Wednesday, September 16, 2009


What is integration:? I am glad you asked.

When I was a dewy-eyed pompadoured freshman at Cornell at the end of the sixties it meant social justice. It also apparently meant that my black friends with whom I stayed up with until 3:00 AM playing hearts the night before would studiously ignore me when they filed in to eat at the Willard Straight Hall Cafeteria at the 'black table' the next day. Word.

Integration was already starting to confuse me!

When I was a musician in the seventies it meant that our band had white guys and black guys searching for the musical apotheosis of incipient white anarchy and black militarism, the military had become the venue for social progress for blacks (not punkass, sleepy, white guys in dorm rooms--sorry Marion and Joe), and all this military precision seemed to infiltrate the music, seep in like toxic waste into Ninja Turtle sewers, mutating, turning snarky slouching blues into crisp sparkling R&B routines, --integration now happened at mealtime too, even if it was MREs in stinkin foxholes, while the punkasswhitedudes screamed, 'so long as it's their ass not mine', and the screamin, screamin' radios, and immaculately unthreatening but precise dance routines, every radio blasting, burning it into the already crisp air 'War, Hunh. What is it good for', the Temps turning psychedelic?,

A ball of confusion. Word.

Then when I was a merchant marine in the eighties it meant watching the Cajun oiler named LeJeuene and an ex-marine 2nd Engineer named Varnish congregate in my cabin, two bookends drinkin' beer. Fraternization was frowned on yo know but to Varnish, LeJeuene the lowly oiler was akin, no, not akin, WAS royalty. The very name echoing back to the cordgrass marshes of his South Carolina youth where he had found manhood and purpose, a purpose that had grown fuzzy and abrasive as the cordgrass at the edges, like the marsh gases obscuring the crisp outlines of the new day. LeJeune, well, he duh' living brea'ding embodiment of dat integration, Cajun, militaristic and anarchic at once and both eventually falling down drunk, but happy, no thought of race no thought of rank, just two shipmates worshipping at the bloodyassholebuddyaltarofsemper fi. When Varnish reported for shipboard duty, he slammed head first into the brick wall that was the side of the MEBA Union Hall, flipping assovercrackers, twisting the handlebars of his Harley into a chrome pumpkin vine and cracking his skull on the mural painted there of 'La casa de Micky Mouse'. Carried up on the ship unconscious, like snoring, bloody luggage. Absolutely nothin',wakin up next mornin hungover and glassy eyed with a bandage on his head and LeJeuene right there with a beer in his hand and his best sweat stained Filipino shirt on.

Cajun confusing.

In the eighties it meant taking the chunks of software written at different times in different languages for different purposes, and making them all play nice in the company sandbox, --then came the internet, more anarchy, more militarism, more snark, more temptation-- internet porn. Checking my eBay bids while typing code. LPS disappearing like a scratchy black vinyl tide down some vanished Ninja sewer, run aground on the hard edged (literal and figurative) coral of luminescent CDs.

Digital confusion.

The nineties, OK let's skip the nineties. (After all this is a blog, 'sposed to be.)

OK so now we get to what does integration mean to me now, today? As a winemaker it means getting all the elements of a wine to operate efficiently and pleasantly as part of a larger whole. It is the happy anarchy of the fermentation, blending elements, mixing freely, then the long night of isolation in the barrel, waiting to be called on, soaking in the stern discipline of the wood, values of honor and duty. The tannin integration, hunh, what is it good for. The tannins may have joined the fruit to quell the riot of a misspent youth but they are still standoffish, hard edged in public and suspicious, but secretly they like to drink with the oilers in the Cadet's cabin, bumping into the slew of chemicals racing around the deck of the SS Leslie Lykes on their Harley roadsters. Slammin' into the wall headfirst by definition, something you only do part time.

