A client buzzed into the Wine Cellar the other day and told me he had inherited the cellar his father spent half a lifetime collecting.
A client buzzed into the Wine Cellar the other day and told me he had inherited the cellar his father spent half a lifetime collecting. The father's journal, which documents where and when the wines were purchased, is a fascinating document to read.
It seems the father had started in an import-export business in New York in the 1930s and was primarily stationed in France. His mentor had been an older Frenchman whose life was dedicated not only to importing and exporting, but to the exploration and dedication to very fine cuisine and wine.
From about 1934 to the beginning of the war in September 1939, the father sent home about 400 bottles of very, very good wine. The journal also shows the prices paid, where the wine was purchased, and what cuisine was eaten on the various wine roads traveled. The father was very new at good wine and food, and the mentor knew exactly where to take the young lad. The list of wines include some of the best red and white Burgundy and Bordeaux houses, such as Lafite, Latour and Margaux, and great champagnes. All of the wines were put in the containers in the cooler months and shipped to New York and put in the cellar of the importer until he arrived home. The father had a home on Long Island with a cellar, and this is where the wine sat.
In the 1950s he moved his family to California, where the exciting world of wines from the Napa Valley enticed him. In the cellar are, to this day, many of the old-style Napa Valley producers from wonderful vineyards. On the list are more than 200 legendary wines from as far back as 1959. Being "legendary" means that the wineries must be classics, the winemakers well-known and the vintages very good.
The father found someone from the California wine scene to mentor him, and the wines are the hallmark of good California winemaking. One entry in the journal reads, "Had dinner with the Harringtons in Atherton. Cindy made beef Wellington, greens from the garden and mashed potatoes. I brought a 1939 Chateau Margaux, a bottle of Chateau Lafite 1934 and a little bottle of Sauterne from 1919. Talked about the Nixon-Kennedy debates. Like the new house and the big garden."
Another entry stated, "Moving the cellar from under the house to under the garage which is big enough and stays cool. Birthday dinner at Carl and Sidney's house. Will compare '61s from B.V., Inglenook and Charles Krug. Moving 500 or so bottles in wooden cases. Should be fun and back breaking. Have tasting at the club of '49s from five different guys, all Cabernets. Looking forward to the Mouton."
Needless to say, this kind of documentation and historical perspective is quite amazing. There are very few complete journals of wine dinners, wine tasted and historical events documented in journals.
Here is one more wonderful entry, from 1965: "Purchased six cases of 1959 red Burgundy from the Cotes du Beaune yesterday and hope that it will be here for Christmas dinner. They say that the wine is still in New York but will be out here by November. Will have traditional Christmas with brother and hope to taste the exquisite '59s with the holiday fare. Tasted the '49s with Charlie, Buck and Sam at dinner in Brisbane and found all of them not quite ready to drink. The '49 B.V. was very tight and very purple with hard edges. The others, one from Sonoma, were also hard and had very dark flavors. Had pork roast, roasted potatoes, beets and some sort of tropical salad which was different. The wives were laughing at us 'wine snobs.' Buck's teeth hurt him like hell but is afraid of dentists."
Lorn Razzano is owner of the Wine Cellar in Ashland. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.