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John On Wine ­ – On food and wine pairings, and the next Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush

Oroginally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, April 17, 2014
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Wine dinners are one of my favorite things. I’ve written about a handful of Chef’s Wine Dinners at Crush Italian Steakhouse, the Roederer Estate Dinner at Patrona during the Mendocino County Crab and Wine Festival, and about random but delicious wine and food pairings at Uncorked. My recaps of past Passport events, from Dry Creek Valley to Hopland, have focused as much on the food as on the wine, or the interplay between the two.

The most memorable wine I tasted at the big Zinfandel Advocates and Producers tasting in San Francisco was not the amazing offerings from Ridge or Bedrock, but the decidedly unfancy Zinzilla made by Rich Parducci for McNab Ridge. How did an inexpensive Mendo/Lodi Zin blend trump the wines from two producers I revere? Simple, I had the cheese of the day in my mouth when I took a sip of the Zinzilla; the pairing was fantastic, the wine made the cheese better and the cheese made the wine better.

Similarly, while tasting the sparkling wines produced by Mendocino County’s dozen top producers a couple of weeks ago was a treat, the real fun came in the random pairings of different foods and bubblies, some pairings were sublime while others were total failures ­ but the fun is in the experimentation. Just like certain foods go together ­ – pork chops and apple, peanut butter and chocolate, and tomato soup and grilled cheese are great examples, there are a host of classic food and wine pairings. If you are Italian and consider wine a food, something that belongs at the table with a meal, then this makes the concept of wine and food pairing natural.

Spicy Asian food sees flames tamed by Riesling or Gewürztraminer, fatty morsels of duck beg to be paired with a big round Merlot, there should be a law requiring that mushroom risotto be paired with Pinot Noir, and magically every soup ever made is made better when paired with a McFadden Coro. There are classic food and wine pairings that fall apart if you personally do not like them, but the trying is the thing; that is where the fun and excitement lie. I fondly remember perfect food and wine pairings from over 30 years ago, and remembering the food and the wine, the vintage, appellation, varietal, and producer of the wine, brings back place and time clearly, who I was with, where I was.

Food paired with wine allows a sort of time machine of the mind to exist, as memory of the specific senses being played from wine and food pairings of a decade ago bring back the past as clearly as memories of last night’s dinner. I remember every food and wine pairing from each of the previous Chef’s Wine Dinners at Crush as Chef Jesse Elhardt and his team served 10 different dishes, from appetizer to dessert with anywhere from four to over a dozen wines, as Crush played host to Saracina, Barra/Girasole, Bonterra, and Coro Mendocino. So many combinations of food and wine possible, so much fun experimentation, finding what goes with what for you. You’ll get a chance to see what I’m talking about next Wednesday, April 23 when Crush features the wines of Yorkville Cellars in their next Chef’s Wine Dinner. Dinner starts at 6 p.m. and tickets are $75, which includes food, wine, tax, and tip (although you can always throw more money on the table for your servers).

Yorkville Cellars is stand-out unique. Every winery is unique with a story to tell, but the story of Yorkville Cellars is easier to tell than most. Located on Highway 128 between Cloverdale and Boonville, Yorkville Cellars focuses on organically growing Bordeaux varietal wines when most along Highway 128 focus on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, varietals of Burgundy. Yorkville Cellars grows and produces Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec, Carmenere, Semillion, Sauvignon Blanc, a few blends, plus a sparkling wine made from a blend of three of these varietals.

I do not have a working menu, it wasn’t available as I punched the keys for this column but imagine this:

Yorkville Cellars bubbly is poured as dinner guests gather as a welcome reception wine and it is paired with passed appetizers of salmon in puff pastry bites. Moving into the private dining room, dinner patrons select seats at the long tables and glasses are poured; Semillon and Merlot, and four dishes are laid down to pair with these two wines; Nueske bacon wrapped asparagus, Merlot braised pork ribs, Semillon poached pears, and a wedge salad with gorgonzola and chopped duck confit.

Plates are cleared, and new wines are poured for the second course. Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon in the glasses, and dishes of oysters Rockefeller, fork shredded Cabernet sauvignon braised beef over polenta, lasagna with a 40-hour ragu, and an artichoke heart and wild rice salad.

Served family style, diners interact, asking for plates to be passed, talking about favorite dishes, the wines, and best pairings.