Tannins when not fully integrated are what give you that biting sensation of finality in the back of your mouth. Harsh, brittle, other descriptors; tense, astringent, bitter but sexy, raw and devout like a combination of Elvis Presley and Alan Ginsburg. When they are correctly integrated they provide amplification of the wines other qualities, like an echo chamber, the fruit and body bounce off them, resonate like the acoustics in a really good concert hall where the Temptations are playing. REAL. What was two dimensional, like a war on the TV screen, suddenly present, and contrary to what they tell you,--reality doesn't bite.

So, like the lame bar pickup line we are inclined to ask 'where do you come from,--originally.' The answer is they come from the parts of the grape that we usually discard, the pits, the stems, some from the skins--the woodier parts that once protected the plant and insured its posterity. They live on, in the wine, but mellow with age, like sixties militants, and ROTC cadets who by the time they hit fifty are both wondering what all the fuss was about, they seek out their former adversaries, the colorful anthocyanins and the starchy tannins seek to bond with each other, together they become more rounded, more colorful, former enemies now fast and never to be parted friends.

I guess that is what integration is. To be honest I'm still not really sure,--

Friday, September 11, 2009

Cockles & Mussels

The song I awoke with this morning is an old one,
it is called Molly Malone and goes like this;
In Dublin's Fair City"
Through streets broad and narrow,
Crying, Cockles and mussels,
alive, alive, oh! ...

The words are a puzzle,
Who is it that is alive?
Is it the street vendor calling her wares,
or, her wares themselves?
The former reading is more poignant
but the latter more realistic
and perhaps of greater interest to the consuming public.
9/11 answered the above persistent question for me with a certain amount of finality. Who is that is alive?
The answer, at least that day, was loud and clear; 'me'.

We, as human beings are always engaged in an struggle between poignancy and
realism. Ourselves and what we are selling, hope and despair.
The vineyard is a microcosm of this struggle, at least
for me. This year it is realism, next year it is hope.

I watch the 9/11 memorial on TV each year. I don't know why.
I usually hate these type of things. To me they are usually creepy
and calculated attempts to force me to abandon my natural cynicism.
People talking to dead people you know,
pictures of people who I didn't know and
who I am supposed to care about,
PDEs-public displays of emotion,
a willful confusion of the personal and the public,
commemorators inserting their personal messages,
peripheral plugs for their organizations
--memorials inevitably degenerate into the kind of self serving spectacle
that I find abhorrent.

Not the 9/11 memorial.
Not for me.
I watch and listen and
don't know why.

Something is different.
The cops in NYC never look straight ahead.
They are usually looking to the side, eyes averted
or searching for something or somehow aloof, detached.
The cop in back of the speaking stand on the podium
for the memorial, his gaze is straight ahead,
attentive unwavering, present,
this can only mean one thing, somebody is either dead or,
accused of something/ in Dublin's fair city

Yes, and I saw the towers burning with my own eyes,
at least the smoke rising from that fire from the collapse,
the collapse of both hope and despair.
I cried at the display of flowers and wreaths
at the fire company on eighth avenue as I walked
to work in the days following/ Through streets broad and narrow.

The truth is, I did know one of those killed on that day at the trade center,
Nina Bell,--she had been working at TIAA-CREF and
transferred down there just a couple of weeks before.
Chance or destiny. I don't know.
I didn't know her well, but I was at CREF at the time too
and I knew her face.
Maybe that is enough/ Crying 'Cockles and Mussels'.

The vineyard is a mess this year.
I didn't get enough sprays in,
the downy mildew is stripping the green leaves from the vines with
a thorough avarice,
too many trade shows,
too much emphasis on the end product, the market,
not enough on me and my dreams, and new life,
--well, there is always next year, or years,
there'll be time to correct this,
I think, / alive, alive -oh.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Lotos Eaters

