Weekly St. Helena Star Column

Wednesday, March 17, 2010



What makes St. Helena different? When the rain is pelting down; when the fire is blazing; when the book is riveting; it's only a few small steps into the coveted wine cellar--where one finds--not a booze closet--but a liquid scrapbook—corked and bottled.

Whitman said, "Never am I less alone than, than when alone." Wherever in the world I have lived, that has been the credo.

So when the day is done, and one sits—fire roaring--book in lap--(maybe at a younger age with something else in lap)-- is there anything more apropos than a bottle from one's own cellar?

Now I'm not talking about "A Parker rated, 98 with traces of plumb and raspberry-- boasting currant flavors, with silky tannins, a strong finish--unpretentious but audacious."

I'm talking about a label (sometimes hand printed) which can't help but bring up memories of neighbors.

It’s the law here. One never crosses another's threshold without a bottle of wine in hand.

It does wonders for one’s own personal cellar.

Whenever the ichor (google it) is uncorked, it is impossible to think of it as merely a container of fermented fruit.

Often it comes from someone's private vineyard—maybe only an acre or two--or is made by a local wine buff whose kid played little league with mine.

The wines aren't necessarily famous. Yet, each bottle has a story. And that’s where the poetry lies.

Tried a Casa Blanca? It may not be recorded in any anthologies, but it conjures up the best lil’ kids' Christmas Party at the White's House. Casa Piena? A full house—full of Super Bowl memories.

It's impossible to drink Chellini's Stoney Hill Chardonnay without remembering the night up there, we ruined that Ivy League Football Coach who came to sip wine, and ended up downing tequilas with us--tie askew--arms akimbo and repeating over and over again, "I looooove you guys."

Cabs' Cab brings back 1000 memories, not the least of which was sailing to Lipari and passing the belching Stomboli volcano in the middle of the night. Or being knocked down in a heap by a bamboo toting 450 lb. silverback gorilla in the Virunga Mountains of Rwanda.

Can't open a Far Niente without remembering Gil Nickle (after Jim Pop died) insisting that Maggie attend his black tie gala during wine auction week. Not necessary. Just nice.

A Lewelling Cab brings back thoughts of Dave tossing 3 TD passes against Calistoga, just as surely as a Trinchero Cab reminds me of the sting of snapping towels in the locker room during boys P.E.

For most, Beringer’s summons up caves and the Rhine House. To us, it's Freddie, deputized on Halloween--chasing us through the vineyards after we'd egged him and Ezz’s police car out in the gravel pits.

Krug not only brings back thoughts of when the Mondavi brothers both lived on the property and Marge would cook spaghetti, but how some years ago at "the hunt club" Janice and Mark taught our kids to fish.

Or Continuum? That windy day on Pritchard Hill when big Bob, a month before he died (and unable to speak) sat in his wheelchair and blessed with his eyes his kids’ extension of the legacy.

Domaine Depuy, Rambeau's Red, Maggie's Merlot, and many others bring back, private, select moments.

Clare Luce Abbey, Blankiet, Jones , Araujo , Staglin, Harlan—names which evoke private memories but their stories have been covered ad nauseam by the professionals.

Wine here never stands alone. It's always been produced by people--men like Chuck Carpy at Freemark, who coached us in baseball as his father had before him.

People like John Konsgaard whose dad was the finest jurist in the County. Judge's Zin, anyone?

How ‘bout Judge Snowden’s father, Wayne’s root beer—years before his family’s hillside cab?

Jim Pop's favorite accomplishment was being an original (albeit minor) partner in Freemark, learning at the feet of winemaker Brad Webb.

So many vineyards so little time.

Juice is only a small part of what goes into a bottle of wine. It truly has “personality” because it is made by people--people who actually live here, send children to schools here, work here and coach here. Can you separate the dancer from the dance? They really do put their soul into every bottle--it's not just wine writer hype.

And because they do, folks like me, never, ever drink alone.

(Next week: Wine as gift)

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