Organolepticians Number 76
November 5, 2008
One January morning, at roughly age 10, part way into Dwight Eisenhower’s second term as President of the United States, I got my first look, on our primitive black and white television set, at the Harlem Globetrotters, and I’ve never been quite the same since then. How could anyone watch a performance so playful, so joyous, so hypnotic, and ever want to return to the life they’d known before? And not want to become a Harlem Globetrotter?
I played basketball at recess every day after that. I developed a reasonably good hook shot. I took out a copy of Go, Man, Go!, the story of the Globetrotters, from the school library, and read it in a few hours. Lo and behold, the movie version of Go, Man, Go! played on TV shortly after I read the book. Before I knew it, I was convinced that it was my destiny to become a Harlem Globetrotter!
There was, of course, a snag. I was a freckle-faced, blue-eyed white kid. But, heck, I was only ten! There was still plenty of time for me to become black, I told myself. I can still feel how powerfully I wished for that!
Now, I have a grand-daughter who is ten, whose mother is a single mom. Her father, whom she’s never met, is African American. In an effort to help fill some of the void created by the absent father, I’ve spent quite a bit more time with this grand-daughter than I’ve spent with our other grandchildren, and I feel immensely lucky, for the way that time has enriched my life. I’ve always been a fairly solitary person, more by habit than by choice, and I’ve seldom felt such a deep connection to another person, with just a few exceptions; she has, in some ways, brought out the best in me.
While visiting a distributor in Arizona who sells our wines, I had a conversation with him that somehow found its way into politics, and this fellow told me, proudly, that he was a Republican, and at a later point in the conversation he said he felt that America provided the opportunity for anyone who really wanted something, to be able to accomplish anything they chose. I told him that that was certainly something to be wished for, but that I was concerned about whether my grand-daughter might find the path to that kind of accomplishment more difficult for not being white. I suggested that it might be very hard for him to imagine what it must be like to grow up on the other side of a cultural divide, one that comes from such a tragic and painful history, where the color of one’s skin, even in one’s own house, raises the question in one’s heart: are we the same? Do I have the same chance you do?
It wasn’t too long after that conversation that I heard, indirectly, about a speech Barack Obama made at the Democratic Convention in 2004, that had electrified the people in attendance in a way none had experienced in a very long time. When Mr. Obama decided to run for president a couple years later, I was skeptical, since it appeared to me he’d been on the scene such a relatively short time.
When the primary season began this year, I thought, as I’m sure many did, that this would be just another disappointing election year, like so many of them over the past 40 years. Then in March I watched Mr. Obama’s “More Perfect Union” speech in Philadelphia, and I became immensely excited. Here was someone who seemed to embody leadership, who could remind us of the places inside ourselves where our “better angels” were waiting for an invitation to reclaim their places in our daily lives. All done with the greatest respect, and humility, grace, and good nature. And on the topic of race! A potentially explosive issue in the campaign, and one, it seemed, nobody was anxious to engage!
In wolf culture, I’m told, the Alpha Wolf isn’t the biggest, the most ferocious, or scariest. The Alpha Wolf is the one with the lowest resting heart-beat, the one with the most charisma. The working definition of charisma, in this context, is the one who initiates play. It’s easy to extrapolate from that: the leader is one who can bring people together, friend, stranger, gypsy, caveman, magician, thief, all of the above. The one who can say, without prejudicing the outcome, “want to play?”**
I think that Barack Obama invited each of us to come out and play. There is no way forward if we wait for our troubles to disappear. And we have to figure out a way to live together on this planet, and we can’t do that if we don’t work together to figure out how to make it happen. And I think the invitation was successful, because it was so genuine, so respectful, so humble, and so gracious.
What a moment, at a few minutes after 10pm, Chicago time last night, when the cat was out of the bag! When all the anxiety that had been building for so many weeks and months, suddenly dissolved, for so many of us, into joy, and tears, and celebration! And the cameras swept slowly from face to face, and it began to sink in! Like a tide slowly returning, at last, bringing the freshness of the sea, where everything began. A nearly-forgotten lightness, an easing of the breath…
I found myself unprepared for the strong emotions I felt, and I know I wasn’t alone. I recalled my conversation in Arizona a few years earlier, and wondered whether, perhaps, the ground had shifted under all of us.
Peace to you, in this dark season, turning…
Steve and Cornelia
** thanks to Caroline Casey, woof, woof!
LE VIN: New!
2007 Pinot Gris, Witters Vineyard, El Dorado The crop at Witters was a bit lighter in 2007 than in ‘06, so harvest was just a bit earlier. The resulting wine is similar aromatically, but perhaps a touch leaner. It’s got a great fresh nose of lemon curd and Anjou pear, and a stony texture on the palate, with a long, satisfying finish. Really versatile as aperitif or first course wine, it has the depth to suggest really nice drinking over several years.
