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The Last Tasting: a happy one

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(This is a real-time stream of consciousness report on a tasting I did yesterday, Tuesday. In all probability it was the last professional event I will ever do now that I’m retired.)

10 a.m. Arrived early in downtown Napa for the tasting. Sitting here by the river, on the Napa River Trail,

RiverTrail

sorting my thoughts out on this, the final day of my professional life.

I thought I’d feel more reflective, more definitive, more–what? At least, feel something. Instead, there’s—not exactly nothing, but a lacuna. So I just sit and watch the river roll.

The morning fog is lifting, south to north,

MorningFog

and it’s fast getting warm, as Napa Valley awakens to another harvest day. I push my nose into a big rose;

Rose

wine critics, or should I say ex-wine critics, like to smell things. A young guy paddleboards down the river.

PaddleBoard

I imagine the feel of the breeze and the sun on his face, his torso working calm and alert, the sound of the shiny water shushing. How apropos that this, the last day of my career, should be in Napa Valley, where it all began, nearly forty years ago, when I made my first trip to wine country. We went to Freemark Abbey and Robert Mondavi. Now it’s come full circle. In all these years I have come to the valley hundreds of times, but never really felt like I “got” it. How do you “get” a place like Napa? Like the Napa River itself, the valley just keeps rolling along, always changing. Downtown Napa is a totally different place. Up-valley is a welter of cults. Yet the Vaca Mountains, stolid, austere, and just across the river, remind me of permanence: the complementarity of things. They are the same Vacas of forty years ago…forty thousand years ago.

There, I am feeling something! What is it? A certain wistfulness. Calm. Reflective. Respectful of my history, Napa’s history, being itself. I wouldn’t call it nostalgia. It hasn’t defined itself yet, to me. Then I realize that I always go into a sort of energy dip before hosting an event. It’s as if I were conserving myself before going onstage. It’s just my way. So I decide to wait until later to see how I feel.

The Jackson Family Wines event is at Celadon,

Celadon

on the riverfront, in the Napa River Inn. It was set up by my (now former) colleague and a wonderful woman, Ann Wallace. We’re tasting 12 wines: two whites, Stonestreet 2014 Estate Sauvignon Blanc and Carneros Hills 2012 Chardenet, as greeting wines. Then ten Pinot Noirs over the sit-down lunch, in three flights:

Willamette Valley

Penner-Ash 2013 Willamette Valley; Grand Moraine 2013, Yamhill-Carlton; and Zena Crown 2013 “The Sum,” Eola-Amity Hills.

Northern California

Champ de Reves 2013, Anderson Valley; Copain 2013 Kiser en Haut, Anderson Valley; Wild Ridge 2013 Sonoma Coast (Annapolis); and Hartford Court 2012 “Sevens Bench” Carneros

Central Coast

Carmel Road 2013 Panorama Vineyard, Arroyo Seco; Siduri 2014 Santa Lucia Highlands; Byron 2013 Nielson Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley.

That is a high-class tasting! My guests are eight buyers from top restaurants, mainly Napa Valley. This is the kind of intimate, casual tasting I like. As soon as the event starts my feelings become buoyant. There it is, the old energy! It was just waiting for when I needed it. The small plates come, are passed around: good food. The conversation becomes animated as folks relax and get properly lubricated. This is a smart bunch of people; they know their wine. I do my thing. Some tastings are happy; not all. This is a happy tasting.

The hours pass pleasantly.

2 p.m. Before you know it, it’s over. Nothing left but the empty and half-empty bottles.

TastingEnd

It’s a metaphor: the way things look when they’re over. And I’m thinking, “I have had such fun. This has been such a pleasant time. The wines were showing beautifully, the pacing was great, everybody was really happy. I quit this job??? I must be out of my mind!”

And yet, quit it I did: no looking back. I still don’t quite know how I feel about this. But why do I need to know how I feel? Why this obsession with labeling and categorizing and defining everything? Let it be. Float. You can’t control it anyway. I look back over my last 28 years in wine writing and, Wow, what a ride it’s been. My Facebook page, where I made the retirement announcement on Monday, has 212 comments and counting, all wishing me well and saying the nicest things about this career I’ve had. I take intense pleasure in that, in knowing (because all those people said so) that I gave something to people they liked, and will be remembered.

So goodbye Napa Valley! Goodbye Sonoma Mendocino Monterey Santa Cruz Mountains San Luis Obispo Santa Barbara Willamette Valley and all the other places. Goodbye to old friends, some dead, never to be forgotten, most thankfully still living. Goodbye to deadlines (won’t miss them). Goodbye past, hello future. Somebody at the tasting asked me what I’m going to do now and I said, “I don’t know.” That’s okay, too.

 

  1. redmond barry says:

    You write elegiacally as though you have retired from your life and started a new one. That’s ok, but it seems prudent at least to consider including some of the salient parts of the old one. Unless you’re going into politics,in which case, lotsa luck.

  2. John Meredith says:

    Beautiful reminiscence, Steve! I, too, recently “stepped away” from a career in wine after 36 years (wholesale/retail/writing), although I still write on the subject from time to time. Although I haven’t expressed my thoughts on paper (as you have so evocatively here), my feelings are similar to yours. Perhaps we shall meet in Sonoma over a glass one day. All the best…

  3. Bob Henry says:

    Steve,

    You can follow the lead of Dan Berger and Mike Dunne and join the ranks of wine judges for various competitions around the state.

    Gus likes car rides!

    Bob

  4. Bob Henry, OMG I’d rather roast in eternal damnation.

  5. Bob Henry says:

    As my friend here will attest: “That can be arranged!”

    http://www.writerscafe.org/uploads/stories/16087700-1208369283.jpg

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