Sophie's Glass


New Rules.

New Rule: Expect it to take 2-3 days longer than usual to accomplish the most basic tasks … like scooping the cat box. Seriously. Put it on the to-do list Tuesday, get it done Friday.

The other day I went to see a customer. Strapped to my chest in a Baby Bjorn, my kid, J, now 20 pounds, roughly the weight of half a case, kicked his feet against my quads as I lugged my wine bag up the stairs. My left knee rebelled. It does that regularly now, pregnancy having taken five years off my leg-life. It’s ok. They were bound to give out at some point, and J’s worth a little knee pain. He’s a peach.

“That must be hard” my customer commented as I hoisted the bag up onto a stool in order to reach inside without bending over. I immediately thought of an afternoon in the summer of 2017. It was about a million degrees out, which means a million and ten inside the subway station. I was waiting for the downtown 6 train at Union Square with 9 open bottles. Every article of clothing was soaked with sweat. “Honestly” I told her “repping in New York was so physically hard, that this doesn’t feel so bad.”

We began to taste. Every so often I’d notice that she was making google-y eyes at J, who’d occasionally try to grab my glass. Accessing the spittoon without spitting on J’s head required minor neck acrobatics.

That day I felt out of practice, my brain a little rusty. Descriptors and factoids, normally at my beck and call, are buried a little deeper than usual these days. Fortunately we’d just had a zoom meeting with Alberto from Marziano Abbona, and so I had some material on the estate at the ready. “Garombello” is a vin de soif style Nebbiolo. Even with a relatively short maceration, no oak, and exuberant, floral aromas, it’s still quite structured. I’ve loved reconnecting with this producer after many years.

I don’t usually think of Nebbiolo as a pizza wine, but this was sensational with our homemade margarita.

By the end of the tasting, J was beginning to fuss in spite of the constant bouncing and swaying that become second nature to every parent trying to keep a baby entertained as they hold an adult conversation.

Between J’s birth and the pandemic, my life has changed dramatically since January. It’s as though I’m in the midst of a slow yet radical transformation.

Here’s what life is like now: I wake up at 6am. I feed J, then make lunch for papa. Sometimes I snatch a few minutes to binge-read The New York Times. The news is usually bad, so it’s probably better for my mental health when I don’t get those few minutes. Long gone are the leisurely mornings with a book. Then I clean the kitchen and check my email while J bounces and giggles. I often sing to him at the same time: Patsy Cline, Aretha Franklin, Gershwin, The Beatles. You should definitely never hear my baby adaptation of “If I Were a Rich Man” from Fiddler on the Roof. I sip some coffee, which has overtaken wine as my favorite beverage. Coffee and wine were always battling for the title. Coffee won definitively when I began to get 70% of the sleep I require to function well. Obviously I still love wine, but I need uppers more than downers these days.

I’ve been ordering from Olympia Coffee in Washington. Their beans are amazing.

Speaking of wine and coffee, both taste better than they did while I was pregnant. This dawned on me sipping 2018 Division-Villages Gamay Rosé. It was a balmy evening in January, the day my in-laws left after a week long visit. They’d come shortly after J was born to help us. Both baby and papa were asleep. The house was quiet for the first time in awhile. I sat outside on our back porch watching an anemic winter sunset, looking out at the leafless trees. The wine was fresh, zesty, and silken, like strawberries and cream. I’ve tasted this wine many times, and there was no pressure to dissect its numerous charms. I just drank and relished every sip.

“I’ve waited nine months for this.”

After the coffee injection, and my first round of “housewife” duties, J gets drowsy, and I get exercise: rowing, running up and down the driveway if my legs allow it. I do what I can, and it’s enough to keep me sane. I almost always listen to The Rachel Maddow Show, which does nothing for my overall state of mind, but she’s a fantastic journalist I’ve no plans to give up the habit.

The day descends into chaos around 10am when J wakes up, and emails begin to roll in. Working with J is a constant juggling act. There are usually at minimum three balls in the air: baby, emails, household tasks. It’s a level of multitasking that calls to mind my busiest evenings as a line cook. The pandemic has curtailed business enough that I can usually keep the balls in the air. This is a bad thing, don’t get me wrong. But if we were doing a normal level of business, the balls would definitely be on the floor.

When I say “emails” and “work”, I’m not just referring to my job. The future is incredibly uncertain right now. My family is moving to Saxapahaw next year where we can live cheaply, and grow our own food. I have a lot of work to do to make the house habitable. Every day, it seems, there are emails pertaining to this project. Yes, my parents’ house is, once again, towering over my daily life like the ghosts of Christmas past and future rolled into one old, ramshackle albatross. Too much metaphor? Certainly. A therapist could dissect my ambivalence about moving back to my childhood home after 20 years, but therapy isn’t a luxury I can afford right now.

Between 10am when the juggling begins, and 4pm when papa gets home from work, the game plan is always the same: keep J entertained while getting shit done and not losing my mind. Some days I run deliveries; others I run samples to accounts. I’ve had a few tastings, and I always enjoy them because, even with J along and wearing a mask, I feel like my old self.

Submitted without comment. This wine is sensational.

For the most part wine occupies the same space it used to: a thing of beauty that brings delicious respite at the end of the day. This bottle of Ruppert-Leroy Martin Fontaine was incredible. The wine took me to my spiritual homes in France: Champagne and the Jura. Perhaps only Martin Fontaine could so clearly evoke both places. Naturally made, cool climate, oxidative Chardonnay grown on limestone is a particular flavor. My old life was so close and palpable as I sipped the wine that I could think of nothing else.

label don’t lie.

I wish I could say that relief comes when papa gets home, but it doesn’t. He needs at least an hour to clean the grime off and decompress. Relief comes around 5. I open my computer and tend to more emails and orders. We’ve slipped into the habit of watching tv together in the evening. It’s not ideal, but it’s the easiest way to relax. Right now we’re watching a show called “Burn Notice”. J likes it. There are lots of explosions. We were good cooks before J was born, and we’re even better now. One of us cooks while the other watches the babe. We eat together around 9pm, after he’s asleep. I’m always starving by then, but it’s better to go hungry for a couple of hours and spend some adult time with my dude.

There are a two things I do virtually every day that bring an incredible amount of joy, moments that fill my heart with love of a texture, tenor, and quality I couldn’t have imagined before. In the morning I walk down the driveway with J in my arms to look at the cows grazing in our neighbor’s pasture. J enjoys being outside, and I learned early on that taking him out is a good way to calm him down. In the evening, I strap him to my belly and we water the garden. Summer is here and the air is heavy. The frogs and mosquitos are out, and the tomato patch has that fuzzy, geranium, tomato leaf smell. The sun is big, red, and low hanging. Somewhere nearby a redneck rides his lawnmower.

My piano has been collecting dust for months, and my pandemic short story sits, essentially unwritten but for the first five pages. I’m trying to read “Les Trois Mousquetaires” but I can barely make it through a page or two without falling asleep. Yet in some ways the catastrophes of this year have made me more the parent I want to be: a parent who straps the babe to her body and charges out into the world. It’s a version of parenthood that reminds me of my childhood: cloth diapers, carrots simmered in cast iron rather than mush out of a jar, no daycare, plants, pets, and bugs rather than endless plastic toys and metallic tunes on a screen.

You know how it is: count blessings, feel frustrated, repeat.


One of my original mentors in the wine business is André Tamers of De Maison Selections. Salesmanship and scholarship find a fine balance in André, who educates about wines as skillfully as he selects them. I cut my teeth on André’s Spanish portfolio in the mid-2000s, then continued my romance with Spanish wine in New York selling Jose Pastor Selections (another fantastic portfolio) in 2016 and 2017. I claim no particular expertise in the realm of Spanish wine, but Spain is clearly producing some very interesting juice these days. If anything, being more amateur than expert liberates me to love freely and without prejudice.

My new employer Haw River Wine Man is André’s North Carolina distributor, and so I’m reconnecting with a book that has long been dear to my heart. Since I started with Haw River, André has hosted two master classes at his office, the first on Galicia and Rioja, the second on Sherry. Interspersed with my personal musings, you will find photos and captions of the wines that struck me over the course of these two seminars.

50-year-old-vine Albariño grown on decomposing granite from Gerardo Méndez of Do Ferreiro. The site is protected from fog, which allows for even more expression of minerality and crunchy, tangy fruit. Long lees aging fleshes out the texture. Swoon-worthy.

Back in 2015, an employer told me that my blog was like a little girl’s diary, best kept shut. The remark stung at the time. I took myself more seriously then. In 2015, I still held onto the hope that maybe I’d be a Great Wine Writer one day, a long-standing pseudo-ambition (like doing handstands and moving to France) that has slowly faded as I’ve come to grips with my limitations. I like selling wine, the industry, the people. I’m less scholarly and more pragmatic in 2019 than I was in 2015. I have less to prove, and other activities to tickle the aesthete within, like reading in French, playing the piano (I recently inherited a beautiful mid-90s Kawai grand piano, which has brought immense pleasure over the past few months). Over the years I’ve realized that, not only am I not going to be a Great Wine Writer, but my blog is like a little girl’s dairy.

Ribeiro is in the far west of Galicia, almost to Riax Baixes, and also has granite soils. The predominant grape here is Treixadura, which reminds me of Melon de Bourgogne, growing fennel-y and herbal with a bit of age. The nose is all quince and wildflower honey.

I hearken back to 2015 because ever since that remark, I’ve been tempted to take down my blog, and the temptation is back with a vengeance. What do I really have to say? Selling locally and living in North Carolina, I feel like I’m not on the cutting edge of anything anymore, which is actually fine because lurking on the cutting edge via social media usually makes me angry, like a crotchety old lady who just wants to sip Champagne and Riesling while patting her cats and listening to NPR. Yes the wine lover within is quite happy where I am. The warehouse is full of bottles I’m curious about, wines that offer good value to the consumer. My customer list in New York boasted some of the most famous restaurants and wine directors in the country. My customer list in NC boasts the Mexican restaurant down the street, several righteous dive bars, and the general store in my home town. This makes me so happy. My boss believes in what he calls the “democratization” of wine, ways to de-snob the ultimate snob beverage, ways to make our product appealing to normal people. This is an attitude that resonates deeply with me, and others. He’s a popular figure in the community here and I understand why.

