Incongruity

One of the more memorable scenes from Sideways has Miles, in his uniquely desultory fashion, scarfing down some ungodly fast food meal while pouring his prized 1961 Cheval Blanc (ironically, a blend of Cabernet Franc and—mon dieu!—Merlot) into a styrofoam cup. I’m sure many wine purists found the whole notion utterly incongruous, if not appalling. Like inviting a Scientologist to address the Prometheus Society .

On the other hand, there is the perspective of trying to make wine applicable to any situation, from the most meager meal to the most ornate banquet, from the most celebratory setting to the bleachers at a ball game. Many years ago, when I visited the Franzia plant in Manteca, I was compelled to wear an industrial hardhat throughout the tour,as if I were a blue collar construction manager. As Operations Manager Lou Quaglia bellied up to the tasting bar, looking more like Teamsters than wine connoisseurs, I commented, “you know, the day this image doesn’t seem like an anomaly is the day the California wine industry will have truly arrived.”

And therein lies my dilemma. Your West Coast Oenophile left the cozy confines of T.A.P.A.S. at Fort Mason last Saturday to attend A Single Night, Single Vineyards at C. Donatiello, which first required pedaling back up the hill to Pacific Heights, “recovering,” showering, changing, then driving to Sonoma. I, of course, had lingered far longer than anticipated the first tasting, but with the Healdsburg event scheduled to run until 10 pm, I figured I had plenty of time to mingle with the winemakers pouring there. Or so I thought.

Just slightly overshooting the most expedient exit off US 101 meant I arrived at the winery around 8:30 pm. Instantly, I was taken back twenty years, when this facility was known as Belvedere, where I had contracted my first professional bottling for Spectrum HoloByte Wines, a promotional label I developed for this software gaming legend. Any sense of serenity or nostalgia, however, was quickly dispelled, as the pounding rhythms from the DJ and the amplified, hyperkinetic exhortations of an auctioneer filled the amphitheater with a cacophony more reminiscent of a disco floor than a winery.

Now, I have no problem with an auction, especially if it’s for a worthwhile cause (the El Molino High School Agriculture Department). It’s just that I was ill-prepared for the evening to be on a preset schedule that limited the time the participating vineyards would be pouring. So, as the tasting portion of the evening gave way to the clamor and the gavel, I found I missed on the major impetus of Sostevinobile’s presence at this event—the chance to sample wine and mingle with the new generation of winemakers on hand.

My hostess for the evening could not have been more gracious in understanding my plight. Cailyn McCauley of Creative Furnace, the promotions firm who staged this tasting, set me up with a private tasting of the remaining wines on hand, including my own personal wine docent. Ambassador extraordinaire from Greg La Follette’s Tandem Winery, Simone Sequeira represents the kind of vibrant, young œnophile that Sostevinobile only wishes could constitute the dominant paradigm. Totally immersed in the marvels and details of the local wine industry, she guided me point by point through each of the wines that had been reserved for the wine-by-the-glass portion of the evening.

We commenced lightly, of course, with the inaugural 2009 Estate Pinot Grigio Russian River Valley from D & L Carinalli, truly a refreshing start to a late spring evening far more clement than recent nights in San Francisco had been. From there we moved onto a pair of Chardonnays, first the house brand, the 2009 Healdsburg Cellars Chardonnay (C. Dontiello’s holdover second label from its Belvedere phase) and a remarkable 2008 Chardonnay Russian River Valley from Graton Ridge, lush, heavy wine weighing in at 14.5% alcohol.

Many of my colleagues map out large, multi-winery tastings by color, white to pink to red, followed by dessert wines. Given the constraints of time, I tend to taste winery by winery, but may reevaluate this strategy as Sostevinobile nears the point of actual wine acquisitions. Thus noted, Simone and I moved onto a pair of rosé selections. Windsor Oaks prefers to label their extraction of Pinot Noir the 2008 Vin Gris, whereas Benovia made its presence known with their 2009 Rosé of Pinot Noir, both well-restrained and compelling wines that yearned for food complements (my nonetheless excellent grilled Portabello mushroom sandwich did not pair with these light wines).

