“In times like these it is difficult not to write satire”--Juvenal
Thursday, February 21, 2013
The Legend of Parr Bunyan--Greatest Sommelier Who Ever Lived
Now I know you’ve all heard the tall tales about Paul Bunyan, greatest woodsman to ever live, able to clear a forest the size of Montana with one great sweep of his mighty ax. But I’m guessing you’ve never heard of his half-brother, Parr Bunyan. Parr went a much different way with his life than his legendary brother. Parr became a sommelier. Well, not just any sommelier, but the Greatest Sommelier Who Ever Lived. Paul never talked about his brother much, seems he was embarrassed that Ma Bunyan had conceived Parr out of wedlock, though Ma claimed Parr wasn’t conceived with a man, but with a sex toy. “Why just talk to him,” she’d say, “and you can tell he’s mostly dildo.”
Parr had all the size of his older brother Paul, but where Paul was all massive thighs and immeasurable barrel chest, Parr was mostly head. Parr had the biggest head the world had ever seen. His head was so big, Parr had to strap three sheep to a log to use as a Q-Tip. His hat size had more “X’s” than Larry King. And to get his tastevin on over his head, he had to have a chain so long it had more links than a Lindsay Lohan sex tape. He hadn’t been born with a big head, for which Ma Bunyan constantly thanked the Lord, but once he became a sommelier, his head just never stopped growing. This can happen to ordinary sommeliers too, but not on the scale it happens to a Bunyan.
The legend of Parr Bunyan began when he passed the Master Sommelier exam, all three levels, in twenty minutes. He’d identified five wines served to him blind perfectly, down to the vintage, the producer and what time of day the wine was poured. “It’s a 2010 Trimbach Cuvee Emile that was opened 57 minutes ago by a guy who didn’t wash his hands after he urinated.” An embarrassed Larry Stone skulked from the room. Parr also wrote a thousand word essay on the subject, “The effects of Linne Calodo soil on flavor and tannin in Grenache,” that was subsequently published by the UC Davis Press and outsold their legendary soil book, “Fifty Shales of Gray.” When everything he recommended during the service part of the exam was the perfect match for the foods, causing one examiner to say, “These are the best pairs since Scarlett Johansson,” the legend of Parr Bunyan was born.
Why Parr Bunyan, the Greatest Sommelier Who Ever Lived, can tell the quality of a vintage just by sniffin’ the air. Parr strides his mighty stride, his gigantic head precariously balanced above his paunchy body, his tastevin jangling out the theme from “The Exorcist,” across San Francisco Bay, using the Golden Gate Bridge to relieve his itchy hemorrhoids, up to Napa Valley. His giant bean looming over the puny people of Napa, he inhales deeply. Trees are uprooted, trophy wives scatter willy-nilly, winery dogs are deloused, as are winery marketing departments, but Parr gets a good strong whiff. “A classic vintage,” he declares, “rivaling any I can recall, though Howell Mountain wines will take some time to come out of their shell.” On Parr’s proclamation alone, prices rise like souls ascending to Heaven, to an unseen place where no mortals will ever see them again.
From there it’s just a small step to Sonoma, a much bigger county, but no match for the size of Parr’s giant dome. One deep inhale, his head tilted slightly right to favor that nostril, the residents of the county experiencing a partial solar eclipse as Parr’s head comes between them and the sun, and Parr declares, “An excellent vintage here as well, though the alcohol levels are too high in much of Dry Creek and the Russian River and must be lowered, while the True Sonoma Coast has made wines of great distinction and balance. And, believe me, with a head like mine, you need to know balance.”
Around the globe Parr Bunyan strides, declaring the vintage in every famous wine region. Wine writers hang on his every word, winemakers dazzled by his knowledge and nose, and all of them astonished at the size of his head. There is nothing he doesn’t know about wine. He is the Greatest Sommelier Who Ever Lived.
But the Greatest Sommelier Who Ever Lived is still a man, and a lonely man. He broods. Some say that it’s the thousand wines he tastes every morning that affect his personality. Perhaps all that alcohol would affect a normal man, but it’s foolish to think it affects Parr Bunyan. Why, he can taste and spit a hundred wines in the time it takes an ordinary sommelier to pretend he knows what Nerello Mascalese is. Parr can recite the list of every known wine grape in less than five minutes to the tune of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Major General.” One lazy afternoon, Parr sequenced Jancis Robinson’s DNA. Turns out she’s nearly indistinct from Eiswein.
Perhaps, some folks believe, Parr is a sad and lonely man precisely because he knows everything about wine, and being the Greatest Sommelier Who Ever Lived. There is nothing left for him to do but try and teach the human race about wine, about the right wines, wines that are wine as God intended. But not everyone will listen to Parr Bunyan. He fears it’s the size of his melon (often mistaken for Pinot Blanc in California). He speaks at symposia, he stoops to interviews with the ignorant, he lectures wineries and winemakers—and all for naught. For although Parr Bunyan is larger than life, a living legend, a wine god among men, people still insist on drinking what they like. They nod their head during interviews, they nod off at symposia, they praise his almighty head at wineries, they acknowledge his superior knowledge and truly gigantic body cavities, but then they just keep on making wines they like, drinking wines they like, ignoring his dictum of higher acid and lower alcohol, forsaking his wisdom in favor of their clearly inferior senses encased in their pathetic pinheads. Poor Parr Bunyan—it makes him lonely and sad.
When a head that size cries, the whole county smells like Manzanilla. Vineyards are flooded and precious top soil erodes. Parr Bunyan, therefore, is not allowed to cry, and this is what makes him sad and lonely. He wants to cry for us, to purify us of our wine ignorance, but he mustn’t. Instead, he must keep on talking, keep on preaching, keep on reminding us he is the legendary Parr Bunyan, Greatest Sommelier Who Ever Lived.
It turns out, that legend thing ain’t what it used to be.
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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