Friday, December 30, 2011

On The Eve's

Fuck I’m tired.

“It’s almost over” the smiling face of a customer days before Christmas, trying to perk me up or let me know that they understood and felt how nutty things in retail get this time of year. I love that they take the time to console or acknowledge how hard we are working. “Very sweet of them” is what I say to myself right before, “But I have one more week to go.”

Yes the Christmas Crazies are over but as the Champagne specialist, my work here is not even close to being done. The week between Christmas and New Year’s is traditionally one of my busiest of the year, as I’m sure you can imagine, but this year, well this year Randy and I conspired to ratchet up the pressure a wee bit. 

This has been a difficult year, for everyone and especially for small business like ours. We’ve seen a frightening number of independent stores and restaurants fold this past year, slower sales combined with visionless landlords greedily hiking up the rent in a time when every single dime is needed to keep those companies breathing. The families that started, sweat and believed in those businesses forced to close their doors leaving one more empty storefront or giving our community yet another, much needed, Rubio’s, Starbucks, Jamba Juice or BevMo. The diversity and complex landscape of our beloved city slowly being demolished, reconstructed and painted with a fresh new coat of medium. Fucking depressing and something that Randy and I have been busting our asses, for over fifteen years, to not let happen to The Wine Country. We’ve been saying it for the past two years, “We are working three times as hard for less money” but you know what, we’re still here. A bit exhausted, a little stressed, eking through the slow months with a little less inventory and smaller staff but….we believe in the store and truly believe that we are an asset to the community that we love. So, we fight on….

With New Year’s Eve falling on a Saturday this year it gave us the opportunity to slip in a couple extra tastings. This would normally be the time for resetting, taking down Christmas decorations, attending to the farm of dust bunnies that have gathered beneath the racks and counters, writing the next newsletter and maybe catching a quick breather before picking up arms and battling through the typically slow month of January but…..well, that Thursday and Friday, days that we conduct our tastings during the rest of the year, just sitting there, this perfect storm of a last chance to boost our December sales. Two days before a holiday that just so happens to revolve around a wine that inspires sellout crowds, even in the slow months, Champagne. We went for it. Booked a Thursday afternoon “commuter” tasting for 29th, one focused on Champagne for $40 and under and scheduled a year-end, Best of the Year Champagne class for Friday the 30th. We had no idea what the response would be, people wiped from the holidays, out of town, tightening their pocketbooks after spending during the holidays, but we rolled the dice.

“There are 25 people on the waiting list” I told Randy when he asked how the sign-ups were going for the Friday night event. I had been experiencing a gentle gnawing in my belly for days, just this conflicting feeling of, “What if?” and “But I’m not sure it’s possible” that feeling was completely squashed when Randy said, “Hey, what if?” We drafted an email and put out calls to everyone on the waiting list, we were going to have to do a second class. Saturday night was out being New Year’s Eve and all and we couldn’t really ask people to turn out mid-week, so that left only Thursday, the day we were already hosting a tasting from 4:30-6:45…on Champagne no less. “What the hell, the worst that can happen is people won’t sign up. We will still have the afternoon event and Friday is packed. Let’s do it”

Tuesday and Wednesday had me feeling all panicky again, the sign ups were coming fast and furious for the second class and I was watching Champagne fly out the door which left me wondering if I would have enough to pour let alone sell…and the 28th of December is NOT the time to be bringing in stacks of bubbles in the hopes that they are going to sellout. Panic. The short staff thing reared its head again when I looked at the schedule and the only helper I was going to have was our newest employee, one that had never worked a tasting before. Panic. And then the realization of having to try and clean up from one event, set up chairs and tables…for forty people, complete with place settings and glassware, open and taste the wines for the second event, with not nearly enough hands on deck, in like thirty minutes. Total fucking panic. I walked in yesterday afternoon feeling completely overwhelmed, stressed, cranky and nearly nauseous.

The afternoon event was very well attended, haven’t seen the final number yet, (no time to dick around with reading reports in between the two events….hardly had time to pee as a matter of fact) but it was over fifty people, some of whom were still milling about as we whisked away the glasses for cleaning, popped up tables and began setting up the chairs. I grabbed my wines from the sales floor fridge, oh did I mention that having only one fridge in the tasting room meant that I was going to have to store the 40 bottles of Champagne needed for the second event in the cooler that we sell wine from? Thus more bits of panic as I feared that people were going to buy the wines I needed to pour…argh! Filled a shopping cart with icy cold Champagne and ran them to the tasting room just in time for the “Bing-Bong of the front door to alert me that our guests for the night were beginning to filter in. Tables set, chairs awaiting, cheeses and potato chips in their baskets and trays, my hands still freezing and beginning to sore from popping the corks on the Champagne bottles from the earlier tasting, tiny beads of sweat puddling in that concaved area at my lower back, my uber-manager need to have this all look as if it came off flawlessly causing my heart to thump away in my chest and my breath to escape in tiny bursts. My eyes now falling upon the cart of wine that still needed opening, and tasting, my panic reaching its peak and that was when I heard, “What can I help you with Momma?”

My Baby standing there, tall, strong, handsome as hell, there to attend his first ever Champagne class, My Champagne class, reading me like a book and jumping in to help. If I felt like crying before it was nothing compared to the blubbering that would have happened had I allowed myself to show the absolute relief I felt in that second. The seats began to fill while my husband, my son and I ripped off foils, cages and popped corks. Halfway through I left the boys in charge of the opening duties and I ran through the wines at a feverish and quite frankly, burp inducing pace. Wines opened, tasted and the ones in the later flights placed back in the now free tasting room fridge and I looked at my watch to see, 7:25. We did it, with five minutes to spare…

I spun around to see a room full of faces, all happy to be there and ready to partake of my supposed wisdom and wines that I have spent over ten years preaching about. My son and husband taking the last two empty seats, (I had reserved two for them, right up front, next to me) in a class we were fearful might not generate enough interest to even happen. I took a huge chest filling breath, let my eyes fall upon those faces, some new, some so very familiar, their dimes breathing life into our small business and their want to be there that night breathing life into me. Grateful does not begin to describe it.

