to accompany my gritty lunch…
hanna 2008 / russian river, california
With a color of brilliant honey and golden straw, this wine brings aromas of ripe Gravenstein apple, ghee, oak veneer, dried mango, sweet baked
almond and crushed pineapple. On the tongue, flavors of poached pears, Bananas Foster, ground nutmeg, first touch of warm beach sand, olive
oil and sweet lemon zest.
From a local restaurant’s wine list….um, no wonder people think we wine “professionals” are either douche nozzles or full of shit. Ugh. Useless and profoundly stupid tasting note. Now I feel like I have sand in my underpants….
Been one hell of an emotional couple weeks for me. Started last Sunday with me opening a Word document, the contents of which would set in motion a roller coaster of feeling that I have been strapped into and riding ever since. I sat at The Wine Country an hour before closing flipping the pages, the ones I printed out so I could focus on them rather than read them on the screen of the store computer. The pages containing a summarized history of the father I never knew. Much like I responded to the Uncle’s email I took if far lighter than the situation may have called for. Just hit print, even stapled the pages and began reading as if I were not at all attached to the story that I was reading. Got up to help customers on the floor, rang people up, answered the phone then went back to the pages like I were returning to some novel I had flipped face down, spine spread on my desk.
Wasn’t until meeting my husband at our Sunday dinner spot, Tracy’s Bar & Grill that the story began to seep in. I sat there watching him turn the pages, his face intent, eyebrows raising now and then, felling much like I were across from him, fingers slipping between the buttons of my top, fists gathering clumps of my shirt as I ripped the material leaving myself completely exposed. He slid the stapled sheets back in my direction while searching my face for some direction. My husband is the sweetest most patient man I know, I mean c’mon he’s married to this raving case, he has to be but, well heavy emotion and deep conversation kind of freak him out. I know this, respect this and truth be told I’m not much of a “Lets’ talk about our feelings” kinda chick so we work exceptionally well in that respect and yet….here I sat, the words I had read just an hour before becoming more real as his big brown eyes left the page and fell upon me.
I leapt into full rattle. Just jumped into the retelling of revelations and very faint memories, somewhat manic I suppose but I was sitting there so naked and feeling the twisted anguish of someone that loves me not knowing what to say to me. It was perfect for a moment, I was able to think not about what I was feeling and instead turn my attention to soothing him, reassuring him that I was fine….that was until one of those freakish coincidences slaps you in the face and leaves you wondering just who the hell is trying to reach you.
“Oh little Jeannie, you’ve got so much love” fucking jukebox. My heart started pounding like a fist inside my chest, like it had had quite enough of this ignoring bullshit. I was mid sentence and my words simply froze in mid air, my eyes watching my fellow Sunday night reveler, the one that had chosen that particular song, stroll slowly back to their seat at the bar. My mouth was still half open as if I had been hung up or searching for the next word but the truth was I had stopped breathing. I was holding my breath, jaw slacked and heart ripping away at my flesh. I turned back to my husband and had the wind knocked back into my lungs when I saw his face….his face looking at mine that was now streaming with tears. I hadn’t even noticed that I was crying but was helpless to stop it, “I am so not going to be this woman dude. I am not gonna be the crying in a bar chick. You get the bill, I’ll meet you at home” grabbed my backpack and made a beeline for my car.
Spent the next week with my heart and head wide open, devouring every bit of history my Uncle sent, stuffing the information in the gaping holes, coming to terms with the idea that bits of this story, my story will never be fully filled in now that my mother is gone. Been missing her a lot as of late, missing her and wishing she had been more honest with me, more open. Feels a little like trying to finish a T.V. Guide crossword puzzle from like three decades ago….so many of the answers no longer at the tip of anyone’s tongue…
I woke this past Sunday feeling like the Sunday before had happened months ago. Like I had spent an entire month in my head roaming, picking things up, blowing the dust off shelves and finding places to hang my father’s things; his almost photographic memory, his angst, his rebellious nature. Holding the two of us up in a mirror and seeing how we fit. Laughing as I realized that I was not so much unlike my mother, just much more like my father. I may never be able to solve seven across and four down but, well it’s really amazing to get just a little closer.
I popped on Facebook Sunday and made some comment about how I could skip my shower and be enjoying eggs, hashbrowns, steak and sipping a martini in 20 minutes. The first two “likes” came right away along with a couple people chiming in that they wanted to go. I sat in my jammies looking at the clock, could I really start my Sunday in a dark coffee shop bar? Um, yes, yes I could. Tossed the day-before curls in a loose ponytail, painted my face, sent a “Meet us there in 20 minutes” text and headed out.
Walked into Hoff’s Hut and went directly to the bar. I love this bar. Gotta love a bar when you are one of like five people under seventy right?! I was blinking wildly as my eyes tried to adjust, (note to self, get sunglasses dammit) and I searched for the other crazy chick that was down with wasting away in whatever-ville with me on a lazy Sunday morning. Found her sitting at the bar, (I would have gone for a booth God love her) sipping her Bloody Mary and waving at us. Took my seat and was there not two whole minutes before I felt a tap on my arm, “Do you remember when we were married?” older gentleman sipping a margarita with his buddy just to the right of me, “I do and I really miss you” I responded, the grin that he tried to choke down melted my heart and I let out the first of many giggles that I would share with my new ex-husband that morning. He told me “off color” jokes, I laughed and played along with being his wife, discussing the children…our two dogs of which he has custody and whose vet bills are the reason his alimony checks are late. I went back and forth between the ex and the people I had come with, my head far away from puzzles and sad stories, just laughing and feeling so vibrant.