Maybe I should have saved my sandwich for the trio of Pinots that followed. Porter Creek bills their fare as “Original Wines of Great Purity,” farming in accord Aurora certified organic practices, with a craft that was obvious from the first sip of their 2007 Estate Pinot Noir. Moshin Vineyards their usual aplomb with their 2007 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley, while Santa Rosa’s Ancient Oak Cellars offered their offshoot 2008 47 Friends Pinot Noir.

The west side of Sonoma also excels at Zinfandel, as I have documented numerous times in this blog. Even though I had previously sampled the 2006 Estate Zinfandel from Ottimino at ZAP this past January, it somehow tasted better in this limited forum. And Matrix Winery, part of Diane Wilson’s burgeoning conglomerate, showed nicely with their 2007 Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley.
Of course, the tasting did require a couple of atypical wines for the AVA. I regret that I missed out on the 2008 Arneis Russian River Valley that Seghesio poured earlier in the evening, but I was treated to the enormously satisfying 2006 Sangiovese Alegría Vineyards that Acorn Winery produced from a field blend of seven different Sangiovese clones, along with 1% each of Canaiolo and Mammolo. Not to be outmixed, Foppiano, a winery established in 1896, the year my grandfather was born in Avellino, offered its own occasional blend, the Lot 96 Bin 002, a proprietary red wine made from 28% Sangiovese, 19% Petite Sirah, 17% Zinfandel, 14% Carignane, 10% Merlot, 9% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 3% Cabernet Franc.

As the evening wound down, Cailyn introduced me to one of the up & coming winemakers featured earlier in the evening. Dominic Foppoli and I exchanged a few pleasantries in Italian while we sipped on his 2007 Reserve Chardonnay Russian River Valley, a wine completely devoid of oak and solely expressive of its grape. An exceptional wine, this vinification is clearly a standard for the new generation of Chardonnay in California (though I will unabashedly aver that a well-crafted, oaky Chard like the Graft Ridge I had sampled earlier in the evening, maintains its rightful place, as well).

One day in the next few months, I will attain the distinction of having maintained a beard for twice as long as I’ve “faced” the world with a pre-hirsute visage. This milestone may well have placed me at diametric odds with the majority of the crowd at A Single Night, Single Vineyards. Clearly this evening’s gathering focused on the age bracket pop sociologists term “the Millennials,” the next cadre of wine drinkers who portend to become the mainstay of Sostevinobile’s future clientele, and while there is a universality to wine that transcends generational differences, certain cultural trends and philosophical adherences stand beyond my ability (or willingness) to incorporate into my own lifestyle. “Why have sex when you can have virtual sex?” may be too strident a condemnation of social networking, but most Baby Boomers will catch my drift.

To put this matter another way, let me defer to Katey Bacigalupi of John Tyler Wines, whom I’ve previously cited in this blog. As she told The Press Democrat, “You don’t necessarily have to be a millennial to know a millennial as a human being, but when it comes to more in-depth topics like buying habits, preferences, music choices, et cetera, it definitely helps. I think one of the things that defines our generation much more than any other is technology and how we use it. Information is so much more available and constant than it ever has been before.”

Point well taken, and let me be unequivocal in stating that Sostevinobile will address the particular needs and wants of this demographic—along with the comfort and service of all our customers—as a paramount consideration as we develop our operations, but nonetheless this event posed an interesting paradox.

Succinctly put, the portion of the evening I attended struck me as a bit antithetical, a pulsating, near-deafening dance scene I would normally associate with Margaritas and shots of Jägermeister, more akin to a Saturday afternoon mob along the Esplanade in Capitola than a wine gathering in Sonoma. But wherein lies the resolution? Is it the desire to make the crowd more amenable to the conventional tenor of the wine world or is it to make wine more appealing to a broader range of events and celebrations? Is there a happy medium?

For now, I see no easy answer. An event like A Single Night, Single Vineyards or anything that opens up the world of wine to more people ought to be seen as an asset, and (from the standpoint of enlightened self-interest) certainly a trend Sostevinobile should see fit to embrace. And while the merger of two such disparate elements may not rise to the level of a dialectic, I am ever-mindful that the unequaled largesse that the late Sidney Frank bestowed on my graduate institute derived from his success in mass-marketing frozen shots of the above-mentioned Jäger. 
I know I will still be wrestling with these inherent contradictions for months to come. But still, wine at 120 dB? An utter incongruity.

1 thought on “Incongruity

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