Saturday, June 28, 2014

if you've ever worked on a farm you'll know what this means ...

and now - page 2

no one wore their camp jackets to opening night ceremonies - a little disappointing

there were no o. n. ceremonies - quite disappointing - just 50 wineries pouring 2 wines each - no big deal for a professional wine ummmm ... taster

some dorked out - heard this asked of a winemaker - "do you pump oxygen into the must or just air?" - could tell he wasn't sure how to answer - "technically I guess ..."

one guy had a curled up on the sides mustache - he had wine stains on the curl part of it - made me laugh

my bus seat partner turned out to be Lulu - she runs the wine program at a high end San Fran restaurant - we talked about balance and acidity and tiny, tiny wineries we both knew about - made that experience palatable

ran into lots of friends from the Oregon wine industry - they called me Montana - I've been called worse - by most of you!

met Madonna and her business partner Radish

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Madonna is on my left - well I guess you could pick out Radish - sorry!

here's what the designated driver of our school bus looked liked - clearly instilled confidence from the outset

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and finally - I promise not to East Coast bash anymore but I sat next to a couple of guys from Indiana today at lunch - low key, quiet, smart about wine, polite - told them they'd fit right in the Cool Falls

... Day 2 much better!

your pal,


ps: they gave me a 3 ring binder full of Oregon wine info - will have it at the store next week if anyone wants to borrow it - full of lots of good info - or we could all just get together and taste some of the wines I'm finding - up to you really!

Friday, June 27, 2014

told you so

Pinot Camp couldn't have started worse

I know - you smart people will say it's self fulfilling prophecy but just read first and judge later please and thanks ...

had a "real nice" drive along the Columbia River Gorge from Spokane to Portland - arrived 4ish - had my first event 6ish in the famed Pearl District in downtown Portland - after searching for an hour or so found a place that served both fresh oysters and Albarino from Rias Biaxas Spain - life is good thought I

headed to the winery sponsored event in that same district - traffic had been bad for the Oregon sponsors so the only people there were 7 east coast "campers" - now I love you east coasters but 7 of you in a bar out west is a lot to handle - finally our pal Bill from Adelsheim vineyard arrived - love him - life is good thought I 

should have read the email more carefully - this was a Portland BAR tour - I had already downed 3 drinks when we started walking - I was thinking food might be in the near future - turns out a club Instead - at like 7 o'clock - no food - I have to drive 40 minutes south to the wine country for my hotel reservation - yep, snuck right outta there - life is good thought I 

drove to Newberg, Oregon - I'm sure is cool but on this Friday night not many restaurants were open when I called around at 8:45 - the only one I could find was Pasquale's Italian - open until 9:30 - life is good thought I 

Robert Irvine from Restaurant Impossible will be there soon - the decor - absolutely atrocious - the service - actually pretty damn good - the menu straight from the 70's - we're in the middle of Oregon Wine Country and my red wine choices are Woodbridge Merlot, Ménage a Trois, Louis Martini Cab and house Chianti in tiny Libby glasses - I had the meatballs in red sauce and the house Chianti - life had gotten "less good"

my youngest granddaughter Milena always says after she falls down or gets an owie or something bad has happened to her - "it's ok - it will get better" - I'm adopting that attitude - gonna have fun tomorrow!

your pal,


Wednesday, October 31, 2012

the final days

I love Paris - to date my favorite city on earth but it was with dread I headed northward - the trip so far had been filled with people and passion and discovery - what lay ahead was seeing "things". The Eiffel Tower is super cool, will never tire of it, the Sacre Coeur with its view of all of Paris was breathtaking - but in truth I was wandering around aimlessly (not knowing we will be closing down a 3rd Parisian bar later this night) when I remembered "JUVENILES!"