“There is nothing sexier than a woman that can laugh like you do” such a simple comment tossed out by my ex’s buddy but even in my somewhat crazy headed state I let it hit me. Took his unbelievably sweet observation and the dreamy eyes with which he delivered it to my newly open heart. My husband, (the real one) and friend both shook their heads as I bid farewell to my ex-husband and his buddy who took their leave just as our meals were being served. Laughed my ass off as the hostess came into the dark bar, craning her neck before walking up to me and telling me, “I was asked to tell you that your husband just left” say what you will about bars and the people that might be found there before like noon on a Sunday but what I found at that Hoff’s Hut bar with Guy and Mike, well it was just the sermon I needed.
When I was designing my first tattoo, (only have the one but there is one or two more to come) I knew I wanted to include the motto that had seen me through many a dark day; the living on pancakes, the never quite fitting in, the being the mother of a biracial son that I wanted to make sure was never ashamed or in any way hurt by his differentness, the sitting in the front room of my apartment while my baby slept and I poured coffee for the police that were there to file yet another report. Strength in laughter. The one thing that no one could take from me was my ability to laugh, desire to laugh and find some bit of light in the face of things that I was unwilling to let crush or consume me. Took a couple of strangers in a dark bar on a Sunday morning to remind me but I started laughing and began feeling like me again…
Wasn’t even really thinking about it when I reached in my fridge and pulled out a bottle of wine. Don’t think I even really looked at the label, just removed the foil and drove my corkscrew into the neck of the bottle. The perfunctory motions of opening a bottle, the glugging sound as the liquid splashed into the glass, the replacing of the cork, the mindless saunter back to my little couch perch to peruse crap on the information super highway. Cigarette lit, television on, mind off and wandering as it tends to do. I reached down, my fingers taking their assigned places on the glass, the quick swirl, the half assed sniff, my lips parting as the cold lip of the glass slipped between them, the saturation of history….my history, the one that I’ve made for myself spilling across my palate. Francois Chidaine, Francois Chidaine Touraine….
How many times had I had this wine? How many bottles consumed with friends? How many cases sold? How many people now know and love this humble producer because of the words I’ve shared about him? This wine is just as much a part of me as any of the things I’ve learned over the past week or so, in some ways more. This kind of wine, the voice that exploded inside me that demands that I find, drink and share wines like these....this is the me that I know, the laughing me, the me that I think my parents would both be proud of. Could not stop laughing. Been so caught up in the before picture that I had lost sight of the after. I am a product of my parents, their love and passion for one another but it does not define who I am now.
I owe so much of who I am to people like Randy and Dale Kemner, owners of the store where I get to….where they let me thrive. Michael Sullivan, the importer that took me on that life changing first trip to Europe, answered all my questions, laughed with me, believed in me and my palate. Ron Washam and his undying love and support of whatever it is I do here, his finding some sort of beauty in this beast regardless of typos and horrific grammatical errors. Charlie Olken and his even knowing who this humble wine slinger and fumbling blogger was, in letting me tease his palate with grower Champagne, arguing and getting me to take another look at wines that I had long ago given up on. Eric Asimov for sending me that first message telling me that he read me and admired what I was doing here. Thomas and our shared and understood love of the fried potato. Alice and her palate that I understand, her relentless voice and strength when I know it’s not always easy. Jess and Dave for flying or driving out to visit me and partake of my tastings, you two have no idea what that meant and still means to me. Another Day of Crazy, chris, Kevin, Michael Hughes, Benito, Heather, Vicki, Andy, Bill, webb, Sara, John Kelly, Stephen, Alfonso, Nico, Jeremy, David and Wayne….the list just keeps growing and just so you all know, with your help and support, so do I. Thank you. Thank you all…
Just felt like I needed to get that off my chest There, now you own it Now I can get back to my silly nonsense
So I spent Thursday afternoon doing something that I’ve been trying to be better at but have never really warmed to, I spent the afternoon at a trade tasting. Now I know all the people not in the business, (there has to be like 3 people that read this blog that is not now, nor trying to be, in the business. That’s ITB for you. Fuck what a douchebag abbreviation. Really?! In the business needs to be shortened? I blame Twitter) think I’m insane for not wanting to spend my whole day lodged in thick traffic, being bumped and knocked into, huffing in the rank ass perfume of the “hostess” that the sommelier next to me brought…..you know, to educate her palate, cramming oily olives, always dressed with the ever wine friendly citrus rind, into my pie hole while trying to nudge my way to the front of the table where I will fumble with my notepad, tasting sheet and wine glass while dodging the lama like spit so I can get a teensy taste of wine, poke my rump out and slowly back away to savor said wine only to do it all over again….like one hundred more times. I don’t blame you for questioning my sanity, I mean what’s not to love and desire about that?
I know some people love it; love the free snacks, the meeting up with others ITB, (ugh) the being away from work for a couple hours and schmoozing with sales reps or winemakers but it simply drives me batshit. I try, I really do but I spend the duration of these events feeling squished, aware of just how chunky my backing up ass is, rolling my eyes at the, “look how much I know and I am going to stand here, at the front of the table, unwilling to move until you admire my knowledge” crank yankers that insist one of the wines is corked…of course, just wishing I were back at the store. So not my scene and not at all a way for me to truly evaluate wine.