The site that gives Cepas Vellas was first documented in 1852. The combination of sandy soils and the long-lived nature of Albariño vines make this insanely complex wine possible. The vines here have been propagated using marcottage, bending the canes into the ground until they create a new vine. Chablis-like in its abundance of sea shell aromas and flavors.

Between May and August, I was too busy to write. I started a new job. There was so much work to do at my grandma’s. There were multiple moves, and life work stretching into the distance like an endless uphill race on a sweltering day (there were plenty of those, too). As of September, we have our own home, and I have time to write again. But the little girl’s diary remark haunts me. Why do I do this? What’s the point? I’m a fleck in the grand scheme of the wine business. Part of me feels like a failure because I didn’t stick it out and become a raging success in New York, because I allowed myself to fall in love with a man who wants to live in the country, because I prioritized personal life over career, because I needed to come back here and rescue my land. Intimate ramblings interspersed with commentary about bottles, vineyards, farming, seem self-indulgent. Why would anyone give a shit? I’ve been thinking again about saying farewell.

This is a co-plantation of Mencia, Merenzao, and more. The fruit is certified organic, fermented spontaneously, and raised in French foudres. It’s like a dark-fruited Pinot, or perhaps more like Trousseau … double heart emojis for the win!

These days I have the best excuse not to write, which is that in January I’m going to become a mother. People tell me I won’t have time when the baby is born, and my priorities will be all topsy turvy — undoubtedly true. I can’t imagine what it’ll be like. I already feel enormous pressure to be subsumed by the needs of my unborn fetus at the expense of myself. Don’t drink alcohol, or coffee, eat these particular foods, but not these other ones, go to the doctor … all the freaking time, do these exercises, but not these other ones, don’t lift anything heavy, gain weight, but not too much, the list goes on … It’s a pain in the ass, especially for someone who has lived as independently as I have.

This wine is Caiño Longo, Brancellao, and Tintilla from a south facing site planted in the 1930s. It’s rustic and bloody like a wild Morgon.

The fact that I’m about to have to give lots of time and energy to a baby quadruples the insecurity about my relevance to the industry that I felt upon leaving New York. My brain can’t reconcile the robust and fulfilling professional life of my past with my future as a mother. But rather than continue to complain about being pregnant, which (trust me) I’ve done plenty of, I’ll say two things: 1) Drinking less or not at all is amazing and makes me happy every day. 2) Tasting wine while pregnant rules because my senses are heightened. Consequently I taste more intensely and better than ever, and am never hungover. These are the only two positive things I have to report about pregnancy.

This is Sobretabla, unfortified Palomino at 11.5% alcohol. Ladies and gents: it tastes like Champagne base wine (vin clair)! Though the acid is less aggressive than in vin clair, the chalkiness of the soils in Jerez is clear as a bell. I hope this is exported to the US because it’s delicious and I think many people would be curious to try it.

Long story not-so-short, I’ve never been closer to discontinuing the blog as I tumble into an abyss of self doubt, but I keep hanging on. Why? Definitely not because I think I’ll one day be tapped by The New Yorker to write their much anticipated wine column. Maybe it’s because I don’t actually know how to take my prose off the internet. I’d have to back up all the work. It’s quite a few posts over the years! But I have a plan: a simple google drive folder should do the trick for the moment.

Palo Cortado is an illusive concept, somewhere between Amontillado and Oloroso. César Florido’s, from the seaside village of Chipiona, is quite old, having aged in solera for 40 years. A gorgeous example of the mingling of flor and oxidative notes. Deeply savory, saline, to my palate more Amontillado than Oloroso. From just two barrels, this was a rare treat.

Something else that keeps me from taking down the blog is that I continue to encounter people who’ve enjoyed my writing. Last week I saw the last chef I worked for (Ben Barker of Magnolia Grill in Durham) for the first time in a dozen years. He told me he’d kept up with my adventures via this blog. I was touched that he’d read. I felt part of the longer culinary and hospitality narrative of this area, even after 11+ years away. It made me want to continue the narrative, and write about it. I guess there’s a chance I’ll still be relevant after January of next year. Or maybe I won’t be relevant, but I won’t care because the marcottage will be complete, the genetic material propagated.

From the famed house of El Maestro Sierra in Jerez de la Frontera comes an Amontillado that is so old that no one really knows how old it is. We know it spent at least 50 years in Solera. The wine comes from two rare barrels, and was only bottled in magnum. 60 came to this country. As complex as anything I’ve tried, this wine offers caramelized orange and brown butter, yet is light on its feet with bright acidity and lingering nuttiness. Truly one of kind.

The honest-to-god reason I haven’t taken down the blog is that I love to write. I’ve always been a writer in the sense of keeping my little girl’s diary. Excavating my grandmother’s house over the past few months unearthed many a journal, not to mention letters, printed copies of emails, stories, papers, so many things I’d written over the years, documentation of a life lived wordily. My prose needs a home, and until I create that google drive folder, its home is here. As to whether my little girl’s diary should be kept shut? Well that’s a matter of opinion. I figure if the president can subject us hourly to his toilet tweets, then I can subject my few readers to a few paragraphs here and there.

Change is in the air, and has been since March when we decided to relocate from Fort Collins, Colorado to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, essentially trading a laid-back western college town for a bucolic southern one. Our reasoning was rooted in money and setting the stage for lives not lived paycheck to paycheck. We love Fort Collins, and would have been content there for years to come, but my family property in Saxapahaw pulled us back east like a magnet in over drive, dragging us first across Kansas, then Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, and finally to the triangle of North Carolina.

Our cross country journey warrants its own chapter, the ‘Jesus Saves’ plains of Kansas down to the rolling hills of Oklahoma, bafflingly speckled by oil dinosaurs and wind turbines, as though doubling down on energy whatever the source, through the Ozarks and Little Rock listening to a timely Slow Burn podcast about the impeachment of Bill Clinton, greeted by a torrential down pour of not just rain but vehicles and pot holes and twangy southern voices on I-40 in Tennessee.

Sap that I am, I shed a tear crossing the TN/NC border just west of Asheville, humble mountains after the imposingly majestic Rockies. Finally, after 11.5 years, back home to the soft, moist air, lush, green foliage, and pale, dyed Easter egg blue skies of the south. Western NC towns flew by: Hickory, Lenoir, Statesville, Taylorsville, Wilkesboro, home of papa’s Dixiecrat Scotch Irish ancestors, the half of me I’ve never known and always swept under the rug out of embarrassment. We arrived in Chapel Hill after 3.5 days on the road, if not to a new place, at least to a new chapter.

People ask how it feels to be back. The truth is I don’t know yet. So much has happened and so quickly. A few weeks after I arrived, my maternal grandmother passed away at 96 years young. That’s the liberal, intellectual, civil rights activist side of my family, the known side, the side I’m proud of. She was my last progenitor, and my only relative in North Carolina. So now here I am, tied to this place by what exactly? History, memory, patrimony, and a single concrete thing: land.

In a former wine life, when work brought me often to France, I admired the connection many vignerons have to their patrimony. Now I have the chance to live my own version. I hope it’ll feel good, while knowing it feels necessary. Maybe that’s how vignerons feel, like they don’t have a choice, like they’re responsible for something bigger and longer-lived than themselves. To some extent that’s how I feel. The American inside, doing as she pleases every minute of every day, is duking it out with this strange new human possessed of a desire to honor her ancestors and be part of something greater than herself.

We moved across the country during the busiest time of year for wine sales, which means that the moments not spent relocating, were spent working national markets from California to Georgia. I kid you not, dear reader, when I say that in the month of April, I touched down in 11 U.S. states. Keeping me company during this hectic time, were the 2018 Division-Villages wines. Fresh faces in California in early April, by the end of the month in Atlanta, they’d become tried and true friends.

For selfish reasons, I am particularly excited by these wines, this year. Yes they are delicious, companionable, and seem to sell themselves, but additionally 2018 was only the second time I’ve experienced a vintage first hand. (The first time was 2014 when I spent the harvest in Arbois, Loire, and Mosel.) In the fall of 2018, I spent many weeks in Oregon. I was there for the cool rains in the third week of August that set back the harvest dates. I was there for the warm, dry days that followed, ripening the grapes to perfection. I’ve been watching these little nieces and nephews since birth; they make sense.

White watermelon and strawberries on the fringes of ripeness.

The 2018 “L’Avoiron” Rosé of Gamay was fashioned a little differently in 2018: direct press, no maceration. It’s paler in the glass than last year’s, more straightforward. It’s heftier than the 2017 (13% versus 11.9%), yet at the same time more sheer and white-wine-like. It’s salty mineral forward with white watermelon close to the rind, pinkish green strawberries, and rhubarb. If quick sales are the ultimate barometer of deliciousness, then this might be the best wine Division’s ever made! I confess to harboring a soft spot in my heart for the 2017, which was geekier, with more phenolic notes and a whiff of enticing oxidation. People tell me the 2018 is better, and I suppose it is. Who knows? I generally root for the underdog.

Mossy driftwood afloat in the ocean.

Following L’Avoiron in a lineup comes the 2018 “L’Isle Verte” Chenin Blanc. I’ve loved every vintage I’ve tasted to date of this wine. It speaks to the clear quality of the 40-year-old Chenin vines at Willard Farms in the Yakima, as well as to excellent winemaking on the part of my bosses, Kate Norris & Tom Monroe. Sometimes this wine carries a kiss of residual sugar. It can have a sec tendre vibe. In 2018, there is no discernable sugar and the wine feels ‘clawed from the earth.’ When my dude sniffed it (he doesn’t drink), he told me it smelled like a mossy, mushroomy log floating in the ocean. “Really? Awesome!” I replied. That was just after bottling, and the wine is more well-knit now. Still not a fruity wine by any stretch, it’s morphed into salty, preserved lemon scented, stern beauty, Chenin for oysters and humid days.

Sweet green sugar snaps against a backdrop of exotic fruits.

