Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Sliding Past the Devil @ 60mph

Photo by Chema Madoz

A couple of years ago I was in a car on a freeway in wine country. The driver fell asleep and we went off the road, going about 60+ miles per hour. As we headed off the road, there appeared a tunnel in our path; it looked like the Gates of Hell. By some chance the driver managed to get back on the road, puncturing several of the tires, and, as the car swerved out of control, back onto the freeway, we headed straight towards a concrete barrier. The automobile wanted to flip, but instead, it crashed into the barriers, spun around and crashed again. We tagged a truck along the way, but all four of us walked out of a brand new, and totally wrecked, rental car.

After a brief visit to the hospital, we headed back to San Francisco, where three of the four of us headed back to New York and Italy. I remained in the city. Staying in the Marina district, I walked down to an Italian spot called A16. It was a busy Saturday night and the place was jammed with folk. Somehow I couldn’t get myself to walk in, maybe I was too shook up, maybe being around too many people was too much at that point. I stopped a few doors down ate a little sashimi and went to bed. I was sore for three weeks.
Two weeks after the accident, I was in Italy for the wine fair. I felt lucky to have escaped mortal injury. I knew when I saw my Gates of Hell that either I was going down or somehow we would walk. I guess the Italian Wine Trail wasn’t finished with me, yet.

There is a disturbance in The Wine Force. I have felt it lately. The wine industry is a mess. Consolidation, large getting larger, small spin-off companies surfacing like little republics after the fall of the Soviet Union. They stay in business just long enough to distract, like mosquitos after a warm summer rain. Warehouses are full, good salespeople are hard to find, managers even harder. Online wine commerce is growing. The dollar is weaker by the day and gasoline prices have risen 20+% since February. Getting Italian wine to America, without the wineries raising their prices, is already a challenge. And yes, some of them are raising their prices. Well that will work itself out in the marketplace, no need to gnash and wail over that one.

9:00 PM and a call tonight from a little Osteria. The owner was having a difficult time with a supplier. Because of this small distributor’s stupidity, the owner couldn’t get any wine, by law. And he had a couple of big parties. So I went over to sort things out. He was out of wine and needed a dry white to cook with, a sec for the sauté. Over a plate of Pasta alla Norma, we talked it over. Things are tough enough for the small business person, without having to deal with jerk vendors.

So again it's late and I'm driving home. And everywhere people are driving like Hell was closing in five minutes and they were all rushing to get in before the gates slammed behind them. One guy was even backing up from an off ramp thinking those of us who were going forward wouldn’t mind if he went against the flow of traffic, at 50+ miles per hour. Once again, the Angel was watching over me.

So what wine am I drinking tonight? I chose not to drink at the restaurant, although I had fresh strawberries that had been sitting in Sicilian Merlot for a few hours. That was a very nice thing to do for the Merlot.

But at home, all I wanted was my Sicilian orange brandy. I am becoming my grandfather with his nightly tass of brandy, un cognacchino. And after a day in the jungle, it’s really nice to sit in the quiet and peace of my lair with my glass of sunshine.

After all...tomorrow is another day.

“ Claret is the liquor for boys; port for men; but he who aspires to be a hero must drink brandy.” — Samuel Johnson
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