Sure I can swirl, sniff, slurp and spit with the rest of them, been at this long enough to have the basics down, to fit in with my fellow squished tasters but I find myself in the same goddamn quandary once I leave and am face to face with Randy at the shop, “So what was fantastic?” he always probes…his face all lit up waiting to hear. “Um, I’ll have to check my notes” is all I can ever give him. No rattling off or gooing over one wine or another. No long descriptions, no chatter about this vintage as opposed to last. Just a tasting sheet with stars and me with a crunched face wanting to go home and wash the squish off me.
Been going to more over the past year. Just making an effort to support my favorite importers, distributors and sales reps but I always go knowing that this is more of a preliminary tasting for me. I’ll taste a few wines from each estate just to get a feel for the house style or vintage and if I find something that piques my interest I will tell my rep and ask that they bring the wines by the shop so I can really taste them. Call me crazy but I just can’t get quite enough out of a wine, in that setting, to get all weak in the knees or even really commit to buying it for The Wine Country. I mean, I’m huffing hostess and tasting like how many wines, interspersed between bits of rind scented olive, (and restaurateurs, I get that they look lovely, taste nice and all but YOU try tasting Marsannay rouge after eating one of those fuckers) focused more on not bumping, spilling or getting the “look at me” guy's spit on my mug. Not really conducive to wine appreciation for me.
I love wine. I’m not talking just love, I’m talking I can have a very physical and or emotional reaction to wine when given the time to really explore it. Now I’m never going to be one of those cats that requests a whole bottle sample to take home and spend the night with. Just not built that way and I appreciate that suppliers have only so many samples and need to see as many people as they can with them. I can share. Fine with that actually but I just need a few more minutes, just a little more time to spend with my nose in the glass. A few focused moments where I can just shut the clutter out, the schmoozing, the mélange of hair gel and “hostess” just close my eyes, let my mind, nose and tongue uncover all that the wine has to offer. Just like speed dating makes no sense to me, speed or power tasting leaves me flat and aching for something….
Always with the lips. I always start at the lips. My face close and slowly taking in every tiny pore, the pattern of facial hair. My lips wet as my heart races and I move even closer, the sound of my own breath setting the pace as I move from the mouth to the neck and up to the earlobe. The scraping of my teeth along the freshly shaven or not shaven at all jaw, the way his body begins to stiffen and soften. My hands moving up the chest, my fingers taking in every bump either caused by my touch or there years before me. Reading his stomach and chest with my hands, memorizing the way his skin leaks into my fingertips….the sounds of his breath quickening, the sting of my teeth digging into my bottom lip as I remove his shirt and let my eyes fall upon the flesh that my fingers have been studying. The almost tortuously deliberate pace, the purposeful delaying. The bend of a kneecap, the imperfect patches of skin, the shaking when I press my lips along his hip, trace his ribcage with my nails, the hands digging into my back as I let my nose and cheek run along his thighs. Me devouring, investigating, chronicling each little bit….the voice, the smells, the skin, him. I want to know, see, taste, smell all of him, remember him before I can even completely succumb to him.
This, this is how I make love and as I said, I love wine….cannot imagine giving it any less thought than I would anything else I might think about letting slip inside me. Maybe it’s a chick thing and wine ladies feel free to chime in here, but I just can’t separate my passion, my desire, my want, the way I love, make love, am made love to from the things that made me want to be there in the first place. It takes more than a look, more than a smile…I need more to move me, I need time to keep me reaching up that shirt, for that next sip. I would never go on a blind date with a man my friend met in the checkout line at the grocery store so I have to wonder, why would anyone take wine advice from someone that attended a mass tasting?
“Oh little Jeannie, you got so much love, little Jeannie. And you take it where it strikes and give it to the likes of me. Oh little Jeannie, she got so much love, little Jeannie. So I see you when I can, you make me all a man can be” my six year old face stretched as I crooned along with Elton John to what I thought was the sweetest love song this side of Oh Mandy.
“Turn that off” my mother’s jaw tight and eyes now slits where her big, blue eyes once were. I reached up and pushed the chunky rectangular button on the VW radio, settling on Kenny Loggins which I knew would please her. I let my back rest upon the warm and rubbery smelling seat wondering why she reacted so harshly every time that song came on…..
When we first moved to Long Beach to live in my mother’s ex-husband’s home, the big beautiful home full of cruel intentions and sad souls, I spent the majority of my time outside. Just rode up and down on the hill, the rubber wheels of my skates skidding when I would reach the bottom…the pounding of my heart and wheezing of my breath the soundtrack as I made the calf aching ride back to the top of the hill where I would stop, just long enough to catch my breath before kicking my feet out behind me and sailing my body down the hill once again. I craved the silence, the time away from puffed up but oh-so-sad hollowness of the kings of that castle. Coming from where I did, the roach infested, pancake house…well it seemed like a bastion of hope and honesty compared to that big…beautiful house.