Next I like to pour the show-stopping 2018 Sauvignon Blanc “La Frontière”, which is pleasure from start to finish. I’ve learned one or two things about Savvy B since I started selling Oregon wine back in 2016. It seems the most important decision of all is when to harvest in order to attain the desired profile. Tom & Kate let the grapes hang long on the vine to develop riper flavors, hints of pineapple, the faintest floral, orange and yellow fruits reminiscent of apricot and mango. This wine offers a beguiling mingling of green and orange. The typical herbal or grassy quality of Sauvignon Blanc manifests itself in fresh, sweet sugar snap peas. The wine has 5 grams of residual sugar and extremely high acid. Crying out for Thai curries, it’s feinherb Sauvignon Blanc and it tastes freaking great.

Classic Gamay notes of strawberry and white pepper.

Per usual, my personal favorite of the reds is Gamay “Les Petits Fers”. Much like L’Isle Verte, this wine is always excellent. With some 60+ percent cool, whole cluster carbonic maceration, it tastes like Beaujolais-Villages. The aromatics veer toward classic Gamay notes of strawberry and white pepper. The white pepper carries through to the finish, which is pleasantly chalky and structured. I find this wine, indeed all the 2018 reds, to be riper, bigger-boned and grippier than last year, with a clarity and purity of fruit that takes me back to that third week of September when the sun was shining, and winery staff were at it ’til 2am.

Bitter herbs and cola make way for dark, brambly pinosity.

Pinot Noir “Méthode Carbonique” underwent a little rebranding in 2018 with a label change. The new label alludes to the dark, purple, brambly fruits in this wine. It’s helpful to have parity between label and contents, and the prettiness of the new label reflects a pretty wine beneath. Initially nosing it, I’m swept up by carbonic aromas: Amaro-like bitter herb and spice notes with a high-toned hint of cola. Second and third sniffs reveal a core of classic, dark Willamette Valley Pinot. This year, there’s some Yamhill Carleton fruit in the blend, which lends a touch of welcome burliness to the wine. However to my palate, the biggest difference is that this year’s wine is squeaky clean. In 2017, the wine had what one customer described as “that French funk”, by which I believe he meant brettanomyces. Of course the wine’s cleanliness may not be a selling point for every customer. Some of the natty-heads have expressed a preference for last year’s wine, but most tasters have been quick to embrace this vintage’s dark, sleek purity.

Blackberries with seeds, plums, and cassis for days.

Last but not least, “Béton”, Division’s concrete-aged, Loire Valley style blend. As anyone who tasted last year’s Béton knows, in 2017 the wine had smoke taint. I’ll abbreviate the saga of last year’s Béton by saying that in the beginning, the wine was redolent of Mezcal and cigar ash, but by the end, the excessive smokiness had mellowed into a sort of hickory smoked barbecue and roasted poblano note. The wine had fans! Lovers of Isla whisky, taco-eaters, wood-fired pizza joints, revelers in a good campfire! Enter 2018. Folks who didn’t like 2017 Béton are gun shy. Folks who loved the smokiness last year miss it in the new vintage. There’s no doubt that the 2017 vintage did strange things to the brand. The fact remains that 2018 Béton is better than ever. Dominated by purple plum, blackberries with seeds, and hints of black currant, the wine shows abundant primary fruit and is particularly tasty right out of the fridge. There’s even a faint smoky note at the bridge of the nose and late finish. 2018 Béton matures with each passing week, becoming earthier and losing its sweet, primary fruit. What can we say? We like consistency, but remain slaves to vintage variation and wouldn’t have it any other way.

There you have it, dear reader, a story of travels and adventure on the road, accompanied by a fine roster of Oregon wines like still points in a turning world, or at the least a tried and true soundtrack to one human’s life in flux.

People who’ve visited many vineyards know the feeling of discovering — for themselves — a new, profound terroir: a gentle squeeze on the heart, a quickening of the senses, a wide-eyed stare taking in the panorama, awe vanquishing the need to pee, the chill in the air, the daunting shadow of an upcoming work task, while a vigneronne speaks of the soil, climate, and grapes, which she sees virtually every day of her life because winemaking and vineyard farming are not merely jobs, but labors of love.

Sometimes (though not always) these places are beautiful in their own right, but as wine lovers we see — in addition to the rolling hills or the severe, terraced slope — the potential, the (dare I say) gods-given sense of rightness of bumbling humans having planted grape vines here. Sends a shiver down my spine every time …

I recently had the chance to explore the Columbia Gorge for a second time, and in more depth than I’d explored it the first. The day was marked by spine-shivers and random sensations of profundity. It was also marked by bizarre cognitive dissonance because I’m used to having those soul-tickles in French wine regions. It was like … in my mind I was in the Alps, but in reality I was in the Gorge. Weird, but amazing.

Our first stop was in Mosier, OR, at Idiot’s Grace. The McCormack family settled in the Gorge two generations ago. The father built a winery in Lyle, WA, and then in 2002, Brian took the helm. Brian has a new winery in Mosier, and collaborates with his father while trying to convince him that screw caps need to go.

(Note: the Columbia Gorge AVA straddles the border of Washington State and Oregon. Mosier and Hood River are on the Oregon side; Attavus vineyard whence Analemma Blanc de Noirs is on the Washington side, as is Underwood Mountain, perhaps the most hallowed and mysterious Gorge terroir.)

We toured Brian’s Mosier vineyards looking at young vine Primitivo, a fascinating choice for the Gorge. We tend to think of this as a cool, high-altitude wine region, which it is in some places, but not everywhere. Some of the Gorge slopes roast during the summer, and the vineyards surrounding Brian’s winery are not especially high altitude. He told us that he planted Primitivo because of its genetic relationship to Zinfandel. He wanted to plant a variety that claims some sort of nativity to North America. Oregonian vineyard owners are free to plant whatever they want. I’m intrigued by the logic that dictates their choices. To me, one of the most striking things that separates the new world from the old is freedom. It’s very American, this lack of encumbrance by tradition, and unlike most “very American” things like over-priced health insurance and guns, I’m all for it!

We tasted a few wines out of bottle: delicious dry Gewürztraminer (the Gorge is one of my favorite places for this grape), Cabernet Franc, Chenin, and Semillon. I was smitten by the Semillon, and the bottle I purchased to bring home did not disappoint. If anything it was even better than my recollection.

Sexy Semillon from Idiot’s Grace.

Semillon walks a fine line between unctuous and lithe, and has a slight textural waxiness that sets it apart from other rich whites. This bottle was full of yellow, tropical fruit, yet salty, like preserved lemon. I could smell the acid, which was bewitchingly cranberry-like. There’s a lovely high note of sweet orange flower. Flavors of mango and papaya ride a silken, slip’n’slide palate. There are delicious phenolics that make me wonder if Brian soaked the grapes briefly on the skins, or maybe it’s just the magic of Semillon …

We finished with a barrel tasting of 2017 reds: Gamay, Cab Franc. I loved the Gamay. The Cab Franc showed hints of wild fire, but they were faint. I believe Brian’s 2017s will be quite successful out of bottle, and I look forward to trying them.

Next we went to Analemma (also in Mosier). As anyone who has visited this estate will report, Analemma is an incredibly special place. I’ve been obsessed with these wines for years and was pleased to be back.

Gorgeous Godello at Analemma.

Steven received us in an unexpected manner: he pulled tank/barrel samples of wines in their most awkward phase (either finishing primary fermentation, or in the middle of malolactic fermentation), which is sort of like inviting guests to your house in mid-construction. Hopefully your guests will see the structure and artistry of what’s to come; they’ll certainly see contractor’s equipment, sawdust, and sheer plastic tarps everywhere! Sharing his unfinished wines struck us as generous, personal, even risky, and we were naturally thrilled to have the opportunity to taste them this way.

Stocking up on Blanc de Noirs.

I last went to Analemma in 2016, and since then Steven and Kris have made their first vintages of Syrah and Mencía, among their preferred cépages for Mosier, along with Godello and Albariño. The Syrah was fascinating, its unfettered Rhône-iness impressive in its own right. It’s a wound up wine, but powerfully built for such young vines, and elegant. I was taken by the unfinished Godello and look forward to the final version.

Though we didn’t try the new release of Analemma Blanc de Noirs at the winery, we bought bottles and drank one that evening. I was ever-s0-slightly concerned that the 2014 vintage (current release of BdN) would be too warm for sparkling wine. Not so. This wine has as much face-melting acidity as the 2011 vintage that stole by heart years ago. This is one of my favorite wines on the planet, and I drink a lotta Champagne. With each sip, a new layer of flavor, a hint of red raspberry Pinot fruit, a whiff of lees-y oxidation, creamy texture, and then mouth-watering, hyper-focused acidity all the way down …

Puligny-Montrachet anyone?

A new joy from Analemma came in the form of Chardonnay. I’d had the 2015 Analemma Chardonnay, and it had seemed a little warm and woody. At the time, I knew far less about recent Oregon vintages than I do now. 2015 was super hot and dry, even in the Gorge. The current release of this wine (2016) is as Puligny-Montrachet-like as I’ve tasted from the new world. It reminded me of a wine Jean-Marc Pillot might’ve made. The oak imparts a hint of wisteria and coconut, but balanced by riveting acidity and floral notes of mandarin and white peach. This wine comes from the Oak Ridge vineyard in Washington. Planted in 1984, at an elevation similar to Attavus, Oak Ridge is consistently harvested in late October, which blows my mind. The long growing season here is certainly part of the magic.

On to Hiyu Wine Farm! I finally (after at least a year of trying) had the good fortune to meet Nate Reddy during the I Love Gamay festival in May of last year. He was the guest sommelier at dinner at Coquine, a dinner featuring at least six lamb body parts including hearts and organ meats. I was struck by his warmth, as well as his pairings. This is someone who, while clearly unafraid to steer people out of their comfort zones, is a consummate hospitality professional. I mention this because Nate’s wines are (in my opinion) food wines, and when he serves them at Hiyu, it’s alongside a bite to eat. (If you’re lucky, this includes salad greens grown at Hiyu.) Nate comes from a restaurant background, and broke away first to work at Antica Terra, then to start a sustainable farm.

