Monday, February 25, 2013

Welcome to the Stuffed Winery Dog Diorama!

I paid a visit to the Vintners Hall of Fame in St. Helena recently, and was pleasantly surprised to find that they had opened a new wing. Now, in addition to plaques of all the elected members, the Hall is displaying important wine memorabilia. It’s a terrific idea. After all, one can travel to Cooperstown and see wondrous baseball mementoes—Eddie Goodell’s tiny protective cup made from a Budweiser beer cap, Denny McClain’s autographed prison jersey, you can even picnic with your family under Barry Bonds’ cap!

Now many of the most important historical items in the history of California wine are on display for wine aficionados to enjoy. If you go, I’d urge you to take the audio tour narrated by famed Hugh Johnson impersonator, Hugh Johnson. I took notes of the audio tour, sort of like Alderpated does, only I don’t claim mine are accurate. Here are some excerpts:

Welcome to the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone, and the Vintners Hall of Fame, sponsored by Wine Spectator—America’s favorite wine publication. Remember, “Wine Spectator!--we put the “sewer” in Connoisseur.”

If you look at the display case to your immediate left, you’ll see the taxidermied alligator thought to have eaten Agoston Haraszthy, the “Father of California Viticulture.” It seems the gator was mighty Hungary. If you look carefully, you may see bits of Agoston lodged between the alligator’s ferocious teeth. Curators have removed most of those bits very carefully utilizing fine strands of wheat so as not to damage the valuable beast. So his floss is our grain! It’s said that the reptile washed Haraszthy down with a nice Zin.

The ashtray on your right, enclosed in the glass case, is filled with the cigarette butts of legendary California winemaker, Andre Tchelistcheff. Tchelistcheff was one of the most influential winemakers in the history of California, mentoring many of the great winemakers who followed. It is from Tchelistcheff, for example, that the talented Mike Grgich learned his own appreciation of butts. He certainly has a firm grasp on them. Andre once said, “I like my Cabernet like I like my cigarettes, unfiltered and bummed off somebody else.”

Just down the Marvin Shanken Hallway (What’s the Marvin Shanken Hallway, you ask? Oh, almost as much as Marvin himself.) on your left is one of the original spitbuckets used at the famous Paris Tasting of 1976. At that tasting, the French wine judges were unable to tell the great wines of France from the crap coming out of California at the time. The French wine judges were not just ordinary folks, all were wine experts and two even had Ph.D.s. These were the famous French Pair o’ Docs. The surprise victories of a Chateau Montelena Chardonnay and a Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon put California wine on the international map. The remnants of those wines are in this perfectly preserved spitbucket, which our curators tell us still smell like oak. It has begun to develop a light film of yeast on the top of the wine which has helped to preserve this historical treasure because even the French won’t spit on the flor.

Just beyond the Tim Fish Ladder, you’ll see the rough draft of Ann Noble’s original Aroma Wheel. As a professor at UC Davis, Noble first got the idea for an aroma wheel from an ancient Mayan calendar, which is also impossible to read and mostly inaccurate. In this original draft, drawn on a cocktail napkin from the Davis House of Pies, Noble, after a few gin rickeys, begins to outline the wheel with various aromas she detects in wines. Many are still listed on the Aroma Wheel as it stands today, but, if you read it closely, you’ll find a few that were later eliminated. Can you spot “Maynard Amerine’s dog breath,” “wet gerbil,” and “Robert Lawrence Balzer” on the napkin's chart? The phone number was apparently meant for the bartender.

If you walk a few feet past the James Laube Lobby (feel free to take a short break in the Laube Lobby, but please be aware that, in deference to Mr. Laube, all the cushions are greatly inflated), you’ll see a Nineteenth Century pickaxe used by one of the Chinese coolies who helped dig wine caves all around Napa Valley. Even today, Napa Valley wineries are counting on the Chinese to save their financial ax and pick expensive Napa Cabernets. Next to the pickaxe is a representation of the koi ponds that almost all of the Chinese laborers kept for contemplative purposes, though it’s thought that the koi may have been responsible for the cave diggers’ Carp-all Tunnel Syndrome.