Once again, plates are cleared and a deceptively simple dessert of peach pie with peach ice cream is served, only to be deeply rich in layered flavors, and made more delicious when paired with the Yorkville Cellars Late Harvest dessert wine, a blend of botrytis blessed Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc. For $75, you’ll experience six wines, ten food dishes, and enough opportunities for food and wine pairing to create memories that will last decades.

For reservations, and the actual working menu [not my completely made up one], contact Crush Ukiah at (707) 463-0700 and I’ll see you there.

 

 

About a decade ago, there was a very active ABC movement among the wine community. ABC stands for Anything But Chardonnay.

The country was awash in rivers of Chardonnay, it was being ordered in bars and restaurants by the glass and bottle in amazing volumes.

The Chardonnay grape produces a juice that, when fermented, yields wine notes of crisp green apple and possible tropical notes like pineapple if cold fermented. Wine made from Chardonnay can seem sour in its tartness.

A secondary fermentation, malolactic fermentation, can transform malic acid notes of tart green apple to lactic acid notes of butter and cream.

Another winemaking method of changing Chardonnay’s flavors is to age the wine in oak barrels instead of holding the juice in stainless steel tanks. The oak barrel can impart notes of oak, toast, clove, caramel, butterscotch, and vanilla on the Chardonnay. Additional, more intense oak flavors are achieved when the Chardonnay is fermented, not just aged, in oak.

I think Kendall-Jackson is largely responsible for the enormous increase in Chardonnay’s popularity.

Kendall-Jackson sourced Chardonnay grapes from all over California, and ran all of the juice through malolactic and held the wine in oak barrels. The result was a buttery wine of oak, toast, cream and vanilla. Kendall-Jackson sold so much wine that other wineries were making Kendal-Jackson Chardonnay through custom crush relationships, as much as 250,000 cases of a label at a time.

People came to expect all Chardonnays to taste of butter, toast, cream, and vanilla.  Soon, other wineries were hiding the varietal character of Chardonnay, the unique fruit notes, by increasing their use of malolactic fermentation and oak aging.

There was a time when all Chardonnays were boringly the same. Bottles of oak and butter, the fruit nearly gone.

It was said that if you put a rock through malolactic fermentation, held it in oak, and slapped a Kendall-Jackson label on it, it would taste of oak, toast, cream, and vanilla, with very little fruit, and someone would put it in their mouth to find out.

Thus was born the ABC crowd. Anything But Chardonnay, give me something that tastes like grape, varietally correct, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Chenin Blanc, Marsanne, Riesling, Gewurtztraminer, Viognier, Pinot Gris, anything still held in stainless, anything with fruit notes please.

If you have seen the incredible wine movie Sideways, you heard Miles, the main character, pronounce, “If anyone orders Merlot, I’m leaving. I am not drinking any fucking Merlot.”

Like Chardonnay, Merlot is often boring, bland, uninteresting, yet easy to drink with very little varietal character getting in the way. Miles could just as easily have declared, “I am not drinking any fucking Chardonnay,” but it wouldn’t make much sense for Miles to visit Santa Barbara, a big grower of Chardonnay, and complain about the varietal.

Does this mean that I never drink Chardonnay, or that I recommend that you don’t?

No.

The great news is that in the last decade, wineries have decided that malolactic fermentation and oak aging are winemaker tools, but they don’t have to be used fully, or at all, with every Chardonnay.

Chardonnay, which was nearly uniformly boring as everyone chased Kendall-Jackson’s style because of Kendal-Jackson’s sales, is now an exciting wine to taste.

There are now wineries choosing to forego malolactic fermentation with their Chardonnay, and have clear tart green apple notes in their releases. Other wineries are choosing to put only a portion of their Chardonnay juice through malolactic and blending it with juice that hasn’t been put through this secondary fermentation.

Similarly, some wineries are holding their fruit in stainless steel tanks instead of oak barrels and allowing the fruit free rein. Other wineries hold some of their juice in stainless and some in oak and blend the juices to have notes of fruit and oak.

With blends possible ranging from no malolactic or oak to 100% malolactic and oak, the possible winemaking choices are nearly infinite. Winemakers are using these tools in different percentages and making wines that are unique, even exciting.

Imagine, as an example, visiting a tasting room and finding a Chardonnay where one third of the juice was fermented in oak, two thirds in stainless. Of the two thirds fermented in stainless; one third was aged in new french oak, one third was held in new american oak, one sixth in one year old American oak, and the remaining sixth was aged in stainless. Sixty percent of the juice underwent malolactic fermentation. Complex. Unique.

