Wine and Friendship

By on November 6, 2009

I talked last week about wine transporting you to faraway places. Today I want to write about love and friendship. The love between a winemaker and his grapes, his craft, his wine, and for sharing it with others. Over the years, I have made many friendships with winemakers, who as well as being great personal friends have also helped me grow my love and passion for wine. While not just anyone can make wine, far fewer can do it with such a personal connection to those who ultimately enjoy it. In my world, the winemakers are the rock stars and drinking their wine with them is the ultimate privilege and often an experience not soon to be forgotten.

November is a great month for wine in Tulsa. David Arthur wines are coming to Oklahoma for the first time, and David Dain Smith is making his annual pilgrimage to our fair city to sample my wine group on his new releases.

TWO ROCK STAR WINEMAKERS

In the wine world, as I just stated, winemakers are treated like rock stars. They are adored, worshipped, and fawned upon. For all that, most are down to earth and extremely humble, carrying none of the airs and graces that many comparable stars in their fields carry. Nevertheless, despite such earthiness (excuse the pun!), there is always a thrill on meeting someone who has produced delicious nectar in the glass.

Two people have stood out to me in recent years. One I know well, the other I’ve met only once, but that meeting has left a permanent mark on me. Simply put, the wines made by these winemakers reflect the men themselves.

David Dain Smith (Dain Wines)

I met David Dain Smith of Dain Wines virtually on the Robert Parker wine discussion board (www.erobertparker.com) where wine geeks meet and discuss all things virtuous and vinuous! We were chatting about our mutual love of Pinot Noir, and Dain just invited me up to try barrel samples of his wine at the excellent Brown Derby store in Springfield , MO where he lived. This was before the release of his debut wines, and of course there was no pedigree to judge the wines on. They were still resting in barrel, ageing prior to commercial release. Although I was excited about a short road trip up 66 I must admit I was slightly nervous. How embarrassing would it be if the wines weren’t very good. Or only okay? Or if he turned out to be, well, not the way I imagined him? There seemed to be just as much upside as downside. Of course, it didn’t play out like that and instead I met some terrific folks in the town, enjoyed a great tasting, and a super meal, all in the same day.

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What I discovered was a man as quietly passionate about wine as anyone I’ve ever met. He’s not over the top, indeed he speaks in such hushed tones sometimes in a crowded room or noisy restaurant I can barely hear him. Although all of his wines are from California and made in a winery in San Francisco, Dain continues to reside in Springfield with his wonderful extended family. He is very passionate about his local roots, loves spending time on the family ranch, and forages for mushrooms (being the recipient of his foraged morels is one definite advantage of the friendship!). All of these qualities are reflected in the wines, which are as restrained and elegant as California Pinots get. As good as the wines are, each of which are sublime, they pale next to the qualities of the man who crafted them. A man of integrity, great kindness, and not a little fine humor. A man for all seasons, whom I am proud to call a friend.

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http://www.dainwines.com

David Arthur (David Arthur Vineyards)

Generous is a common thought that comes to mind when you meet many of the fine winemakers in our country. On my trip to the Napa Valley this spring my traveling companion was raving about the one winery we had to visit, a small concern perched high in the mountains off the Silverado Trail. David Arthur. The family-run winery crafts small production high end Bordeaux blends (a Bordeaux blend can contain any combination of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec) as well as white wines. What a great way to spend two plus hours! David personally gave us a tour of the winery (it was pouring down, and the vineyards were shrouded in fog, it was like we were in the clouds, stunning!), answered every question with enthusiasm and verve, and seemed to enjoy himself even more than his delighted guests. We were greeted by David himself with a glass of crisp Sauvignon Blanc while we waited for the other guests to arrive. His wonderful daughter, Gretchen, also greeted guests and checked us all in. There then followed the most enjoyable two and a half hours I’ve ever spent visiting a winery. We were shown the crushing and fermenting tanks, all the while having our glasses topped up, and then taken back to the barrel cave, where the final wine is rested and aged. We then barrel sampled from various lots as David explained how the different grapes grew in different parts of the vineyard, depending on soil type and elevation. I have never seen a man get so excited while explaining the different origins and production methods of oak barrels, it was like watching a chef fawn over a rare ingredient. He explained to us how (much like an ingredient) the barrels themselves shape the wine. He regaled us with wonderful stories the entire time, and was clearly having a ball.

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And do you know what they charged for the tour? Not one cent. It’s totally gratis. And you get to try a very generous glass, and maybe two, of their $150 top of the line Elevation 1147 (aptly names for the origin of the fruit). Incredible! Not something you typically find in Napa, which rightfully carries the reputation of being a ‘very expensive’ place to taste wine. With wineries charging anywhere from $10 to $50 for tastings, especially of high end wines, to see a craftsman of this caliber happily sharing his product simply for the love of it really reminds you that much like food, or art, wine truly is a product of passion and devotion. Meeting winemakers like these make you think to yourself ‘wow, this man has truly found his calling’.

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David Arthur wines are available for the first time in Oklahoma this month. If you can track them down, they’re certainly not inexpensive, but my word, they are true and pure expression of Napa fruit and, more than that, of David Arthur himself. Generous, giving, beautifully fruity – dashing wines with a twinkle in their eye (to mix a metaphor), just like the man!

http://www.davidarthur.com

Experiences such as these have encouraged me to delve deeper into where their wines come from, and who crafted them. I encourage you all to attend as many tastings, wine dinners, and classes as you can, and if you are traveling to wine country do some research ahead of time to discover which estates and wineries have the winemakers on hand to visit with guests, versus some random guy standing behind a counter with a pouring spout! And if you are really keen get involved with wine discussion boards, and share your thoughts and ideas about wine which can really stimulate your own personal growth on the subject. And of course, you never know who you might meet…

Cheers!

About the Tulsa Wine Club

Mark Stenner is the organizer of the Tulsa Wine Club, a local tasting group that meets once a month to sample wines. The tastings take place in private homes in the Tulsa metro area, and are casual and fun events. Participants of all age ranges enjoy 10-12 wines per event, served alongside the food each member contributes to the evening. They welcome anyone with an interest in wine, whether novice or expert. Mark believes in learning through osmosis, drinking wine and forming your own evaluation of your experience.

For information about the club, please email Mark at tulsawineclub@yahoo.com

About Mark Stenner

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