Whiskey Before Breakfast
(And other songs of the itinerant…)
So many times when I go out on the road to sell wine it means rising in darkness to catch a flight in order to reach my destination by dinnertime, even if it’s only from Oakland to Columbus, Ohio. I made exactly such a journey a few weeks back, part of the Spring Migrations that send vintners hither and yon in search of depletions, increased market share, and enhanced balance sheets. Since Columbus isn’t a major airline hub, getting there from here means at least one plane-change, (It could be worse; when I went to St. Louis in early March, it was by way of Los Angeles and Albuquerque.) so I had a three and a half hour layover in Las Vegas, and the prospect of falling asleep that night hearing “WHEEL–OF–FORTUNE!!!!!” echoing through my addled brain.
But I picked up my rental car at the Columbus Airport and scooted on in to the Worthington Inn without a hitch, and things started really looking up. After tucking my things safely into my room, and splashing some cold water on my face, I met Mike Lacey (one of the terrific sales people that work for my Ohio distributor, Vintner Select) in the bar, along with Kevin and Alana, proprietors of Alana’s, one of the bright lights of fine dining in the midwest, and the dynamic new manager of the inn, Wade Greaham. We relaxed over drinks and talked about music, before heading on into the dining room.
The Worthington Inn, itself, is a great place to eat, as we would be reminded; everything that came to the table was first-rate. Even though it was a Monday night during the slowest time of year, the kitchen was paying attention and doing it right. We ordered some shared appetizers, focused around things from the sea, and tasted our new 2004 Pinot Grigio, one of a couple of samples I’d carried with me. The wine had the effect I’d thought it would probably have, which is to say that the bottle was 2/3 empty in nothing flat, and Mike had to beg the group of us not to finish it, so he could show it to a few accounts the next day. The 2004 Pinc Froid, our rosé from Counoise and Grenache, fared pretty much the same way. Good restaurant people, who love wine, usually are less interested in “great wine” or “serious wine” than they are in wines that really make food taste better, that stimulate the appetite, that seductively invite another taste, and still another, and both of these two wines do just that. They’re low in alcohol, have mouth-watering acidity, and you can’t beat them with a stick! If we’d had any sense we probably would have stopped after the appetizer course, but there were more wines to taste, after all.
Well, as you might imagine, the next morning things got started a bit slowly, but we made it around Columbus with enough of those samples, still showing nicely after gassing them overnight with nitrogen, and refrigerating them, to impress lots of folks, and sell plenty of the stuff. The day in Columbus ended up with a visit to Dave McMahon, at the Refectory, a venerable French restaurant that’s always done well with our wines. As he has so thoughtfully done a couple of times before, Dave had a guitar for me to play when we got there. Not just that, but he had a friend there, one Craig Goodwin, a really GOOD guitar player, so we could hang out and jam a little bit. Before we tasted any wine, Craig picked up his guitar, an old 50’s era Gibson, and played “Flowers of Edinburgh” so beautifully I had tears spilling down my cheeks, and shivers running up and down my back. After tasting, we both picked up instruments, and, as I played through a few of my songs, Craig played along on lead like he’d known the songs before I even showed up. Turns out he’s a pro, plays in a pretty well-known local group (Phil Dirt and the Dozers) that does old rock and pop stuff as good as anybody. Now that’s the kind of sales call that keeps me going! Thanks, Dave!
Next it was off to Yellow Springs for dinner at Winds Cafe, and a visit with the adjoining wine shop where the Pinot Grigio and Pinc Froid were both big hits again, and I got a chance to drink (because they still had a bit of it to sell) the 2002 Bone-Jolly, which I’d sold out of back in December of ’03. It’s still delicious, has gained a bit of complexity, and should be nice drinking for another three or four years (in case anyone’s been distracted enough to still have some.) The next morning I was escorted through the Glen, a wonderful forested park surrounding a spectacular limestone gorge/creek in Yellow Springs, by Kim, the Winds’ marvelous chef. (Kim and I became good friends last Fall, when she stayed at our house in Berkeley while she did a week’s internship at Chez Panisse.) If you ever find yourself in Yellow Springs, don’t miss it; it’s a magical place.