Falcon Box with the remnants of crostini and tonnato sauce.

It would be misguided on my part to try to summarize Nate’s mission, or his work. This is a winery that must be experienced. Many of the wines at Hiyu are field blends, each with a particular aesthetic or underlying motivation. My favorite that day was “Falcon Box,” which is all the Burgundy grapes, half red, half white. The resultant wine is bronze, rich, broad, expansive across the mid-palate and almost Alsatian in spirit.

A man and his barrels …

Nate makes Pinot Noir from the Attavus vineyard. His 2018 barrel sample was stunning. At 1800 feet elevation, this is incredibly high altitude Pinot, in other words, right up my alley, with fine and arresting tannins. I also enjoyed Nate’s Attavus solera comprising Gewürztraminer and Pinot Noir. (Have those cépages ever been thrown together before?)

There’s certainly an aura of mad genius about Nate, but I’d say more visionary than madman. While visiting Hiyu, part of me wondered if it isn’t the rest of us who are mad. After all, is it really so strange to conceive of an ambitious project and then realize it? Is it really so strange to grow one’s own food, and one’s own grapes, and invite others to share the bounty? It’s unusual in America in 2019, but when this happens in the old world, we find it at once quaint and totally normal.

It wasn’t until the next morning that I truly beheld the Gorge’s majesty: houses overlooking a 1000 foot drop straight down to the river, tiny wind surfers making ribbon-y waves below, doug firs everywhere, tempestuous breezes, grape vines in wispy fog, peaks jutting up into the cloud cover, dramatic as a Rachmaninoff piano concerto. What would my life be like, I wondered, if my 28 acres were in Lyle rather than Saxapahaw?

Before diving into this post, I’ll cite one of the inspirations behind it: a recent Trevor Noah bit on The Daily Show about tacos and their unwavering popularity. I watched the episode after a trip to Wyoming and South Dakota, where Taco Johns, Taco Bell, Chipotle, Qdoba, not to mention So-and-So’s Mexican Grill(e) line the town streets like bastions of spice in an otherwise bland, desolate, and steak-filled landscape. The irony, as Noah points out, is that even in the reddest and most anti-immigrant places, people love tacos. Dear Mexico, We’re happy to appropriate your cuisine, but get your people out of our country. Messed up, right? Mexico should take back its wonderful cuisine! We don’t deserve it. But back to wine …

Years ago, two friends and I attempted a wine and taco night in Brooklyn. We ate Jefferson-stop-off-the-L-train tacos: flavorful shredded meat in double-layer soft corn tortillas with cilantro, lime, queso fresco, and spicy sauces. We mostly drank Riesling. The pairings were fine. We attempted one red wine as well. As I recall it was Mencía from Ribera Sacra, and it was terrible with the food. We quickly abandoned hope of a good pairing and, by the second taco, had switched to beer. Lesson learned.

In the years between that long-ago, snowy Bushwick evening of unholy food and wine liaisons, and this year, I did not try wine and tacos again. During those years, I rarely ate Mexican food unless I needed a night off booze, in which case I’d get a burrito, a food that — in its very essence — seems to defy wine of all colors and flavors. Burritos are uniquely bad with wine. It’s a texture thing.

2018 has brought Mexican food back into my life in a major way. My dining partner is part native/Mexican (meaning that his mom’s people migrated up to Rapid City, South Dakota from New Mexico over several generations, and are darker hued with hispanic last names). He learned many recipes from his mom and grandma, and is a skilled cook.

While I’m a standard issue caucasian mutt, my mother was an ESL teacher and social worker in rural North Carolina in the ’90s, and lots of excellent Mexican food, not to mention recipes, entered our house courtesy of her students and their families. In my early teenage years, rather than leave me home alone, my mom used to take me to trailer parks to visit the families she worked with. We often left with towering piles of fresh corn tortillas, which I devoured with gusto in the car on the way home. For dinner, my mom would make red beans flavored with dried ancho chilis to fill our homemade tortillas. I also grew up eating delicious Mexican food, and it was rarely Monterey Jack-smothered enchiladas on a molten plate with beans, Spanish rice, iceberg lettuce, and canned black olives (who decided black olives belong on Mexican food?!?).

This is all to say that between the two of us, the Mexican food game is strong. However, I’m a wine lover, so I needed to find a way to make wine and Mexican food work, and I’m thrilled to report that it can be done!

A glorious bottle and a mislead pairing.

Trial and error began when I first arrived in Colorado almost a year ago. In the midst of penning an article for Alice Feiring on reduction, I popped a bottle of 2014 Enviñate Táganan Blanco to have with my tacos. The wine was perfect (reduction gone — for those following the saga of this bottle), but the pairing was not. Táganan Blanco is unapologetically dry with flavors veering in the salty, preserved lemon direction. It’s a fairly lean, yet amply textured wine that is more about mineral character than fruit. Bottom line: Mexican food needs fruit (not in the food, dear GOD, but in the wine).

This brings me to my next point: the obvious solution is off-dry Riesling, but I shy away from recommending Riesling with Mexican food for two reasons. The first is beans. Many Mexican dishes feature smashed or refried beans, and mushy beans have nothing to say to pure, crisp Riesling. Secondly: good luck getting Feinherb to pair with any kind of salsa or pico de gallo.

(Caveat: I hardly ever eat meat anymore, and never cook it at home. Tacos with meat rather than beans work better with Riesling.)

Fruity light reds are one answer to the conundrum.

While, for me, Riesling is not the answer, I did have moderate success with Spätburgunder. The tinfoil box photographed here comes from a local chain called Cafe Mexicali. Mexicali was born in Fort Collins Colorado, and has three branches, all in the area. The tortillas are cooked fresh to order on a giant tortilla press, and as long as one steers clear of the gluey white sauce, it’s some of the most palatable chain restaurant grub around.

Falkenstein Spätburgunder is one of a few red wines that do not undergo malolactic fermentation, so the wine is extremely crunchy and full of cranberry and other sour, berry fruits. It also has little tannin to speak of, making it perfect for vegetarian foods. Though Falky Spät was on a totally different wave length than the dish (“smothered” burrito with corn, pintos, and rice inside), it brightened things up and offered a welcome counterpart to the food, like jumping into brisk water after a sauna. Far from perfect, but a step in the right direction.

Around mid-year, we started to get visitors, often wine people, coming to see nature, stopping off on their way from one coast to the other, sleeping in the spare room, enjoying the sunshine and legal pot. By this point, tacos had become a bit of a spécialité de la maison chez nous, and so I decided to come up with wine-friendly tacos that would allow us to strut our culinary stuff without having to resort to beer. I settled on the following combination: well-spiced yet non-mushy pintos, pan-fried potatoes, Mexican coleslaw, queso fresco and homemade pico de gallo on corn tortillas. As long as nothing is too terribly spicy, Sophie’s Wine-Friendly Tacos can pair well with a number of vinous libations. However, the absolute best pairing to date was a dark colored rosé from Domaine de Kalathas on the Greek island of Tinos. Go figure.

And the winner is … Kokkinaki!

Made without additives (yet pristine and flawless), Kokkinaki is (I believe) a field blend of Koumariano, Mavro Potamisi, and Kondoura. The vines are extremely old and own-rooted, cultivated biodynamically. Jérôme Charles Binda, the winemaker, makes about three bottles a year of this … I felt pretty lucky to be drinking it, especially with tacos. I mean: has anyone besides us tried this wine with tacos?!? The success of the pairing was owed entirely to the wine’s unrelenting fruitiness. Cherries, cherries, and more cherries! I liked the wine; I liked it even better with the food, which, at the end of the day, is the ultimate testament to a successful pairing.

At long last, after almost a year of trial and error, I’ve concluded that magenta, fruity-yet-dry rosé (preferably from a Greek island) is the way to go with tacos …

And, for all you anti-immigrant folks out there: NEW RULE: no more tacos if you support Trump’s border wall!




Amongst the many things I’m still adjusting to about my new life is the come down. This year I’ve gone on three sales trips of 3-4 weeks duration, with a few jaunts betwixt. Though I’ve lived in Colorado for almost a year, I’ve spent less than 8 months here. Readying myself for a long period away comes with a mixture of excitement and dread. Seeing new cities and meeting new people is thrilling. Each trip promises fresh adventure, and I’ve not been disappointed yet. But the prospect of leaving my peaceful duplex, my cats, my man, and my routines comes with a sense of loneliness. Will I always be a traveler? Maybe. My mom was like that, and the longer I live, the more akin to her I feel. I’m never ready to go, but I dutifully don my sales hat (metaphor — I don’t really own a sales hat), practice my smiles in the mirror, pack my bags, and hit the road.

By the end, I’m ready to come home. Under-rested, over-stimulated, roiling with tales of adventure, I rush to the airport, day dreaming about the first glimpse of my dude waiting at the baggage claim, the first long night of sleep, a cat flanking either side. The first couple of days back are as blissful as you’d imagine. I have to stop myself from constantly working, which becomes habit on the road.

And then I get blue. Traveling is a rush. I’m incessantly high on life, moving fast, hustling, running on fumes and caffeine rather than sleep. On the road, I’m the old me. Whether or not I’m in New York, I’m the New York me: in the throes of the wine industry, living the pace and ambition of yore. Coming down leaves me in a directionless fog. Still a little ill-equipped to handle the slower pace of life in Colorado, it takes days if not weeks to calm down.

For me, the frenetic energy of city life is inextricably linked to youth. Young, I could live in the city forever. If eternal youth were an option, I’d go back to the city in a heart beat. Growing old in the city, however, doesn’t hold much appeal. And so nostalgia for the cool, fierce, scintillating buzz of the city is basically just nostalgia for youth, and that shit ain’t coming back.

Alongside meeting new people on the road: distributors and reps, sales and portfolio managers, clients, their clients, and their clients’ clients, comes the opportunity to see friends. I started the most recent trip in Chicago with Nadim Audi, his badass wife, Rebecca, and their three rug rats. Nadim sells Selection Massale in Chicago, and one of my finer endeavors in the trade was setting up the Chicago market with Nadim. That was in 2015. Nadim and I hadn’t seen each other since.