Chardonnay, once boring, predictable, is now a fun wine to taste. With winemakers using the tools I’ve talked about, and many others, differently, the finished wine is often a surprise. To me that makes wine tasting Chardonnays much more enjoyable.

I have a friend named Rob who isn’t really a wine guy. Rob isn’t alone, many people aren’t into wine.

The wine industry has allowed a perception that wine is more special than beer to permeate society. Working guys drink beer. Fancy pant elites drink wine.

I don’t know of any other industry that would purposely allow barriers to purchase to exist like this.

With wine, we’re not talking about unattainably expensive status symbol luxury items like Rolex watches, but there are many people who would more willingly buy a Rolex watch than a bottle of wine. With the Rolex, you know what you bought, an expensive, investment grade, time piece.

People just don’t know about wine, and not knowing are afraid to order it.

By allowing wine to be perceived as complex, a beverage for learned experts, the industry has fostered a fear in consumers. “I’m not James Bond, I don’t know a good vintage, or even a wine type; I’ll just have a beer, or a shot of tequila, or a Mojito, or a coke, or iced tea…anything but wine. I don’t want to look stupid in front of my friends or the waiter or the shop keeper.”

At the same time that Bacardi was marketing their rum through aggressive Mojito promotion, and selling more rum than ever, the wine industry was allowing fear to continue to be a wall most people won’t climb to try their product.

I could scream.

I read the blogs of many wine writers, pick up the wine magazines, keep up on marketing trends. 100 point wine ratings, 5 star ratings, indecipherable wine speak, Frasier Crane-esque reverence paid to a handful of producers of wines not available to the general public or too expensive to justify buying. Open a door or window and let’s get some air in here; most of what you’ll read about wine is from writers who have bought into the failed marketing of the industry – of absolutely no interest to anyone outside of the community of wine cognoscenti. Yawn.

Wine is so much better with most meals than beer, or iced tea, or coke, or just about any other beverage, but the industry is not getting that message across; it also hurts that restaurant wines cost triple what they would in a store and wine service is generally poor.

The next time you are in a nice restaurant, you will see many if not most people drinking beer or iced tea instead of wine. I can assure you that given a wine recommendation that would suit their meal better, and offered a glass of that wine at a reasonable price, most everyone would be drinking and enjoying both their wine and their meal more. I blame the wine industry for poor marketing.

Rather than be one of thousands of other wine writers bleating about the same unattainable cult wines, effectively bragging to my fellow wine writers about the wines I am drinking, I want to write about wine for the guy that would rather have wine with his meal but doesn’t want to feel like an ass.

Although wine knowledge is never ending, wine is simple. Let me say that again; Wine Is Simple.

Take the wine I drank my Christmas meal with, a 2008 Menage a Trois from Folie a Deux winery in Napa County’s St. Helena; while the wine goes for $12 a bottle, I just found the same wine on sale at Lucky’s supermarket for $8.99, so price needn’t be an obstacle to having good wine with food.

I appreciate that there are a wealth of wines in supermarkets that run from $8 – $20 per bottle, and some are good and some aren’t. I’ll try to taste a number of them and give you my recommendations.

Menage a Trois is a playful way of saying that the wine is a blend of three grape varietals, Cabernet Sauvignon, the king of reds, big, structured, dense, with black berry and currant notes, Merlot, Cab’s softer sister red, rounder, fleshier, with cherry notes, and Zinfandel, a brash, in your face red, with raspberry notes.

You have heard, “red wine with meat.” With three red wines in one bottle, this wine is a great wine for pairing with a host of meat dishes from hamburgers and hotdogs to pork shoulder and flank steak. Pasta in an Italian red sauce, Caesar salad; heck, I could drink this wine with just about anything and be happy.

Wine shouldn’t be about inviolable rules, but I will share a few “wouldn’t be a bad idea”s with you along the way.

The “wouldn’t be a bad idea” for today is not overfilling your wine glass just because you have the room to do so. My wine glasses are large, either 16 or 20 ounces, and I pour no more than 4 ounces in my glass. I get to swirl the wine, let it breathe, let the bowl of the wine glass collect wonderful scents, bury my nose in the glass, and inhale all the aroma and bouquet the wine has to give. A sniff and a sip, can change a bite of already good food into something almost transcendent. Doesn’t always, but, oh is it nice when it does!