The next couple of days took me through Dayton, then down to Cincinnati, across the Ohio and down to Louisville. In Cincinnati, on Wednesday evening, I had the pleasure of dining at Boca, one of Cincinnati’s rising-star eateries, and enjoying the lovely things they do with wild boar. Next day in Louisville I did a lunch-tasting at Lily’s, definitely one of the top joints in town, and a dinner at 211 Clover, an old friend and supporter of ESJ for quite a few years, now. Friday morning we were up early for a very fast ride (featuring the latest album from Steve Earle, which I loved) back to my distributors’ headquarters, a bit north of Cincinnati, for a sales meeting, then back down to Lexington, with Pat Wylie, for a winemaker dinner at Harvest (another great meal). I spent the night at the Gratz Park Inn, where the beds are Tempur-Pedic, the best way to wrap up a sales trip on which I slept in a different bed each night.
Saturday morning (almost noon, actually) Pat picked me up, and after an espresso, we drove to Midway, under a blustery wet sky, to visit Bill at his newly re-located grog-shop-cum-bistro, known as Bacchus, where I’d done a tasting in February of ’04, after a feast at the Holly Hill Inn. Bill regularly has wine-tasting on Saturday, and, for some reason his featured supplier had cancelled this day, so he’d decided to offer, instead, a special cognac, and a single-barrel rye whiskey, for tasting. I’d never had rye before, and though I’m not especially fond of American whiskies, I’m curious by nature, especially about hand-crafted products from producers who are devoted to what they make. I hesitated to taste, at first, since I’d, as yet, had nothing to eat this day. Then I remembered the lovely old fiddle-tune “Whiskey Before Breakfast,” and my reservations vanished. I sipped at it for several minutes, enjoying the warmth of the aromas, and the delicacy of its texture. I swallowed perhaps a quarter of an ounce. Another of Bill’s customers, clad in bib overalls, and sporting whiskers that reached his ample waist, poured himself a good sized shot and downed it in a single gulp. “OOOH, say; that’s tasty!” he whispered, to no one in particular.
On the way to the Louisville airport Pat made a stop to place a bet on a good horse, and then, before I knew it, I was back in Las Vegas, waiting for my ride home, as I listened to that familiar refrain: “WHEEL–OF–FORTUNE!!!”
Since there’s apparently not much rest available for the wicked, I’d no sooner landed in Oakland, or so it seemed, than I was taking off again, this time for Noo Yawk, the big Pomo. My gracious distributor, one David Bowler, took me to his place in the Bronx and grilled up some steaks. We drank some really good Cornas from Trollat (sorry, I’ve forgotten the vintage, already.) Then we headed into the basement to make some music. It was great playing with David; he’s got a spirit that’s all too rare, these days. And he had a friend over who played some really nice harmonica, and another friend who sings really nicely, and–well damn, it was a fine time. I only wish I could do this AT LEAST once a week. (The real reason for my visit was the trade tasting that happened the next day, down at the Tribeca Grill, and the chance to reconnect with some of the most astute and savvy wine people in the country, some of whom also have become old friends. But this trip was a blitz, and I probably spent more of it on airplanes than I did on the ground. Par for the course, sometimes.)
Back a week now, and, day after tomorrow, I’m off to St. Louis for a trade and public tasting Sunday, then on to Chicago for a trade tasting, then–back home to try to get things squared away, move-wise. Maybe if we can just keep the songs coming, everything else will just fall into place. Stay tuned!
“Weepin like a willow, moanin like a dove;
I been to the valley below, been followin the stars up above,
And it seems like everywhere I go, I can never get enough…”
(Wildfire, copyright © 2004)