Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Greetings From The North

Okay let me start out by saying that I’m freaking thrilled that my laptop is working! After a harried morning of packing, trying to make drop off arrangements and discovering that my wine travel bags, (Wine Mummies as they are officially called) were missing in action I finally found myself standing outside the Jet Blue terminal at Oakland airport waiting to be picked up by, (let me just drop a fancy wine dude’s name here) none other than the Charles Olken of Connoisseurs’ Guide to California Wines. I was fumbling with trying to get in a quick smoke, craning my neck to see if I could recognize any faces in the oncoming onslaught of cars and futzing with my suitcase, juggling, feeling a little anxious and I dropped my backpack, which houses this laptop, not once but fucking twice! Cringed, cursed and hoped for the best but never had time to check on this beloved hunk of plastic, metal and boards that contain years worth of my silly babbling until now. Had to pop a couple things back into place and there is now an odd ticking sound but so far as I can tell all is well.

Arrived yesterday afternoon and was whisked away to Chez Olken where I was to participate in my second Connoisseurs’ Guide panel tasting. I was invited last year to blind taste bubbles but this time it was less about having a reason to have me here and more about timing. I was going to be up here, with Charlie in fact, to attend a dinner in honor of our buddy Thomas Pellechia, wine writer and educator that just so happens to be a fellow blogger……sometimes. Thomas is the East Coast faction of our little disbanded group of HoseMaster hooligans so he was unable to join us last year when we all finally met, broke bread, each others bawls a little and drank wine face to face. When I heard Thomas was heading west I sent out the email, “Thomas is going to be in Sonoma, who’s down for another dinner?” aside from one straggler, (Mr. Wark I is looking at you) the responses came quickly, of course we were all down.  Thus began the planning and schedule juggling but tonight I will finally be meeting Thomas face to face while being at a table with some of the most beloved people in my life. Simply cannot wait….

Last night was pretty easy. I had feared that my beloved Charlie would torture me with Lodi Zinfandels or something, but the tasting was Chardonnay and Cabernet which ended up being pretty cool for me. I so rarely get to taste California wines in flights like that; eight wines of the same variety, all tasted blind. Not to mention being able to taste, write about and discuss them with people so passionately knowledgeable about them. Was truly fascinating for me and I will come right out and say that I was quite impressed with the Chardonnays we tasted, not a oaky, butterscotch rich wine in the bunch. As for Cabernet, well let’s just say that nothing I tasted is going to be changing my mind anytime soon, still just isn’t my thang.

In between the tasting and dinner I slipped outside into Charlie’s backyard, lit a “get that Cabernet off my palate” cigarette, stood silently watching the water in the canal flow and ripple, the “thump, sploosh, trickle” of an oar as a father pulled his son and daughter along the canal in a rowboat, my head turning as I heard Charlie’s rumbling chuckle…feeling truly honored to be included. At some point in the evening, the tasting over, dinner picked away at and bottles being passed around, this time for consumption not for evaluation, the conversation shifted into a subject that tends to make me edgy and uncomfortable, me and my writing. Don’t get me wrong, hell I crave adoration as much if not more than most, it’s just so damn humbling that I find myself getting twitchy and looking for anyway to deflect. I don’t take compliments well. Oh you can bet your ass I want them, just unsure how to handle it when I get it and when you get Charlie Olken and Ron Washam in a room together….well I found myself fleeing for the “thump, sploosh, trickle” of the canal once more. As I sit here this morning, the house that last night was vibrating with voices and rich with the smells of smoked pork and fresh corn, now silent as everyone is still tucked away in bed, well I find myself feeling a little like an asshole…but I can kind of explain….

I can count on one hand the number of things I was ever told I was good at and um, I don’t even have to use all my fingers to do so. Sexy I got often enough, pretty once in awhile and though I shall never see that as the truth more importantly, those aren’t things that I did/do or make happen. If that happens to be true then it’s the luck of genetics or whatever, not my doing and not something I like spending too much time thinking about. You tell me I’m a good mother; well I will take that and wear it as a badge of honor. That’s something I earned. The wine thing, well that took some effort, lots of tasting and honing my skill but that too is as much luck, (as in being lucky enough to have a sensitive palate) as anything. This writing thing however, this is something that I do hold very dear. Something that I pour myself, my heart into, it’s very precious to me and to have that met with such appreciation, praise and at times gratitude......well that right there completely overwhelms me. I deflect not to make light or belittle the remarkably gracious and profoundly powerful things Ron and Charlie say….that many of you say. I’m not that big a jackass. It’s just, to hear those things and especially from people I love and so greatly admire, well it fills my heart to damn near bursting and it takes all I have not to be reduced to a blubbering pile of running mascara. Fills me with more pride than just about anything outside being Jeremy’s mother. I don’t dismiss the compliments, I hold them tight to my chest as some of the most cherished gifts I have ever received, I simply flee or change the subject to preserve my badass status and not look like Baby Jane.