So yeah, I’m tired as hell. Got tonight’s Champagne class and New Year’s Eve still looming but the gratitude and hope that last night gave me soothes each tiny ache and has me craving the tingle of bitty little beads of hard earned sweat puddling at the base of my back. We fight and struggle not just to keep the lights on and make money, (although fuck, that would be nice) we do it just as much for our community, our city and for those of you that would put your name on a waiting list to taste anything-but-regular Champagne. 

Thank you
Thank you all
Your humble, stressed, sweaty, hopeful wine slinger,

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Weekly Feature?

It was at The Wine Country holiday party that Randy announced that he would like me to do a weekly feature of the store website in the coming year, a weekly wine and cheese pairing. I dug the idea, I mean I do loves me some cheese and my inner (okay, I know it's an outie) geek truly gets off on wrapping my head around pairing ideas. "That should be fun!" I buzzily responded and returned to over drinking my Champagne. 

"I think we should start that pairing thing this week" Randy just days after the party. Huh?! You want to start that now? Right as we start having our assess handed to us in the holiday rush? Apparently the look of horror on my face was not enough incentive to sway him from his new idea and, "Yes!" with a big excited smile was what I got in return. And even though I was....well, a little less excited about taking on another duty, smack-dab in the middle of holiday craziness, well that damn smile and enthusiasm of his simply wrecks me, "Well alrighty then" was all I could say.

We've done them for a couple weeks now and I just sent off the one that will appear tomorrow on the website but as I was sitting here noshing my Triscuits, (note to self, save that term for later usage)  and mortadella on my lunch break, feeling guilty that I have not posted in over week, guiltier even that I just found out that we are going to do a January newsletter, thus meaning that I will have even less time to write, it hit me. Why not post my pairings here as well? Buys me a day or two, I get double exposure on the pairings I slave (well I don't sweat or anything but I think real hard) over and it might get me my "Wine Blogger" card back or something. You know, by having some actual wine stuff on this here wine blog. Brilliant! Or lazy but as my greasy-with-mortadella fingers fly across the keyboard and I can feel the tiny pin prick of pressure that pokes the spot in my neck that reminds me I've been a bad blogger subsides...well I'm going to go with brilliant.  Least for today...

Featured Wine:

N.V. Camille Saves Grand Cru Carte d’Or Brut $67.99

I often speak of the wines from Camille Saves as being, “Game changers” meaning that they have the ability to turn people from occasional Champagne imbibers to full-fledged Champagne freaks. The Champagnes from this estate are an amazing mix between full, richly textured, powerful and grace, delicacy and elegance and I find that this Carte d’Or tends to be the biggest and brawniest of the bunch.
Rich and toasty will be your first impression, not a bad way to begin I would think, but the wine seems to grow, get more layered and complex the longer it’s open. Soon that toasty note will be joined with some salted caramel and browned butter. The power softened by the aromas and flavors of warm baked apples. The flavors linger forever and paired with the right food, well mind-bending.


Berthaut Epoisses Affine au Chablis ($14.99)
Epoisses is a French cow’s milk cheese with a rather pungent aroma, edible rind and when fully ripened, a hauntingly creamy texture. The smell would imply a fairly strong cheese but in fact the aroma is the strongest part. The flavor tends towards the salty side, but perfectly so and that saltiness is what makes this a very wine friendly cheese. Serve at room temp to get the full effect of the astounding creaminess in this, one of my favorite cheeses, ever.

When picking a pairing for the week of New Year’s it took me only a second to marry Saves and Berthaut. Going for the whole, “Go big or go home” kind of kick off for the New Year. Well, maybe it's more that my mind was seeking uber indulgence, something so gloriously luscious that it is nearly dirty. Camille Saves washing down a mouthful of pungent and almost feral, gooey, plump and heavy in the mouth cheese? The powerful and succulent fruit in the Camille Saves Carte d’Or paired with the achingly creamy, meaty, salty cheese sure as shit gets my heart racing and palate watering. Don't think budgets, diets, what you should or shouldn' it. Just do it. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Wine Business (Kind of) Interview #11

Just to give all three readers a heads up, Who are you and what is your connection to the wine business?

I am Jeremy Dugan and my Cousin Randy has owned a wine store for 16 years(?). I worked for it for a while when I was in high school, and my mother is the general manager there.

And what is it you do now?

I work in retail at Dick’s Sporting Goods. I work in the shoe department.

How often do you drink wine now?

Not very often, can’t say I have grown much of a taste for it yet, minus of course a Moscato every now and then.

Drink of choice?

Gonna have to go with Bourbon and Coke. Makers and coke if I’m being specific, or as we 20 somethings like to call it; “being fancy”.

Your first wine memory?

Man this one might get you in trouble. It’s a dual moment of one glass of champagne at the age of 10 with my awesome “night vision goggles” and calling myself “Falcon Man”. Which is now ironic since one of my least favorite teams are the Falcons… Gaux Saints!!! The second memory is my 13th birthday party at the end of the night finding out what a Moscato tasted like and enjoying it. Going along with the introduction to Moscato was the introduction to a hangover. Fun for any 8th grader yes. 

In your very early days working at The Wine Country how were you paid?

Cheese, Brie more than anything. Man when I was a kid all I loved was the softness of that creamy cheese of toasted bread. Now I’m almost down with any cheese on bread.

