Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Stan Story

Below is an article I wrote for the 2009 December issue of Walla Walla Union Bulletin's Lifestyles magazine. It was four years ago today that Stan left us. Actually, he really didn't "leave us" as he seems to have a way of popping up when you least expect it.

In fact, just last month I was visiting with Joan, a friend/wine distributor and her significant other, Mark. We were sitting in the back of the shop sampling some new wines and Mark, happened to look up at a photo hanging on the wall. I noticed him staring at it a few times. Mark, who at this time is residing in California, finally said, "Can I ask who that man is in the photo?"

Well, the photo is one many of you are familiar with. It's a photo of Stan Clarke in his "Skipper/Gorton Fisherman" yellow rain gear. One of the originals hangs on a wall at the Enology Viticulture Institute at Walla Walla Community College. Mark kept commenting about how he had seen the photo before. Finally, he asked if the man in the photo was originally from California and had ever been a student at UC Davis. Of course, I answered that he had. Then Mark asked if Stan had a sister by the name of Judy. I answered I thought that he did.

All of a sudden, Mark's eyes lit up, "I know where I have seen that photo before! There is a copy of it at my neighbor's house." he said, "His sister Judy is my neighbor, and in fact, she is taking care of my cat while I am up here in Washington State!"

He immediately called Judy and told her where he was. Mark handed his cell phone to me and I had the pleasure of visiting with Judy. Of course, we talked about her brother Stan and she thanked me for writing about him. It was an honor that she had read my story about her brother.

Now, the cynic in me doesn't necessarily cling onto the beliefs that there are ghosts and guardian angels. However, I never discount them either. There have been some rough days in my life where I may even question if there is a heaven other than those "heavenly" days we have in our lives. But what I can tell you about my belief system is there are no coincidences. Everything happens for a reason.

"The Stan Story"
"Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Some people move our souls to dance…” - Flavia Weedn

In the last few months, while interviewing wine-industry people around the Valley, one name kept coming up in.

Stan Clarke was often the motivator behind many personal accomplishments in the local wine business. When I told people Stan figured prominently in my life, they would tell me  their “Stan Story.”

If there was one person who could weave people together, it was Stan Clarke.

Stan came into our lives in January, 2002 as the new associate director and viticulture instructor at the new Institute of Enology and Viticulture at Walla Walla Community College. Former students at the college, now winemakers, recounted how before their first day at the college Stan had a job waiting for them, and sometimes even a place to live. A new student told me how he felt regret about not having Stan as an instructor, but felt his presence by the stories others shared.

Scott Wolfram (local attorney and county court commissioner) first met Stan at a home winemaking class at WWCC and when the class wasn’t offered again, Stan continued tutoring Wolfram. When 20-year-old Ben Wolfram became interested in his dad’s “science project,” he contacted Stan. The Wolfram’s had new neighbors - - Tanya Woodley and Elaine Jomwe of SuLei Cellars - - who were getting into the wine business and Stan knew about the new neighbors before the Wolframs did. Stan introduced his neighbors, and Ben Wolfram got his wine project off the ground by using their grape crusher-destemmer.

Later, owners Woodley and Jomwe would dedicate their first wine release with proceeds donated to the Stan N. Clarke Memorial Scholarship Fund at Walla Walla Community College.

Me? I have my own Stan stories. One Saturday, Stan showed up at my front door with 100 pounds of crushed cabernet sauvignon announcing I was going to make wine in my dining room.

When I had anxiety about juggling a full load and intern hours at the college, besides working full-time at an office and part-time at a winery, all while recovering from major surgery, I sought Stan's counsel. He said, “If you fail, I fail. I am not going to fail.”

Oh sure, Stan had his prickly side, which made for even better stories.

Whenever a student, mentioned "pinot noir," we learned to duck because whatever was in Stan’s hand at the time would fly across the classroom. Pinot Noir was the bane of vineyards and cellars, as far as he was concerned.