I can get about six glasses of wine from a bottle at 4 ounces per glass. That means my $8.99 sale bottle of 2008 Menage a Trois is costing me about a buck and a half per glass.

The wine industry should be telling you that you can get a great wine to pair with food at home for about a buck and a half a glass.

That’s a lot more valuable information to most consumers than knowing about another garage winery whose entire release is sold out but just got a 10 page write up in a major wine publication after scoring a perfect 100 points in a possibly not blind tasting.

I’ll be visiting Fetzer and Bonterra in Mendocino County, doing some wine tasting close to home this week, hopefully I will be able to make some more recommendations. I also want to taste some of Topel Winery’s wines, they are also from nearby, but their tasting room is in Healdsburg, so tasting for me will have to wait a bit. I also should be seeing some wine accessory samples arrive this week that a distributer said they would send; I’ll try those out and let you know what I think. I’m also going to try cooking polenta a different way, and I’m going to make another batch of involtini this week. Lots of things to write about, I hope you’ll keep checking in.

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If you do have the time, and are near Healdsburg, CA stop into the Topel Winery tasting room and taste some wines before year’s end. They have a 2007 Sauvignon Blanc, Grace at $130/case ($1.80/glass) , 2004 Hidden Vineyard Cabernet at $190/case ($2.64/glass), and 2005 Cuvee Donnis Syrah at $150/case ($2.08/glass). These prices are discounted 43 – 51% per case, promo codes are “Grace”, “Hidden”, and “Donnis”, and the sale only runs through the end of December.

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Edited to add: A friend, and reader of my blog, Shannon let me know that the 2008 Menage a Trois was $6.99 at Costco. Seriously, at $1.16 a glass, this wine costs less per ounce than the bottled water I bought at the Fairplex in Pomona, CA at the beginning of this month. Buy it, pair it with meat. Thank me later.

One of the most useful tools I have experienced as a wine guy is a wine aroma and bouquet nosing exercise.

When talking about how a wine smells, wine folk break down the scents into two main parts – aroma and bouquet.

Aroma refers to the scents that come from the varietal grape used to make the wine and are often fruit or floral in nature; blackberry, raspberry, cherry, apple, pear, rose, and honeysuckle are all examples of aroma.

Bouquet refers to the scents that come from winemaking choices. Put grape juice in oak barrels instead of stainless steel tanks, put the wine through a second fermentation called malolactic – changing tart apple flavors to round buttery flavors – and the wine you produce may have notes of oak, toast, cream and vanilla, these are examples of bouquet.

Together aroma and bouquet are described as a wine’s nose, as in “that ’97 Cabernet is holding up just fine, it still has a great nose of deep rich blackberry and current, with a little rose and eucalyptus, served up in an oaken bowl.”

While at Windsor Vineyards, I worked with and for a good friend Mary Jean Dubé. Mary Jean used to put on a nosing exercise regularly. She would task several people with a few notes each, and on the day of the tasting she would collect raw ingredient samples from each of the people she had asked to help. Mary Jean would end up with about 40 different aroma and bouquet scent samples; lemon, fresh cut grass, vanilla, butterscotch, rose petal, pepper, and so on.

Mary Jean would pour about 4 ounces of base wine in a 16 ounce glass; the wines couldn’t have much varietal character of their own as that would interfere with the exercise. Gallo hearty Burgundy and Chablis served well, they were red and white, they were made from grapes, they had alcohol, they were wine; but they were almost aroma and bouquet free. They each smelled like wine, and that’s about it.

With 20 4 ounce pours of red wine and another 20 4 ounce pours of white wine in front of her, Mary Jean would start adding a bit of a sample scent to each glass; different red wine glasses would get some blackberry, cherry, oak, tobacco or pepper scenting ingredients while different white wine glasses might get a supplement of apple, apricot, butter, hay, or violet. Putting a petri dish on each 16 ounce glass to act as an aroma/bouquet lid, and the name of the scent in the glass on a 3″ x 5″ card placed answer down under the glass, the exercise would be ready for any and all to test their noses at nosing wine’s noses.

I took part in the exercise at least a half dozen times and loved it every time. It is always good to sharpen and test your senses, find out your weaknesses, and work to become a better wine noser/taster – at least it is if your are working in a professional capacity within the industry.