As long as the sun was out or the street lights where on, I was out on the street and away from the sadness that seemed to encapsulate that home. Skates, Dolphin shorts and my freakish fetish for feeling the sun on my young flesh….out there I felt safe and was able to get my groove on, skate away the heaviness that weighed upon every spirit that crossed through that doorway. The young men that were coaxed there, promised a safe haven, a place to be who they were…the even sadder ones that clipped their hopes to the belt loop of a man that wanted nothing more than to take advantage of them. They came in, they had their 15 minutes of specialness and they were ushered out without fanfare. I knew what was happening, understood that my brother’s father was preying on those lost souls but was powerless to help or warn them…so I skated.
One afternoon I was out skating and had to dodge the moving trucks that were lugging in the furniture of the folks that were to be our neighbors. I watched as they unloaded the plastic covered couch, held my feet like a giant U as I swung my hips back and forth, my feet separated like a ballerina…toes out and arches high, my body swaying back and forth as the movers unloaded the boxes. I was captivated. Each box holding a story, every black marker scrawled upon bit of cardboard holding some clue as to who was going to be living in the house that rested even higher on the hill than the one I resided in.
“Hi! I’m Neesie” long braided hair, long slinky but powerful body. My new neighbor, also on skates, rolling around the hill that had been my quiet place. She was a couple of years younger than I, her skin dark and perfect glistening in the sun, her smile so bright that I was sure that her home was not the same as mine. I was slightly irked by the perceived intrusion on my playground but I found hope in her smile and willingness to talk to me. Before long we looked like a set of salt and pepper shakers sailing down the hill together. We would skate and play all afternoon but the playtime always ended when a Volvo would pull onto our street and park in her steep driveway. “I gotta go, my dad is home!” she would yell over her shoulder as she skated or trotted away from me.
At first I thought this meant that “dad” was the killer of fun. Just some mean man that didn’t want Neesie playing outside with the neighbor kid. I was afraid of him and I too would scamper off when that Volvo pulled onto the street, but one afternoon while playing in Nessie’s room she jumped up and sounded the playtime is over bell, “Dad is home!”but this time she ended it with, “Come meet him” I was terrified as I made my way to the kitchen, my feet feeling like bricks as I lifted them, my stomach twisted and gurgling, my hands producing so much moisture that I had to wipe them on my shorts after every few steps. Once we reached the entrance to the kitchen and I saw the tall sturdy frame of the man standing there, my heart started racing and I began scanning the joint for the quickest escape route but Nessie, the girl that would run every time he came home….well, she started to run again but this time it was right into his strong arms. “Daddy!’ she yelled as he lifted her to his chest and folded his long arms around her slender frame, “this is the friend I was telling you about” He held her whole body in one arm while extending the other in my direction, “you must be Sam then” his voice deep and smooth as honey as he took my trembling hand in his. “Very nice to finally meet you Sam” he said, his big hand swallowing mine, “How was your day baby?” he asked as he turned his attention back to the girl he was still holding in his arms.
“Why do you always run home when your dad comes home?” I asked her one afternoon, waiting to hear all the drama about how he insisted that she stay inside, or had rules against too much fun, what I heard was not at all what I expected and would leave me mystified and almost painfully curious, “He’s my dad and I want to be with him” Here I had been thinking that she was running off in fear when that Volvo pulled in the driveway but in fact she was running away from me to be with him. I didn’t get it. Her mom had been home all day, if she needed or wanted something she could have given it to her, what was the deal with this “dad” business?
I never really knew my father. I have only vague remembrances of the shape of his face, his eyes the same as mine, the long straight hair, the smell of patchouli. I remember avocado and alfalfa pita sandwiches, the “funny” smell of his cigarettes and a faint feeling of sadness when he would “fall asleep” during one of my visits…..the panic I would feel on the drive home, my mother always crying so hard that I thought she must be in some kind of terrible pain. The way should would sob and shake her head when I would beg her, “What’s wrong mommy?!” She was in fact in terrible pain, but a pain I wouldn’t truly understand until now.
“God, you look like your father when you make that face” a phrase I would hear over and over again. Never quite sure what face she was talking about, what look would make her see him in me, always felt a little guilty when it happened and wished it were not so as it inevitably brought her sadness. Couldn’t change it but so many times I wished that I could. My mother was already so full of heartache and it killed me that my….face brought her even more.
“They found him at Jeannie’s”
She was sitting on the couch, legs tucked in under her bottom, the way she always sat. Her iced tea beside her, a lit cigarette in the ashtray beside it. I remember the phone ringing and the, “No! Oh God. Please No!” the sound of my mother’s hope dying….the thud of the dropped phone and then the sound of my feet smacking against the sticky linoleum floor as I ran to her. He was gone. A part of her was gone too. They found him in the home of the woman he was seeing, in Jeannie’s home….Oh little Jeannie.
My mother died some thirty something years later still madly in love with the man whose face I wore but whose story I never knew. She didn’t speak of him much. At first I thought it was because she hated him but the older I got the more I understood that she couldn’t talk about him, it was too painful for her to remember him. So “dad” or “father” never evoked more than an idea for me, had no feelings other than guilt to attach to what the word meant. Once I met my husband, saw the way my own son lit up, admired and felt safe around him I had a better idea but the actual feeling, well it was just never one that I understood.