I once thought I was fairly unique in this industry in New York as a writer/artistic types-turned-winemaker however I have long since been disabused of that notion. The late Mark Miller of Benmarl was a noted artist, Bill Wetmore of Cascade Mountain winery is a novelist and Carlo DeVito is a wine writer with a book on East Coast Wineries, (Rutgers University Press). Since Mark Miller is deceased and Bell Wetmore has more or less semi-retired from the active running of the winery, most of my recent contact with this rather small community has therefore been with Carlo. I have mentioned Carlo and his wine in previous blogs ('Simple Gifts'), and not only is he a fellow writer (and competitor for the affections of the Watkins Glen ASPCA) but like me, his anger management protocol involves the application of what is called (in psychological circles) the Big Mac. One other thing I have noticed about him is that he has in general an impeccable sense of timing, therefore, when he chose this week to address in his blog the issue of wine in grocery stores and the state of the New York wine industry in general I found the timing most interesting. A bill to allow wine in grocery stores, pushed mostly by the upscale grocery chains like Wegman's and Whole Foods was put before the New York legislature this past spring, by summer it was excised from the state budget. Some of its more vocal proponents, like Scott Osborn of Fox Run vineyards have banded together to revive this effort. We'll see how that goes. For now the issue seems essentially dead. So why is Carlo addressing this issue now?

The rest of Carlo's blog (which you can read at went on to bemoan the fact that New York State wineries have had a dismal history when it comes to penetrating the all important NYC market. At first I didn't see the connection between these two issues,--now I do. Rather than explain I will illustrate it with a series of vignettes.

This past June I happened to do the Union Square Greenmarket and I had the following conversation with Rory Callahan, one of the organizers of the NY Winestand. (I paraphrase)
Rory: 'Too bad about Rivendell.'
Me: 'Yeah well, the winery is closed but at least Susan
(Wine) still has the Vintage New York store'
(a wine store in Manhattan specializing in NYS Wines)
Rory: 'They closed too.'
Me: 'Really!'
Rory: 'Yeah they never made a profit since they were open.'
Me: 'Really?'

This past week, noticing my October calendar was sparse I went looking for events to
participate in. I notice the NY Wine and Food Show. On closer inspection, the website noted that only wineries handled by Southern distributors were being allowed to participate. I sent the following email to Jim Trezise of the NYWGF.


It seems to me that the NYC Wine and Food Festival on Oct 8-11 would be a great venue for NY State wines however, it seems none are participating as winery participation is limited to clients of Southern Wine & Spirits which I guess means Constellation. Is there any way to get a new york booth in there? Maybe through
Rory C?


his reply follows:

'Hi Ken – No, unfortunately, it is a Southern event, so only their wineries (like Heron Hill and Bedell in NY) may participate. They do a similar thing at South Beach each year. Sorry -- Jim'

OK, so now, a few days later, we come to Carlo's blog about the inability of NY Wineries to penetrate the NYC market.

I read the blog and send the following to Mike Colameco who is an influential food commentator with a program on PBS.

'Hi Mike
I am a big fan of the show.
(I have learned it is good practice to butter up people you don't know and are emailing out of the blue)
I wanted to direct your (sic) attention to a blog
called 'The Problem with New York STate Wine.


Within minutes I had the following response.

'great article and basically all correct as well
though I'd have to add that some of the LI wineries price their products too high to mind as do many producers from the west coast Cali, Wash Oregon, and as a result
consumers who are always squeezed for dollars often find better value in imported wines from smaller old world producers
esp the Rhone, Beaujloais (sic) Cru's, the Loire, the vast LR regions as well as parts of Spain Italy , Austria and Germany where in the
$10 - 25 range there is a lot of great juice, and we didn't start talking Argentina, Chile Australia S Africa or New Zealand.

But I'd love to see NY get it's act together


Now Mike is the quintessential New Yorker, and since I grew up in New York too I understand his position. It is true, that New Yorkers routinely expect the best of the entire world to be brought neatly to their doorstep, and at a competitive price. No muss, no fuss. Scott Osborn and others like him who believe (like me) that NY is producing world class wines, and that the marketplace is essentially fair (which I don't) are pushing hard to bring NY Wines to a grocery store near you so we can compete with the flood of wine from Europe, Chile, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa on an equal footing. (To Scott I say, this is not about to stem the tide and); the effort of course is also partly a Trojan Horse to gain access to the all important NYC market.

All of which brings me to the Buffalo lady I described in my blog last week who suggested that we cut off NYC entirely and let it float away to sea. While this would evidently solve the above problem, in the end it may not be the best solution.