Next to the Harvey Steiman Hot Tub (which is not an actual hot tub, but simply his nickname), you can see the original wine club. Made of local oak, the original wine club was used to beat people senseless to buy wines in tasting rooms. Unsuspecting visitors would drop by for a taste of wine only to find themselves hit over the head with the wine club, again and again, often four times a year. That wine club has morphed into the modern day wine club that almost every winery has, but which does exactly the same thing.

Continue on past the vending machines and the Matt Kramer Coin Changer (“Making Cents of Bills”), and you’ll see a grand diorama of hundreds of stuffed winery dogs. Every visitor to wine country falls in love with a winery dog. To the left is Corky, the famed greeter at Beaulieu Vineyards, whose rainy day aroma of TCA graced many a bottle in the ‘90s. Next to him is Caesar, formerly of Rubicon Estate—don’t cross him! And who’s that taking a whiz on a bust of Cesar Chavez? Why it’s the Gallos’ faithful companion, Short Dog. Isn’t this a wonderful tribute to those furry friends who make our winery visits so enjoyable? We think so, and, look, many are even more lifelike than tasting room staff.

We hope that you’ve enjoyed your visit to the Vintners Hall of Fame. And we hope that you’ll return soon for another visit. Mark your calendars for the 2014 grand opening of the Vintners Hall of Fame Wax Museum. Just like their finest bottles, the vintners are lovingly hand-dipped.


Unknown said...

Ron, this might have set a record for most puns in a HoseMaster post - which is saying something.

Charlie Olken said...

This is a classic. Laugh out loud lines one after another.

Hard to pick a favorite, but "the French wont spit on the floor" got the loudest guffaw.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Andy And Puff Daddy,
After so many "dark" satires lately, pieces that probably reflect my current mood, I decided to write something completely silly. I do try to change pace, consciously, on HoseMaster, keep it unpredictable (in a sense).

I actually liked the premise a lot. Why don't they have that sort of memorabilia collection for their Vintners Hall of Fame, like all the major sports have? For comedy, the possibilities were endless, and, hell, I may have to revisit it again.

Anonymous said...

Frequent reader, first time commenter. I always laugh but this one made me cry. Thanks for brightening my Monday.

Bella Vino said...

Ron, have you ever taken the Heritage Tour at Hanzell V.? A heck of a lot of history there. Be sure to look at the signatures in the first guest book.

Julie Pedroncelli St. John said...

Funny and talented you are. I snorted when I read this and I didn't think it was possible to shoot a tic tac out of my nose. Thanks for the breath of fresh air your writing brings to my inbox.

Anonymous said...

In the old manner of novelists inscribing the dates and locations of composition at the end, could you share what you're drinking and how much?

Thomas said...

More groans than laughs this time.

Must be me. Couldn't be the HoseMaster's fault...could it?

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Thanks, Julie,
Hawking stuff out your nose is quite the compliment. But I prefer you do it in person, far more entertaining.

Bella Vino,
Never been on the Heritage tour at Hanzell. Do they have really old Crown Zellerbach toilet paper rolls on display? So who was one of the first guests? I'm hoping it was Oscar Levant.

I never drink and write. Only scripted drunks are funny. Wait, that could be Thomas' point. If he had one.

Samantha Dugan said...

"Hot Tub" this shall be my new porn star name, thanks for that! I love you.

Thomas said...


Do you seriously believe that Bella Vino knows the name Oscar Levant?

Marcia Macomber said...

I must say I'm with Thomas on this. Lots of groaners -- which isn't a complaint; it's more a style choice this time.

Favorite serious groaner: "’s thought that the koi may have been responsible for the cave diggers’ Carp-all Tunnel Syndrome." You can just hear the rimshot under the groans on this fading away quickly.

I loved Oscar Levant! He had all the best lines. No one could deliver dry, glum lines with such panache! He wasn't too bad on the ivories either.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

My Gorgeous Samantha,
So what was your old porn star name? I want to watch a few of those. I love you too.

I'm guessing Bella Vino knows how to Google. I guess I've been on a Jack Paar thing lately. Probably triggered by all the Raj Parr talk. I always love Levant on Paar, as well as Jonathan Winters, Jack Douglas, and Peter Ustinov. Not many raconteurs and wits left on TV talk shows.

I thought about making this a "nastier" kind of piece, harder satire, but then decided to be stupid. Do what I'm best at, that is.

Samantha Dugan said...

