Friday, January 30, 2009

Into The Black

Until Wednesday, my only reaction to "Donn Reisen" would have been "Must we keep taking orthographical liberties with our first names?" I knew of Paul Draper, the winemaker and public face of Ridge, but the rest of the iceberg was underwater, out of sight.

Donn Reisen was the President--the top businessman, the irresistible evangelist, presumably the glue of the whole thing. I'll give the press the benefit of the doubt and presume that his death earlier this week was in fact a gun suicide. He was a sixty year-old man with glasses, groomed mustache, tucked-in shirt. Head of an A-list winery. A far cry from my generation's suicide icon, Kurt (Donald!) Cobain. But now their stories converge on the last page, the only one many will ever read.

This happens, this will always happen. Most are able, consciously or not, to stanch the flow of emotional sewage perpetually threatening to drown the brain and heart. A few aren't, and we remember them as some combination of cowardly, tragic, weak, beautiful, eternally damned. We want a few more minutes with them so we can wrap them in a furious hug before beating out their pain.

I still don't really get this one. Donn Reisen, you had the wine world by the grapes. When Monte Bello scored its latest 95+, were you in your office with the door locked and your palms pressed to your eyes? How often were you the guy in the room everyone recognized, wanted to meet, wanted to impress? I guess that gets old, like it did for Hemingway, Marilyn, Primo Levi, Ian Curtis, and all the others who couldn't even look on bright side of the sun. Still I, forty months out of college and adrift in the world but for my love of wine, would do anything to have your life. The visible part, at least.

To me, Ridge = Zinfandel. I haven't been in a right enough place at a right enough time to taste Monte Bello yet, but a Lytton Springs 2005 I had last year kicked doors open. Then the "Three Valleys" 2006, a Zin blend that looks insane on paper but alongside juicy red flesh and hearty vegetables is probably the best $15-$20 red wine on earth. Most recent was the Paso Robles 2006, which struck me as way too graceful to be 14.6%. All magnets for critical and consumer acclaim, and more importantly wonderful wines. How great must it feel to have any hand in their creation, let alone be the man responsible for guiding them to our glasses. It scares me shitless to know that there exists a darkness capable of overpowering this.

Donn Reisen could probably have Monte Bello with his lunch every day and swap untouchable bottles with the President of (insert cult winery) at will. Somehow he burned out, and the sad fact is that for most of us, he'll fade away as we hobble through our week towards another gloomy Sunday. Why do wine's celestial pleasures give life's gremlins the chance to catch up?

Recent notables:
  • Domaine Barry Cotes-du-Rhone 2006 - Translucent maroony purple. Nose might be more spice than fruit--particularly black pepper from, probably, Grenache. OK tannins and sharp acidity makes this an acceptable "food wine" (is that just a euphemism?), but it doesn't quite have the hedonistic gravitas that makes lots of CDRs such steals.
  • Marquee Wines "Classic GSM" (Australia) 2006 - The sugariest "dry" red wine I've ever had. And it's still 15%! Powerful stuff. I admit I was drinking it out of a plastic souvenir cup (think baseball game beers) which may have contributed a strange-but-not-gross bubblegummy aroma. Massive body without much in the way of tannins, and plenty of juicy berry fruit (what an embarrassment this would be without tons of fruit). Not bad for the price if you like HUGE, though I'll stick with Pillar Box Red until it breaks the $15 barrier.
  • Excelsior "Paddock" Shiraz 2007 - Inky with a floral/pine foresty nose, this is a balling example of how South Africa rolls when it comes to Shiraz. Lots of curranty fruit in the mouth, and impressive acid for a blockbuster wine. Excelsior is 3-for-3 on my scorecard, this one joining their great Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay as definite keepers.


not said...

Fade away?? Not even close, pal. Take your wine "points" and go play in a corner. Get over yourself.

JBH said...

Hey Dude,

Have you ever felt sad when you learned someone died who wasn't your family or close friend?

Were you as sad a month later? A year later? Five years? How often did they even cross your mind five years later?

To Donn's family and others lucky enough to have had extended personal contact with him, this will take a long time or forever to get over. I offer them my sincerest condolences.

But they comprise a small percentage of all Ridge lovers/wine lovers/people who heard about and were affected by his death.

I'm trying to find my way in the wine business, so it was a gut-punch to hear that someone who had reached the top of the mountain preferred not to continue living. It's confusing, to say the least, but it's not going to make me throw the ambition in the dumpster and go to medical school.

It's like that scene in "Fame" when the aspiring comic hears about Freddie Prinze killing himself. The world is upside-down for a while, but he eventually carries on. Did you see "Fame"?

One of the saddest things about death is that once it happens, the person's gone and life continues for everyone else, piling on the bullshit that inevitably makes the memory fade. Acknowledging this is not disrespectful to the deceased.

"Get over yourself"? Welcome to the blogosphere.

It's nice over here in the corner. Come hang out sometime.