The problem as I see it is that this is not just a NY problem. The problem is that we have become a nation of Lotos Eaters. We produce nothing and expect the best of everything. The most smug, self-satisfied upstater is no less guilty of this than the most urbane, world-weary Manhattanite, they only have different priorities. What distinguishes the Lotos is that it grow directly in water and has no connection to the land. The soil beneath the feet of New Yorkers is what connects them. It is what connects us. When you buy a New York State wine you are touching that which connects us, --as I see it the choice is pretty clear, continue down the path of disconnection or find ways to connect with our own soil, the efforts of our neighbors, the fabric of our lives. To Mike Colameco I say sure maybe a bottle of NY Wine costs a few dollars more but maybe something more interesting will come out of it in the end. Maybe the time is right to look around seek out what it is that binds us together rather than what is tearing us apart. As they say, timing is everything and as the song goes sometimes one finds 'time in a bottle'.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

If the Schubert fits

I have been dreading and hoping for last weekend with all the assiduity, misplaced confidence and suppressed lust of a nerd on a prom date with a bi-polar cheerleader. It was the weekend of the annual chamber concert at the winery. The group had been practicing since October of last year working on the first three movements of the Schubert Octet in F and more recently some Rossini quartets. The logistics of managing rehearsals with eight people's schedules for the past ten months had been a nightmare; scheduling around boy scout meetings, bee stings, 4H clubs, PTA meetings, college visits by the younger players. Consequently it wasn't until two weeks before the concert that we actually had all eight players sitting in the same room at the same time. We were already awash in doubt about the wisdom of our plans. A performance at the annual chamber music concert at Morrison Hall and SUNY in May had not come off. The weekend it was scheduled for at the winery, tropical storm Danny was threatening pouring rain. I personally had two other events that weekend and no prospect of help from either of my two daughters who were attending a wedding in Putnam County. We were facing a looming soggy debacle with over $1,000 already spent on advertising, tent rentals and food.

Then Danny stalled off the Carolinas, (distracted by the sunbathers on Myrtle Beach), my sister's ambivalent agreement to donate her weekend turned into a firm commitment to show up and help, my neighbor, despite the fact it was her birthday, agreed to handle the tasting room duties. By mid morning on Saturday I was drenched from standing glumly all morning at the Cold Spring farmer's market where I had had a tiff with the market manager about where I could park the truck. Then the rain stopped. I drove the fifteen miles back to the winery, my hopes inflated by the series of fortuitous events (not counting the tiff and the drenching), I pulled into the driveway hoping to see the parking lot teeming with a throng of classical music lovers and cheerleaders (goooo Schubert!),-- alas, there was neither,no one there except Mai, the second violinist and Stan the bass player. It was 2:30 PM. Dismal. The concert was scheduled to start at 3:00 Then, a few minutes later the musicians began pulling up, one after the other, still the audience was composed mostly of people who had driven them to the event. Then a few other people begin trickling in. By 3:00 PM twenty of the twenty five audience chairs under the green and white tent were filled. I was ecstatic.
"Just hold off a few minutes to see if anyone else shows up." I asked Stan. He nodded.
"No problem."
Another car pulled up. A few minutes later the musicians launched into the spritely first movement of the Rossini.

Anyway, to sum up, it was a really nice event. The rain held off for the entire performance. My neighbor handled the tasting room like a pro and my sister, who I had not talked for months, and who no doubt was beginning to suspect that I was something of a sullen loser, was gushing with admiration.

Well, this post really doesn't have much to do with wine per se. It is more about how people will surprise you given half a chance. Anyway, the next day I went to Woodstock. It was the day of the Bethel Wine Fest so, I didn't have time to reflect on the concert and how it had gone. Now, some four days later I can sit down and think about it a little and start dreaming about and dreading next year, but it is an optimistic dread. Maybe the cheerleader will take pity on me.
Maybe I won't stab her with the corsage pin by mistake. Maybe she'll finally get some meds for that bi-polar thing. You never know!