Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Don't mess it up

                                                      2. Edge Work
             (From The Far Side of Eden. For first in series see previous post.)

     Whatever the truth, Jayson wanted the best. What was the point of doing all this, he asked people, “if I don’t make a wine that drops you to your knees?” He considered his competitors to be the best producers in France—Lafite- and Mouton-Rothschild, not Stag’s Leap and Chateau Montelena. The best wines in Napa Valley were already in the ninety-eighth and ninety-ninth percentile in terms of quality, proven by the famous Paris tasting in 1976 when California had bested France, but the Americans were still engaged in what Jayson called “edge work,” a phrase used by gonzo journalist Hunter Thompson, whom Jayson admired. It summed up what Jayson felt he was doing, functioning not on ludes and cocaine and Wild Turkey but on the pure ether of global demand and his own heady expectations.
     These bumped up against the realities of winemaking in northern California. Since he had no producing vineyards of his own yet, he had to buy grapes from someone who did, to start the money flowing in, and then find someone to make the wine before it could be sold. There were custom crushers around the valley, but sometimes staff rotated, and space was at a premium. Custom crushing was often synonymous with enological chaos, he thought. One day your wine was in one part of the cellar; when you went back a week later it was somewhere else. Or someone leaves the barn door open, as happened to Jayson’s first vintage, the sun beating down on imported staves, heating what lies within, a recipe for disaster. Then the cellar he was using was sold and his wine had to be moved to yet another one.
     Heat-stressed, peripatetic, this cabernet was not going to drop anyone to his knees, Jayson decided. He intended to make only four hundred cases and sell in bulk any wine that was left over. The wine ended up at the cellar owned by the son of a food writer who was also a professional pilot, and Jayson was pleased with the taste of it. Adversity had made it interesting, he thought. He let others taste it, and although they didn’t drop to their knees, they were impressed.

     One day, by chance, Jayson was standing around the cellar talking about his new wine when one of the rising stars of California cabernet arrived in an old pickup. He was Randy Dunn, the squarely built, taciturn pro who reminded Jayson of Robert Redford, with his reddish-blond mop and a beard to match. Dunn worked for Caymus Vineyards and made his own wine high on Howell Moun tain; he was becoming famous for big, flavorful, heavily structured cabernets and an unwillingness to suffer fools. He would hang up on aficionados demanding to buy his wine and tell uninvited visitors to his ranch that Randy Dunn didn’t live there.

     Dunn tasted the Pahlmeyer wine and, while Jayson waited, pulled air into his mouth over the wine, closed his lips, and breathed out through his nose, forcing the aromas up into his nasal passages. He sloshed the wine around in his mouth. He spat it out. Then he stood there.
     Finally Dunn said, in that laconic way of his, “Not bad. Don’t mess it up.”
     Don’t mess it up? Of course not! But how? . . . 
     Dunn was already driving away, his accolade hanging like a hot-air balloon in the bright, glorious morning.
     Later, Dunn called Jayson and told him he was considering using some of Jayson’s leftover wine in his own Napa Valley blend, less prestigious than his Howell Mountain but still very good indeed. Jayson couldn’t believe it. The great Randy Dunn wanted his cabernet, and what’s more, Dunn would make Pahlmeyer’s wine for him in the future, for a while. And he would introduce Jayson to distributors who would help him get his wine on the market. Dunn would help this unknown lawyer from Oakland obsessed with a blend—Bordeaux—perfected in a distant land millennia before, and Jayson said yes, yes, yes.”
      To order Napa:

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