Saturday, April 24, 2010

Vintage Roots

There is a secret buried underneath the 4-bedroom, two-story home I grew up in.  And no, I'm not talking about the tortured love letter I wrote my crush and entombed when I was 13.  I'm talking about what lies beneath the pantry. 

You're not likely to find it.  If anything, you'll be stopped in your tracks by the beauty that is my mom's kitchen.  The spotless granite countertops, sparkling stainless steel appliances and impeccably perfect vintage decorations are what I imitate (poorly).  This sun-bathed studio is where I watched with wonder, and fell in love with the art.

I've never actually been into the cellar that my dad built under our house.  The spider stories are enough to keep me away (and scare me into smuggling the cheap, much more accessible garage vodka to my friends' dorm instead).  However, I have seen, and on occasion tasted, the treasure trove buried there. 

You probably wouldn't peg my dad as a seasoned sommelier if you met him in day-to-day life.  Just the way you might not see me, hunched over my desk and mumbling random numbers under my breath as I switch between Excel spreadsheets, as someone who could wax poetically for 5-6 double-spaced pages about brandywine tomatoes.  He's an incredibly charismatic postal carrier, who dresses up like Santa Claus every year at Christmas time to deliver letters from the North Pole.  He took me to meet a campaigning Bill Clinton when I was eight.  He's been a Seattle Sounders fan since soccer was lame, and there were about five people in the stands.  And his knowledge about grapes, growers, vineyards and varietals could kick any snobby Portland waiter's ass.

Shit, I'll put him up against the bastards in San Fran.  Bring it ON.

My dad doesn't just let other people tell him what's good.  He's out in the trenches, finding it for himself.  I remember camping trips up in BC and the Okanagan, dotted with trips to way-off wineries and tasting rooms.  He corresponds personally with winemakers, sending letters and getting added to distribution lists you can't even get on the waiting list for today. 

So when, a few years back, I heard my snooty bitch of a boss chatting with another stuck up prick in my office about the AMAZING wine he had last night at Clyde Common, I just had to set down my collated copies and inquire about what it might have been.  They looked at me like a 14th-century serf asking when I could expect the castle mutton feast to commence.  "This is a very rare bottle of wine," Mr. Bitchpants drolled. 

"Yes, you can't just find it anywhere," Prickface chimed in.

Snatching the label's name (Cakebread Cellars) from a few stolen scraps of conversation, I mentioned it to my dad.  Not two weeks later, this bottle arrived at my apartment leasing office (albeit an earlier vintage).  It was good, not great.  I've had better.  In my parent's living room.
Last time I was up there, I asked him to pull out a few bottles of note.  "I'll blog about them!"  I offered, hoping that some unwanted cast-off might end up in my overnight bag.  You know, because my blog is sooooo popular (FIRST HIT ON GOOGLE!!!  .... when you put in the most specific of searches). 

That large monstrosity on the far left was my favorite, for the name and the story.  The Calera Jensen is not only my maiden namesake, it's a spectacular Pinot.  I was lucky enough to have been given a little, mini half-sized bottle of it as a gift.  Drank, loved, and then gone.  My dad wrote to the winemakers back and forth for several years, trying his charmingest to get them to sell him this uber-magnum (the equivelant of 4 regular 750-mil bottles).  Finally, they relented, and his persistence was rewarded with this 1994 treasure.  It's difficult to find a 750-mil '94 Jensen Calera.  This size is simply not seen in the open or snooty market. 

Dad has been an A-list member of Red Car's distribution list for quite a while.  I think I slipped off the back of the D-list wagon after being unable to purchase my allottment 2 years ago.  Ah well... it's too bad, this is another accessible yet dynamic example.  I'm still hanging on to dear life with my Sea Smoke bottom-totem-pole allottment, which hasn't even been announced yet.  My dad's several cases and magnums from the A list are already ordered and slated to ship in November.  Anyway, this Trolley magnum auctions for $100ish, when you can find it. 

I'll end with this treasure, a short list allottment of 2007 Scarecrow, a "California Cult Cab."  If you're not on the list (and I certainly am not even in the list hemisphere), you're not going to be.  You can fill out a little form on the website for the mammoth waiting list, but otherwise... well, clicking your heels isn't going to do you much good.  It arrived in this whimsical, wonderful packaging last week, treasures unassuming on the countertop.  Unfortunately they were already spoken for, flipped for several times their purchase price.  So much for sneaking a taste.  To put it in perspective, here's a little press I dug up on Scarecrow's popularity amongst the Naparatti:

Perhaps you’ve known people who’ve spent $80,000 on a car. This past Saturday, I watched someone spend $80,000 (U.S.) on five cases of wine. New wine; not a dusty, ultra-rare stash exhumed from the long-forgotten cellar of a Scottish castle.  That works out to slightly more than $1,300 a bottle, $50 an ounce, $20 a sip. Crazy juice. 
The 60-bottle lot of Scarecrow that sold for 80 Gs last week was the top auction item at Premiere Napa Valley, a sort of annual “bake sale” held by top wineries, which donate small batches of still-maturing wine, in this case from the 2007 vintage, as part of a fundraising drive for Napa Valley Vintners, their non-profit trade association. Waving the winning paddle was Ichizo Nakagawa of Nakagawa Wine Company, a wine broker in Tokyo.

One of the auction’s biggest bidders each year, the Calgary-based Willow Park Wines & Spirits, paid $8,000 for 60 bottles of Cakebread Cellars Syrah, among other lots.

Moral of the story: be nice to your office minions, and your mail men.  You never know who's on the list.


  1. I used to live in Okanogan! Sorry...totally not the point of your blog, but I am always astonished when someone has heard of the place.

  2. I love it there, it's so gorgeous. I remember we went to a water park, and they had great fruit stands. I still have a deck of cards somewhere with Ogopogo on them. Lucky you!!

  3. Ahhhh the glory of properly stored and cared for wines...glorious! I liked the part about your dad being Santa at Christmas time, too. Very sweet. You look gorgeous in the pic of you two together!

  4. We loved your story about Dad and his wine. Sure made him smile. It is nice having a good bottle to be able to bring out with dinner. We loved seeing you this weekend and it was great exploring Aurora and trying our the 4star restaurants near you.

  5. EEEE! You look so VINTAGE! Oo, double meaning, winky-winky.

  6. OMG BLOG CROSSOVER!! :D That was at my rehearsal dinner, where we had a 1984 Kenwood Cabernet Sauvignon. My dad has one of those giant Artist's Series bottles from each of us kids' birth years, but I was the first to crack it open! Woo hoo!!

    It was amazingly good.