Memories in a Glass of Wine … a work in progress, we could say “a reflection On the Character in the Vines“.
A dinner conversation of sorts to which all my friends all over the world are invited.
So please step in, sit a little closer to the fire, turn down the light, swirl the wine around the glass; would you prefer tea? A brandy?
There’s so much to talk about:
Over the years I’ve done lots of work in the vineyards. For that matter, a lot of work with people who grow things. In a period of terrible mentality and destruction, it came to me, in a vineyard in Idaho, how pleasant it was to work with people who grow things. There can be no greater respect for life and beauty. In the vineyard I remembered how easy it was to get people to smile. Hope to spend more time among the vines. I’ve always considered good wine and its way of life an art form. The photograghs are a parallel unniverse beside pieces of conversation. Breeze through them like a brisk walk though a gallery,.Skip the memories if you like. They’ll be here later. Most of the copy is from recent dinners and correspondence from friends and winemakers. Not a narrative.
Which’s the thing about memories … and wine for that matter. They should both be presented as art.
Aged, and taken in appropriate context with appreciation.
Anyone, any thoughts? Do be in touch. S.
I hope you will click: “continued” or “more” and join me for the rest of the story:
(for the rest of the posts simply scroll down):
This is Eric Miller .. at the time the winemaker at Chaddsford Winery. I was teasing him about the ten dollar bottle of wine. That expression comes later … when I needed serious contemplation. Thinking an idiot is going to write about you is true terror.
Suddenly, he realized I was having him on.
These are serious folks working the entire year for exactly the right moment. Just before one smells “the perfume” in the vineyard. As Eric said; “That is exactly what we want to put in the bottle.”
A story of fruit. Berries, seeds &c. The combination of water soil, climate, heat, cold, vine culture or as the French call it: TERROIR … a combination of effort when all is put together creates a culture. Something very special.
On the table, in society, and in our collective mind.
My dad had an orchard. He taught school during the year, the cold part of the year that is, which I’m sure was something to do with using his education until the orchard started growing again. Mostly he grew fruit, some grapes, but not the European-style grapes and the wine he made was too sweet. We did not drink it. He drank nothing alcoholic at all. Myself,I practiced fractional distillation, again utilizing my education, and made a reasonable brandy. But for the most part, any knowledge of wine I would acquire occurred somewhere further on, down the road. (where I reaped what they had sown.)
Eventually, I came to know wine, like a coffee and food, good food, to be a social art, a gift to be shared, like all valuable work among others, with the decided intention, as in all good art, to communicate
some of one’s self.
This was a story in which we built a magazine piece upon the Pinot Noir grape, certainly a European transplant, now grown in many regions of the United States.
Pinot Noir is grown on each coast and so a comparison, in a conversational sense, of vineyards on the east and west coasts was possible. Regardless of price.
However, wine is sold on price …to one extent or the other. Much of that price is dependent upon economies of scale. There was never any question of the quality of Eastern Farm products. But land availability and climate simply are a better fit for some wines rather than others, so the comparison was of Pinot Noir. A wondrous grape capable of lush dignified reds and elegant memorable whites.
Please contiue to walk along with me … by clicking “CONTINUE-READ More” beneath and the thread will run unhampered in a rough approximations of the wire service telefaxes I began my career in complete fascination with. We are going to dinner & Dry Creek in California
From the Vineyards of Bitner Wines Caldwell Idaho. Lovely vineyard, begun in the 80’s, reminding me of those I worked in the Dry Creek area of California and some in France just to the north of Spain. That area of Idaho has a lot of Basque folks and Ron has begun to plant some of the vines in the manner used in Basque Country. I only spent about an hour but “God willin’ and the Crick don’t rise” perhaps I’ll get back both to Idaho and to Basque Country in Europe. Those folks always kind to me too. Some of my favorite wines, deep dark and spicy, lots of Grenache grape, similar in my taste to Cahors & maybe Maderian. But frequently unoaked. Maybe we should have cooked a lamb stew in the field pot. Like Elzueard Bouffier in Giono’s Man who Planted Trees. Had that South of France feel to it. The “Dancing Vines” above were also from Bitners.
