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Revisionist History and my Wine Bio

It is no mistake that a person’s background in wine plays a significant role in how they are perceived.  It’s practically a badge of honor that a persona of knowledge and experience would symbolically enter a room before the person does, regardless of circumstance or venue.

Outside of academia, the wine business is perhaps the one industry where previous history is afforded more accord than current results.

For example, when I took a brief professional sojourn into the wine industry I watched with interest as virtually every meeting between people who did not know each other began with a recitation of background and experience, a sort of verbal resume that established credibility, or, at the least, established what the six degrees of Kevin Bacon was as the mutual canine butt sniffing gave way to the purpose of the meeting

Another example: in social situations people of all stripes are quick to acquiesce to the person they believe has the most wine knowledge.  Drop the name of an obscure 500 case producer in Anderson Valley at a kitchen wine tasting, take a sip of whatever you’re drinking, make an ethyl acetate reference and watch the crowd hang on your every word thereafter. 

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Of course, amongst mainstream wine writers, credibility and experience is everything.  The places you have traveled, the wines you have drunk and the company you keep with the bread you break are all very important in building up the indefatigable nature that is perception.  A published book or two helps, as well.

Likewise, Sommeliers and wine educators all dash towards an alphabet soup of letters in the form of certification – its own form of glinting, brandished wine weaponry that can be used for perpetuity.

All of these various steps you can take to developing a wine mythology came to a head for me as I reviewed the winemaker bios at Oriel Wines.  Of course, each of the winemakers who make wine for Oriel has pedigree, that’s not the point.  The point is that some of them have a bio that makes it seem like they were with Jesus at a wedding in Cana turning water into something celebratory, so impressive is their history with the grape.

There seems to be an art to building a biography.

This importance of wine background, of pedigree, in summation, of course, gives me pause and a moment of insecurity – the equivalent of the pubescent high school locker room shower peek at the kid who develops a 5 o’clock shadow during 4th period.

You see, my wine bio, my credibility, has no such extrapolated grandeur or renown.  I didn’t drink first growth Bordeaux out of a sippy cup.  My Grandfather didn’t smuggle vineyard cuttings for the family estate from France by way of Canada.  I don’t keep a pair of work boots by the back door, caked with mud from a harvest internship in Italy.  In fact, I am not one of those people to whom you defer and say, “He’s forgotten more about wine than I’ll ever know.”

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Nope, in fact, I grew up in a house that was as charmingly traditional and middle-class as any kid who came of age in the 80’s could hope for.  Plenty of fire-brewed goodness in the form of Stroh’s beer was around, and save for the Bartles & Jaymes that languished in the fridge, indulged in once quarterly by my Mom, the only exposure to wine that I had was a bottle of Cold Duck at my Grandma’s house, nestled next to my real object of affection:  Mountain Dew.

In short, when it comes to a wine background, I’m not playing from a position of strength.  The “About” page on this site is one of the most heavily trafficked areas of this blog.  It’s the place where I talk “about” me and note much of my wine back story.

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Despite a real passion for wine kindled over the last 12 years with ardent study over the last 10 of those 12 years, and possession of a wine web site that is four years old with over 750,000 words written, I get a real sense that in the best case I could be perceived as a wine neophyte and in a worst case a piker, a rube, or a poseur.

So, faced with this dilemma I’m resolving to fix it in the coming year.  Will I earn my own wine certifications, or take junkets around the world?  Will I refer to myself in the third person and name drop hard to find wines on a repeatable basis?

No. Well, actually, kind of.

I may let the flourishes of a story overshadow the substance.

I’m re-writing my bio in an effort to mythologize myself.  It’s revisionist history on the order of the pampered trust fund baby turned ne’r do well actor with the alleged hard scrabble background, experiences he tapped to give an Oscar-winning performance with poignancy.  Here’s my first draft.  Please leave any comments if you have helpful suggestions.

About the Author

Jeff was raised by wolves until the age of three.  As a toddler, he began to develop his palate with the wild vitis labrusca grapes that grew in the Midwest, members of the pack charitably allowed him first crack at the vines.  Rescued by a wealthy family seeking publicity through altruism, Jeff transitioned into a life of comfort.  His father, a second generation American from a small town aristocratic family, ran a Michelin-starred fine dining establishment where he famously built the largest wine list and cellar in Northern Indiana and Southwestern Michigan.

Wine was always a part of the dinner table in Jeff’s family and vacations always centered around wine buying trips internationally.  Jeff received more passport stamps before he turned 18 than most receive in a lifetime, having visited every major wine region in the world several times.  For his 8th grade confirmation, a Catholic tradition, Jeff celebrated with a ’47 Cheval Blanc cut with water and was famously given a jeroboam of 1787 Lafite, which he holds in a secret location to this day.

This international experience and his fine wine palate, developed in the wild and fine-tuned with the assistance of a pilfered key to the family business wine cellar and aided by the family maid, Calpurnia, led Jeff to pursue his studies at UC Davis where he graduated from the Viticulture and Enology program Summa Cum Laude.

Poised to become an up and coming star in the wine world, Jeff embarked on two years of International travel participating in harvests at some of the finest wineries in the world including Chateau Latour.

Finally settling in at Harlan Estates, Jeff was the Asst. Winemaker for the ’94 and ’97 vintages famously given 100 points by Robert Parker, Jr.

Taking a respite from the industry that had so graciously given to him, Jeff pursued philanthropy in the next phase of his life by being a Caddy at Pebble Beach while acting as a personal wine buyer for the wealthy.

Now in semi-retirement and weary of friends and family asking for wine recommendations, Jeff now maintains a wine blog called Good Grape:  A Wine Manifesto.



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Posted in, Good Grape Daily: Pomace & Lees. Permalink | Comments (6) |


Comments

On 12/22, 1WineDude wrote:

Compared to the average winemaker bio I receive with wine samples each week, this is kind of dull…

On 12/22, Thomas Pellechia wrote:

Too many “wild.” You need to drop two of them and it’s golden.

On second thought, you may want to add the time you lit up with Andre—he smoked cigarettes, of course. Plus, the time Robert Mondavi called you an asshole, but with style and penache, and all because you thought the word Fume referred to his kitten.

Oh, and the time Robert Parker stopped short and you wound up right up his…

On 12/22, Jim wrote:

I will vouch for all of it. Very funny.

On 12/24, Charlie Olken wrote:

Frankly, this ain’t nothin’.

In the the leading wine places of the world, Burgundy, Bordeaux, the Napa Valley and the little known but incredibly expensive wines of Mount Kilimanjaro, there is an exclusive club of wine persons. Had you stayed longer at Harlan, you might have been allowed to know of it, but you really don’t have enough experience and so you remain excluded from the ranks of Wine Experienced Knowledgable Nabobs of Wisdom, known to its friends by its initials, or We Know. If you are not part of We Know, you don’t know. It’s that simple.

But, if you keep blogging, there is a chance for you yet. In another ten years or so, please apply to the Head Wizard of Wisdom, Steve Heimoff. He will let you bloggers know when your time has come.

Until then,

MERRY CHRISTMAS.

On 01/18, discount vouchers wrote:

An interesting insight and I have to say that many of it really rings true. The wine industry is an unusual one to be in (as some would see it), but it can certainly be a great experience.

On 08/03, Jack Bush wrote:

(he is a wine critic that has a 100 pt based way of scoring wines)
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