"Irreverence is easy--what's hard is wit."--Tom Lehrer
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Dysfunctional Family Winemakers
If there's one tasting I look forward to the most eagerly each year, it's the American and International Dysfunctional Family Winemakers tasting ("AInt Dysfun?, as it's known in the trade). There's an electricity in the air unmatched at any other event in the wine biz, except maybe the annual Capital Punishment affair held by William Foley in the majestic ballroom at San Quentin when he executes the staff of a new winery he's purchased. And he spares no expense on the food--it's Last Meal for everybody! But there are so many wineries represented at AInt Dysfun? that it would be impossible to taste at every table. (Unless you're Alder Yarrow. But he has a distinct advantage over ordinary humans. Just ask him.) I usually try to visit a few of my favorite Dysfunctional Family Wineries, after all, who can pass up a chance to visit with Gina Gallo and Jean-Charles Boisset, the poster children for AIn't Dysfun?, but spend the majority of my time tasting at Dysfunctional Family wineries that are new to me. I don't spend a lot of time here at HoseMaster of Wine reviewing wine, mostly because you babies whine when I do, but I came across some extraordinary wines at AInt Dysfun that I thought you should seek out.
There's something really inspiring about the wines from Overly Affectionate Family Vineyards. First of all, I don't think I've ever seen so many people working at one table before at a tasting. Seventeen members of the Overly family were present to share their wines. They had formed a long daisy chain of holding hands, so only Tricia Overly, the matriarch of the family, who was standing on the end, had a free hand to serve their wines. I was curious about how such a physically affectionate family got into the wine business, but Tricia's answers were constantly interrupted by her children kissing her repeatedly on the mouth. That didn't bother me. But breastfeeding at a trade show is crossing a line! Though I was curious why her son's beard stubble didn't irritate her. I was impressed with the Overly Affectionate 2009 "Come Here and Kiss Me" Chardonnay. When I asked Bennett Overly what made it so distinct, he looked up from where he was nuzzling his eldest daughter's neck and told me that the secret to Overly Affectionate Family wines was "skin contact, and lots of it." I don't come from an overtly affectionate family, so it was refreshing to see a family so openly touching and kissing and sharing physical comfort, so obviously proud of their family and wines. "There's a little bit of me in all my wines," Bennett told me, "and a little bit of me in all my kids too." Yeah, I guess.
After the Overly Affectionate Family wines I rushed over to wash my hands, then taste at the table where some friendly guys were serving My Sister's Underwear Drawer wines. You just can't get more dysfunctional than that! Each label features a lovely engraving of a different pair of the Bagg brothers', Scum and Doosh, sister's panties. Reminiscent of the Harlan Estate labels, except Harlan Estate's Scratch 'n' Sniff smells like money. I asked Doosh where the name of the winery originated. You don't want to know. First, I tasted the My Sister's Underwear Drawer 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon "Edible." The nose was slightly fecal, and the flavors were distinctly earthy, so I might have mistaken it for a Santa Barbara Cabernet. The My Sister's Underwear Drawer 2008 "G-String" Pinot Noir was my favorite. The wine simply glides between your cheeks. Doosh told me the wine is 100% Pommerde clone grown in very chalky soil. "What I'm really looking for in these wines is the same thing I look for in my sister's underwear drawer," Doosh told me, expression of soil..."
As a person who thinks the whole wine and food pairing culture is stupid, it was refreshing to taste with the folks at Domaine Eating Disorder. Siblings Ann O'Rexia and Bill Emia were candid in their views. "Food, in general, is disgusting," Ann told me, "and has no place at the dinner table." As dysfunctional family members, you would expect Bill to disagree with his sis, "Well, I love food, and lots and lots of it. Anyone who doesn't eat his weight in trans-fats a day is just not enjoying life. But wine with food? Don't make me puke." Hard to argue with winemakers who make such remarkable wines. The Domaine Eating Disorder 2009 "Kate Moss" Sauvignon Blanc was predictably lean and acidic, though Bill admired its bounty of grapefruit, melons and Fig Newtons on the palate. Actual Fig Newtons. In every bottle Bill was able to add a yummy cookie due to a loophole in the TTB regulations that allows Nabisco products in certain wines. (There are Oreo cookies in the Eating Disorder Zinfandel from Lodi, but you can't really tell--it's Lodi Zin, after all.) Bill's favorite is the Domaine Eating Disorder 2006 "The Vomitorium" Gruner Veltliner. "If this doesn't make you Smaragd up your dinner, I don't know what will."
It seemed appropriate to end the AInt Dysfun Tasting at the most sought-after cult wine table with dozens of fellow wine bloggers clamoring for a taste of Personal Failure Wines. Personal Failure's concept is to bring together people who have never been successful enough to have pleased their parents under one roof to make wine. Each bottle has a back label that briefly explains how the winemaker disappointed his mother or father, or both. For example, here's what it says on the back of Personal Failure 2007 "You Married That Slut" Cabernet:
2007 was the year I married my wife Betty over the objections of my mother who told me I was marrying Betty because I was inadequately endowed and Betty was the first whore who said Yes, and that Betty was certain to take many lovers and a mockery of me, and that I shouldn't even think about running back home when Betty dumped me because she'd already be dead after turning the shotgun on Dad first, What was there to live for? This is my tribute to her. I hope you enjoy it. And, thanks, Betty, it was fun.
The stories are compelling, and so are the wines. It seemed that each blogger had a Personal Failure wine he could identify with, and this, along with the astounding quality of the wines, made under the supervision of personal failure Tim Mondavi, is what creates the historic demand for these wines. Here's another, this from the back label of Personal Failure 2008 "You'll Never Amount to Anything" Chardonnay:
I dedicate this wine to my Father, Leonard, who, from the time I was a little girl, told me I would never amount to anything. And now, after a stalled career as a surrogate mother for endangered Amazon River tribes, five failed marriages, three failed suicide attempts, and one failed souffle, I want my Father to try my 2008 Chardonnay, which was aged 10 months in Ethan Allen oak and was bottled unfined, unfiltered and sadly unloved.
You can understand why the Personal Failure table was so busy. Personal Failure speaks to us all.
After 19 years as a Sommelier in Los Angeles, twice named Sommelier of the Year by the Southern California Restaurant Writers' Association, I moved to Sonoma County to explore the other aspects of the wine business. I've spent, OK wasted, 35 years learning about and teaching about and swallowing wine. I am also a judge at the Sonoma Harvest Fair, San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition and the San Francisco International Wine Competition--so I can spit like a rabid llama. I know more about wine than David Sedaris and I'm funnier than James Laube. Stay tuned for an informed but jaded view of everything wine and everything else.
I'm living proof that alcohol kills brain cells.
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