Some of you may have heard –even from me---that Todd Blomberg has been missing.
The rumors have been flying internationally for months. Had the winemaker who birthed gorgeous Albariños fallen into evil hands? Had he moved back to the United States? Japan? And where is his wife and little daughter?
I have been on this case since last February when I started to hear things then about Todd's disappearance. It started with an innocent question from his previous importer, and my friend, José.
“You heard from Todd?” he asked.
You see, I introduced the two of them, I met Todd, tasted the wines, thought they belonged in José's line up. Also, Todd played a solid role in my last book Naked Wine. We stayed in touch.
Concerned, I wrote him several times. No answer.
When in France for the Dive in February, I continued to snoop. I wasn't worried until I saw a winemaker friend of his from Spain, Bodegas Schatz.
The two men were close. They talked often. Heard from Todd? Nothing. Yes, he was worried. I asked Frederik, the Norwegian importer who introduced me to Todd in the first place back in 2010. Nothing. He was worried.
Once home I emailed a woman who makes wine in Rias Baixas, Marta. I knew her only because Todd took me to visit her in 2010, and was clearly very friendly with her. It's a small area. Her winery was close to the Benitos facility. Word certainly got to her about where and how he was?
Marta had this to say: Hello Alice, Last news I have about him, is that he had some health problems with his feet. Since them, I have not heard about him and no one knows, some people believe he had got back to USA.”
It got stranger. There was a sighting of Todd in March. Greece's Giorgos Hadjistylianou had been trying to import the BS wines. Giorgos wrote me,
I found out yesterday from Laureano Serres that Todd Blomberg is ill, and has been out of work for almost 1 month. In fact I was talking to him to import the wines to Cyprus, Todd answered to me by March 5th after he vanished. I went with Pedralonga. That's the last I heard from him.
Pedrolonga? He also chimed in that he had heard nothing of his whearabouts.
I heard they are not longer working organically, in fact the vineyard (Saiar) is not longer in the register as certified organic.
Finally, I wrote once again to Norwegian importer Frederik. Had he heard anything else over these months about the American ex-pat.
Todd is apparently sick ("health problems with his foot" according to a close friend of Todd) but the wines of Benito Santos are still for sale. He is in Spain, but is keeping a low profile due to his health situation…! We were told in spring this year that there is no more Bodega Benito Santos, but in August we heard otherwise. I don't know if there will be a vintage 2013 under the name Benito Santos, and frankly I do not care; we spent a lot of time and energy building a great market for the wines here in Norway, and we spent “a lot of time (the last 15 months) trying to find out what the hell is going on, but now we have to use our energy elsewhere ;-)
Todd’s wine were gorgeous. Who knows what he did with that butter churner and the lees, whatever it was, it worked. The older vintages are around and they're worth buying, because I personally have my doubts about the wines from the 2012 vintage on.
By the way, if you are a wine buyer and you did receive the email offering for the Benitos wines, there are some mistakes. First of all his name is Blomberg, not Bloomberg. And perhaps nothing has changed at the winery, but Todd is presently no longer there, whether there are health problems or something else going on. Anyway, Todd was never the owner. He and Benitos had some strange arrangement I could never figure out.
Now, the 2008-2010 Saiar should be still organic. It was their only certified vineyard and clearly a gem for Todd. When I was last there, Todd was slaving over the vines like a neurotic Jewish mother. The wet, rain, cold weather that year really did him in. He cursed, he said his conviction in organic would not be beaten. By the way, the Saiar vineyard was the only vineyard that was ever organic. The others are/were not.
Todd was the person who gave organic and natural love in that winery, the others were business all the way. Todd was the mad genius. So the wines from 2012 on? Not sure. Let your taste be your guide.
When I wrote in my last subscription newsletter that I wish Todd well and so hope he’s safe I was eing a neurotic Jewish mother myself.
He’s a talented guy. I find the silence part of a disturbing mystery.
If you find the wines, buy them, raise a toast to a creative genius. If Todd is sick, I wish him a quick recovery. And, Todd? Remember, you might be a nut but we love you.
If you have personal knowledge of Todd, because everything going around is complete heresay, no one has said they saw him or talked to him directly, please let us know.