Le Nez du Vin and other aroma and bouquet nosing kits are commercially available to make nosing exercises easier to put on. A variety of aroma and bouquet essences are available in a collection of bottles within a kit; kind of like a chemistry set’s collection of chemicals.

Visiting some Oregon wineries a couple of months ago, Nancy Iannios reminded me of the existence of the UC Davis Wine Aroma Wheel by Ann Noble. I had a friend who likes wine, but isn’t “into” wine, that was going to visit wine country and wanted to spend a week together learning about wine. The wine aroma wheel is the best simple tool to help someone begin to find the magic that is wine tasting.

Essentially, the wheel helps you figure out what you are smelling, breaking down into 12 separate categories that are then further broken down into sub categories. An aroma might be defined as fruity as opposed to woody. Looking at the fruity section of the wheel, the scent might be further defined as berry as opposed to citrus or tropical fruit. Within the berry fruits, the scent might be further defined as strawberry as opposed to any of the other berry fruits. The strawberry smell was always there, you were smelling it, you either didn’t know you were smelling it or couldn’t precisely identify it. The aroma wheel helps you identify the different aroma and bouquet notes in the glass of wine you have in front of you.

ZAP, Zinfandel Advocates and Producers, have a Zinfandel specific aroma wheel.

Alder Yarrow has a downloadable aroma card here on his Vinography.com site available in either color or b&w.

Funniest note you’ll find often in Sauvignon Blanc (also known as Fume Blanc): Cat Pee. If you’ve drank Sauvignon Blanc and enjoyed it, you may be surprised the next time you taste and nose your favorite Fume. Often there, right next to a smell of hay or straw, will be the unmistakable scent of cat pee. Sometimes winemakers blend in up to 25% Semillon in an attempt to disguise the cat pee aroma. It isn’t really off putting. If you liked the wine before, you should still like it – just maybe with some wry amusement or chagrin each time you smell it.

Wine elites waxing poetic over scents of cat pee. The industry can do with a lot less of that and a lot more regular folks who happen to love wine, sharing their love and knowledge through their blogs.

Wow. I am fully whelmed. Not merely whelmed, certainly not underwhelmed, fortunately not overwhelmed; I am completely, perfectly, and fully whelmed from my high school 30 year reunion weekend activities and interactions.

I had the best 30 year high school reunion experience imaginable – and I have a pretty good imagination. If I found the event boringly underwhelming, I was prepared to write lies about former classmates hooking up in men’s room stalls to add spice to my recounting of events, but the interactions I had were wonderful in their own right and will suffice in their retelling. I will say that there was one rumor so salacious that I was nearly overwhelmed by simply considering whether it could be true or not, but out of love and respect for the subject of the rumor, I won’t repeat it here…but it rocks, true or not, trumping any departure from reality and truth I had considered.

On Thursday, I met my best high school friend Christina Lang in the baggage area of the San Francisco airport. We hugged, went outside so she could replenish her nicotine load, then went back in to collect her bags. Can I just say that women pack way too much shit, or the things you pack weigh way too much?

Years ago, when I smoked, I loved Noc Noc, a bar in the lower Haight of San Francisco, because you could smoke inside. I have never done heroin, but I also thought Noc Noc would be a great place to do it. Drippy organic shapes, odd textures, and couches that are really mats on the floor and wall are just a few of the stand out features that differentiate Noc Noc from it’s neighboring bars.

Christina flew in at a time that put us at odds with north bound rush hour traffic, so instead of joining the stream, I took Christina to Noc Noc. Sadly, for her, smoking is no longer tolerated. Happily, for us, they had happy hour beer prices. Ra’Mat, Noc Noc’s owner and bartender was friendly and fits his establishment well. I am glad it remains in the area.

Fortified, we drove to Santa Rosa, making great use of the carpool lanes, and I tried to introduce Christina to Guy Fieri’s cooking, or style anyway, at his Tex Wasabi restaurant; but the restaurant is closed for restoration. Instead we went to Chevy’s and ate appetizers in the bar, washed down with shots and beer.

Christina and I reminisced, remembering back 30 years, to when the restaurant we were in was called Sourdough Rebo’s. 30 years ago, Christina and I, as high school seniors, cut school and were lunching at Rebo’s, complete with alcohol beverages, when the waitress brought Christina another drink. When we were puzzled, not having ordered the drink, our waitress explained that the drink had been bought and sent by another table. When we turned to see who sent the drink, I saw my mother raising her own drink to Christina. I was not surprised to find, later that afternoon, my mom was not happy to see her 18 year old son cutting school and drinking a margarita.