Stan was known to wear socks that didn’t match and no chocolate chip cookie was safe in his presence. Sometimes he looked as if he slept in his clothes – and for awhile, he did – in a camper parked at the college, until his family could move from Grandview, WA.

The last words Stan said to me were at a reception at the college for a Wall Street Journal reporter who was writing an
article about the Institute. Stan had invited every student and former student of the program. I caught up with him while he was busy washing glasses. When I commented about the enthusiastic turnout. He said, “I thought this was a great opportunity for a reunion. Don’t you think we should do this more often?”

And we did. After that gathering, Stan Clarke left us on November 29, 2007 at the age of 57. All his students, current and former, gathered at the college to say goodbye.

Stan came into our lives and quickly left, but for the short time he was with us, he wove all of us together. He is still moving our souls and inspiring us every time we retell our own "Stan Story."

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Only One Turkey at the Table: Thanksgiving Wines

Have we gotten over the "Pinot-Noir-is-the-only-wine-that-goes-with-Thanksgiving-dinner" mentality, yet? If not, it's time to be adventurous like a pilgrim landing on Plymouth Rock.

Traditionally, there is an assortment of foods at the Thanksgiving table and usually something for everyone, so why limit your wine choices?

Start your dinner guests with a glass of bubbly before dinner, whether domestic or authentic Champagne. Blanc or rosé - - or both. Also, look at other sparkly and affordable alternatives such as Cava or Prosecco. You can also continue the bubbles throughout the meal.

Make room for a bottle or two of white wine - preferably a Gewurztraminer or Riesling. If you want to "go Walla Walla" when it comes to your origin of wine, 2010 Dowsett Family Gewurztraminer (good luck if you can find it, but if you do, it will be something to be thankful for) and also Sleight of Hand Cellars "The Magician" white. The 2010 Magician is a blend of 85% Gewurztraminer and 15% Riesling. Perfect.

Long Shadows Poet's Leap is a classic Riesling with it's notes of floral and stone fruit. It will pair well with Aunt Doris's ambrosia salad. Also, Saviah Cellar's "The Jack" Riesling will pair well with from the cajun-injected spicy fried turkey to the apple pie with it's crisp acidity and subtle sweetness.

L'Ecole No 41 Chenin Blanc is an alternative white wine and an extra treat. It's aromatic, crisp. and with a light sweet finish. Sweet potatoes, anyone? Marshmallow or plain?

Rosés are not just for summer, anymore. I love how they pair with the guest bird of the evening and you can find them produced from Sangiovese to blends. "Dazzle," produced by Long Shadows, is not only elegant and delicious, but the bottle itself will bring a certain elegance to the table. 2010 Dusted Valley's "Ramblin' Rosé" is crisp and clean, while still showing off its fruit of 34% Mourvedre, 28% Cinsault, 26% Grenache, 12% Syrah.

And now a commercial announcement for Pinot Noir. Walla Walla isn't known for Pinot Noir, but I can make a few recommendations from Oregon. My go-to from the Willamette Valley are from Domaine Drouhin and Stoller Vineyards. Both wineries offer an affordable label or higher-end. Hey, go "high-end," it's Thanksgiving!

Grenache or even a GSM (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre) is an alternative to Pinot Noir, especially paired with the darker meat from the turkey or other birds. Gramercy Cellars has that covered with their 2009 "Third Man" (GSM) or 2009 L'Idiot du Village (Grenache and Syrah). Also, 2008 Rotie Cellars Southern Blend (GSM) is a fine addition to the meal.

Another alternative to Pinot Noir is Sangiovese. This grape is typically higher in acids and will pair well with most foods, especially spicy ones. Mannina Cellars 2009 Sangiovese is amore' with the spicy Italian sausage that Uncle Pasquale puts in the stuffing every year.