Two weeks ago I had the great pleasure of going to Gramercy Tavern with a reader. He chose the wine, and man, did he do it well, a 1981 Tondonia that was positively brilliant and reinforced my belief in wine as an extraordinary life force. A beauty. Ethereal, grace, power. A tour de force. A humbling experience. And it was one of the better prices around town at $375, more than our food bill.
At the end of the meal, when the gentleman asked me how he should tip, I was a little surprised and wondered, as I am prone to insane self doubt, had I gotten it all wrong? I thought the common practice was 20% on it all, unless service was inept.
But I was curious. In the old days there was a 'wine captain fee.' Hardly anyone used it. Sometimes money was pressed into palms. In any event, until recently it seemed, many people resented tipping on the beverage, not realizing the time and effort it took to create a great list and maintain it.
I surveyed some colleagues to find out whether per Pete Wells' recent column was wine tipping also an outmoded system.
Levi Dalton gave a great overview of the current situation.
Pascaline Lepeltier at Rouge Tomate per Levi's note, is one of those not in the tipping pool, which will surprise many of her guests who adore her. When she goes out, though, she shares Juliette Pope's (Gramercy Tavern's) philosophy (and for that matter mine,) take which is to tip 20% and everything but if the bottle reaches a certain amount (usually in the over five figure category) you don't need too - usually 10, 15% will suffice.
Lee Campbell, professional extraordinaire said: I don't know that I'm the person to ask as Brooklyn tipping is a lot more mellow. Not too many weird machinations, but also cheaper bottles than many of the Manhattan restos I've worked in.
In the past there was a financial incentive to lead the diner to something great, and the loss of htat is one of the downsides Dalton sees of today's system. "In general, what is missing is any financial incentive for a sommelier to down-sell a customer. If a customer is considering a $120 bottle and the sommelier recommends an $85 bottle instead, that might be the right recommendation for the customer and the moment, but it won't be rewarded financially.
But to someone like Aldo Sohm, this ain't a problem. He responded this way, "Since we're pretty straight organized at Le Bernadin, and the captains and cashier take care of the checks, so I honestly don't know the answer. It is not in my nature to look what someone tipped - that would spoil the beauty of being in this industry for me. I'm not sure if that's helpful to you?
Yes, Aldo. It was very helpful. And so were all of you who participated.
So, here's what I think. I am sorry that direct tipping to the sommelier is not par for the course. I am sorry it is in some cases verbotten, not right, it seems. So what to do? If you're a regular at a restaurant give your normal tip, on the entire bill. But if want to give your extra appreciation to the sommelier who goes out of her/his way, especially if you're a collector and have the means, give them gifts of very special wines, or even partial bottles. Go in with something open and say, hey you have to taste this.
The wine will go into their glasses, they'll share and the good will will go on.
After all, a sommelier is in the business for the wine and the love, so show them the love they can pocket and appreciate. And to those of us who don't have great collections, what can we do? A good tip, especially if they are allowed in the 'pool.' Definitely return, and share your verbal love of the wine with the sommelier. Write to management about how valuable the sommelier is to you as a diner. It seems with sommeliers, good old fashioned gratitude is payment in itself. That might be outmoded but it sure is inspirational.
Jonathan Nossiter was the first to alert me to a rant by winemaker Fulvio Bressan on Facebook on Italian integration minister Cécile Kyenge — Italy’s first African-Italian minister. She has been a target since taking office. In trying to offer Bressan an excuse I can only come up with insanity--or being a drunk. I had heard rumors that this is what Bressan was like, but I never saw it. To me, even though I'm Jewish (did he know?) he was always super sweet, going out of his way to help me find an Italian publisher. But that friend said, "Just consider yourself warned."
For background and a translation of the Facebook debacle, read my friend, Jeremy Parzen's blog, In the wake of people stopping stocking the Bressan wines, from Chambers Street to Bobby Stuckey, Vinography's Alder also wrote a passionate post on whether we drink the wines of people who are objectionable.
The issue goes well beyond that.
