I Started Out on Burgundy
The last time I was in New York was approximately a year ago; I go every March to pour wine at the Spring Tasting held by my distributor there. It’s a bustling, hectic event, featuring several hundred of the highest-powered wine retailers and sommeliers in the metropolitan New York area in attendance. Dozens of winemakers also show up, from California, France, Italy, Spain, and nearly anywhere that good wine is grown. For the last several years the tasting has taken place at the World Trade Center, and was, if I recall correctly, in the North Tower, on the 106th floor.
The first time I went to WTC, there was so much fog that it was difficult to make out anything through the windows, until the end of the tasting, when, suddenly, I could see the Statue of Liberty. On subsequent visits, both of them, the views were heart-stopping.
Since I’m given to a certain amount of acrophobia, standing at those windows held its share of fright for me. There was some primitive part of me that was certain it wasn’t safe to be there. I’m sure it was a not-uncommon reaction.
Now, after what has occurred, the remembering of those times, of being in that place, have become something like hard jewels in my memory; I can’t take my eyes off them, and yet it’s grievous and painful to look.
Cornelia asked me a few days ago how I was feeling about going back to New York. Somehow I’d managed not to think about it — we humans are so good at that — and, of course, ever since she asked, it’s nearly all I can think about. That and the flying; this trip is my first by air since September 10th, and I know that carries with it a good deal of trepidation (most of it at a very primitive level. There are some primitive responses we haven’t learned to cut off, for reasons all too plain.).
I can’t say I know New York well. I haven’t spent more than two or three months on the ground there over the course of perhaps 17 or 18 trips, spanning 18 years. I have some friends there, mostly in the restaurant and wine businesses. Cornelia’s nephew and in-laws live there. My daughter’s best friend from high school went to college there.
I know a bunch of great places to eat. I know some wonderful galleries, and, of course, I love the museums. I’ve been to a few plays — saw “Proof” before it won the Pulitzer.
I’ve walked all over Manhattan, mostly from Central Park down. Walked from the Staten Island Ferry up to Union Square. I’ve been an enthusiastic tourist, as time has permitted.
New York has been welcoming to me, maybe for the wine. Maybe just because it’s got a big heart, and a big spirit. There’s some weight to carry in the name of being the Main Place, and New York dances under that weight as though it were merely its own skin.
Last night I watched the program put together from video footage shot by Jules and Gedeon, the French documentarists, of the events of 11 September, and watched New York engage the horrifying events of that day — watched it burn, watched it bend and bleed, watched it weep, and watched it rise. The experience took me by surprise. I knew what was coming, while watching people who, at the time, had no way of knowing. The temptation was strong to just turn it off — not to put myself through it. But I felt, in some odd way, as if I held some responsibility to watch over them, to try to see them through the chaos and the smoke, and the terror, to some kind of safety. It was most fortunate, to say the least, that all the firefighters from the station about which the film was being made survived the events of the day, and were able to participate in the subsequent search and rescue efforts in the days following.
If we want to be, we are, all of us, New Yorkers. It was us we watched, struggling to survive, fighting to save what we could, weeping for the loss of what we couldn’t. That’s why it hurt so bad. How do I feel about going to New York again? I guess I almost feel like I never left.
Almost exactly 10 years ago I orchestrated, with the considerable assistance of my very forward-thinking distributor in New York, a special tasting and dinner at Montrachet, in lower Manhattan. I invited roughly two dozen of the most prominent restaurant and retail wine buyers in the city to taste a flight of 1989 Chateauneuf-du-Papes, and included in the flight the 1989 Edmunds St.John Les Côtes Sauvages. ’89 was an extraordinarily fine year in Chateauneuf; some of you may recall that in ’91 or ’92 the 1989 Chateau de Beaucastel was the #1 wine in the Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of the Year. The lineup included, in addition to Beaucastel, Vieux Telegraphe, Rayas, Vieux Donjon, and Clos des Papes. Daniel Johnnes, Montrachet’s manager and sommelier par excellence, said to me quietly, as the wines were being poured from bottles enclosed in numbered brown paper sacks, “I gotta hand it to you, man; it takes some big cojones to do something like this.”
My distributor had billed it as a taste-off — a kind of organoleptic High Noon. When the guests were seated, I explained, instead, that I felt I’d had such terrific grapes to work with in ’89 that I’d been able to produce a wine that I felt belonged at the same table with the aforementioned French wines, and I wanted to see if they had a similar feeling about it.
After the tasters had worked their way through the wines, and written their thoughts, Daniel began to remove the bags from each wine, in the order they’d been poured. It happened that the Les Cotes Sauvages was the first wine poured in the flight, and when the bottle emerged from the bag, the collective gasp from the assembled tasters was explosive. I hear several people exclaim, “Holy S–t! I thought it was the Beaucastel.
I felt like Billy the Kid.
I don’t feel like that anymore though. (New York doesn’t either) But I’m still trying to catch lightning in a bottle, and I have to say the 2000 Rocks and Gravel is lighting ’em up from zero to nine. As successful as Rocks and Gravel has been thus far, I think everyone will be pretty surprised when they taste the 2000 version. I can’t afford to do the kind of tasting described above, now, but I’m proud to say I feel like I’ve gotten closer to accomplishing something I’ve been striving toward for over 17 years.
I don’t remember, in 30 years in the business, another California wine with this kind of perfume. Not seeing the label, there’s a very strong chance you’d swear it was from someplace in the Vaucluse, not too far from the Ouveze River. West Side of Paso Robles would be closer to the truth, except there’s a bunch of it from Ukiah, and some from near Placerville, too. (My personal theory is that it’s the Paso stuff did the trick.) For more details, check out the website: www.edmundsstjohn.com, and click on The Wines.
As the old blues song says:
Takes some rocks and gravel, baby
To make a solid Rhône, yeah, a solid Rhône…
Or something like that…
all my best