Thursday, April 26, 2012


So as many of you already know I try to keep politics to a minimum here on this blog, be they the politics of the nation or the political rumblings within the wine business. It’s not that I don’t have opinions, hell I have loads of them, just not so arrogant that I assume everyone cares what they are, or that my rants here are going to do anything to change anyone else’s mind. In the earlier stages of this blog I would climb atop my soapbox more, sling some mud around or cheer when my political party had a victory but, well I began to see there was really no point, nor did politics have any place on a blog where the focus has always been to bring people closer, make them more comfortable, showing the more personal side of wine and the people involved in it. The more political pieces I wrote simply didn’t fit or belong here. Now that being said….

“Can I buy you a drink?”

My husband was out of town a couple weeks ago and after a long 9 hour shift I found myself hungry, tired and not in the mood to head to the market let alone cook, so I did something I had only done a couple of times before, have dinner out and alone Headed to a local place my husband and I go to at least once a week, good food, servers that know us and that has a great little backroom bar that’s quiet and if anyone there is “on the make” they are the 80 year olds from the senior living center down the road. As safe a place as I could think of to have a drink and quick bite to eat. Walked through the front door and gave the usual smile and point to the hostess, letting her know that I was heading to the bar and would not need her to seat me, made my way down the hall and stood at the podium at the entrance of the low-lit bar until a busser gave me a nod to pick whichever of the ten open tables I wanted.  Slid into a booth and gave the server, (not my usual one but it was a Tuesday and I rarely go on Tuesdays) my drink order, pulled out my phone, a book and a small notepad I keep for taking notes. Things to busy myself while I waited for my food.

My drink arrived, icy and exactly what I was needing, after one sip I gave the server my order before going back to my cell phone to read and answer emails. “Can I buy you a drink” I looked up from my phone, past my still half full cocktail to see a man that looked to be in his mid-fifties standing at the edge of my booth, a glass filled with ice and some sort of brown spirit. “Oh, that’s sweet, thank you so much but I have one” I said with a fairly warm but firm tone. “You might be in need of another one plus it breaks my heart to see a beautiful woman sitting alone in a bar” I could feel my face going a little hot but stood firm. “I’ve already told her” pointing at the server across the room, “that I will have another when my dinner comes. Just popped in here for a quick bite and some quiet since my husband and his friends are playing cards at home” total lie but I wanted to make it very clear that I was married and in fact there to have dinner and some peace and quiet.” “I would never let my wife eat out alone” the getting-less-attractive-by-the-second guy responded, “Yeah? Well I can’t imagine why” I lobbed back, this time less warm and with the smirk that tends to make others back down pretty quickly. This dude, relentless. 

The banter continued and after a few minutes I was pretty damn blunt, not easy for me as I know it takes some courage to walk up to a stranger and I never want to hurt anyone’s feelings but, “I really do appreciate the gesture, I’m flattered but I honestly did just come in for dinner and to be alone” which was met with, “Oh you work at The Wine Country? That’s the place on Redondo, in Signal Hill right?” fucking uniform. So now I was not only me I was a spokesperson for the store which makes being mean even trickier. This began a short conversation as to why I was having a martini rather than glass of wine, “Well the wine list here is pretty dreadful, plus there’s just something about steak and eggs with a cold martini that works for me” still in store mode and grateful to see my server heading to the table with my dinner and second drink. Plates placed before me, my tummy rumbling both from hunger and anxiety but knowing this would be the end of my little unwanted chat with a stranger.

I slipped the silverware off the paper  napkin, laid the napkin in my lap and took a little bite of buttery, crunchy and still warm hashbrowns. Surely this would be an indicator that it was time for my pesky intruder to go away, “Hey I need to use the restroom, you mind if I leave this here?” the asshole now placing his sweaty drink on my table. “Dude, the bar is right there and that’s kind of what they do right? Watch your drink?” to which the cat chuckled and waltzed off to the “Little boy’s room”….fuck. I start eating, finished off my now too warm first martini and took a sip of the second for refreshment and a bit of liquid courage, time to be rude dammit. I was slightly distracted by how perfectly my meal was cooked, steak had a nice seer and was delightfully reddish-pink inside, eggs just set and yolks still oozy, just the way I like ‘em, and those damn hashbrowns the best I’d had there in months. Could have been a wonderful meal….

My fork and knife in hand I start to cut another piece of steak, had nearly cut a piece off when I feel the cushy bench seat beneath me tremor a little, look up to see that smarmy grin and flat brown eyes staring back at me, this time across from me….at my table. The aggressive prick had taken it upon himself to have a seat, at my table, while I was trying to have dinner, alone. He picked up his drink, wet wad of cocktail napkin still stuck to the bottom, leaned back against the back of the booth and shot me what I’m sure was his, “No chick can pass this up” smile. I pushed my plate to the side, laced my fingers, my back rigid and face now twisted into a fierce glare. “Look dude, I’ve tried to be polite, tried to be compassionate, I’m really not a bitch but you don’t seem to be hearing me. I came here to be alone, I’ve said that over and over again, not looking for a dinner….or any other kind of companion. You’ve gone well past being annoying and are teetering on the edge of pissing me way the fuck off. If you don’t get up now I will have to ask these people throw you out” I said through teeth so tight I could feel an ache in my jaw. 