“If you are the Samantha Dugan I am looking for I hope to hear from you, I’m your father’s brother” an email waiting for me at work last week. It was so easy for me to respond, to write back and tell him that I was in fact the Samantha he had been looking for. I did it so quickly, with no hesitation and so matter-of-fact. Was not at all prepared for the flood of emotion and feeling that would overtake me as the man whose face I wore story spilled out before me…his brother’s memories on the screen seemed to leap deep inside my chest and become part of me. “He wanted a daughter more than anything and your mother brought him peace in a way that no one else could”….the first time in my almost forty years that I felt like I was being scooped up and held in the strong arms of a father.
Feels like everything has changed in some way. Nothing really has, my life is the same, there is no Volvo to run to but now, well now there is all this information, history, texture to where I came from. He was more than a junkie. He was a very smart man, well travelled as it turns out, and although they died years and worlds apart, my parents were very much in love. I wish she were still here, so I could beam this face, this face that he and I shared….smile at her in that way that made her think of him and just this once let her see this new found pride behind it. Feels amazing….
“Well? What do you think?” winery owner Doug Nalle asking this French wine lover what I thought of his 2009 Pinot Noir. Standing there, my glass now empty, my mouth vibrating I said, "It's a everything I had hoped it would be"
As much as I abhor shunning any one wine or wine growing region I’ve been somewhat secretly doing just that for, oh I don’t know….the last ten years and the wines that I have been not only not drinking but avoiding all together, those from my very own state, the wines of California. This is not some snobby thing, matter of fact it’s not something I’m very proud of. Oh sure I used to stomp around and make grand statements, point a finger and growl about the shift in California wine production, the gloppy Zinfandels and flabby Chardonnays, I did…and no matter how much I ranted people lined up to buy those wines. At some point you have to just surrender and assume that California had stopped caring about palates like mine, so in turn, I stopped caring about the wines of California. I wasn’t peeved, okay I was at first but after a bit I just found solace and pleasures abound for my wine drinking from France and at times Italy. It wasn’t an ugly breakup but a breakup it was. I went from the occasional scrunched and disappointed face while tasting California wines to simply not tasting them at all.
By some strange twist of fate I was befriended by 30 year veteran wine writer and publisher of Connoisseurs’ Guide to California Wines Charles Olken. We had an instant affection for one another and a complete lack of understanding when it came to each other’s palates. This of course led to many a head cracking conversation; arguments over balance or lack thereof and much like I threw in the towel on California wines years ago….well I snatched that sucker up off the floor in the interest of informed arguing. I couldn’t very well intellectually argue against wines that I had been so far removed from for so long now could I? I mean I surely wouldn’t give much weight to anyone that thought they knew French wines after not really tasting them in ten years, lots has changed in France; cleaner winemaking, younger generation taking over estates with a fresh eye and one less focused on the American wine press…so I had to believe that there was stuff happening in California and it was high time that got up to speed.
This was not always easy, being that I’m an “all in” kind of person I wasn’t going to just taste the wines that I thought might be less crushing to my palate, I tasted them all. Anything we had open from California was in a glass and I had my nose and palate in it. Zinfandel, Merlot, Chardonnay, Rhone Blends, all of it and well, well I still don’t get Zinfandel but I think it’s less of a glopular stylistic thing than it’s just not a variety I like kind of deal. This immersion has been going on for about a year now and the more I tasted from California the more involved Bennett got in trying to help me find things that suited my palate. He would call me over during his appointments and point things out that he thought I should take home for dinner, things that would please this Old World palate and open my eyes to the wines from California that were not loaded with sweet fruit, bitter oak and rocket fuel like alcohol levels….the kind of wines I wasn’t sure still existed.
I noticed a change in my verbiage first, that slightly cocked head and inquisitive look when someone would admonish California wines, the way I couldn’t stop myself from saying, “All of them?” before leading them to a wine I had recently tried, a wine with brilliant balance and beautiful structure….from California, the way I would light up when they came back for more. It wasn’t the being right part that got me all jazzed, it was the opening of a mind that like mine had been shut off to a whole region, the excitement of a shared discovery and endless possibilities and pleasure that comes from having a new world to explore.
I’ve always sold California wines to those that came in looking for them, it’s not those people that I am using my much coveted newsletter space to reach. It’s the people like myself that crave higher acidity, vibrant fruit and less oak but thought you had to drink from the Old World to get it. We were wrong, very wrong and the worst part….we’ve been missing out on some truly astounding wines. It’s time to take another look folks, amazing what you miss when you have your eyes closed or slap a stylistic label on a region too large and varied to deserve it. I’m using this space, the one I’m given to promote my own department to implore you, maybe inspire you to take another look. I’ve nothing to gain here, in fact I risk losing sales in my French department but I think this important enough to take that risk. Our goal at The Wine Country has always been to put wines in your hand that will thrill you, pair with your meals and maybe along the way share our discoveries with anyone willing to listen and aching to learn. Well I’ve learned in the last year that by turning my back on California I’ve been missing out on a bunch of truly remarkable wines, wines that bend my mind, make my toes curl and deliver to my palate an identity beyond my somewhat simplistic idea of “California” I’m changing my mind, expanding my world of wine drinking and I sincerely hope, for your own pleasure and discovery that you might be willing to do so too.
What We've Been Missing
2009 Big Vine Napa Valley Chardonnay $13.99 “This is a Chablisienne style Chardonnay” had to cringe when the guy pouring the wine for me said that. Not it’s not, nor should it want to be. This wine is however amazingly pure and fresh, just loaded with apple and citrus and delightful mouth tingling acidity. No oak at all this is a wine all about delicious fruit and would be a perfect partner for anything from eggy cheesy dishes to roasted or grilled chicken.