So last night; Chardonnay, Cabernet, smoked pork, corn, Charlie’s infectious chuckle, heart filling words of encouragement and maybe a slight misstep in the gracious department on my part. Today, Sonoma, John Kelly, lots of tasting, dinner with Tom Wark, Charlie, Ron, Thomas, John Kelly and Marcia, hopefully no jackassery and a couple bottles of smuggled in French wine, little Pommard and Chevalier-Montrachet maybe? Feeling very lucky this morning, very lucky indeed.  


Marcia Macomber said...

Glad you and your hunk of plastic, metal and whatnot arrived safe and sound. Trust you are not making any strange whirring noises and that's limited to the hunk of plastic/metal.

C u soon!

John M. Kelly said...

I'm expecting you in an hour, and can't wait! We have a fun day at our pleasure - lots of options. I picked out a couple interesting wines from my cellar and I figure you will enjoy at least one of them.

Folks, watch this space. This day could be a doozy - a boozy doozy - and there may be an observe and report follow-up or two.

webb said...

Just keep up the writing, Girl. You can sluff off the compliments if you must, but maybe some day you will feel more comfortable with that gift, too. You have a sensitive palate and a sensitive heart. Quite a combination, methinks.

Samantha Dugan said...

Was so nice to finally meet you!

Thank you so much for the little tour of Sonoma. Was lovely to get some face time with you, still bummed we didn't get to try them :black head" but maybe next time. I love you kid.

Man, what a very sweet thing to say. Thank you so much...

Charlie Olken said...

I am always amazed that Sam, who I consider to be a great writer, a writer of literature, not just wine journalism, is so surprised by the kind of accolades her writers engender.

As for the tasting, it is what I do for a living. Have done for over three decades now. We work hard at our two flights of eight wines, but we are never so self-absorbed that we cannot have fun at what we do. I am very pleased that Sam found our approach to be one that challenged her on the one hand and was enjoyable on the other.

As for dinner last night, I will let Sam tell the tale in greater detail. Here is one tidbit to whet your appetite. We had nineteen bottles on the table from all over the world and with vintage dates from 1975 to 2009. Somehow in the midst of that bounty, I missed the 2004 Condrieu. But not much else.

Ron Washam said...

My Gorgeous Samantha,

Luckily for me, I've learned to accept compliments graciously over the years. This is because I rarely receive any. Though people do like the Tweets of my package.

Charlie and I, and the rest of the good folks here, admire your talent, and we understand that you are emotional about our praise. How could we not know that you're emotional? Your guts are poured all over your posts. I didn't view your exit from the conversation that was about your talent rude, or, in any way, jackassery, and I'm an expert on that subject--I viewed it as you being overwhelmed. It was sweet, and it was you.

Tasting with you is a joy. Just sitting in the same room with you, feeling the mysterious and wonderful connection we share, is a great gift. That you're beautiful and incredibly gifted doesn't matter. It's that you are so indelibly you.

I love you!

Samantha Dugan said...

Charlie Baby,
The tasting was both a learning experience and a ton of fun. The dinner last night is kind of a blur, lots of laughter,some truly remarkable wines and faces that shall forever be pictures in my heart. Can't thank you all for everything you have shown and given me, can only tell you that I not only respect the hell out of you, I love you very much.

Ron My Love,
Always amazes me that you and I can go months without seeing each other but still fall into the old married couple role as if we were never apart. Never been able to fully articulate how much you mean to me, told you enough how much I admire the man that you are....can only hope that when you see me it shows on my face and in my undying love and support for everything that you are. You and Charlie both humble me so and I love you from the bottom of my heart.

Marcia Macomber said...

What a blast! ...Oh, yes, it is all a bit of a blur, but quite a fun one!

So nice to finally meet everyone face to face.

19 bottles, eh? I must have missed a couple. I've only got notes for 16 or so and missed the same one you did, Charlie.

Thanks for the great memories. What a dinner! Lovely to see you, Samantha.

Thomas said...

I am on my way tomorrow morning to Salinas, St Luis Obispo, Bakersfield, and then Union Station in Lala and back home. But I shall not forget the great dinner last night, and of course the great people.

My only complaint is that some guy brought this stuff from a place called Rayas, as if we were supposed to be impressed. The wine was ok--in a fabulous sort of way.

I believe that I tasted all 19 wines, even the one with the color of Tropicana juice...

Samantha Dugan said...

Cannot even begin to tell you how wonderful it was to finally meet you face to face....that you your letting me taste your grits and gravy. The second I saw you I felt like we had been dear friends for years, instantly comfortable and settled in my skin. Very cool that.

The evening went by way too fast but there was some very interesting conversations flowing and I found them to be as profound and deep as many of the wines on the table. Slightly heated arguing over food with glass in hand, sounds a little like family no? Thank you for alerting us to your visit, was wonderful to finally hug you and gave us all an excuse to get together again!

If you have the names of those 16 wines I would greatly appreciate the list...maybe email or message me on facebook if you can. Was lovely to see you too lady!