A couple of years ago I was reading a wine book of some sort and it talked about a really eclectic wine bar near the Louvre run by an Englishman named Tim Johnston - in the "this is weird" category - five minutes after reading that passage my daughter Whitney called and said her boss was in Paris and wanted to know if I knew of any cool wine bars in Paris - I told her about Juveniles, he went, had a great time - been sending people there ever since - I had never been ... until now!

It is tiny, tiny - like maybe 1000 square feet - is famous for the eclectic wine offerings that Tim has found agreeable to his  palate from all over the world. It had a vibe going on this Friday night that was pure energy. Tim himself is a very large Englishman who looks the part of the overindulgent ex pat that he is - our server came up and we ordered some fun apps - charcuterie and cheese - and a super good Spanish wine - she asked about us and I told her that I had come to check out the joint since I'd been sending people to it from the USA for a few years but had never been myself - she thought that was cool - told Tim - he whipped his rather large head around and gave us a big toast for sending people his way then sent us a glass of his current favorite Priorat wine - again in the "this is weird" category - an area both he and we had just visited - we discussed a little about wine - he grabbed my card - super fun spot - unfortunately we had dinner reservations at eight in the Latin Quarter and had to leave - another reason I hate pre-planning stuff - was for me just more affirmation that it's the people and the experiences that make trips memorable - cheers to Tim and his super cool joint - if you ever find yourself on the right bank you gotta pop in

on Saturday we took the Chunnel to London:
going 185 miles per hour, fun
under the English Channel, uneventful
pulling into London, surreal
hopping into one of those old fashioned limo like cabs, laughable
popping into a proper pub, entertaining
punk rock bar hanging, indescribable
all of these -  first night activities.

Next morning activity was walking the streets of London to see all the major touristy things, pretty damn OK - Ben is Big, Buckingham isn't beautiful, the Parliament building is impressive, the Thames is wide but the most fun, by far was walking back and forth across the crosswalk of Abbey Road while we snapped each others photo while trying -  in some order - to portray John, Paul, George and Ringo - just pure fun!

Off to Wembley for our final act of the European vacation - traveling the Tube reminded me of taking the train to Wrigley - the final few miles are above ground and at each stop more and more "football" fans jumped on - mostly Pat fans which suited us just fine - the weird thing was that every language imaginable was being spoken and every jersey of the entire NFL seemed to be represented - an Italian with a Miami jersey on - a Spaniard with a Bear logo on his tuque - a German with a Jets jacket - the Brits seemed to mostly support the Pats - my theory being the word England was in the name - the tailgate was huge and when we saw a "grab a Bud" booth we thought - oh, back to being American - that however, was the end of normalcy - there were food booths of Lobster and Chorizo, wood stone pizza booths - you could get a "hamburger" with an sunny side egg on top or a sautéed octopus Thai noodle dish - you know - all the standard tailgate fare - fun stuff!

Wembley is beautiful - modern and clean it hosted a helluva show including Train - a band I would normally pan but was pretty damn fun in that venue - followed by the two national anthems being sung while we all held plastic sacks of different colors that brought Old Glory and the Union Jack to life in the stadium - goose bump kind of stuff - the game itself was anti-climatic with a Patriot blowout - all in all a pretty unique way to take in an American football game.

and so it ends - a cyclone seemed the most appropriate analogy to what we had just done the past ten days - so many people and places and events - a lifetime of memories and a foundation of friendships make this - in the voice of the boy who cried wolf - 

the best damn trip - EVER!

your pal,


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

bonfire in Bordeaux

our contact in Bordeaux was a man named Tom Kenney - his nephew lives in Great Falls and the nephews wife, Devon was in the store a few months ago - she had heard I was heading to Bordeaux and got us in contact - sometimes life just works out!

