Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Even More Thoughts on the Wine Country Fires, Especially How You Can Help, and Maybe Even Meet the HoseMaster

My wife and I had planned a nice dinner at home for my 65th birthday, last Friday the 13th. At the last minute, I had a change of heart, and decided to, instead, evacuate. And not just my intestinal tract, but the house we live in. I’d always wanted to have an evacuation for my birthday, and this seemed like a good year for it. “Memorable” doesn’t begin to describe my birthday.

We were able to return, somewhat cowed, somewhat sheepish, somewhat every other farm animal, the next day. My beautiful wife made dinner, and, for the occasion, I decided to open a very special bottle of wine.

I chose a bottle of 1999 Chateau Rayas. It was, predictably, a great bottle of wine, though I have almost no sense of what it smelled or tasted like. I didn’t really care. Don’t get me wrong, Rayas is one of my favorite wines on the planet, and I’m lucky to own some still. But I chose the wine because that bottle has great meaning to me, as did being able to have dinner in my still-standing house with my still-tolerant wife. We were married in March of 1999, and sharing a bottle from that vintage had great emotional power. Beyond that, my wife Kathleen had given me that bottle of ’99 Rayas for my 50th birthday, back when we lived in South Pasadena. She had inscribed it to me in a gold pen, “Happy Lth birthday, Ron.” I always hated “50th,” so I insisted on using Roman numerals that year. When people asked how old I was in 2002, I responded, “L.” Yeah, I know, stupid.

We spent much of the meal talking about where we’d been, what we’d shared, all that we'd been through the past 15 years together, Kathleen and I. Our week of evacuating, of euthanizing, of sleeplessness and anxiety had brought us closer together, even after 18 years of marriage. We spent 24 hours a day together for 7 days in a row, and it only made me miss her immediately when she left. That’s not really a silver lining, just a wonderful reminder that I was lucky when I married her. That my live has been blessed.

I am often asked if wines really get better with age. Most of us would agree, I think, that from a strictly objective standpoint, wines don’t so much get better with age as they get different with age. “Better” is so subjective, so personal. Yet, in this case, drinking the 1999 Rayas with my wife on the day after my 65th birthday, the bottle itself represented life and time and the pathway of our marriage. It tasted of joy, and of heartbreak. Of both our passion for each other, and the passion of the winemaker. Drinking it felt like a sacrament, and I wasn’t raised in any religion. It was profound and moving to share that bottle with Kathleen. And if you ask me, the ’99 Rayas was far better with age. It wasn’t just wine any longer. It was something so much better. For that meal, it was a reminder that even with all of its trials and pain and loss and grief, life is also a gift.

This is why I cellar wine. The only reason I cellar wine. Marketing people endlessly talk about how stories sell wine, and there’s truth in that, but it’s a cold truth, a truth one uses to sell a product. You sell life insurance the same way. But over time, individual bottles of wine, bottles purchased from love or on vacation or received as gifts, create their own stories. About what year they were born, how they were born, where they were born, and how they entered your life. That story is just for you, the one who opens the bottle on a special occasion, or to create a special occasion. It has no meaning to anyone else. So, the night of October 14th, the 1999 Chateau Rayas, rated 92 by Robert Parker, was a perfect wine. Perfect. I can’t think of a wine that has tasted better to me in one particular place at a very particular time.

As you read this, the fires in wine country continue to burn. They’ll burn for a while yet. If you don’t live in Northern California, I’d guess you are hearing less and less about them on the news. Now that feared orange glow is just President Bozo’s bouffant. New tragedies will cross your radar, God knows the world is filled with them. But wine country is having a very hard time right now, and as the shock wears off and reality sinks in, we are beginning to see how much help we need to rebuild and, for so many, those far needier than I, to simply survive.

If you love wine, and if you love visiting Napa and Sonoma, and if our glorious vineyards have given you the endless joy and pleasure that they’ve given me, and you’d like to return the favor, I’m happy to pass along an interesting and wonderful way to help.

Take a few minutes and go to www.wscwr.com. Go ahead, go there now. I'll wait. It's cool, you want to know about it. And I need to take a leak...

These are going to be GREAT events, and if you can attend, you should! But even if you cannot attend, take a minute today, grab a shipping box, pick out a couple of wines that have some value, some meaning, and donate them to the cause. Don’t wait!! The events are next week, and the wines need to get here! I know you have old shipping boxes laying around, use one. Send that bottle you bought from Dr. Conti--those damn sommeliers won't know, I promise.

Better yet, come to Bergamot Alley, buy some wine, share it with some of the best winemakers in the county, share it with a great group of sommeliers, and, yes, I’ll be there, too. I’m sure that meeting the HoseMaster of Wine™ is on a lot of bucket lists. That they’re from KFC is no matter. I’ll be at Bergamot Alley, Kelli White will be there (Kelli is the woman who asked me to promote the cause, and I’m honored to do so), and a lot of other famous and talented Sonoma wine folks will be there. Look at the stellar list of participating wineries on www.wscwr.com! It will be a blast, and the hope is to raise a bunch of money for those most in need.

You have way more wine than you need. We all do. I’m planning on donating some damned fine bottles, maybe even a Rayas, or some older Saxum, or, well, come and find out! Donate! Do it because I made you laugh for the last six years for free. Whatever motivates you, please do what you are moved to do.

I don’t think I’ve ever plugged anything like this on HoseMaster of Wine™. I may not ever again. But using your wine to help wine country is simply repaying the gift that wine has been in your life. Chances like this come around very rarely. Go for it.



Paul in St. Augustine said...

