Appreciating two lives
From Beijing to Cupertino the world mourns the passing of Steve Jobs. I became an Apple user when, shortly after the famous 1984 Macintosh Super Bowl commercial that aired only once, my then boss bought a bunch of Macs for the office. He was frustrated with our existing computers (mainly TRS-80s, the infamous “Trash 80s” from Radio Shack) that were so hard to use, you had to read a 1,000 page manual just to do the simplest things, like cut-and-paste. And mail merge was like understanding the Theory of Relativity!
So Don (my boss) got the computers, but, lo and behold, nobody had the time or inclination to learn how to use them and to teach the rest of the staff. So Don asked me. I happily took the little Mac home and showed Eugene, my roommate, how clever it was. You could draw with it, in color, and it could actually talk! And it was light enough to tote around in a cute little canvas sack. I feel in love with Macs then and there and to this day have remained an Apple user.
I’m not going to say that, without Steve Jobs and Apple, wine writing as we know it would not exist. But Jobs, more than anyone in my opinion, is responsible for the way millions of people have taken the Internet into our lives. He not only invented the first personal computer, the Apple II (which I learned in grad school), thereby making it possible for anyone to compute. He realized, in the 1990s, that the rise of the Internet opened huge opportunities, and he invented the Macintosh to take advantage of them. It was the first computer that was easy to use, was Internet adaptable, and fun. And it looked good, too, a feature of every gadget Steve Jobs ever helped to design.
I remember in the 1990s the big question concerning the Internet was, what is the killer app? Everybody wanted to know how people would actually use it. Email was an obvious answer, but Jobs knew that the Internet was so much bigger than that. He didn’t invent social media, but he seems to have sensed in his bones that people were yearning for more involved, personal ways of communicating with the rest of the world through the Internet. Blogs, like this one, were one result of Jobs’ vision.
I felt bad, real bad, when I learned of his death yesterday. Although everybody knew it was coming, no one thought it would be this soon. His demise feels right up there with the passing of other icons. John Lennon has been mentioned in the media. Perhaps the two of them are up in heaven right now, talking about how Apple Corp. finally allowed iTunes to sell the Beatles catalog. Surely they’re listening to a Beatles tune. I wonder which one?
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Robert Finigan was not the most famous wine writer to come out of the 1970s, but he was one of the most highly regarded among his peers. He published one of the first personal wine newsletters, Robert Finigan’s Private Guide to Wines, which was a precursor to Parker, Charlie Olken’s Connoisseurs’ Guide, and all the rest. He lived in San Francisco, and I always wondered how, as a wine writer, he could afford his tony place in lower Pacific Heights.
Bob died Oct. 1, at the relatively young age of 68.
I met Bob frequently during the 1980s and early 1990s, when I was getting into the San Francisco wine scene. For a while, he ran the C.I.V.C. (Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne), which was marketing the sparkling wines from California that had been established by Champagne houses, like Roederer, Mumm and Taittinger. He gave fancy tastings at the big downtown hotels that I loved going to. He also seemed to have been hired as a sort of functionary to the Getty family–I never understood that relationship, but it was kind of a personal wine advisor. Gordon was getting into wine in a big way, and his son, Billy, was best friends with Gavin Newsom, whom I knew slightly. When Gordon and Gavin decided to launch the first PlumpJack wine shop, in Cow Hollow, Gavin asked me to be part of a small group that would meet weekly, to sample wines and decide which ones would be sold at PlumpJack when it opened. Gavin (who now is California’s Lieutenant-Governor) wanted to assure his customers that every single bottle in the store had been personally hand selected by the team.
We met every Friday evening (I think it was) for six months, and would go through 15 or 20 wines, everybody standing in a circle. Gavin always led; Gordon was usually there; but the voice that carried the most authority was Bob Finigan’s. I would give my views, and Gavin (who was the ultimate decider) duly noted them, but I think Bob’s opinion was what tipped the balance, one way or the other.
Bob was an exquisite gentleman. He dressed nattily, in a urbane fashion, like a college professor. He was very kind and soft-spoken; we got along quite well. I think he must have been ill for some time, because the last time I saw him, about five years ago, he was walking alone across Market Street, toward the Palace Hotel where, perhaps, he was going to some fancy wine lunch. I was across the street, headed in the opposite direction, and didn’t really have the time to greet him. He seemed very frail; he was shuffling along slowly, like an old man, even though he couldn’t have been more than 62 or 63. I was shocked, to tell the truth. Now, I wish I’d taken the time to chat.
I will miss Bob Finigan. The world of wine has lost a gifted and loving voice.