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.
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.)
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.