Monday, January 19, 2009

When I Knew Bob ( Robert Parker, Jr The Wine Advocate ) Back In The Mid Eighties

That was a very long time ago that I knew Robert Parker , Jr ( The Wine Advocate ) back in the mid eighties when I worked with both owners Michael Downey and Sidney Moore at the Mayflower Wines & Spirits ( corner of M. Streets and New Hampshire Avenues ) . I was at that point in time the California wine-buyer. Things were so much simpler back then.

There simply was not the wine-machine that there exists today. Back then people produced at first and then marketed limited batches of small, hand-crafted wines. All their dreams, capitol, energies and souls went into these projects. Now today ( for the past twenty or so years ) corporations and large moneyed interests have otherwise created international, modern, widely-appealing wines to sell lots of units ( cases, boxes, bottles, etc ) made from all over the world. The bottom line today is simply to sell lots and to grow the business of selling more wine each year.

It simply was a much-smaller business back then in the eighties. There were fewer regions of the world to talk about and represent. You then had France, Germany, Italy, Spain; some Portuguese, some very small amounts of American- both South and North, etcetera to sell. It just was simpler and more manageable back then.

Back then in the mid eighties I used to call Robert Parker, Jr by his name Bob. When I say I knew him I mean to say that I sold him wines when he came to the Mayflower Wines & Spirits where I worked with Michael and Sidney ( Iris, Moe, Larry, John, Leon, Karen and more over the three-year period ). We were friendly and had some excellent interchanges of ideas and shared some experiences and impressions in those short visits. It was animated, professional, relaxed and to me always very enjoyable. I liked both selling and talking with Bob. Those were good times / good days and I am really glad that I have them now to look back onto. Thanks Bob.

Now twenty years later I have reached out to Bob three times ( always in letters ) and I have had one letter in response. It was a typed note that he signed of three-four sentences and I thank him for that. I don't think he remembers me. His response was professional and I am glad to have it. However, I did hand-write a nineteen page letter to him about the time that we did know each other. I thought that he might have wanted to read about those early days when he was just beginning. I told my wife that I had written him this letter and was sending it and she basically said that I was crazy, that he would never read it, much less respond.

I don't know. She may be right. He may or may not have read it. I don't know as he has never responded to it. As an human being as well as an artist that saddens me. Oh well, I did make a copy of it before sending it and I am just glad to have written it , for having taken the time to have written it I am pleased. If nothing else I have benefited from this experience of rounding-up and corralling so many old and scattered memories and trying to salvage something of/from them. It's all a bit of an exercise and I don't discount it as being futile. Nothing done with conviction and purpose is futile, nothing.

Bob used to come to the Mayflower Wines & Spirits back then and actually buy wines to take back to his home in Monkton, Maryland to taste and to review for his " new " issues of the Wine Advocate. He had already been doing this perhaps for a year or more when I actually made his acquaintance. He would come and speak first with Sidney and Michael. They had their desk up the ramp at the back of the store and so they would all talk awhile. I shared my desk down at the bottom of the ramp just to the right and I would be be busy with my work until Bob would come and ask me my opinion about what wines he should try?

He'd do the same first with both Sidney and with Michael : Sidney would give Bob Italian suggestions and Michael would give him French suggestions. As I said it was all a whirlwind of fun, excitement, sharing - a real " buzz " in the air. Bob would fill his shopping cart ( like the old metal ones you'd find at the Safeway and the Giant ) and take his cart filled with wines up to the front right side of the store where Iris or Leon were waiting to check him out.

Bob did this at least three or four times with us over a period of two years was it?!? Funny, memory fails and at the time there was no real reason for one to be taking notes. As I said, this was the beginning for Bob when he was just starting-out. No one really knew or had heard of him back then except for a few of us that liked him ( wanted to help him get started in his endeavor ) and believed in him.

It was all so new : there was so much to do back then to get where we now are twenty-five/thirty years later " some really good and some really bad " places. The wine-drinker's /wine-enthusiast's/ wine-writer's/ wine-retail-wholesaler's bottles ( like white canvases to artists like me ) were still largely empty and wanting to be filled and completed and expanded upon. This was all uncharted, unexplored, virgin territory just waiting to be discovered / just waiting " to happen ". I believe we were all really happy to be playing our parts in this largely unscripted territory. " Discovered " and " happened " it sure all has - and much more since.