After dinner, we checked in to our one night only hotel, the America’s Best Inn (formerly the Ramada) on Hopper Avenue.

Christina and I have been friends for a very long time, and have shared numerous rooms, platonically, in several states. I am not a big fan, no, wait, I loathe sleeping clothing. When with Christina in the past, I slept in a swim suit or shorts. For this trip, a once in 30 year event, I found, purchased, and wore Raiders pajamas.  Christina’s pajamas were not as amazingly cool, but fit her personality well, composed of an over indulgent use of the color pink.

After watching some television, mixed with conversation, I fell asleep, and commenced to snore. Christina said I answered a question she had asked, and quite literally was asleep and snoring within three seconds of speaking. She thought I was joking, but with panic at having forgotten earplugs, quickly realized I was actually asleep and the snores, now ascending in volume, were quite real.

Christina woke me up, and I offered up my iPhone, set to iPod mode. Christina found that random songs from my musical library, played at full volume, were superior to mere earplugs when trying to battle my snoring.

On Friday morning, I awoke much earlier than Christina, and read for hours before inviting her to wake up and put her feet to floor to begin the day. I walked the entirety of the 100 yards that separated our hotel room from a neighboring Starbucks for a pair of large coffees.

As we were going to be eating lunch shortly, we skipped breakfast (If you have seen pictures of me, you know that is a sentence not written often – I like breakfast like Hobbits like second breakfast).

We drove to the Dry Creek Store and stocked up with sandwiches, cheeses, salami, salads and waters, packing what we could in a mini cooler. Next we drove to Preston Vineyards in the north end of the Dry Creek Valley.

Christina and I tasted a Sauvignon Blanc, Madam Preston (a white Rhone varietal blend), Carignane, L. Preston (a red Rhone varietal blend), Zinfandel, and Syrah-Sirah. Christina prefers whites and settled on the Sauvignon Blanc to buy a bottle of; a red lover, I loved both the Carignane and L. Preston, and purchased a bottle of the L. Preston. I was sad that fresh made breads were not available for purchase, but soldiered on stoically. We grabbed a basket filled with bocce balls, our bottles and glasses and our picnic cooler and made our way to the picnic area next to the bocce courts.

The day was beautiful. Perfect 81 degree temperature, blue skies, flowers, vegetables, herbs, olive trees, and vineyards, all grown organically adding color and scents. Christina and I ate our sandwiches, sipped our wines, and I taught Christina to play bocce.

I love Christina, and while she can get a ball from one end of a court to another, she will never join the Women’s Professional Bocce Tour. Christina is a greatly skilled actor, gets paid for doing it, while I am but a mere clown when given a stage; so in our variety we make the world more interesting.

In a short while, we were joined at Preston by Nancy Howard and Rachelle Merian.

Note: with great respect to the lucky men who married the beautiful and talented women of the 1979 graduating class of Piner High School, all names of the women of our class will be their maiden names. Are we cool, Misters Iannios and Albini?

Anyway, Nancy got a glass of red and Rachelle drank water, and I showed the girls how to play bocce.

Another note: all of our 47 or 48 year old female classmates are, and will always be, girls to me.

Rachelle split up the practiced team of Christina and myself and paired me with Nancy and herself with Christina. It has been written elsewhere that Nancy Howard may just be the most interesting woman in the world, but to her list of accomplishments can now be added Queen of Bocce.

Rachelle captured my favorite picture of Christina and me while at Preston. Thank you, I love it and you.

Next we were joined by Shannon Smyth and Tim Vigil, and shortly after Nancy and Rachelle departed, Bill Towner arrived.

There was more wine tasting and conversation than bocce playing, and the entire afternoon, spent with friends, was wonderful.

Christina and I, sadly, had to leave, as we needed to drive to the Flaming-O Hotel and Resort, check in to our room, and change clothes for the cocktail reception.

Upon checking in, and lugging Christina’s extraordinarily too heavy luggage to our room on the elevator free second floor, Christina found that our room was not equipped with a smoking balcony and one short phone call later we were moved to the other end of our building.