2009 Conspire Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc $25.99 The second I tasted this wine I knew we had to have it at The Wine Country, once hearing how limited it is I feel lucky that we grabbed it when we did! Beautiful, almost round fruit in the mouth, a silky mouth feel and a finish that is long with tangerine and guava. A serious Sauvignon Blanc indeed but with a certain grace unlike many I have tasted out of Napa Valley.
2005 Meander Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon $59.99 Take one great winemaker--Amy Aiken, with experience at Joseph Phelps, Oakville Ranch, and Viader. Give her the best fruit from two great vineyards--Morisoli Vineyard in Rutherford and Lewelling Vineyards in St. Helena. What you get is a profound Cabernet that combines tremendous power and depth with complexity and richness. Those were Bennett’s notes and I would like to add that if Cabernet tasted like this more often I could become addicted. Deep black fruit, creamy in the mouth with a coco like richness that splashes upon the palate but doesn’t coat it completely. So vibrant and sexy it needs nothing to make it sing. Brilliant wine.
2009 Conspire Russian River Pinot Noir $39.99 Medium weight, brimming with red cherries and dried herbs this is the kind of Pinot Noir that fills the wants of both Old and New World wine drinkers. Plenty of up front fruit but without any hint of sweetness, more earthy and tart with that little lift of wild herbs on the finish. Bring on the grilled lamb or pork and enjoy.
2007 Matthew Taylor Michaud Vineyard Monterey Country Pinot Noir $27.99 We were tasted on three vintages of this delicious Pinot Noir, all lovely but it was this 2007 that stopped me dead in my tracks. I was literally in mid sentence and my words hung frozen in the air while this wine stole my heart. Graceful layering of dark creamy fruit, silky integrated tannin and acid with a lightness in texture that took my breath away. Stunning bottle of Pinot Noir that you owe it to yourself to try.
2009 Nalle Russian River Valley Pinot Noir $32.99 As a lover of Burgundy I can honestly say that tasted blind I might mistake this for something from the Cote de Nuits. I’m not going to say it’s Burgundian, (mostly because I loathe comparisons like that) but it has that deep red fruit, that baked clay and faint mushroom thing that I tend to find in village level wines from Nuits. One of the last wines we tasted after a very long afternoon of tasting and it just leapt from the glass with all its pure fruit and sexy spicing. One of the most delightfully balanced Pinot Noirs I have had the pleasure to taste in a long time.
I think I started my original blog back in 1971, which forced me to invent the Internet in order to publish it for no reason and no money. As an aside, I never wanted to call it the Internet. I wanted to call it Cyberteabagging, but my mother wouldn’t let me. She could be very teste. No, I first published HoseMaster of Wine in September of 2008. I had stumbled onto wine blogs, and on one of them I noticed the little tab at the top that said “Start Your Own Blog.” Turns out any moron could start a blog, and I had impeccable moron credentials, so I just sat down and started writing jokes about wine and wine appreciation. Only my wife read it, and that was at gunpoint. I began blogging simply to exercise my long dormant comedy writing genes. It was essentially a cry for help, sort of like Gwyneth Paltrow’s singing. I have no idea why anyone continued to read it. I only know that the joy of coming up with completely stupid jokes returned me to my childhood love of writing comedy. A journey that mattered to me greatly after my Mother died in 2007. How many times have you “retired” now? I’m just trying to start a trend. Hoping other wine bloggers will follow suit, make the world safe for originality again. The first incarnation of HoseMaster lasted six months before I pulled the plug. Someone had to do it, the damned thing was brain dead. Though I do miss the convenience of a feeding tube. I completely deleted the original HoseMaster of Wine from the blogosphere, though it is available in a German language edition on iTunes under LederHosenFuhrer Von Wein. Six weeks later I returned, beginning with the now famous post “I’m Baaaack.” That’s around when my blog started to get infamous. I think I took another hiatus in there somewhere. Then I finally walked away last August. Always give the public what they want.
Where did you begin your wine career? A better question would be “Why?” I first started actively pursuing wine (in a VW squareback filled with fertilizer and accelerants) around 1975. I think I was the first subscriber to “Connoisseurs’ Guide to California Wine,” which back then was published on an Etch-A-Sketch. And made more sense. Robert Parker was still an attorney, whose advice one followed at ones own risk. You finish the joke. I landed my sommelier job at Pacific Dining Car in 1987 and was there for 19 years, at which time my ankle bracelet was removed and I published a book entitled, “Secret of a Sommelier,” which consisted of the single line, “We don’t know crap about wine either.” How did The HoseMaster of Wine come about? A serious addiction to alcohol. I don’t know that there’s an answer to this question. I know enough about wine to be dangerous, but I felt that my contribution to the wine discussion would need to be satirical. There’s little humor in the wine blog world, and the wine world in general. There are a lot of bloggers who were told at some point in their lives that they were funny. But, then, someone once told Greta van Susteren cosmetic surgery would make her look better instead of looking like she has a permanent wedgie. The only bloggers that are actually funny don’t honestly know they’re funny--WineHarlots, ChronicNegress, Corks and Caftans jump to mind. I felt a patriotic compulsion to play the Fool, a noble part, and thus the HoseMaster, and my old comic “voice” with a new name, was reborn. Boxers or Briefs? Depends.
