Rob Moshein - Austin Wine Guy
A Moveable Feast (without Hemingway)
June 28, 2009To be fair, yr mst hmble & obd't srvt here struggled with this one for almost a month. Now, don't get me wrong, I had a blast, one of the best invites I've had in a long time. It was great. I just couldn't get a handle on how to write about it without sounding like I was just talking about some great party I went to. Which it was. Except, it wasn't sounding wine related enough for me. Yeah, there was wine there, yeah there were wine guys/gals there but it became more than that.
Now, it finally occurred to me that what it was about was, terroir. Now I'm not talking about the dirt and rain and the local trees etc. What is WAS, was a moveable feast of the terroir "vibe" of a place. Amazing actually.
OK, so gentle reader, by now you are asking, AWG, what the frak are you talking about?
I get an invitation for May 20 for a "casual" (emphasised) lunch with some Sonoma County Vintners and Growers as part of The “Sonoma in the City: Austin” tour sponsored by the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission and the Sonoma Valley Vintners & Growers Alliance. I show up.
I walk in the door and immediately a glass of Iron Horse Brut put into my hand. The charming outgoing Sara Cummings becomes a new friend instantly and I dive into a small sea of people. What I expected was your "typical" luncheon with wine makers. A whole lot of us (guests) and a few of them (the winery folks) and a set agenda of interaction. viz: Brief handshakes, regimented tasting, speechifying, food eating, brief handshakes and hustled out the door.
Boy was I WRONG!
There were eight wine folks, me and three or four other journalists and Sara more or less.Wow, wine person to guest ratio of 2:1. Unheard of! Casual and intimate indeed. Cecil DeLoach, grandfather of Sonoma Wines was there, and I recounted the several previous times we had met, and when I stayed in one of his houses on Olivet Lane as his guest. Poor guy wasn't feeling up to par and left before lunch. However his grandson Josh DeLoach more than admirably filled in his place.
Joy Sterling, doyenne (look it up) of Iron Horse, whom I'd met a couple of times before, was her charming, down to earth wonderful self. She is indeed a Joy, and by the time lunch was over, we were chatting like she was almost another sister of mine.
Greg La Follette of Tandem Winery. Made me laugh by wearing a grey three piece suit in our 90 degree heat with cowboy boots! Got my attention by talking Burgundy and Pinot Noir. Got my respect and admiration for his obvious ability and knowledge. Became my buddy with his down to earth, casual lack of pretense or stuffiness and a genuine open friendly attitude. You can tell when somebody invites you to stop by and really means it, vs the obligatory type invite. Greg clearly meant it.
Rod Berglund of Joseph Swan. JOSEPH frakkin SWAN! Legendary winery of Sonoma County, You can't even find the wines in Texas easily. What a laid back grape grower he seems to be on the surface. What a talented winemaker he is when you talk to him and taste the wines standing next to him. The wines, well first rate.
Mike Dashe, a name known to anyone who likes California Zinfandel. A big smiling bear of a guy, who exudes the laid back happy attitude I have long loved about Sonoma county. Makes killer Zin.
Josh DeLoach was the little bear of a kid, just turning 27, also a big smile laid back guy carrying on the family tradition of making benchmark Sonoma wines. Heck, we went out to my favorite local (the Whip IN, shout out to Deep!) for pints of beer afterwards.
Doug McIlroy, wine grower for Rodney Strong. An engaging interesting guy. His laid back easy manner and gracious humor bely his huge abilities in the vineyard and again lack of pretense about his knowledge and skills. He just is who he is.
Steve Sangiacomo, of the eponymous (look it up) vineyards that produce some of the best fruit in Sonoma. Young, laid back, a bit overwhelmed by the Tour.
and Nicole Carter, from Ch. St Jean, a charming young lady eager to chat about their wines.
now, all these folks and me, just hanging out and talking. We quickly find the mutual level of "wine guy ness" and so we can just well, ok, I don't know what word to use except one that will SOOOOOO date me: rap. Now, young'uns, back in the day, "rap" meant to just talk, openly, engagingly and without pretense or stress. THAT was this lunch. Just talking about everything, wine, mutual friends, the weather, all that good stuff that makes a party fun. Making new friends for sure.
Now, I've been to Sonoma County alot, starting back in 1982. The amazing thing is how this "wine tour" brought the Sonoma County vibe/terroir with them. A diverse group of people, but the prevailing laid back yet serious about their craft attitudes. They work hard but they play hard too. See, Napa Valley is all stuffy and pretentious. Its all about the money and the Parker Ratings and the new Bentley in front of the flashy expensive winery. Sonoma County is, well, Joy Sterling taking the time to ask about my Dad's recent passing, in a genuine way. Then, finding out I turn, ouch, 50 this October, practically insisting I come visit her to celebrate. Greg La Follettte, finding a kindred Burg Hound spirit insisting I drink wine with him in Los Angeles when am out there, and inviting me to help with punch down and a barbeque when am in Sonoma for my birthday. It's cowboy boots with a three piece suit.
Beers with Josh, talking about cars and travel and just stuff. Doug and I yakking away about the wines with lunch. Oh yeah, Lunch! A big family style affair, with passed platters and everyone's wine lining the table. I was the only one actually doing some comparison tasting. The rest of them, well it was a big noisy family party. How cool is that. I mean, table hopping, you know, I get up to grab a bottle of the Hanzell Pinot Noir from the other table, and Joy and Greg insisting I sit with them for a while.
So, what does all this have to do with wine? Well, it's like this. Their vibe is the same vibe in the wine. Look these folks are serious wine makers and growers. Greg La Follette lectures about Pinot Noir IN BURGUNDY to the French! Iron Horse is served at the White House. Swan is a benchmark wine (and my favorite Chardonnay and Pinot of the Lunch). I will review Greg's Tandem Pinot later, it wasn't at the lunch and am waiting for the samples he sent to settle down from shipping. Hook and Ladder makes seriously good wines. Chateau St. Jean, well everyone knows their wines. Hanzell, Dashe, Rod Strong, Sangiacomo, these are all very well known names. Yet, these are really cool, friendly, easy going people. Laid back with a sense of style, flair and wit.
The wines produced in Sonoma are exactly the same. Serious, world class in quality. Yet, they lack the pretense of Napa Valley. They don't expect you to see anything in them other than what you find. Take them or leave them. They know you "get it" if you take them for what they are. They don't care if you leave them. Both one to one and wine to wine. The wines are serious but fun. Complex but not over the top. Elegant but in a jeans and boots kind of way. Earthy yet educated. Witty but intelligent. Both the wine and the people.
Yes, this tour brought the genuine terroir of Sonoma to Austin. The people who make the wine, make the wine what it IS, and clearly their attitude and well, vibe, are as much the terroir reflected in the wine as the dirt itself.
Kudos to you all. I had a blast. I look forward to seeing you guys again in October.
I can't wait.
Austin Wine Guy
July 3, 2009: Greg La Follette was trying for days to publish a comment on this blog, and for some odd reason the comment functionality is "wonky" for this blog entry...So, here is Greg's comment, emailed to me from Torbrek Estate in Australia where Greg is consulting...
Thanks, Rob - I loved the way you captured the spirit of the event!
Looking forward to pulling some corks with you at my dad's house in LA,
and bbqing after some punchdowns during harvest in Sonoma! Looking