Tom is a Boston guy - was a workaholic like most Americans - one day life changed - his health was literally just gone - after a divorce and a hellish three years of health problems he was visiting his sister when a family friend of theirs that he hadn't seen in 40 years named Monique also happened to be in town - voila - a short time later they were married and he is living on the Chateau Suau estate in Bordeaux - running tractors - mowing lawns - tending to vines - told me: "I've never been happier Mark, I got out of the race and am LOVING life"

The Chateau Suau is Monique's now - her and her dad purchased it in 1987 but he had passed a few years back - neither of them really knew much about the wine business - just a daughter and father wanting to "make something" together - at the time the estate just grew grapes and sold them to negociants - wow ... things have changed. They have a beautiful winery, grow quality grapes organically (on their way to biodynamic) - she, much like Joseph in the Priorat has her own special vineyard that only she tends to called l'artoile, named after the creek running just below the vineyard - she makes that into a single vineyard bottling only when she has what she thinks is a truly great vintage - her last was 2009 - it is mostly Merlot with a little Cab Sav and a touch of Cab Franc - is vinified in oak barrels she had specially manufactured just for this vineyard - and yes, we got to taste it - silky like a Napa blend but the verve running through it was unbelievably intense - I was sitting across from Monique when we tasted and you could tell it was like a child of hers - she loved it and wanted me to as well - I broke into a big smile and said "tres bon" - she added - "the oak is still a bit too present - it will improve" - so fun to make a connection with people through wine - we tasted through the rest of her wines as well - all of them were uniquely Cadillac from Bordeaux, still tightly wound but showing fruit - they are still making inexpensive wines that need time in the bottle - that's a fun idea - all were wonderfully expressive!

Tom and Monique then sent us to their friend Joel for a tour of his wines from the Graves district of Bordeaux - a family run operation as well but very inexpensive - €8 to €12 - he doesn't import to the US - was very traditional in his thoughts of winemaking as compared to Veronique and Monique - liked his wines but have to say I appreciated the other two more even though they weren't in such a highly regarded appellation as his in Graves - when I asked about organic Joel said nicely - "I've had my hands in these soils since a little boy and I do nothing to harm my lands - but occasionally I feel I have to use something to control things a bit so I do - its just the way I believe" I respected him for his honesty in a world that is now pretty environmentally intolerable - reminded me a bit of talking to a Montana farmer - I think Joel truly uses chemicals as a last resort to improve his crop - must be tough with all the pressures of business I thought to have to face an American questioning his farming practices - I believe Joel is a good man making good wines - in a worldwide market I'm not sure that's enough to make it but with the history of his estate and the fact he sells most of his wine locally he'll do just fine - "what a wine education I'm getting" was all I could think about on the drive home.

On returning to our bed and breakfast we were invited down to Tom and Monique's for a bonfire - something Tom was quite famous for in these parts since he'd moved from the USA - they have been trimming the vines for centuries in Bordeaux and making little fires in the vineyard to dispose of the wood - Tom's thought, like any red blooded Americans would be - why not save them up and have back yard bonfires - so we traipsed on down to a beautiful area behind the Chateau where Tom had a monster fire going - Monique had opened a couple of beautiful Burgundies (never thought I'd drink a Burgundy in Bordeaux - especially with a Bordeaux winemaker) - talked French and American virtues and shortcomings - at the end of the night I just remember looking around and thinking - "this is just undamnbelievable"

the trip will be taking a different turn tomorrow - heading to Paris and then on to London - will miss these small towns of France and Spain - the people we met were so damned passionate and so hospitable, the towns so memorable - what a beautiful way to spend a few days of ones life

your pal,


Thursday, October 25, 2012

leaning forward

have you ever met someone who just seems to lean forward in life - bright eyes and energetic gate - someone you knew immediately you would like - that would be Veronique Barthe - while trying to find her vineyards I asked a few times by the name of the vineyard and the person would not understand but when I said Veronique their eyes would light up and they'd say "oh, Veronique!" - she's been a lifetime farmer - the first female ever to run the family business - her great, great, great grandfather got married on the same day as Napoleon Bonaparte so he gave the land to him as a reward for choosing that date for marriage - quite a bequethal!

