Vol. 1 No. 20 …oh God…not another wine book!

Yes, friends, sad but true. I am working on a book ‘related’ to wine but more about the people who make it. In France, they are called ‘vignerons’ or tenders of the vines…did you know: there is no word for winemaker in France.

If one has an ego, and has made wine they might object, but the truth be known, wine is agriculture, even though it is known as the ‘wine industry’. Don’t take TB’s word for that…he was told that 35 years ago by the late, great Joe Heitz and if anyone want argue that, I would propose that he knew more about grapes, wine, and winemaking than most of the people on the planet.

My first experience with wine was…64 years ago…wait a minute, TB, you are only 70 (70-1/2 to the IRS unfortunately). It’s true: it was Christmas Day at my uncle’s house for our family dinner, my birthday was the next day. It had been decided that I should have a small ‘taste’ of wine in a glass and that is how my education in vino began. It was, not coincidentally, the first time I got drunk! It’s true! My dad was pouring and since I had finished the thimbleful of wine in my glass and he wasn’t paying attention…as they say, to the brim! I must have thought it was pretty good because all of a sudden my uncle looked at me and my eyes were rolling. Quietly, he got up and took me for a walk around the block – twice. By the time I got back I was okay…I didn’t recall the details but him taking me for a walk is still in my memory.

That implies that I now have 64 years of experience under my belt…well, sort of with a more or less imposed sabbatical from 6 to 18. When I was 20 I was at a training school at the Mare Island Naval Shipyard in Vallejo, CA. On weekends, we had two choices, more or less: go north for wine tasting in Napa Valley, or south to San Francisco. When the direction was north it wasn’t as much to admire the attributes of wine as to get a buzz…and it didn’t cost anything.

But I really became interested after I got married in 1969 – 46 years ago and counting. I had some incredible adventures tasting wine…we went to the new Robert Mondavi Winery in Oakville, the same year we got married…it was incredible then…against the other old buildings…and note that they were not right on top of each other but spread out. I knew nothing about the Silverado Trail side of the valley, Howell Mountain, Mayacamas Mountains, Sonoma, Etc. Carneros? What was that? …there was nothing there. By the way, I grew up in L.A. (Santa Monica), and recall the old Virginia Dare winery out by Ontario…not the stuff that memories are made of, just sweet (and not in a good way).

Okay, now you have some background, so you probably think I am going to tell you what you should and should not be drinking, that what I like is what you, dear reader should race down to the nearest liquor store or wine shop and stock up on – even if you don’t like it. That isn’t going to happen, because you are your own best wine expert, which could change if you decided you were interested in learning more and trying other wines so you can enjoy it more.

Not that you have to…you could sit back and drink Two Buck Chuck, which is more like $4 most places as the states make them pay more…like upchucking…sorry, couldn’t resist. No,I am going to mention wineries in the course of discussing the people who make them, and the wines they produce, and by virtue of the fact that I am writing about them you will know that I like them.

But as I travel from state to state (I already wrote my first write-up on a local winery here in Minnesota named Schram, if had had ‘sburg’ on the end of it many of you would recognize it immediately), but, no, this is a young couple I met and their passion captivated my interest. They have gone ‘all in’ in this venture and it shows. There are, I am sure, several (at least) like them in other areas of the country that we do not think of as ‘wine states’. Factoid: wine is made in ALL 50 states), I find that some of the wines can be pretty good and they are proud of their efforts.

There are a growing number of angry wine writers/critics out there. What are they angry about? About you getting ‘ripped off’ by paying more than $20 a bottle of wine as one blogger says. An another author says the same thing, in fact, he says he doesn’t want to see the winery, meet the winemaker, just pour it in my glass and I will decide. So much for the beauty and social benefits to wine. Hey, if I want to pay $50 for a bottle, I’ll do it…admittedly not often, but at least I will get a well-made wine with character, not some conglomeration from California’s Central Valley, that has no major flaws but what is it anyway?

By the way, Fred Franzia, head of Bronco Wines, makers of Charles Shaw, aka Two-buck Chuck. He produces 3,000,000 bottles a year, so yes, if he can make $1 a bottle, he should be happy. In fact, he says, “you should never have to pay more than $10 for a bottle of wine.” Hey, Fred, I get you…but I’m surprised you don’t cap it at $5…or is that a sign that a price increase is coming?

Now you have seen what put the focus of the book on the people behind the label…they are hardworking ‘farmers’. Furthermore, these are people I met years ago and have followed, and was pleased that they are willing to be interviewed for the book, some are friends, others merely acquaintances. The only exceptions are the people in other wine areas besides California, Oregon, and Washington.

I will have two or three people in each wine area. Are they the best? Some are, others are right up there, but all produce high quality wines. Hopefully, you will avoid the ‘$20 tops’ trap. On the other hand, I don’t believe there is a wine made worth more than $100. But wait, if you have the money, go for it. But the prices of the $1,000 and more wines are being driven more by speculators as most of this wine will never be drunk but traded like baseball cards…hey, didn’t that bubble burst?

Don’t take my word for this. Did you know that the second biggest tourist attraction in America – all of America – Napa Valley! Yep, right behind Disneyland, and from when I first went there and there was just a small motel in Rutherford (I believe), there are several and you can expect to pay as much as $1,000 a night – perhaps more to stay there. That means there are a lot of potential DUI’s going elsewhere after a day of tasting and many don’t have a designated driver at the wheel.

The biggest wine event in America, I believe, is the Napa Valley Wine Auction, where people can bid up others wines as they bid up theirs. What the hey? It’s all for charity. The most expensive bottle of wine sold there was a Jeroboam of Screaming Eagle cabernet produced by Heidi Barrett, wife of Bo Barrett, owner of Chateau Montelena. It sold for…drumroll please…$500,000, or $22,944 for a four-ounce glass. When told it sold for that price, Heidi said she was pleased, but added, “It’s wild, you drink it, and it’s gone. My brain doesn’t get it” That sums up TB’s feelings on expensive bottles but he was lucky enough to have been able to try many of the great wines before they reached those heights.

So what is a fair price for a wine? What you, winelover, are willing to pay for it, and if you enjoy it, who cares what Trader Bill or any wine expert says? It’s your life…your money…enjoy!

Now you have a brief synopsis of what the book is all about…don’t tell anyone else and let them steal TB’s idea. On second thought, maybe you should so I can sue them and be rich! Really Rich!


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