Monthly Archives: May 2019

The Hazards of a Wine Education

“Yer name Leasor?”

The words came out softly from a warm Bluegrass night accompanied by a blinding police car spotlight in the summer of 1973.

I was pretty sure I was not on the road to Damascus.
I could, regrettably, rule out an epiphany.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind wouldn’t be released for another four years, so it wasn’t a targeted alien abduction. Probing, thank God, was unlikely.

I was in my car parked at the back door of a liquor store at about 2am Sunday morning.
How could anything good come of this?

Wait, wait, wait…
Let’s roll this clock back a bit.

++++++++++++++++++++++++

I have been asked a number of times how I learned about wine.
I read magazines and books of course. In the early 70’s I read a quote from the owner of a California winemaker; “The only way to learn about wine is to open bottles.” That rang true and desirable to me in 1973, and has continued to ring true and desirable through the decades. But in 1973, I couldn’t afford to open that many bottles. Oh sure, it was a time when the most expensive California Cabernet Sauvignon (Paul Masson) was $3.59, Pouilly-Fuissé was $3.79, and Dom Perignon was $15.99. But I was making $1.85 an hour as an assistant manager and riding a bicycle to work whenever weatherly possible.

There were no student loans for opening bottles.

Then a customer ordered two cases of Jos. Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett (about $2.99 per bottle). It arrived and the customer did not. We were stuck with $70+ of wine that nobody else in Kentucky had even heard of, nor could they pronounce it if they had. What to do?

It behooved us to sell the cases. To do so, it behooved us to research the wine.

On Saturday nights, the store manager and I would work the store with a cashier. At midnight, we would let the cashier leave and the two of us would finish working until the legally mandated closing time of 1am. It was usually a slo-o-o-w final hour.
One slo-o-o-w final Saturday night hour, the manager chilled down a bottle of the problematical Jos. Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett. I slipped next door to the grocery store (Randall’s, if you’re geezer enough to remember) and purchased a couple of gourmet cheeses (Colby and Havarti, leftover from their deli sandwiches as I recall – goin’ first class all the way). We pulled out the Lichine’s Encyclopedia of Wine, and pulled out the corks, and employed a couple of styrophene cups.

That night I learned a good bit of geography (the importance of those hilly bends in the rivers Rhine and Saar, and their orientation to the sun). I learned of the winemaking prowess of the Prum family. I learned a good bit about my first grape varietal; Riesling. I learned about the agricultural challenge of coaxing maximum ripeness while avoiding potentially crop-destroying early winter. Most importantly, I experienced for the first time sunshine in a bottle. There’s no going back from there.

From humble sips, a sometimes blurry enthusiasm ensued (plus, we sold the two cases).

We continued our Lincoln-esque educational path. Wine sales and reputation grew steadily. In the long run, the manager eventually became the best and most influential wine-buyer in the state and I did OK conducting a ton of wine-tastings over the next 40 years.

But in the short run…

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

This particular Saturday night, we had tried and studied a couple of real nice wines from the Cote de Nuits and I was definitely feeling the effects of the nuit.

We closed the store and the manager drove me around the shopping center to my parked car, dropped me off, and departed.

I sat in my car for a moment with windows down, my ride in 1973 being sans air-conditioning, GPS, Sirius, FM radio, cruise control, and cup-holders. I blissfully contemplated my next move. I was leaning towards a greasy breakfast at the Euclid Avenue Toddle House with the closing time rejects from the Fireplace Lounge and the Chevy Chase Inn. I was pretty sure that crowd would ignore my shoulder-blade-long locks and spare me the usual jukebox tribute of “I’m Proud to Be an Okie From Muskogee.”
Hash browns…
…hash browns…
…might just be the answer, whatever the question might be.

BAM!

That’s when the police car spotlight hit me.
The car glided alongside and a voice that invited no nonsense inquired; “What are you doing here?”

I explained, eloquently, perkily, and with perfect American diction, my status as an employee of the liquor store, just getting off work and heading for home for a good night’s sleep before I arose to attend church, teach Sunday school, and sing in the choir……and get a haircut.
I don’t think he bought it.

Then he asked; “Yer name Leasor?”