But back then there was still a real element of surprise, of the unknown, of things waiting to " happen ", of mystery, of a wealth and riches in wines we could now think of doing a bit more than just dreaming about! These were heady times and innocent times. For all of us : we were all like innocent children yet old enough to be able to drink, learn and enjoy the shared wonders of wines and foods when combined and which can create in the right combination and additional taste that we refer to as the " magic " in food-wine-pairings.

Bob was a lawyer then that I believe his wife ( who teaches or taught French ) encouraged or simply turned him on to ( showed him ) the door to the supreme pleasures of wine and food. What were their first discoveries together like? That would be fun to read about sometime. How does she like wine? She is a silent star in all of this and even though I only met her once with Bob and their daughter ( my daughter's age ) in Monkton, Maryland I applaud this most essential link that she provided.

I would have liked to have spoken some French with her that day that we dropped off samples for Bob to try from Wines Limited. I still knew Bob back then , he still remembered me, too. We were with our friend Peter Anastopolos then and Peter had been in more recent contact with Bob. My period with Bob had finished several years ago already. How time flew. Now I wish that I had had the foresight to have taken some pictures o all of this.

Anyway, when I knew Bob it was a very exciting time to be in the wine business as it, too was like an infant- a child that was about to grow up. I don't know if we fully-realized this, any of us then. Probably not, we were just all doing our own things ( I was in my early thirties then, married, a daughter: a new career in wine to fulfill, launch and realize as well as that of a parallel one of an artist ).

Perhaps innocence is not the best word to use, perhaps naive or inexperienced is better. I don't think that yet the world-at-large had focused on the wine world as a means to creating and making large sums of money. It certainly was less of a machine the whole wine world back then. I just don't think that people all over the world realized yet the potential to be made in wine.

I should add that it was not perhaps yet possible ; that the right technology for mass production of wine was not yet readily available. The whole process of controlling the fermentation of wines to produce clean, bright, fresh and un-oxidized wines was not yet in place. That was both good and bad I guess. There was less wine as a result and it cost more, too. But there was also not this mass-production/marketing giants with labels of all animals to catch the consumers' attentions : as well as reviews, points and scores and trumped/pumped-up, steroidal hype that I find now sickening , artificial, arbitrary, self-serving and crippling in more bad ways than good ones.

I loved and still do those wine makers/ owners that are still making wine for the love, for the magic, for the personal-journey fulfillment/satisfaction and overall pleasure that it provides them : working with the soil and the elements and climate to plant the vines and grape varieties that perform the best there for them ( wherever that may be ). They earn a living and are a part of a community and both give and receive in their endeavors.

It's such a wonderful thing to know that some of these owners and winemakers still have their dreams and are finding ways to keep them alive in these trying times when large corporations and moneyed sources are trying to simplify, codify, demystify, and simply sell more of those wines that represent a modern, international preferred taste-palate. They are in it for the money largely and in advertising and promoting points, scores, reviews and other hype and gimmicks they are shoving off to the sides ( sometimes and perhaps permanently ) many of the smaller ventures, mom-and-pop, family-run, smaller-production wineries that do reflect perfectly the soil, the climate , the distinct areas and the indigenous grape varieties from which they are born.

Of course this is happening in many spheres of life and business today and affecting us all in so many ways that they are hard to see, define and understand. Small business all over the world are suffering to some extent because of these larger corporations and enterprises. I am keenly aware of this as I manage a fine wine store in a small community of Washington D.C. where big businesses, high rents and other factors are robbing our wonderful neighborhood of interesting stores and empty, vacate stores as reminders of greed, avarice and just not caring on the parts of certain individuals or enterprises. Where do I start? Who and why do I blame them first?!?

Sad and lamentable. Let's do something about it : let's start now, let's have our voices heard and let's make a difference. We as individuals all have buying power.

Bob, it was nice to know you back then. I liked you back then. Thanks for those memories. I don't know you now. What are you like today? I do look forward someday to meeting you again. It would be fun to talk to you all about this someday. In the meantime we appear to have taken different paths.

We still receive the Wine Advocate at Cleveland Park Wines & Spirits ( 3423 Connecticut Avenue N.W. Washington D.C. 20008 , Tel : 202-363-4265 ) and I don't use it much. I'm sorry for that, really. But I don't want to refer and don't ever to points and scores. That's missing the point in a huge way to refer to points and scores. The person then talks about how the particular 95 point wine measured up to another 95 point wine? How bloody maddening, insulting, demeaning of everything this is! Did the wine maker/ owner work so hard to reduce all the effort, toil, sweat and blood, dreams to a lousy score that may or not mean anything besides being a crutch and a tool and a reminder that he or she either won or failed because of someones score?!? And what damned right does that " someone " have to assign a point score to someone else's wines anyway?