Best dinner party accessory ever.

Nadim and Rebecca have a raclette cooker, hailing from the same era as the fondue pot. Instead of melting cheese in a vessel heated over flame, you lay a slice of raclette on a small trowel, which is then placed under top heat until melted and bubbling. Once gooey, you slough the cheese onto hot boiled potatoes and meats of the pork persuasion. (Works with pretty much any wine under the sun.)

You’ve spotted, dear reader, the Clos Roches Blanches label peeping out, stage right. J & M joined us for dinner and we were treated to back vintages of CRB, Goyo Garcia, and Laura Lorenzo. Of particular note (for me) was a 2013 CRB Côt. From a chilly, rainy, and underripe vintage in the Loire Valley, this Côt brought to mind and palate qualities I adore in wines from the northern reaches of France. It smelled like dirt, black pepper, black fruits, and fruits seeds were mortar and pestled to liquid form. The flavors were vivid, sour, and pure magic. (Incidentally, the next evening at Rootstock Wine Bar, I tasted Côt from Valérie Forgue, who took over some of the CRB holdings. The wine was fabulous, and comparable in style.)

Bottles at cellar temp.

In the ensuing days working the Chicago market, 2017 Division Pinot Noir “Un” emerged as my favorite wine of the current release. I was beguiled often by its dark and red berry aromas mingling with sous bois notes giving way to a palate that shows the long, cool growing season of 2017. The wine is a barrel selection coming from seven vineyards across the Willamette, none in notably high proportion. Minimal new oak is used. The wine is equally complex and crowd pleasing. Opening up gorgeously over about 5 hours, I’m especially compelled by its faint coffee or dark chocolate bitterness. (An aspect of basalt soil?) Wines need the bitter, sour, and salty, especially domestic wines, which are prone to ripe flavors. This wine is proof positive of both, together, in the same lovely bottle.

After Chicago, I headed to Minneapolis, another new city. If Chicago was marked by unseasonably warm temperatures, torrential rain, meat and potatoes, Minneapolis was marked by frigid weather and health food. I came to a new appreciation of the seat heater, the restorative properties of green juice and fermented foods.

White wine list at Troubadour in Minneapolis.

There are several Minneapolis venues I look forward to revisiting, but none more than Troubadour Wine Bar. A combination wine bar and music venue, the evening I went to Troubadour, it was packed with people listening to a folk band. I adore their wine list: succinct, interesting, and chalk-full of things I like to drink both by-the-bottle and by-the-glass. How often over the years did I wish for a place like Troubadour in New York City? Totally without pretense, yet brimful of personality, Troubadour takes my favorite aspects of a dive bar, and couples them with my favorite aspects of a wine bar. The founders have created such a warm and singular atmosphere.

Riding the wave on 9th street in the east village.

The next stop was New York. I will spare you, dear reader, the intense mixture of emotions that attend a week-long visit to my erstwhile home of 10 years. Suffice it to say that it’s wonderful to see friends, to be welcomed back with open arms, to casually run into people on the street or the subway (something that never happens in Fort Collins). Transportation and crowds do not become easier to stomach with distance and time, and so after the first shitty commute, let’s just say … one is reminded of why one left.

There were too many wonderful moments in New York to detail, work days with my former colleagues at MFW Wine Co., joyful reunions with customers, sales and dinners and tastings and early mornings at the gym in Green Point running away the previous night’s excesses. In other words: I lived my former life again for a week!

Kedegree is not to be missed!

I’ll mention one particularly memorable meal, shared with Tess Drumheller of MFW, and Jonathan Kemp, an old friend and the manager of Vine Wine. We went to Chez Ma Tante, a restaurant I wish had existed during my Green Point days. The food here is distantly French inspired, with a whiff of Ottolenghi-esque Israeli/Italian flare. There is much to love about Chez Ma Tante, but I’ll mention one simple thing that set it apart from so many of its ilk: Chez Ma Tante is quiet. At no point during the evening did I have to yell to be heard. I left feeling full. I got what I paid for, another rarity in New York dining.

After New York, I went to Connecticut to visit Mike and Ellie Carleton. They live in the greater New Haven area, north eastern Connecticut just a few miles from the windswept and blustery New England coast. Their house was built in 1750, and coming from a place where nothing is older than the Civil War, not even grave stones in the cemetery, old things are refreshing.

We tasted 2015s from several Transatlantic Bubbles producers: Laval, Alexandre Filaine. The vintage is shaping up marvelously for their growers, with a kiss of additional ripeness that compliments the bone dry style (in the case of Laval) and the crazy high acid (in the case of Filaine). After dinner, we cracked an icy bottle of 2015 Marguet Shaman Rosé, and the swooning began.

What vinous dreams are made of.

Benoît Marguet makes some of the most enticing rosé Champagnes on the market, using a heavy percentage of chalky Blanc de Blancs, blended with a soupçon of still red wine. Shaman is Benoît’s “entry level” wine. The last release of Shaman rosé had a bit of bacterial funk, which is unusual in Champagne. This release, however, is back on track and oh-so-crushable. During our fire-side session with this bottle, I tried to focus on the conversation, but the wine had a-hold of my brain and would not let go. It was like creamy raspberry sherbet with mouth-filling, colloidal texture, yet a perfectly precise, chalky finish. I’ve been cultivating self control in the face of delicious Champagne for years now, but could muster none in the face of this bottle.

Connecticut culinary shrine.

The next day, after a brisk outing on the shore, we pilgrimaged to a quintessential New England culinary shrine: Lobster Landing. Tarps enclosed an outdoor seating area featuring plastic tables and chairs on gravel. Wind whipped the tarps, but we stayed cozy thanks to space heaters. The blue sky and salty air were invigorating, and youthful day dreams rocked me like waves jostling a fishing boat in the harbor.

As a child, I ate lobster once a year, while visiting my aunt and uncle in New Jersey. This luxurious meal came to symbolize passage across the Mason-Dixon line, everything I wanted for the future. I was obsessed with the north east as a young person. If I could just get away from the stinking south with its humidity and rednecks and lack of snow, with its disgusting history of slavery and racism implicating my ancestors and, by extension, me, then maybe that gross sensation of guilt and powerlessness would abate. My 12 year old self was convinced that upstate New York and New England were promised lands. Funny where life takes us, and what memories a lobster roll can trigger.

The perfect food for blocked malo Champagne.

In Connecticut, lobster rolls are made by dipping chunks of lobster in butter, and nestling them into a toasted bun. It’s essential that the bun be totally without sweetness, and that the edges be ever-so-slightly burnt. Lay’s potato chips are a worthy side dish.

I deferred to Ellie & Mike, who have tested many Champagne and lobster roll combinations, for the pairing. We drank a bottle of 2009 Grongnet Special Club. The Grongnet wines come from a part of Champagne that can only be described as au milieu de nul part (rough translation: bum fuck), between the Côte des Blancs and the Sézanne. The soils are chalky but with more heavy clay than in the Grand Crus of the more prestigious neighboring region. Until 1995, Grongnet’s Special Club was 100% Chardonnay; now it’s 50% Chardonnay, with 30% Meunier and 20% Noir. The Grongnets typically block malolactic fermentation with sulfur to preserve the racy, chalky qualities of the wine. As it turns out, this style is perfect for lobster rolls, which require no additional buttery flavor. Of course the nexus of this pairing is the sweet flavor or lobster with the lemony and maritime, seashell-y notes of the wine. We sipped and ate, glancing from time to time at a family seated at the far end of the make-shift room. They were halfway through a jug of Kendall Jackson Chardonnay.

After Connecticut, I went to New Jersey, then to Philadelphia, then to Boston. All of these places received me warmly, but those stories will have to keep for another day.

In spite of the emotional swings of leaving for weeks at a time, coming back, coming down from the buzz and excitement, I’ve got a pretty sweet gig. I tour American cities in the passenger seat of sales reps’ cars, hopping out every hour or so to talk about Division wines, which are delicious, interesting wines that miraculously seem to sell themselves. Wine sales reps always know where to find good food, wine, and coffee. They’re engaging humans with interesting life stories. And the best part of all is that every few days something unexpected happens, like riding through downtown Chicago to Lake Michigan on a borrowed bike at 7am. All I can hope for is a proper balance of calm and adventure, fueled by good food, lubricated by fine wine and friendship.

It is a great testament to the generosity of my bosses, Kate Norris and Thomas Monroe, that last Tuesday they took their entire staff on a tour of the Willamette Valley. Kate and Tom have a larger staff than one might expect, and we were a group of 14 people: amply tattooed cooks and servers from the wine bar, our accountant, our assistant winemaker, various individuals whose role in the company remains a mystery (at least to me). We were a motley and jovial crew setting off for wine country in a big white van bumping ’90s hiphop after a breakfast of mimosas and croissants.

In the preceding weeks, this excursion had become lodged in my mind as a sort of team-building exercise, minus a few trust falls, plus a few glasses of wine and a vape pen or two. Harvest is on the horizon, and as always it’ll be a time of constant toil and stress, exhausting and fraught with the unexpected. I realize now that Kate and Tom took us to the Willamette on a gorgeous late summer day to heighten our understanding, to remind us why we do this, and to bring us together before the first grapes roll in. For me, it certainly produced the desired effect, and I found myself at the end of the day immensely proud to call these folks my work family.

Our first stop was at Argyle in Dundee. It’s immediately obvious that Dundee is a wine town. Like Beaune or Arbois, its main strip features many tasting rooms. Having taken quite a few work trips to Europe over the years, I find it fascinating to see the familiar tune of “wine country” transposed into a distinctly American key: everything new, shiny, and big. Yet the pioneers of Oregon wine were hippies, and there is something beautiful about the way they launched Oregon wine culture, including legislation to keep the city of Portland from encroaching on agricultural land. I haven’t spent much time in the Willamette, but its biodiversity strikes me every time. It’s not like the Langhe or Burgundy or the Marne Valley where rolling hills of vines stretch for miles. In the Willamette, mid-slope vineyards are responsibly interspersed with Filbert crops, berries, hops, woodland etc … I guess what I’m saying is that what the area lacks in old world charm and ancient stone wineries, it makes up for in interesting personalities and biodiversity. 