I confessed……abjectly.
Every fault known to man, every yellow light compromised, every RSVP un-responded to, every face turned away from the ugly hour mirror, every oil change postponed, every missed cut-off man…I confessed to it all in the name of Leasor.
“Yes…it is.”

“I saw you in a play. My girlfriend…she loves the theater. She took me to a play and you were in it. I didn’t like the play much, but you were pretty good.”

I was stunned and flattered into silence for a moment. Now remember, it didn’t take much to stun me at that moment…………I’m not proud of that admission.

We chatted for about 15-20 minutes about theater and girlfriends. He asked; “You still doing that?”
By then, my faculties were returning to razor-sharp (well…at least hacksaw-sharp) and I determined he was asking about theater and not girlfriends.
“Oh, yeah. I’m rehearsing a show now. You wanna see it? I’ve got comps.”
“I might. That’d be nice. My girl would be impressed.”
We arranged the logistics and he asked gently;
“Where’ya going now?”

Well, frankly, my belief in the restorative power of slimy hash browns being strong, I was still ciphering on the possible wisdom of a visit to the Toddle House, but his question gave me pause.
“I’m going straight home.”
“Where’s that?”
I responded with my address.
“Why don’t I follow you there, just to be safe?”
I agreed.
He did.

He and his lady attended my show and came backstage afterwards.
I think he scored a lot of points with her.

I merely lived to tell the tale.
I won……

Yes……I won……

But, it might have been because of the kindness and care of a problem-solving police officer. Attitudes about alcohol and driving were different; lenient and far more dangerous in 1973 than they are today. That incident changed my path. I stayed in the wine business, but my educational curriculum steered to a safer course. The slo-o-o-w Saturday night classes were terminated tout suite. C’est bien, n’est-ce pas?

Taco-Fest in San Miguel

san miguel-taco don feliz
Don Feliz, the scene of the Great Taco Massacree

I think I was in my late twenties before I had my tenth taco. I can’t say it was a memorable moment or a memorable taco. It didn’t leave me wanting more. Keep in mind, Lexington at that time only had one Mexican-themed restaurant and it wasn’t even a Taco Bell. Some of my friends, refugees from other cities, spoke dreamily of Taco Bell. I spoke dreamily of White Castle – we didn’t have them either.

But San Miguel de Allende…

I had been in San Miguel for less than 45 minutes and had had three tacos and an epiphany. The shells of these tacos were jicama and the fillings were spicy and light and crunchy and of no meat. I was weary from a day of travel, challenged by trying to keep up conversations with newly-made ex-patriot friends, and feeling the effects of cobblestone streets on an offended knee. These invigorating tacos and invigorating new acquaintances (plus a stunning view of a brilliant sunset over the distant mountains) cured all.

It was an instant revelation that I had grumpily trudged into a blessed place and that “grumpily” would henceforth have to be deleted from my vocabulary.

I replaced it with “tacos.”
I know, I know…”tacos” is not an adverb, but I trust you catch my drift.

Over the next two weeks, we had tacos indoors and outdoors. We had tacos on the first, second, and third floors, AND rooftops of excellent restaurants. The tacos, the sunsets, the company of our traveling companions, and the irresistible enthusiasm of our new friends happily filled our days. The offended knee was mollified by the plenteous and inexpensive taxis.

It was a real good time.

One last evening we were whisked away to Don Feliz (see picture), a restaurant slightly off the beaten cobblestone. It featured gallon-ish margaritas and a seven-taco entrée.

Seven.
Seven different tacos.
Some were beef. Some were chicken. Some were pork. Some were buffalo. Some were unicorn.

Madre de Dias!

Clearly, it was time to go home.

Pottersville?

I fear we are living in Pottersville.

The aspiring angel Clarence failed and did not get his wings. George Bailey leaped from the snowy bridge to his death.

Messieurs Potter, Trump, McConnell, Bevin, Kushner, Carson, Mnuchin, Ross, Nunes, DeVoss and fellow ravagers with their toolkits of greed, grift, groping, grabbing…and coarseness are reshaping and renaming our country.

Pottersville.
It’s cold.
It’s venal.
It’s violent.
It’s coarse.
It’s wrong.
It’s inevitable……no, wait……I don’t believe that.