There is always room for dessert and a sip of dessert wine is always a pleasant ending, whether you pair it with Grandma's pumpkin pie or not. Forgeron Cellars 2008 Late Harvest Semillion and 2010 Watermill Winery's Late Harvest Gewurztraminer both bring to the holiday table an abundance of flavors.

May you enjoy the true spirit of this glorious autumn day. Gobble.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Learning is Fun: The Wine Century Club

Now that school is back in session, the days are shorter and we are always looking for things to do when we cannot get outdoors. It’s time to work on your vocabulary. Learning new words can be fun like: Centesimino, Plavac Mali and Touriga Nacional.

Whether you are a wine newbie or a wine geek, learning about different grape varieties is not only stimulating, but tasty, too! There is more to tasting new varieties of wine grapes than just repeating the traditional ABC’s — “Anything But Cabernet or Chardonnay.”

Zweigelt, Blaufrankisch and Picpoul.

You don’t have to be a wine lover to enjoy the task. Gaining knowledge about grapes from various regions around the world, many with histories and stories dating back centuries, can be enjoyed if you are solely into history, botany or gardening. So, how do you organize such a task? Will there be homework?

There is going to be a lot of homework — probably the best homework you will ever have.

Glera, Monastrell, and Pedro Ximénez.

The Wine Century Club was formed in New York City in 2005. If you have tasted at least 100 different grape varieties, you are qualified to become a member. Members come from all areas of the wine community and include wine educators, wine writers and even just lovers of the grape. They are all “grape nuts,” if you will. Many members are from the United States, but many hail from all over the globe.

Bonarda, Kerner, and Madeleine Angevine.

It is important to understand that members of the Wine Century Club are not wine snobs. They are not advocates for single-varietal wines, nor do they favor single-varietals over blended wines. They are also not anti-chardonnay or anti-merlot. They are people who enjoy wine and are excited about tasting and learning about uncommon wine-grape varieties.

Assyrtiko, Tannat and Schioppettino.

So, how do you start? First of all you check out the Wine Century Club website and download the list of grapes. It sounds easy, but it’s very challenging in a fun way. Look at it like collecting scout merit badges. Every time you taste a wine produced with a new and different grape, you check it off on your list, adding any wine notes you may want for your own information, such as vintage, winery, country of origin, history and tasting notes. And while you are in search of the exotic, don’t forget to add the more everyday varieties — merlot, cabernet sauvignon and, of course, chardonnay – to your list.

Negroamaro, Xarello, and Tinto Cão.

Don’t be thinking that you are going to cinch this up in a day or two by walking into your local supermarket and grabbing all of these wines. It ain’t going to happen. It can take time, some research, opportunities and shopping to find many of these exotic wines. I will say that I found the first 50 fairly easily, and, after that, it became a slower process. The good news is that you can count each grape that is used in blended wines. You are also welcome to use the obscure grapes that one might find in fortified wines such as sherries, ports and cognacs. Even the Concord grapes in your jelly count.

Godello, Saperavi, and Rkatsiteli.

Once you have finally completed tasting your 100 grapes, you are ready to send a copy of your completed homework to the Wine Century Club (don’t forget to save a copy for future reference). You are even welcome to go over the count of 100 grapes, but don’t expect to be the teacher’s pet and get any extra credit. However, you can “roll those grapes over” and use them for the next level, if you dare. In addition to regular membership, the Wine Century Club also recognizes serious oenophiles who have tried at least 200 (Doppel), 300 (Treble) or 400 (Quattro) varieties. After your first 100 grapes are submitted, you will receive a certificate, suitable for framing and bragging about, along with privileges to attend various Wine Century Club functions and even local charter functions around the United States.

But beware! Be very afraid! Though application into the Wine Century Club works on the honor system, the fine print notes: “Should you lie, may the wrath of Bacchus curse your palate.”

(Note: It took me over two years to leisurely drink her way through 125 different grapes and obtain membership in the Wine Century Club.)
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