A long stare, my eyes filled with anger and the tears that tend to come with that as I watch the goofy, flirty face across from me go from hopeful to full of rage. “Fuck You!” he screamed at me, “You should feel lucky I was even hitting on you in the first place!” bits of spit gathering in the corners of his snarling mouth, arm now raised in a backhand position and with an extremely violent swipe he knocked over not only my glass but the condiments on the table, everything crashing around me in a series of clinks and thuds. Startled by the noise and the pool of gin that was now gathering into a little river and was headed straight for my lap, I leapt from my booth to my feet just to hear the clatter of more noise as he slammed his fist against the table. My head reeling, heart pounding so hard it was making my ears ring, my hands curled into fists, nails digging into my palms as the prick slowly rose from the table, “Ma’am are you alright?” followed by, “Sir, is there a problem here?” two Long Beach police officers that just so happened to be on dinner break a couple of booths behind mine, now standing between the asshole and myself. Guy taken outside, table cleared, a fresh new cocktail and the offer of another meal to replace the now cold one. Dinner was already ruined and my stomach wound into such tight knots that any appetite I had was long gone, I sat with the officer and relayed my side of the rather unbelievable story, my hands shaking almost too much to even bring the martini to my lips. The gin steadying my nerves a bit as soft-spoken officer tried to calm me down and assured me that I had in fact done everything correctly…. 

“You didn’t sit at the bar, you had reading material, you aren’t dressed provocatively” those words swimming around in my head as I made the drive home, incident behind me as well as two very well meaning officers that insisted on tailing me to make sure I got home safely. As well-meaning and correct as the officer’s comments were I found that I was even more enraged by the time I got home. “You did everything correctly”? Is there a laundry list of shit that men have to consider before dinning out alone? Complete and utter bullshit, a sad fact but still bullshit.

The whole incident too much of a glimpse back into a part of my history that I’ve spent a long time trying to distance myself from. The locking of my front door and closing of all the windows in my apartment, that uneasy feeling with each and every noise from outside, the fear that I’d rid myself of back, a least for a little bit, leaving me feeling deflated and by morning, severely pissed off. I knew that guy wasn’t coming for me, in fact the police told me he was extremely embarrassed by his behavior and while I felt threatened for that moment at the table I wasn’t even really afraid to drive home alone but….. that look in his eye, that trigger temper, that, “who the fuck do you think you are” face, that loss of control on his part….wasn’t the first time he’d gone after a woman, sadly probably won’t be the last either. 

Tuesday night The Wine Country hosted a fundraiser; one Randy has been doing for years and one that I find too difficult to work, simply due to the fact that I find it damn near impossible to hold my shit together long enough to make it through it. An event to raise funds for a cause that far too often goes swept under the rug. A cause that infected my family for a decade and that to this day finds little pockets of infestation that flare up, cause suspicion and leave me…in the face of questions and “Why didn’t you tell us all of it?” longing for the faceless, nameless moments of peace found in that bloody bathroom stall. Last year I wrote this post,  sharing my story, the nightmare I went through, for over 10 years and while I never lived with the man that stalked, tormented, tortured and haunted me I can say, without hesitation, or apology, I was a victim of domestic violence. Bats against my skin, broken teeth, running up the stairs of my complex, my shirt hanging in rags in front of me, back exposed, bleeding and raw from a beating, the cold tip of a knife digging into my flesh as my monster slashed at me. I ran, I hid, I fought long enough to make it into the safety of my home. Did what I had to, needed to, to make everyone believe I was on top of a bubbling situation that could have cost me my life.  Thing is, I had a place to go….

I was lucky. Didn’t feel so lucky when I splashed cold water on my face, held the cotton balls saturated with peroxide, to my split open and enflamed skin. I felt lost, afraid and like a fool for ever falling into a web of suffocation and brutality in the first place. Like it was my fault, for being blind or stupid or so alone that I would let a monster close enough to do irreparable damage to me or my family. Owned that long after the slashes and bruises were gone. The event our store hosted raised money for the people that didn’t….don’t, have anywhere else to run. Think about every woman you have ever truly loved…now click on this Help them. Help them assure all of us that there is indeed a place to go, to feel protected and cared for….a little bit of peace and quiet not filled with shame, rolls of tissue paper collecting blood or in the grease scented stalls of a fast food restaurant. Help them.

I woke this morning, the buzz of good doing and hope pushing at the balls of my feet and making me feel light and strong as I made my way to my morning coffee. Poured the blackish liquid onto my mug. Clink of metal as my spoonful of sugar clunked and bumped along the side of my mug, the “sploosh” of cold milk  added and I had my milky coffee, cigarettes and it was time for the reading of all things important.

So the GOP is all up in arms now that the Violence Against Women Act now includes same sex partners and the ever unsavory, undocumented immigrants. They are trying to kill the bill this week, because of the addition of gays and thought to all the good the bill has done. So let’s forget the fact that that since 1994, when this act was passed, that domestic violence abuse has decreased by 54 percent and the number of women, being killed, killed, by intimate partners had dropped 34 percent. We are seriously considering throwing this baby out with the bathwater?!Don’t let this happen. 

The girl that nursed those sores, stood in the face of pure evil, tried her best to raise a family…bruises, cuts, sores and all is now asking for the help that I never did way back then….help me, help us, please. I was lucky, many women aren't.

I won’t ever forget, nor will I surrender...
Take a half second..
End of political rant.....

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Letting The HoseMaster of Wine Inside....Wine Biz Interview #12

Samantha, you’ve asked that I conduct an interview with you for publication on your esteemed blog. Why me? Why the HoseMaster? Why not ChronicNegress or Charlie Olken or ChronicCharlieHorse? Who’s idea was this, anyway?

Only you would have the very first question in MY interview be about You. I asked you because I could think of nothing funnier, aside from bloggers creating lists of other esteemed bloggers and giving them awards, than having a blogger have an interview of themself published on their own blog. When I think funny, well Love, where else would I look but with the king of blogger mocking? Not to mention I admire you and trust you and knew you would come up with something that would challenge me….that and everyone else said no.