I so looked forward to receiving those first issues of The Wine Advocate back in the mid eighties. I read what you said about the wines back then. I loved your writing and descriptions. But nobody today talks about or remebers what you said. You and your words have been simplified and remembered really, largely by your points. Was that ever your point in all of this, to be reduced to yous scores?

Back then , of course it was just you reviewing wines that you had tasted. You had a smaller audience. You were not yet referred to as " God " back then. Thank God for that. What a ridiculous, demeaning title, out-of-place and disrespectful.

I do like having your wine chart for the past vintages. I love handing that out because even though they are numbers they are helpful to someone as a guiding light/ starting point. That's okay to have some help getting started on one's own personal quest for wine-discovery/enlightenment/enjoyment. But it should only serve as a stater, a way to get people to begin and to flesh-out the experience of a " new " wine and food with family and friends on their own terms, their own observations/impressions - and not someone else's.

Who should in their right, balanced, not fearful minds give a flying fuck what some expert thinks or thought or wrote or scored a wine to give it validation : more than their own experience? What a crock! What a fucking sad, unspeakable shame and disaster that we are all to cowered or afraid to have our own experiences - lived, realized, spoken and unspoken in our own words, feelings, gut and minds, thoughts and reactions! We need to all grow up and leave those training wheels of ours way behind.

Harsh words, I am sorry, really. But I think they are valid and worthwhile and helpful. Someone has to start saying these things and not just nodding their heads and saying quietly : " we know, we know ". BUT DO THE OTHERS OUT THERE, those actually buying and drinking the wines produced, sold, recommended to them know?!? I don't think so.

No , they don't really know : they are being sold an artificial, phony, mass-produced bill of goods that is at the same time it provides them with just enough pleasure robbing them blindly of all the extra, more regional, more distinct, more highs-lows-middle experiences that wines can and do give when not orchestrated to rest so nicely, conveniently in that dull, middle, safe range of innocuousness, Harsh last word, yikes! Did I really say that? Sure did and I know it is just my sole, lonely, easily-missed, easily-forgotten opinion after having approached the wine business for more than thirty years now as a wine-lover, promoter,educator, sharer, and enabler.

I'm part of this whole wonderful mess of ours and I am trying to do my part to see through it, understand it, sort it out, present it better. I want to do my part. I want to help get people excited to try things and enjoy them on their own terms : then the experiences can be more special and memorable. It's after all , all about each individual and their own, unique ( unlike anybody else's palate ) experience each and every time ( and those are all going to be somewhat different ) as both we and, the wines we enjoy are living and easily affected by the specific circumstances of any period in time.

We always bring different things to the table ( emotions, past events, recent loss and deaths, sicknesses, love, jealousies, passions played and toyed with ) just as does the particular bottle of the wine set before you ( how was it stored, how old is it, did it just travel hours in heat or cold before being put on the table ? ).

I love wine, I love the serendipitous, un-subscribed, unedited, unscripted part that we can and should have to make our discoveries as pure, as much our own as is possible without too much Internet, computer, review, scores, points, reviewers and wine retail sales people and sommelier's interferences. Let us all help you get things started, but please you then take it from there. It's like your inalianable right, really.

So Bob, did you ever actually get my hand-written letter and read it? I thought that that - a handwritten letter would be the most thoughtful and meaningful means of communication today ( showing the most respect and appreciation, too because someone actually took the time to hand write something ) in a world where everything is becoming less personal and more mass-produced. Anyway, at least for old-time's sake, a response of any kind would have been appreciated.

This is just the start to a whole series of such blogs that I intend to write and post. I will be including some poems as well that I wrote earlier. It's just the beginning to a long, wonderful relationship between me and my wine that is starting-up now, January 2009 : fresh, alive and both gutsy, thoughtful , daring, introspective, personal, ballsy and blunt with respect at times, too.

I have two previous blogs written at the start of January 2009 to read more about all this if you would like.

Cheers, Happy New Year 2009.

I'm really excited : tomorrow, January 20th, Tuesday, Obama becomes our next president. I have to get to work to sell lots of wines, beer and liquor to those of you in Cleveland Park and those visiting wanting to celebrate, cheer and shout out loud as well as silently your joy and relief that now things will start to right themselves after so many years of wronging themselves. TONY

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