Hangover cure of choice?

Hair of the Dog, go big or go home and cry the whole day.

What do you think were the most important things you learned from working in the wine/food industry?

How to deal with people. The wine/food industry, especially in L.A/L.A area, can be very uppity, people thinking because they can spend $100 on a single bottle of wine that they are better than those who are providing them with that wine. Well Rednecks aren’t much different from snobs in that sense. So patience and how to put on a smile and walk it off was my best lesson.

Playing rock star in your car, who do you pretend to be?

Lately, it’s been Prince. Don’t know why really, dude has some awesome lyrics and could wail on the guitar. So I guess those are reasons why.

Are “Wine People” snobby?

Hahaha I think a question or two above can sort of answer that question. There are snobs in every plan of existence. I have seen and spent many a night talking to Bourbon snobs about the “purity” of the Kentucky tap water. I have had conversations with shoe snobs who will rip on a last year’s version of a shoe because it’s not the new one. And don’t even get me started on some of the theater snobs I know. So yes and no, but that can be said for the world. 

Have you ever sneezed while peeing?

Yes and man let me tell you something, nothing worse than losing control of you stream while standing.

The thing you miss most about The Wine Country?

Puppy pack mentality. And the Christmas parties.

Does it bother you that I share so much about myself and our history on this blog?

Not at all, I’m proud of our history together. Wouldn’t want to keep it from anyone. But it does bother me that I find out your history from this blog. Things I never got told are told to all these people and things that are news to me are common things to them.

Do you have any idea how proud I am of you?

I think the better question is, do you know how proud I am of you?

Best food and wine experience you ever had?

Gonna have to say tossup between Craft and Arte last time I was in town. Gonna led more towards Arte since I started to actually get it then.

Besides the Champagne I gave you on New Year’s Eve when you were like seven or whatever, (Remember that? Do you also remember proclaiming yourself “Falcon Man!” after drinking it?) what was your first alcoholic beverage?

Whoops, I swear I didn’t read ahead….

Why did you have to move so far away? (That one is from Dad)

Needed to grow. I had seen what I was gonna see of Southern California at that point and time, and I needed to be somewhere else for a while so I could see what else was out there. And that’s why I’m moving again, growth is endless but you always arrive back at square one at the end of it all.

Does it ever feel weird that so many people know and ask about you all the time, both from the store and from here?

Yea, But kind of used to it cause of Louisville, so many people know me from other people out here I hear “Oh so you’re Dugan” a lot so it’s not as weird as before.

What did your mother teach you to always have in the fridge?

Always have a bottle of Champagne in it?

If you could build your ideal dinner party, up to fifteen people, alive or dead, who would be there, what would you be drinking and what foods would you want served? (This is an augmented “Last” or “Death Row” meal question as I am your mother and cannot even think of posing a question involving those two things to you)

I would say the guest list would include you, Dad, Robo, GG, Tessa, Wayne, Boy and Girl Merritt, Evan and Mers, Grandma, Maggie, AJ, Fredrick Douglass and Franklin Roosevelt. We would start out with fresh oysters, duck spring rolls and tri-tip sandwiches. Main course would be prime rib, sautéed mushrooms, fresh veggies and pork pies. For dessert we would have a HUGE cheese plate, gorilla bread and gooey butter cake. To drink, we’ll I’ve always been a b.y.o.b kind of guy so whatever each person’s little heart desired.

Do you think the wine business shaped your childhood in a way?

Without a doubt it did, not many kids grow up going to the restaurants I went to, or go to parties like the Wine Country events very often. All was for the good though, taught me a lot about food and having a good time.

Favorite Randy moment?

“Someone get that kid a sucker!” Cause that would shut up the kid screaming it’s little head off. And really any of the parties where he got a little toasty. 

If I told you that there is not one thing I am more proud of than being your mother and that you are the greatest love of my life, would you share a bottle of Champagne with me cuddled up on the couch during one of our late night talks?

Without a doubt.

In parting, is there anything you would like all three of my readers to know?

The woman you all listen to is crazy, she has no idea how special she is and why everyone likes her. She is strong, beautiful, funny (in that really cool smartass way) and knows how to throw down with the best of them. She always says she’s lucky to be my mother, and really I’m lucky she took a chance on me being her son. There’s not a thing I wouldn’t do for her and nothing that will come between us. Our bond is odd, it is something very few people have, we can have the same thought from the other side of the country or say more words in one look than many people say in a book. We were lucky to find a man who could deal with both of our craziness, and he is lucky that we can deal with his too. And for anyone in the Southern California area who would like to see the awesome tripod from #408, I’ll be in town December 24th-January 7th and would love to meet you for a drink.

I would like to thank my wicked sweet son for taking the time out of his own retail holiday hell to do this interview with me. You, young man, own my heart, always make me so proud, (well aside from the passed out photo I got via your friends on Facebook) and your sweet words here....they made me cry, ya little bastard. I love you with all of my heart and am counting the days until you get home. Cannot wait. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Christmas List

This is so on it....

 but only if it comes with that sexy as shit lumberjack shirt...