Might be difficult to fine my older films, I mean outside Siberia where they are used as forms of punishment but maybe a Google search using my old "stage name" Fellatia Soave will turn something up.

Samantha Dugan said...

Find, difficult to find, Dammit.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Oh, Samantha, I love Soave that goes down easy.

Bella Vino said...

Ron...Crown Zellerbach tp - funny....I'll have to tell Jean that. The Heritage winery bldg. is a 2/3 replica of one of the press bldngs. @ Clos Vougeot. The Zellerback Vineyard is the oldest continuously producing Pinot vineyard in America, planted in 1953. (at least since the ones on the Central Coast were taken out). The Masson clone cuttings came from the To-Kalon vineyard where Ivan Shock was the vineyard mngr. There was a midnight run with Ivan in charge, pointing out which vines to take cutting from. The Stainless Steel Fermentation Tanks that Andre & Brad Webb designed were made by a dairy tank manufacturer in Sacramento, and this was the first time temp. controlled ferm. took place anywhere. At the same time that Peynaud was fooling around with controlled malo it was also done at Hanzell in about 1959. Hanzell was also the first winery in Calif. to use French Oak exclusively, tho never more than 30 - 40% new. So you see, there is already an historical museum right there in your backyard. Many of the young guns from UC Davis incl. Maynard Amarine used to hang out @ Hanzell. Please tell Thomas that I know exactly who Oscar Levant was....Parr and "That Was the Week that Was" were two of my parents favs. Other favorite comedians of my dads were Severin Dardin, Andy Griffith, Bob Newhart & Art Buchwald. I had a degree in Liberal Arts from my parents at 16. I have had Master Classes from Martha Graham, Alvin Aily & Jose Limon. I met John Lennon once and have seen Bruce Springsteen over 20 times. Buddy Guy, Jr. Wells, and Luther Allison have all had my dads BBQ in our house. I have seen Marcel Marceau, Jean Pierre Rampal and got in trouble with Muddy Waters Manager, but that's a whole 'nother story. I know you told me not to pay attention to the old geezers on this thread, but Thomas has a lot of nerve making assumptions about people he doesn't know, just to sound like an elitist. There's already one of those in my family, and that's enuf for me. Seriously, call Hanzell and take the Heritage tour...if you tell 'em Bella Vino sent you they will know whassup.

Charlie Olken said...

Time to unmaks Bella Vino. He knows too much to remain anonymous.

Thomas said...

Bella Vino:

Obviously, you have forgotten on which blog you have signed on.

Is thin skin another sommelier trait?

We could match past achievements, but I fear that would make me sound worse than elitist. If you cannot laugh at yourself and at me as well, then we will agree to not talk to each other. Okay?


Remember Alexander King and Hermoine (sp) Gingold, and the poetry of Victor Buono?

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Bella Vino,
I'm aware of the history at Hanzell, and there's plenty at Schramsberg and El Molino and Stony Hill too. Hell, I'm a living museum, for that matter, as is my superior, Charlie. My silly premise was simply an excuse to make really bad jokes.

You misread Thomas. He's been hanging around here almost since the beginning of HoseMaster, way back in 1965. He's not at all an elitist, just a wiseguy from the East Coast. He and I share a love of stupid TV trivia, which it sounds like you know a fair bit about too. So I like to drop in stupid references, like Oscar Levant, just for fun. I was a big fan of That Was the Week That Was, by the way, particularly as it introduced me to Tom Lehrer (please, anyone who knows Tom Lehrer personally, send him a link to my blog!). Nobody really knows anybody around here. It's the Internet! God knows it's not about interpersonal relationships or self knowledge. You don't need to defend your credentials, Bella Vino, hang around here long enough, have fun, and we'll all realize the value of your commentary.

I'm thinking Bella Vino is actually Raj Parr. Or maybe Bea Lillie. Though it could be Dan Berger. No matter.

I'd forgotten that Victor Buono read his comic poetry on Paar. Sort of a poor man's Orson Welles.

Thomas said...

Is Tom Leher still around, poisoning pigeons in the park?

Victor was almost as big as Orson became...