 So, wait, this isn’t about me? We already KNOW everything about you, your bits,your crunders, your big boobs, your Dave Mathews obsession, your son, your husband, your brother, your Mom, your past, and your understandable and completely normal crush on me. OK, fine, I’ll ask more questions. Why am I your favorite blogger?

Your humility. 

You blur the line between writing about wine and writing about your own life—the two things seem inseparable, like dogs having sex. What finally got you to talk so openly about your interesting and traumatic past in the context of wine? Did this seem natural to you, or did you simply feel a need to unburden?

Never quite thought about my life being like dogs humping, (thanks for that by the way) but wine is in fact so much a part of my life that I simply can’t separate the two. There are wines that I can’t walk past, glance at the label and not be taken immediately back to a night around a table, clinking plastic cups, my mouth cupping around spilled or splashed drops. It’s like a song that is playing in the background while you make love to someone you’ve ached to be with…an unshakeable and beautiful piece of a tremendously intricate puzzle.

Which is why I always play Barry Manilow to dogs having sex. It does work better than a hose.

As far as sharing my past goes, well that’s a bit trickier. I have always been extremely open about my history, never ashamed or too bound by fear in sharing all of it, the thing is, most people won’t or would never ask. In this setting I just get to talk. Draw from my past when it seems appropriate and never with the concern that it might be making someone else uncomfortable. I know I do at times and while I do feel bad that I might be making someone twist in their chair I also know that in sharing some of those stories I’ve touched people on a level that I might not be able to do face to face and that, well that is one of the most remarkable things I’ve taken away from this silly blog of mine. I share something that makes one person flinch and another person sends me an email sharing their story with me. Unreal and healing on a level I’m not sure I knew existed before.

Yeah, I understand, I wanted to share a bunch of things about my past, but, honestly, who cares about failed penile implants? I told the doctor Seabiscuit’s was a bit much.

Now there's an image that's gonna stick....

One of the underlying themes in your work is the healing power of wine, or, more exactly, the culture of wine. I’m not sure any other wine writer has really ever explored that side of it. It’s sort of the anti-Alcoholics Anonymous. Acceptance and love through wine, and lots of it. If your cousin Randy hadn’t owned a wine shop, ever wonder what career you might have chosen? I’d like to think berserk postal worker.  

Security guard….at The WalMart. 

Honestly there is not a week that goes by that I don't wonder what my life would have been like had Randy not drug me, kicking and screaming, into the wine business. No trips to Europe, no Michael Sullivan, no falling in love with having all of that break me wide open, leaving me exposed, drunk on raw wonder and, needing to share how fucking amazing this feels. I initially took the job to provide food, clothes and daycare for my son, little did I know that everything I had ever wished for, passion, pleasure, pride....the me I had always hoped I could be, was there, just waiting beneath those corks...across the tasting table and in the faces of the people I would pick wines for. Randy has bestowed upon me a life I know would have been out of my reach without his urging and support. There are no words or years of blood, sweat and tears that will ever be able to truly repay him for that. 

When writing about your past, does it even seem real to you any more?


I know how I might describe your “voice.” How would you describe it? How is the voice we read on Samantha Sans Dosage different than who you are in real life?

Oh shit, I’d love to hear how you would describe it. I don’t actually think I have a voice. I write here just as I speak. Not so much good with that polished or filtering business. I’m just me.  I long ago gave up on any aspiration of being the most compelling, sexiest, most beautiful, smartest or most interesting person in a room….I can however be one of the most honest. I say what I think and feel and harbor no illusions that I’m all that special. Kind of makes it easy that way…

I would argue that you have developed a very interesting voice on Samantha Sans Dosage that is not your everyday voice. You and I have become very close friends, so I actually don’t hear your real-life voice when I read your work here, I hear your writing voice. Your writing voice is spontaneous, loud, honest, rambling and compassionate—it’s sort of a “best friend” voice. Because you’re the best friend, you can scold, you can excoriate, you can sympathize, you can make us laugh, you can tell us your darkest secrets, and it never seems false or contrived. It’s not that you get into our heads, it’s that you seem like you’ve always been there. You make this seem easy, but, as a student of writing, I know it is not.

Well if you see a difference it must be true…maybe it’s because you aren’t there interrupting me every two seconds and I can complete a goddamn sentence! You and I have discussed this many times and as I’ve said to you, I’m not a student of writing and never even really think about the stuff I write as really being writing as much as an open letter of sorts, maybe with a few more details painted to make the picture more interesting to whoever is reading. If anything I’m a student of human behavior and emotion and I can convey that here, well then I am not only amazed but kind of proud.

See, it’s called a “conversation,” not dueling monologues. Try not to think of it as interrupting so much as feigning interest.

Oh yeah, being cut off to hear how many times people searching fart water have landed on your blog never gets old....

You don’t have to be a student of writing to develop a voice. Speaking and writing come from two different parts of the brain—I think of mine as a urinary tract and an intestinal tract. I think if you simply tape-recorded your posts and then transcribed them verbatim, it would be very clear that you use a different voice.  Or just read one of your posts outloud—that’s not really you as others who only speak to you perceive you. True, you have a confessional style, but it’s style nonetheless.

There are great pianists who never took a lesson, the golfer who won the Masters never took a lesson—some people are just born to it. That’s you.

And I’ve been in rooms with you where you were easily the smartest, sexiest and most interesting—of course, that was the Napa Valley Wine Writers’ Symposium so the bar was set pretty low.

Need I remind you of Bad Botox Barbie?! That chick was smokin’ hot. I was in her shadow the whole damn time….of course that might have been her fucking perfume cloud….

Oh, hell, I’d forgotten about her, and now I’ll be having nightmares. Thanks for that. She’d had more injections than Roger Clemens and Jenna Jameson combined.