I hadn’t tasted a bottle of Argyle in many years, and truth be told my expectations were not the highest. Argyle makes 80k cases of wine per year. 40k of those cases are what the French call “Brut Sans Année” or basic sparkling wine. I am human, and as such harbor many prejudices, one major one rooted in the supposed inferiority of large-ish production wine. Yet there’s no reason why big production should mean a bad product. If the farming is good, and growth is responsibly managed without cutting too many corners, spoofing too much in the cellar, or selling out to a fickle market, the resultant wine should be as good as it was when the production was microscopic. (Caveat: the bigger the winery, the greater the temptation to sell out and spoof out.)

I should preface my notes on the Argyle wines by mentioning that we did not try the BSA, nor did we taste their Pinot Noir, whence my less-than-stellar impression of these wines. We began with 2014 Blanc de Blancs from the high-elevation Spirit Hill vineyard. Heavy influenced by the Van Duzzer corridor, Spirit Hill is a cool site, and early picking helps guard acidity to make a crunchy and focused base wine. I found this bottle to be quite Champenois with its toast, graphite notes, and mineral core. Dosed at 4 grams, it was an easy wine to drink, and I fell to thinking that Argyle’s BdB is probably more appealing to the average Joe than the stern and pillar-like Blanc de Blancs from Champagne I’ve come to enjoy.

Next came the 2014 Knudsen Vineyard Blanc de Noirs. 2014 is the first vintage of this wine and it was incredibly good. The block used features own-rooted Pommard clone Pinot Noir planted in 1974. These would be old vines by any standard, and especially in Oregon where the wine scene as we know it was born in the ’60s and ’70s. The wine was earthy and red-fruited with gorgeous raspberry notes across the palate. The Jory soil (ferrous red clay with volcanic rock) here surely contributed to the wine’s sanguine and succulent red fruit character.

It’s possible that Argyle’s Blanc de Noirs impressed me more than their Blanc de Blancs because the Knudsen vines are so old, the site so special. It’s possible that sparkling wine made from Chardonnay should hail from the fringes of ripeness, should be made from enamel-stripping juice. However I also believe that Blanc de Noirs is a category in which we find less competition from the old world. There are Grand and Premier Crus in Champagne dedicated to the production of world class Blanc de Blancs, but true Blanc de Noirs wines are still relatively uncommon in Champagne, even in prime Pinot Noir villages like Bouzy and Ambonnay. Of late, some of my very favorite Blanc de Noirs have come from the Aube: Ruppert-Leroy’s Les Cognaux, Roland Piollot’s Les Gravelées, Thomas Barbichon’s Blanc de Noirs. I’d conjecture the Aube and the Willamette might have something in common. Perhaps there’s a bright future for cool site, early pick Oregon BdN. Though it’s Columbia Gorge rather than Willamette, a bottle of Analemma should surely confirm the potential of this style of wine in Oregon.

The only slightly underwhelming wine at Argyle was the 2014 Brut Rosé. A blend of Chardonnay, Pinot, and Meunier, this was a pale salmon colored, easy sparking wine that had little to recommend it intellectually, though it was delicious enough for a warm morning in the sunshine. What the Rosé lacked in complexity, the 2007 Extended Tirage Brut more than made up for. This is Argyle’s BSA, aged 10 years sur lattes (versus 3 years for the rest of the wines). With additional time on lees, the wine had become creamy and savory. A lively conversation ensued about the difference between pre and post disgorgement bottle age, a topic I never tire of. 

Next we headed to Parrett Mountain in the Chehalem Mountain AVA. We stopped at a gorgeous building at the top of the hill housing J.K. Carriere, a winery I’d heard of but never experienced. J.K. Carriere is the brain child of Jim Prosser, a laid back yet clearly motivated 50-something gent who lead us through an amusing history of his estate. In the late 2000s, Jim purchased a 40 acre farm at the top of Parrett Mountain called St. Dolores Estate. He’s in the midst of clearing, planting, and learning this terroir. In the meantime he sources a bit from Temperance Hill and other top sites. 

First in my glass was an insanely delicious Rosé sparkling wine, and I once again pondered the irony of coming to the Willamette to cast my snobby Champagne pallet across a range of bubbles. I believe this cuvée is not made every year, but rather only in the years that give the desired acid profile. The fruit comes from Temperance Hill, the cool 2011 vintage. Whole cluster pressed, fermented in neutral barrel, the wine is then aged for 4 years sur lattes. I fell hook, line, and sinker for its lees-y flavors and hints of oxidation alongside a panoply of pithy citrus notes. Had it not been $80/bottle, I’d surely have bought some to revisit chez moi, which is not to say the price is unreasonable … merely prohibitive. 

I’ve no doubt that Jim Prosser’s Pinots are the most Burgundy-like I’ve tried (from Oregon). He bills his wines as “acid-centric”, and they are. But it’s not just the acid, these wines are cloudy and delicately colored in the glass, with the green, herbal, woodsy, forrest floor notes one finds in Burgundy. Jim’s Pinots finish with a specific bitterness that immediately called to mind tasting freshly racked Burgundy. While I wasn’t crazy about the flagship “Provocateur”, these flavors came into their own in 2015 “Vespidae”. A hot, dry vintage seemed to well-suit Jim’s acid-driven style. As a confirmed acid lover, it’s strange to say that I craved more ripe, Oregon fruit, but I did, tasting Jim’s wines. Alongside this craving, was a desire to know what Jim does to make his wines so dang Burgundian. Still, the sheer quality at J.K. Carriere was unmistakable. 

We lunched at Beckham Estate Vineyard (also on Parrett Mountain), which in this case meant a pizza truck specially commandeered for the occasion. Andrew and Annedria Beckham bought this land with the intention of building an art studio for Andrew. Their destiny took an unexpected turn in mid-2000s when they planted vineyards on their property. The estate is 8 acres in total, 6.5 planted to vine. The Beckhams also raise sheep and pigs. Andrew Beckham still teaches art at the high school in McMinnville. Yet the Beckhams claim to fame is their clay pots, and their clay pot wines. 

A few years ago, Annedria brought home a bottle of Elisabetta Foradori’s amphora wine for her husband to try. Smitten by the wine, they began to research amphorae. Andrew took a look at these aging vessels, typical of parts of Italy and eastern Europe, commenting “I can make those.” And he did. Since the clay pot project began, the Beckhams have continuously worked to craft better vessels from better terra cotta mixtures. They now furnish several domestic wineries with clay pots, and are essentially the only American manufacturer of hand made amphorae. 

I’m a self-proclaimed amphora skeptic, and I thoroughly enjoyed the Beckham’s clay pot wines. Their 2016 Pinot Noir  “Creta”  was elegant and sleek, its aromas of clay far from over whelming, tannins in balance, delicious to the last drop, Their amphora Rogue Valley Grenache was equally compelling in an ethereal, glouglou  style. The crowning achievement, however, was their Pinot Gris, a macerated, light-red style Gris, suave and refreshing, the kind of wine that brings me around to Chad Stock’s view that Gris should be vinified red. 

Needless to say no one was sober by the time we left the Beckham’s. And so we did what all wine professionals do at the end of packed tasting day, we drank beer.


Until recently, I could run away anything. I’d throw my shoes on Sunday morning and hit the streets, usually for somewhere between 7 and 10 miles, and by the time I arrived back home, the bad feelings would be gone, at least for a few hours. I’d listen to some ’90s hiphop or disco, maybe some mid-2000s new wave garage rock, and pound the angst away.

Then something changed. Last summer, I tried to run the prospect of a visit to the cardiologist away, and it didn’t work. I ran all the way from 151st and Riverside to Chambers and the westside highway, and still felt like shit. Why?

I used to think running made me feel good because the brain releases posi-brain-chemicals during and afterward. These are like posi-vibes only instead of being released over beers with friends, they’re released over miles of strenuous exercise. I’ve realized, though, that running made me feel good because it gave me control over something: myself. When there’s chaos outside, we retreat inside, to our bodies, where we’re in charge.

Since Trump, the chaos has been so all-encompassing that running no longer delivers a still place in the turning world. I feel naive — like I should have known (for example) how alive and well racism is in America, but I didn’t know because I attended Quaker school, the first integrated school in North Carolina, because we had Obama for two terms, because I told myself that America was going in the right direction for those who share my values.

Our current political meltdown has created a sort of ethical-philosophical huevos rancheros in my brain, the primary ingredient of which is utter powerlessness to hinder the march of this deranged administration; toppings include rage and fear. What does one pair with feelings of chaos and powerlessness?

Since moving to Colorado, I’ve taken up several nostalgic activities: things I did to improve myself and pass time holed up in rural North Carolina as a child, before the wine business, before New York, before Trump. One of them is practicing the piano. A few days ago I was butchering Chopin’s Nocturne in Bb Minor, Opus 9, No. 1, when I came across notes on the music, written by my beloved piano teacher of 10+ years, Carrie Monnette. “Mist ….” in her upright cursive “distant light”. Minor epiphany. When looking forward strikes fear, look back. Reliving moments of innocence (remember when George W. Bush was the worst Republican we could imagine?) and living moments of sensory beauty are effective balms for an anxious soul.

Fingers crossed we see that distant light when the mid-term elections roll around …

The vinous equivalent of mist over the lake at dawn in the Adirondacks, distant light of the day’s first Jetski shimmering through as Chopin reiterates a haunting melody in sotto voce … is of course Riesling from the Mosel-Saar-Rüwer: wine that delivers pure sensory beauty, wine that enables us taste colors and feelings in addition to fruits and stones, wine that seems innately to possess the flavor of sweet, sad nostalgia.

My Riesling binge began with 2016 Falkenstein Niedermenniger Herrenberg Spätlese Feinherb, a wine that is, in my opinion, one of Erich and Johannes Weber’s greatest successes in the 2016 vintage. Herrenberg is the Weber’s top site for dry wine. It gives us bracing Kabinett Tröcken, Weissburgunder, delicate Kabinett Feinherb, and other glorious examples of Falky deliciousness. To me, wines of the Herrenberg are tensile and green, like walking in a dewy meadow with stops along the way to smell the crocuses and pick a few wild blueberries. 