I could ride a bull, not spill a drop and get rid of these pesky front teeth at the same time. Badass

Monday, December 19, 2011

All About The Bubbles? Re-post In Time For The Holiday


“I hate to dump this on you your first day back from vacation but Adam is out with the samples of our vintage Champagnes. These were the only samples we had so he will be stopping by to see you this afternoon” an email from one of our favorite brokers that just so happens to bring in some of my most adored grower Champagne. “Oh just the vintage stuff? Well then I am sure I can try and make some time to see him”….rough first day back in the saddle right? “Some of these might not be as bubbly as they were yesterday” Adam confessed as he began sheepishly fumbling with the amazing line of wines he brought with him. Each bottle was topped with those treacherous little rubber stoppers….the ones with the little plastic caps and flimsy metal clasp, yeah those put-your-eye-out little fuckers. As he was reaching for the first bottle and flipping that metal doohickey, eyes twitching and brow deeply furrowed I explained, “Don’t give a shit about the bubbles kid, I want to taste the wine”. He poured the first wine and went on the tell me, “Some people only care about the bubbles, won’t even taste the wine if there isn’t a bunch of bubble in it” I watched as the fizzy but not violently bubbly wine was poured in the glass, saw it settle and noticed a tiny little stream of bubble rise from the bottom of the glass and break across the surface leaving a tiny little white froth along the top of the wine. I picked up the glass, gave it a good spin, (yup killing even more bubble but….opening the wine) dipped my nose into the wide opening, (I always taste Champagne from a standard tasting glass...always drink it from a white wine glass) and as I took in the rich and amazingly complex aromatics of the 2002 Camille Saves Grand Cru Brut my pirate grin lifted the left hand corner of my mouth. My nose still in the glass wildly taking in each layer…baked apple, pie crust, butter, red fruit…each thing landing upon the other in the most seductively pleasing way, I gave Adam the raised eyebrow and said, “Fuck the bubbles, this is remarkable wine”

When I was in Memphis having dinner with Michael Hughes and Benito I pulled a bottle of H. Billiot Grand Cru Brut Reserve from the fridge after dinner. Everyone was drinking red so they reached for one of the flutes that were still on the table from our starter bottle of bubbles. I tried to convince them to just finish the red and taste the Champagne out of that glass but….well trying to reason with buzzy folks is like herding cats, ask my husband. “This wine is made from amazing Pinot Noir, it can hold up in a regular glass” I tried desperately to explain but as the words fell out of my mouth I watched half the table dump the Billiot into what constitutes as a prison cell of a glass. I watched Benito smell the wine in his flute, he seemed pleased and all but then I slid him my glass….the big glass and had him smell them side by side, “That’s amazing” he said. Now I am not sure if he just meant the wine or how profoundly more generous it was out of the bigger glass but when Michael said, “I may never drink Champagne out of a flute again” I knew that my point was kind of made….I think.

“Will do in a pinch” we say that a lot about bubbly wines from around the world, they’ll do in a pinch. These are wines that have merit; they are frothy, tasty and easy, pleasant. These wines along with many from the actual region of Champagne are best served icy cold and in the straitjacket glass. This is where the bubbles are the focus, the number one most important thing; they should be fine and not raspy, graceful and not burn the tongue. From there the flavors come in and the range and scope that is absolutely about personal preference….sweet, dry, floral, mineral, sea shell, yeast and toast. Cava, Prosecco, Cremant d’Alsace, Cremant d’Bourgogne, California Sparkling, Perrier Jouet, Veuve Clicquot, Mumm’s, these wines all offer a nice celebratory bubble and are most definitely suited for that sexy shaped, elegant looking flute. In fact they are far more pleasing when they are served in one but wines like Billiot, Saves, Godme, Marie-Noelle Ledru and Pierre Peters….well they deserve to be treated like the very serious wines that they are.


Got home after work today and decided to take a soak in a hot bath, just felt the day heavy on my flesh and sought to soothe the arches of my feet, the backs of my knees, the muscles between my shoulder blades….felt myself aching just thinking about dipping my shoulders and hips into a pool of hot, clean, waiting water. Poured myself a glass of wine, plugged the ipod into the docking station…selected Van Morrison to keep me company. With Sail Into the Mystic working its way down my thighs I pulled my favorite sand colored crocheted sweater over my head, undid the button and zipper on my jeans and as I backed away from the mirror, (seriously even I don’t want to see me in my undies) I peeled the jeans from my hips I knocked a bottle of lemon scented bubble bath into the sink. “Oh shit, a bubble bath would be even better” I told myself. Flipped the cap on the bubbly junk, squeezed long squirts of it under the running faucet and instantly had the smell of lemon rind swirling around my day weary head. Perfect.

Did the “ouch ouch ahhh” thing that you do when the water is blazing hot but just feels so fucking good, until my fleshy backside settled into our way too small tub. Drew my knees closer so I was able to drop my whole back into the hot lemon scented water…heard the sizzle as the bubbles burst across my jaw and tickled my ears. “Feel your soul and spirits fly into the mystic” my soft whisper along with my bathtub partner Mr. Morrison. Sat there feeling as if the weight of the world were melting off my shoulders, my eyes closed, my skin clean and steaming. Opened my eyes when the track switched to Aint That Loving You Baby…a plucky little number and noticed….all the damn bubbles were gone. Just a fine layer of sparse fizz remained where the pile of billowy bubbles had been. I was kind of sad at first but as I looked down towards the faucet, saw my legs resting calmly beneath the still hot….still fragrant water, I realized once again that all the good stuff, all the important bits….they were as was the case with that Billiot and the 2002 Saves...lying in wait just under the bubbles.


Friday, December 16, 2011

And So It Begins....I Hope.

Felt it in the first half an hour after being in the shop yesterday after a desperate phone call, “Do you still have those wine stockings? The ones you posted a picture of on your Facebook page?” I assured the slightly breathless caller that we did still in fact have a couple left and hung up the phone just in time to hear the “Bing” that alerts me that a customer has opened the front door. Followed by another and another and another. Brand new faces, lots of fancy or funny bottle stoppers, cocktail napkins, gift bags and hearing, “Yes!” when I ask, “Can I help you find anything?”. It started yesterday…

Not sure if it is because we are getting closer to the weekend or if it was simply the date, December 15th, that kicked people into slightly higher gear, but yesterday was the first day that I felt that energy that makes my heart beat a little faster and vibrates just beneath my skin. Every retailer waits all year for this season but as a small, independent, family owned store, we wait and need it more than most and I have to tell you, the way December started, well it had my stomach twisted in fierce knots that has had me feeling nauseous and emotionally drained on my drive home every day. 