Picasso was supposedly an asshole, and according to the dirt, Philip Roth was no picnic with the ladies. Ezra Pound? A complicated anti-semite who was probably insane. I'm not going to stop looking and reading. When I go to Napa, which I sometimes do, do I know not to talk politics? Yes. Are some winemakers anti-semites? Yes. Even though I might be 'their Jew,' yes, anti-semitisim does indeed exist in the wine world. Would I buy their wines? It depends. If they went on a hate rampage? No. I found out one winemaker was a perpetual wife beater. I can't buy his wine anymore. There is hatred and even obsession with verbotten sex, such as with underage children, as abhorrent as that is. But one must, must, must resist the urge to act out on it. That is what separates us from most of the animal kingdom, the choosing what is right and what is wrong.
This issue is not about someone having a different opinion, it is not about someone being 'nice' or not, it is not about political beliefs. The Bressan incident is about a hate mongering road rage that could very well be dangerous, and I can't support that. His is the kind of blame and hatred that starts wars.
The concept of cultural hegemony--the domination of a culturally diverse society by those who rule, who manipulate the culture of the society so that they become the world view--seems appropriate to invoke here. It was Jeremy P. who once told me when it comes to addressing the Italians, invoke the Marxist, Gramsci. So I googled Gramsci, hegemony and racism and came up with Can Gramsci's theory of hegemony help us to understand the representation of ethnic minorities in western television and cinema? It's worth a read, as it in its way, knits Dean with Bressan and even my father who thought nothing of going out for "Chinks."
But there was one Bressan left on my shelf. Last night I opened it up to gauge my friends reaction. They are not wine people and they loved it. It was the Bressan Schoppitino 2006. Full, spicy, long, complex, very boldy Italian. On the eve of the events in Washington, the wine opened the conversation to racism, anti-semitism where's the line when we vote with our pockets. I read them some of Bressan's exerpts on Jeremy's blog.
hey, dirty Black MONKEY, I DON’T PAY TAXES to put your GORILLA friends up at a HOTEL. Please take them to your house where you can be the big shot with all that money of yours. Oops. That money isn’t even yours. Because Italians give you that money. YOU SHITTY NEGRO GOLD DIGGER.
Case closed. The wine was good. Sure. Need it? Everyone has a price, but price for hypocrisy is way higher than that.
So, I thought I had already written my 50th anniversary of the Freedom March a few weeks back. Wrong.
One of the most embarrassing moments of my life was going to the Shop Rite at Stony Brook and picking up a package of 'Coon' cheddar because of the cute racoon on the label and bringing it to my poetry class. When Kofi Awooner, my professor from Ghana asked what I had in my bag, I pulled it out and with a bag said, "Coon Cheddar!" As soon as it was out of my mouth, I searched my memory, did I once hear someone refer to a black man as a coon? This was pre-PC was in the lexicon, and I turned as red as my hair and felt like crawling into a grave. Kofi, knew my innocence, and gave me and A+ and a little love note on my final paper in spite of it all.
I know Paula Deen wasn't as innocent, but I thought of that story when I read her own. Charging her with ignorance, would have been more pertinent than for racism. But when it comes to l'affair Bressan, it's another story.
I might be a decent journalist, but I am a very good cynic. That's why when I read the Wine Buisiness Monthly piece entitled Study Indicates Commercial Yeast Strains Take Over Fermentation, and then Tom Wark's , Wild Yeast Fermentation:There's No Such Thing, the reportage and interpretation smelled off.
Jessica N. Lange (now in dental school) was the study's author. She focused her master's thesis on three British Columbia wineries and four fermentations at each, three inoculated and one spontaneous. Her purpose was to study the multitudinous yeast strains that finished the job. Her conclusion? Whether inoculated or spontaneous, the laboratory saccharomyces cerevisiae won the race. I read her PowerPoint and then fleshed out my understanding of her approach through emails and also with her thesis Yeast Population Dynamics During Inoculated and Spontaenous Fermentations at Three Local British Columbia Wineries.
Tom's piece broadcast his reading of the WBM article to mean there's no such thing as a wild yeast ferment, writing that...“the Natural” winemaker may have to rethink what they consider necessary in order to call a wine “Natural.”