When I first got to know these wines, I preferred the Euchariusberg vineyard with its show-stopping Spät and Auslesen. Now, I prefer the subtlety of Herrenberg. Spät Fein is bottled in magnums, and the 750 production is tiny. At Spätlese ripeness, but Feinherb sweetness, it’s dense, powerful, yet airy nectar that coats the tongue in a sapid, stony film.  

Ambling at a leisurely pace through Le Comte de Monte Cristo in French has also proved effective balm for the politically incensed heart. As an adolescent I was obsessed with the French Revolution. Le Comte de M-C takes place in the years of Napoleon’s exile on the island of Elba. The historic events are fascinating, and the novel is full of back-stabbing shenanigans, fearless heroes and dastardly villains. It’s gratifying reading the book in French, stumbling upon sentences like this one: Je vous demande pardon, ma mère, dit une jeune et belle personne aux blonds cheveaux, à l’oeil de velours nageant dans une fluide nacré … (“I beg pardon, my mother, said a young and beautiful person with blond hair and velvet eyes swimming in a pearly liquid ….”)  I hope to start writing like Dumas.

The Riesling binge continued with 2016 Stein Weihwasser Feinherb. Weihwasser means holy water, and this bottle is truly divine. I’d drunk Weihwasser before, but did not recall it being so extraordinary. I remember this wine as primarily refreshing, with a hint of sponty reduction and a core of zesty citrus fruit. Imagine my surprise when the wine was gorgeously aromatic, marked by the same walk-in-the-meadow vibe as the Falky, but more delicate and lacy, less powerful and ripe, tense and nervy, but soft like wild rose petal and iris, perhaps a hint of lilac …

Holy shit.

I don’t know Ulrich (“Ullie”) Stein personally, and so I went down a bit of a rabbit hole researching this estate. It seems Ullie is somewhat of a fanatic whose specialty is restoring ancient, barely workable sites in the Mosel that are prohibitively steep and in danger of going fallow because no one wants to work them. In other words, he specializes in labors of love. It’s inspiring both to drink this man’s wine, and to read about his noble work preserving some of the Mosel’s best and oldest terroirs.

Continuing in the 19th century vein, I’m re-reading Crime and Punishment for the first time since college. The aura of this book is dark and weird, ironic and bleak. Its genius lies in its ability to seduce the reader into pondering the nature and repercussions of freewill. This is one of the first existential novels, and its haunting depths are more resonant to me now than they were when I was young. (Plus C & P makes an interesting contrast to the bright-blue-sky-with-cotton-candy-clouds look that Colorado seems to wear every damned day of the week.) 

Stein-ing made me curious to open a bottle I’d been eyeing in the wine fridge: 2015 Weiser-Künstler Enkircher Ellergrub Kabinett. I approached this bottle with minor trepidation. 2015 was a sun-drenched year in the Mosel, and the resultant wines have been ripe for my taste. Falky and Stein were 2016s, and “Feinherb”, which means “off-dry” (and makes for fun punning when one considers the amount of fine herb lining the dispensary shelves in the great state of Colorado, as well as the natural symbiosis of Riesling and marijuana). Unlike most German wine words, which are bound by regulations, Feinherb is the winemaker’s impression of off-dry. Thus there is lots of variance in sweetness between Feinherb wines. To read more, see Lars’ article on the subject. For me, Feinherb is often the perfect balance. Anything sweeter and I’m compelled to stop after a glass or two.

The Ellergrub is an incredible site.

The Wei-Kü was traditional Mosel Kabinett. At 7.5% alcohol (versus 11-ish% for the Feinherbs) this was a sweeter, riper wine. Many Riesling obsessives take the position that sweet wine is the apotheosis of German Riesling. With residual sugar, the panoply of flavors broadens, the tongue tolerates even more razor sharp acidity, the wine becomes longer lived. And so what if I harbor a quiet preference for dry and off-dry? Does that make me deaf to the ultimate tones of great German wine? Perhaps.

As predicted, the Wei-Kü was an entirely different experience, as though I’d passed from a dewey morning to a delightfully warm afternoon. With a year of additional bottle age, the Wei-Kü showed flint, smoke, and petrol on the nose. Where the Feinherbs were green and blue, the Kabinett was green and gold, like a ripe grape barely flecked with brown. The palate was relentlessly crunchy and sheer to the finish, which delivered a pinch of skin tannin and a mouthful of rhubarb.

I was momentarily transported as I sipped to May 8th of last year, an enjoyable ride through Alsace into Germany with Amanda Smeltz. It was dusk when we arrived at Weiser-Künstler, but we were nonetheless received for a memorable tasting and a quick peek at the sleeping fuders. I found a clue in my notes from the visit. Konstantin told us that over the past few years they’ve been forced to harvest earlier because “rot is coming …” Early picking gave the wine incredible freshness and filigree; a ripe vintage gave it succulent fruit. It was a rare bird: a classic Kabinett that had not passed into Spätlese territory. It was certainly no less delicious than the Falky and the Stein for its sweetness, and with pleasure I corked up the bottle after two small glasses to return to the next day.

To those few who made it through this long and meandering post, I say: let us enjoy as much beauty and Riesling as we can in the moment, and if looking forward for inspiration seems futile, look backward, a distant light just might emerge from the mist.

In the spring of 2015 when I was national sales manager for Selection Massale, I wrote a post called “sleeping with other cities” about traveling to the southeast to promote the Massale brand. The journey stuck with me. It was the first time I’d visited Atlanta and New Orleans — iconic cities of the southeast! In retrospect, the reason this trip resonated so powerfully is that I loved the work. In retrospect, I’ve been trying to get back to this type of work since it escaped me in the fall of 2015. Happily, Division Winemaking Company came my way, and with them I have the opportunity to work markets across the U.S. again.

Going on tour with a wine company is not unlike going on tour with a band.

National selling differs from regional selling. National sales takes me to major cities, also off-the-beaten-path places in America, and allows me to dip into their wine and food scene for a couple of days. I meet the players and see how the game is played in those markets. I scope out what’s trending there, what portfolios are hot, what and where people are dining. I spend time with portfolio managers and sales reps, which is both taxing and fun. Since prohibition, the rules of the alcohol game have been 99% state determined, which means that every market has its own laws and customs. I learn about those and file them away to strengthen my chameleon abilities to sell to whomever, wherever, however (as long as it’s honest — guiding principle: no lying).

Regional sales made me a specialist: a specialist in New York booze laws and customs, New York restaurants and retail stores, New York distributor portfolios. I was relationship-rich. Rather than fleeting rapports with buyers, I had extensive ones; sometimes a buyer’d be so thoroughly ensconced in my brain that I’d dream about them … unlikely to happen in national sales.

I do not think one of these jobs is superior to the other. Both have major pros and cons. While I thoroughly enjoyed working a regional sales route for MFW (notably because MFW is a superb company with superb wine), I’m thrilled to be working a national route for Division. There are two things that draw me to national sales: the opportunity to travel the United States, and the consequent opportunity to celebrate small and burgeoning wine markets. It’s a given that the wine will be good in New York, L.A., Chicago. But an interesting wine market in Jackson Hole Wyoming, or Savannah, or Knoxville? Now that’s something …

On April 30th, I flew to Charleston to begin three weeks of market visits across the east coast followed by a week in Oregon for I Love Gamay, a festival I’d aided in the production and planning of. Looking down the barrel of this trip was daunting: a month of crashing in hotels, airbnbs, on friends’ air-mattresses and in their spare rooms, a month away from my home, my man and my cats, a month without routine, a month of living out of a suitcase. On the other hand: adventure! Life in Colorado is fairly staid and calm. I’m sleeping with a small town where people routinely wear pajama pants to the grocery store, where there’s virtually no grower Champagne, or black people, where I couldn’t buy a cocktail dress because shops don’t carry them. It was time to sleep with some cities — including the big mac-daddy of them all: New York, my former home.

Though I’d never been to Charleston, I was smote by powerful nostalgia when I touched down there. There were vivid green trees everywhere, moisture in the air, thick, soft light, southern voices speaking syrupy sentences dripping with irony, pimento cheese to feast upon, cicadas chirping loud as hell at night. It’s odd to experience a sense of home in a place you’ve never been, but that was my reaction to being reunited with the region of my birth and first 27 years of life, after four months in Colorado. Regional identity is real, and I didn’t know how strongly I identify as an east coaster, as a southerner, until I moved to the west.

superior pairing.

The food and wine scene in Charleston is poppin’ off right now. It’s clear that the city is going through a renaissance, or gentrification, or yuppi-fication if you will. There are quite a few buyers of New York origin in Charleston, which became a running joke between the sales rep and myself. Not that having New York wine buyers around is necessarily a good thing, or a sign of progress, but New York buyers do tend to push the envelope, to demand of their local reps the wines they used to buy in the metropolis. The sales rep, I should mention, is a gentleman named Kevin Kelley who is doing a smashing job not just for Division, but also for my former employer Selection Massale, for Portovino, for Jose Pastor Selections (these portfolios are all over Charleston), and more. Kevin is as good a rep as they come. He’s been in the Charleston food scene since the mid-80s; he knows everyone, and if buyer relationships were saturated fat, he’d be foie gras. He walks the streets of Charleston with a broken old schnook bag full of crazy good wine, seeing 10+ accounts a day, received with open arms by each one.

shelf-talker at Monarch Wine Merchants.

There were many excellent visits in Charleston, but I’ll highlight three spots. Graft is a new wine shop on King Street run by a couple of cool, young dudes named Miles and Femi. Miles worked as an assistant winemaker for Antica Terra in Oregon, and really knows his stuff. Femi, too. Apparently he’d shopped with me at Chambers Street back in the day. The booze laws in South Carolina allow these guys to have both and on and an off-premise licenses, so one can drink a delicious glass or bottle (with snacks!) at Graft. Their clientele is young and hip (like them!). I fielded quite a few questions about natural wine during my event there, and not one eye brow raised at the bottle of cold Gamay “Les Petits Fers” in my ice bucket.

