“A person reveals his character by nothing so clearly as the joke he resents.”―-Georg Christoph Lichtenberg
Thursday, April 3, 2014
In Pursuit of Balance: A Love Story
The first time I looked in Raj’s eyes, deep and brown like an old premox white Burgundy, I saw it. I saw balance. I’d never seen balance in a sommelier’s eyes before. I’d seen cloudiness, a kind of protein haze; and I’d often seen a sort of emptiness, as though they’d been labeled “sommelier,” but were really filled with something else, something altogether fake, and they were but slick and convincing frauds sold to wealthy and ignorant dot-com zillionaires. But Raj was different. He had stillness, and balance. And I’d been looking for that. I’d always been in pursuit of balance.
And what is balance? I make wine, and I haven’t the slightest idea. I like to think of it like a Flying Wallenda might. You walk this small line utterly dependent upon balance, and you know you’ve achieved it when you don’t fall 150 feet to your death. So balance isn’t really that hard to understand from that viewpoint. Only a dead idiot doesn’t understand balance. Wine isn’t that different. Except sometimes the idiots aren’t dead, that’s about the only difference.
Here’s the irony: Raj’s balance made me lose mine. I fell, and I fell hard. Raj became my wine guru, my 12-pak Chopra. I wanted to give birth to something with him. I didn’t care what. Well, not a porcupine. I could sit and listen to Raj talk about wine all day. He knows everything about wine. Raj is my Wikipedia of wine. I know, because when I conduct a search in his pants, he comes up first. It was after one of our many conversations about balance that the inspiration struck me. Raj and I could give birth to our pursuit, bring our beautiful shared passion to the world, teach the wine world about balance. Why hadn’t it been done before? Surely, wines have always pursued balance, what else is there? What is a wine without balance? Aside from on the by-the-glass list at Fleming’s?
I was so excited I could hardly speak. I stared deeply into my Raj’s eyes and I wanted to cry. I was a woman pregnant with the future. Raj and I would give birth to Balance. And when Balance finally entered the wine world, when our baby was seen for the savior He most certainly was, wine would be changed forever! Balance would be King! Balance would assume His rightful place as the only true savior. And those who followed us would be rewarded, be seen as the true Lights of wine. We would take our message on the road, hold Balance conferences in great halls all over the country, invite the fallen, those poor wine lovers who mistake the whore of Ripeness for beauty, who worship at the satanic altar of alcohol, and open their eyes to what real wine is--What we say it is.
When I finally shared my vision with Raj, I could see he was speechless with love for me, and for our newborn King. He told me he had always dreamed of this day. That he had entered a world where Pinot Noir had been lost, had died for its Marcassins. Chardonnay was equally lost, a lonely old whore wearing too much makeup, flabby, and several hundred winemakers past tight. Raj knew he could save them. All he needed was a partner and a platform, and disciples to help spread the word. Balance is King, and there is but one way to Balance. Our way. Any other way can lead to only one result—a 150 foot fall to your death.
I don’t think my heart has ever pounded harder in my chest than when Raj told me that he knew of one winery where balance had already been accepted as Savior and King—mine! At that moment, I felt that Raj and I were one. Together, we would bring real wine to the world. Our wines. And the wines of those who chose to follow. At that moment, Balance was born. And I can still hear Raj’s words, words that have become our mantra for our Pursuit of Balance, words I never stop saying to myself, “Push, push, push, goddamit, push.”
Raj and I agreed that people had to come to understand Balance on their own terms, that we couldn’t push them too hard or they might come to wonder what was in it for us, which was pretty much the whole enchilada. We had to make them see Balance the way we saw Balance, our beautiful and sacred offspring, as the Savior of Wine. We needed a Manifesto. And nothing makes a Manifesto like vague and indefinable language. And I was staring into the big brown eyes of a master of vague and indefinable language.
Our Manifesto is brilliant. Through the time-honored conventions of obfuscation, vagueness, and out-and-out doubletalk, it achieves our goal. It brings us attention. That’s the main reason for all this. The rest is just a smoke screen of importance. For those of you non-believers, here are a few of the most brilliant pieces of the Manifesto of Balance:
“Loosely speaking, a wine is in balance when its diverse components – fruit, acidity, structure and alcohol – coexist in a manner such that should any one aspect overwhelm or be diminished, then the fundamental nature of the wine would be changed.” Oh, you know it’s brilliant when the only response to it is, “Duh.”
“Growing healthy fruit and maintaining natural acidity to achieve optimum ripeness without being overripe. What is ripeness and what is its relation to balance?” Love this! So smart. Optimum ripeness that isn’t overripe! That’s like optimum flavor without having too much flavor. Or optimum drinking without drinking too much. And then ask the question, What is ripeness? Beats the fuck out of me, but let’s get it to the optimum.
“Can balance in wine be achieved through corrections in the winery or is it the result of a natural process informed by carefully considered intention at every step of the way?” Ooh, a compound question! Those are fantastic! Like in grammar school, where the teacher is telling you the answer without telling you the answer. Johnny, is it best to be a conniving little liar who needs to have the crap beat out of him on a regular basis, or is honesty best?
We gathered disciples, likeminded people who understood that Balance in wine is truthfully defined as the interplay of fruit, marketing, self-promotion and faux philosophy. We made them pass a test, a test of faith and Balance, and then they were granted Confirmation. We preached that we should arrive at a definition of Balance that makes the most sense for us, and only us, and for where we grow our grapes. Who cares about everyone else? There’s this tightrope of balance that anyone can walk, anyone from anywhere. Skinny people can make it across without falling, fat people can make it, old people have a chance, tall people, short people...balance is possible for anyone. We just have to convince the wine-buying audience that we’re the only ones who can make it without falling to our death, that we’re the ones who truly understand Balance, and then they’ll see all the others as already dead.
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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--Mike Dunne, Sacramento Bee
Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/2014/01/21/6089630/dunne-on-wine-wine-blogs-and-bloggers.html#storylink=cpy
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