2007 Heart Of Gold, Rome Vineyard, El Dorado 54% Grenache Blanc, 46% Vermentino
The decision to plant these two varieties on the east-facing side of the hill, on the south and west sides of which some of our best Syrah has grown (Wylie Vineyard) was purely intuitive; thus far, the wines they’ve produced, in both ‘07, and, now, ‘08, would suggest that this intuition was once again correct. These marvelous Southern varieties, grown in poor, rocky soil, are giving some of the most dramatic, riveting white wine I’ve ever worked with. They ripen nicely at low sugars, so the alcohol is moderate, and they offer really fine structure, spicy aromatics, and great, minerally expressiveness. Kiwi, starfruit, mango all seem to be at play in the aromas, there’s snappy, focussing acidity, both brightness and some weight on the palate, and the finish is both thirst-quenching and thirst-inducing, paradoxical, but just right, and lip-smacking good!
2005 Roussanne, Tablas Creek Vineyard, Paso Robles 2005 was the 2nd year we were able to buy a bit of Roussanne from Tablas Creek, and most of it went into our Shell And Bone White from that vintage, but we held aside enough to bottle just over 100 cases of Roussanne as a varietal. We topped the Roussanne barrels for a couple of months with Viognier from Rozet Vineyard, so there’s just over 1% Viognier in the blend, and it adds a pretty top note to the wine. It’s a medium-gold color, and the nose shows lots of the typical Roussanne honey and bees wax aromas, along with a decidedly minerally flint note, that gives a bit of smokiness, as well. It’s fat across the palate, though there’s something peachy and apricotty going on around the edges, and just enough acidity to keep things in focus. Nice textured finish. Yum.
2007 Bone-Jolly Gamay Noir, Witters Vineyard, El Dorado Each new season I work with Gamay, I think I become a little more attuned to the habits of this lovely grape on the vine, and I’ve been able to make better assessments of ripeness, better calls about when to pick. I also think that as the vines gain in age, the wine begins to carry a little more authority of flavor, the perfume gains a little more oomph, the tannins become just a bit more pleasing. In 2007 we got a real beauty from the grapes at Witters.
The color is a lovely, vibrant red, with a little blue still in its heart. Pretty, pretty, pure and deep floral and juicy nose of the sweetest fruit, a seamless amalgam of raspberry and mulberry, long and true, absolutely splendid! Marvelous, almost weightless structure on the palate, the flavors fanning out in perfect focus, lovely tannins, gorgeous finish. Wow!
2007 Porphyry Gamay Noir, Barsotti Ranch, El Dorado There’s a color granitic soil has, sometimes, a kind of purple-pink, associated with the name “porphyry.” There’s a portion of the Barsotti Ranch, east of Placerville, where soil like that can be found, and in that portion, in 2005, we were able to establish a planting of a couple acres of Gamay. Gamay and granite are old pals, much like Pinot Noir and limestone, Riesling and slate, white asparagus and sand, truffles and oak trees (gin and tonic, Abbott and Costello, … the list goes on). The best wines in the Beaujolais region in France seem to be inextricably linked to the granite-based soils in which they grow.
2007 offered us the first look at how Gamay in California granite might fare, and I think we may have struck the Mother Lode! The color is brilliant ruby, there’s the tender Gamay perfume, violets, framboise, a pepperiness, and a firm, minerally underpinning. The flavors are bright and fresh, alpine strawberry, crushed raspberry, in precise, crystalline focus across the palate. Breath-taking!
2005 Rocks And Gravel, California Red Wine, (Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre Our 2005 Rocks and Gravel has been regarded as perhaps our nicest ever Southern Rhone-inspired blend, and it’s now showing the benefit of a couple of years of bottle age, so it’s really drinking beautifully. There’s the great synergy that comes from combining these three varieties in a judicious manner, all the pretty fruit, the spiciness, the delicious sweet tannins. the smokiness, I could go on and on… It takes some Rocks and Gravel, baby, to make a solid Rhone!
2005 Parmelee-Hill Vineyard Syrah, Sonoma Valley Parmelee-Hill Vineyard has long been a source of good Syrah that we’ve used in both Rocks and Gravel, and in bottlings of California Syrah (also in the 2002 Shadow Syrah). And there have been a couple of years when the fruit has been really exceptional, and we’ve bottled a wine made exclusively from those grapes. The 2005 is the best of those.
It’s a very dark red, with purple at the rim. Startling, deep nose, earthy, peppery, very smoky (reminiscent of the smoke from burning leaves in Autumn). Pure, juicy flavors on entry, quite penetrating, yet nearly weightless. Really suave tannins. The overall impression is deceptively graceful; there is coiled power and persistence to the flavor and finish that belie the suppleness of the wine. The previous bottling of Parmelee-Hill was power from start to finish, the elegance it would eventually attain not readily apparent in its youth. A colleague referred to it once as the Mike Tyson of Syrah. By comparison the ’05 might be thought of as the Sugar Ray. You decide which one.
If you’d like to own any of these wines, please contact us at email@example.com