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Of course, Tom Lehrer is still around, though I had to look up his age, which turns out to be 84. Lehrer is yet another brilliant satirist who plays in a much higher league than I, and is one of my comedy heroes. I memorized several of his albums, and can still recite the lyrics to most of his songs, except "The Elements." I've had the great fortune to meet many of my comic heroes over the years, but it would be a huge thrill for me to meet Tom Lehrer. I'm sure he is sick of people like me.

Charlie Olken said...

Re Tom Lehrer--

I had the distinct pleasure of growing up in the town where Tom Lehrer taught and wrote back in the '60s.

I remember asking my dad for the first Lehrer record (the 10", not 12") vinyl and I still have it.

To this day, I can still sing most of the lyrics--to wit.

The Irish Ballad
(About a maid, I will sign a song, sing rickety, tickety, tin. About a maid I will sign a song, Who did not have her family long, Not only did she do them wrong, She did every one of them in.)

Or Fight Fiercely Harvard
Impress them with our prowess do.

Oh, I could go on and on. It's a shame in one sense that Lehrer was also a brilliant academic because he had so much more to give to comedy.

Thanks for the memories.

Oh, and to finish the story about the first vinyl. I was about sixteen, and my dad had a store in said town and went round the corner to his friend at the music store and asked for the Lehrer record. The music store guy said to him, "Ben, have you ever heard this? Do you really want Charlie to have it?"

And to my Dad's credit, he said yes, it's just comedy.

There is a lesson in there somewhere.

Apologies, Ron, for hi-jacking your blog.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

No need to apologize. Half the fun on HoseMaster is the direction the comments might take.

Lehrer only composed 37 songs, but nearly every one of them is wonderful, funny and brilliant. "The Vatican Rag" still makes me laugh and I've heard it hundreds of times. "Poisoning Pigeons in the Park" is a classic. And his monologues on the live album are very witty and hilarious. I've often stolen his line about the college guy who majored in Animal Husbandry..."Until they caught him at it one day." Lehrer is the J.D. Salinger of comedy. His is a small contribution to the genre, but a nearly perfect and indispensable one.

Cool that you have that old 10 inch vinyl of his. I still have all of his albums as well, though no turntable to play them. Luckily, I have the CDs. I'm inspired, now, to listen to them again.

How the hell did Lehrer come up? Oh, that's right, Bella Vino's parents loved "That Was the Week That Was." This is why I love my comments section.

Thomas said...

That animal husbandry line is a classic.

Only 37 compositions! That is news.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

I got the number 37 from an interview with Tom Lehrer I heard many years ago. The number just stuck. It seems like it should be a lot more, but I don't think it is. Kind of amazing considering the reverence so many have for his work.

If you ever get the chance, listen to Lehrer's album "An Evening Wasted with Tom Lehrer," which is a live recording. Very funny. A lot of great lines from Lehrer.

Bella Vino said...

Sorry I got carried away the other nite Ron, and I have been campin' for the past few days & unable to apologize straight away. Crab fishin' yummmmm

So lemme get this straight Ron…you are well aware of the History of Hanzell, it’s in your backyard, but you haven’t ever been there…well, if you change your mind,& you really should, you will enjoy yourself in spite of yourself.

Charlie, you don’t really wanna know who I am…your imaginings about who I might be are much more entertaining….I could never live up to it. I am just a Somm, still on the floor, popping corks for real people in the real world, spreading joy & massive wine love, one bottle at a time.

As for Levant, this is mostly how I know of his work as well as Lehrer, Dardin, Buchwald et al....Every Sat. my dad recorded on a reel to reel a 2 hour show out of Detroit called WDTM - Saturday Night. All of the classic commedians plus the music of the time as well. Late 60's thru 70's. Many of the shows were themed around holidays. Stan Freberg doing Ben Franklin and the Declaration of Independance. Andy Griffith doing his bit about a Southern boy seeing a football game for the first time, Art Buchwald and his daughters Barbie collection, and Severin Dardin, "Time is a River". As well as Lenny Bruce, Oscar Levant, Bob Newhart, Bill Cosby (Snakes!) Tom Lehrer. What is the coolest is that the tapes still exist, are playable, and each tape has a typewritten sheet with every performer and the name of the piece. Man, I had the coolest parents....even if they didn't drink wine. So...go see Jean @ Hanzell & tell her I said to break out a bottle from the Library!

Anonymous said...

The New Adventures of Fellatia Soave: Coming Soon on a Hosemaster near you!