Don’t you feel when you sit down to write that you’re assuming a different attitude? After all, writing isn’t a conversation. Where are you when you write? And what are you wearing? Can I have a pair?

Nope. When I sit down to write I’ve usually had a few glasses of wine, (stop judging me, yes I said a few) and seeing as I never have a shortage of opinions and often too much time on my hands, what with not being a fan of that sleeping business, and I’m simply trying to rid the voice in my head that keeps me from truly focusing on whichever Law & Order I’m trying to watch. See, not so much a writer as a freaking crazy person. Drunk crazy person.

I write hunched over my living room table, (very unattractive position, kinda ape-ish) and anytime you want to borrow my assless chaps they’re yours.

I’m the opposite, I can’t write if I’ve had anything to drink, and I wear Depends. I’ve found the assless Depends sort of defeat the purpose.

Is this still about me?

Who is that voice in your head? Ever wonder? Your Mom, your son, your husband, your father—probably a combination of those voices, and your reaction to them, is what makes that voice so fierce. This goes back to my previous point. That Voice in your head, the one you let out here, that isn’t your everyday conversational voice, that’s the headwaters of your writing voice. And your style isn’t to tame it, or organize it, or polish it, but to let it inhabit you for the six minutes it takes you to write a post. OK, sixty minutes. It’s a genuine roller coaster ride when you really let it go.

Um, I think there was a question in there for me but it seems as if you went ahead and answered it so….

In cyberspace, how many wine bloggers can dance on the head of a pin. In other words, how many wine bloggers are pinheads? Aside from the HoseMaster, who dances like a white boy anyway, pin or no pin.

I have no idea what the hell you're talking about. If you’re asking who I’d like to get my dance on with, well sorry Love, as cute as you are, I fear the “white man overbite” and that is written all over you. Drunk in a bar at the Wine Blog Convention and looking to shake my groove thing, well I gotta go with Hardy Wallace, the flailing alone would be worth it. If you are asking me how I feel about bloggers, (and this is where I stick my finger out at you and call you an asshole….you’re the mean one, not me. I’m a goddamn sweetheart…fucker) I will tell you that in the four years I’ve been doing this that my interest in such things have faded, like a lot. I do think that too many people either phone this shit in, can’t write, have no actual wine knowledge or talent and spend all their time barfing up the same fucking story. It’s tired, or maybe it’s me that tired. Either way, I don’t concern myself with the majority of wine bloggers. I think being in the wine business, (which I was when I started blogging, unlike most bloggers so I'm not doing this to try and get my foot in the wine business door as it were) might be part of the reason I’ve gown achingly weary of reading many other wine blogs…it’s like reading a really long, begging for samples, Yelp review. There goes my sweetheart status…

You drunk at a bar at the Poodle Convention is almost too much fun to contemplate. And I’m not the mean one, Love, that’s my HoseMaster character. He’s definitely an asshole, but occasionally funny (not as funny as he thinks).

You and I drunk at The Wine Bloggers Convention…now there’s something I think we should start a telethon for! Who’s in?!

We’ve talked often about wine blogs and writing. How would you say your attitude toward writing Samantha Sans Dosage has changed over the years? It’s demanding work, and if the rewards are free bottles of below-average wine (like being in the WSJ Wine Club) and very little feedback for the amount of effort involved, what do you use for motivation?

I think one of the biggest changes is that I write fewer “reviews” than I used to, which I’m sure cost me a good clip of readers but I was never all that convinced that you can sell much wine from a wine blog, no matter what Alder would have you believe. I found that I had more comments and saw more customers come in after writing something more personal, sensual, emotional rather than wine write ups. Seemed that there was a faction of wine drinkers that responded to wine the same way I do, or they wish to, instead of reading that “coco, cherries and pencil shaving” crap. The stories have always moved me more, so that’s what I write.

No one sends me samples of anything so I’ve never had that “reward” and as I’ve said billions of times here, my reward has always been in the people that read me, trust me and care for me. I write this silly crap and you people have grown to adore me in some way….fucking amazing to me. Still.

Motivation? To troll for dudes of course. How am I doin?

You make my bits engorge.

Well then my work here is done, you know, seeing as I’m sure it takes a lot to get your bits going and all.

There’s far more joy in writing about feelings and thoughts and complaints than there is in writing yet another review. It makes sense for you to shift your sensibility. Do you think about balance? What I mean, I guess, is that one can also go too far and try too hard to be sensual, emotional or personal to a point where it seems vaguely insincere. I’ve seen a lot of bloggers, usually women, who try to write sexy posts about wine and they come out about as sexy as Martha Stewart in a thong (“Today, we’ll talk about cottage cheese…”). Do you think much about pace as well? Either before you start to write, or after you’re midway through a piece.

I hope I don’t ever come off as insincere, that would suck. I think one problem that I have run into as far as the more sensual or sexually driven posts is that I’ve done so many of them that I think, or fear is maybe a better word, that they sound, or will sound redundant. No one is surprised to stumble on my blog and find a post dripping with want and relayed descriptions of being seduced by a bottle of wine, therefore that bit of shock factor is no longer there which makes them a little more difficult to do now. I have read some other bloggers, (and yes, they were all women, not sure a guy could, or should try to pull that off….although Winey the Elder posted a comment once that made lots of us ladies squirm) getting their dirty on and…about as sexy, to me anyway, as a those cheesecake novels they sell next to the gum at the grocery store. Quivering? Loins? C’mon now people, we aren’t 13 anymore…what does it smell, taste, feel like?!