Ron spoke of Auberge– the French County Inn.
Sort of safe place to find one’s self. The French speak of Terroir … that complete circumstance that produces the wine …the Auberge is sort of that to us folks … the complete place to enjoy the wine, food and countryside. Not perfect like an advert or a Hollywood set. But simply right. And clearly, on a good day, the way life should be. Pleasant people, the cat in the corner sun over head, the dog, again in Giono’s words: “obedient yet not servile.” En double entente: its all about taste … in the broadest comprehension.
Oui, Je compris.
All that sun and earth in one small glass reminded me
of my friend Les Whitten’s book: A DAY WITHOUT SUNSHINE ..
and of course his better half: Phyllis.
Most of the Auberge .. French Country Inn … is “Country”. As my friend Gernot used to pronounce “count tree” sort of like notches on an oak , but that is neither “here” but actually “over there” in a distant past. Since a kid I’ve been a traveler rather than a tourist. Rating cafes and hotels not by subserviency but their omelets. Anyone can be careful with a 21 buck filet … but 3 eggs and a splash of water, salt & pepper … that takes character. Attended NYU and never respected the place until I found the omlets at the Loeb Dinning Room were the equal of any in Greenwich Village. Right up there with Paris and San Francisco. I nearly got expelled for bringing my Village friends. And that was the stupidity of Academia … I paid a lot of the exorbitant book charges winning bets on the quality of those Omelets. George made the best. And I knew his shift. With George on my side … I could just fold the bills over, once then twice into the right front pocket of my 501XX’s. Just beneath the watch pocket with the selvedge red line. America was more of a class act then. We manufactured things for each other. Of course I knew about cafes: omelets … with provolone … or smoked cheese from being a kid in New Hope. Where my beloved friend Robert Dager would cook them … at Toad Hall .. . and wait, very still, hands clasped together, Navy Identity Bracelet on his left wrist … from the miserable South Pacific in the last numbered war .. Robert stood: watching. “Is it wonderful?” Like a proper editor, he tolerated no lies or self delusion. And I sure loved him for it. He believed omelets should be eaten with a triple gin for a chaser. And a Camel burning beside, I disagreed. I thought Chardonnay, with a splash of vodka. And a Disc Bleu. Twenty years apart … Robert with a white ’55 Jag with red wheels and I with a white ’50 MG TD, of course, with red wheels … I think perhaps were were kids together. A quality analysis of every thing … we were not counting, and yes Robert, there is a Santa Claus. It was so wonderful, I’ll never forget it. Ya see? I haven’t. The Art was in the brown lace at the edges, from the eggs in sweet butter. And later, after a decent billing on an IBM job, I called Robert saying: “I have a few bucks, please let me take you to dinner at Jimmy Hamilton’s. So we went to Hamiton’s Grill with all the glory of their menu. Where Robert ordered Scambled Eggs. Jimmy was famous for them.
And from my dearest Cousin Jane Pelland (the illustrator & teacher … look up her drawn grapes on her website) who I remember in my minds eye, sitting with her husband. Paul with a beer and Jane with wine: “I am reminded of the wealthy landowner in the Middle Ages who gave a fourth of his extensive vineyard to the Church in exchange for a copy of the Bible. It was of course before Guttenberg, and as you know, according to the laws of primogeniture, the only way land could be subdivided. It was deemed by historians that the Church got the better end of the deal by far, as the vineyard was priceless. I rifled through some notes on the High Middle Ages but could not find the man’s name. … but it does underscore the rich value of the land and of vineculture. Puts much into perspective …”
These are old Zinfandel vines
In the dry Creek area of California wine country. Vines saved during prohibition by the church requiring wine for its communions. We can only be glad for the religious fervor of the time, which led to fine vine becoming a way of life in America.
