I am not a cheesy person. Well. There’s the annual sob to Bob Dylan’s ‘Blood on the Tracks’ while remembering that dude you thought you loved 15 years ago who now has several kids, dogs, and a house and garden somewhere outside of Nashville (for example). But in my family growing up, you got mocked for being cheesy, so I never learned the art. That said, if there were a day to be cheesy, it would have been Friday. It was my last day at Chambers Street Wines, the incredible wine store I’ve worked in for the past five years. In the grand scheme of things, five years is nothing, but in fact it’s a pretty long time. Lots of things have happened since I started at Chambers: relationships have come and gone, apartments changed, my dad died, my cat moved to Oakland, the list goes on. The people at Chambers are my family; the partners who own the store gave me the proverbial keys to the kingdom so that now I can go on and do something new, not necessarily something better, but something different.
It was a touching day, yesterday, largely because of the vast gray zone of humans consisting of friends, colleagues, customers, and industry movers and shakers, all united by the deep love of wine. Throughout the day, they stopped in to the shop; they sent me notes; they gave me shout outs on Twitter (which I hate) and Facebook (which I grudgingly confess I love). My friend Arnold wrote a post on his blog framing my departure as a colossal loss for TriBeCa. What a kind, generous overstatement. When I arrived at work, there was a bottle of this wine waiting for me on my desk:
It was a present from a long-time customer and friend in Atlanta. He wanted to say “thanks, and best of luck.” I almost cried. Really I did. The point is, I felt great. I felt confident, and I felt so completely taken care of by my community, a community I still can hardly believe exists, because in my heart of hearts I’m the nervous 20-something year old moving to the big city from rural North Carolina to pursue a lofty dream. That was almost seven years ago!
Throughout the day, I spoke to my boss and my colleagues as though nothing was different, as though I’d be back the next morning to bitch about clutter on the sales desk, to look at the internet orders and face the Champagne bottles. It’s funny how we do what we’re programed to do, always. If it was the last day of my life, I’d probably still start the morning with an egg on toast and a cup of coffee from Yirgacheffe.
It was kind of hard to work, but I like to think I tried. In fact I did the kind of work I’d largely lost sight of in my tenure as store manager: I helped the customers, and threw myself into it heart and soul, because, frankly, all the other crap is now someone else’s responsibility. I had about as much fun as I’ve ever had picking bottles of wine for people, talking them into Riffault Sancerre rather than the more standard issue Sauvignon Blanc in the fridge, telling stories about Benoit Lahaye’s donkeys and the magic Pascal and Evelyne Clairette of Domaine de la Tournelle worked in the 2012 vintage. On my last day of wine retail, it was pretty nice to reconnect with my first day of wine retail, eight years ago now, when I didn’t know what an Amarone was, and made flash cards to remember the difference between Vouvray and Pouilly-Fume.
We opened Champagne at about 6:30, which seemed like a reasonable time to begin getting cheesy. My coworker who goes by the handle “Gabbro Gabbro He-ey” made some incredible pimento cheese, which is a heavenly smash of shredded cheddar, mustard, mayo, smoked paprika, and pimentos. With pimento cheese, we had 2006 Pierre Peters “Les Chetillons,” a brilliantly saline, oyster shell-y, profound Champagne from Le Mesnil. My first bottle of this was last year, and it was the 2007 vintage, which was more forward and pilar-like. 2006 had begun to mellow, and was perfectly laser-like, dry, and balanced, the kind of Champagne that leaves a coating of chalk in the mouth.
Next we opened 2009 Marguet Rose, a wine I’d been waiting for since April when I first tasted it at the Domaine. Marguet Rose is an unusual wine, and it will not be for everyone due to the natural style, by which I mean light oxidation, unusually iron-y minerality, and really full, bold, unique flavors and textures on the palate. I absolutely love this bottle of wine. It smells like rose petals, and the length on the palate is incredible, undoubtedly partly due to the fact that (unlike almost all Champagne) the finish isn’t clipped by sulfur. As it opened up, it came into its own, and I causally sipped it throughout the evening, each time marveling at its depth and complexity.
The in-store tasting for the evening was poured by an old school liquor business schnook named Jimmy Capone. He was pouring heftily) the Bruichladdich single malts, and everyone was getting wasted. There was an incredible amount of loud, smoky camaraderie in the room, and I couldn’t remember the last time the shop felt so good.
It was fitting that we drank Champagne on my last evening at Chambers Street. It’s true that Champagne is celebratory, and should be drunk all the time and whenever possible (according to the Joe Beef cookbook, because “life is short, hard, and can often suck”), but more importantly (at least for me) because the row of Champagne bottles you see as you walk in the door of the shop is like my child and my legacy. I really, really love Champagne; it’s been my pet project for years now to find the best Champagnes according to a certain style: made by growers who are farming organically, wines made with little manipulation, to put on the shelf at Chambers. It’s one of my few accomplishments in life, the Champagne section, and when I look at those bottles, I’m proud. When I ponder my relationships in Champagne, I’m proud; dusting and facing the Champagne bottles gives me pleasure. For sure it’s going to be hard turning it over to someone else, but I have to, and those who come after me will undoubtedly do a fabulous job.
When Susannah and I got back to our place, we opened this bottle from Pascal Doquet in Vertus. Pascal is one of the nicest people I have ever met, and he’s coming to New York in October; look out for a wine dinner on October 20th at Racines, featuring the better part of Pascal’s lineup. This wine provided an interesting contrast to the Chetillons from Pierre Peters. It’s a softer wine, with prettier, creamier notes, and less of the intense, earthy mineral core the Chetillons. That said, the finish was very long and delivered a certain chalkiness that made a lovely counterpart to the creaminess of the palate. For me the wine showed the difference between Mesnil and Vertus, the Doquet offering a feminine counterpart to the muscular Chetillons. Doquet’s wines are classic for my palate, which leans toward the avant-garde in Champagne, but I love the wines; they are warm and comforting, but also nervy, like the man. I could have imagined this wine coexisting with a late night Mariah Carey retrospective, for which something like Ulysses Collin would be totally inappropriate. There’s nothing wrong with getting cheesy every once in awhile.
All in all, it was a special day for me, full of goodwill toward my fellow man, full of pride, and that strange blend of happiness, sadness, and nostalgia that we all know well from our most poignant moments in life. A huge thank you for the kind words, and for supporting me as I get cheesy and drink Champagne.