Christina and I dressed for the cocktail reception. I got to break out a totally cool (it’s my story, so I get to to say it’s cool) seersucker suit with alternating chalk green and white stripe, burgundy shirt and gold Jerry Garcia tie (I completely forgot that our school colors were burgundy and gold). Christina, after accidentally matching my yellow shirt choice for our day in wine country, matched me with a purple and gold color combo cocktail dress and shoes. I will say that we may have overdressed for the event, but at no time did I feel overdressed – just damn good looking with a gorgeous date.

I hesitate to try to begin to chronicle the interactions that we had with each of our classmates, because I know I will forget someone and then I will feel a less worthy scribe. Suffice it to say that I loved that so many people showed up at the lounge of the Flaming-O for a reunion eve cocktail reception.

I was thrilled to see my cousin Lorenda Rossi, who continues to be a total babe (clearly she shares no blood with me); Susan Ward, who is the only woman in our graduating class that I will acknowledge openly is more intelligent than I am; our complete Senior class cheerleader squad; and of course Nancy.

Not long ago, Connie Fiori wrote that she was having difficulty telling the good-guys and d-bags apart. That stuck with me, because there are always, sadly, a few douchebags out there, masquerading as good guys.

Friday night, while Christina and I were at the cocktail reception; Nancy was with a group at dinner, and a complete and total douchebag said something horrifically insensitive, rude and insulting to her. I won’t say what was said, or by whom, but I didn’t say word one to him at the reunion the next night and gave him the stink eye when I did see him briefly. If he weren’t so large, I would crush him like a Formicidae insect.

Hungry, not having eaten since our picnic lunch, Christina and I travelled to the nearby Lyons restaurant where I ate a truly revolting Chicken Alfredo special. Refueled, we ventured back to the cocktail reception, but the noise of the night’s band, Crossfire, and the ever increasing crowdedness in the lounge drove us back to our rooms by 11:00 PM to rest before the next day’s events.

Saturday morning, after waking, Christina and I headed across the street to Hank’s Creekside Cafe where I had coffee, the fresh milled wheat pancake special with a side of homemade corned beef hash. Simple quality ingredients make for a great meal.

After breakfast, I switched into orange swim shorts and white shirt, and headed down to the pool to read. During the day, I was joined by Tim Vigil, Keith Lewis, Dave Giffiths, Curtis and Beverly Allsop, Doug Duffield, Rachelle Merian, Nancy Howard, and Christina Lang. I didn’t swim, I didn’t read much, but I got in lots of fun conversation and a couple of spicy bloody Marys made by Chuy, the lounge bartender. The pool gathering broke up shortly after 5, giving us about an hour to get changed for the reunion main event.

I quickly changed into a classic black suit, black tie, shined black shoes, french cuff white shirt, Obama cuff links. Christina, in a much more leisurely fashion, changed into a beautiful black Calvin Klein dress with gorgeous black high heels with sparkly accents. I had to play Bob Mackie (Cher’s most famous clothier), forget I’m a straight male, remember Christina is married and I like her husband, and help her double stick tape the décolletage of her dress above and to her strapless black bra. I did this only after failing to find Rachelle or Nancy in their room after running down the hallway to ask for their help instead. I performed what was the oddest task of my week. Christina did indeed look beautiful.

Christina had wanted to sit with Rachelle and Nancy during dinner, but when I arrived earlier to check us in while Christina was finishing with her last minute finishing touches, Connie Price (and her husband Joe) asked me to sit with her.

I went back to the room to collect Christina, had our pictures taken by the official photographer, and mingled.

At dinner, I decided that I would enjoy cigarettes that night (only the second time smoking in 2009), and while I was outside, some weird interplay unfolded between Christina and another table mate. Christina was described to me as confrontational, but before things could escalate or turn odder still, the table mate in question was scooped up by their spouse and they left the event.

I know Christina was neither confrontational or hostile, and the only real weirdness of the evening passed quickly, although I may jokingly refer to Christina’s ongoing hostile behavior in the future. Somehow word got out, and Christina was jokingly chided the next day for her ways.

I loved everyone and tried to see everyone, but I was shocked that there were people I did not see and I know that there are many who I had no chance to talk with. I wish we had at least another 12 hours, seriously.

Among my stand out favorites were Janet Bertino who eschewed the dress up aspects and showed up in a bright orange t-shirt; I now love Janet for her fearless fashion sense.

Another note: speaking of fashion sense, over the weekend, more than one classmate shared their remembrance of a pair of bright yellow pants I wore in high school.