Under my briefs.
For when I sneeze while peeing.
You are rather infamous for making fun of wine bloggers but are there any blogs you read and actually like? Samantha, you know that I read and love your work. It gets tough after that. What you possess singularly among the wine blogs that I’ve read, which are few in that great big used car lot that is wine blogs, is a unique and powerful voice. I know Steve Heimoff eloquently said at the last WBC what I’ve long believed--there are few genuine, compelling voices writing wine blogs. This is not to say you need to be a talented, interesting writer to start a wine blog any more than you need to be talented or interesting to work for Fox News--an expensive toupee and no shame are plenty. But I care very little for opinions expressed in a dull and predictable and boring voice. It’s why I stopped talking to myself and took up jai alai. This is the question every other blogger skips to, dreading to see their name mentioned. Aside from your blog, Samantha, I do, on occasion, read Alfonso’s blog “On and On and On and On and On and On the Wine Trail in Italy.” Alfonso must have been Dante in a previous life, and is now being punished. But you never know what he’s going to say or how he’s going to say it, and that makes for compelling prose. I can hardly wait to read his English language version. I also read Steve Heimoff’s blog because his is the rare blog that shows actual thought and work put into it. Not by him, but his commenters. But one reads Heimoff for the business end of wine, the tasting and analyzing and folderol--one reads you and Alfonso for the simple joy of writing.
This is like an Oscar speech. Have I left anyone out? Oh no, the orchestra is beginning to play... Name 2 wine writers whose work makes sense to you. There is no one currently writing who can carry Gerald Asher’s luggage. Whereas a PR guy like Tom Wark repeatedly, and delusionally, says that this is the Golden Age of wine writing (well, OK, if one believes in showers of the same persuasion), I contend that very little being written now will be referenced even ten years from now, when I’ll be retiring for the 700th time. There’s journalism, and there’s wine writing; just like there’s literature and there’s opinion pages. There are wonderful journalists I can read--Charlie Olken, Steve Heimoff, Jancis “Here’s to you Mrs.” Robinson, and the guy who writes the Trader Joe’s newsletter. But Gerald Asher writes literature about wine. This is a rare gift.
Unsolicited praise--your posts are often what I’d call literature, too, Samantha. Asher writes from an historical viewpoint, you write from the emotional and visceral viewpoint. Nice bookends.
Does your work make sense to you? No, because it’s not work, nor do I treat it as work. It’s idle surrender to my twisted subconscious. Bloggers who view blogging as work make it sound like work, and that’s not appealing to readers. They have little energy or originality, and their posts show it transparently. They are tired and their sentences are tired. You can’t wait to get to the end of their posts. But that’s avoiding the question. I learned early in life that I was no judge of what’s funny to other people. I hate everything I write, and simply cannot be in the same room with anyone who is reading my words. So I don’t care about making sense except in the twisted logic of what satire demands. Comedy is about making sense of a world that makes no sense. That can only lead to less sense, which is what’s funny. What would you like to see more of in the wine blog world? Coupons
Tributes to Don Pardo
More people with intials after their names, like MS, MW, CSET, DOA, MIA, BILF, Jr.
A WBC Award for Blogger Most Often Retired
Links to Sites with Viruses I’m never going to read a lot of wine blogs. No one does, except other bloggers. And former NFL offensive linemen. Humans have a need to be heard. I think it started with the Elephant Man. Wine bloggers want to be admired and read, but when it’s pointed out that they have little talent or expertise they say, Well, I just write this for my friends, “I AM NOT AN ANIMAL!” Well, no, but you’re ugly as Tuscan Cabernet.
All this to say, it doesn’t matter. Wine blogs will not improve from where they are, nor will they get worse. Sort of like your brother in the padded helmet. Less of? Chest beating about the importance/relevance/power of wine blogs. Shut up. You’re the guy with the bullhorn and the pee-stains shouting the end of the world is coming May 21st. You’re the only one who believes it, and you’re starting to smell.
Have you ever sneezed while peeing? Only because I’m allergic to priests. What one parody did you get them most attention for? I have been told over and over, even very recently by 1WineDoody, that my parody of Alice Feiring made folks cringe. I’m not especially proud of that, though I’m certainly not ashamed. There is a line in satire, with every subject, that when you cross it, it goes from being funny to being horrifying and tasteless and gratuitously cruel. The satirist’s job is to walk up to that line, put all ten toes on it, and, then, just when everyone thinks you’re going to cross it, you pull back. A lot of people expressed to me that they thought I crossed that line in the “Mis(s) Feiring” piece. I got a lot of angry mail, a lot of angry reaction. That kind of attention means you did it right.
Folks who want to be famous for their work, who want public admiration and approval, who want their peers to listen to them, are always comic figures. Alice is, in my eyes, a hugely comic figure, as is Alder Yarrow and STEVE! and Parker and Laube and the outrageous buffoon Gary V. The smart ones know it. The others simply can’t believe they can possibly be the object of scorn. Do you have a favorite character in the MS Conspiracy? I have a fondness for Tiny. Which makes no sense to 90% of your readers, Samantha, who wonder who the hell the HoseMaster is and why you’d want to interview him. It’s like watching the arrivals on the Red Carpet at the Oscars and they stick a mic in front of Stephen Baldwin. Who gives a crap what he has to say, and why does he look like Nick Nolte’s mugshot?