Yesterday I left the store full of energy, (some of which was caused by the fact that there was a rather large, by SoCal standards, rain storm coming and I am a total fucking puss about driving in that crap. Turned out to be much ado about nothing.) busted through the front door and rather than shuffle off to encase myself in my Queen of Frump sweats I jumped right into making dinner and the re-telling of stories about my day.

The Chuckle Inducing:

“Where are the wines for men?”

“Oh I don’t know how much I want to spend, just Christmas present amount”

“His wife told me to come here and ask for Samantha, she would know what to do” (this is amazingly flattering but telling me you are buying a gift for “John, oh I can’t remember his last name” can be a bit of a challenge. The lady yesterday however, I knew him and the wines he loves…Yay)

“Do you have any nut wines?”

“Do you have a wine opener that even the dumbest human on the planet can use? It’s for my son in-law”

“I need something that tastes like Opus One but is sweet, maybe white and costs around $15.00”

The Salesmen:

“Can I send you five cases of that sparkling wine? I know you haven’t sold a bottle in six months but I can get you a really good price” (now where was this offer when you sold it to me last time? The reason I haven’t sold a bottle in six months is because you sold the same wine to a huge chain store at ten dollars less a bottle, thus making us look like we are ripping people off..ya douche)

“Hey I’ve got some killer deals right now” (Killer huh? Well I hope they turn on you and eat your head)

“I know you don’t carry it, or like it but I can offer you two free cases on five” (wow, two extra cases of shit wine? How could I pass that up?)

“Help me out here” (from someone I buy nothing from, ever. Why the hell should I be helping you?)

“It will sell buy itself” (fucking lie)

“Vons is selling the hell out of it and with this deal you can offer it for just a few dollars more than they do!” (massive incentive….and how long have you been huffing?)

The Annoying: 

Caller-“Yes, I put my name on the waiting list for Samantha’s Champagne class on the 30th, how is that looking for me?”
Me- “No one has canceled yet so you are still on the wait list”
Caller- “My girlfriend is going to be so mad at me. I need to get into that class. She told me to sign us up when we first saw it but I forgot.”
Me- “I’m really sorry about that and it’s still early so there is a chance that some folks will cancel and the, um, ten people before you on the waiting list might make other plans. We will be calling and confirming right after Christmas so we will have a better idea then.”
Caller- “Nope. Not good enough.”
Me- “Again, I’m really sorry, these are our most popular classes and they sell out really fast.”
Caller- “But we come to all of them and I have to get into this one. Why can’t you just bump someone?”
Me- “We don’t do that.”
Caller-“And why not?”
Me- “Because that wouldn’t be fair, I mean what if I bumped you to let someone else in?”
Caller-“If it were for something really important I would be fine with it.”
Me- “Well I’m sorry, we simply don’t do that.”
Caller- “Well you’re not very helpful, let me talk to that girl that does the Champagne buying.”
Me- “Samantha?”
Caller- “Oh maybe you’re new. Not the girl that teaches the classes, the one that buys all the Champagnes.”
Me- “Same girl. Samantha does both and this is Samantha.”
Caller- “Oh good! Samantha, can you get me into your class?”
Me- Speechless….

For all the nutty, (not wines, behavior) the frantic and at times challenging, I love this season. I relish in each, “Bing” of the front door, the running bottles and baskets to the shipping department to make sure they get out in time, the rolling bottles tightly in tissue paper before slipping them into gift bags, the faces new and familiar, the lines at the register. Even the razor cuts, sore feet and back, the tight jaw after dealing with someone difficult…it’s all part of the holiday season and this, this is what we work all year for. Feeling it starting yesterday was an absolute joy….

Woke this morning, a tad sleepier than I normally do, my thighs and hips not sore, but letting me know that they are there, a sign that I did more running, bending and stomping about the sales floor than usual and hopefully, a good sign of more to come. Bring it holidays! My mind, my breath, my memory, my sanity and my body are yours. 

I’m ready, come and get me….

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Summer Breeze Makes Me Feel Fine (Re-Post)


My fingers trace your every outline
Paint a picture with my hands
Swaying back and forth like branches in a storm
Change of weather still together when it ends…

Song lyrics that were running through my mind as I sat quietly on my couch Sunday morning. The television so low that it might as well have been on mute, or better yet off. A neighbor’s often annoying wind chimes providing just the right tone as they danced upon the same breeze that was slipping through the rips in my jeans. The blue sky visible from my perch and the voices of people playing in the pool; the laughter, the splashing, the metal gate opening and closing….the sounds of summer acting as a soundtrack to this one moment. This much needed, freaking ached for moment of peace and utter contentment was so quietly powerful, so beautifully gentle… appreciated that it took a minute for me to notice I was holding my breath.

It was if I was terrified that if I moved, anyone moved or I took a breath that it would be gone. This feeling, this not so quiet, quiet would be gone just as quickly as it had snuck up on me and I was simply not ready to let it go. I sat still, allowing myself to take long, slow, deep, chest filling breaths of air. Finding something soothing and uplifting in the way my chest seemed to time each release of my held in breath with the breeze that was swaying the chimes and rustling the leaves on the tree that sits just outside my window.

That may be all I need
In darkness he is all I see
Come and rest your bones with me
Driving slow on Sunday morning
I may never want to leave….

