(I know I should have saved today’s heading for tomorrow, but I ran out of ideas)
She was slim and petite. Near waist-length, blondish hair with freckles. Kinda reminded me of a girl I had a semi-crush on in college, when I was nineteen. We never got much beyond the kissy phase, even though she gave me her phone number. First I got the roommate. Then the answering box. Then the roommate. Then three more answering boxes, followed by the “you caught me just as I was running out the door. Can I call you back later?” Alas, she never did. But she was my very first ZAP.
I left grad school and drove back to California, determined to carve a niche for myself as a playwright. Thought I could support myself as a starving artist, but managed to starve better than I arted. Somewhere down the line, I reassessed my strategy and began to believe that the field of advertising would be my temporary salvation, an unstructured corporate haven where the 30- & 60-second spots I’d write for TV and radio commercials would serve as creative calisthenics, little snippets of dialogue that kept me in tip-top form for the dramatic satires I would crank out after work. That inexorable cesspool of exploitation known as freelancing and the intermittent assignments writing brochures and piddly little newspaper ads provided none of that. Thanks ever-so-much for giving me the chance you promised, Jeff.
Somewhere along the way, a few of my fellow creatives turned me onto improvisational comedy and the workshop Jim Cranna ran in Fort Mason on Saturday afternoons. I can‘t say I ever really got the hold of it—public performance is still something that daunts me. But it was a good exercise that forced me into roles that had not been predetermined, a radical departure from how I functioned as a writer (dramatic and commercial), where I was the puppetmaster, proscribing each and every word my characters would utter.
Back in 1992, folks from the Improv Workshop used to gather afterwards at a dive-ish bar called Paul’s Saloon. Despite a striking resemblance, the proprietor, Paul, was a most unSanta-like fellow and one of the surliest barkeeps of his day (a few years later, he sold the business and sailed off on a transpacific schooner, where it was rumored that he was inadvertently harpooned by a Japanese whaling expedition). On other evenings, different ensembles from the class performed as improv troupes, including Women Who Laugh Too Much (and the Men Who Crack Them Up), who had invited me up to sing my incendiary Battle Hymn of the Republicans during the first Gulf War.
On a warm, dry Saturday early that year, my above-mentioned friend and I finished the class and se
t out to join the others at Paul’s. As we passed by the window of the rather compact meeting room at the head of Fort Mason’s Building A, we noticed a small gathering of folks and a scattering of tables with stations of red wine. So, rather than partake in the rounds of watery pilsners and abusive service, we nonchalantly slipped into what turned out to be the first ZAP festival.*
I swear this was the ONLY time I ever attended ZAP without legitimate credentials! But Your West Coast Oenophile has happily enjoyed the trade and public tastings ever since, as this annual convention has grown from an intimate gathering to the overwhelming spectacle it has become today. The 18th Annual ZAP Grand Festival this past Saturday, now occupying two entire exhibition halls on Fort Mason’s piers, was nothing short of what I have come to expect. Making Sostevinobile’s first public pitch to the wine industry, my partner David Latimer and I visited with more wineries than I can enumerate, yet still only managed to cover a minor portion of the presenters during our nearly six hours there.
At any of the major tastings like ZAP (Rhône Rangers, Pinot Days, Family Winemakers, etc.), I strive to skip over those wineries with which I am already well familiar—in this instance, Ridge, Rosenblum, Ravenswood—and focus on ones that are new either to the festival or to me. In years past, this approach has allowed to stumble upon the unreleased forays into Zinfandel by the inestimable Grebennikoff Vineyards or to discover what was then a ramshackle Healdsburg operation known as Wilson. This year had no shortage of surprises, either, including Brown Estate, D-Cubed, Charter Oak and Dick Arrowood’s new Amapola Creek.
Of course, there are time-honored friends, like Paul Tresetti, whose eponymous wine shop/restaurant was my salvation during my Year in Exile to the greater Modesto metropolitan area, as well as wineries like Starry Night and Pezzi King, whose bottles already occupy a significant portion of my collection. And of course, there are the must-tastes, like Seghesio and Turley, just because…
Turley brought along their 2006 Hayne Vineyard Zinfandel, which earned one of the two I am awarding. The other went to GiaDomella, an amazing discovery from a few years back, whose 2006 Reserve Old Vine Zinfandel, seemed to be the consensus favorite among all with whom I compared notes.
And so another ZAP Grand Festival has come and gone, leaving behind pleasant aftertastes and pleasant memories all around. A few years ago, my original partner-in-crime reappeared, having had departed for a teaching stint in Maine, if recollection serves me right. She was couch-surfing somewhere in the City and gave me a number where I could reach her. I gave it my best shot, one or two or a dozen times, but never managed to connect again. Today, even Google’s mighty search offers no response, and so I ask: “whither Deborah Homan?”
*I may be mistaken, but I thought ZAP originally stood for Zinfandel Aficionados and Producers.