Mustard flowers are planted by some growers between the rows of the old vines being tilled back into the soil to nourish the vines. The old vines are less productive in quantity. Perhaps a quality remaining from their personal Christian virtue of rebirth.
Sunrise in the California Mountains overlooking the Russian River…
(A series rom a magazine essay some years back. Back story below.)
An East Coast harvest… compared to a West Coast Harvest. with quick return to the Chadds Ford Pinot Noir vines, and their harvest. Everyone is called to harvest, it’s important to get the grapes at precisely the right time. As Eric said: “before we smell the perfume that we want to put in the bottle.” Unlike concentrated grape growing regions, hands avaialble for harvest of moderate. In California and in France, there was tremendous amusement at manicured hands harvesting berries. I’ve always enjoyed this photograph immensely. The Pinot Noir about to crush is at Bellrose in Dry Creek, Ca. … Later renamed: Everett Ridge. The back story on the Russian River: In my profession, particularly in those days, life was a mixture of jet lag and bags of film. Jack Air and I met well before sunrise and began the journey up the mountain, over dirt roads, dust and chirt, to the high ridge top where he was planting new vineyards. The hard-working crew was already at work. We discussed getting there early as the sun rose in the East burning off the fog on the Russian River and raising the temperature from cool to very warm. As Jack said: “the growers of Burgundy would kill for a climate like this.”. In the small world department, an old acquaintance: Sam, a crew leader and consultant from Mexico, came over to me, both of us with big smiles. Sam told Jack: “the last time I saw Scott, he was getting out of an Ocean Spray helicopter in a cranberry bog on the Massachusetts Cape. He looked just as tired then”. And it was true, I’m sure I looked lie hell. It’s a small world, which Jack and I knew, because as we were riding up the mountain, we discovered that Jack originally worked for IBM sales and used many of the brochures I photographed and designed for them. I must scan these original transparencies from file. I sort of like the published pieces, but how beautiful I could make new scans. Of course, I was with the sci-Tex folks during these scans. Like I was with the lab folks as the film was being edged through the lines. Some were double pages and a match is tough. The analogy to making wine is damn close. “You can’t make a good wine from the bad grape.”
Actually this was shot at the Vineyard, in California sunlight. Later cropping for this card. I’ll show you both, because Jack and Ann Airs house was reflected in the the colored part of the wine glass. That California sun is like no other point light source integrating color and detail at just the right hour and blow ya away for the rest of the day.
A half teaspoon on the egg in place of salt.
A next morning for friends who stayed over for brunch. A mostly seltzer with last of last nite’s last bottle … served with great finesse (to myself), A very fresh egg from my friends’ chickens at Springhouse Farm just over Ghost Mountain.(Some of their chickens lay blue eggs. I don’t believe they are depressed.)
Some bottles given to me by Anne & Jack Air at old Bellerose Vineyard, a vintage receiving triple gold at the California State fair. I left a bottle, in Paris, with my friends, Jacques and Fay Lecoq. Hoping that we could share it, but it wasn’t to be. I went on to another assignment in Italy, returning home to via Paris but unable to create the mutual experience of that Pinot Noir.
Sometime later, the phone Splinter Cottage rang rather deep into the night, it was Fay telling me with some excitement, that they had opened the bottle, and Jacques insisted that she call me. An emergency call from Paris.
Telling me: “My God, I had no idea that America made wines like that.”.
Another solo meal, my own joke being the blue plate special, from a lovely steak given to me… In truth that’s the only way such as steak would get here. Lots of cracked pepper and grilled outside at the cottage
over pieces of wood still left from the last hurricane.
Grillings inspired by James and Mary Salter’s daybook on meals: LIFE IS MEALS.