Do I think about pace? Dude, need I remind you, again, that I don’t really know what I’m doing here? I’m not even honestly sure what that means. I start a piece and let it go until it’s done. And trust me, I know that I’ve lost a few readers because of that as well, posts are often too damn long but I’m not looking at space or pages when I write, just telling a story the only way I know how. I’ve always heard that a story needs a beginning, middle and ending and although I know that I have no idea how to write a piece….well, in pieces. I don’t think about any of that when I’m sharing here.

What has been the toughest hurdle to get over in your four years of writing Samantha Sans Dosage? Any high points? Low points?

I think I am still getting over the toughest hurdle and that has been my inner strife with comments and being addicted to checking stats. Been about three weeks now since I checked my stat counter and now can’t even remember what I was looking for in the first place. As I said a couple posts ago, I took the silent visits as a sort of rating of my posts, like people weren’t into what I was saying, that I was saying it wrong or they were just plain stupid. Took some time for me to realize that none of that is why I started this blog in the first place. I came here to write about wine and hopefully get some attention for the store that I love and have devoted my life to. Stayed because I fell madly in love with this medium, being able to stomp about, rant, ooze my own desire and sensuality, voice my opinions and share what I’ve learned, move people….just by pounding my nails across a keyboard and not being afraid. I’ve become a more confident person because of this silly place and aside from meeting you and so many other amazing people, that has been a highpoint. Low points don't matter really and spending too much time thinking about failures or "I wish I had" isn't something I'm all that interested in. If I spent too much time doing that I would have given up years ago. I've had some bumpy spots that's for sure but in the end....well I have a job I love going to every day, a son that admires me, and remains a personal hero of mine, customers that respect my palate and trust me.....this laptop, lots of opinions, a handful of people that give a crap, and this appitite for words and strining them together that nibbles at me insesantly....just getting started Love. Watch out....

I would like to extend a personal thank you to Ron Washam, the guy behind the curtain that pulls the strings....and punches at The HoseMaster of Wine, for taking the time to interview me. You sir, are a rare and remarkable soul. I am a better person for having met you, a deeper and more complete woman for having you in my life. I hope one day to be as talented as you are, to make you proud that you took the time to reach out to me, make you see just how valued and loved you truly are.....fart water and all. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Sense Of Smell

You need only scroll down a few posts to read how I feel about big tasting events, and long time readers have more than once been subjected to my tight-jawed rants about the subject. The crowds, the wannabes, the schmooze, the greasy buffet grazers, the “Listen to what I know” turds that block the table while barfing up their knowledge all over the poor bastard that’s pouring, the heavily perfumed and walking…um, stumbling around on six inch heels. Not to mention the tight pours and distraction of it all. I pretty much hate them and have always lamented that there could not be a worse setting for truly evaluating wine. I get why they have to happen and outside a handful of importers, (my hands are smallish so that means about three) I have simply accepted that these events are akin to having to go to a coworker’s baby shower or your third cousin’s open house. Something you do as to show support, which really means you don’t want to be the dick that didn’t show. I get it, will do it and find humor, maybe a little sympathy, in the folks that stand their feverishly scribbling tasting notes on the photocopied brochures or balancing their i-devices in their palms while they peck away. Okay yeah, those guys are just funny, maybe I should just go and watch them. Anyway I understand that they are a necessary evil in our business, (and do be thankful that I spared you all the recantation of my recent nightmare, Southern Wine & Spirits “Best of the Best” tasting. Fuck me, what a joke that was. Never seen more spray tans and tweezed brows in my life, but hey least the cast of Jersey Shore has a home should they ever tire of their celebrity status. Ugh. SWS Best of the Best is about as special as a BevMo Best of the Best, a packed and sparkling show of medium. Lame) and as a member of this crazy business I have to swallow my ire, buck-up and go. So that is trade tasting, so what about the others?

Another long standing rant, well much more a conversation than a rant really, is that I don’t think that tastings, be they blind or not, can really tell you accurately what the wines are about. Sitting there taking notes, sniffing, sipping, spitting and moving on to the next can merely give one a hint or idea hat that wine is really like and does almost nothing as far as telling the consumer what it will be when they get it home, share it with friends, have it with food or what it might be after the second or third glass. Part of the reason points and scoring have never made sense to me. Sure that swish of wine may have tasted like 92 points after the last five and before the next ten, doesn’t say shit about how it will be on its own, let alone with food. The whole idea is silly to me although I blame the score chasing consumer and lazy retailers/salesmen more than critics for the popularity of the point system.  Thankfully I deal very little with that, our customers aren’t score chasers, they buy wines to drink, often that evening or week and are confident that whatever it is we have, or suggest for them, will be to their liking…no numbers needed. That being said, the ugly tasting truth can still rear its ugly head from time to time.

“She needs to return this” and then in a slight whisper, “It’s gone bad” a pleasant looking woman in her late forties speaking for her much younger friend that was standing there, looking somewhat embarrassed, eyes locked on her buddy that was taking the lead in this attempted return of product. “Gone bad, really?” I said reaching across the counter for the vacuum sealed baggie and its circular wood encased contents. The bag had been turned upside down and I could see through the sealed plastic that the expiration date read April 29th. “Oh I saw that too but I assure you, there is something wrong with this cheese. Again with the whispering from the one and silence from the other, “She brought it in to work today, she was pretty sure something had gone wrong, that it had turned, so she put it in the work refrigerator to show me and Oh My God, it stunk the whole fridge up!” I flipped the bag to see exactly what I expected, Epoisses, one of the world’s most notoriously stinky cheeses. 