I spent 33 years selling wine at all three tiers, plus one. In mid September of 1989, driving from Florida, I arrived at David Bynum in the Russian River Valley to work the harvest. The next two days it rained, so the difficult harvest was my fault. I have many friends scattered throughout wine country, and understand what you're going through. I do have a question regarding this post,and if you declare that I'm going all Bob Henry on you I will accept the consequences. As one who consistently derides wine scores, why throw out a Parker 92 here?

Unknown said...

Thank you for always being human. It has always been my favorite thing about you.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

I mentioned the Parker 92 in order to, essentially, dismiss that score as meaningless. Scores of wine, aside from being outright silly, also never take into consideration context. In the context of my 65th birthday, and the fires here in wine country, 92 was about as worthless a piece of information about the Rayas as I can imagine. In my mind, and that night, it was a perfect wine.

Being human is about all I have to offer. Thanks for noticing. One of these days I'm going to pay you a visit. Been too long, my friend.

Unknown said...

Hey Ron
I am about as far away from the current situation in that if I told you where I live here in Canada I bet you probably never heard of the place and that I fine by me. My sister and hubby are heading to SFO from Vancouver this week for a get away and their itinerary includes some time in Sonoma and NAPA as both enjoy as I do. They were not sure if advisable to do the wine caper but I said yes by all means, it is a beauty of a spot regardless so do the tour, it’s probably what is needed now. Spend a few bucks I said, lunches here and there, include a glass of white, pick up a few things and be sure to purchase a bottle from every winery you visit. That’s what I would do, matter of fact this time last year we electly did that SFO and NAPA. I look at our pictures all the time from that fine excursion.

Julie Pedroncelli St. John said...

'Aged wines aren't better wines they are different'-truer words haven't been spoken about describing what an aged wine truly is in the eye of the beholder. I'll take a look in the cellar and see if we can pick out something special for the event.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Thank you for encouraging your sister and her husband to visit Napa and Sonoma. Fire officials are pretty certain the fires will be fully contained by Friday, and it's perfectly safe here, and we need tourists more than ever. I work in a tasting room, and on Monday we saw two people! Two. Tuesday it was more like eight. On a normal day this time of year, we might see fifty people each day. By this weekend, most tasting rooms will be open for business again. Restaurants have been struggling, too.

The air is getting better every day, if you're worried about smoke. And there's rain in the forecast for Thursday, which will really help the air quality.

It's going to be a very long haul for wine country. The size of the fires boggles the mind. 10% of Sonoma County, TEN PERCENT, was scorched. That's hard to get your head around. But, believe me, it's so beautiful here this time of year. Napa and Sonoma will rebound, but the return trip has just begun. We need a lot of help. The more dollars the better.

Thanks! I hope you drop by, but thanks for donating. Old Pedroncelli wines are usually amazing! Wish I'd been invited to your 90th winery birthday...sigh. Though I completely understand why I wasn't. However, I'm way cooler than Dan Berger.

Karl said...

Dear HMW,

Great. I had really resisted the idea of having a bucket list, successfully for years so far, and then you go drop "meeting HMW' on me. That might actually change my desire to have a bucket, or at least not kick it for awhile.

Not sure if I'll be able to get wine from the far reaches of New Mexico to CA in time, but what a great idea. Maybe I'll be able to visit one of the locations when I'm out there in November... but they probably wouldn't have much left.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Let me make this clear, I don't think anyone wants to meet the HoseMaster. That's just my idea of comedy. I've seen lots of emails and press releases featuring famous wine folks appearing at tastings and benefits for fire relief in Wine Country, and I thought I'd jump in. Silly.

If you ship your wine today or tomorrow, it will get here in plenty of time. Don't hesitate. Send something good and interesting from you cellar. You can be certain that it will be enjoyed by wine lovers, and that the money raised will help someone. And, I'm sure, you won't even miss those bottles.

Aaron said...

Thank you for posting this! Very sadly I don't think I'll be able to make it up for either event, would really love to. However, I happen to have an old 1990 Culter Cellars Cab from Sonoma I have stashed away, the other 2 bottles I had gotten were still amazing, so sent an email asking how I can manage to get it shipped up properly. I remember something about how you can't ship as a regular user, you need a license to ship alcohol? Anyway, hopefully I'll be able to get it up there so keep an eye out. It opened my eyes to the fact that Sonoma has some Cab, and can make damn good Cab.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Hey Aaron,

If you live in the US, and you do, you can just take the bottle to UPS or FedEx and send it, no license necessary.

Thank you. I used to buy Cutler Cellars wine for my wine list back in the day. I remember the '90 being very nice, and I'm not surprised it's still drinking beautifully. And, oddly, Lance Cutler, is a fan of HoseMaster, and a damn good writer in his own right. So it's perfect! Ship it.

Aaron said...

Apparently, according to the UPS guy at the store, I'm shipping "balsamic vinegar".

Anyway, shipped off! And I don't understand why SF (Daly City actually, but close enough) is not considered a regular ground overnight, it's a 2-day shipping for normal ground shipping. And then overnight is incredibly expensive, even though they must have a ton of stuff going overnight from LA -> SF. *sigh* It's for a good cause.

If anyone happens to see it, I forgot to take a photo to upload to CellarTracker for history's sake, so if someone could snap a pic and upload it to the CellarTracker page (https://www.cellartracker.com/wine.asp?iWine=651791) that'd be awesome!

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Hey Aaron,
That sounds like a lot of trouble, but Thank You from everyone here in wine country. I appreciate it. I suspect it will end up at the SF event, not in Healdsburg, but if I see that Cutler cab, I'll snap a photo of it and get it to you.

The event in Hburg is Wednesday night. I hope it raises a lot of cash. I'll be there. I hope many of you are, too.

Thanks again, Aaron! Very generous, and much appreciated.