My eyes slowly closing, lyrics gliding in and out of my head, the sound of summer providing the music to go along with it… mind letting go of all the wondering, the stress, the missing of things I don’t have and letting me dream. Fantasize about being in France, about being curled up on a hammock with someone I love….listening to his laugh, feeling my head rise and fall with his every breath as it rests upon his chest. Dream of a million more moments like the ones I had Friday night and Saturday afternoon, suspended in the bubble of admiration and adoration that is that of a customer’s face, a person that will forever understand wine on a level that they may never have had it not been for you. First kisses. First hugs. The touch of someone that has known and been in love with you….forever. Each one resting sweetly upon my heaving right along with the wind chest. Absolute happiness, I was being enveloped in absolute happiness and was feeling mighty fine.

I was brought back to earth, my lust and lips still tingling from their visits, by a neighbor in need of a screwdriver…the “crossy” one. Tool lent and me feeling almost drunk trying to put aside raspy dreamt up chuckles, admiring faces and memory of a slippery, warm lip between my teeth, I stumbled to the kitchen. There were two wines that were in dire need of a shelf talker and a palate… spirit that was in need of focus.

Sunday morning rain is falling
Steal some cover share some skin
Clouds have shrouded us in moments unforgettable
You twist to fit the mold that I am in
But things just get so crazy
Living life gets so hard to do
I would gladly get up and go if I knew….
That someday it would lead me back to you
That someday it would lead me back to you
Come and rest your bones with me
Driving slow on Sunday morning
I may never want to leave….

With the “snap” of the neck and the pop of a “cork” (synthetic) two little white wines whet my lust longing whistle and lent their tiny price tags to the inexpensive, pleasure giving nature of my Sunday morning. Pleasure. Pleasure that is simple….simple to get and even simpler to surrender to.

2009 Domaine du Tariquet Classic
Ugni Blanc and Colombard blend from the uber fancy Gascogne region of France…yeah just typing that little factoid might have yucked my yum if this wine was not so freaking delicious. Nervy and not hidden by cumbersome oak this wine is just dead sexy with vibrant fruit. Ripe, succulent summer melon with a blast of zesty citrus rind and the kind of acid that makes my flesh all bumpily. Swinging on a hammock, raspy chuckle and my aching to be kissed lips finding relief as this wine shook its stuff across my palate, damn.

2009 Domaine de Bidalere Cotes de Gascogne Blanc
Grassy, tart and vibrating with citrus this is a wine for the lovers of zing. The nose is reminiscent of green apple skin, the way its tanginess makes your mouth water. The way even the sight of it, the “crunch” assures you that what you are about to swallow is fresh, taught and going to fall back upon your palate not gently or smoothly, it’s going to wrap its tang around your tongue and be unshakably “there”. Make you ache and reach for just one more sip….

So I drove slow on Sunday morning. Let my desire and the not-so-silent silence cradle me, swallow me up and I allowed two succulent wines that sell for ten bucks tickle me. Thrill me and remind me that the very best things in life are, or are damned near….free.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Soulful Plates

“That table of food gave Millie the strength she needed. She took her babies out from under Leroy and never went back”

Finally watching The Help. My eyes were still flowing with tears when one of the many scenes of redemption, resolution and resurrection slowly moved over plates of black eyed peas, ham, fried chicken and little coins of carrot slices. My fingers slipping beneath the frames of my glasses, wiping away the streams that were left from the scene before, as I watched a woman that was abused by her husband, her employers, the year she was born, where she was born and by race, seated before a feast that was created for her by a woman that had been forever changed and learned from her. The power of it all, so familiar when presented in the context of a dinner table.

“Can you make your tri-tip when I’m home?” a text from my very own baby. His mind starting to think of actually coming home, all the smells, sounds and tastes that mean home to him. I fired off an, “Absolutely!” text in return and have found myself making a mental shopping list of all the things I need to fill Jeremy with while he’s here, close enough to smell, hear and taste. That momma feeding thing has far less to do with us being worried that our kids aren’t getting enough to eat than it has to do with us needing to feed them…stuff them with as many memories of home as we can. I used to be alarmed at the amount of food my husband would consume while visiting his parents but now, now I know…they are both, her through the cooking and him through the eating, visiting with one another in the most intimate and primal of levels. Just as Jeremy can’t climb on my lap, snuggle into my chest and twist my hair through his fingers like he used to, my husband’s lap time is now delivered with a stab of his fork, the toothsome pull of pasta, the sweet kiss of his mother’s tomato sauce.

“I’ve never been more proud of you than I am right now” the line in the movie that killed me and had me on the brink of sobbing before those black eyed peas. A mother that had struggled with her daughter’s differentness…. fought and made awful, hurtful comments in an effort to “fix” her “broken” girl, finally swallowing all her wished for desires and seeing her daughter for the woman she has become. Tears. I was reduced to tears and as fucked up and blurred as my upbringing was, I, to this day, appreciate and long for that kind of affirmation. I’m forty fucking years old and still, still I find myself seeking that lap to nuzzle into. A late night snuggle, the twist of hair between my fingers, the pull of perfectly cooked pasta. Not something that plagues me often but definitely leaves a mark when it comes and it seems, that much like Millie, there is a place for me to go. A place where I don’t need to hear the words or feel the lap beneath me. A place to quiet the noise of my day, of my week and at times, of my life.

The sound of my knife hitting the thick block of wood as cauliflower florets tumble, the hiss of a cool pan as I rest it upon the screaming hot rack in my oven, the industrial sound of metal on metal as my whisk combines melted butter and dry flour, the sweet smell the second the flour has given itself over and knowing that now is the time to slowly add my mixture of warm milk and chicken stock. Watching the light brown paste become thick, milky white, creamy enough to coat my feverishly moving whisk, growing thicker with each handful of shredded Fontina and filling my house with the richest most decadent aromas…filling my heart with pride once presented poured over crispy, deeply roasted, fork tender cauliflower or golden brown hunks of pan roasted potatoes….