“Do you mind?” I asked making a gesture that I wanted to crack the seal on the bag. “Oh no, go ahead, we only sealed it because it smelled so awful.” She replied. I grasped two fistfuls of plastic on either side of the cheese and gave a good pull, the women now staring at me with their eyes wide in anticipation, waiting for my “Oh My God!” face. The second the plastic tore my nose was met with an unmistakable aroma, meaty, gamey, mushroom and sweaty socks…..Epoisses. I did my best to keep my game face on as I pulled the round box from the plastic and removed the lid, brought the disk to my face and took long, probably extra long, deep sniffs of what is to me one of the most mouthwatering smells in the world, a perfectly ripe piece of what I think is one of the best cheeses on the planet. “See! Isn’t that awful?” this time the younger woman interjecting, “Well I can see why you would think that but” I began to say, “Really? You don’t smell that?” she interrupted. “Oh yeah, I smell that but that is what it is supposed to smell like” I explained. I went on to tell both somewhat astonished faces that Epoisses is known for its pungent and rather funky aroma, a reason my husband throws a super-model sized bitch fit every time a bring a piece home. “I will take it back but I highly recommend you stay away from washed rind cheeses, especially this one” I said with a grin, both because I did understand that not everyone finds pleasure in the funkiness of Epoisses, and because it meant I had this whole glorious piece of gooey deliciousness that I could not resell…which means we eat it, literally. “That’s so weird because I loved it at your tasting”….

A few weeks ago I did my annual Cheese & Wine Fest at the store. An event where I pair 10 cheeses with 10 wines that is always a huge draw and in fact this year we had 121 people crammed in our too-tiny-for-that-event tasting room. One of the hardest events I do all year, from the labor involved in slicing and plating cheeses for that many people to the picking appropriate wines to the hardest part, picking the order. A massive undertaking actually that has me stressing for weeks before and has me icing my back for days afterword. The stress comes from first getting all the cheeses in, there is almost always some shortage or something I wanted to showcase out of stock, then the picking of the wines which is not as easy as people tend to think, there are all kinds of chemical reasons that certain things don’t work and I am in the kitchen days before my event cramming pieces of cheese down my coworkers throats and popping corks. Then the putting of things in order, where both the progression of wines and cheeses makes sense, dude….wicked difficult. Do I need for it to be “perfect” no, but I put my name on this event and I am going to make damn sure that I have given it my all, period. I have one coworker that laughs at me every year, “You know Sam, it really doesn’t matter” he says with a rather dismissive tone, might not to him but it does to me so I refuse to call that shit in or look to books or the internet for someone else’s pairings. My gig and I’m going to make sure everything is presented in a way, and order, that makes each thing taste its best. So turns out, I did too good a job with the Epoisses….

Epoisses was my fourth pairing on the table that day, which is fairly early on for such an aggressive cheese but I had paired it with a beautifully delicate domestic Pinot Noir, the 2010 Grochau Cellars Commuter Cuvee, a wine that had I placed it further back in the lineup would have likely been squashed by the bigger more assertive to tannic wines on the table. Had to go early this “Yin and Yang” couple, and if I do say so myself it was a fantastic pairing. Light pretty fruit buffering some of the funky and aggressive flavors in the cheese. The thick, palate coating, oily flesh of the cheese being lifted and balanced by the wines perky acidity. I loved the pairing, as did the rest of the crowd, including the woman that was now standing before me wearing a “I smell poo” face. The thing was, that in that setting, with all those people, the residue of the wine and cheese pairing before the Epoisses pairing still on her palate, this woman was so smitten with the cheese that she plunked down the $25 dollars to buy one, but once at home, on its own the true nature of Epoisses was reveled….not what she remembered tasting, or smelling as it turns out and honestly, not all that surprising, least to this “Tastings are kind of bullshit” chick. 

As I said, tastings are necessary evil on the wine business side and they can be a bit of a minefield for the consumer as well, albeit one that can be a lot of fun when taken for what they are, a great way to spend an afternoon or evening, getting an idea what those wines are about and taking in one of the best and most important parts about wine, the community of it all. Dig that about what I do….

Monday, April 16, 2012

I'm Not Any More "Right" Than You Are, Just Different

“Really? You don’t want a cinnamon roll or French toast? Eggs and bacon even?” My mother once again perplexed and questioning my sanity at our semi-regular Saturday breakfast with cousins. I still remember the little pang of insecurity, the heat rising up my neck and spreading across my cheeks as the waitress stood there, pad in hand, looking at me then back to my mother again. Big hard swallow, face slightly scrunched, my fingertips tracing the tines on my fork before quietly restating my order, “side salad with blue cheese, an order of French fries and a large tomato juice.” My mother shaking her head, taking a drag from her cigarette and returning to her girlie chat with her favorite cousin. I’ve always had somewhat strange taste….

When I was really little my mother could not get me to eat anything at all in the morning and to be honest this is still pretty much the case. She had some luck for a while with plain yogurt and sunflower seeds but even that was a struggle and I rarely took more than five bites. It’s not that I don’t like breakfast food, (although I loathe pancakes or anything that comes with syrup) I’m actually quite fond of them, the thing is I just can’t seem to desire, let alone eat, those rich and heavy things early in my day. Eggs, of the runny variety, happen to be one of my all-time favorite things but in the morning? Too much. Way too much. I’m that idiot at Sunday brunch standing alone at the salad bar loading up in iceberg lettuce and pickled beets. I crave freshness over richness and as it turns out, always have. I’ll take baked chicken over Coq au Vin, seared slabs of beef over braised, have hated post roast my whole life and the majority of white or creamy sauces kind of make me cringe. My boss Randy and I have had this exchange no fewer than fifty times, “No, I don’t really like it Randy, it’s just too rich” his face now scrunched….as if he had never heard this before, “Too rich?! There’s no such thing as too rich!” and I’m not kidding, fifty times minimum. 