But tonight I need some reminders of hope and honest goodness and competence.

I need to hear Greg Turay sing “Anthem” from the musical Chess. I need to hear Michael Preacely sing anything at all. I need to see Dr. Everett McCorvey conduct 22,000 basketball fans singing our national anthem. I need to see the Texas softball player sink to her knees in tears when her soldier brother appears at her Senior Night game after three years of service overseas. I need to read some more Paul Prather. I need to remember my friend Becky Johnson’s noble attempts to learn how many children every cab driver in San Miguel has, in her high school Spanish that seemed to improve with every cab ride.

These reminders have nothing to do with generating a monetary profit exploiting other humans, or driving another species to extinction, or further wounding our planet.
They are the antithesis of Pottersville.

I’ll work on all that.

I’ll also vote, as early and as often as the law allows, to get us out of Pottersville.

But for tonight I’ll have to settle for watching Yadier Molina demonstrate his mastery of the catching position (no, he’s no Johnny Bench, but he’s jes’ fine), and admiring Patricia Belcher’s bellow of “PIE!!!” at Geico’s talking lizard.

They are better and far more interesting than Pottersville.

The Oddness Continues…

I watched the Kentucky Derby…at least I thought I did.

I saw the horse cross the finish line first and his jockey give the first congratulatory interview. Then I switched to an event of far more importance; a titanic early-season baseball contest between my revered Reds and the despised Giants from San Francisco.

The oddness continued from earlier in the week.

– The Reds are wearing uniforms from 1902. I actually like ‘em, but…odd.
– Cody Reed threw a strike…odd.

Then a banner scrolled across the bottom of the screen essentially quoting the Firesign Theater; “Everything you know is wrong” about the Kentucky Derby. The winner (the betting favorite) was disqualified and the second-place finisher (a 65-1 underdog) was been declared the winner. I flipped back to Derby broadcast to see;

– Our scruffy governor in his gimme hat and his five o’clock shadow booed by the vocal majority of a crowd of 150,000 on national TV…very odd.
– The Derby trophy presented to owners that seemed almost apologetic for winning…certainly odd.
– A quick network breakaway to…a hockey game?

Befuddled, I flipped back to the baseball game where I learned the Reds had won the game and scored a lot of runs and Trump was still president.
Odd, odder and oddest.

I sense a disturbance in the Force (or fourth if you must).

Odd Night

It is an odd night after an odd day in these odd times.

I’m watching a little baseball on the tube; my cherished Reds are playing the Mets in New York on a cold and drizzling night. You can see the players’ breath.

Odd and unsettling.

The Reds are facing a fierce and talented pitcher, hittin’ the ball hard, have just left the bases loaded…and have yet to get a hit.

Odd and unsettling.

Speaking of odd and unsettling…

Earlier today, I saw a bit of Attorney General Barr’s appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee. I heard the Committee Chairman use the word “fuck” to open the hearing…a United States senator…on national TV…with the Attorney General of the United States sitting in front of him…in a Senate committee room…a room in the same building as the room where John Dean gave his astounding testimony to the Watergate Committee in June of 1974.

I was working nights in 1974. Thus, I got to watch and listen to some of Dean’s testimony in those pre-cable and pre-internet days.

I was struck by the difference between the hearings. In 1974;

– No one said “fuck.”
– Speeches were mostly absent.
– Questions were prevalent, prepared, and mostly to the point.
– Questions were expected to be answered, not dodged.
– Partisanship was present but not raw.
– No one seemed to regard participation in the proceedings as an opportunity to personally shine.
– Indeed, no one seemed to be happy to participate at all. It was serious bidness.

Today?

Well, aside from Kamala Harris, the senators and the Attorney General seemed clearly lesser lights than I remember from 1974.

Odd and unsettling.

I can’t say I know I want Ms. Harris to be my president yet. It’s too early for that.
But it’s not too early to know I don’t want the other participants in today’s exercise to be my public servants. I’m not stupid enough to not want my elected officials to be smarter than me. Otherwise, why would I need ‘em?

Surely we can do better.

Now, ‘bout that ball game…
It’s nuthin’ to nuthin’ and the beloved Reds have just replaced their 3-hit-shutout-throwin’ pitcher.

Odd.