Monarch Wine Merchants is a gorgeous shop further north on King Street run by a soulful guy named Justin who clearly has a hard-on for sparkling wine to equal my own. His sparkling selection reflects the give-zero-fucks-I’m-putting-amazing-Champange-on-the-shelf (even if I have to drink it all myself) attitude that imbued my Champagne shelf at Chambers Street. I could easily have spent a month’s rent at Monarch.

And finally Stems & Skins, a funky wine bar in north Charleston run by a genial, boisterous cat named Matt Tunstall. My wine bar takeover at Stems was followed by an opera performance during which I sat outside with Matt and Kevin, sipping a flight of Chenin (Division, Rochers des Violettes, Franz Saumon), enjoying the warm spring evening, getting tipsy and righteously eaten alive by mosquitos. Then we went to a dive bar that reminded me so much of the dive bars of my youth that an unbidden tear welled in my eye.

Dream car!

The next morning I set forth in the microscopic Toyota Yaris I’d rented for Savannah. Out of the city, I was in the rural southeast of my youth: crumby trailers with American flags in the yard alongside busted old hoopties with missing tires, swampy marshlands, Bojangles and Waffle House, poor and rich, black and white, living totally separately, yet right next to each other. I stopped to pee just outside Hilton Head at a dumpy junction where I was the only white person to be seen. Vestiges of slavery, segregation and racism still alive and well, an impoverished black community adjacent to a wealthy, white golfing town. But here’s the thing: rational awareness of how totally messed up the southeast is doesn’t stop me from feeling the visceral, palpably at home there.

Stay tuned for next week’s continuation of “working the market” (mid-Atlantic edition).

*For those of you looking for an in depth post on reduction from yours truly: someone has offered to exchange dollars for words on the subject, and so the piece is almost finished, but it will be published elsewhere.*

The first myth I’d like to dispel about Colorado is that the winter weather is bad. Certainly before coming here I was under the impression that because there are many places to ski, it’s frigid and snowy for a chunk of the year. It’s snowed three times since I arrived. The rest of the month, bright sunshine beams down on Colorado, melting any snow on the ground, and bathing the rockies in gorgeous light. While it’s not warm, there’s something about the dry air that makes the cold feel … less cold. Does that make sense? It didn’t to me either, but it’s true! 20 feels like 30; 30 feels like 40; 50 I can run outside in a tee-shirt and shorts. By pretty much any standard, the weather in Colorado is excellent.

Jogging outside, in a tee-shirt, in January.

The second myth I’d like to dispel is that because pot is legal here, everyone’s a pot head. From my limited observation, once the thing is legal, it becomes normalized. People who use it are free to indulge in high quality, safe product. People who don’t like it, just don’t use it. Regardless of your feelings on marijuana, the dispensary is a fun place to visit for the sheer sake of seeing something commercialized that we used to have to wait three hours for the shady drug dealer outside that shitty hot dog stand in Durham to acquire (that was in the ’90s). Given how much money is pouring into Colorado because of legal weed, given how much exciting entrepreneurship is fostered here because of the pot business, I truly don’t understand why more states don’t follow suit.

New bridge crush … not the George Washington, but I’ll take it.

Many people asked me when I moved here if I was planning to enter the marijuana trade. I think they were joking, but now I’ve met several people in the weed industry, and it’s not such a stretch. There’s overlap, particularly in sales, but sales is virtually the same the world over whether you’re selling cars, bottles of Burgundy, or vape pens. I truly believe the pot industry should learn from the wine industry. Wine bathes in a sheen of luxury and quality; pot, by contrast, has a sort of fog of illegality and moral reprehensibility billowing around it (compounded, of course, by Jeff Sessions and other haters in the government). Of course these associations with pot are rapidly changing. But still, it’ll be nice when the type of high-end curation that accompanies fine wines, accompanies rare strains and formats of marijuana. At least I think it’ll be nice. Both drugs can be good or bad depending on who you are and how you use them. I don’t really see why one but not the other should have a nice cushy pedestal to legitimize it. That said, I’m still fascinated by wine, and only marginally interested in weed, which means I’ll never make the jump.

Not going to lie, after New York, the food and wine scene is a little challenging, but I think it’s because 1) I’m a hopeless snob, and 2) I’m in Fort Collins rather than Denver or Boulder. I’ve made day trips to both (they’re an hour away in different directions), and have found excellent food, superb wine retail, and basically all the yuppie amenities I enjoyed as a 9 year resident of north Brooklyn. Fort Collins, on the other hand, seems to have a restaurant for every five inhabitants, but most are fast causal chains like Qdoba (there are at minimum five in this town, I kid you n0t), Noodles & Company (there are two on the main drag within half a mile of one another), and my personal favorite “Stuft”, which serves burgers and beer. “Stuft” has become a bit of a whipping boy for me because of the creator’s clear inability to spell in the English language. The stark reality is that I cannot find a good loaf of bread in this town, but hell, no one eats bread anymore, right? More importantly, there is good 3rd wave coffee here!

It looks and sounds as though the yuppification of Fort Collins is in full effect. People are priced out of Denver and Boulder, and are moving to their environs in droves. This means it’s only a matter of time. To that end, I’ve been fantasizing hot and heavily about opening a tiny wine bar here, perhaps with a small retail selection as well, something I’d never have contemplated in a million years in NYC, but Fort Collins needs it. The grad students and hip professors need somewhere to go besides the tap room and the whisky bar. They need somewhere to go where the college students are not. Applying things I learned in the metropolis, I think I could create — for not a ton of money — a cool space that would offer something not on the menu here yet (tiny production wine, natural wine, bar á vins flavor, a sense of exclusivity, something other than the ubiquitous suburban American, slightly-too-large, faux-fancy-but-you-can-still-wear-your-exercise-pants-there, soulless venues that crop up like weeds in towns like Fort Collins, and my home town for that matter, as they gentrify).

On to wine. When I repped in New York, there was always open wine in my life. Usually I’d drop bottles with customers. Sometimes I’d use them to barter with local cheesemongers (I got a lot of free cheese that way especially living in Brooklyn). When they were really good (Enviñate, Nanclares, Michel Autran, Ruppert-Leroy, Saint-Pierre, Silvio Carta, Falkenstein, all the MFW Oregon wines), I’d take then home and drink them. I rarely cracked bottles from my personal collection because there was no need. In Fort Collins, I’m not (yet) opening wine for my job, the wine retail scene here is … coming along, and I haven’t (yet) bought a car in which to go shopping in Denver/Bounder, with the result that if I want to sip something in the evening, it has to come from my “cellar.”

At first I thought “Sweet! I’ll finally start depleting my stash.” Shortly thereafter I thought “Fuck. I’ll never be able to buy good wine again.” And I resolved to, one by one, give back in some small way to the retailers who supported me as a rep in New York by ordering from them and having wine sent here. But the primary repercussion has been that I’ve checked in on some fabulous wines from my “cellar” that I probably would not have opened otherwise.

It was a joy to reconnect with the work of Étienne Thiébaud (Domaines des Cavarodes). I’ve been following his wines for seven years, and hard as they are to acquire, they always deliver. This is a wine I tasted out of barrel in the winter of 2015. At that time it was gloriously high acid, hard, and vivid. According to my notes, it’s a blend of 10-ish ancient varieties (comprising 80% Chardonnay with Savagnin, Savagnin Rose, Sauvignonasse, and more), vinified with only a drop of sulfur. This bottle had seen six months under my bed in Brooklyn with no temperature control, followed by a journey across the country through frigid temperatures. It was expressive and fresh as a daisy. I reached for this bottle because I get terribly nostalgic for the Jura, and Étienne’s wines (more than many others) taste of the region. They are not sous voile, but have that lovely whiff of oxidation that softens the green apple and lemon and stones. Perhaps more importantly, you smell — not just the marly limestone — but also the cellar and the Comté rind. Like most of my favorite textured, high-acid whites, this wine grips the inside of your mouth as though coating it with a fine film of stone.

It was also a joy to find that 2014 Táganan Blanco from Enviñate has arrived at a beautiful spot in its life. This wine, along with a bottle of Nanclares 2016 self-titled Albariño (not pictured) got me thinking about the color of minerality. Táganan is volcanic; Nanclares is granitic, but both have dark-toned minerality. As crystalline, pure, and pale as I find the rocky core of wines from places like the Côte des Blancs, Chablis, even Jura where you get more yellow sensations, these two have a brooding essence that puts me in mind of dark earth and stones. Táganan is intense and wild, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

John McIlwain gave me this 2014 Chorey-lès-Beaune from Catherine and Claude Maréchal. I’d been meaning to crack it for months, but the moment didn’t present itself … until moving day. At the end of moving day, I was so tired and so hungry that the only thing to be done was order a pizza. Recalling my friend Raj Vaidya extolling the virtues of Burgundy and pizza, I gave this counter-intuitive pairing a try. I love 2014 Burgundy more and more with every bottle. It speaks to the acid lover in me, and I appreciate its rusticity. Chorey is a rustic appellation, and this is not a wine to coddle you with cloying fruit. Its blackberry brambly with a hint of dusty graphite and fruit seed on the palate. It’s a wine that could only have come from an off-the-grid Burgundy village like Chorey. I have neither the money nor the drive to drink the fancier stuff, and so humble Burgundies like this are perfect for me.

Toro, Rodeo, Stuft Comté Cow.

In other news, I miss my friends in New York. Relocation to an entirely new place is a lonely business. But as my best friend Susannah pointed out, I “don’t like going out anyway …” The cats are good company and they are happy here. There’s plenty of cooking to be done, and we’ve already take down three seasons of True Blood (highly recommended), four seasons of Peaky Blinders (ditto), and three novels. And I’m relearning Chopin’s Nocturne in B flat minor, Opus 9, N0. 1. I’m getting up and running with Division, and my hope is that by the time our spring Divide and Conquer tour begins, I’ll be rested enough to party my face off when I get to the east coast.