I loved Todd Grames’ facebook text suggesting that I might meet an 8:00 AM group Saturday to run. Perhaps my best laugh, among many, over the weekend.

I loved seeing Melanie crash the room, as a class of ’81er she was rocking her young chick status.

I loved seeing Dean and his incredibly sweet and perfect wife Mindy.

Still another note: Dean, a practicing preacher, was the perfect person to ask the religious question of the night: Did Lee Ann and Sourette sell their souls to the devil to look so remarkably unchanged by time?

I loved seeing Julie O’Keefe, and her husband Buck.

I loved seeing Stefanie, one of my serious elementary school crushes. I hope to dance with the brides at your wedding – soon.

I am a little in awe of Brian Teager. Brian, your poem was beautiful.

I loved seeing Christina, who was nervous about not knowing anyone, deflect a troubling event with aplomb and have a terrific time.

At one point in the evening, Kim Finitz was giving out awards; you know, most children, farthest distance travelled, longest career in porn, longest marriage, etc. When Kim finished, I got the microphone and made two toasts.

With some personal friends in mind, I asked everyone to think of those from our class who couldn’t attend our reunion, because of passing, accident, distance or economy, and instructing everyone to raise their glass, we drank to absent friends.

Next, I raised a glass to Kim Finitz who singlehandedly pulled off the best reunion event imaginable. Kim did a magnificent job and has the love and appreciation of our entire class. The toast was met with a roar from all assembled, and Rachelle came up and presented Kim with a beautiful vase full of long stem roses, suitably ribboned in burgundy and gold.

The evening ended all too soon.

On Sunday, we packed and readied ourselves to leave the Flaming-O. Before leaving, Christina and I joined Rachelle, Nancy, Keith and Dave for Sunday brunch.

After brunch, Christina and I drove south to Cotati to pick up my 12 year old son from his grandparent’s house, where he spent the weekend, and take him home to Ukiah, by way of Windsor’s Riverfront Regional Park, where the last reunion weekend event was being held – a picnic gathering amongst the redwoods.

It was great seeing everyone who attended the final event. I had a chance to see some of the pictures that are now up on facebook from the reunion events, and a wonderful “in memory” video tribute to our classmates who have passed on that Todd created.

The only real bummer of the weekend was how cold it was in the shade of the redwoods. We did not stay as long as I would have liked, because it was uncomfortable. I can’t say my son Charlie was bummed, he didn’t really want to hang out with what he considers to be old people.

I dropped my son off at home in Ukiah to begin the homework he forgot to take to Cotati, and continued with Christina to Willits, where I dropped her off at her sister Susie’s house. With a hug and a kiss of my best friend, my reunion weekend ended.

I was amazed at how young my classmates are. I could see the spark of fun and life and youth and joy in each one. I love you all and thank each of you for an amazing reunion weekend experience.

__________

I have come back to this post and edited about a dozen times. I notice that a phrase is inelegant and fix it, or a sentence confusing or ambiguous and clarify it. Sometimes my first post even includes an embarrassing misspelling and I clean it up during a subsequent read.

This blog entry had over 100 reads in the first two hours it was up, and now has over 300 reads, so I felt I should try to make the effort to have it best reflect my reunion experience.

I have added content to my entry, something I haven’t done before.

I reserve the right to come back and further edit more into or out of my piece.

I want to say, but separate from the main piece, that I almost didn’t attend my own class reunion. I was almost, foolishly, scared off by someone who didn’t even come. Somewhat ironically, I wish the person who almost scared me off had been able to attend.

When I asked everyone to raise a glass to absent friends, in my thoughts were Joe Menth who passed the night we received our yearbooks, Ron Pipes who had work and distance issues that could not be overcome, Michelle Hampton who was at once my catnip and my Kryptonite, Bob McLean who with all the heart in the world had too weak a heart to travel, and two friends from our Comstock junior high school days who did not stay with us through to graduation at Piner: Gregg Stebben and Michelle Roney. With over a hundred graduates holding dear their missed absent friends in their own mind, I am sure that we included everyone.

I can not begin to tell you how much I enjoyed this reunion weekend. Reading over the chronology of what transpired gives you, the reader, a glimpse into the experience. I imagine that you can appreciate that I enjoyed myself. Magnify the enjoyment you imagine I experienced ten fold, and you may start to approach an accurate appreciation of how good a time I had.

I am immensely glad that I attended my 30 year reunion.

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