Who was the model for Avril Cadavril? In two years of writing endless stupidity, the name for the coroner in The MS Conspiracy, Avril Cadavril, is the only thing I wrote that still makes me laugh. If I told you that you had a beautiful body would you hold it against me? I’ll do the jokes here. Gruner Veltliner is dead, do you feel responsible? I was a wine blogger, with the same amount of influence as other wine bloggers. My oft-stated dislike for Gruner Veltliner had about as much effect as a 94 point score in “Wine and Spirits” magazine. None.
And it’s far from dead. It just smells that way. What one piece of advice would you give wine bloggers? Spend more time in the real world. Step away from the computer, embrace your life, it’s slipping through your fingers while you spend it regurgitating uninspired prose and borrowed thoughts. No one will miss your blog. Do you ever miss blogging? Not in a powerful way or I’d go back to it. I do miss being the ringmaster of what was quite a collection of characters in my comments section, but, as I just said, that’s a poor substitute for real life. But, you know, who wouldn’t miss the long, wasted hours at the keyboard, the nagging feeling you have 24 hours a day that you need to come up with another idea for a post, checking your email every twenty minutes hoping for another comment even though your post has been up for four days, the satisfying feeling of being completely unappreciated for your talent? That stuff’s addictive.
And, anyway, I still write whenever the urge hits me. I just don’t publish most of it. I let a few friends read it, and I file it away under Wasted Time. It’s my life, if Charlie Sheen can waste his, I can waste mine.
Has meeting a fellow blogger ever softened your opinion of them and or their blog? No. I never confuse the blog with the blogger. A lot of people wanted to meet the HoseMaster, and, believe me, I’m a huge disappointment whether you love me or hate me. So I would never project my feelings about a person’s blog onto the person himself. If I hate a blog, I don’t necessarily hate the person. Even W. Blake Gray. Though I’m thinking of changing my name to H.M.W. Ron Washam. Did you ever feel bad about anything you wrote or anyone you picked on? Of course not. I never insulted people for the color of their skin, or their sexual persuasion, or their appearance or their anosmia. I satirized them on the playing field they willingly entered. I had many bloggers asking me to insult them, spoof them, mention their name. I ignored those bozos. Satire is, in my mind, one of the most important weapons in the human arsenal. It has changed the world often and almost always for the better, which is more than one can say for poetry or Sarah Palin. I always took the business of comedy seriously. A lot of people hated the HoseMaster of Wine. I felt bad about that. But never about what I wrote. Anyone you wish you would have skewered before hanging up your keyboard? Absolutely. The wine blog world has only gotten more sanctimonious and more unethical since I walked away. There were a lot of easy targets I left behind. And a lot of targets in the wine business I thought about having some fun with. But that would be an alternate universe I’ll leave to Stephen Hawking, whose much funnier than I am, and a better dancer.
Do you think our online love affair bugs the shit out of people? Yes, I think it’s incredibly obnoxious to most people, and that what you and I found endearing and witty and sexy, everyone else thought was nauseating. So we’re just like Warren Beatty and Annette Bening. Do you care? What other people think of us? Surely, you jest. Given what you know now….would you do it again? (blogging not our love affair) Of course. Hell, I did it four times. And, you know, it wasn’t easy walking away from all that money. Have you ever bought a wine because of something you read on a wine blog? I bought a few wines that you recommended, Samantha. But reading wine blogs for wine recommendations is like taking dating advice from a 14-year-old. If you owned a winery who would you send samples to? My urologist, Major League Baseball, and Rush Limbaugh. What really happened with Tom Wark and Minnie Ennial? I believe you mean the world famous wine blogger Millie Ennial. Tom, and every other wine public relations professional, has a wee boner for anything Millie Ennial. She, frankly, doesn’t give a damn. She’s all about FaceBook, Twitter, and her miniature chihuahuas which act as her personal vibrators. All the wine pros want into Millie Ennial’s pants. So far, Millie doesn’t even know they’re alive.
If I told you that I think you are one of the most brilliant writers I have ever had the pleasure to read and that meeting you has been one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received….would you give me a hug? I was taught to simply say thank you to a compliment, whether I deserved it or not. So thank you, My Gorgeous Samantha. The best thing to come out of HoseMaster of Wine for me was our relationship. I shall be forever grateful to the Cyberteabagging for that. And, yes, of course, you can have a hug. Is that all you want? I would like to thank my beloved Ron Washam for taking the time to grant me this interview. Sure I had to wait in line behind The Washington Cage Liner and The Temecula Chronicle to get it....that and the secret deal of a French Maid's costume, (for the love of all that is holy Ron, please wash it before returning it this time. I don't mind letting you barrow the damn thing but it took me weeks to get the Cheese Doodle stains out last time) but it was worth the wait. Stumbling upon that I'm Baccckk post changed much for this, at the time, struggling wine blogger. It changed the way I wanted to write, pushed me to not only keep writing but to explore stepping out of the constraints of "usual" wine blogging and the relationship that began with my laughing my ass off and thinking, "God, who is this guy? I want to know more" has brought me more joy, made me feel more loved and admired than I ever dreamed possible....
Thank you for everything Ron, you sir have changed my life for the better and while I miss The HoseMaster of Wine it was always the mind and man behind it that matters to me.