“We want to start drinking what you drink” a very sweet, and really engaging customer named George. I used to think he was a vicious ball breaker but as it turns out he is just extremely inquisitive and funny as hell. He and his wife are giant fans of big, extracted reds and while they don’t seem to drink much white when they do those too need to be plump, oaked and soft in acidity. I learned their taste early on in our dealings at The Wine Country when they told me that they had a second home in Tuscany and while they loved the area, adored the food and the people, they just didn’t care for the wines. Kind of kills that slightly arrogant, “You just haven’t done it right. Had it with the right foods” crap that we in the business toss about, all too often and smugly if you ask me. They have tried, repeatedly, and they don’t care for it. Period. As someone that has made it not only my profession but my passion to have people drink what they like, come back and let me pick more for them, well I have no problem picking out lush and lavishly oaked wines for them to drink with whatever they’re having for dinner. I dig them and want nothing more than for them to be happy with what they buy from us. “We want to drink what you drink”….problem. 

I always end up thinking about the movie Defending Your Life with this “issue” comes up. There is a scene where the super smart, “I use more of my brain than you do” guy, (Rip Torn) is eating his disgusting looking food and the other guy, (Albert Brooks) is curious and wants to take a bite. The smart guy warns him that he won’t like it but allows him to feed his curiosity and indulge, only to have the “not as smart” guy spit the food into his napkin and begin wiping off his tongue in horror. Now I think of this more out of a cringe inducing, “Oh don’t be that” feeling than in any way thinking that I drink what I drink because I know more than most people. Somehow though, when you warn someone that they might not be quite as smitten with the things you enjoy there can be an aura of elitism, either implied or perceived and I absolutely hate that shit. I never “evolved” into waffles, runny eggs before noon or blueberry pancakes and would never expect, assume or even think that anyone needed to “evolve” into Sherry or wines from the Jura. It’s what I dig, what drives my curiosity and it feeds my savory driven palate.

 I don’t think the wines I drink are better, smarter or more sophisticated. When I discourage someone like George from jumping into Menetou-Salon, Muscadet or Fino it’s not because I don’t feel as if he’s ready, I just happen to know he isn’t going to like them. The tricky part is getting them to understand that without coming off like a snoot. These people come to know, respect and admire you (thank gawd) mainly for the fact that you continue to introduce them to things that they go wild for, which is the mark of a good retailer or sommelier, sell them what they want and will like, not what you think they should. They see you as an authority and in that there is an engrained curiosity about what drives us wild too. I get it, am honored that they even give a rat’s ass but I would be doing someone like George a huge disservice, one that could even be damaging in that, “This is what wine professionals drink?!” way if I were to send him on his way with the new Rebula, (Rioblla Gialla) from Slovenia that is rocking my world right now. Now that being said, there are plenty of others, others that like me crave the savory or different over flat out deliciousness…a smaller market without a doubt but one that is in fact growing and one that has been pretty much ignored for years when it comes to the majority of wine lists, publications and far too many retailers. Hell, I fell in love with martinis because there is almost never anything on a restaurant wine list that I want to drink. Could I drink Kenwood Sauvignon Blanc? Sure. Do I want to? Hell no and I’m not one of those wine lovers that will drink whatever wine just to be drinking wine. Especially when you take restaurant markups into account. Martini please….

Sure I’ve bemoaned the lack of interesting French, Italian or Spanish wines on lists for years. I’d no sooner drink Jadot or B&G than I would Kenwood or Blackstone, and on the higher end I don’t swoon for Domaine Drouhin, Rufino, Ferrari Carano or Hugel. There are far more interesting, (to my palate) wines and I’m not about to slug through an overpriced bottle of “blah” just to retain my wine drinker status. So I did as my fellow less-than-mainstream-wine-lovers did, suck it up. I bring my own wine or opt to sip on a martini or some other cocktail with my meal. So imagine my delight the first time I dined at The Slanted Door in San Francisco and opened the wine list to find scads of wines that made my heart thump away in my chest, made my mouth water and made it near impossible for me to settle on just one. I was down-right elated and to this day my meals there are some of the most delightful, on both the food and wine scale, I’ve ever had…and I eat out a fair amount so that’s saying something. A couple of weeks ago I read an article in the San Francisco Gate about shrinking wine lists and a handful of restaurants that were scaling back on Cabernet and Chardonnay in place of lighter or less traditional wines. I for one was thrilled and grateful that this pocket of wine drinkers were finally being heard and serviced. Turns out, not the case with everyone in this business of ours….

Read a number of rants and flinched through a couple blog pieces where people that loved the status quo were called smart wine lovers and people that craved something else were called sycophants. Could not believe my eyes and found myself somewhat shocked by the ire and outrage. What the hell dude?! Name calling and hurling out of “east coast elitism” because an Italian restaurant is buying less Newton Unfiltered Chardonnay and more Friulano? That a Vietnamese restaurant is pouring Beaujolais or Zweigelt, (both lighter and softer reds) with their food instead of Silver Oak Cabernet? Are you shitting me? I will say that one of the quoted wine directors made a really dismissive and equally insulting comment as some of the backlash I read but go after her, not those of us that actually do want to drink those wines. To act as if my, or anyone else’s love of Ribolla is somehow a, “I’m cooler than you because I drink this stuff you’ve never heard of” thing is absolutely insulting and way the fuck out of touch. Period. Maybe if the press paid a little more attention, to the world stage of wine, people might have heard of Ribolla, Zweigelt or Savagnin and I wouldn’t have a winery rep pouring me his Pinot Noir from Sta. Rita Hills telling me that his wine is Burgundian and pointing out the misspelling of Sauvignon Blanc on my shelf talker for Berthet-Bondet….a wine from the Jura made with Savagnin. Those wines have been around a whole hell of a long time, they aren’t new and neither is our appreciation of them. If a handful of restaurants, out of hundreds of thousands, choose to accommodate “The rest of us” well I say, thank you for noticing and furthering our wine appreciation and enjoyment of our meals. 