Meanwhile, the WBM piece focused on the questions the study raised for winemakers like Ken Wright of Oregon. Another Bob Ferguson of Kettle Valley Winery in B.C. said he was in "shock." I'm not sure where the shock comes from, especially when you consider the study's flawed control parameters, which neither article did.
#1-Each fermentation, including the spontaneous one was sulfited. Before the cold soak, every batch of wine had 40ppm of SO2 added.
#2- All of the spontaneous fermentatios were done in wineries where inoculations were going on and had been going on for years.
Now, adding 40ppm of SO2 is like administering a sucker punch to the yeast population in a vat of grape juice.
At 40ppm, the poor native yeast population is so stunned, the nubile grape juice eager to convert its sugar into alcohol is succeptible to invasion by the neighboring, aggressive yeasts. Usually you sulfite at this stage to prepare a vat for inoculation. With the vat's yeast population now impotent, it was an eager host for the resident lab yeast that took up residence in the winery. (as in my concern #2)
These blips in the study also leaped out at Hank Beckmeyer, a well-versed winemaker and a favorite of The Feiring Line. Because he makes low intervention (La Clarine Farm) wine, and has a day job-- at a more conventional winery-- he knows better than I do both sides of the fermentation coin.
"Spontaneous and inoculated in the same facility at the same time? Spontaneous fermentation is an all-or-nothing game. It either is, or it isn't. And it isn't if you are using commercial yeasts in the same winery."
"Add 40ppm at the crusher, and you pretty much HAVE to inoculate. 1st species to repopulate a barren environment are aggressive and often pathogens."
While this study doesn't add up to the conclusions WBM and Tom Wark came to, it does certainly prove one thing --all of those winemakers who say they're 'experimenting' with native yeast fermentations, unless they are experimenting in a new winery that has never seen any laboratory yeasts, are fooling themselves. Or as Hank put it, "This study just confirms that commercial strains do take over a winery and stay. This study proves nothing unexpected. How this is ammo for the anti-natural crowd is beyond me."
And so, to the concerned winemaker-to-be who wrote me this last week:
I am building a 11,000 square-foot gravity flow winery on my Pinot noir/ Chardonnay vineyard right now. Yet I suspect that yeast will be on all of my barrels that I bring into the new winery and the chances of accomplishing what we would hope to be a unique wild yeast fermentation might be fanciful thinking on my part.
Hank has this encouragement:
"Non-commercial strains found were unique to each winery (pg.48 of the thesis). The winery is part of the terroir. And that if you are into that concept, then you better be damn sure that you don't fuck it up by adding commercial yeast."
Former? I thought I was still a wallflower. That link will bring you to a glimpse of my fraught HILI (Hebrew Institute of Long Island, that is) high school reunion and proof positive that while some of grow, some never change.
"Will pineau d'aunis be allowed the Touraine appellation comes 2016?" asked my friend in California who was trying to interpret the new laws.
"Nope," I said.
"So strange," she said, "that the AOC can protect and do the opposite simultaneously."
The Appellation system of France was born in 1935, to try to preserve wine's integrity. They've done some good such as organizing the complex system, giving credence to areas that came up in quality but they've made huge booboos. Some of them? Banishing grapes like aligoté and gamay from great terroir in Burgundy.
Oh, you say, what was a mistake about that? Look what they did? Everyone knows about Burgundy being Chardonnay and Pinot Noir? If you tasted what I tasted in Corton, you'd know what you missed. And really, is Burgundy really so popular because people can guess the varietal correctly or is it the place?
And once again, proving that no one learns from the mistakes of the past they are trying to dumb down the wines of the Loire mostly for people who won't spend more than $8 anyway. They are going for the broadest common denominator.
As of 2016, the new white of Touraine is sauvignon blanc--the only white wine that can get the appellation. Trust me on this, despirte the success of Burgundy, the Touraine is not going to replace Sancerre any time soon. It will not be known for $40 sauvignong blanc. This is the law that inspired M. Puzelat who makes beautiful menu pineau to say, "I'm getting ready to be a table wine maker." Many of his wines will now be made from forbidden grapes in his area so he will have to label them Vin de France. VdF is the appellation with the most freedom in the bottle and the least information on the label--because you want a bottle just to drink--here you go. So how will the drinker know that a VdF is not just a thermovinfied creature but one with a soul and a place? They will have to do their research. f
Huff....As if place didn't matter.