The wine with the sea food stew is Penya. A cuve from the Basque areas – southern France …Catalonia, Northern Spain, lot of very strong grapes: 48% Grenache, 44% Carignan,5% Mourvedre, 3% Syrah … can’t quite see them measuring …, available some falls in time for my our birthdays. It is unoaked. For this series I liked the foods and service reflected in the glass. The food made on behalf of the wines. Later thinking about California and skippers in Castroville where we had my favorite bouillabaisse experience. Skippers was a sort of a roadhouse where the local fisherman ate. Discovered on a foggy drive- I mean like San Francisco foggy- on Highway 1 from: Carmel to North Beach. The kind in which the California Highway Patrol with their fog lights and flashers lead groups of cars across the bridges. There, out of the fog and hours of 20 mph driving,hungry &tired appeared: SKipper’s. Out of a James Cain NOir, on pilings next to the docks, over the Pacific, with sea lions parking in the waves beneath. Later, I returned on a solo working trip. It had burned down. Blackened timbers, sound of waves. Having my memories but no variety of fish, unable to find the saffron, but having fresh tomatoes, fresh garlic, crusty bread, grape leaves and spinach, a red stew seemed to serve. That made me think of smoked mirrors, silvering and just a little gray, in Lyon or or old NYC. Good enough to celebrate sanity and my days luck, in the little cottage in the woods, while the entire world was clearly going crazy. Of that, I’ve seen enough. My reports may go unfiled. And finally … wine production will change with the climate. One of my editorial research books mentions the South American Vineyards and the ability to look into the snow caps of the Andes Mountains for the certainty of next years water. I wondered if the Andes snow caps are as great today as when the book edition was written?
Here, the Rockies over the Snake River only this year. Will there be enough water to sustain new vineyards or even the operation of vineyards as in present?
Or will the smaller East Coast producers begin a new phase and position in wines history?
There is my considerations toward a new Blog. This post is is the beginning.
Sure liked my concept of: THE CHARACTER in the VINES
Pinot Noir grapes from the Chadds Ford vines. The vintners knife knife purchased in North Beach, San Francisco from a very special cutlery. A knowledgeable and kind Italian lady to whom wine country was no stranger advised this knife for my still life. For many years I visited her whenever I passed through San Francisco often buying a pocket knife for my son, until one day the shop was closed. The master of the nearby coffeehouse, my first stop, where I always bought my coffee beans, I’m told Capola had worked on God Father on those tables, the master explained: In the time I’d been away from North Beach my friend had passed. She was no more. It was the case for me; I never knew when I’d return. So in those days, I wrote notes.
And on the days, when I turn off the news; and look away from what I have seen the papers choose to portray, I realize that I’ve fallen behind, as in so many instances have most who have decided not to participate in mayhem. There … in the old family dry sink are two more bottles of vineyard culture. A French Country Marc and another of very fine vodka also made from the skins left from the grape crush. A small splash in the appropriate glass: a sip across the palate, a warm swallow and exhale scenting through the nose presents a certain clarity. Not from a single swallow of alcohol but from the effort of many hands, hearts, and minds making something different. Intending to do it well. A shared appreciation of life, the living of it more rewarding than the buying of it. The gradual culmination of organic work to an organic product for an organic concious being. A communication across all lines.
The labels are worn. They came many years back. Upon a return from the vineyards, when I thought it was time for my son to share that appreciation. And when its time to cook a special diner, be it scrambled eggs or seafood stew, with a glass of wine, carefully and thoughtfully made, prepared, just for me.
In complete respect and accord with the folks who grow and make things.
Should that experience stop, due to lack of appreciation or dearth of water. Should shared appreciation, as a dialog and meaning to those unknown: artisan and citizen, friend and acquaintance, of our special space and being, the contemplation of a brief moment in individual time with the shared grace of many years and.. finally the mutual understanding of something done so very, very well, should that be no longer be, then the world has fallen to words, repetive action, only symbols rather than experience … then the mayhem is complete.
Earth, water, sun. The basis of life.
PS .. meet a hell of a lot of interesting people on this journey?
© H Scott Heist 14 / Splinter Cottage
This is the work and creation of Scott Heist and all rights are reserved. Use is by written permission. The View from Splinter Cottage, Splinter Cottage, and Every Day is a Short Story, and TASTEFULLY CHEEKY are trademarks in use for many years and similarly protected.