I would never in a million years think George’s love for Darioush and Caymus Cabernet was anything but a genuine passion for the wines that keep him happily slurping on glass after luscious glass, and it would never even cross my mind that he would be better off drinking, or worse even, wouldn’t understand, the wines that I love. It’s not out of some hoity sense of hipsterism that I discourage him from wanting to drink as I do, it’s out of respect for his palate, his taste and his wallet. Look, I’ve been eating for over forty years now, have tasted those pancakes, cinnamon rolls and waffles and as much as I try, I don’t like them, and the same is true of braised food and a good clip of new world wine. They simply don’t suit my taste, don’t please me or give me that back arching thing that makes me crave more. My palate has always leaned off the beaten path but it’s becoming increasingly clear….I’m not alone.

We have very different taste, no one more right than the other and I think it is high-time that we all made room for that fact. Never ceases to amaze me the uncivil and flat out intolerance thrown about, on both sides of the old word, new world wine conversation. It is wine people, and it is as it has always been, subjective. You like what you like, I like what I like and there are millions in between. The sooner we accept that fact the sooner we look less like poo slinging, bloated with self-importance asshats and maybe, just maybe, in return welcome more people into this world that we love so much we are willing to take potshots at one another for. 

Just a thought….

Thursday, April 12, 2012

If You Build It They Will Come?!

Been caught in a crazy schedule, not to mention recovering from my wicked and lost evening out but, well I saw this posted and had to share. 

Why in the hell would anyone send these cats anything?! Selling the value of the People's Choice Awards as compared to the Oscars, where as they point out, awards are given by people who know what the fuck they are talking about?! Brilliant. Love that they point out that people don't trust advertisements, that they trust other people but....should we trust anyone that is getting paid for each review?  Maybe the fee they are charging just covers the cost of the medallions and bottle stickers that wineries can "proudly" display....

Gave me a good morning chuckle though. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Not Sure....

What happened
But at least I have this....

And rug burn
So it must have been good....

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Gathering Moss

Kind of feels like what I’ve been doing lately, that gathering moss thing. Put myself on a detox program of sorts. Not detoxing from wine, sex, booze or food mind you, I mean c’mon I’m not a masochist nor am I a saint. No, a detox from blogging, actually any kind of writing outside work and the occasional email. Not sure if this happens to most bloggers, I somehow suspect it doesn’t seeing how many of them keep plugging along regardless hits and comments but for me, well I found that my voice was getting too intertwined with my comment section and stat counter. Feeling like a marionette aching for someone to pull my strings, make me move about and when those strings went still I found myself, a pile of silent and lifeless parts. Sucked and unbelievably suffocating for me. 

It was as if I didn’t exist, my words, thoughts, passion, desire and heart thumping were not possible without those numbers, those hits and constant words of affirmation. Those strings that once made me move now tied tightly around my neck, choking the life of this blog, my voice and honestly, the joy of writing right out of me. As someone that has spent the better part of her life being independent and not really vexed or concerned with how I will be perceived by anyone, letting others dictate, through my own bullshit, when or if I would do something that I loved, needed, made me feel confident and beautiful in a way that conventional beauty never could have….utter bullshit. I’d turned myself into an emotional cutter. Not writing for fear of looking foolish was not only punishing no one but me, it had in fact turned me into one of those approval seeking, “stroke me please” people that I swore I would never be. Enough. 

So I took some time off, posted cheese articles and threw up an old post while I figured out if I should stop blogging, maybe give up writing all together. Ron Washam’s voice in my head, “You need to write for the sheer pleasure of the craft” in a boxing match with my fear and dependency….the words, “I can’t” slamming against my head, ringing in my ears, making those words of support harder and harder to hear and rendering me speechless…….incapable of touching those parts of me that drove me to share myself in the first place. Lunacy, complete fucking lunacy. Add to that the Writer’s Symposium where I had to honestly ask myself is I wanted to chase those articles about AVA’s and trends in the wine business, discovering, fairly early in the week actually, that I did not. Coming to terms with the fact that I am not really cut out to be a wine writer, at least in the traditional sense of the word, leaving me questioning if there was a place for me at all. Big pile of lifeless parts…..

Watched two movies last night, one of the many things I’ve been doing to distract myself from the slow, dull ache that was settling into the spot where my love of “the craft” had been. The noise and following a plot a respite from the over thinking….and the missing. Time to just get lost in someone else’s story and away from my own whining. Yeah, turns out I happened to pick two movies that were not only fucking tear jerkers, they were essentially about how connected we all really are. How even the tiniest of exposure of your heart, fears, failures, pain, elation, thirst, can affect someone else, often in ways you never thought possible. I sat there, tears rolling down my cheeks, my palm pressed against my chest, feeling the heart that had been quietly rocking now beating against my ribcage like two fists trying to break free. The pounding creeping up my neck, filling my ears, the unstoppable beat of the drummer that has always moved me landing upon my eardrums….this, this is what I want to do. What I need to do. I may never be published, may never write a book, may never get another hit or comment again but as I sit here, writing an honest piece, sharing my story, I know that none of that matters. I’ve already been given more, accomplished more than I ever thought I would when I started writing this blog. The rewards that have been bestowed upon me have come in the form of friendship, love, trust and support. Immeasurable gifts and if this gift, or voice of mine, this writing thing, brought me all of that….then I have been paid richly. Now, now it’s time for me to keep exploring my craft, discovering things about myself, sharing them here without the puppet strings of insecurity. 

I don't need to be praised
Don't need to be liked
Don't need to be wanted and desired....

I need and want This