Been spending lots of time in my kitchen as of late. Just there alone, my thoughts and feelings put on hold as I build, create and pour my wishes into the food for my table. I may never get to hear my parents say, “I’ve never been more proud of you” but that, “Can you make your tri-tip when I’m home?” feels like what I would suspect hearing those words would.  Knowing that in just a couple weeks my son will be home, sitting before many a wish filled, familiar plate of my food I can finally say…..much like Minnie,  I’m very proud of myself. 

Counting the days.....

Thursday, December 8, 2011


Hey, I got a question. Why the hell is anyone acting as if the Jay Miller "scandal" is any kind of scandal at all? Isn't this the same dude that got his palms, (and maybe other parts....ewe) greased, or at the very least "sticky" in Australia a while back? What, and now everyone is all shocked.....again? My favorite part is anyone acting as if this shit right here makes any difference.

Parker supporters will continue to support the dude, already hearing all the "I never liked that Miller guy anyway" chatter amongst the devoted Advocates, and the people that get their rocks off bashing Parker, for whatever reason, are having a few moments of taunt time before this scandal-less scandal goes back to being the nothing it was before. 

Look, I don't read Parker's publication, never have. I don't care for his palate, never have but I've no bone to pick with the dude. If there is one thing that bugs me it is that he is/was so influential that many of my beloved French wines, (Rhone, I am SO looking at You) shifted, oaked, pushed ripeness levels and such to please his palate. His fault? Oh sure, it's fun to blame him, and lets be honest, he is kind of demonic looking and what not, but the sad truth of the matter is he moved a shitload of wine with a wave of his powerful pen. Period. Wineries, no matter how romantic we like to believe, need to sell wine and many of them did and do whatever it takes to do so. To hate Robert Parker for anything just makes him far too important to me and for me, well he just isn't. I don't use his words or numbers to buy or sell wine so this Jay Miller chatter is just that, more chatter and another way for us wine people to argue. Meh, not interested, thanks.

Now the real news is come tomorrow morning my Los Angeles Lakers may be a very different team! And I say this as a lifelong Lakers fan, no, I'm not saying it I'm begging for it. I had to suffer through the Rambis and Mark Madsen years, loyal and devoted as ever so please, just this once, can you get me some of this...

To look at?! I-am-just-sayin'
Fingers crossed.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Wines Of The Year

 Okay, before I get started here I would like to say that I’m not really a fan of this whole premise. Wine of the Year, Top 100, Top 10 lists, they have never made sense to me as I tend to see wines in context and find merit in their individualism, ability to pair with whichever dish and frankly, wine is much less of a thing to me than it is a moment, setting, memory….so I would much rather see a Top 10 Wine Moments kind of deal on blogs and in magazines than some beauty pageant listing of random wines. That being said I know I’m not in the majority on that and as someone that has worked at The Wine Country for 15 years, (wow, still cannot believe that) I know how customers look forward to seeing what wines we come up with. And outside of Randy asking us at the tasting table during judging, very few people ask us why we picked the wines we did. Lots of folks get all aflutter with excitement over these kinds of things and far be it from me to block anyone from getting their flutter on.

So for our Wine of the Year selections there are some very real constraints as to what we can chose, I mean we are a retail shop and unlike the goddamn Wine Spectator we aren’t about to select wines that no one can get their hands on! That chunk of stupid does us no good in the sales department and as someone that has, many times, had to shake my head and say, “No that’s long gone” to some poor person that comes in with the WS list thinking they are going to find the Spectator’s #1 pick for their wine loving friend/boss/wife/husband for the holidays, well I can tell you from firsthand experience that it just pisses people off. So first and foremost the wine needs to be available to sell, which depending on price, means anywhere from seven or eight cases for the wines in the over $60.00 price point and anywhere up to twenty cases of wines closer to the $30.00. So already many wines we might have picked, say my beloved 2010 Clos Marie Rose, cannot be a contender….even though that was clearly one of the most compelling wines I had all year. None to sell, out of the running.  The next part up for consideration is the broad appeal. How many people are going to “get” and love this wine, the objective being that we can sell more wine if we keep that in mind but truthfully, I rarely let that influence my decision. I have plenty of faith in our customer’s willingness to try new things and I just can’t get excited about, “Because it’s easy” as my reason for selecting something that I am saying is my Wine of the Year….just a pain in the ass like that. Lastly price, especially in a troubled economy, while not a deciding factor, is something we try and keep in mind. We do want people to be able to afford the wines we’re all geeked out about, that and let’s be honest, crowning some $300.00 bottle of wine as Wine of the Year is kind of dickish and snobby and that, that has never been what The Wine Country is about. So last month the four buyers for the store tossed their selected wines in the tasting ring….

We gathered after closing on a Tuesday night. I had the day shift, (was in the middle of my hell weeks so of course I was the one pulling the thirteen hour shift…goddamn it) so I had contacted the people that were off asking them which white wines they would like me to get chilling for them. All but one of us having our wines selected well before the tasting, one….well he has a more organic approach to this yearly event. He walks around the store for two days, including the day of the tasting, scanning the racks, hovering over wines he feels might be winners, popping corks to revisit them then rushing to the back room to call the supplier to see if there is a healthy supply of them. Cracks me up. He struggles with the Wine of the Year thing as much as I do and likely for the same reasons, guess it makes sense seeing as he is my boss and the one that inspired and cradled my passion for wine from the beginning. I do love that man so.