we pulled up and she came bounding towards us with a big "bon jour" and we were off and running - harvest had just finished and she was giving us a tour and directing her staff with equal ease - she directed two young shirtless men inside a tank shoveling the skins out of a fermentation tank to stop so Jamie could take a picture and said - "pose like Chippendales please" and laughed - when we spilled wine on a new case while tasting her wines later - soiling it a bit she said "no problem, we'll just ship that one to America" super fun lady with inexpensive and tasty wines - will be in my store in the $12 range when I return

"it's not a question - you must go to the village of St. Emilillon - one of the most beautiful in all of France!" were Veronique's final instructions - we did - she was right - if you're a cork dork like me you know that village as the home of one of the most famous wines in the world - Cheval Blanc - the the 1961 vintage of that estate was the wine that's Miles was carrying around during the entire movie in Sideways so - wasn't a big stretch for me to make the short trip. On entering the ancient village a wine store was first up - I walked in and immediately had a sales guy say to me - these 4 wines here are all Parker 100 point wines - can't escape the big guy even over here - when he figured out I knew a little bit about wine and deduced I was extremely wealthy he took me down to the cellar where for just $60K I bought one each of the five 1st Growths of Bordeaux (trust me that is just unbelievable) - one each of Petrus and Cheval Blanc and a Chateau d'Yquem Sauternes - to have one of each of those wines from the legendary 2005 vintage is a wine lovers dream - can someone help cover that check when I return?

here's a summary of the rest of the day


your pal,


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

made it to France!

drove across the border after numerous wrong turns on the Spanish freeways and immediately ran into a little French fishing village right on the coast - popped into a little coffee shop where we were greeted with "bon jour" in that sing song manner of the French - just love it - "cafe Ameicain sil vu plait" - then sat on a beautiful sidewalk with the sun pouring down and thought to myself - and since we were in France I used my quiet, internal Gordo voice - "this is what I'm talking about" 

we were heading up into the Pyranees mountains today to visit a couple of towns I had discovered during the previous nights insomnia - the first was Sare - a tiny village overlooking the greenest hills and the sheep on them - beautiful beyond belief - the village itself is listed as one of the most beautiful in France - a typical 2 1/2 hour lunch with a local bottle each of rose and white followed - Jamie took so many pictures of each dish as they arrived I thought we were on a food vacation - the French are the best in the world at preparing and presenting food - running across a restaurant of this quality in New York City would be difficult and that we stumbled on it in a 300 person town in the mountains - in a hotel - is just unbelievable - God I love this place!

I had seen the town of Espelette on the map the previous night and wondered if it had anything to do with the spread that was sitting on my stores shelf - well it did - the town is famous all over France for producing chili peppers - they were everywhere when we arrived - hanging on buildings - in the stores - at one we did some very nice communicating by pointing and tasting and ended up buying some really fun (and hot) new products that I want to start importing for my store - super cool town with very nice and helpful people - will always think of this experience when using my Espelette Chutney.

the final stop was in Biarritz - a bustling city on the coast - so different from its neighbor San Sebastian - reserved and quiet as compared to loud and demonstrative - I loved Spain and its offerings but this country fits my personality so much more - they are confident and understated, love the finer things of life and offer a level of service that is just remarkable.

off to a corkdork's Mecca in the morning - I tossed around lying a mat down and lay prone facing north towards Bordeaux when I arise in the morning - decided against it - we have winery tours up there for the next two days but am a bit apprehensive - I've always been so afraid of Bordeaux that I've just avoided it - this is serious wino country where the legends come and bottles sell for thousands - I feel I'm jumping into the deep end - will let you know if I can swim!

your pal,


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

mostly just exercised today

too much food and drink - had to put in a run

on our way to the hill towns of the Pyranees for lunch and then heading to the beaches of Biarittz for the evening - can't wait to impress the French with my large vocabulary of their language - vin rouge sil vous plait
your pal,

frenchy tronson