Another casualty for the wine world will be the loss of pineau d'aunis. Yes, friends, our gorgeous, peppery, velvety and seductive pineau d'aunis. The wine that Anthony Wilson created a song for. The wine, as in the beauties that came from Clos Roche Blanche will still be made but will be labeled Vin de France.
Pineau d' will allowed as a rosé, but only as a blend. CRB pineau d' rosé? Bye Bye appellation.
So, in summation:
The INAO says for the regions of Indre-et-Loire, Loir-et-Cher
En effet pour l'AOC Touraine blanc, il n'y aura plus que le Sauvignon blanc.
Pour les rouges :
- AOC Touraine Gamay (100% gamay)
- AOC Touraine rouge : assemblage cabernet, cot, cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, gamay.
- AOC Touraine rosé : cabernet franc, cab sauvignon, cot, gamay, grolleau pineau d'aunis, pinot gris, pinot noir
(what took me so long from posting this? Jon Rimmerman gave me this incredible shoutout January 31st, which are his reasons to subscribe to the newsletter)
Rants and Raves Dear Friends,
First off, I’ve written plenty of ridiculous things over the years but I have to call a spade a spade when it is not only misinformed but does a complete disservice to an entire young generation of artisans attempting to re-write the complacency of years gone by.
As one of the more unreasonable assessments of a wine movement I’ve read in a while, the following article completely misses the point. A zero dosage wine (in some way, akin to using no oak) forces the fastidious to produce better and to farm better – the flaws cannot be covered by sucrosity, which is EXACTLY THE POINT. To be satisfied with the stodgy former status quo of a region that’s (arguably) been saved by the brut nature/no-dosage youth movement is utter nonsense: http://www.jamessuckling.com/champagne-or-champain.html Rant over. Rave to follow...
Now then, if you are seeking wine journalism that is neither ill-informed nor overwrought – a parcel of pages that are well written, interesting and worth every penny of their subscription cost – I urge you to take a chance on the periodical below...for education's sake alone. You’ll come out on the other end far more knowledgeable than you were before with actual insight and new-found inspiration.
How many newsletters can legitimately make that loaded claim and back it up (Jancis, but few others)? Where most fail, the journal below succeeds in spades. It gives notice to worthy up-and-coming winemakers, their vineyards and their particular movement with both the positive and negative illuminated (yes, even those dreaded no-dosage Champagne houses)... Subscribe and be enlightened! http://www.alicefeiring.com/newsletter
The morning of the march I was a pigtailed kid on a family trip with my family to D.C. It was the year before my father understood a martini. The year before he had that silly goatee and the year before he went down to Montgomery--to extract Stokely Carmichael out of jail, yet again, for backing out of his driveway.
Our Capital visit was coming to an end--my brother and I had Dennis the Menace comic books as our guide--(far better than our parents) and I didn't really know what was going on but I wanted to stay. There were crowds of people flowing in like human rivulets on the city. My mother was in a panic, "We have to get out of here!"
My mother was always ruled by fear, and that sometimes fogged in her sense of right. She'd seen the dogs and the water hoses opened up on peaceful people seeking freedom in the South, and she was being a lioness, I have to forgive her. But how, I wondered could she really want us to run from it. The march happening almost in front of us was a wrapped up present of fate. And we didn't stay around to pull the string.
The fights started. The panic. My father wanted to stay. I wanted to stay. My brother wanted to stay. I have no clue about my grandparents but, I'm sure they wanted out. Too many of their kind had been killed, it was see a crowd? Flee. In the end, there were three sullen Feirings facing off three scared Avrechs. It was the last battle my mother won in that marriage. With Phil dead, no one is here to tell me the details, but he never ever forgot not being there.
We hopped into the Buick, the first one. We left Washington when the air was a high buzz. An e-string pinging in the heat and the tension. I would forever regret sitting in traffic going north when instead, I could have heard magic.
For the Feiring household, it was the beginning of the slide.