Registers counted, doors locked, entire staff, buyers and non, (well aside from Dale who is a wine lover, not a wine taster and doesn’t care for these kind of slurp and spit events) present and accounted for, two stacks of paper in front of all of us, one full sized sheets for taking notes, the other little piles of cut up scratch paper for the secret balloting, and we launched into our Wine of the Year judging. Now, there are five categories total: Champagne of the Year, White Wine of the Year, Red Wine of the Year and Sweet Wine of the Year, from those we re-taste and come up with Wine of the Year. So lots of tasting, explanations and at times, arguing as each one of us fights and makes a case for each of our wines before everyone is tasked with selecting their top two wines in each flight. There have been years when we have had to re-vote, numerous times in each category just to come up with a winner but this year, having a much smaller staff, two of which are brand spanking new to wine, well it went pretty damn smoothly….except for one minor hiccup.

“I think this is corked” Bennett, our new world wine buyer was the first to bury his nose in the glass of 2007 Ridge Santa Cruz Mountains Estate Red that Randy had put up for Red Wine of the Year. We had been working our way through the reds and I still had some 2006 Produttori del Barbaresco in my glass, lost in the aromas of Nebbiolo and wondering if the wine might have the muscle to trump my selected Burgundy. Bennett gave me a, “What do you think?” look and I sadly dumped my Barbaresco and poured myself a glass of the Ridge. “Yup, corked” I confirmed. “Everyone get a new glass” Randy announced as he leapt from the tasting table and began gathering clean glasses for all of us. “Tim, can you go grab us another bottle of Ridge?” and our newest employee went scampering for a fresh bottle of Ridge. Foil and cork removed, new glasses poured and after one sniff the whole damn table went mute. Gone were the mutterings, scribbling, bickering voices…silence. “Holy shit” all I could think to say as these rich, deep, elegant aromas pulled me deeper and deeper into the glass. The hush at the table broke and this excited energy splashed from person to person as we all began sipping the wine. It became clear, in a matter of seconds that Randy’s under $40 red blend was absolutely going to win Red Wine of the Year, after my third sip I was sure it was going to take top seed as Wine of the Year as well. “I just can’t believe how beautiful this is” Bennett effused “It’s almost like drinking Montebello” the words hanging from his lips like a caption in a cartoon as my eyes fell on the bottle we were tasting….um.

“That would be because we are drinking Montebello” I announced.

 Did I mention that Tim, the one we sent for a replacement bottle of Ridge Santa Cruz Mountains Estate Red is our newest employee? Did I also mention this is first ever entree into the world of wine? Poor kid ran off to do as his boss told him to but we failed to mention to him that all the Ridge wines have the same label. The wine that sent a hush across the whole table was not the Santa Cruz Mountains Estate Red, it was in fact Ridge winery’s top of the line blend and a far cry from $36.99. No, the Montebello sells for a whopping $110.00. “Guess it goes to show, sometimes wines are worth their price tag” I whispered to Randy. 

We got another bottle of the Santa Cruz Mountains to taste, which of course tasted like poo after tasting the Montebello and we now found ourselves in a bit of a quandary….should we even vote for the Montebello? It wasn’t even a candidate, just a fluke accident but now, now it was a “situation”. Bennett and Randy both thought we should chalk it up as a funny story and go back to the originally selected wines and they had very valid points, not the least of which is that we don’t want to look like assholes by proclaiming what many already know is a spectacular wine, our Wine of the Year, or even our Red Wine of the Year…that and it’s pricey and we feared looking like elitist douchenozzles. “There is no way we can leave that wine out. It was clearly the wine of the night.” He re I was arguing not only for the most expensive wine but for an expensive wine from California. The wine was, without question, the wine of the night and snobby be damned, it deserved its shot and its win. Congratulations Tim, even though you are not a wine buyer your “selection” is The Wine Country’s Wine of the Year!  

Is the 2007 Ridge Montebello worth $110.00? Absolutely and I feel lucky to have tasted it. To know great wine is to taste something like this and you owe it to yourself as a wine lover to try it.

My Wine of the Year Nominees 

N.V. Gonet-Medeville Brut Tradition $41.99
Opting this year to step away from my usual meaty, full, rich and exuberantly fruit focused style of Champagne I went for more of a wine lovers Champagne. Each time I opened a bottle of Gonet-Medeville Brut Tradition I was floored by the complexity, the toasted almonds, seashells and grilled citrus. The wine drinks almost Sherry like and seeing as I have a mad crush on Sherry at the moment it just tingles my bits. Not a wine for the Champagne as a style set. This is a serious, nearly savory bottle of bubbles and I find it truly remarkable.

2008 Domaine Didier Dagueneau Blanc Fume de Pouilly $64.99
Seems like nearly every year one of us selects a wine from this estate and it’s no wonder why, they are simply stunning and hands-down the most compelling Sauvignon Blancs on the planet. I have a personal connection to this winery but I assure you, even without that I would have chosen this wine. Benjamin, (Didier’s son that has been making the wines since Didier’s passing) has not missed a step even though he is filling some very large shoes. It’s the texture, the weight and silkiness that kills me about this wine. Fierce minerals, loaded with tangy citrus rind and a tingling blast of acidity on the finish. I would drink this over most every white Burgundy we carry.

2008 Domaine Maume Gevrey-Chambertin $45.99
“Fuck” was all I could say after smelling this wine at a recent red Burgundy seminar I gave and the lustful, erotic aromas have been haunting me ever since. I had actually planned on putting up one of the Domaine de Montille red Burgundies we tasted when Etienne was here a few months ago but after one night with this wine….signed, sealed, delivered “I’m yours”. Anyone that has ever wondered what the hell I’m talking about with regards to a wine that smells sensual needs to bury their nose in a glass of this wine. Dark cherries, roasted meat, mushrooms, truffles, stone fruit…like nectarine, and spice. Brilliant. Sexy. Captivating. Period. 

For the rest of the staff selections please visit