Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Ars Longa, Vita Brevis

Last night was The Ultimate Wine Tasting: Monterey Bay Wine throws two tastings every year for their wineries, and their customers….one in Santa Cruz, and one in Carmel. They have all the really good California wineries. We don’t feel a need to ever call anyone else. Silver Oak. Santa Cruz Mountain. Adelaida. Storybook. Gruet. Keenan. Mount Eden. Fess Parker. And fifty others I have still been too drunk to explore, ere these last 25 years.

The tastings are always somewhere memorable: La Playa Hotel in Carmel, Stokes Adobe in Monterey, La Putadera Country Club in Limboland. Our behavior during and after has also been memorable: sabering bottles of Gruet uninvited for Joe, the poor Gruet guy; discovering the utility of the engine-protecting cow-catcher under the Alfa as we bottom out at 90 mph passing on a curve in Pebble Beach with a car full of cocktail waitresses. Like that. And not just us. A fond memory of watching the ass-wipe from the Bath House so high on cocaine at a Silver Oak tasting that he could not get his shaking hands near his mouth with a glass. The same prick who tried to hire away my own wife in my own dining room to work in “a real restaurant”. Another story.

This year was back at the La Playa. Ollie and I were the only survivors from my crew (Brendan opening in Prague, Pants and Danny fly-fishing with the aforementioned ex in Montana, Chloe in Little Rock with Bill C.), along with Hot Holly the Client, and her friend, Houston…..both survivors of the Code Pink/Resistol Resistance Night….on the Red State side. Ollie was in flip-flops and a T-shirt. He contrasted well with the geeks from the local cooking school in brilliant whites, complete with Sharpies and needle thermometers……embroidered names and ranks rampant. Ollie’s name tag read: “Your Name Here!” I love that boy......

The food was incredible shite. La Playa is an old school place, still owned by Newton Cope, or his heirs. (Newton was one of the most loveable rich geeks ever to walk the Earth. He read a lot, and drank a lot, and saved the label from every wine bottle he ever drank, and glued it into blank pages in all the books he ever read. I once watched him eat an entire plate of Carmel spot prawns, heads, feet, antennae and all….and bitch that they were not tender enough while prawn antennae stuck out between his teeth.) The La Playa Bar is the last refuge of the old Pebble Beach martini crowd, the Nearly Dead of the “Carmel: Newly Wed and Nearly Dead” crowd. There used to be a certain standard for food. No more.

We saw stuffed creamer potatoes, obviously hollowed out many hours previously, if not days. Edges shriveling around the stuffed mayo and grapes! Lavache… Quesadillas made from apples and Gruyére. What a bad idea. It was the kind of menu you get when you turn loose the Shakespeare-typing monkeys or recent culinary school grads with a box full of food-word magnets and let them have at the refrigerator door. There were no trash cans available, so I flung my queso slice out the window, and was gratified to see it ride away on the top of a beach-bound Mercedes.

Anyway, the wine was wonderful, and the crowd was worthy of the Vanity Fair Oscar party. Bruce Shipman. Tom Nash. Michele from Casanova. Crazy Paris-Hilton-channeling hookers from The Charthouse. And Jeanne Davis.

Jeanne is one of the true stars of California wine history. There are lots of guys that can by blind luck, minimal skill, global warming, main strength and awkwardness produce great wines. It takes true genius to sell this shit year after year, and produce a reliable, competitive market. This is Jeanne. She was an original Silver Oak person, and along with Brother Justin’s long-lost gift for winemaking, is single handedly responsible for the stupid prices this now-mediocre wine generates. She was at Clos du Val, which has escaped the Silver Oak insipidity. She is now at Keenan, which is all you need to know about Keenan. Go out and buy some, and rejoice.

I was so pleased to see Jeanne. We reminisced about the long history of these tastings, and how the likes of me, David Armanasco, Patrice Larroque, and Freddy Dame used to crash them, desperate for knowledge and exposure. We laughed about my leaving Brendan in his bassinette with Dorothy Durney during one tasting……Bad Dad! And Freddy Dame: The self proclaimed Wine Czar.

Freddy was the wine geek at the Sardine Factory in the old days. He was the "What Makes Sammy Run" of Monterey, with a gift for self promotion. On the occasion of his engagement to the lovely Rochelle, daughter of Marilyn (winemaker for Sarah’s Vineyard in Gilroy.) Freddy hired us to do a dinner at the winery. He wanted a Russian theme, in keeping with his title. The wines to be drunk were amazing: all 29’s, Lafite, Mouton, Haut Brion, Climens, etc.

We decided to roast one of our baby Russian Imperial boars, on a spit. Caviar, of course. I engaged Momie Hilde to help out with the details. Since her husband had been imprisoned by the Russians in WWII, I figured she had expertise…plus she did a brief stint with the Red Army as a cook in Berlin. Perfect.

Upon arrival, Freddy’s future father-in-law greeted us in his bath robe. He announced that he had tasted all the wines, and they were perfect. I was impressed. What a host! To open trial bottles of these great wines, just to make sure his guests would be pleased. Well, no. The dumb fucker opened the real wines! Twenty-four hours early! He had read somewhere that great wines need lots of time to breathe. They all tasted like Shell Detergent Gasoline. Christ on a crutch!

Anyway, Irony was the one course Freddy missed in his education. We decided to go for drama for the Wine Czar. I stitched up a passel of Corralitos sausages and apples inside the body cavity of the boar before it went on the spit. I borrowed an Afghani saber from Peterson Conway, and as a first course we presented the boar on a specially made wooden platter, rammed the Afghani sword directly up the ass of the boar and disemboweled it before the guests. We then sliced up the sausages and apples as a first course. No one laughed. They were all actually impressed and thrilled. Wow.

Later, Freddy fell into his cups, and actually smeared engagement cake all over Rochelle, apparently missing the message in her one-off designer gown and elaborately and expertly applied makeup. As she attempted to salvage the dress in the kitchen, she turned to me and said: “Michael, have you ever noticed that Freddy loses his charm when he drinks?” To her credit, that was It for Freddy.

The final touch on the evening was the trip home from Gilroy. Momie and I rode back in our Dodge tire-truck open bed pickup. On 101 we noticed how friendly the other drivers all were, waving and honking at us, flashing their lights. Also, there was the most beautiful trail of sparks, like Northern Lights following us up the highway. Oh, fuck! I pulled over, finally. The remaining heat from the grill and spit had ignited the glasses boxes in the open bed of the truck. A raging inferno ensued. Momie and I jumped in the back, giggling like school girls, and used buckets of ice to quell the flames.

Ars longa, vita brevis. Art is long, life is short.

Thank you, Jeanne Davis, for thirty years of wonderful wines. And for legacy of inspiration those wines leave the new kids......


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